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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Monday, December 11, 2017
Demanding better on Brexit from Theresa May's team
Richard Tice of Leave Means Leave writes at Conservative Home that Team Brexit needs to demand more from Theresa May, which includes a new front bench to better represent Brexit interests:
Our negotiators in the EU talks since the summer likewise have made all the basic mistakes of negotiating. They had lots of ammunition and negotiating leverage. Yet they underestimated the other side, didn’t set a deadline to conclude talks, didn’t convince the EU that we would walk away, and kept negotiating against themselves by offering more and more without demanding enough in return, thus giving away our advantageous position. Furthermore, they allowed the EU to set a false split of items on the agenda, to progress from one phase to the next, contrary to the legal terms of Article 50. They didn’t even get the EU to come to London for every other round of talks, a basic negotiating courtesy in the world of business, or at least middle on neutral ground ...
When things go wrong, in corporate or military life, it is normal to change the team at the top. There is a huge opportunity here to get on the front foot. The price of the Tory Brexiteer MPs support for the Prime Minister should be to change our negotiating team in the next few weeks.
David Davis should be thanked and moved upstairs into a non-executive style oversight role. Olly Robbins and Jeremy Heywood should be moved as far away as possible from these negotiations; they must bear a huge part of the responsibility for what has gone wrong. They should be replaced by committed Brexiteer politicians whose loyalties are not in doubt. The likes of Peter Lilley, Iain Duncan Smith, Jacob Rees-Mogg, David Jones and Dominic Raab should be brought in to do both the detail and the negotiations. They have the courage, corporate experience and legal knowledge to make the right judgements and demonstrate strong leadership. Never again should we rely so heavily on civil servants for such a critical negotiation of the national interest.
Such a move would make the EU realise that we are not going to be pushed over, bullied or trapped into a bad deal. Such a move would bring confidence to our own supporters that we had the right people doing the job.
Tice is a tad too critical of what Theresa May has delivered, but his points that the UK government didn't maximize their position and that Brexiteers can demand more from the weakened Prime Minister are accurate and important.

George Osborne's paper
The Evening Standard, not The Enquirer: "Huge object passing Earth 'could be alien spacecraft from another part of galaxy', say scientists."

If they ever reboot The West Wing, this is scintillating material for the show
The New York Times on Donald Trump's day: TV and diet coke:
Once he posts controversial [Twitter] messages, Mr. Trump’s advisers sometimes decide not to raise them with him. One adviser said that aides to the president needed to stay positive and look for silver linings wherever they could find them, and that the West Wing team at times resolved not to let the tweets dominate their day.
The ammunition for his Twitter war is television. No one touches the remote control except Mr. Trump and the technical support staff — at least that’s the rule. During meetings, the 60-inch screen mounted in the dining room may be muted, but Mr. Trump keeps an eye on scrolling headlines. What he misses he checks out later on what he calls his “Super TiVo,” a state-of-the-art system that records cable news.
Watching cable, he shares thoughts with anyone in the room, even the household staff he summons via a button for lunch or for one of the dozen Diet Cokes he consumes each day ...
During the morning, aides monitor “Fox & Friends” live or through a transcription service in much the way commodities traders might keep tabs on market futures to predict the direction of their day.
If someone on the show says something memorable and Mr. Trump does not immediately tweet about it, the president’s staff knows he may be saving Fox News for later viewing on his recorder and instead watching MSNBC or CNN live — meaning he is likely to be in a foul mood to start the day.

Sunday, December 10, 2017
Why the Brexit divorce bill is worth it
Rod Liddle in The Sunday Times:
Social Democratic Party leader, Martin Schulz, demanded a “European superstate” by 2025 and that all countries who disagreed be booted out. Good; with any luck the European Union will disintegrate before our first alimony payment has been made.
Schulz may soon be governing in coalition with Angela Merkel. And both are in accord with France’s faux anti-establishment president, Emmanuel Macron. A United States of Europe. Exactly what the remainers, the Europhiles, have been denying was on the cards for 20 years. I recall, when I was editor of the Today programme 15 years ago, receiving furious letters from the former Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell when we reported EU plans for much closer political union. Don’t talk rubbish, he fumed, nobody wants that. And the same blank-faced denial from pro-EU politicians here ever since, all the way through that awful referendum campaign.
Yet it’s what the EU bureaucrats want — the European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker et al have been unequivocal — and what the leading German and French politicians want. So our own politicians were either deluded or lying. Serially deluded or serially lying. You have to admit, Schulz’s pronouncement was a generous gift both to Theresa May and Brexiteers: look what we’re getting out of, thank Christ. That’s got to be worth £39bn.
£39bn is easily worth avoiding the United States of Europe, an entity unlikely to improve upon the European Union.

Saturday, December 09, 2017
Power corrupts
Economist and Cafe Hayek blogger Donald Boudreaux:
But let’s be clear: politicians at all levels typically shove themselves unwanted, to satisfy their own lusts, into other people’s personal spaces. With trade barriers politicians harass – to satisfy their lust for reelection – innocent people who wish to import sugar, clothing, tires, and many other goods. With civil asset forfeiture they harass – to satisfy their lust for power – innocent people who use cash and recreational drugs. With occupational-licensing restrictions they harass – to satisfy their lust for the support of their cronies – willing buyers and willing sellers who seek only to peacefully do business with each other. And with taxes they harass – to satisfy their lust for lucre – those who create wealth.
That these professional harassers harass others also in more carnal ways should surprise no one.

