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, February 20, 2018
Jeremy Corbyn, communist sympathizer
Rod Liddle in the (London) Times yesterday:
I had not fully understood just how callous, or catastrophically ignorant, Corbyn is about the victims of state communism until I watched the Labour leader’s interview on the Andrew Marr show three weeks ago. When Marr taxed this opponent of the market economy with the fact that the Chinese economy and people had prospered so much more since the People’s Republic allowed individuals to get rich through private business, Corbyn countered that its economy had “grown massively . . . since 1949 and . . . the Great Leap Forward”. He then gave that little sniff and satisfied smile that we have grown accustomed to seeing from Corbyn in interviews when he thinks he’s made a good point.
Reader, the Great Leap Forward was Mao Tse-tung’s propagandistic term for the policy of forced collectivisation of agriculture from 1958-62. It caused the deaths of an estimated 45m Chinese (or seven-and-a-half times the number of Jews exterminated over a similar number of years in the Holocaust).
As the most respected historian of that period in Chinese history, Frank Dikötter, wrote: “Between 2m-3m of these victims were tortured to death or summarily executed, often for the slightest infraction. People accused of not working hard enough were hanged and beaten; sometimes they were bound and thrown into ponds. Punishments for the least violations included mutilation and forcing people to eat excrement . . . The term ‘famine’ tends to support the widespread view that the deaths were largely the result of half-baked and poorly executed economic programmes. But the archives show that coercion, terror and violence were the foundation of the Great Leap Forward.” And this is what Jeremy Corbyn offers us as an example of successful economic management under communism.
Every time UK conservatives seem to go too far on how the socialist Jeremy Corbyn is unfit for office (of MP, not merely PM), he reminds us that through either ignorance about communism's victims or callousness toward them, Corbyn must be kept as far away from 10 Downing, indeed, Westminster, as possible.

Nathalie was dumped by Justin Trudeau in favour of well-to-do cronies
Stephen Gordon has a good column in the National Post about how the Liberals exploited middle class anxiety for electoral gain before governing for the benefit of the upper-middle class:
This raises the question of how and why the Liberals could have developed a plausible story about the need to address middle-class anxieties and then decided that reducing taxes for those at the 90th percentile of the income distribution would help alleviate those middle-class anxieties. Did the Liberals simply aim their tax cut at the middle class and … miss somehow? Was it a game of bait-and switch for the benefit of the upper-middle class? (As I’ve written earlier, a good working definition for the upper-middle class is those between the 80th and 99th percentiles of the income distribution, earning between $70,000 and $225,000 a year; the maximum benefit from the Liberals’ tax cut is for those earning $90,000 a year.) I’ve been wrestling with this question for almost three years now.
But no more: the Liberals have clearly moved on with last week’s “supercluster” announcement: a billion dollars thrown at the usual gang of well-connected consultants and professional sitters-on-boards-of-directors. Perhaps the most startling aspect of the Liberals’ supercluster messaging is what it did not say: the announcement was not accompanied with the usual boilerplate verbiage about how this spending would help the middle class. It would seem that even the Liberals have recognized that there are limits past which that particular talking point cannot be pushed.
Read Gordon's column if you don't remember who Nathalie is.

Math is hard
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Indian companies would invest one billion dollars in Canada. That's not correct. In fact, there is one billion dollars in bilateral private investments but three-quarters of that is Canadian business in India, while Indian companies plan to spend $250 million in Canada. The PM claims he misspoke.

