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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Thursday, January 19, 2017
 
Addiction is not a crime
David Gratzer's weekly reading this week looks at a longish Wall Street Journal article about how some American states are tackling the opioid crisis by experimenting with addiction treatment for individuals who abuse drugs rather than treating them as criminals. The war on drugs hasn't worked and the drug crisis gets worse (there are now more heroin deaths than gun deaths in America). Gratzer says, "These experiments in treatment (instead of jail time) are important." Indeed. He notes that in Canada there is some experimentation in directing individuals with drug addictions to treatment rather than sending them to jail. Gratzer also notes a Globe and Mail article on the federal government's response to the opioid crisis in Canada, in which federal Health Minister, Jane Philpott, says, "Addiction is not a crime. Addiction is not a mark of moral failure. It is a health issue." It is also a cultural issue so there are non-policy needs (such as changing attitudes to addiction); however, changing the federal response -- from policing and penal, to health -- will help lead that cultural change. This week's readings are important and I hope that Dr. Gratzer's audience goes well beyond his usual one of his medical colleagues, and is read and carefully considered by policy makers.


 
What I'm reading
1. Audacity: How Barack Obama Defied His Critics and Created a Legacy That Will Prevail by Jonathan Chait
2. A Consequential President: The Legacy of Barack Obama by Michael D'Antonio. Carlos Lazada's Washington Post review of D'Antonio's and Chait's books is very good.
3. We Are the Change We Seek: The Speeches of Barack Obama edited by E.J. Dionne Jr. and Joy-Ann Reid


 
Donald Trump: Making Journalism Great Again
The New York Times announces:
The Trump White House will be an extraordinary, evolving story, and Times journalists will be covering it in practically every section of our daily report. But one desk in particular will be exceptionally busy over the next four years — that of our Washington bureau. So, to ensure that we continue to deliver the in-depth journalism our readers deserve, we’re expanding, including the addition of a new Washington investigations team to our existing teams covering the White House, Capitol Hill and the Pentagon.
There is certainly a partisan or ideological slant to this decision, but shouldn't the paper of record have an extensive investigations team in the nation's capital?
Dig, baby, dig.


 
Kevin O'Leary's chances
The Globe and Mail's Konrad Yakabuski examines the Conservative Party of Canada leadership field and finds 13 candidates lacking. But he thinks there are game-changing possibilities in reality show and business television personality Kevin O'Leary. Yakabuski says that O'Leary may speak to more Canadians than his opponents or the pundits realize: "If you think his mad-as-hell shtick will never fly in polite and progressive Canada, you probably haven’t been listening to your neighbours lately." I'm not sure that Canadians are interested in shaking up the political establishment in the same way that British and American voters have in the last year, but I wouldn't bet against it, either. And if they are, Kevin O'Leary will be electable. The first step to answering that question -- can the self-described Mr. Wonderful lead the Conservatives back to government -- is the Tory leadership race and it will be answered if a critical mass of Conservative Party members are willing to take a chance. The issue in many leadership races is "who can beat the incumbent next time." Other candidates are making not very compelling cases based on various issues, their biography/resume, or the tone they bring to politics. We'll see if Tory voters think their fellow Canadians are ready for the issues, biography/resume, and tone that Kevin O'Leary brings to the table.


 
HRC vs. De Blasio
According to a Quinnipiac poll, Hillary Clinton leads among every demographic except Republicans if she ran as an independent against New York City mayor Bill De Blasio, and would win 49%-29% in a two-way race (with no Republican -- although there are already declared GOP candidates and Donald Trump Jr. is sometimes rumoured to be interested in running). This poll is silly: Clinton gets a post-presidential run bump, she probably wouldn't run as an independent, and if there was a Clinton-De Blasio race, the GOP would certainly run their own credible candidate to try to "come up the middle" and win. The more interesting question would be how she'd do in a Democratic primary against De Blasio? The mayoral election is this year so HRC would have to get to work soon. As the 2016 presidential campaign illustrated, she probably doesn't have the energy to run another grueling campaign. I don't expect Clinton to run, but it's fun to speculate. It should also be noted that Hillary Clinton is to the right of De Blasio.


