Sobering Thoughts

Comments on politics, the culture, economics, and sports by Paul Tuns. I am editor-in-chief of "The Interim," Canada's life and family newspaper, and author of "Jean Chretien: A Legacy of Scandal" (2004) and "The Dauphin: The Truth about Justin Trudeau" (2015). I am some combination of conservative/libertarian, standing athwart history yelling "bullshit!" You can follow me on Twitter (@ptuns).

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Saturday, September 24, 2016
Canada cozies up to Red China
The Prime Minister's Office released a statement today: "Prime Minister announces increased collaboration with China." Not surprising considered his admiration for their "basic dictatorship."
I am no fan of the regime in Beijing and its deplorable human rights record. I was a critic of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's visits to China. But no country in the world is going to risk offending the communist leadership of a country with 1.5 billion consumers. Canadian prime minister's are in a no-win political situation domestically when they make deals with Beijing, but I'm not sure castigating China will do any good.

The case for Clinton
Kids Prefer Cheese:
My own preference would be for HRC to be prez but the republicans continue to hold both legislative branches. Her brand of lawlessness I think is more amenable to congressional checks than the Trumpster's.
Kevin Grier will still probably vote for Gary Johnson, and hope for divided government.

Vin Scully's last series
Vin Scully has a typically classy letter to fans on the last weekend of his nearly seven-decade broadcasting career. I highly recommend reading it. It is brief -- six paragraphs that begin by explaining how he became a Giants fan -- and humble:
You were simply always there for me. I have always felt that I needed you more than you needed me and that holds true to this very day. I have been privileged to share in your passion and love for this great game.
Dayn Perry says: "Eighty years of loving the game of baseball and 67 years of telling us stories about it. The pleasure has been ours, Mr. Scully." Indeed.

'Claims of an epidemic of race crimes since the referendum are simply false'
The Daily Mail reports that a claim that there has been an 57% increase in hate crimes since the Brexit vote is based on one reporting mechanism in the four days after the referendum. The likely unrepresentative few days has since taken a life of its own with it being repeated as fact for the months since Brexit was okayed by British voters. Indeed, a National Police Chief Council press release said there was "no major spikes in tensions" in the aftermath of Brexit. Hate crimes haven't increased, but anti-hate crime activism has. The Daily Mail reports:
For the more you investigate, the more it turns out to be a deeply cynical industry where dishonesty and hysteria reign, truth has been replaced with Left-wing dogma, and verifiable facts no longer count for very much at all.
On paper, Britain is a remarkably tolerant country. London has just elected a Muslim mayor by a whacking majority. Gay marriage is not just legal but supported by a comfortable majority of adults. Children from ethnic minorities consistently outperform white working-class counterparts at school and in university.
Surveys by the respected and politically neutral think-tank Pew Research, along with the prestigious British Social Attitudes Survey, show racial prejudice in long-term and perhaps terminal decline.
Yet despite such trends, we are routinely described as being in the grip of a hate crime ‘epidemic’ where a few high-profile incidents — such as the appalling recent murder of a Polish immigrant on the streets of Harlow (which may or may not eventually prove to be race-related) — are said to represent the tip of a sinister iceberg.

Ted Cruz 'endorses' Donald Trump
On Facebook Senator Ted Cruz (Texas) states his reasons for voting for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, and encourages others who oppose Hillary Clinton's radical agenda and Barack Obama's third term to vote Trump, too. He is not really endorsing Trump as much as he is voting against Clinton, and that's fair. My first reaction was disappointment. Supporting Trump wouldn't be my choice -- I would do what I usually do and abstain from voting -- but considering that the Senator has to work with other members of his party and perhaps a Trump White House, it is understandable and probably even defensible.
The Washington Examiner reports that Senator Mike Lee (Utah) says he will not be joining his friend Cruz in supporting Trump. I presume that means Lee is off the list of potential Supreme Court judicial appointees Trump is talking about.
The Resurgent's Erick Erickson makes a political argument against Clinton and Christian argument against Trump which is reprinted in the Washington Post. He says Clinton is anti-American but Trump is un-American and, worse, an unrepentant sinner:
I think Hillary Clinton will do lasting damage to the country. I cannot vote for her.
Having fully weighed my opposition to Trump, I think Donald Trump will do lasting damage to the witness of the Church in America and I therefore cannot vote for him.

Friday, September 23, 2016
Money for people, not programs
The Saskatchewan Ministry of Social Services announced earlier this week:
Social Services Minister Tina Beaudry-Mellor today announced the future implementation of a self-directed funding (SDF) model for individuals who experience intellectual disabilities to give them greater choice over their life decisions. Self-directed funding allows individuals experiencing intellectual disabilities to choose supports that meet their needs and help them reach their goals.
Currently, funding to clients goes through community-based organizations, but under SDF, goes directly to the individual. This allows individuals and their support team to decide which supports and services they access depending on their own unique needs and aspirations. Minister Beaudry-Mellor joined participants of the SDF Demonstration Project and their families to celebrate the positive impact and successes of this approach ...
A self-directed funding option was one of the recommendations put forward by the Valley View Centre Transition Steering Committee in 2013. The Committee recognized that some individuals were unable to access certain supports through the former funding model, and that a funding model with more choices and autonomy would personalize the supports and services available to individuals transitioning from Valley View Centre into communities across Saskatchewan. The self-directed funding model will be implemented province-wide beginning April 1, 2017.