Monday, February 19, 2018
The Trudeau family's taxpayer-funded family vacation
Brian Lilley writes:
So far we have been treated to photos of the Trudeau family yucking it up at the Taj Mahal, an elephant sanctuary, one of the homes of the late Mahatma Ghandi, the Swaminarayan Akshardham Temple and soon a whole pile of other cultural and religious sites that have little to do with official government business.
No doubt these are great sites to visit and doubly no doubt these sites can all be played up for targeted politicking back home to get the vote out in 2019. But that isn’t what Canadian taxpayers should be footing the bill for on a week long trip to India.
Sure, Trudeau is not the first Canadian politician, provincial or federal, to go to India and use these sites for political gain back home. Stephen Harper, Christy Clark, Patrick Brown, Kathleen Wynne, Jean Chretien, the list is long.
But all of those politicians fit the cultural visits into a busy round of meetings with business and political leaders. Trudeau is doing the opposite, he is squeezing in some time for India’s leaders in between his family vacation photos.
Not that India’s leaders are lining up to meet with PM Trudeau, as columnist and author Candice Malcolm pointed out, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has personally greeted many world leaders but did not greet Trudeau.
It's not just Lilley. The Hindustan Times reports:
As Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau continues his eight-day visit to India, the fact that his schedule includes just half-a-day of official engagements in New Delhi is being described as “unusual” by veteran diplomats and criticised by a Canadian watchdog.
A veteran Indian diplomat said in his long experience with bilateral visits, he had never experienced a trip of this nature, where the visiting dignitary spent so little time in official engagements with counterparts in the Indian government.
The Times also reports that with the exception of the Foreign Minister, "it was equally surprising that six cabinet ministers accompanying Trudeau had scant official engagements." The Canadian Taxpayer Federation said of the Trudeau trip: "While it is understood that a Prime Minister will have to travel frequently, the proportion of time being spent actually meeting foreign counterparts on this trip does not suggest a good use of public money." Indeed.
Not that it was completely devoid of official-like business. Trudeau traveled halfway around the globe to reiterate a long-held Canadian position:

Sunday, February 18, 2018
The state has no business in the bathrooms of the country
Huffington Post reports:
The resolution urged the party to immediately recommended the creation of a health subsidy to make menstrual products and contraceptives available to Canadians at no cost.
"Tampon and pads should be treated just like toilet paper," said Tiffany Balducci, a party delegate from the Durham Labour Council. "They serve a similar purpose — items that tend to our everyday, normal bodily functions."
Balducci is correct: Tampons should be treated just like toilet paper, which I remind the NDP is not free.

2020 watch (Joe Biden watch)
The AP reports that former vice president has talking to his former inner circle and several of them to talked to the media about the meeting. According to one source:
“I’m focused on one thing: electing a Democratic Congress to stop this erosion of the core of who we are,” Biden said. “I’ll look at that a year from now. I have plenty of time to consider whether or not to run.”
If Biden runs and wins, he would be the oldest person ever elected president (78 on inauguration day 20210.
He would probably be the frontrunner now. But even if he isn't in running, Biden needs to pretend he is; once he says he is not interested in running for the nomination, the press and the public will lose interest in him. Pretending to be interested in running in 2020 is about trying to remain relevant.

Saturday, February 17, 2018
The Toronto Star reports:
Last year, there were only 22 reported new cases of polio, which has been confined now to just a pair of nations: Pakistan and Afghanistan.
But 60 years ago, it held this country and much of the world in terror, with images of children in iron lungs plastered in newspapers everywhere — and no vaccine or cure in sight.
In the Canada of the 1950s, hundreds died and thousands — mostly youngsters — were paralyzed by the disease. In 1953 alone, some 9,000 Canadians contracted polio, which left 500 dead that year.
“Eradication of a disease does not happen often,” says Oliver Rosenbauer, a spokesperson for the World Health Organization in Geneva.
“In fact it’s only ever happened once before, with the eradication of smallpox. So that’s what we’re after.” ...
“The aim is certainly that this year is the year where we finally interrupt the person-to-person transmission of the virus so that we’re not going to see any more cases in the future,” he says.

