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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Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Trudeau then and now
Three years ago, then Liberal leader Justin Trudeau gave a speech on "Canadian liberty and the politics of fear," at the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada (March 9, 2015). In that speech he praised abortion as one of Canada's greatest achievements. But he also said:
As my second favourite Prime Minister, Wilfrid Laurier, once said: “Canada is free, and freedom is its nationality.” That is why efforts of one group to restrict the liberty of another are so very dangerous to this country, especially when the agencies of the state are used to do it.
Today, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is using an agency of state (the Canada Summer Jobs Program) to restrict the liberty of others (freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, freedom of speech) by insisting that employers sign an attestation that they support abortion, which the government is wrongly claiming is a Charter right.
Three years is a long time, especially when one gains the levers of power and can use the agencies of state to restrict the liberty of those with whom he disagrees.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018
On the 0.7% foreign aid target
Ian Birrell is tougher than I am on foreign aid, but in a scathing column in the (London) Times he takes issue with the 0.7% foreign aid target that is considered sacrosanct amongst NGOs, the United Nations, and many academics and politicians: "a random aid target that rises with national income at a time when poverty is declining worldwide thanks to capitalism, scientific advance and technological change." Lester Pearson advised the World Bank that countries be encouraged to set aside 0.7% of GNI (gross national income) for foreign aid in 1969. As Birrell observes, poverty has been drastically reduced while technology and trade have improved standards of living for hundreds of millions of people over the past four decades. The artificial 0.7% goal, which only six countries abide (the UK, Netherlands, several Scandinavian countries, and Luxembourg, but not Canada), should be relegated to the dustbin of history -- much like most of the developing world's poverty.

CNN uses profanity nearly 200 times in outrage-fest over President's profanity
News Busters reports:
In the contest for Most Offended News Network after President Trump reportedly referred to African nations as “s***hole” countries, CNN wins hands down. NewsBusters staff combed through CNN transcripts on Nexis for the S-hole word in the 24 hours of January 12 – the first full day after The Washington Post reported the controversy – and found CNN staffers and CNN guests uncorked the profanity 195 times in one day.
That doesn’t count Saturday, Sunday or Monday. They could be headed for 1,000 by now. It also doesn’t count the amount of time they put the S-word on screen (sometimes twice, as you can see on Cuomo’s temporary prime time show.)
Compare that to Fox News Channel. Their curse count was zero. FNC told staff and guests not to say it.
Then again, CNN allowed the term teabaggers to be used on air.
I'm not some moralist when it comes to profanity. I employ it a lot (too much?) in my everyday speech, including the word shithole (although probably less in the past few days that usual), but I wouldn't use it on TV.

Monday, January 15, 2018
Was Pauline Kael invited to Samantha Power's party, too?
The Free Beacon reports on Barack Obama's UN ambassador's 2016 election night party:
Samantha Power threw a 2016 election-night party for the other 37 female United Nations ambassadors expecting to see Hillary Clinton elected the first female U.S. president, only for the bash to end in despair, she revealed in a new interview.
"I’ve had a lot of bad ideas in my life, but none as immortalized as this one," Power told Politico‘s Susan Glasser in a joint interview with former top Barack Obama aide Ben Rhodes.
HBO captured the party's evolution from glee to sadness as part of its new documentary from Greg Barker, "The Final Year." Rhodes and Power are two of the stars of the film's behind-the-scenes access to Obama's last year in office.
Power, who served as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations from 2013 to 2017, said she made the invitation to her fellow ambassadors fully expecting the "glass ceiling" to be shattered by Clinton. She was picked by most political experts to easily defeat Donald Trump.
"I thought what an amazing night for them. I mean, that’s what America represents to the world, when a glass ceiling is shattered in our country, it creates a whole new sense of possibility for people everywhere," she said.
Among the invitees were also feminist writer Gloria Steinem and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. So confident was Power, she said she was afraid Clinton's victory would be called too early in the night.
"As the host, I was kind of hoping it wouldn’t be quite the blowout that it was anticipated to be, because I wanted to make sure that people had a chance to interact with Gloria Steinem, and one of—" she said.
"So, your concern was that actually that the evening was going to be over early," Glasser said.
"Too soon," Power said. "I wanted to milk the soft power dividend of this moment, and instead, and HBO was there, I guess unfortunately or fortunately, to capture it all, but instead, you really see what so many people went through, which was all of that sense of promise and excitement, and frankly, a dose of complacency. And then, it slowly dawning on us that not only was this going to be much closer than anybody anticipated, but that it was not going to end well."
And, yes, I understand that Kael is often misquoted.