 
Maybe it's because 'alt-right' is an imprecise, catch-all term
Forward: "The ‘Alt-Right’ Hates the Jews. But It Also Loves Them — and Israel." Crappy article. It doesn't so much cherry-pick facts as throw a bunch of them together even if they aren't related. A "movement" that attracts anti-Semites and Zionists might be too broad to be a real movement.


Wednesday, January 18, 2017
 
Obama approval rating grows as term ends
CNN: "Obama approval hits 60% as end of term approaches." It is the highest it's been since 2009 although it still ranks behind Bill Clinton (66%) and Ronald Reagan (64%) among recent presidents as they left office. But his approval should be increasing considering all fellatio journalists ... fawning coverage he's been getting the last few weeks. It also helps that he looks pretty good (to independents) by comparison to the man replacing him.


 
Theresa May's Brexit speech
I have my biases, of course, but Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit speech at Lancaster House yesterday is a great and important speech. You can read it here and watch it here. I'd go so far as to say that this speech is more significant -- more substantial -- than anything Barack Obama has said in his eight years as president. May isn't the performer that Obama or Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are (or British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson can be). But the words matter. Only the words matter. This is the opening salvo of a negotiation, an immensely important negotiation. This speech will affect British and European public policy for decades to come.
Former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper's philosophy regarding speeches was to get to the point and eschew rhetoric. He wasn't using any occasion as a teaching moment. May is reminding Britons of their values, and they need reminding. The United Kingdom is an open, liberal, tolerant, and democratic society, and a dynamic market-economy. There is a domestic audience, but it is secondary. The key audience is the European Union. The theme was "A Global Briton" -- expressing the desire that the UK become "one of the firmest advocates for free trade anywhere in the world -- but the bottom line is that "I am equally clear that no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain." As Richard Tice of Leave Means Leave, said, that's the strapline of his organization. It is the hardest of Brexits. There is no "half-in, half-out." She wants free trade with and immigration from Europe, but on British terms, not Brussels's. This government has established that it considers it vital that London, not Brussels controls its borders. May clearly and firmly rejected single market:
But I want to be clear. What I am proposing cannot mean membership of the single market.
European leaders have said many times that membership means accepting the ‘4 freedoms’ of goods, capital, services and people. And being out of the EU but a member of the single market would mean complying with the EU’s rules and regulations that implement those freedoms, without having a vote on what those rules and regulations are. It would mean accepting a role for the European Court of Justice that would see it still having direct legal authority in our country.
It would to all intents and purposes mean not leaving the EU at all.
And that is why both sides in the referendum campaign made it clear that a vote to leave the EU would be a vote to leave the single market.
So we do not seek membership of the single market. Instead we seek the greatest possible access to it through a new, comprehensive, bold and ambitious free trade agreement.
She wants a free market deal, built on what Europe already has -- there is no need to start from scratch: "So an important part of the new strategic partnership we seek with the EU will be the pursuit of the greatest possible access to the single market, on a fully reciprocal basis, through a comprehensive free trade agreement." She will not pay for that access. No more "vast contributions" to the EU, but rather a buy-in for programs which the British Parliament chooses to participate. May also wants access to the customs union where it works, but the ability to pursue the best free trade agreements on Britain's own. This will not be easy. But it is not impossible, and Prime Minister May signals her willingness to play hardball:
I know there are some voices calling for a punitive deal that punishes Britain and discourages other countries from taking the same path.
That would be an act of calamitous self-harm for the countries of Europe. And it would not be the act of a friend. Britain would not – indeed we could not – accept such an approach. And while I am confident that this scenario need never arise – while I am sure a positive agreement can be reached – I am equally clear that no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain.
How will it be calamitous for European countries? May explains:
[W]e would have the freedom to set the competitive tax rates and embrace the policies that would attract the world’s best companies and biggest investors to Britain. And – if we were excluded from accessing the single market – we would be free to change the basis of Britain’s economic model.
Not only would European companies potentially lose access to important supply chains and financing from The City. A May government could set up Britain as a tax haven off the coast of Europe. This ... threat? ... is positively Thatcherite. May is tough. May took a conciliatory but very firm stance with her European colleagues, especially those who might be tempted to make an example of Britain or punish the nation for its decision. May backed Remain, but she has embraced her responsibility of carrying out the mandate of the Brexit referendum last June. In some ways, she's pushing a harder Brexit than some on Leave would have (including, possibly Boris Johnson and Michael Gove). And she has changed tact from her predecessor; former prime minister David Cameron accepted the European status quo as the baseline and sought incremental reforms but that left little room for negotiation. Prime Minister May has opened with the ideal, and if the result is something short of that, it could still be radically different than the UK-EU relationship today. And that's what British voters endorsed last June.
May warns the new partnership with Europe the UK seeks cannot be "an unlimited transitional" deal that becomes a "permanent purgatory." The agreement must be reached by the end of the two-year Article 50 process, which seems a little ambitious. May suggests Britain is willing to walk away from Europe without a deal; remember, no deal is better than a bad deal.
May also warns politicians and journalists to be responsible -- what she calls "disciplined":
Because this is not a game or a time for opposition for opposition’s sake. It is a crucial and sensitive negotiation that will define the interests and the success of our country for many years to come. And it is vital that we maintain our discipline.
That is why I have said before – and will continue to say – that every stray word and every hyped up media report is going to make it harder for us to get the right deal for Britain. Our opposite numbers in the European Commission know it, which is why they are keeping their discipline. And the ministers in this government know it too, which is why we will also maintain ours.
It is better to be transparent about the goals of negotiations -- and this speech does that -- but the negotiations themselves cannot be public. May said -- and I love this line -- "Because it is not my job to fill column inches with daily updates, but to get the right deal for Britain. And that is what I intend to do." So don't expect to hear much more about Brexit from Prime Minister May or senior ministers. She said that parliament will get to vote on the final deal but indicated it will not be open to negotiation. It seems she thinks (correctly in my view) that it is parliament's job to affirm the decision made by the people and the government's job to carry it out.
May asserted repeatedly she wants a prosperous Europe and a partnership with the continent, but strongly hinted that if necessary the United Kingdom is willing to go-it-alone and look elsewhere for trade partners. Her goal is not to maintain the European status quo, but to build a "better Britain" -- preferably with Europe, but not necessarily. The ball is now in the court of Brussels and the 27 European capitals. They should take May seriously and literally, even if she must move off some of her positions slightly during negotiations. This lady's not for turning, either.