Venezuela and the socialist dream
Even the New York Review of Books recognizes how terrible Venezuela is, even if it was praising Chavez's heaven on earth ten years ago. Enrique Krauze writes (this week) that a decade ago:
Caracas was seen as the new Mecca for the European, Latin American, and American left. Progressive news organizations, magazines, and newspapers including The Guardian, The New Yorker, and the BBC reported favorably on Hugo Chávez, whose presidency lasted from 1999 until 2013. They mentioned the dangers of his cult of personality but yielded to it all the same. Chávez, as the writer Alma Guillermoprieto succinctly noted in these pages, was “indisputably fascinating, and often even endearing.”
Guillermoprieto wrote that in 2005. His essay, which looks at the rise of Hugo Chavez, concludes: "He can smile and go forward, singing. Joyful. Solving problems. Looking to the future." And that future? It created more problems than it solved. As Krauze writes today:
In the spring of 2017, and all through the year, social media feeds in Venezuela were filled with images of deprivation and despair: long lines of people hoping to purchase food; women fighting over a stick of butter; mothers who could not find milk to buy; children picking through garbage in search of something to eat; empty shelves in pharmacies and stores; hospitals without stretchers, drugs, or minimum levels of hygiene; doctors operating on a patient by the light of a cell phone; women giving birth outside of hospitals. Venezuela’s economy, the economist Ricardo Hausmann wrote in a recent study, is suffering a collapse that is “unprecedented” in the Western world. Between 2013 and 2017 the country’s national and per capita GDPs contracted more severely than those of the US did during the Great Depression and more than those of Russia, Cuba, and Albania did after the fall of communism.
This is a humanitarian crisis of immense proportions. By May 2017, Venezuela’s minimum monthly wage wasn’t enough to meet even 12 percent of a single person’s basic food needs. A survey of 6,500 households by three prestigious universities showed that 74 percent of the population had lost on average nineteen pounds in 2016. Infant mortality in hospitals has risen by 100 percent. Diseases nearly eradicated in many countries, like malaria and diphtheria, have flourished; illnesses largely new to the area, like Chikungunya, Zika, and dengue, have spread. Caracas is now the most dangerous city on the planet. All this is happening in a country that has one of the largest oil reserves in the world.
Better than the essays lamenting how socialism didn't work this time, is the Remy song about the Venezuelan diet released last year.

The NDP leader
From the Toronto Life profile of NDP leader Jagmeet Singh:
Jagmeet has a taste for dandy luxuries that don’t comport with the monkish minimalism of his party. He wears bespoke suits in the slim British style—his favourite is a brown tweed with cobalt-blue stripes, designed by a tailor in New Delhi, which he often pairs with a millennial-pink turban. He owns two Rolex watches, an Oyster Perpetual Datejust and a ­Submariner (both were gifts); a crimson BMW coupe; and six designer bicycles. “I have just an absurd number of bikes,” he says. “More than one person should have.” His kirpan, the ceremonial Sikh dagger he wears under his jacket, is a steel design by a metal­worker outside Boston. Since joining Queen’s Park in 2011, Singh has become one of the city’s most devoted partygoers, a regular at King West nightspots and gala fund­raisers, at fashion shows and ­Raptors games.
Two Rolex watches, a BMW, and six designer bikes. Real man of the people.
The profile is a tad blowjobby, beginning thusly: "[Singh's] natural charisma makes even the dashing Justin Trudeau look stiff by comparison." With all those watches and the luxury German car, I'd say he makes Justin Trudeau look modest by comparison.

Friday, February 16, 2018
Ontario PC leadership debate
I've meant to comment on it, but haven't had time. The quick and dirty guide.
Caroline Mulroney: Seems sedated, although she showed more energy than she did at the Manning conference. Seems to think that being the only nominated candidate is a meaningful signifier of ... something. No vision but doesn't make the case for her leadership despite running on her name resume.
Christine Elliott: Has very little energy and even less passion. Seems competent. People say she looks like she knows policy but didn't talk about policy so that's a neat trick.
Doug Ford: Has a small-government, populist vision but doesn't look like he has any command of provincial policy. Clears the low bar of his brother Rob Ford's reputed buffoonery. Seemed uncomfortable when talking to the moderator but was strong when talking into the camera.
Tanya Granic Allen: She showed she is not a one-trick pony (sex-ed, sex-ed, sex-ed) although her clear competence is sex-ed. While this was billed as a debate it was mostly a job interview except when TGA pressed the other candidates. Voice of the members, hoping to win over the anti-Patrick Brown vote. Helped herself more than the other candidates did last night.
No one hurt themselves yesterday.

