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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Tuesday, August 30, 2016
 
Spurious news isn't news
Love Remy's latest; might explain why people are turning away from broadcast (and to a lesser extent) print journalism.


 
Bureaucrats implement government policy, not create it
The Daily Mail reports:
Theresa May has ordered Europhile civil servants to embrace Brexit after a former top mandarin sparked fury by saying leaving the EU was not inevitable.
Gus O’Donnell, the former Cabinet Secretary, said that despite the clear referendum result the country could end up remaining in a ‘broader, more loosely aligned’ European Union.
Tory backbenchers said the comments by the ex-head of the civil service illustrated the mindset infecting Whitehall which is overwhelmingly pro-Europe. One Conservative MP called for officials who sought to defy the will of the people to be summarily fired.
But last night Downing Street said the Prime Minister was very clear that it is the job of the civil service to implement the decisions of their ministers.
And it emerged that when the Cabinet discusses Brexit on Wednesday, civil servants will be asked to leave – enabling a more frank political discussion.
The Mail also reports:
Peter Bone, another Tory backbencher, said: ‘What Gus O’Donnell’s comments show is that there is undoubtedly an establishment view that they want to ignore the British people’s voice and plough on with their own agenda.
Steve Baker, an MP who headed Conservatives for Britain, says there should be legislation passed to allow civil servants to be easily fired for blocking or slowing down Brexit. That seems premature. I have no doubt that bureaucrats will drag their feet, but the government should not want to get into a row with them quite yet.


 
French economic reformers
The Wall Street Journal reports that there is a battle between Nicolas Sarkozy, the former president who is ran more than a decade ago as a reformer but who has since become a culture warrier, and Alain Juppé, who wants to cut François Hollande's wealth tax and France's 38% corporate tax (to 30%). But even the Socialist Party has reformers interested in their party's nomination:
As for the Socialists, Mr. Juppé’s reform instincts find an echo in Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who has spent two years in office trying to push modest attempts to liberalize France’s labor laws over the opposition of his own party’s parliamentary majority. Then there’s Emmanuel Macron, the 38-year-old economy minister, whose economic instincts as a former banker are even more laissez-faire.
Alas, there are still socialists in the Socialist Party:
But Messrs. Valls and Macron are being held back by Mr. Hollande’s refusal to take his name out of the race, despite an approval rating of 16%. That leaves former industry minister Arnaud Montebourg, an unreconstructed socialist of the type Mr. Hollande promised to be when he first ran for office—raising taxes, boosting government spending, doubling down on regulation of large companies. This kind of agenda won the election for Mr. Hollande in 2012, although there’s reason to hope voters have moved on even if much of the Socialist Party hasn’t.


 
Economic forecasting is hard. Doubt the gloom-and-doomers.
On the weekend both the Financial Times and Wall Street Journal had stories on how forecasts predicting post-Brexit disaster were wrong. (The Journal's article was a little broader about forecasting economic disaster more generally, noting that Congressional sequestering didn't plow the economy into the ground nor did Greece bailout referendum.)
The FT offered three explanations why Brexitastrophe has not yet occurred (although it still might). Their favoured theory:
The wisest theory is the phoney war. What has happened since the referendum? A vote, some political brutality, the creation of new departments, and then everyone went on holiday. Confronted with a likely supply shock, the Bank of England has done its job, turning a possible bang into more of a whimper. If they handle it right, a nasty hit of about 3 or 4 per cent of gross domestic product could be spread over a decade.
Charts of various indicators suggest an immediate post-Brexit panic followed by a slight recovery or stabilization. Things might get worse, but so far Project Fear seems far off the mark.
The Journal briefly suggests why there are so many extreme negative predictions:
“Forecasters often feel incentivized to pump up the probability of worst-case scenarios” said Philip Tetlock, an expert in political forecasting at the University of Pennsylvania. Forecasters may inflate the probability of disasters, as a way to increase the salience of a warning, or because they believe that proving prescient will be something they can boast about, while proving mistaken will be something most people forget. “Over time, this has some corrosive effect on trust in the expert community,” he said.


