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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Friday, March 16, 2018
Not enough Toys R Us kids
Business Insider reports that in the liquidation papers filed by Toys R Us, the company partly blamed declining birth rates for its non-viability:
Most of our end-customers are newborns and children and, as a result, our revenues are dependent on the birth rates in countries where we operate," the filing reads. "In recent years, many countries’ birth rates have dropped or stagnated as their population ages, and education and income levels increase. A continued and significant decline in the number of newborns and children in these countries could have a material adverse effect on our operating results.
This has received very little media coverage, although Andrew Van Dam writes in the Washington Post:
Even adjusted for the aging population and declining share of women of childbearing age, U.S. fertility rates are at all-time lows.
That’s problematic for Toys R Us, which also operates the Babies R Us stores. The company claims in its annual report that its income is linked to birthrates, and it appears to be right.
The change in the number of children born in the previous 12 years (and thus sitting right within the Toys R Us demographic), tracks closely with the company’s changing annual revenue.

Thursday, March 15, 2018
March Madness
Round 1: Virginia (1) over University of Maryland, Baltimore Count (16); Creighton (8) beats Kansas St (9); Davidson (12) upsets Kentucky (5); Arizona (4) ekes past Buffalo (13); Loyola Chicago (11) beats Miami (6); Tennessee (3) turns away Wright State (14); Texas (10) takes Nevada (7); Cincinnati (2) beats Georgia St. (15)
Round 2: Virginia (1) beats Creighton (8); Arizona (4) over Davidson (12); Tennessee (3) over Loyola (11); Cincinnati (2) beats Texas (10)
Sweet Sixteen: Virginia (1) over Arizona (4); Tennessee (3) beats Cincinnati (2)
Elite Eight: Virginia (1) over Tennessee (3)
Round 1: Villanova (1) over Radford (16); Virginia Tech (8) beats Alabama (9); West Virginia (5) beats Murray State (12); Wichita State (4) turns away Marshall (13); Florida (6) ekes past St. Bonaventure (11); Texas Tech (3) beats Stephen F. Austin (14); Butler (10) beats Arkansas (7); Purdue (2) beats California State Fullerton (15)
Round 2: Nova (1) over Virginia Tech (8); West Virginia (5) gets past Wichita (4); Texas Tech (3) over Florida (6); Purdue (2) over Butler (10)
Sweet Sixteen: Villanova (1) over West Virginia (5); Purdue (2) over Texas Tech (3)
Elite Eight: Villanova (1) beats Purdue (2)
Round 1: Xavier (1) easily dispatches Texas Southern (16); Florida St (9) edges Missouri (8); Ohio State (5) ekes past South Dakota (12); Gonzaga (4) beats University of North Carolina at Greensboro (13); San Diego State (11) over Houston (6); Michigan (3) over Montana (14); Providence (10) beats Texas A&M (7); North Carolina (2) beats Lipscomb (15)
Round 2: Florida State (9) edges Xavier (1); Gonzaga (4) beats Ohio State (5); Michigan (3) over San Diego State (11); UNC (2) beats Providence (10)
Sweet Sixteen: Zaga (4) beats Florida State (9); UNC (2) beats Michigan (3)
Elite Eight: North Carolina (2) beats Gonzaga (4)
Round 1: Kansas (1) beats Penn (16); Seton Hall (8) edges past North Carolina State (9); New Mexico State (12) over Clemson (5); Auburn (4) over College of Charleston (13); Syracuse (11) ekes out a win over TCU (6); Michigan State (3) beats Bucknell (14); Oklahoma (10) beats Rhode Island (6); Duke (2) dispatches Iona (15)
Round 2: Kansas (1) beats Seton Hall (8); Auburn (4) edges past New Mexico State (12); Michigan State (3) beats Syracuse (11); Duke (2) easily defeats Oklahoma (10)
Sweet Sixteen: Kansas (1) beats Auburn (4); Duke (2) edges past Michigan State (3)
Elite Eight: Duke (2) decisively beats Kansas (1).
Final Four:
Duke (2) beats Villanova (1); Virginia ekes out a win over North Carolina (2).
Duke (2) beats Virginia (1) in an all ACC final.
There is no chance this happens.
Working assumptions, priors, and other comments: I love North Carolina and hate Duke. Three of the best defensive teams (according to KenPom) are in the South: Virginia, Cincinnati, Tennessee; that means a potential for grinding Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight games. One of these teams will get eliminated earlier than I predicted. Michigan and Michigan State are underseeded at three and I'd have the Spartans in the Finals if they didn't play Duke in the Midwest on the second weekend. North Carolina is a flawed team that could lose to fast-paced Lipscomb in the opening game but they are talented enough to win it, too. Duke is the best team in the tournament; Michigan State might be the second best team in the tourney. I would have picked any other seventh-seed over Oklahoma, which didn't deserve a tournament ticket, but Rhode Island has been playing as poorly as the Sooners have in the last month. I would have picked eighth-seed Virginia Tech to win their second-round match if they were in the Midwest or West, but Villanova is a great team. The best game of the opening round will probably be Davidson (12) vs. Kentucky (5); the Wildcats are good enough to make the Final Four, but I'm going out on a limb picking Davidson because their 17th-ranked offense (according to KenPom) is going to give Kentucky fits. The best game of the tournament is probably going to be the Sweet Sixteen game between the Blue Devils and Spartans; they are the only two teams teams rated both the top 10 offense and defense (according to KenPom) and two of only three teams ranked in the top 20. Will be a tremendous game. I almost picked Buffalo (13) to beat Arizona (4) in the South but just couldn't do it. Expect a lot of overcoming adversity narrative is Sean Miller's team goes deep, but the pundits will blame the distractions and controversies if they bail early.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018
Manageable Brexit bill
Politico EU reports:
Britain will pay £37.1 billion to the European Union over the next 45 years, finally clearing its “Brexit bill” in 2064, according to the U.K.’s independent budget forecasters.
In a document published alongside Chancellor Philip Hammond’s spring statement on the public finances Tuesday, the Office for Budget Responsibility said the U.K. would pay almost half of its outstanding commitments to Brussels by the end of 2020.
Most of the rest goes to pay Britain's pensions commitments. This is a fair(ish) amount over a reasonable(ish) timeframe. While not paltry by any means, it is hardly economically punishing for London. I think the UK is on the hook for more than they are legally required or morally obliged, but its the cost of bailing on the EU and it not the sort of example-making Brexit bill many thought Brussels would try to impose to scare other EU-skeptical populations.