What I'm reading
1. Creating Canada’s Peacekeeping Past by Colin McCullough. The McMaster historian examines how peacekeeping worked domestically to foster a Canadian identity.
2. Trudeaumania: The Rise to Power of Pierre Elliott Trudeau by Robert Wright. I'm also looking forward to reading Paul Litt's Trudeaumania, which comes out in December from UBC Press.
3. "Crowding Out Culture: Scandinavians and Americans Agree on Social Welfare in the Face of Deservingness Cues," by Lene Aaroe and Michael Bang Petersen
4. "Less Ottawa, More Province: How Decentralization Is Key to Health Care Reform," a new Fraser Institute paper by Ben Eisen, Bacchus Barua, Jason Clemens, and Steve Lafleur.

'Visual History of Global Health'
Incredible graphs/maps from Our World in Data showing the "History of Global Health." All good news. Some are interactive and it is rewarding to spend some time on each slide. Max Roser's work is similar to Hans Rosling's.

Brexit schedule announced by BoJo, denied by May
The Guardian reports:
The UK government is likely to trigger article 50 and begin the process of the country’s formal departure from the European Union early next year, Boris Johnson has said.
In a rare hint of the government’s concrete plans for Brexit, the foreign secretary told Sky News that ministers would also set out the principles for departure at that time, and suggested the exit procedure could take less than the scheduled two years.
However, Downing Street pointedly declined to back up Johnson’s contention. Theresa May has previously made clear her frustration with ministers expressing views on how a Brexit deal or process might look.
Meanwhile, The Guardian is tracking the UK economic performance as part of on-going Brexit coverage, from the referendum through negotiations with the EU, and it finds that Project Fear was way off in its predictions:
But since the Bank [of England] stepped in with a package of measures to shore up the economy, much of the economic news has defied expectations and many analysts have toned down their post-referendum gloom.
Now the picture of early resilience is bolstered in the first snapshot of post-referendum Britain in a new Guardian project that will track the economy as the Brexit talks begin and progress, and as more data on the economy becomes available.
The Guardian has chosen eight economic indicators, as well as the value of the pound against the dollar and euro, to illustrate the state of the economy.
While there are warning signs of possible problems ahead, the dashboard shows a better than expected performance in four of the eight categories analysed. Two were as expected and inflation came in below forecasts, defying expectations for a post-referendum pick-up in price rises. Public borrowing was a little worse than forecast, at £10.5bn in August, compared with the £10bn predicted by economists.
The Daily Mail reports "In a damning assessment of the scaremongering by the Remain camp, the Office for National Statistics declared that there had been no post-referendum economic shock."

US police killing civilians is not rising
The Washington Post reports that American police are on pace to fatally shoot slightly fewer than the 990 civilians killed in 2015:
Yet even as demonstrations and anger have erupted in cities across the country in recent years, pushing this issue firmly into the national consciousness, the actual pace of deadly shootings remains unchanged.
Police in the United States are on pace to fatally shoot about as many people this year as they did last year, when officers shot and killed nearly 1,000 civilians, according to a Washington Post database.
Officers have shot and killed at least 706 people so far this year.
This is not a good news story.
It seems like 2016 is more violent because, "There is one big difference in the shootings this year, though: More of these incidents are being captured on camera."

Right to try
Senator Ron Johnson (R, WI) argues in the Wall Street Journal for right-to-try laws:
But safety is not the FDA’s only mandate. The agency also must establish a drug’s effectiveness before potential breakthroughs are allowed on the market. This risk-averse approach results in an approval process that on average takes 14 years, according to a 2014 study from Tufts University, and costs nearly $2.6 billion for a single drug ...
A growing national movement believes terminally ill patients deserve the right to try safe but experimental drugs and treatments. Thirty-one states now have enacted laws to give terminally ill patients the legal right to access drugs and treatments that have demonstrated safety but not yet received FDA approval. At a time when national politics are often divided, right-to-try laws are passing with nearly unanimous support.
But the Obama administration’s posture on these laws is unclear. Doctors and pharmaceutical companies rightly fear professional and legal consequences if they administer experimental treatments. In my Senate committee, I’ve attempted to get the FDA to speak clearly on whether it will respect these state laws.
Johnson supports the Trickett Wendler Right to Try Act of 2016 which "requires the federal government to abide by the right-to-try laws in the now-31 states that have adopted them." It has the bipartisan support of 42 senators and there is similar legislation in the House of Representatives. As Johnson says, "No one can guarantee a miracle cure. What we can and must do is give patients and families the freedom to decide for themselves how to fight their illness. With no other options, they at least have the right to hope."