Tuesday, January 17, 2017
 
Getting serious about serious cutting
The Washington Examiner reports that President-Election Donald Trump wants federal spending slashed:
Making good on a promise to slash government, President-elect Trump has asked his incoming team to pursue spending and staffing cuts.
Insiders said that the spending reductions in some departments could go as high as 10 percent and staff cuts to 20 percent, numbers that would rock Washington if he follows through.
At least two so-called "landing teams" in Cabinet agencies have relayed the call for cuts as part of their marching orders to shrink the flab in government.
The cuts would target discretionary spending, not mandated programs such as Medicare or Social Security, the sources said.
A lot of people like to talk about targets of 10%, but one-tenth of discretionary spending is a huge amount. And presumably defense costs are off-the-table as Donald Trump has promised to increase defense spending. Stakeholders special-interests will make noise. There is a bit of a dodge there with that "up to 10%" but as an aspirational goal this is significant spending (requiring cuts in government employees and the services they oversee for various groups of Americans). Non-defense discretionary spending is roughly 17% of the budget or $583 billion (out of a total of around $3.5 trillion). Cuts of "up to" $58 billion in a $3.5 trillion budget may not seem like much, but it will mean large cuts in particular programs. That said, the Chretien government's approach in Canada in the 1990s remains wise: targets can be larger or smaller in various ministries so that Native Affairs (at the time) was left untouched while the Ministry of Transportation saw spending decline by about 80%. A government doesn't cut one-tenth of spending by merely reducing waste -- there must be a reduction in program spending or employee costs.
A reduction in Department of Education spending means less money for schools, a cut in Homeland Security spending means less money for national security, and a lower budget for the Department of Health and Human Services means that agency has to consider giving less money to the National Institutes of Health for research. Perhaps Washington is paying for excessive security and health research, and an argument could be made that it is well past time that the federal government stop interfering in schools, but these discussions must be had if DC is going to cut one-tenth of spending in various departments. This won't be pain-free. Ten-percent targets sound good to those on the Right who want smaller government, but they are harder to achieve because it means that priorities have to be debated and decided. Good luck with that. I don't mean to be negative, just realistic. It's a positive sign (from the viewpoint of getting serious about how spending works) that the incoming administration is willing to cut staffing levels. Salaries and benefits are a huge expense and deep cuts are not possible without layoffs.


 
Obama's legacy
Guest-posting at Instapundit, Stephen Green is succinct:
What do you wager will be left of Obama’s legislative or foreign policy legacy by, say, the end of this summer?
If Obama has any lasting legacy at all, it will consist of little more than a mountain of debt and the ridiculous-ization of the Progressive Left.


Monday, January 16, 2017
 
What I'm reading
1. Nordic Nationalism and Right-Wing Populist Politics: Imperial Relationships and National Sentiments by Eirikur Bergmann traces such parties from their creation in the 1970s to their recent (a decade ago?) rise.
2. Putin's Master Plan: To Destroy Europe, Divide NATO, and Restore Russian Power and Global Influence by Douglas E. Schoen and Evan Roth Smith. I skipped this book when it came out in September, but it seems newly important. Schoen is a former Clinton adviser (Bill and then Hillary) but this book was written long before Putin became an election issue.
3. Better Now: Six Big Ideas to Improve Health Care for All Canadians by Danielle Martin. A few years ago Martin -- Dr. Martin -- testified in Congress and was quite feisty in her defense of Canada's universal system. Now she says what's wrong with it and how it can be improved. Martin is cheerleading for Canada's health care system. While this book is billed as an inside look at the system by a practitioner, it is more accurately described as an ideological defense of a cherished Canadian social program.


 
Oxfam's global wealth inequality report
Every January Oxfam releases a report on global inequality, focusing on wealth. This year is no different -- you can read the report here. It's fodder for stories on inequality and how the two richest Canadians have wealth equal to 11 million "poorest" Canadians (CBC) or that eight men own more than 3.6 billion people plant-wide (The Guardian). There are methodological problems, namely using net wealth instead of income or gross wealth figures; net wealth includes the debt of mortgages or student loans that imply some sort of asset (a home or university education). The effect is that many Americans are among the billion poorest while rural developing world peasants are not. This is just bizarre. Mark Littlewood of the Institute of Economic Affairs says the report's focus on "aggregating net wealth figures is largely meaningless headline fodder."
The problem goes much deeper than that. Oxfam's focus on the rich distracts us -- the public, the media, policy-makers -- from poverty. The welfare of the poor is more important than their relative income or wealth. The fact is, as Johan Norberg points out in his book Progress, people are healthier and living longer as improvements in nutrition, sanitation, and medicine reach more people. While the wealthier live longer than the poorer, the gap between the two has shrunk dramatically over the last half century. There are still improvements to make, but this has little to do with inequality and more to do with access (to hospitals, quality schools, drugs). The life expectancy gap has been steadily reduced and despite some sliding back in some jurisdictions, overall this is a mostly ignored success story.
Another problem with the Oxfam report is the tone, which is anti-capitalist. The authors say, "super-rich elite are able to prosper at the expense of the rest of us," which is pure economic nonsense. Expanding the circle of productivity (to use Pope John Paul II's lovely phrase) within free markets has done more to improve well-being than foreign aid. The abject poor do not live in squalid conditions because Bill Gates or Carlos Slim or Galen Weston Sr., are wealthy, providing goods and services that enrich the lives of millions and millions of consumers. Class envy doesn't feed the hungry. Oxfam's demonizing of the rich undermines the capitalist system that employs, feeds, shelters, and clothes hundreds of millions of the world's poor, and they'd be poorer off without it. This is not to say the system is perfect or that there is not room for some redistribution. But Oxfam's priorities do nothing to help those they purport to want to help.