Trudeau is a 'checkers' boy
I'm a little late to this from the CBC on the failure of Trudeau's trade mission to Red China, but it's worth noting and repeating:
"I'm a huge supporter of progressive views on gender equality, human rights, environmental protections and labour conditions, but despite the nice-sounding rhetoric, trade agreements are just not effective in pushing that agenda forward," says Martha Hall Findlay, CEO of the Canada West Foundation, a think-tank that looks at Western Canadian issues.
She says trade agreements turn potential trade partners away.
"We like to think of ourselves as being nice and the rest of the world likes us. But when it comes to these trade agreements ... we're coming across as being patronizing, we're coming across as arrogant and frankly, we're coming across as being naive," Hall Findlay tells The Current's Friday host Piya Chattopadhyay.
"The rest of the world is playing chess and we're coming with our checkers."
Hall Findlay is a former Liberal MP and leadership contender.

Friday, December 08, 2017
Jerusalem and the peace process
National Post columnist John Robson criticizes the of criticism of President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel being a threat to the peace process by noting that there it is all process and no peace. Really, what peace is there to keep? And how does one negotiate with the Palestinians when their reaction to the announcement that Washington will recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital is to escalate the violence? There is no peace to keep.
Robson argues that negotiations should incentivize good actions and disincentivize bad actions and for most of the "peace process," the Palestinians and Arabs have called for the destruction of Israel. That is a bad action. Israel's enemies do not recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in part because they do not accept the legitimacy of Israel as a country. The starting point for a real peace process would be the demand that representatives of Palestinians recognize the legitimacy of Israel and its right to exist. Robson suggests that perhaps taking action against their irrational position might cause Israel's enemies to rethink their demands. I didn't take Robson for being an optimist, but it's a nice thought.

Thursday, December 07, 2017
Four games to watch (week 14 edition)
Honourable mention: a pair of division rival games with big implications would have made the top four had the Rams or Jaguars had the type of year everyone expected from them before the season started, but all of a sudden their games are important. I'll pick the AFC North battle between the Baltimore Ravens (7-5) at Pittsburgh Steelers (10-2) on Sunday night just ahead of the AFC West battle between the 6-6 Oakland Raiders and 6-6 Kansas City Chiefs. Neither KC nor Oakland are having the type of season fans or pundits predicted, but a win would help as these teams struggle to win the division (tied with the Los Angeles Chargers). The Chiefs are the better team and playing at home, but are on a 1-6 run and don't look like contenders at this time. This game might be too depressing. The Ravens and Steelers play close, have the NBC crew calling the game, and feature two top five defenses according to Football Outsiders. The Ravens allow just 17.2 ppg while the Steelers allow 17.8, so it could be a great defensive battle. Pittsburgh has more offensive weapons and they play at home, which should give them the slightest edge as they try to keep pace with the New England Patriots (who have the Miami Dolphins on Monday night) atop the AFC. Baltimore is playing to maintain their wild card spot, which they might do even with a loss.
4. Seattle Seahawks (8-4) at Jacksonville Jaguars (8-4), early Sunday afternoon. This game got flexed from the early to late afternoon, bumping the New York Giants/Dallas Cowboys contest. Both these teams are second in their division but could finish first. The Jags have more room for error as they could lose and still sit comfortably in the wild card with a path to eventually taking over the division from a middling Tennessee Titans team. The 'Hawks are behind the Rams and dealing with a slew of defensive injuries. Jax gives up just 14.8 ppg while Seattle surrenders only 18.5 ppg. Jax has the most prolific running attack, but they face Seattle's seventh ranked rush defense which allows just 98.3 yards per game. I like Russell Wilson better than I like Blake Bortles to make plays. Seattle with the road victory.
3. Minnesota Vikings (10-2) at Carolina Panthers (8-4), early Sunday afternoon: Both teams have stout defenses and the Vikings have an under-rated offense (see my power ranking below). Carolina has a below average offense and is missing rookie WR/RB Curtis Samuel and TE Greg Olsen. It should be easy for Minnesota to take away Cam Newton's weapons: Xavier Rhodes, possibly the best cover cornerback, will take WR Devin Funchess out of the equation while the superior Vikings linebackers will neutralize Christian McCaffrey. Cam Newton will be forced to run it himself and sometimes that works, but Minnesota's front seven should limit the damage the physical quarterback does. Minnesota is fighting for first overall in the conference while Carolina is the middle of a three-way battle for the NFC South title and wild card. Their window gets smaller with a loss. Vikings win on the road.
2. Philadelphia Eagles (10-2) at Los Angeles Rams (9-3), late Sunday afternoon: I'm going to make this simple. These two teams are tied for the lead in points scored (30.1 ppg). It features the top two picks from the 2016 draft (quarterbacks Jared Goff and Carson Wentz). They are the top two teams according to Football Outsiders (Rams have a slight edge), with both ranked in the top four in defense. It would be no surprise if these two teams faced each other in the playoffs, perhaps in the NFC championship. Both teams are in the hunt for a first-round bye, even the top seed. Also, a win would give the victor the tie-breaker in case they have matching records going into the playoffs. It's close. Philly lost 24-10 in Seattle last week but played a closer game than the score indicated. They are probably too good to lose twice in a row. Eagles keep pace with the Vikings.
1. New Orleans Saints (9-3) at Atlanta Falcons (7-5), Thursday night: Saints are battling for a bye while the Falcons are trying to get back into the wild card. These two teams play twice in the final quarter of the season, so there is plenty of opportunity for Atlanta to not only gain ground on the wild card contenders, but possibly insert itself into the NFC South divisional title. That might be a longshot. Fun fact: Atlanta and New Orleans are tied for 20th with 17 passing touchdowns. Both teams are efficient with the Saints leading the league in yards per play (6.4) and the Falcons fourth (6.1). But the Saints score a lot more than the Falcons. Only the Eagles and Rams score more than New Orleans, which is average 29.4 ppg, nearly a full touchdown more than Atlanta (22.8 ppg). By traditional metrics, Atlanta's defense is a touch better than that of New Orleans, but advanced metrics have the Saints above average and the Falcons a bit below average. Both teams are good at getting to opposing QBs (NO has 33 sacks, Atlanta 32). This game is probably pretty even and perhaps you give the Falcons the nod because they play at home. It's too bad we probably won't see rookie CB Marshon Lattimore shadowing WR Julio Jones, which would be the best positional match-up of the weekend.