Increased political polarization might be a myth
Tyler Cowen points to a new paper by Amnon Cavari and Guy Freedman in the Journal of Politics titled "Polarized Mass or Polarized Few?" The abstract reinforces a theory I've leaned toward subscribing to for some time:
In this study, we argue that the perceived polarization of Americans along party lines is partially an artifact of the low response rates [to polls] that characterize contemporary surveys. People who agree to participate in opinion surveys are more informed, involved, and opinionated about the political process and therefore hold stronger, more meaningful, and partisan political attitudes. This motivational discrepancy generates a bias in survey research that may amplify evidence of party polarization in the mass public. We test the association between response rates and measures of polarization using individual-level data from Pew surveys from 2004 to 2014 and American National Election Studies from 1984 to 2012. Our empirical evidence demonstrates a significant decline in unit response that is associated with an increase in the percentage of politically active, partisan, and polarized individuals in these surveys. This produces evidence of dissensus that, on some issues, may be stronger than exists in reality.
There's another element to the polarization narrative. I haven't read the study and do not know if the authors look at the role of social media, but my guess is that Twitter and Facebook also lead to a heightened sense of increased political polarization. I'd suggest that social media makes public the views of some segment of the population that the elite ignored or pretended did not exist when they were contained to private conversations, or perhaps even talk radio.