 
'Obama era was great for the One Percenters'
That's the comment by Glenn Reynolds on this Chris Martenson report (via ZeroHedge):
If you want to understand why Trump won the recent US presidential election, you can't overlook the economic data. If you do, his victory may look mighty confusing, alarming even. But once you understand the degree to which the average US family and the entire Gen-X and Millennial generations are being completely hosed economically, everything starts to take shape.
As most struggling Americans can tell you, real household income has gone nowhere for more than 20 years ...
This multi-decade burden of "running ever faster just to stay in the same place" is what led many US voters to reject Hillary Clinton, the establishment candidate, and instead roll the dice on the iconoclast promising to upend the system.
Martenson says that predatory pricing practices by private companies mean a dollar doesn't go as far for the middle class (see his data on cell phone or injectable insulin costs) and the political system allows this to happen. Regardless of the reason(s), a dollar doesn't go as far for many consumers and they'll blame government or business. The Obama years haven't helped, and in some cases have hurt. 25% annual increases in premiums are untenable and would be the source of endless front-page stories if it occurred during a Republican presidency. And yet -- and this is what Reynolds is referring to when he says the last eight years have been great for the 1% -- these premiums are the result of Obama's signature accomplishment; Martenson says:
Obama and the DC politicians crafted the Affordable Care Act as a monstrously large bill. And they failed to take on the biggest source of fat in the entire system: the healthcare insurance companies themselves. Of course, these companies have very well-funded lobbyists and pushing back against them on would have required real leadership and possibly cost some political capital. So they were left entirely alone, with all of the massive increases in healthcare premium costs left to be borne by “somebody” other than them.
Donald Trump isn't the answer to these problems. But things were so bad for too many Americans that Trump was worth the risk.


Sunday, January 15, 2017
 
Denying human exceptionalism
The Washington Post reports that Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circuses are ending their traveling shows. I have mixed feelings. My own prejudices are against seeing animals kept in sub-optimal conditions in captivity, especially transported from venue to venue, but also in favour of keeping an iconic company that employs 500 people open. I'm also afraid of what animal rights extremists will do next. Just because some animal training regimens might be objectionable or that particular captivity conditions are insufficient, hardly means that all zoos and animal exhibitions are wrong. But PETA and the Humane Society will target them next. Indeed, the Post quotes PETA's official statement reacting to the closure of the circuses:
All other animal circuses, roadside zoos, and wild animal exhibitors, including marine amusement parks like SeaWorld and the Miami Seaquarium, must take note: society has changed, eyes have been opened, people know now who these animals are, and we know it is wrong to capture and exploit them.
From one target to another. But the public shouldn't be fooled by PETA, which denies human exceptionalism. Note that the statement says that "people now know who these animals are." It's what these animals are, not who. PETA and their allies want to ban pet ownership and zoos because they consider animals equal to human beings.