Ludwig von Mises suggested topics for books
The Ludwig von Mises Institute:
Bettina-Bien Greaves took careful notes during Ludwig von Mises's New York seminars. Whenever he made a comment that suggested research paper or book, she jotted it down on a note card. She kept all these note cards and has generously agreed to share them with the public by sending them to us.
The Mises Institute is pleased to make them public for the first time.
Two -- of many -- ideas:
Irving Fisher "an excellent economist, except when it came to money — his approach to money was from the holistic point of view"
"There is no book that answers the question, 'What ideas were responsible for the fact that the 19th century liberals did not apply the liberal principles to banking?' This is one of the most important historical problems because this was in fact the problem that brought about the fall of the liberal policies, of capitalism, etc.Liberal policies were discredited in the eyes of the public because there was credit expansion, and then always, after a few years, an economic depression and a crisis…. There was only one book that didn't consider the Currency School as a "school" of ignorant people."
Tyler Cowen observes: "most of them still have not been done."

China Starbucks facts of the day
The New York Times reports that Starbucks just opened its largest store in the world in Shanghai. It is 29,000 square feet and will have 400 employees. Furthermore, Starbucks plans to open 5,000 stores in the next four years; they already have 3,000 locations in the country. The Times reports, "The company said it opens a store in the country at a rate of one every 15 hours."