Reproductive freedom and climate change
Colin Hickey, Travis N. Rieder, and Jake Earl write in the October Social Theory and Practice on the need for "population engineering" in order to combat climate change:
Contrary to political and philosophical consensus, we argue that the threats posed by climate change justify population engineering, the intentional manipulation of the size and structure of human populations. Specifically, we defend three types of policies aimed at reducing fertility rates: (1) choice enhancement, (2) preference adjustment, and (3) incentivization. While few object to the first type of policy, the latter two are generally rejected because of their potential for coercion or morally objectionable manipulation. We argue that forms of each policy type are pragmatically and morally justified (perhaps even required) tools for preventing the harms of global climate change.
Shannon Roberts writes at Mercator that it is unnecessary and potentially dangerous:
For a start, according to Oxfam research late last year, the richest 10% of people produce half of Earth’s climate-harming fossil-fuel emissions, while the poorest half contribute a mere 10%, making it hard to say that emissions are an over-population problem. Oxfam said late last year that its analysis “helps dispel the myth that citizens in rapidly developing countries are somehow most to blame for climate change.”
Aside from that, one only has to consider the far-reaching effects of the one child policy in China or do any research into the human toll of the population reduction and sterilisation targets operating in numerous countries in the 1970’s and 1980’s to see the negative effects of population engineering. For instance in 1983 - the year the United Nations actually gave China a population award and money for its establishment of family planning programmes - a record number of birth control surgeries were performed in China, including 16.4 million female sterilisations and 14.4 million abortions – many of them forced. Let's not go back there.

Thursday, September 22, 2016
Jason Kenney's first speech in the House of Commons in 1997
Next week, for the first time in 19 years, Jason Kenney will not be an MP. CPAC tweeted his maiden speech in the House.

Four games to watch (Week 3 edition)
4. Pittsburgh Steeler (2-0) at Philadelphia Eagles (2-0): Two perfect Pennsylvania teams. Steelers have a potent offense that is always fun to watch and their defense -- especially their front seven -- is quite good. Eagles rookie QB Carson Wentz, who would be described as competent if his team's record was 1-1 instead of 2-0, goes against the toughest defense he will have faced in his short career. Wentz has beaten the Cleveland Browns and Chicago Bears, two of the worst defenses in the NFL (Chicago partly because of injuries). Philly has had a conservative game plan for Wentz and we'll want to see what he can do against a more aggressive D. I'm biased, of course, but any game that has Ben Roethlisberger throwing to Antonio Brown is going to provide highlight reel plays. Steelers should dominate through the first three quarters but the win will make appear close as they notoriously give away points in the fourth quarter.
3. Houston Texans (2-0) at New England Patriots (2-0): This Thursday Night contest would probably be number one if Tom Brady or Jimmy Garoppolo were starting instead of third-stringer rookie Jacoby Brissett. This could be a preview of a post-season game, including the AFC Championship, but that game will be different because, presumably, Brady will be playing in January. That said, tonight's contest could determine seeding once the season is over. Garoppolo has played well so its no wonder the Pats are tying to have him ready for tonight, but that seems unlikely and unwise. I'm not sure an injured Garoppolo facing the inhuman pass rush of the Texans is the best plan. It will be interesting to see what Pats coach Bill Belichick does with Brissett. It is often assumed that breaking in a new QB benefits opponents, but is also difficult to prepare for third-string quarterbacks for whom there is little game tape. Too close to call but if I had to be, I wouldn't bet against Belichick.
2. Washington Redskins (0-2) at New York Giants (2-0): The Giants are 2-0 but have outscored opponents by just four points. The Giants D was expected to better this season, but they won't continue allowing a mere 16 points a game. That said, the defense is better. There are two great cornerback-receive matchups in this game: Janoris Jenkins vs. DeSean Jackson and Josh Norman vs. Odell Beckham Jr. Thus far this season, Jenkins has played better as Washington's coaches have had Norman taking opposing team's number two wide receiver as they stubbornly keep him on the right side of the field. Perhaps the only players more talked about as an underachiever this year than Norman is Kirk Cousins who is making the Redskins brain trust look brilliant for not signing the fifth-year QB to a long-term deal. Cousins might just be having two bad games or he could be returning to his old ways of throwing picks. You have to figure that Washington would be out of the playoffs with a third consecutive defeat to open the season (and second division loss), while New York would pace the NFC East with its third straight victory. But the individual storylines (Cousins, Norman) and matchups, as well as Eli Manning throwing to Beckham and Victor Cruz, who looks rejuvenated after missing most of the last two seasons, makes this a must-watch game. Cousins continues throwing picks and Manning continues connecting with Cruz and the Giants win easily.
1. Denver Broncos (2-0) at Cincinnati Bengals (1-1): The Broncs defense is otherwordly. More specifically, Von Miller is a sack machine. You want to watch in this contest is whether Cincy QB Andy Dalton can get the ball thrown downfield to A.J. Green before Miller breaks protection. My guess is not enough. Denver pulls off a minor upset against the Bengals in a game with plenty of playmakers on both sides of the ball on both teams.

'Why is Milk in the Back of the Store?'
The standard, moralizing explanation is that grocery stores are trying to trick you into buying other products after being forced to walk to the back of their establishment. Economist Russell Roberts says it might have to do with where milk can be conveniently and efficiently stored in refrigerated units that can be easily restocked.