China's 'basic dictatorship' and environmental policy
Yanzhong Huang, professor at Seton Hall University’s School of Diplomacy and International Relations and an adjunct senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, has a column in today's New York Times about "Why China’s Good Environmental Policies Have Gone Wrong." We can debate whether they are, indeed, good environmental policies, but the politics of green policy in Red China -- so admired by Justin Trudeau -- raises serious issues about its implementation (which is what then-candidate Trudeau so admired):
To reduce the levels of hazardous particles known as PM2.5, the Chinese authorities started a major campaign in 2013 to convert coal-generated heating to gas or electric heating. But in the northern province of Hebei, for example, as overzealous local officials put the changes in place, exceeding government targets, demand for the new fuels suddenly surged — creating shortages that left millions without proper heating in freezing temperatures.
This is but one example of the ways in which China’s air-pollution policy may have been a bit too successful. The Chinese government deserves credit for its resolve in tackling the problem. Yet the rapid concentration of power under President Xi Jinping — helped along by the steady purging of officials suspected of corruption — has put apparatchiks and bureaucrats on edge. And their rush to please has unexpectedly distorted how environmental policy is made and implemented, sometimes with unwanted consequences.
In 2013, after decades of single-mindedly pursuing economic growth, often to the detriment of the environment and public health, the Chinese government changed course. That year, as smog blanketed much of the country, it declared all-out war against air pollution ...
These measures appear to be paying off: By the end of last year, according to government sources, China seemed to have met all the major targets in its 2013 action plan.
Yet the rush to set them and then meet them has had perverse effects ...
[I]n order to quickly meet these sometimes questionable goals, some local officials with an eye on career advancement — or simply fearful of being sacked — have overshot or been heavy-handed with enforcement.
One of the objectives of the clean-air campaign was to regulate and remove businesses deemed to be san luan wu — scattered, messy and dirty. Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan, initially identified 539 such companies. But after local leaders learned that they would be sanctioned if inspectors found any additional san luan wu firms, they expanded their lists to included many very small businesses, like auto repair shops or stalls selling steamed buns. Within three months, the number exceeded 10,000, putting at risk mom-and-pop operations that actually pollute very little ...
Centralized, authoritarian power is sometimes credited with allowing quick policy changes that would be difficult to contemplate in democracies, where checks and balances and political jostling can delay reform. But under Mr. Xi, political power has become so centralized and so authoritarian that it has perverted the incentive structure that drives environmental policy and its execution. In such a system, even good policies can have bad effects.
The author also criticizes the targets for being arbitrary and Beijing for not consulting experts, including health experts, to determine safe levels of pathogens.