Monday, August 29, 2016
 
Trump and the Catholic vote
Mitt Romney lost the Catholic vote 50%-48% to President Barack Obama in 2012. A two-point loss is a virtual tie. Some polling indicates that Romney won among Catholics that attend Mass regularly. Republicans generally have to do well among Catholics to win, so recent polls are bad news for Donald Trump. The Washington Post reports:
Trump trails among Catholics by a huge margin. A new poll from the Public Religion Research Institute released this week shows him down 23 points, 55-32.
And:
A Washington Post-ABC News poll released earlier this month painted an even worse picture for Trump’s Catholic support. He was down by 27 points, 61-34.
This matters because Catholics are a large block, and unlike some other demographic groups are more likely to shift as a voting block:
But Catholics have long been a swing vote in presidential elections, and right now they’re swinging hard for Clinton.
It’s also hard to overstate just how significant Trump’s poor performance among Catholics is. That’s because they comprise about one-quarter of voters in the United States (25 percent in 2012 exit polls) and are about as big a voting bloc as non-whites (28 percent) and independents (29 percent) ...
When talking about Catholics, though, Trump is basically adding 5 to 7 percentage points to Clinton’s overall margin. If 25 percent of the electorate is Catholic, Clinton is currently taking 14 to 15 points worth of that chunk, while Trump is taking 8 or 8.5 points. And this is a group, again, that is usually close to tied.
The reasons for Trump doing poorly among Catholics are open to interpretation, and I stress reasons. Trump is unclear on abortion, sends strong pro-LGBQT signals, has a dubious personal life, seems mean-spirited, and may bring out ugly class resentments among working class Catholics. Some reasons might be more valid than others, but it seems clear that Trump is a lousy candidate when it comes to winning over potential Republican-leaning Catholics.


 
Feds eschew negative interest rates
The Wall Street Journal reports on how Federal Reserve officials are not talking up negative interest rates to stimulate the economy. The story does a good job explaining the pros and cons, and a less good job on how they have a mixed record in working to stimulate the economy where they have been tried (Japan, Sweden, Switzerland). While the paper suggests that Federal Reserve officials are cold toward the idea, what comes across in the story is that they are taking a wait-and-see approach, even quoting Dennis Lockhart, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, saying, "I’m treating [negative rates] as an experiment that we have the luxury to watch from a distance." Hardly sounds like a rejection.


 
Proof Libertarians are nutty
Gary Johnson, the Libertarian presidential candidate, thinks he can win if he could just get into the debates:
“The object is to win outright. And it’s not impossible if we go into the presidential debates with the polarization of Clinton and Trump that we might actually run the table on all of this,” Mr. Johnson said on Fox News Sunday.
The debate commission's rules allows third-party candidates to take part in the debate if they have 15% support. While the Real Clear Politics average had Johnson up to 10% earlier this month, recent polls show him stuck around 8% -- or about half of what he needs to get into the first debate on September 26.


 
'Poor Children Need a New Brown v. Board of Education'
Two lawyers, Theodore J. Boutrous Jr., and Joshua S. Lipshutz are partners at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, are counsel for the plaintiffs in Vergara v. California and Martinez v. Malloy, and for Students Matter, the nonprofit sponsor of both lawsuits. They write in the Wall Street Journal about "Vergara v. California, a landmark case fighting for the educational rights of public-school students," by challenging teacher-tenure and dismissal rules. The California Supreme Court announced last week it would not even hear the Vergara case. Boutrous and Lipshutz explain the case and the need for it to proceed and succeed. I'm leery of establishing new rights and guaranteeing "a fundamental right to education" could be opening a can of worms that could be used by special interest groups. But it could also lay the groundwork for litigation that is needed to get the sort of education reforms in place so kids can get a proper education. I am a fan of suing teachers unions, principals, school boards, and politicians -- and maybe even individual teachers -- for graduating functionally illiterate and innumerate students. Recognizing education as a right might allow parents to sue ineffective schools and those responsible for them. There are problems with defining what the right to education means. A right to access to schools is insufficient; it must mean the right to learn.


 
May government not united on the single market and Brexit?
The Sunday Times reported that the Chancellor of the Exchequer could get in the way of Brexit negotiations, or at least a unified stand in the May government:
Senior Tories say Philip Hammond, the chancellor, is resisting plans by other ministers to pull out of the EU single market. A Whitehall turf war has broken out, with the Treasury muscling in on Brexit negotiations — to the irritation of David Davis and Liam Fox, the ministers appointed to lead the planning ... Hammond has privately insisted that “everything is on the table” and Treasury officials believe access to the single market for the financial services industry should be the top priority. But senior government sources say Davis, Fox and May’s closest adviser, Nick Timothy, believe Britain will have to leave the single market to fulfil her pledge to impose border controls.
I think that from the European Union's point of view, there is no single market access without acceding to Schengen ... so no dice, Hammond.
It is possible that this is part of the dance the UK and EU will do, with supposed divisions within government playing out in the media as leverage in negotiations. Except this one doesn't make a lot of sense. Hammond's apparent desire seems like a non-starter with not only Brussels but the French government.
Meanwhile, the Independent on Sunday has an article about Hammond, noting that "we know even less about his politics, except that he was more of a Remainer, than we do about his Prime Minister’s." John Rentoul doesn't tell us much: Hammond liked fast cars in university and making money as a young adult, and has said some cryptic things about the Thatcher years:
There was one suggestive part of his interview with me six years ago. He described the “Thatcher thing” as “unfinished business”. He said: “She’s gone down in history as an uncaring, economics first, last and only thinker. But she wanted to move on to education and what we now call broken society problems.”
He had wanted the Conservatives, if they were to be elected in 2010, to complete that unfinished business. But the financial crash meant that “to some extent we have got to tread the same ground, to fix the economy first.”
Hammond could be conjuring Thatcher to advance his own agenda. Or he could be onto something, like the broadening of conservatism that began under David Cameron.