Parental rights in education (school lunch edition)
Five Feet of Fury points out a story in The Guardian about schools in Italy -- first Turin and now Milan -- where students have to eat the school lunch. Turin parents won the right to send their kids to school with home-packed lunches, leading parents in Milan to call for the same right. One child who took a healthy whole-grain sandwich to school was segregated from the student body. The Guardian reports:
For Anna Scavuzzo, who is in charge of school food policy in the city, packed lunches represent a threat to student safety.
“If you permit everyone to bring their own food, how can you be sure that something won’t happen?” said a spokeswoman for Scavuzzo’s office, pointing to the prevalence of food allergies, infections, intolerances and other problems.
Bringing food from home, she said, compromised the values the schools are trying to teach students about food and nutrition. “Lunch is an educational moment. They need to learn to sit together, to have proper, safe and organic food, and that they can’t just have potato chips and chocolate. They are in school and that means community,” the spokeswoman said.
Milan’s publicly-funded school system serves about 80,000 student lunches every day. Parents pay for the lunches according to their wealth, with most paying about €2.60 per day.
There are numerous issues tied together in this case: safety, nutrition, food politics (privileging organic, local foods), class, and community, not to mention freedom. (Food fascism?) Scavuzzo's office found the segregation of the student heavy-handed and said the policy has been clarified: in the future, illicit food will be confiscated and the student will be forced to eat a government meal.

Central banks not doing the job
The Wall Street Journal editorializes that the central banks of Japan and the United States (and, it could add, Europe) are experimenting in policies that are not having the intended effect of spurring economic growth. The Journal says that governments need to stop relying on monetary policy and look to tax cuts and regulatory reforms to grow the economy.
Focusing central bank activities on short-term bond purchases and setting interest rates is not only necessary for economic growth, but to ensure investors have the correct information:
Setting interest rates along the range of different maturities could have unintended consequences. A steepening yield curve usually means that more growth and inflation are expected. But an artificial curve without those expectations could encourage more long-term saving, worsening deflation. It could also make Japan’s inefficient banks complacent about restructuring.
Prices are knowledge.

Three cheers for globalization
And a cheer-and-a-half for infrastructure.
George F. Will notes:
Upstate South Carolina suffered when, beginning in the 1970s, Asian imports devastated the textile industry. But in that decade, Charleston’s port was one reason Michelin (France) began manufacturing tires there. Since then, four other tire companies have come — Giti (Singapore), Continental (Germany), Bridgestone (Japan), and Trelleborg Wheel Systems (Sweden). South Carolina manufactures 89,000 tires a day, and exports more tires than any other state. In the 1990s, BMW built an automobile assembly plant and this March exported its 2 millionth X-model vehicle through the Port of Charleston. Without the port, Mercedes and Volvo would not be building plants in South Carolina. Without the port, Mercedes and Volvo would not be building plants in South Carolina.
Operators of the cranes that load the containers onto the ships often earn, with overtime, six-figure salaries. Every day, 3,500 trucks — 70 percent owner-operated — deliver and depart with containers. Do today’s anti-trade politicians wish that South Carolina was still making towels and T-shirts for Americans rather than cars and tires (and Boeing aircraft, manufactured by more than 7,500 South Carolinians) for Americans and the world?
The Charleston port needs to be made deeper to facilitate larger ships. Congress delaying approval and funding has cascading effects: a one month delay in approval means a year delay before budgeting for the project which puts off dredging for a year. Government funding for infrastructure is all the rage, and yet important projects are being postponed:
There is no controversy in Congress about this project. But unless Congress acts on it before the end of the year, the deepening will not be in the president’s 2018 budget and will be delayed for a year, with radiating costs — inefficiencies and lost opportunities. This a mundane matter of Congress managing its legislative traffic, moving consensus measures through deliberation to action. It will illustrate whether or not Congress can still efficiently provide public works to enhance private-sector efficiency.

Bryan Caplan on not voting
Bryan Caplan (HT: Cafe Hayek):
I do not vote. Since I'm an economist, the parsimonious explanation is that (a) I know the probability of voter decisiveness is astronomically low, and (b) I selfishly value my time. But that's hardly adequate. I spend my time on many quixotic missions, like promoting open borders. So why not vote?
My honest answer begins with extreme disgust. When I look at voters, I see human beings at their hysterical, innumerate worst. When I look at politicians, I see mendacious, callous bullies. Yes, some hysterical, innumerate people are more hysterical and innumerate than others. Yes, some mendacious, callous bullies are more mendacious, callous, and bully-like than others. But even a bare hint of any of these traits appalls me. When someone gloats, "Politifact says Trump is pants-on-fire lying 18% of the time, versus just 2% for Hillary," I don't want to cheer Hillary. I want to retreat into my Bubble, where people dutifully speak the truth or stay silent.
I know this seems an odd position for an economist. Aren't we always advising people to choose their best option, even when their best option is bleak? Sure, but abstention is totally an option. And while politicians have a clear incentive to ignore we abstainers, only remaining aloof from our polity gives me inner peace ...
I refuse to traumatize myself for a one-in-a-million chance of moderately improving the quality of American governance. And one-in-a-million is grossly optimistic.
I know that traumatizing feeling. I always feel dirty after voting, the few times I have (in general elections; leadership races are different). Always have.
I understand why some people vote, so they have a story to tell about themselves. I guess the same is true, however, of non-voters. But people who think they are making a difference are delusional.