School shooting facts
Yesterday at NRO, Jibran Khan took issue with the eye-popping but misleading statistic that there have been 18 school shootings in 2018 already:
The original source of the figure is Mike Bloomberg’s gun-control advocacy organization, Everytown for Gun Safety. The organization arrives at the figure by defining a “school shooting” as any time a gun is fired at or near a school, college, or university, regardless of whether students are present or anyone is injured. In fact, if one counts only events where a shooter enters a school and shoots someone, there have been three school shootings, including yesterday’s. (The other spree shooting was in Kentucky and a murder happened at a school in Texas.) This information is viewable on Everytown’s site itself, as a click on any location reveals the details and news sources of the incident in question.
Everytown’s list includes incidents such as an adult committing suicide in the parking lot of a school that had long been closed down and gun violence in the neighborhood where California State University–San Bernardino is located (it is one of the most crime-ridden cities in the country, with California’s second-highest murder rate.) While such acts are obviously cause for concern in their own right, all that conflating these incidents with “school shootings” does is to create a climate of terror.

Thursday, February 15, 2018
What I'm reading
1. Crisis of Responsibility: Our Cultural Addiction to Blame and How You Can Cure It by David L. Bahnsen
2. The Tyranny of Metrics by Jerry Z. Muller
3. Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic by David Frum

Cafe Hayek's Don Boudreaux quotes Steven Landsburg (from his excellent book Play Fair):
Thus, following the passage of NAFTA, Michael Kinsley wrote in The New Republic that “when a $16-an-hour American loses his job to a $3-an-hour Mexican,” fairness and political prudence dictate that he be compensated for his loss.
Maybe Kinsley is right regarding political prudence, but fairness seems to dictate just the opposite. Here we have an American who has devoted his life to charging the rest of us $16 for something we ought to have been able to buy for $3. What fairness dictates is that he and others who have benefited from protectionism should compensate the majority of their countrymen who have borne the burden.
The Kinsey fairness argument has a certain political appeal, but that appeal is rooted in the widespread misunderstanding of what an economy is for. An economic system is about the distribution of goods and services, not the provision of jobs or profits. There is nothing fair about overcharging consumers for needlessly expensive labour inputs.