 
Constituency review will hurt Labour more than Tories
The Guardian reports that a review of parliamentary boundaries is likely to affect roughly 200 Labour seats (85% of their total caucus) according to an analysis obtained by the paper. As many as 30 Labour seats could disappear altogether compared to 10-15 Conservative seats when the final report of the Boundary Commissions for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland is released next month September. The review seeks to make constituencies fairer by ensuring that all constituencies' populations are within 5% of 74,769 while cutting the number of MPs from 650 to 600. More Tory seats are within the mandated range. Making the system fairer may not be fair to Labour.
With more than 150 Labour seats being significantly affected by the proposed changes, there will be a number of sitting Labour MPs battling it out for the right to represent the party in the next United Kingdom election. Considering the party's infighting over the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, some of those nomination fights could prove very interesting and make it more difficult to move on regardless of who wins the Labour leadership.


 
The seeds of today's Labour woes were sewn in the Blair/Brown era
Matthew d'Ancona writes about the forthcoming memoirs of former Labour Party economic adviser and MP Ed Balls in The Guardian. d'Ancona says:
It is extraordinary to reflect that this era in Labour’s history ended only six years ago, and to consider how much has changed since Brown left Downing Street. As Balls says of Jeremy Corbyn: “If you are the kind of person who feels that you are succeeding when you have a rally of your supporters cheering you, well, that’s not my conception of politics. My conception of politics is that you succeed when sceptical centre-ground voters decide to trust you more than the other side.” Until Labour grasps that Balls is right and Corbyn is wrong, it will remain an intermittently distracting sideshow, confusing its impotent anger for fiery relevance.
All the same, nostalgia is the foe of objective analysis: as depressing as it is to observe the decline of Labour from a mighty party of power to a pious protest movement, a candid chronicler of that transformation will detect many of its roots in the conduct of New Labour’s oligarchs and their acolytes between Blair’s leadership victory in 1994 and the defeat of Ed Miliband in 2015.
Of course, Balls was a key figure in Labour’s most electorally glorious epoch. But that epoch also set the stage for what has happened since. During the 1990s the party’s elite drained power from Labour’s traditional structures and centralised all significant authority in the leader and his or her entourage. Yet even as the party’s oligarchs preached the virtues of discipline to the mass membership, they themselves fought one another with shameless ferocity. First it was Blair and Brown; then Brown and David Miliband (of whom Balls says: “In the end, I don’t think David had the political tenacity”); then the two Eds, leader and shadow chancellor. Balls claims – astonishingly – that he and Miliband had only two proper conversations during the 2015 election campaign. He also recalls his resentment that “regularly from 2010 onwards there would be briefings from his team against me, about me being sacked. Every time I would see him he would be very upset about it, but it never seemed to stop happening.” If ever there were a textbook example of Freud’s “narcissism of small differences”, it was this relentless tendency of Labour’s elite between 1994 and 2015 to split into two warring factions.
This problem of factions in the UK Labour Party between leader and their top finance/economics cabinet ministers or shadow ministers is reminiscent of the Chretien/Martin divide in Canada in the 1990s. It's a good thing for Team Trudeau that the Prime Minister and Finance Minister Bill Morneau seem to get along so well and agree about so much.


Sunday, August 28, 2016
 
What I'm reading
1. Door to Door: The Magnificent, Maddening, Mysterious World of Transportation by Edward Humes. It the story of how we get things moving, the transportation system that makes trade possible. There is a tad too much narrative for my liking but this is a terrific economics book for people who don't like reading economics. It also confirms my view that capitalism is just another name for cooperation.
2. Makers and Takers: The Rise of Finance and the Fall of American Business by Rana Foroohar. I've been reading a lot of finance books this year and this is one of the more critical ones, taking a very different view than, say, William N. Goetzmann's Money Changes Everything: How Finance Made Civilization Possible.
3. The War on Cops: How the New Attack on Law and Order Makes Everyone Less Safe by Heather Mac Donald. She rightly condemns those whose knee-jerk reaction to any confrontation is anti-police, but the author's bias prevents her from giving anything more than lip service to problems with policing in America today. She clearly sides with the prioritization of security over civil liberties. Policing is too black-and-white to Mac Donald to make this book an important contribution to the debate over policing.
4. "Nowhere to Turn: Investigation into the Ministry of Community and Social Services’ response to situations of crisis involving adults with developmental disabilities," a report of the Ontario Ombudsman released last week. An occasional theme I return to on this blog is that the mentally ill and their family should not be using the criminal justice system as their path to care. It is inefficient and immoral. Why this situation persists is explained by ombudsman Paul Dubé.