Saturday, January 13, 2018
Divisional round playoffs preview
Atlanta Falcons (6) at Philadelphia Eagles (1), 4:35 pm Saturday: The Falcons are two point favourites playing on the road against the number one seed in the NFC. That has almost everything to do with the fact that Philly is without erstwhile MVP candidate Carson Wentz. Yet, the Eagles are one of the most complete teams -- good O-line, solid receivers, good tight end, and useful running backs -- so even with Nick Foles quarterbacking, they are a very good team. The Eagles D is capable of stopping Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and the dynamic running back duo Devonta Freeman or Tevin Coleman. Interesting fact: the Falcons put their QB under center less than any other team other than the Los Angeles Rams (just 43% of the time), while the Eagles D dominates offenses when the quarterback is under center according to Football Outsiders' defensive DVOA. However, if Ryan is in the shotgun completing short passes or trying to find Jones for a deep play, they aren't utilizing their backs. The front seven should be able to shut down the Falcons running game, be a nuisance to the short passing game, and get pressure on Ryan. Jones can change the game on his own with historically great days, but he also disappears (we all remember his 12-catch, 253 yard game against Tampa Bay in November, but forget his three games in which he caught fewer than three passes for a total of 30 (Buffalo), 24 (Minnesota), and 54 yards (Tampa Bay)). The Eagles have the best defense according to Football Outsiders, so the diverse and dangerous Falcons offense will be challenged to move the ball, convert third downs, and score. Atlanta is an under-rated good team and they don't get the credit they deserve for their defense. The Falcons rank eighth in total offensive yards (362.3 ypg) and ninth in total yards allowed (320.9 ypg). That might pose problems for Foles and Philadelphia. I'm not a fan of red zone stats because of the smaller sample size but the Eagles dominant defense is slightly below average within their own 20, while Atlanta's usually potent offense is 22nd in DVOA in the red zone. On the season, Philly has the best red zone offense (mostly with Wentz) while Atlanta was sixth in red zone defensive DVOA. It will probably come down to red zone opportunities, more than red zone performance; Ryan is more likely to get there than Foles. Falcons make it back to the NFC Championship.
Tennessee Titans (5) at New England Patriots (1), 8:15 pm Saturday: I don't want to complicate this one: the Patriots are the Super Bowl favourites and the Titans are the worst team left in the playoffs. Tom Brady vs Marcus Mariota, Bill Belichick vs Mike Mularkey. Pats by at least two scores.
Jacksonville Jaguars (3) at Pittsburgh Steelers (2), 1 pm Sunday: The Jags traveled to Pittsburgh in October and won 30-9. Yet it was a close game for two-and-a-half quarters as the Steelers were leading 9-7 halfway through the third quarter. Ben Roethlisberger threw five interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns. Jax QB Blake Bortles threw for just 95 yards and one touchdown, while rookie running back Leonard Fournette ran for 181 yards (including a 90-yard TD play). Only one team has beaten the Steelers in Pittsburgh twice in one season: the Jacksonville Jaguars more than a decade ago. Will history repeat? The Steelers aren't the same team from early October. The offense was inconsistent with RB Le'Veon Bell just hitting his stride and there was controversy around WR Martavis Bryant was a distraction. Since then, the Steelers have looked like the best team in the league. In recent weeks, Pittsburgh has been without their best player on offense (WR Antonio Brown) and best player on defense (linebacker Ryan Shazier). Shazier may never play football again, while Brown will play but we don't know how effective he will be after suffering a partially torn calf muscle last month and a mysterious illness during practice this week. The Steelers have a deep, diverse, and dangerous offense. According to Football Outsiders, the Steelers have the third-ranked offense, being fourth in passing and sixth in rushing. Jax has the most efficient defense, but they were first against the pass and only 26th against the run. The Jags pass rush might be a nuisance for Big Ben and the secondary might be able to stop Brown, Bryant, and JuJu Schuster-Smith, but the defensive line might not be able to stop Bell, who averages 86.1 ypg, third overall. Pittsburgh's offense vs. Jacksonville's defense might be the best unit versus unit match-up of the weekend. At home and seeking revenge, I expect the Steelers to move the ball (Bell averages 4.0 yards per rush) enough to score on several early possessions, forcing Jacksonville to play catch-up. Jax is coming off a lackluster 10-3 victory over the Buffalo Bills in the wild card game last week, with Bortles throwing for just 87 yards in the win. Jacksonville won't be able to beat Pittsburgh on the road if they don't score some points and the Jags will have to move the ball against a Steelers defense that allowed just 306.9 yards per game (fifth overall) and 19.2 ppg (seventh). Pittsburgh is susceptible to big plays and they are terrible at tackling runners if they get open. I can't imagine Pittsburgh losing, but their margin of victory is almost entirely dependent on minimizing errors. I think they play disciplined, smart ball and the Steelers win by double digits.
New Orleans Saints (4) at Minnesota Vikings (2), 4:40 pm Sunday: Game of the weekend, with the winner probably heading to the Super Bowl. According to Cold Hard Football Facts, Minnesota and New Orleans are first and second in their Quality Stats index. These teams have great lines on both sides of the ball so watch the battle in the trenches. The Vikes are a complete team and the Saints don't have a lot of weaknesses. According to Football Outsiders, the Saints have the second best offense (top six in both the pass and the run) while Minnesota has the second best defense (top five in both the pass and the run). The Vikings have the fifth best offense, while the Saints have eighth best defense. The Vikings won their season opener against the Saints 29-19 but this is not the same New Orleans team. Seven of their starters in that game are injured, were traded, or no longer starting. The Saints had the Adrian Peterson distraction and hadn't discovered that they had the best running back tandem, Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara (between them averaging more than 115 ypg, plus more than 77 receiving yards per game collectively). Since week three, the Saints D has become one of the league's better defenses, with nine of 14 opponents failing to score more than 20 points. According to Football Outsiders, the Saints defense was third overall after week three (behind Jacksonville and Minnesota). The Saints beat teams with their defense, with their run game, and, when necessary, Drew Brees. All Pro Vikings CB Xavier Rhodes should shut down Saints top receiving threat Michael Thomas. The Saints will have to score on the road against the stingiest D in the NFL (15.8 ppg). Vikings QB Case Keenum doesn't turn over the ball (seven interceptions in 15 games) and much of the Saints D is predicated on takeaways (20 picks, third overall). He has one of the best receivers this season Adam Thielen (1276 yards) but if rookie CB Marshon Lattimore limits his effectiveness, Keenum still has WR Stefon Diggs and TE Kyle Rudolph to catch the ball. The top two backs average just under four yards per rush, so its effective even if the running game isn't dangerous. These teams are closely matched and while the Vikings have homefield advantage I'm going with the veteran experience of quarterback Drew Brees and coach Sean Payton. Saints eke out a late victory on the road to head back to the NFC Championship.