Sunday, March 11, 2018
Hope to have something PC leadership-y soon
Been super busy today. After being cooped up at the PC convention yesterday, spent most the day with the family. Will write something tonight. I hope.
For now, I echo the advice of Dan Robertson:

Saturday, March 10, 2018
PC Party leadership prediction
I wanted to do a longer one a week ago. Events of the last few days change my confidence in this analysis/prediction, but not my actual predictions.
The bottom line: Doug Ford wins on the third ballot unless the combined Christine Elliott and Caroline Mulroney Lapham vote is 58%-60% in the first round. I can't imagine that happening. Polls suggest their combined support is in the low to mid 50s, and I think the polls over-estimate both of their support. Tanya Granic Allen will exceed expectations, helping Ford get over the top.
First round
Doug Ford and Christine Elliott will be effectively tied. Christine Elliott's support was over-estimated in 2009 and 2015 when she was the frontrunner. She finished third in 2009 behind Tim Hudak and Frank Klees and lost two-to-one against Patrick Brown three years ago. I think her strength is being over-estimated again. I wouldn't be surprised if Ford is ahead 3-5 percentage points, but I wouldn't be surprised if she was ahead by a point. It is also possible because of the point/riding system that Ford has more support but they are closer in points. My guess is that they are both in the low to mid 30s. Tanya Granic Allen will surprise people with a third place showing garnering close to a fifth of the vote, well ahead of the 10-12% polls have showed her with. Social conservative leadership candidates always surprise pundits and opponents. Klees unexpectedly beat Elliott in 2009 on the strength of the socon and ethnic vote; Brad Trost usually polled 1-2% in the 2017 CPC leadership and started with about 10% of the vote and finished with about 15%. No one saw it coming. My guess is that Tanya Granic Allen has about 18% of the vote, which could climb closer to 20% if she wins over some significant portion of longtime party members in southwestern Ontario and Chinese voters in the GTA. Most long-time members vote for the person they think can win the general election, but her anti-wind farm rhetoric might attract enough of them. If the ethnic vote breaks a little more evenly, she'll do well (at Ford's early round expense). I've heard that the anti-sex ed Chinese in the GTA were voting Ford #1 and Granic Allen #2. Caroline Mulroney Lapham has underwhelmed the membership. She's a weak candidate and it showed time again. I'd be surprised if she gets 15%, and predict she'll end up with about 12% of the vote.
Second and third rounds
When a candidate drops off, others will gain simply because their support grows as a percentage of a smaller pool of voters. Many voters don't put a second or third preference. How many do will decide this race. It's safe to assume that Mulroney supporters who put a second preference will overwhelmingly vote for Christine Elliott. Elliott will need about three-quarters or more of CML's voters to put her name down, and that is not a safe assumption. If Elliott can't pull ahead of Ford by double digits in round two, she has no chance of winning. Elliott will almost certainly pull ahead of Ford on the second ballot assuming Mulroney drops off the ballot first, it just won't be enough. We're probably looking at something like Elliott 42%, Ford 38%, Granic Allen 20% after the second ballot.
The math is pretty easy after this. Granic Allen supporters are very likely to put a second preference and they will nearly 100% go to Ford. Anecdotally, I've heard that the vast majority of Pierre Lemieux supporters in last year's federal leadership contest voted Brad Trost second. Likewise, a good many Trost/Lemieux votes went to Andrew Scheer third. The social conservatives helped put Scheer over the top. Ford win on the third ballot 57%-43% for the same reason.
I will be surprised if the punditocracy is not surprised by how well Tanya Granic Allen does in this race. That will be the story for 30 minutes or so until Ford win the leadership race, after the new leader becomes the story.
UPDATE: Eric Grenier writes: "Endorsements from MPPs, MPs and nominated candidates are not necessarily decisive on their own (though in the federal Conservative leadership race, an endorsement from a sitting MP was worth about 11 percentage points in his or her riding). But they can deliver the support of local organizations that can help with get-out-the-vote efforts." Reminder that neither Vic Fedeli nor Lisa MacLeod could help deliver their ridings for Christine Elliott. Whatever bump they provide, it didn't help.