Saturday, January 14, 2017
 
McGinnis on first-contact movies
In his January Interim column, Rick McGinnis writes about Arrival (starring Amy Adams) and first-contact movies:
I have always been a sucker for the “first-contact” subgenre of sci-fi movies – films like Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Contact, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Alien, District 9 and, at the very genesis of the genre, The Day The Earth Stood Still. Distinct from the usual sort of sci-fi that re-imagines westerns or war movies with ray guns and space ships, these films try to imagine how humanity would cope with an alien race that has built a civilization without our history or cultural references, and the existential crisis this would inevitably provoke ...
First-contact movies are a philosophical exercise masquerading as an entertainment, and one with profound spiritual implications. They’re a by-product of a culture that has been secularizing with growing speed for over a century, but they touch on every kind of theological idea and heresy, flirting with Gnosticism and imagining the aliens as both devils and gods – or even God. When made with intelligence and skill, you can feel the spiritual yearning in every shot, the desire for an answer even if – absent any actual aliens – we’re really just asking ourselves the question.


 
Action vs. design
CafeHayek's Donald Boudreaux's comment on his selected quotation of the day:
Neither society in general, nor the economy in particular, is a machine to be engineered; instead, each is a process that emerges, along with each of their many and ever-changing specific features, as the result of human action but not of human design.