Friday, January 12, 2018
Corporate lobbying doesn't work
Tyler Cowen is a typically counter-intuitive Bloomberg View column based on new research:
The numbers instead indicate that lobbying hurts the underlying capital values of the corporations. Lobbying doesn’t increase the chance that favored bills are passed by Congress, and it isn’t associated with the company receiving more government contracts.
Those are the key results from a new study by Zhiyan Cao, Guy D. Fernando, Arindam Tripathy and Arun Upadhyay, published in the Journal of Corporate Finance and considering 1,500 S&P companies over the period 1998 to 2016. Neither spending money at all on lobbying nor spending more money on lobbying over those years seem to help companies, and for that matter contributions to political action committees don’t work either.
Lobbying is more likely to damage corporate performance when the company is more complex and diversified. A large conglomerate may find it hard to come up with simple, to-the-point political requests that can much help the bottom line. Lobbying is most likely to help high-growth companies. If those companies do reap political favors, it will benefit them more over a bright and long-lasting future.
If corporate lobbying is an unprofitable use of money, why does it happen? One possibility is that corporate leaders are using company resources to indulge their own ideological preferences. Other researchers have found that companies with weaker governance and more entrenched management are those more likely to spend on lobbying. This study finds that lobbying expenditures are higher when the percentage of CEO perks is higher and when the board of the company is larger.
It’s also possible lobbyists are ripping off companies with slick sales pitches, or that incompetent CEOs are spending money on lobbying so they seem to be doing something constructive. In any case, it seems shareholders would be better off if managers were less interested in politics.
It's one paper, so we shouldn't just assume that businesses are self-sabotaging their bottom line or that executives are indulging in politics with other people's money. But it does suggest that corporate boards might want to take a closer look at their lobbying activities.

Thursday, January 11, 2018
Anti-anti toxic masculinity
Psychoanalyst Bruce Scott has a good essay at Spiked-Online about toxic masculinity, the last stigmatizing stereotype permitted today. The idea of toxic masculinity assumes that an identifiable group -- males, mostly of the white variety -- are in need of re-education and reprogramming. Scott says that "pathologising" an entire group is morally cretinous and psychoanalytically erroneous. Many of the supposedly male traits that make men, feminists say, desperately in need of immediate fixing to fall into accordance with (newly redefined) social norms and expectations -- the norms and expectations of the the left-wing worldview, are neither male nor toxic. Some so-called male character traits (stoicism, for example) are displayed by women but more importantly they are necessary for many people (male and female) in "coping with the vicissitudes of life." More fundamental, this anti-male view is anti-liberty in demanding a conformity to officially sanctioned attitudes. The attacks on so-called toxic masculinity, Scott argues, is a modern witch-hunt and is itself a "toxic idea."

Sunday, January 07, 2018
I probably won't be blogging until midweek. See y'all soon.