Friday, March 09, 2018
Vagina politics
Marina Prentoulis, a senior lecturer in politics and media at the University of East Anglia, authored a column for The Guardian titled, "The far right hates vaginas. Why doesn’t this anger the left more?" Prentoulis concludes her column: "When my vagina is the target of far-right hate, the progressive left better stand by my side." I would have once thought that the author was being deliberately provocative, but I do not any longer take such a view. Rather, such language is merely an expression of identity politics, of which this article is a vigorous defense even when it identifies masculine identity as being "at the centre of fascistic discourse."
Meanwhile, the Daily Mail reported that on the International Women's Day parliamentary debate on making misogyny a hate crime, female MPs repeatedly invoked the c-word. I understand that there is a rich tradition of using that word in Britain, but I was previously unaware of it qualifying as parliamentary language.

Columnist needs comfort object
Jill Abramson wrote earlier this week about the 2020 Democratic primaries and the embarrassment of riches -- more embarrassment than riches, perhaps -- the party will have to choose from in the next presidential election cycle. It's a pretty pedestrian column, even for The Guardian, until the conclusion:
It’s easy to look at what’s happening in Washington DC and despair. That’s why I carry a little plastic Obama doll in my purse. I pull him out every now and then to remind myself that the United States had a progressive, African American president until very recently. Some people find this strange, but you have to take comfort where you can find it in Donald Trump’s America.
Abramson writes about American politics for The Guardian. She once held senior editorial and writing positions at the New York Times, including Washington bureau chief and executive editor. She is a visiting lecturer at Harvard. And she needs a comfort object to deal with today's political scene FFS.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018
What I'm reading
1. Prime Ministerial Power in Canada: It's Origins under Macdonald, Laurier, and Borden by Patrice Dutil. The centralization of power is not new. Putil is an excellent political scientist/historian. UBC Press produces a lot of good political books.
2. Mike's World: Lester B. Pearson and Canadian External Affairs edited by Asa McKercher and Galen Roger Perras. (Another good UBCP book.)
3. Behemoth: A History of the Factory and the Making of the Modern World by Joshua Freeman. Good story-telling (the social history) combined with an assessment of the economic and cultural importance of large-scale manufacturing. Early candidate for top-five book of the year.
4. Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging by Afua Hirsch. A little too much memoir for my liking, but would be tedious tedious without it.

EU and the growth of European populism
The (London) Times columnist Daniel Finkelstein:
Consider what has happened in Italy. The coming weeks will see a struggle for power between the populists and the far right. A sort of Iran-Iraq war of coalition making, in which one only wishes that both sides could lose. The result of Sunday’s general election was so bad that even the failure of the appalling Silvio Berlusconi came as a disappointment.
It happened at the same time as a German coalition deal which leaves the populist Alternative for Germany party as the main opposition. This is caused by their rise and the disappointing showing of both mainstream parties, but most particularly that of the centre left. Centre-left parties almost everywhere in Europe are floundering.
Meanwhile populism (in other words, parties claiming to be the “voice of the people” and usually nationalist) is in the driving seat in Poland, Hungary and Austria as well as a big presence in many other countries.
Added to all of this Britain, one of the EU’s most powerful members, has opted to leave. At what point does the EU stop to consider whether any of this might possibly be a reflection on the way it works? At what point does it stop to think whether its insistence that political integration comes before everything might not be so wise?
As long as there are snotty, out-of-touch, condescending, undemocratic eurocrats -- which means as long as there is an EU -- there will be populist movements that reflect the (justified) revolt of the masses of Europeans who will not buckle to the fiction of a political Europe. Sometimes these populist movements will be small and manageable by national-level elites, although this seems less likely in the near future. Most of the time these populist movements will be competitive in elections and be real difference makers in the formation of governments. Sometimes these populist movements will win (see Brexit or Syriza in Greece). The point is they are here for the foreseeable future. If Brussels and the EU-27 think the way to put a lid on populism is to make Brexit painful for the United Kingdom or deny the UK its leave, the European Union might want to think again. This tact, while understandable from their perspective, misses the point that a critical mass of regular folk just aren't going to put up with the diktats from Brussels any longer.