NFL Power Rankings (three-quarter season edition)
Power rankings can be different things to different people. Mostly they are the ranking of the best to worst teams. Almost the same thing but different is a ranking of teams that others do not want to play. Similarly, how close are they to making the playoffs. Some teams, like those that are rebuilding, should be judged on how well they are developing talent and creating the circumstances for future success. These rankings combine a bit of all these but mostly is ranking of the best overall team as it stands now and going forward. Number in brackets is the ranking from the halfway and quarter-season marks (half rankings come first).
1. New England 10-2 (2, 5): Simply the best team. The Pats are second in offensive efficiency according to Football Outsider's metric DVOA. On the other side of the ball, the Pats were dead last in defensive efficiency through the first five weeks but are 16th since week six. Tom Brady's offense is scoring 29 points per game (fourth overall), so being in the middle defensively means they'll win a lot of games.
2. Philadelphia Eagles 10-2 (5, 12): They aren't bad at anything and are quite good at a lot. According to Football Outsiders, the Eagles have the fourth best offense and third best defense; they averaging 30.1 ppg, tied for the league lead. They allow 17.9 ppg, good for the sixth best mark in the NFL (and less than a point per game from second overall). The team is third in total offense with 385.1 yards per game. Second-year QB Carson Wentz is the frontrunner for the MVP. Only the Vikings, Saints, and Patriots have thrown fewer interceptions and only Baltimore's defense has more interception. Their loss in Seattle had them fall out of first overall in the conference, but the Eagles look like the best in the NFC.
3. Minnesota Vikings 10-2 (9, 29): The Vikes have a reputation of being a team built around defense -- they have allowed the second fewest points, just 17 per game -- but they are sixth in offense and eighth in defense according to Football Outsiders, making them a complete game. Furthermore, Minnesota is third in giveaways (ten in 12 games). Minnesota is nicely set up for a bye, and right now they are ranked first in the NFC. They still face the Carolina Panthers and a Green Bay Packers team that could have Aaron Rodgers back, so they'll have a tough road holding onto the top spot. But a complete team that doesn't turn over the ball will be tough to beat.
4. New Orleans Saints 9-3 (8, 19): The Saints is averaging 29.4 ppg, third overall, and the offense isn't even depending on Drew Brees to move the ball even though they are second in yards per game (408.6). Brees is on pace to throw for fewer than 4500 yards for the first time since 2009. The veteran quarterback is also on pace to throw 23 touchdowns, the fewest he'd throw since 2003 and the first time he'd throw for fewer than 30 since 2008. He is also pace for the fewest interceptions in his career. Those stats reflect the fact the Saints have a great running duo in Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. The Saints are running for 142.6 yards per game, third in the NFL. As good as the offense is -- it's good every year -- the defense is doing decently. I wrote at the beginning of the year that when the Saints have an atrocious D (as it has in recent years), the Saints are a 500ish team, but when the defense is around league average, New Orleans become unstoppable. Right now, the Saints defense is ranked 11th according to Football Outsiders and the team is giving up 20.2 ppg, 12th overall. The team is giving up more than a touchdown less than they were last year. They are going to be difficult to beat because they can win in a variety of ways. Relatedly, the team has two legit rookie of the year candidates, cornerback Marshon Lattimore on defense and running back Kamara on offense, and they have a third effective rookie, Ryan Ramczyk, an offensive tackle.
5. Pittsburgh Steelers 10-2 (1, 2): According to Football Outsiders, Pittsburgh has the fifth best offense and fifth best defense. Le'Veon Bell leads in rushing yards and Antonio Brown leads in receiving yards. But when you watch the Steelers, they play down to bad opponents and have needed field goals in the final two minutes to beat middling (or worse) teams three times this season. As good as the Steelers are, they have a tough two weeks, facing the stifling defense of the Baltimore Ravens and then a home date against the New England Patriots. If Pittsburgh beats the Pats, the Steelers should win the AFC and the road to the Super Bowl will go through western Pennsylvania. It may not matter because at home or on the road, Tom Brady picks apart the zone defense the Steelers play. It doesn't help that linebacker Ryan Shazier, a dominant force on the D (he leads the squad in tackles (87), forced fumbles (two) and interceptions (three)), is out indefinitely after a gruesome injury on Monday night against Cincinnati.
6. Los Angeles Rams 9-3 (6, 10): Only one team is rated in the top ten in all three phases of the game according to Football Outsiders: second in special teams, fourth in defense, eighth in offense. They are scoring a league-leading 30.1 ppg (tied with the Eagles). The Rams face Philadelphia (home) and Seattle (road) in the upcoming weeks, and if they lose to the Seahawks, they are down a tie-breaker in the division. Until proven otherwise, though, this is a good, deep, and dangerous team: Jared Goff is playing well, Todd Gurley is one of the best running backs again (second overall with 939 rushing yards), the wide receiver squad is deep and diverse, and defensive tackle Aaron Donald is one of the most disruptive forces on any defense.
7. Seattle Seahawks 8-4 (7, 9): The defense is surviving absences from Pro Bowl CB Richard Sherman and safety Kam Chancellor but when the 'Hawks can't depend on their D, Russell Wilson becomes superhuman and takes over games on his own. Even when the O-line doesn't give him time, he makes plays with his feet, either eluding pressure to make a pass or running for first downs himself. Pete Carroll's squad is dangerous.
8. Jacksonville Jaguars 8-4 (10, 24): Football Outsiders ranks the Jags second in defensive efficiency, but if you prefer traditional metrics, Jax gives up 14.8 ppg, fewest in the NFL by 2.2 points and are first in total yards allowed (282.5). They might be the best defense in the NFL with the best cornerback tandem and playmakers in all three units of the D. The question is the offense. Blake Bortles is inconsistent and has had too many awful games for a quarterback on a team with deep playoff hopes: five games throwing for fewer than 200 yards, five games with passer ratings under 65, just 14 TDs in 12 games (against eight picks). The Jags run game is strong, averaging a league-leading 149.4 yards per game. Rookie RB Leonard Fournette has 822 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. This team can win on defense alone, but if Bortles strung together a few good games, no one would want to face the Jags. As is, they have the fourth best scoring differential in the NFL although they are technically behind the Titans for the AFC South division title. Ball control with the running game and a suffocating defense is a recipe for victory on the road in Pittsburgh or New England come January.
9. Carolina Panthers 8-4 (14, 17): After their 335-27 week 12 victory over the Jets, Marvin Harrison said on NBC that the Panthers identity is winning ugly. The Panthers have a strong defense and an offense that relies too often on Cam Newton running heroics. But in their game against the Saints last week, Carolina showed that losing ugly is also part of their identity. Penalties, failing to get first downs, sloppy plays. The defense can smother most opponents, but Carolina often finds ways to beat itself.
10. Atlanta Falcons 7-5 (13, 4): On a per-play basis, the Falcons offense has been one of the better squads this year. Due to poorer special teams their starting position is among the worse, meaning its tougher to sustain drives and score. While the Falcons are tied for third (with the Patriots) with 6.1 yards per play, they are 29th in plays per game (59.9), just behind Oakland. With shorter fields -- whether from better special teams or defensive play -- the Falcons could put up a lot more points than the 22.8 points per game they are putting on the board this year -- nearly two touchdowns fewer than their historic pace last season. Right now the Falcons are looking up at the wild card teams, but with four divisional games left -- two games against the Saints and one each against the Panthers and woeful Buccaneers -- a lot can happen. It won't be easy regardless of how good the offense is, but if Atlanta wants to beat New Orleans and Carolina, Julio Jones will need more games like week 12 (253 yards and two TDs) than week 13 (24 yards, no TDs). In fact, Jones has caught a touchdown pass in only two games this year.
11. Los Angeles Chargers 6-6 (15, 21): The Bolts started 0-4 and according to Football Outsiders, their playoff chances were below 1%. But three of those losses were by three points or less and two of their defeats were the result of last second missed field goals. When LA was 3-5, I wrote, "LA has a path to the playoffs in the weak AFC. It's a long-shot, but less of a long-shot than most fans realize." Their chances are now in the low 30s depending on your favourite forecasting metric. Philip Rivers is fourth in passing yards and is tied for seventh in TD passes (21). The pass rush duo of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram is the best in the league (20 combined sacks). The Bolts are on a 6-2 run and while the Chiefs are still the favourites to win the division, the Bolts look to be the much better team at this point.
12. Dallas Cowboys 6-6 (12, 11): The O-line has suffered injuries, first to LT Tyrone Smith and later to center Zack Martin and it's hurt Dak Prescott more than him missing their sophomore running back, who is out six games due to suspension. But just as Bill Barnwell explained what's wrong with the 'Boys offense, Dallas scored 38 against the Redskins last Thursday. More than problems with their offense, the defense is missing linebacker Sean Lee. Before holding Washington to 14 points last week, Dallas allowed 82 points in their previous three games. With winnable games against the Giants and Raiders and difficult contests against the Seahawks and Eagles, it looks like a 500 season for a team that had high hopes for 2017.
13 Kansas City Chiefs 6-6 (4, 1): After their 5-0 start, KC is 1-6 including a loss to the 2-10 Giants. Beginning in week nine, the Chiefs scored 17, 9, and 10 points in their losses and in week 13 they put up 31 points against the Jets and their defense surrenders 38. Nothing seems to be going right to Andy Reid's team and despite calls to replace Alex Smith with rookie QB Pat Mahomes, it isn't the quarterback that is costing the Chiefs victories. The lack of a pass rush is exposing a secondary that is sorely missing safety Eric Berry. Rookie Kareem Hunt has not been making the explosive plays he was in the first quarter of the season when everything was going right for KC. There is too much talent for the Chiefs to continue losing, but this seems like a team in serious free-fall and ranking them in the top half seems wrong. But you can't count out a team that has so many playmakers on offense, a quarterback that seldom turns over the ball, and a defense capable of keeping opponents to under 20 points.