Revising Brexit economic forecasts
Back in April, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development warned that Brexit would be bad for the British economy. Now, three months after the Brexit vote, the OECD has raised growth projections for the UK economy by 0.1% to 1.8% in a report that predicts slower global economic growth.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Cincinnati Bengals
Great photo essay from the weekend's game. Photos by Benjamin Rasmussen, words by D.J. Dunson. Don't have to be a Steelers or Bengals fan to appreciate the photographs.

Post-Brexit free trade with EU
The Daily Mail reports:
Theresa May told the EU’s posturing leaders yesterday that they will have no choice but to agree a trade deal with Brexit Britain.
In a defiant blast delivered en route to a summit of world leaders, the Prime Minister said it was firmly in the interests of the 27 remaining members of the Brussels club to conclude successful talks with the UK.
International Trade Secretary Liam Fox added that the Britain is a net importer from the EU.

The Clinton Foundation scam
Austin Bay in The Observer:
The Clinton Foundation, with its plethora of kind strangers, foreign and domestic, is proving to be a problem. It won’t stop the clock, but clock watchers should beware: prostituting the State Department isn’t minutia. It’s the precisely the kind of sleazy, self-serving political class revelation that ticks people off. People get it. Everyone knows what “on the take” means and the Clinton Foundation certainly looks like a global bribery and crony access scam run by a former a president and a first lady who is a presidential candidate ...
[E]ven The Boston Globe wants the Clintons to stop accepting Foundation donations if Hillary is elected president.
See, taking cash from donors when you’re president is, well, so unseemly. There’d be constant gossip, innuendo, wild tales of scandal that Boston Globe editors just don’t want to hear—and don’t want to be forced to ignore.
It appears The Boston Globe’s editors don’t have the guts to call the Clintons what they are: corrupt. Their editorial plea called the Foundation a “distraction.” Distraction? C’mawn Beantown media bigshots—it’s their business and it’s a big business. When Hillary was secretary of state the Clinton Foundation accepted shady donations. Those moral, ethical and perhaps criminal failures should be investigated, right?

Government staff get relocation reimbursements
The Globe and Mail reports:
The Liberal government paid more than $200,000 to move two members of the Prime Minister’s Office to Ottawa, part of a $1.1-million tab picked up by taxpayers to relocate political staff after last year’s federal election, newly released documents show.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau refused to name the two members of his inner circle who racked up the costs – with one staffer charging $126,669 and the other $80,382 for moving expenses, according to the documents tabled in the House of Commons ...
Other costs outlined in the documents show one staff member at Global Affairs Canada was paid a total of $119,825 to relocate, and a total of just over $146,000 was spent on nine employees. Another at Environment and Climate Change Canada was reimbursed almost $76,000 to relocate; while one staffer at Innovation Science and Social Development was paid $113,799 in total.
This is not a Liberal thing; employees of the previous government not only made relocation claims, but the Conservatives brought in the law. It is not unusual for private or public sector employers to pay relocation costs, although many universities, for example, cap such reimbursements to $5,000 or less. I'm sure the PMO would claim that they are attracting top talent and there's a cost to doing so. But $126,669 is a lot of money above and beyond a salary to bring in the precise person the PM wanted. The policy should be changed to provide a (low) ceiling for relocation reimbursements.
It should also be noted that employees who move more than 40 km to new jobs can deduct relocation expenses on the following tax year.

The bad news is that the good news comes from the UN
The Guardian: "UN agrees to fight 'the biggest threat to modern medicine': antibiotic resistance." The paper reports:
The declaration routes the global response to superbugs along a similar path as the one used to combat climate change. In two years, groups including UN agencies will provide an update on the superbug fight to the UN secretary general.
It is estimated that more than 700,000 people die each year due to drug-resistant infections, though it could be much higher because there is no global system to monitor these deaths ...
Scientists warned about the threat of antibiotic resistance decades ago, when pharmaceutical companies began the industrial production of medicine.
Antibiotic resistance might be the most important issue facing humanity. Unfortunately, the UN doesn't have a great track record of success.
I didn't know that concerns about antibiotic resistance were raised from the first days of penicillin:
The inventor of penicillin, Alexander Fleming, cautioned of the impending crisis while accepting his Nobel Prize in 1945: “There is the danger that the ignorant man may easily underdose himself and by exposing his microbes to non-lethal quantities of the drug make them resistant”.

Trump's hyperbole
The Washington Examiner reports on Donald Trump's outreach to blacks:
Speaking in North Carolina, the Republican nominee claimed African-American communities "are absolutely in the worst shape that they've ever been in before, ever, ever, ever."
Considering Trump's Southern venue, one might conclude that this was at least a bit hyperbolic. After all, black American history has included slavery, the Fugitive Slave Act, the marauding of the Ku Klux Klan and Jim Crow, among other injustices and indignities.
It's the latest Trump paradox. He has begun to do the kind of minority outreach promoted by Republicans from Jack Kemp to Rand Paul yet he retains a tin ear on race.
Trump probably forgot about ... most of American history.