 
Obamacare fail
The Washington Examiner reports:
Enrollment in Obamacare's insurance exchanges failed to meet an initial forecast, with less than half of the 24 million people projected to join the exchanges actually enrolling, according to a Washington Post analysis.
"In February 2013, the Congressional Budget Office predicted that 24 million people would buy health coverage through the federally and state-operated online exchanges by this year, [but] just 11.1 million people were signed up as of late March," the Post reported.
The Congressional Budget Office slashed its projected enrollment numbers nearly in half, as the Washington Examiner's Robert King reported last Thursday. Lower participation from healthy people and technology concerns are reportedly among the potential reasons for the lower enrollment numbers.
As much as healthy people eschewing the exchanges and technology concerns scaring away consumers, in all likelihood the CBO over-estimated the desire or ability to purchase health coverage through the exchanges. There are any number of explanations for the CBO overshooting their estimate by double the actual number: there could have been political pressure from Democrat politicians or the White House, naïve acceptance of the administration's assertions about the exchanges, or simply picking a number out of thin air.


 
Scott Adams on 2016 presidential election
Scott Adams, creator of "Dilbert," sees the glass half full in 2016:
Hillary Clinton has already broken the ultimate glass ceiling. I see no discussion – in private or in public – about the role of her gender. Clinton did that for you and your daughters. She took gender off the table for the most important job in the land. It doesn’t matter who gets elected now. Clinton already made the gender sale. In 2016, nearly all American citizens believe a woman can, and will, be president. Because of Hillary Clinton. That’s a big deal.
I know that some of you think Clinton “cheated” because she used the advantage of her husband’s presidency to seek her own destiny. But keep in mind that ALL successful people exploit their unique advantages. Clinton just did it better. She isn’t here by accident.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump turned the GOP into a pro-LGBTQ organization. No one saw that coming. And I think it is sticking. That’s a big deal.
So, while we were watching the two most odious personalities on the planet hurl lies and insults at each other, those two odious personalities were bringing civilization toward the light. And succeeding.
Most journalists would agree that the glass ceiling in politics being broken and having the Republican Party more welcoming to LGBTQ individuals (if not policies) are positive developments. There are a lot of pundits who complain about Donald Trump exploiting division and intolerance for political gain this election season, but he has not been given credit for changing the GOP's tone on gays and transgenders.


 
Just say no to Ta-Nehisi Coates
Robert Cherry, Stern Professor at Brooklyn College and CUNY Graduate Center, in the New York Post:
Dozens of US colleges, including NYU and my Brooklyn College, have chosen Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Between the World and Me” as their common freshman reading. It’s a terrible mistake — and does the students a great disservice.
The book documents Coates’ fear and loathing of police and white political structures. Published last year, it won the National Book Award for nonfiction and Coates was awarded a MacArthur so-called genius grant. The book has become the intellectual and emotional voice of the Black Lives Matter movement. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor referenced it in her dissenting opinion on a criminal case ...
Coates promotes the view that blacks are helpless to improve their situation given the white supremacy they face. In Coates’ world, whites cannot erase the stain of racism and instead many strive to control black bodies through violence. Coates’ book gives intellectual weight to the just-released platform by a Black Lives Matter-affiliated group, which stresses how “the interlinked systems of white supremacy, imperialism, capitalism and patriarchy shape the violence we face” ...
But Coates’ thesis is contradicted by Coates himself. In his previous book, “The Beautiful Struggle,” he chronicled his life growing up in Baltimore. It documented the senselessness of black-on-black crime, the lack of proper parenting. There are no racist police or teachers in sight ...
Enter the new Ta-Nehisi Coates!
The focus on policing serves another purpose: Deflecting attention away from why so many black boys enter their high school years with large skill and behavioral deficits.
Teaching students (black or white) that blacks are victims of the system, and implicitly suggesting that there is little they can do for themselves, is toxic. Coates previously explored some of the cultural and behavioral factors that held too many blacks back, but subsequently indicting the entire system both infantalizes and enfeebles blacks.
Cherry says:
[F]oisting Coates’ one-sided, nuance-free narrative on incoming freshmen will only cloud their understanding of these complex issues. Higher education must do better than this.


 
'Is Ted Cruz finished?'
PJ Media: "Is Ted Cruz finished?" It's a little much to give credence to polls two years before an election, but to the degree it matters at all, only former Texas governor Rick Perry leads Cruz in a hypothetical primary (46%-37%). According to the PPP poll, Cruz leads other potential primary opponents Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Rep. Michael McCaul by 22 and 32 percentage points respectively, and various Democratic opponents by 12 points. PJ Media says, "In general, the poll shows Texas Republicans want Cruz to be their candidate for Senate again in 2018 — but not overwhelmingly. Fifty percent said they would like Cruz to be the nominee, while 43 percent said would like someone else to carry the banner." That looks pretty good for the controversial senator currently at odds with the party's presidential candidate.