 
NFL Divisional Round
Houston Texans (9-7) at New England Patriots (14-2) Saturday 8:15 pm: This is considered one of the most lopsided games in playoff history with the Vegas line is at 15 points. No one is giving the Texans a chance to win this -- Will Leitch says the best chance Houston has to win is if New England forfeits the game because it misses the bus to the stadium. The Patriots have the best scoring defense in the NFL and the second best offense according to Football Outsiders; Houston has the 30th best offense according to FO. The Pats won their week three contest 27-0 using third-string quarterback Jacoby Brissett. This game could be close. The Texans have a decent pass rush and if they get to Tom Brady, maybe he makes a mistake and Houston gets lucky. I just wouldn't be on it.
Seattle Seahawks (10-5-1) at Atlanta Falcons (11-5) Saturday 4:35: Seahawks beats the Falcons 26-24 in October, but that game was in Seattle. The 'Hawks have only forced three turnovers in the five games since safety Earl Thomas's season ended in injury against Carolina in Week 13; in that time they held the Los Angeles Rams to three points and the Detroit Lions to six, but have also allowed 38 points (Green Bay Packers) and 34 (Arizona Cardinals). Without Thomas the entire 'Hawks defense is ... different. It doesn't have the depth to mix things up to confuse opponents. The Falcons D ranks 27th in points allowed (25.4 ppg) -- it allowed at least 24 points in each of its five losses -- so if the O-line can protect Russell Wilson and the Seattle run game does just enough to keep Atlanta's defense honest, Seattle should be able to put up points. While Seattle has the second best scoring defense (17.5 ppg), they face a dynamic Falcons offense that scored an average of 33.8 ppg during the regular season, or a ridiculous 540 points in total. Even if Richard Sherman takes Julio Jones out of the game, Atlanta QB Matt Ryan has has distributed the ball around all season that losing his top target shouldn't matter that much. The way Russell Wilson has played this season, Seattle can't really be expected to keep up with Atlanta's high-scoring offense, and without Thomas, it is difficult imagining the Seahawks keeping the game close. Atlanta wins at home to get to the NFC Championship game.
Green Bay Packers (10-6) at Dallas Cowboys (13-3) Sunday 4:40: Probably the two premier teams in NFC history, although the Packers have appeared in five NFC Championships since the last time the Cowboys made such an appearance. This is another rematch from the regular season (in fact, all four divisional games are). In week six, the 'Boys went to Green Bay to face one of the top run defenses at the time. Ezekiel Elliott ran for 190 yards in a Dallas 30-16 victory. Green Bay isn't going to win because of some Aaron Rodgers magic, but the Pack have a chance. Green Bay has scored at least 30 points in each of their last five games and put exactly 38 on the scoreboard three times. While the Dallas D greatly improved this year, it is only a slightly below average defense overall. The Cowboys could be hard pressed to stop Rodgers who has been nearly perfect since Week 12, running the table to win the NFC North by throwing 19 TDs (with no picks), completing 70% of his passes and posting a 121.7 passer rating. He beat the Giants last week, and despite the fact New York has a superior defense, he put up 362 yards against the G-Men. Even without Jordy Nelson, Rodgers should be able to feast on the Dallas secondary. The Cowboys have an efficient and diverse offense. Elliott led the league in rushing and keeping the ball out of Rodgers' hand will be essential for Dallas to win. Eating clock makes sense. Rookie QB Dak Prescott has shown incredible poise all season: four picks and four lost fumbles, whereas Rodgers had seven and four respectively. According