14. Baltimore Ravens 7-5 (21, 26): Baltimore's offense is terrible: 288.5 total yards per game (third worst overall) and 173.0 passing yards per game (second worse). However, according to Football Outsiders, the Ravens have the best defense and best special teams. Despite Joe Flacco's poor, season-long imitation of pro quarterbacking, the Ravens are an overwhelming favourite for one of the two wild card spots. Baltimore will win with the occasional successful deep pass or kick return or defensive score and a giant collection of field goals while allowing just 17.2 ppg. The Jacksonville Jaguars are the new Baltimore Ravens, so the Ravens are now the AFC's version of the Panthers: winning ugly.
15. Washington Redskins 5-7 (17, 16): Kirk Cousins is third in TDs (21) and has just six picks. The O-line and defense has been riddled with injuries. The 'Skins resume isn't that bad with two losses against the Eagles and 500-Cowboys (including when they were healthy), and defeats at the hands of the Vikings, Saints, and the hot-start Chiefs. They've beaten the Rams and the Seahawks (in Seattle). Injuries and schedule explain their record.
16. Buffalo Bills 6-6 (11, 13): After a 5-2 start, they've gone 1-4 and in the middle of a playoff race experimented with a quarterback switch that didn't work out. Benching Tyrod Taylor, an average quarterback that makes big plays and missing obvious plays, for mid-round pick Nathan Peterman against San Diego may cost them a playoff spot. Peterman through five picks and Los Angeles won. It's possible that these two teams could end up with the same record and the Bolts would have the tie-breaker. They got spanked by the Pats last Sunday, scoring a mere field goal. They have winnable games against the Colts and Dolphins (home and home with Miami) but they also travel to New England for a rematch. Very likely the Bills finish around 500. They'll go into the off-season with one big question: whether to move on from Taylor.
17. Tennessee Titans 8-4 (19, 25): The Titans are atop the AFC South, but they have a -16 scoring differential. Football Outsiders makes Tennessee to be the 16th ranked offense and 21st ranked defense. There isn't much to like about the Titans and while their eight banked wins probably means they've punched their playoff ticket unless they go winless the rest of the way, Tennessee will be any team's favourite opponent in January.
18. Green Bay Packers 6-6 (27, 7): Brett Hundley has had his problems -- no game with 250 or more yards, two three-pick games, no passing touchdowns in four of his seven starts -- but the Pack has refused to drop out of the playoff hunt while Aaron Rodgers looks on from the sidelines. He might return in week 15 and that, presumably, changes everything. The O-line has had its share of injuries. The defense doesn't help matters; since week one, the only team Green Bay has kept to under 20 points is the Bears (twice). Few people thought Green Bay would still be contender and that Rodgers' return would be relevant. It's a bit of a longshot, but fans in Titletown have every reason to hope.
19. Cincinnati Bengals 5-7 (20, 15): They are 5-5 after starting 0-2, and their offense has improved after not scoring a touchdown in that pair of losses. But being ranked 18th or 19th in all three facets of the game according to Football Outsiders means Cincy is a slightly below average team that can win games when A.C. Green gets the ball. But the rest of their offense (despite Jon Gruden's fawning over RB Giovani Bernard on Monday night) is middling at best and their defense doesn't scare anyone.
20. Detroit Lions 6-6 (16, 8): I was a bit surprised to see that the Lions score 26.2 ppg, good for fifth overall, because they don't seem that good and other offensive metrics don't suggest they are that good. Indeed, by most measures they are slightly better than average of offense and slightly worse than average on defense. Now Matt Stafford is hurt, so don't expect the offense to do much. Early in the season, the Leo's defense was producing takeaways but they haven't sustained that pace. The Lions had a three-game winning streak before losing their last two, but those victories came over the Bears, Browns, and Aaron Rodgers-less Packers. The teams ahead of them in the playoff picture are all much better than Detroit, so even the Lions slightly favourable schedule probably won't help them.
21. New York Jets 5-7 (22, 27): I said last time that ranking the Gang Green 22nd seemed overly generous. Maybe not. For a team that pundits seriously predicted would go 0-16 because of the lack of NFL-calibre talent, the Gang Green have a pair of rookie safeties that look very good and solid quarterback play from veteran Josh McCown, who has career best marks in passing yards, touchdowns, and passer rating. According to Football Outsiders, the Jets are ranked 22nd or 21st in all three facets of the game and they've lost two close games on questionable calls. The Jets have seldom been an easy opponent this year.
22. Oakland Raiders 6-6 (26, 18): The pass rush has improved in the second half but the secondary is a mess. The Raiders got their first pick in week 12. Marshawn Lynch had his first 100-yard game last week behind an O-line that has been inconsistent. There is some coaching instability, with the Raiders having new offensive and defensive coordinators in the past 12 months. Jack Del Rio seems to have lost some of the aggressiveness he coached with last year. QB Derek Carr looks human after being in the MVP conversation for much of 2016. Record-wise, the Raiders are in a three-way tie for the AFC West division lead, but there isn't much to get excited about for fans in Oakland.
23. Arizona Cardinals 5-7 (28, 23): It didn't help losing RB David Johnson and later QB Carson Palmer. Drew Stanton replaced Palmer, who has since been replaced by Blaine Gabbert, who has been serviceable. Solid D (6th overall according to Football Outsiders) can make the Cards a difficult team to beat, but its too beat up to win many games.
24. Houston Texans 4-8 (3, 3): Injuries to two of their top defenders (J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus) and a suspension to another (Brian Cushman) were bad enough. Rookie QB Deshaun Watson was playing at an MVP level before an ACL injury suffered during practice ended his season and all hope for the Texans. QB Tom Savage is a turnover machine with six picks and seven lost fumbles in seven games (only five started and completed). This season would have been very different were Watson healthy. If there is one glimmer of good news, WR DeAndre Hopkins is second in receiving yards (1084). They are an easy team to beat this year, but when their injured players come back next year, Houston might be the favourites to win the AFC South.
25. Denver Broncos 3-9 (18, 6): The offense and special teams are ranked last and second last respectively according to football outsiders, but its defense is ranked 10th. It was a top three defense in previous years, but losing coordinator Wade Phillips means the D is good rather than great. The Broncs have started three different QBs and none of them look like a long-term answer for the Broncs.
26. Chicago Bears 3-9 (24, 31): Rookie QB Mitch Trubisky is averaging 154.6 yards in his eight games and has only one game with more than 180 yards. Trubisky has just five TDs (and four picks) and a QBR of 23.0. Part of that is on coach John Fox who has the training wheels on his rookie. But Chicago has played their share of close games and are a tough out.
27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 4-8 (25, 17): The Bucs are averaging just 16.3 ppg over their past six games. They've lost games by missing intermediate range field goals. According to Football Outsiders, they have the second worst defense. This is a bad team. Their best player, third-year QB Jamies Winston, is being investigated for allegedly groping an Uber driver.
28. Miami Dolphins 5-7 (23, 29): The Fins are scoring 17.4 ppg (26th overall) and are ranked 29th and 27th respectively for offensive and defensive DVOA according to Football Outsiders. This is a bad team.
29. San Francisco 49ers 2-10 (29, 30); Some of their units are coming along nicely, especially their pass rush. Acquiring Jimmy Garoppolo looked very good in his first start last week, giving the Niners hope that they have their quarterback of the future. With the development around the field, a potential franchise QB, presumably one of the first three picks in the 2018 draft, and tonnes of cap space, San Fran is set up quite nicely for the future.
30. New York Giants 2-10 (30, 20): The litany of problems is long: an ineffective O-line, losing to injury their top two wide receivers for the season in September (and losing their top four receivers in one game), an injury to their best offensive lineman in week eight (RT Justin Pugh), no running game, mediocre play from franchise QB Eli Manning, and coach Ben McAdoo "losing the locker room" early in the season. All that was before the last week's drama of coach McAdoo replacing Manning with imitation quarterback Geno Smith and letting Manning know via press release, and this week's drama of the Giants firing McAdoo and general manager Jerry Reese. Nothing has gone right for the G-Men in 2017 after being a popular playoff pick in the pre-season.
31. Indianapolis Colts 3-9 (31, 32): Two of their wins are over the 2-10 49ers and 0-12 Browns. QB Jacoby Bissett has looked good at times. The defense hasn't looked good at all. At least Indy gets Andrew Luck back at quarterback next year, but this organization has yet to put together a decent O-line to protect him or a competent D to help him out.
32. Cleveland Browns 0-12 (32, 28): Defensive end and first overall pick last year Myles Garrett has been very good at getting pressure on the QB. Their other two 2017 first round rookies haven't been the contributors the Browns hoped. They lost left tackle Joe Thomas, their best offensive lineman, in the first half of the season, which does the offense no favour. WR Josh Gordon was very good in his first game back last week after not playing since 2014 due to various suspensions; a player who should be a bit rusty shouldn't be the best player on the offensive side of the ball but he is. This bottom ranking, however, is due to their use of rookie QB DeShone Kizer and his start, not starting, start, not starting, removal during the game, back next time treatment. Coach Hue Jackson is supposed to be the quarterback whisperer but he looks like he has no clue how to handle a QB.