 
Ideological blinders meet downside of hot takes


Saturday, August 27, 2016
 
Libertarians and the Alt Right
Jeffrey Tucker has "Five Differences Between the Alt-Right and Libertarianism" at the Foundation for Economic Education. Examining theories of history, views on migration and trade, and leanings toward spontaneous vs. designed order, Tucker concludes that the overarching difference between libertarians and the alt-right is the latter's hostility toward the masses and thus distrust of democracy. My problem with analyzing the alt-right is that it isn't a coherent movement and by definition (as a supposed mass online phenomenon) leaderless. The Daily Caller's Scott Greer wrote last week that "The alt right is an umbrella term which includes multiple ideologies — everyone from anarcho-capitalists, neo-monarchists, American nationalists, men’s rights advocates, 'identitarians,' and even out-and-out neo-Nazis all claim to be apart of the alt right." That's a diverse group, connected today only by a desire to label an element of the pro-Trump movement by his political opponents and lazy journalists. Considering the diversity of the group, it is difficult, if not impossible, to make too many generalizations about how it is or is not libertarian. Some elements certainly seem more libertarian than others.


 
Obama's legacy: debt
The Wall Street Journal editorial reports:
For the 2016 fiscal year that ends next month, CBO now forecasts that revenues will rise by only $26 billion while outlays will increase by some $178 billion. The federal deficit will therefore rise from $438 billion to $590 billion, the biggest deficit since 2013.
That's a 35% increase in the deficit. And it's reflects President Barack Obama's economic and social policies. Anemic economic growth (1.1%) means less corporate profit and lower tax revenues. Also, "outlays will rise 5% thanks in large part to the automatic spending drivers of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid (which has soared thanks to ObamaCare)." And "Net interest outlays will rise 11% this fiscal year despite historically low interest rates as overall debt continues to increase," reflecting the inability to curtail spending during the previous 15 years. The federal debt as a percentage of GDP has grown during the Obama administration from 52.3% to 76.6%; this is a result of both stubbornly low post-financial crisis economic growth and steady growth of government spending during the Obama administration.
There is no plan to reduce the debt. Hillary Clinton vows more stimulus spending which now looks less affordable.


 
Brexit won't be blocked by Parliament
Reuters reports:
British Prime Minister Theresa May will not hold a parliamentary vote on Brexit before formally triggering Britain's withdrawal from the European Union, The Daily Telegraph reported on Saturday, without specifying sources.
May will not offer opponents the chance to stall the withdrawal and has consulted lawyers who say she has the power to invoke the exit without a parliamentary vote, the conservative newspaper said. A majority of the 650 lawmakers had declared themselves "Remainers".
Opponents maintain that since the EU referendum result is not legally binding, elected lawmakers should review the vote before the process is started.
There is nothing about time frames. Meanwhile, Gus O’Donnell, cabinet secretary from 2005-11, says Brexit negotiations will take a long time and (in the words of The Guardian) the "UK would retain EU laws and rules regardless of its status in the union."
Hmmm. If Parliament debated Brexit -- especially if the debate was whether to leave rather than how -- it could exacerbate the disaffection that many Britons feel. The same could happen if the United Kingdom does not significantly redefine it relationship with Europe.
The Sun editorializes:
We cannot let it drift, or wait for the elections in France or Germany. They are irrelevant to the simple choice OUR country made to leave the EU.
Article 50 must be invoked by the end of this year.


Friday, August 26, 2016
 
Bridges are a problem for driverless cars
Business Insider reports that Uber's "driverless" Volvos are having problems in testing in Pittsburgh because the city has 446 bridges (not "like 500" as the BI story reports). Business Insider reports:
During a recent test drive crossing the Allegheny River, Uber's driverless Volvo signaled to the driver on-board to take the wheel. It was only for a few seconds, but it shows that the driverless cars aren't ready to handle bridges without supervision.
That's because Uber has meticulously mapped roads so that the driverless car can compare what it's seeing with what is supposed to be there, helping it avoid objects and pedestrians.
Because bridges don't have many environmental cues like surrounding buildings, it's hard for the Uber car to figure out where it is, [Uber's engineering director Raffi] Krikorian told Bloomberg. GPS helps the car position itself, but not to the accuracy Uber wants.
Right now.
Reliability and accuracy will improve over time. Cars that drivers use today are not what they were when the technology was launched; heck, they're much more advanced and safer than they were two or five decades ago. Eventually, we won't need stand-by drivers.