to Football Outsiders, Dallas the the second best running offense, third best passing offense, and third best offense in the red zone. The Packers have been missing numerous cornerbacks at the same all time all season, and this weekend is no different. Prescott should be able to eat up yardage in the play action and the deep threat to Dez Bryant. The Boys have just too many offensive weapons for the injury deleted Packers to stop. Green Bay could win in a shootout, but I wouldn't count on it. Dallas wins a high-scoring game to return to the NFC Championship for the first time since the 1995 season.
Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5) at Kansas City Chiefs (12-4) Sunday, 8:15: The game has been moved from the early afternoon to nighttime due to an ice storm hitting the area this weekend. Steelers have won eight in a row (including the wild card game) and earlier this year they beat the Chiefs at home 43-14, but week four is an eternity ago. Both sides were better teams by the end of the season. The Steelers had the fewest sacks up to week 10, but have the most sacks since then. Pittsburgh has scored at least 24 points in each of their last eight games and have allowed 20 or fewer in six of them. The offense is capable of putting a lot of points on the board. Ben Roethlisberger, Le'Veon Bell, and Antonio Brown are an unrivaled trio at the offensive skill positions, with Bell the best running back in the NFL and Brown one of the top two wide receivers. They can beat opponents by running the ball, short passes, or the deep threat. Teams can defend two of the three but it impossible to scheme against all three, although the weather might take long passes out of the playbook. Last week, Brown scored two 50+ yard touchdowns, but they were on a slant and a screen pass. Bell scored two TDs, including completing a drive in which he carried the ball on all ten plays. Both Pittsburgh's offense and defense is top ten according to Football Outsiders. Kansas City has a middling, vanilla offense predicated on avoiding turnovers. Any Steeler fan would rather have Pittsburgh's linebackers keeping short passes small plays than have their secondary try to prevent big ones, so this could be a favourable matchup for Pittsburgh. That said, Kansas City's Travis Kelce has emerged as the best tight end in the NFL when The Gronk is sidelined with injuries. The key for the Chiefs is Tyreek Hill, a dynamic WR and the league's most dangerous punt returner; Pittsburgh must figure out how to minimize long runs and possible scores when kicking and punting (KC has eight returns for score). It will help the Chiefs that they can pressure Roethlisberger with LB Justin Houston and without blitzing to keep enough defenders in coverage to prevent Brown from turning short passes into long distance runs. Safety Eric Berry has been a beast in the secondary, with two pick sixes since his return. He is exactly the kind of opportunistic defender to make Roethlisberger pay for foolish throws under pressure. Everyone expects a close game. If it is, special teams could make a real difference. Football Outsiders has the Chiefs as the best special teams in the NFL and Pittsburgh's punt return coverage is the weakness for its special teams unit. There is a lot of variance in this game, partly because of special teams and turnovers. If the 3 Bs are on and Pittsburgh doesn't turn over the ball, the Steelers could have a lop-sided road victory. But KC's defense could dominate and keep Pittsburgh off the scoreboard or force them to kick field goals. Both of these teams are top five defenses in the red zone and with the poor weather, I expect a close, lowish scoring game. This is probably my heart speaking, but I'm see either a late Pittsburgh field goal or defensive stop to help the Steelers get to the AFC Championship.