Czech Republic recognizes the fact Jerusalem is Israel's capital
The Czech Republic foreign ministry said in a statement yesterday: "The Czech Republic currently, before the peace between Israel and Palestine is signed, recognizes Jerusalem to be in fact the capital of Israel in the borders of the demarcation line from 1967." The country will begin negotiations to move their embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Denmark targeting Down syndrome children for elimination
LifeSiteNews reports that only four babies with Down syndrome were born in Denmark in 2016. Earlier this year, it was reported the Iceland also has nearly a 100% elimination rate via abortion for preborn children with Down syndrome. This is not the "perfect" society that one Danish headline describes; it is eugenics.

The pornification of life
The Daily Mail reports, "Demand for anal bleaching has risen by about a fifth in the past year as women 'feel under pressure to look like porn stars', figures suggest." The paper reports:
Sheri Johnson, clinic manager at HB Health of Knightsbridge, said: 'We have seen a rise of 23 per cent in the past year at the clinic. Laser therapy is the most popular, accounting for around 95 per cent and cream treatments about five per cent.
'It's predominately women who come for the bleaching but we have had a few men in this year too ...
'I think women are feeling under pressure from their partners to emulate the look of adult stars that are seen in porn.'
Sounds like a great Christmas gift idea; get your loved one a gift certificate for your local aesthetic clinic.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017
What I'm reading
1. Fall Out: A Year of Political Mayhem by Tim Shipman
2. Betting the House: The Inside Story of the 2017 Election by Tim Ross
3. I, Maybot: The Rise and Fall by John Crace
None of them are very flattering to Theresa May or her aides.