There is no such thing as a 'must-win' state
FiveThirtyEight's Harry Enten:
Notice that Florida is the most pivotal, but it’s only the tipping-point state 16 percent of the time. After Florida, there’s a big drop-off to Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio, which each prove decisive in about 11 percent of our simulations.
There are, however, states that Clinton or Trump win in the vast majority of cases in which they win the election, according to our model’s simulations. But that’s not quite the same thing as a must-win state. Trump has to win Arkansas, for example, but not because Arkansas’s six electoral votes are so valuable. Instead, if Trump is losing in ruby-red Arkansas, he’s likely losing in most other states. The states aren’t independent. So the truly “must-win” states tend to be the noncompetitive ones, and they don’t guarantee Trump or Clinton a win — they simply preclude a loss (most likely).
According to FiveThirtyEight, Clinton has a 51.9% chance of winning. I like the prediction that Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson will win 0.3 Electoral College votes.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016
In defense of surge pricing
Russ Roberts defends Uber's practice of surge pricing:
A lot of people wanted to get out of the area and get out quickly. Surge pricing encouraged drivers to face potential danger. It also signaled to potential passengers whose desire for a ride was not urgent to step aside and make room for those whose need was very urgent indeed. The beauty of prices is that these people do not have to know what is going on. The higher price sends them a message.
For those who are offended by surge pricing at a time of crisis, please tell me your preferred method for getting some people (drivers) to head toward danger when everyone else prefers to head in the other direction. And then tell me how you are going to get people who are heading out to the grocery or are thinking of going out for a drink to postpone or cancel their plans.
Surge pricing provides superior information and coordinate desires better than any other system out there. Period.

Government wants to regulate autonomous vehicles
The Washington Post reports:
Federal officials say they intend to aggressively shape the emergence of driverless cars, increasing their role well beyond the traditional recalls of cars when they prove defective.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx spelled out that determination Monday in issuing a long-awaited policy paper that details 15 points he expects automakers to comply with as they rush to put autonomous cars on the road.
Aggressively shape. That means regulate the shit out of.
The Transportation Secretary says:
“You have to remember that the United States’ approach to automobile-safety regulation is a self-certification approach, so automobiles today are supposed to meet our federal motor-vehicle-safety standards [and] the manufacturers self-certify that they do,” Foxx said in an interview after the conference call. “We’re putting out the idea that in this emerging arena, there should be conversation about pre-market approval, the idea that additional authorities could be given to NHTSA to evaluate a technology and to essentially have to approve its use before it’s put on the marketplace.”
Many people raise objections to self-driving cars that they will injure or kill pedestrians, that they will not be perfectly safe. The standard, however, is that they should be as safe or safer than human-driven cars.

What I'm reading
1. The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin by Steven Lee Myers. It was published in 2015 and the paperback was released last month.
2. "Dose of Reality: The Effect of State Marijuana Legalizations," a Cato Institute Policy Analysis by Angela Dills, Sietse Goffard, and Jeffrey Miron
3. "The Trouble With Macroeconomics," a new paper by New York University's Paul Romer, in the incoming chief economist of the World Bank.

Gerry Nicholls on possible future Liberal fundraiser
Gerry Nicholls has a Hill Times column (behind the paywall?) on the Liberals fundraising drive using various Trudeau-themed tshirts (vote on your favourite and donate $100 and you receive the winning tee!). Nicholls ties the tees to Trudeau's recent travels to Red China:
I mean rather than emphasizing how the trip had advanced Canadian interests, Freeland chose to focus on Trudeau’s nickname, since I suppose she thought it was cute and affectionate and thus matched the Liberal Party’s schmaltzy language.
Mind you, Freeland was just assuming “Little Potato” is an affectionate nickname; for all we know, it might be Mandarin slang for “At least he has nice hair.” ...
Maybe next year, the Liberals will have a T-shirt, emblazoned with a dreamy looking potato with Trudeau’s trademark hair style, over the words: “Our Prime Minister is Spud-tacular!”

McGurn: where is 2016's Milton Friedman
The Wall Street Journal's William McGurn says that with both major presidential candidates opposed to free trade, it is time for some free market evangelization, reminding us of the wisdom of Nobel prize-winning economist Milton Friedman:
For his part, Friedman would ask by what right should an American be prevented from buying a lawful good or service if he found a better price from someone overseas? Where’s the morality of keeping a worker from selling the product of his labor to someone who happens to live in another country? And the following was Friedman’s response on “Free to Choose” when a union official challenged him on his bid to eliminate all tariffs over five years:
“The social and moral issues are all on the side of free trade. And it is you, and people like you, who introduce protection who are the ones who are violating fundamental moral and social issues.
“Tell me, what trade union represents the workers who are displaced because high tariffs reduce exports from this country, because high tariffs make steel and other goods more expensive, and as a result, those industries that use steel have to charge higher prices, they have fewer employees, the export industries that would grow up to balance the imports, tell me what union represents them? What moral and ethical view do you have about their interests?”
Another name for trade restrictions is discrimination.