Friday, January 13, 2017
 
Cowen on citizens vs. experts
Riffing on William F. Buckley's famous comment that he'd rather be ruled by the first 2000 people in the Boston telephone book than the faculty of Harvard, Tyler Cowen says the citizens vs. experts argument is a dichotomy he considers too simple. Rather the argument is "when we should side with the citizens and when with the faculty." That is, the policy preferences and sensibilities of one group is preferable in some circumstances, but the other group is other circumstances. Cowen explains: "I prefer the citizens for broad questions of policy and society," because "the citizens are more likely to be in touch with the concerns of everyday life, and less likely to embrace utopian schemes." But, "when it comes to the nuts and bolts of governance, typically I would prefer to be ruled by the Harvard faculty, even recognizing the biases of experts." Cowen explains there are upsides and downsides to both groups:
For better or worse, direct rule by [William] Buckley’s 2,000 American citizens probably would mean a slower pace of immigration, less emphasis on free trade, more law and order politics, and a blunter form of nationalism in foreign policy.
Those don’t match my policy preferences (I am more of a globalist, and also a professional academic), but I fear what the Harvard faculty could bring. I can imagine an America closer to Bernie Sanders’s vision, with single-payer health insurance, levels of taxation exceeding 50 percent of GDP, levels of immigration unsustainable with a large welfare state, too many aggressive attempts to legislate equal treatment for various groups, excessive fondness for a universal basic income, and too many humanitarian interventions abroad.
Cowen is concerned that government by faculty would "underestimate the backlash" against attempts at social engineering and that the faculty governors would lack the necessary humility to prevent policy from "rac[ing] too far ahead of the citizenry." Yet, in some areas, the faculty experts are preferable, namely for problems that defy "common-sense fixes" and require some technical expertise. For Cowen, that includes the work of the Federal Reserve, environmental protection, and trade policy.
The column is self-recommending.


 
French paper to ignore polls
The Guardian reports that Le Parisien will not commission public opinion polls in the next presidential election campaign:
“Rather than just talking about what some see as errors in the polls, we’ve decided to go back to the core of our profession: going out in the field, proximity to people,” said Stephane Albouy, editor of Le Parisien, which with its sister paper, Aujourd’hui en France, was historically among the biggest media users of political polls, which often dominated their front pages.
“I’m not attacking opinion polls,” Albouy added. “They don’t do their job badly – they give a snapshot. The problem is the way the media uses them.” He said he wanted his newspaper to stop obsessing about the “horse race” element of which candidate was in top position and do more in-depth reporting on the public mood and policy platforms.
Pundits often decry the lack of interest in public policy and then focus on the horserace. I'm not sure that one paper moving away from the horserace aspect of a campaign will shift the political culture that much. The public is probably not well served by the endless polls. I'm not sure what the editor means by "proximity to the people," but that might not be great either. Getting the reaction of individual irrational and low-information voters is a less accurate snapshot than are polls.
And yet, there is a case that public opinion polls are pieces of information that voters should have. French pollster Roland Cayrol told The Guardian, "I don’t think people vote based on polls but I think more and more voters take polls into account in terms of the impact of their vote. It allows them to be strategic and that’s fits with my idea of democracy." Voting to stop this party or help that one might not be as noble as voting for the platform or leader that one thinks is best for the country, but why can't it be a factor?
In my Walter Mitty moments when I imagine myself the editor of a large daily, I ban polls from stories but doing so requires the hiring of unusually inquisitive journalists who don't have Walter Mitty moments of being political strategists. The problem with polls might have less to do with voters than how they incenvitize lazy and often dumb journalism. I hope Le Parisien has political reporters who don't need this crutch to fill column inches.