 
Liberals abandoning retail politics?
Paul Wells in the Toronto Star about the Liberal caucus retreat:
Justin Trudeau’s speech to the caucus before their lunch break was at least partly theatre for the scribes, who were allowed in to hear it, but his message was designed to fit this long twilight-summer moment between triumph and trouble. It’s getting late to celebrate a victory now nearly a year in the past, and the prime minister chose to urge his troops against complacency.
“In just the first two weeks of August last year, we had more than 73,000 conversations with Canadians across the country by going door-to-door. That’s impressive. But in all of 2016, we’ve had only 12,000 conversations with Canadians. Not only can we do better, but we must.”
I'm not sure it matters ten months after the last election and more than three years before the next. There is also a big difference between being a candidate in the lead-up to an election and being an MP in the first year of a new government. But it does suggest there is an opportunity for the Conservative Party to start talking to Canadians. Presence matters ... maybe even three years before the next federal election.


 
Saudade
Martin Kettle in The Guardian:
If only we could bring back grammar schools, say Tories. If only we could renationalise the railways, laments Labour. And this yearning to return to the past seems hardwired into the human brain in lots of other ways, not just in politics. The blue-remembered hills where life seemed simpler, summers more summery, winters more wintery, people more trusting, children more childlike, sport more sporting, and where pop music was simply better than today, have us all under their spell in different ways.
The Right gets guff for their desire to return to simpler days and many conservative voters are nostalgic for the good old days. Ronald Reagan has haunted every GOP primary of the past quarter century. But Kettle is correct to observe that both sides of the political spectrum are guilty of nostalgia, and wanting to resurrect the pet policies of the past. He says:
Now, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour has turned to the past. Corbyn speaks of renationalising the railways, not because it would work well but because he thinks state ownership is right. But it’s as if he wants to hold down that rewind button until we reach the 1970s again, a bit like Life on Mars.
One senses he has not had a genuinely new idea in 40 years and is proud of it. And that he won’t be happy until the coal mines are open again and the NUM is on strike against the National Coal Board too.
Kettle reminds us that David Willets, a former Conservative cabinet minister, says Tories are guilty of "bring-backery." Corbyn is, too. And in Canada, in recent year, Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau trucked in 1960s era liberalism of Lester Pearson and his father Pierre Trudeau. The past provides lessons for politicians (and voters), but more as guides than prescriptions. We shouldn't want to re-live the 1960s or 1970s and nostalgia often leads us to ignore or forget the less-than-pleasant aspects of the past.


 
May clamps down on immigration. Maybe.
The Sun reports:
Theresa May has ordered a new crackdown on the numbers of non-EU workers and students coming into Britain in a dramatic new bid to cut sky-high immigration ...
News of a new crackdown was immediately last night welcomed by former Cabinet Minister and Brexit campaigner Iain Duncan Smith. He claimed Theresa May had always wanted to be “tougher” on immigration – but had been stopped by David Cameron.
He told the Sun: “She was always held back, by David Cameron and George Osborne.
“She wanted to be tougher but there were always people pushing against it.”
May is a former Home Secretary responsible for immigration. Six years ago the Conservatives suggested immigration could be cut below 100,000, but the latest numbers show a record 340,000 immigrants came to the United Kingdom over the last 12 months. In July, Home Secretary Amber Rudd said the government would not meet the Conservative target but vowed immigration would be reduced to a non-defined "sustainable level." It appears that May is actively working toward that goal, without defining it with a number.


Thursday, August 25, 2016
 
Coulter vs. Trump on immigration
Mediate reports:
The world’s biggest Donald Trump fan Ann Coulter was hit rather hard by Trump’s apparent flip-flop on immigration issues on Hannity Wednesday night.
Coulter, who literally released a book two days ago called “In Trump We Trust,” fired off a tweetstorm about how we cannot trust Trump’s new rhetoric on immigration reform.
It's a pretty tame tweetstorm, but the timing isn't great for the author. And the presidential candidate's flip-flop isn't good the brand of either Trump or Coulter.


 
Three cheers for the University of Chicago
Intellectual Takeout reprints the letter to the incoming class of students at the University of Chicago from the Office of the Dean of Students. An important and heartening excerpt:
Once here you will discover that one of the University of Chicago’s defining characteristics is our commitment to freedom of inquiry and expression ... Members of our community are encouraged to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn, without fear of censorship. Civility and mutual respect are vital to all of us, and freedom of expression does not mean the freedom to harass or threaten others. You will find that we expect members of our community to be engaged in rigorous debate, discussion, and even disagreement. At times this may challenge you and even cause discomfort.
Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so called ‘trigger warnings,’ we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.
(HT: Marginal Revolution)


 
Flanders leader calls for North Sea union
Reuters reports:
Geert Bourgeois, prime minister of the autonomous region that is home to more than half Belgium's population, said on Wednesday he will seek agreements with other littoral states and regions to promote cooperation on managing resources such as energy and fisheries, as well as research and development.
Acknowledging that similar initiatives in recent years to strengthen ties among Britain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Norway had failed to take off, Bourgeois said that was partly because all of those except Norway already shared EU status.
"The reaction was lukewarm ... as we thought there was no need for another international organization," he told Reuters.
But that, he believed, has changed with the British vote to leave the bloc, turning the western coast of the North Sea eventually into non-EU territory: "Now that Britain is also leaving it would be good to work on such a union."
There will be tremendous pressure on five of the seven countries to not set up a rival to the European Union. Not going to happen.