Free trade isn't dead, after all
The Wall Street Journal reports that Angela Merkel's junior coalition partner, the Social Democratic Party, has endorsed the European Union-Canada free trade deal, Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). CETA will revoke about 9000 tariffs covering industrial goods and some agri-food products, as well as permit competition in some service sectors (banking and insurance). The Journal reports:
Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, chairman of the Social Democratic Party and the country’s economy minister, has praised the agreement, known as CETA, as an exemplary trade deal that could save EU exporters about €500 million ($560 million) a year in duties, drawing contrasts to stalled negotiations with the U.S. over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP. Until Monday, however, his center-left party’s approval for the deal with Ottawa hung in the balance.
“It’s no secret that the Americans always say that ‘we would never agree to what the Canadians have,’ like agreeing to abolish arbitration,’’ Mr. Gabriel said after his Social Democrats’ meeting in Wolfsburg, referring to secret corporate courts that have struck a nerve with globalization critics in Germany. “CETA is a shield against bad treaties,” he added.
Meanwhile, in Berlin’s Chancellery and at European Union headquarters in Brussels, the deal continues to have strong support.
Cecilia Malmström, the EU’s trade chief, and Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s trade minister, said on Sunday that their goal was to sign the deal this fall and implement it earlier next year, and a spokesman for Ms. Merkel said the deal has her full support.
I'm always concerned that free trade deals increase regulations, but lowering tariffs and other trade restrictions permit more goods and services to be offered at lower prices to more people. That is good, and overdue.

Monday, September 19, 2016
Reuters: "Trump VP Pence says he views Cheney as a role model." Dick Cheney might be a good role model for the vice presidency, but saying that the cartoonish villain from the hated days of the George W. Bush administration is someone worth emulating is probably bad politics. Even Republicans want to move on from the Bush years.

Philanthropy, photo-ops, and help delivered
Bloomberg reports on the Clinton Global Initiative and how several big-name corporations are avoiding this year's event to avoid charges of pay-for-play. It's worth reading for the obvious potential of conflicts-of-interest (at worst) and bad press (at best) when companies and individuals "donate" to the Clinton Foundation as one of its principals is running for president of the United States.
But this paragraph grabbed my attention:
Since Bill Clinton launched CGI as an arm of the Clinton Foundation in 2005, its members made more than 3,550 commitments and pledged to raise $125 billion to meet them, according to a Bloomberg News calculation based on annual reports. The group says its work has affected 430 million people in 180 countries. In philanthropy circles, CGI is widely credited with creating a new framework for giving and action, convening powerful figures from government, business and charities to address global problems. Members would pay for the privilege to meet and brainstorm solutions, then make financial commitments, often multi-year plans costing tens of millions of dollars.
The problem is that there are many commitments and pledges, but not all become reality. Yet, the "donors" get credit for giving money to various worthy causes. Because donors don't typically get called out for reneging, there is no cost for making promises and not following through, Governments do this, too: announce a dollar amount that they don't deliver. But the celebrity, company, or minister, wins headlines and is seen dutifully smiling in these photo-ops, and they receive backslapping praise from appreciative worthies.
It isn't only the Clinton Foundation. Its all sorts of charities and various donors, and it borders on dishonesty even if there is intent to deliver, which I find questionable. Much better to replace "commitments" with actual cheques. You might ask what charities get out of false promises, but their names are getting into the papers and broadcasts, too. Perhaps the press could withhold coverage until the funds are delivered, or better yet the services they are intended to provide.

'Palestinian stopped on way to Molotov cocktail attack was age 12'
Legal Insurrection's William Jacobson: "Remember this next time you hear BDS activists scream about how Israel arrests children."

As Conservatives complain the Liberal government isn't doing much
David Akin reports, "Liberal MPs handed out 1,447 cheques worth $7.8 billion on summer recess." I'd prefer a truly do-nothing government. (And, yes, I understand MPs are not "the government" ... but you know what I mean.)

Excellent observation on media
Tyler Cowen:
I have a simple hypothesis. No matter what the media tells you their job is, the feature of media that actually draws viewer interest is how media stories either raise or lower particular individuals in status ...
But now you can see why people get so teed off at the media. The status ranking of individuals implied by a particular media source is never the same as yours, and often not even close. You hold more of a grudge from the status slights than you get a positive and memorable charge from the status agreements.
In essence, (some) media is insulting your own personal status rankings all the time. You might even say the media is insulting you.
Essentially tribalism.