The GOP tax reform does not include a break for private jets
The Washington Post clarifies the claim that the Republicans are providing a tax break for wealthy owners of private jets. As the Post explains, the tax reform passed by the Senate clarifies an on-going dispute between the IRS and management companies that operate private jet; that dispute is over how federal excise taxes on commercial flights are applied when non-primary owners use private jets. The cost to the federal government is estimated to be $500,000 over the next decade, or $50,000 a year. Even if wealthy jet owners were getting a break, the benefit is insignificant.
To be clear, the break doesn't go to the owners of jets but the users of private jets when their primary owner isn't flying around in them. The dispute and background gets technical, but if you are upset that the GOP are helping jet owners, it's worth a read. If you retweeted any Democrats' class-warfare complaints about the tax bill, you should tweet out this clarification. Of course, if the Republicans were focused on helping working and middle class Americans and not their wealthy donors, perhaps these falsehoods wouldn't be so easily believed.

Tyler Cowen's latest Bloomberg column tries to understand Donald Trump's economic policy and he argues that tax and trade policy is really about trying to attract investment to the United States. Low corporate rates is about attracting investment. Threatening to withdraw from NAFTA is about making Mexico a less attractive place to invest, which could benefit America. Scuttling the Trans-Pacific Partnership is about making Malaysia and Vietnam less attractive countries to invest, the consequence being there is more money to invest in the U.S. It is possible that Cowen is correct and over-making his point.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017
IOC bans Russia, but not its athletes
The New York Times reports that the International Olympic Committee has banned Russian government officials from attending the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, that Russian deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko is forbidden to have any involvement with the Olympics for life, and that only some athletes will be allowed to compete in South Korea if they receive special dispensation and then they can only wear a neutral uniform and their national anthem will not play if they win. The official Olympic record books will not show their country of origin and their flag will not be displayed during official ceremonies. Furthermore, the Russian government must pay a $15 million fine to the Independent Testing Authority. There is no word yet on whether the Russian government will allow its athletes to compete at Pyeongchang.
The Independent reported that IOC head Thomas Bach said Russia's doping in Sochi "was an unprecedented attack on the integrity of the Olympic Games and sport." Apparently Bach forgot about East Germany from 1971 through 1990.

Winter Olympics catch-22
The New York Times suggests that a punishment for Russian doping in the 2014 games that includes banning the country or incentivizing President Vladimir Putin to boycott the games is likely to hurt the Winter Olympics more than Moscow. The Times:
Possible sanctions include a fine; a complete ban of Russia from the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea; or a shaming that amounts to a reverse scarlet letter. That is, Russian athletes could be made to compete as neutrals, which could mean no uniforms bearing Russia’s insignia, no Russian flag carried at the opening ceremony or raised at the awarding of medals, and no Russian anthem played to accompany gold medal performances ...
Now, any decision by the I.O.C. is likely to be either unsatisfactory or problematic. Too little punishment would cause further outcry that the committee is not serious about curbing rampant doping. And forcing Russian athletes to compete as neutrals could lead the country to boycott the Games. It’s unclear whether Russian President Vladimir V. Putin would bother to send a neutral team to South Korea.
The Winter Olympics is not as popular as its summer counterpart. Russia is one of the few countries that cares about the winter games and excels in its competitions. The Times says, "Without [Russia's] participation in sports like figure skating, Nordic skiing and hockey, these could become the Asterisk Olympics of lesser or irrelevant competitors." This would be good for the Canadian and American medal count, but probably little else. But not punishing the Russian Olympic team could mean diminished interest in the games in the West, where viewers would see the product as tarnished not only by cheats but official tolerance of cheating.
The Olympmic Committee is set to announce its decision later today. It is a lose-lose decision for them.

German state wants easier access to electronic devices including cars and phones
The Local reports:
Germany’s Interior Minister wants to force tech and car companies to provide the German security services with hidden digital access to cars, computers, phones and more, according to a media report from Friday.
The RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland (RND) reported that Thomas de Maizière had written up a draft proposal for the interior minister conference, taking place next week in Leipzig, which he has called “the legal duty for third parties to allow for secret surveillance.”
According to the RND, the proposal would “dramatically extend” the state’s powers to spy on its citizens.
It is not enough that such hacking would require the authorization of a judge when the bar for access is so low; companies are not likely to resist the prying power of the state. Green deputy leader Konstantin von Notz told Spiegel: "Do we want to live in a land where there is no privacy and where the state can interfere wherever it is technologically possible?"