 
Hispanic journalist says reporters have obligation to abandon neutrality covering Donald Trump
Mediate reports:
Univision and Fusion anchor Jorge Ramos argued in an op-ed Tuesday that reporters should abandon traditional standards of objectivity when reporting on Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.
“It doesn’t matter who you are— a journalist, a politician or a voter— we’ll all be judged by how we responded to Donald Trump,” he argued in TIME Magazine. “Like it or not, this election is a plebiscite on the most divisive, polarizing and disrupting figure in American politics in decades. And neutrality is not an option.”
Ramos certainly practices what he preaches.


 
The 2016 circus presidential campaign is obstructing the Republican's plan for America
At National Review Online, Ian Tuttle writes favourably about the best plan the Republicans have put together address some of America's most intractable problems, Paul Ryan's "A Better Way":
For Paul Ryan, though, the desert of ideas in American politics is an opportunity. In early December 2015, Ryan, just weeks into his tenure as speaker of the House, gave a speech at the Library of Congress entitled, “Confident America.” “If we want to save the country,” he told an audience that included House and Senate GOP leaders, “then we need a mandate from the people. And if we want a mandate, then we need to offer ideas. And if we want to offer ideas, then we need to actually have ideas. And that’s where House Republicans come in.” “Our number-one goal for the next year,” he announced, “is to put together a complete alternative to the Left’s agenda.”
The result, rolled out over this June and July, is “A Better Way: Our Vision for a Confident America.” Comprising six different areas of focus — poverty, national security, the economy, the Constitution, health care, and tax reform — the agenda aims to articulate not what Republicans stand against, but what they stand for. In Ryan’s preferred terms, it aims to turn the GOP from an “opposition” party into a “proposition” party.
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.
Tuttle explains the politics of Ryan's plan -- "That the famously fractious House Republican conference has coalesced around a single agenda is an accomplishment in itself, made possible, members insist, by Ryan’s 'bottom-up' approach" -- the history, and some of the details. It is visionary and unusual for the Republicans, as the Speaker of the House focuses (although not exclusively) on how to improve the lot of the poor and lower middle class:
For Ryan, the blight of poverty — especially the way that it has been entrenched by irresponsible, even corrupt, government — is a betrayal of the American dream. “The American Dream,” the “Better Way” agenda reads, “is the idea that, no matter who you are or where you come from, if you work hard and give it your all, you will succeed. But for too many people today, that’s simply not true.” The “Better Way” agenda is intended to make that dream a reality again.
Tuttle says, "Ideally, the 'Better Way' would have been the cornerstone of a reform-oriented agenda articulated by a conservative standard-bearer," but "instead, members of Congress are using the agenda to give themselves an identity not warped by Donald Trump’s gravitational pull." And, of course, Trump's incoherent and impossible agenda is dominating the debate. Tuttle calls "The Better Way" a great GOP accomplishment: "They have put forward the Great Ignored Agenda of the 21st century. It shouldn’t be."


 
Rove: 'Shut Down the Clinton Foundation Already'
Karl Rove writes in the Wall Street Journal about the Clinton Foundation:
The foundation received many millions of dollars from foreign governments and nationals while Mrs. Clinton was secretary of state, including via a Canadian front group set up to shield donors’ identities. This despite Mrs. Clinton’s promise at her January 2009 confirmation to provide “the transparency and disclosure that is needed” and “address even the appearance of conflict.”
Newly released emails show foundation staff intervened with the State Department on behalf of donors, foreign and domestic. On Tuesday the Associated Press released an analysis of official calendars for the first half of Mrs. Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state. At least 85 of the 154 private persons with whom she had scheduled meetings or phone calls were also Clinton Foundation donors, having contributed as much as $156 million. The AP had to sue to obtain this information, yet Mrs. Clinton’s campaign responded by complaining that the report looked at only half of her tenure.
The Clinton Foundation has long been criticized for spending too little on programs and too much on overhead—including flying the Clintons around in private planes and employing lackeys like Sidney Blumenthal. The Clintons justified their practices by saying that the foundation performed good work ...
[T]his newspaper reports that if Mrs. Clinton wins in November the foundation plans to “scale back” and ban foreign contributions. Is there no potential for abuse if only Americans donate? Mrs. Clinton should pledge to shut down the Clinton Foundation if elected.
Even that wouldn’t end the potential for pay to play. One of Mrs. Clinton’s major economic proposals is an infrastructure bank. As she explained to Fox News’s Chris Wallace, she would “seed it with federal dollars, but bring in private investors.”
Such a quasigovernment entity, staffed by loyalists, would lead to an explosion of crony capitalism, taking taxes from ordinary Americans and transferring them to the Clintons’ allies. It would be Solyndra on steroids.
Last summer, Walter Russell Mead wrote about how the Clinton Political Machine uses the Foundation to skirt election finance rules, including providing a means for foreigners to contribute to the U.S. presidential campaign. The Foundation almost certainly paid exuberant fees and salaries to individuals who would later work for the Hillary Clinton campaign. And, as has been the focus of the past month of much reporting, the Foundation has put the presumptive president-to-be in a series of conflicts-of-interest when it comes to policy decisions she will have to make that could benefit many of the Foundation's funders. Rove is correct: it is time to shut down the Clinton Foundation.