Sunday, September 18, 2016
Trudeau's inaction
Huffington Post reports that the Trudeau government passed 10 bills in its first nine months compared to 18 to Stephen Harper's first majority in 2011 and 14 and 26 bills in his minority governments of 2006 and 2009 respectively. Paul Martin passed 36 bills in his minority government in 2004 despite his reputation as a ditherer, while Jean Chretien's governments passed 34, 38, and 28 bills in the first nine months of his three mandates. Huff Po's Althia Raj reports:
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s first months in office were the least productive of any government in the House of Commons in more than two decades, data compiled by the Library of Parliament shows.
Parliament passed 10 bills during Trudeau's first nine months, the public database reveals. In their first nine months after winning a majority mandate in 2011, the Conservatives enacted 18 pieces of legislation — including nine bills moved in their first 23 days.
“For a government that really talks about real change, and high ambition ... there hasn’t been much change. They haven’t done a heck of a lot,” said Conservative MP Erin O’Toole, who flagged the trend to The Huffington Post Canada ...
“We have a prime minister who is almost obsessed with constant engagement with media but very disinterested with the nitty gritty of governing,” said O’Toole, a probable Conservative leadership contender...
Noting the Trudeau government’s incredible popularity, O’Toole said Canadians might be surprised to discover that the image of the Liberals hard at work is not matched by reality.
The cabinet has had three taxpayer-paid retreats — in Saint Andrews, N.B.; Kananaskis, Alta., and Sudbury, Ont. — “ a retreat for every three bills they pass” he said, suggesting that the meetings were intended solely to give the Liberals’ positive local press.
“I was a minister for about a year, and we never did a cabinet retreat. But I passed legislation,” said O’Toole, who served as Canada’s previous veterans affairs minister. “Three new benefits for people. We had debates, but they weren’t manufactured for photos.”
I have three big problems with this story and the thinking of Erin O'Toole.
1. It assumes the only way governments are productive is if they pass laws. The Trudeau government has enacted regulations, which might be just as important when it comes to governing the country. It has been busy on the international stage, and while the Conservatives might not be excited about the content of those international agreements, the suggestion that they are vacations rather than part of the job is nonsense. Even if there weren't any agreements, from the Trudeau government's point of view, they are busy rehabilitating Canada's supposedly sullied image.
2. It assumes that governments acting quickly is better than taking their time. The Trudeau government would argue that they are setting the stage for larger changes through consultations and that they took the time to deliberate and determine how to act effectively rather than swiftly.
3. Why is an ostensible conservative, O'Toole, complaining that the Trudeau government is not doing more. I assume he and the party oppose the Trudeau agenda. (They should.) It is mere point-scoring to scold the government for not doing more when the preference would be they don't do what they threatened promised to do in the first place. Yet the "unproductive" government talking point is even being tweeted by the chief of staff to the opposition leader. So I guess we can safely assume that the Conservatives want more liberal/Liberal legislation passed.

Against negative interest rates
Financial Times columnist John Kay wrote about the folly of negative interest rates last week:
There is a theory behind the seeming madness. Low interest rates encourage firms to invest and consumers to spend now rather than later. If the economies of Japan and the Eurozone are stagnant, it is because interest rates are not low enough. So long as inflation is under control, it is the duty of central banks to push rates lower still.
This is not a theory which bears much scrutiny. Consumption in the Eurozone is not sluggish because interest rates are so high, but because expectations are so low. Fiscal austerity and the aftermath of the global financial crisis have dimmed the employment prospects of a generation of young Europeans. Low interest rates have pushed up asset prices, putting house purchase beyond the reach of many, and rendering long-term saving more or less hopeless. To provide 70% of gross income for 25 years of retirement when real interest rates are zero requires setting aside 45% of that gross income every year. Should you save more, to try and make up the shortfall; or less, since the goal of comfortable retirement is beyond reach anyway? The primary effect of monetary policy since 2008 has been to transfer wealth to those who already hold long-term assets – real and financial – from those who now never will.
Kay says austerity and corporate short-termism are also culprits in preventing the sort of economic growth that could convince central banks to eschew taking interest rates below zero.

Brexit news
The Daily Mail reports that Prime Minister Theresa May is denying that she told EU Council president Donald Tusk she plans to invoke Article 50 in January or February 2017 to kickstart Brexit negotiations. Tusk has apparently told the other heads of state in the EU May has indicated to him she wants to begin negotiations in early 2017 so they can be completed in 2019.
The Daily Express reports that former Liberal Democrats leader Nick Clegg told students at the London School of Economics: "No one knows what Brexit means. Once it becomes clear it should be put to the people." No do-overs.
The Daily Telegraph reports that there is a new group "Leave Means Leave" that is headed by entrepreneur Richard Tice that includes six Conservative MPs. Its aim is "getting the UK out of the EU’s single market, ending the influence of Brussels on British laws, and scrapping European 'free movement' migration." The paper reports:
In the group’s launch report, it argues that Britain must pull out of the EU’s single market, even if no alterative trade deal has been struck with Brussels.
Mr Tice said: “Let's be clear: No deal is better than a bad deal."
The Telegraph characterizes the fact a half dozen of her MPs are part of the group as a "rebellion" which seems a little much, although foot-dragging or any watering down Brexit means Brexit on the PM's part could lead more to join.
And why does the EU need an army? What's wrong with NATO?

Ryan's 'A better way'
From economist John Cochrane's observations from Washington, D.C.:
The Paul Ryan "A better way" plan is serious, detailed, and you will be hearing a lot about it. I read most of it in preparation for my trip, and it's impressive. Expect reviews here soon. I learned that Republicans seem to be uniting behind it and ready to make a major push to publicize it. It is, by design, a document that Senatorial and Congressional candidates will use to define a positive agenda for their campaigns, as well as describing a comprehensive legislative and policy agenda.
Ryan's "A better way" is worth reading. Here is what I wrote about it last month:
Ryan's plan is not a blueprint for governing, but it is the beginning of an important discussion for which conservatives and Republicans have long been absent. It is the beginning of a conversation and a set of guiding principles upon which a Republican Congress could act to battle stubborn poverty and some of its related pathologies.
It is a good plan, whether it is the guiding principle in opposition to President Hillary Clinton or as part the governing coalition (per Mark Steyn) with President Donald Trump.