Climate models miss the mark
Ronald Bailey, science correspondent for Reason, writes at Hit & Run:
A new study using more than 38 years satellite and weather balloon temperature data hypothesizes that global temperatures are going up more slowly than projected by most climate models ...
The new study done by University of Alabama in Huntsville climatologists John Christy and Richard McNider published in the Asia-Pacific Journal of Atmospheric Science argues consensus models may not have accurately captured how storms in the tropics expel excess heat back into space and/or that they have failed to account for how heat is absorbed by the world's oceans.
Christy and McNider took into account the effects of volcanic eruptions (cooling) and El Nino (heating) and La Nina (cooling) perturbations on global temperatures during the past 38 years.
What they found was warming in the lower troposphere where the bulk of our planet's atmosphere is located at a rate of about 0.096 degrees Celsius per decade. This trend implies that global temperatures will be about 1.1 (± 0.26) degrees Celsius warmer at the time carbon dioxide produced from burning fossil fuels and land use changes doubles in the atmosphere. This is about half of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) estimate of 2.31 (± 0.20) degrees Celsius warmer for a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide ...
If the amount of warming expected from a doubling of carbon dioxide is much lower than most climate models project that implies that catastrophic climate outcomes are less likely and that humanity will have extra time to adjust to whatever warming eventually results from the increase in the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
If the models get the short-term projections wrong, there is little reason to put much faith in their long-term projections.

Brexit talk breakdown
Early this morning, the (London) Times was reporting that a deal was reached between the UK and the EU on three important details: the divorce bill, an agreement on the rights of European Union citizens in the UK, and an agreement on the Irish border. The word out of Brussels was that there was "sufficient progress" made for the next rounds to begin and that a lunchtime announcement to that effect was being planned. The Times policy editor Oliver Wright suggested that the language on the Irish border was going to be a dodge in order to get an agreement from all parties but that was the best that could be expected (what exactly is "regulatory alignment" anyway?). However, the lunch announcement with British Prime Minister Theresa May and Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker was postponed; apparently, there wasn't as much agreement as some thought. The reaction was swift: complete failure, another botch-job by Theresa May. In all likelihood, the language on the Irish border proved more difficult because a dodge won't do. The EU cannot allow a porous border with a non-EU country, but the Irish like crossing the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland relatively unencumbered. Word games won't cut it.
Multiple media reports have the Democratic Unionist Party vetoing whatever the current deal might be. We'll see. This is a negotiation, not only between London and Brussels, but between DUP and the Tories. DUP's seeming to hold the May Tories hostage to their demands might serve as a reminder about May's tragic mistake in calling an early election, but finger-pointing does no good. (And that's hindsight analysis, anyway.) It is a little much to say, as Irish Times columnist Fintan O'Toole does (in The Guardian): "It is no longer whether Northern Ireland will leave the EU on the same terms as the rest of the UK. It is whether the rest of the UK will now leave the EU on the same terms as Northern Ireland." This is just another example of the breathless coverage of Brexit, the routine over-reaction to every emerging news story that cries out for a hot take.
I prefer the sober take of National Review senior writer Michael Brendan Dougherty:
No deal. Disaster, right?
Not so fast. I could be wrong, but, looked at another way, everyone got what they wanted. And the “chaos” looks more and more like a stage-managed drama. Consider that while the press was blaming May for the failure of the negotiations today, her interlocutors and partners were all slipping in praises of her even as they made fighting noises for their respective audiences at home. Although he had enjoyed sticking the knife in this summer, Juncker extended the deadline for the finish of talks and praised May as a “tough negotiator” in his statement at the close of the day. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar of the Republic of Ireland finished his statement about his disappointment at the lack of conclusion by adding that he “trusted” May and that finger-pointing wouldn’t help. [DUP's] Arlene Foster in her statement reiterated her belief that the government “understands the DUP position.” Is that how people normally act when a shocking crisis happens at a critical moment? Hardly.
Consider that everyone gets to sell something out of today’s failure.
It's a setback, not a crisis. As MBD points out, everyone seems to be saying the right things, so there is no precipice from which to step back. It seems like everyone is serious about wanting and achieving a deal. It might not happen according to the more optimistic timelines, but getting the right wording on agreements now are worth waiting a week if necessary. Not that it matters. Juncker can't make a binding deal with May. As ConservativeHome's Mark Wallace wrote before the breakdown of talks yesterday, Juncker was scheduled to bring any agreement to the European Council -- which must approve any deal before negotiations move on to the next issues -- on December 15, a week from this Friday. It's progress that Juncker appears to want to continue talking in the meantime. Indeed, Juncker said, "This is not a failure ... I'm very confident that we will reach agreement in the course of this week." Interestingly, European Council President Donald Tusk seemed ready to provide May and Juncker with the EU27 guidelines for Brexit talks on the transition as early as today even though the Council hadn't approved talks to proceed to the second phase.
A counter-narrative to the DUP disruption is being reported by The Sun. It reports that May withdrew from the deal because she wants a five-year limit on the European Court of Justice's jurisdiction over EU citizens in the UK. This is a sensible proposal on her part, but it's possible this story is being leaked to take pressure off the Unionist demands.