Wednesday, August 24, 2016
 
What I'm reading
1. I'm re-reading The Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in the Age of Individualism by Yuval Levin. It is one of the best three books of the year, and easily the best politics book of the year. (The best political book I've read this year was released last December.)
2. Fail U.: The False Promise of Higher Education by Charles J. Sykes
3. The links (papers, reviews, etc) on libertarianism at BookForum.
4. "The Gender Wage Gap," a Institute for Fiscal Studies paper by Monica Costa Dias, William Elming, and Robert Joyce. There is coverage of the paper in The Independent, the gist of which is that the wage gap between men and women grows after women have their first child.
5. "Sexuality and Gender: Findings from the Biological, Psychological, and Social Sciences," special report from The National Interest by Lawrence S. Mayer and Paul R. McHugh. The Daily Caller has news coverage of the report.


 
Did they get their money's worth?
Cost of Melania Trump's RNC speech was about half of what the campaign spent on three visits to Domino's pizza the same month.


 
Antony Jay, RIP
Writer Antony Jay, co-creator of "Yes, Minister" and "Yes, Prime Minister," has passed away. Both shows are essential viewing for people who want to understand politics because Jay (and co-writer Jonathan Lynn) understood public choice theory. From the Daily Telegraph obituary:
It was Jay’s growing interest in public choice theory that helped to shape Yes, Minister, an interest that after he became a partner with John Cleese and two others in Video Arts, a company that makes comedy training films for business managers and campaigners.
In economics public choice theory assumes that all economic actors – businessmen, consumers, politicians and bureaucrats – are motivated primarily by individual gain. Thus, politicians pursue re-election and bureaucrats pursue budget-maximisation, while voters and interest groups chase free lunches. The trick is to know your enemy and exploit his self-interest to your own advantage.
A perfect example of public choice and the bureaucracy:
Jay and Lynn also skewered the absurdities of politics (especially buck-passing) and abuse of language:


 
A 'study'
BBC: "Ramen noodles 'are most valuable US prison commodity', study suggests." Before you make too much of this finding, the BBC reports, "the research is based on anecdotal evidence from fewer than 60 inmates and staff from one male state prison," so there might be a sample size problem.


 
Watching for wasteful spending
The Globe and Mail editorializes about the few thousand dollars the Health Minister spent on being chauffeured around town and a few thousand more that the Environment Minister spent on a photographer during her delegations trip to the Paris climate change conference last year. The paper rightly notes that these are pittances compared to large government programs:
But anyone truly worried about government spending needs to set their sights higher. That $1.5-billion in Ontario transit spending announced on Tuesday? It’s just one small piece of a Liberal plan to spend $125-billion on infrastructure over the next 10 years. One-hundred-and-twenty-five. Billion.
That’s where the real money is, and where the real waste can happen. The nickel-and-dime stuff has its place, but it is more theatre than real fiscal accountability.
And yet, the spending by the federal cabinet ministers is not nothing, either. It isn't the dollar amounts, though, but the sense of entitlement that government officials -- not just Liberals, but members of the governing class -- too often display. I don't begrudge cabinet ministers drivers while they are outside Ottawa, but as the paper says, Jane Philpott should have the sense to avoid the obvious conflict of overpaying for a car from a company owned by a former campaign volunteer. The media and the opposition parties are very good at holding the government to account for these minor indiscretions. As citizens and taxpayers we must hope they are as diligent in holding the government to account when they spend billions of dollars for mega projects.


 
Not going to happen
The Washington Post has three possible "break-up" scenarios between the Republicans and Donald Trump. Sorry, but they're stuck with each other.


 
North Korean missile tests
The Wall Street Journal reports:
North Korea fired a submarine-launched missile that traveled much further than previous similar tests, a fresh sign of progress in Pyongyang’s program to develop nuclear-tipped missiles that are difficult to detect before launch.
As they say at Small Dead Animals, "it's probably nothing."