Infrastructure spending
George Will offers some facts and sober thought about infrastructure spending:
Today, the nation needs somewhat greater infrastructure spending to increase productivity by reducing road and port congestion and boosting the velocity of economic activity. Unfortunately, this subject is not immune to the rhetorical extravagance that infects all of today’s political discourse.
The American Society of Civil Engineers has not actually programmed the computers of politicians and journalists so that whenever the nouns “roads” and “bridges” are used, the adjective “crumbling” precedes them. But the ASCE might as well have. It constantly views with high-decibel alarm the fact that governments at all levels do not buy as much as the ASCE thinks they ought to buy of what civil engineers sell. A calmer assessment of current conditions comes from the Rand Corp.’s study “Not Everything Is Broken.”
Since the mid-1950s, public infrastructure spending “has generally tracked the growth of the U.S. economy.” In 2014, state and local governments — they always have done, and always should do, most infrastructure spending — made 62 percent of the nation’s capital expenditures and 88 percent of operations and maintenance for transportation and water infrastructure. Federal capital spending on highways has been declining since the Interstate Highway System was mostly completed, but at the end of 2016, municipal bond issues to finance infrastructure were the highest in history, more than double the 1996 level. Actually, some infrastructure spending is probably too high (e.g., mass transit operating subsidies; users should pay). And although the construction industry and unions might disagree, not everything ever built merits maintenance in perpetuity.
The Rand Corp's ebook Not Everything is Broken is available online for free. In short: there is a self-interested lobby for infrastructure spending, not all spending is necessary, and not all spending has to be done by government, and not all government spending needs to be done by Washington.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018
Does autism cause libertarianism?
Reason's Robby Soave takes issue with the assertion by Nancy MacLean, author of Democracy in Chain, that James Buchanan was a libertarian because he might have been autistic. She recently said in a talk in New York City: "It's striking to me how many of the architects of this cause seem to be on the autism spectrum. People who don't feel solidarity or empathy with others, and who have kind of difficult human relationships sometimes." Soave says:
She should have begun with "I don't know," and ended there. MacLean is making two not-necessarily-related claims here: 1) that Buchanan's autism made him unsuitable for politics, spurring his opposition to government, and 2) autistic people are less empathetic, which is why callous, unfeeling libertarianism appeals to them.
These are remarkably bad-faith assumptions (about libertarian philosophy and autistic people) built upon an equally shaky foundation: MacLean presents no evidence that Buchanan was autistic, aside from that single anecdote in his memoir. Her book does make reference to George Mason University economist Tyler Cowen's self-diagnosed autism (and how it inclined him toward "neither sentimentality nor solidarity"), but that's it. MacLean appears to have spun a single story into an entire theory that "many of the architects" of the libertarian cause are autistic.
There is research that suggests people with autism do not lack empathy. MacLean is using a common slur against those with autism to disparage a group (libertarians) she doesn't like.

You probably haven't read the most important story of the day
The Washington Post: "A potentially powerful new antibiotic is discovered in dirt." The paper reports:
“Our idea is, there’s this reservoir of antibiotics out in the environment we haven’t accessed yet,” Brady said.
That idea is beginning to pay off: In a study published Monday in the journal Nature Microbiology, he and his colleagues report the discovery of a new class of antibiotic extracted from unknown microorganisms living in the soil. This class, which they call malacidins, kills several superbugs — including the dreaded methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) — without engendering resistance.
You won't find this antibiotic at your pharmacy next week, Brady cautioned. It takes years for a novel molecule to be developed, tested and approved for distribution. But its discovery is proof of a powerful principle, he said: A world of potentially useful untapped biodiversity is still waiting to be discovered.

The Oxfam scandal
I fear that the deepening Oxfam scandal will tarnish legitimate charity work in general. The (London) Times reports:
Oxfam hired the aid worker at the centre of the sex exploitation scandal in Haiti two years after he was forced out of another British humanitarian agency over claims about his use of prostitutes.
Roland van Hauwermeiren, 68, was investigated by the charity Merlin, now part of Save The Children, after allegations about his sexual behaviour in wartorn Liberia in 2004. A former Merlin colleague, Paul Hardcastle, told The Times that Mr Van Hauwermeiren used the charity’s drivers to ferry him to clubs to meet prostitutes and take them to the villa rented for him using donated funds.
Penny Mordaunt, the international development secretary, said that she would meet the National Crime Agency (NCA) tomorrow after talks with charity bosses and regulators. She also warned that the government could withhold funding if agencies did not put the beneficiaries of aid first.
Using money given to charities to hire prostitutes. This scandal might not only threaten state funding of these "charities" -- NGOs, really, in some cases -- but it might also persuade citizens that they don't want their donations misspent on hookers rather than help for the vulnerable. Never mind that it looks like these moralizing Oxfam do-gooders are preying on the vulnerable they ostensibly want to help.
A few years ago, a study found that people who recycled acted less ethically immediately afterward, the theory being that the virtuous behaviour gave license to the individual to act unethically. The same psychology may be at play for these NGO staff.
The Guardian's Gaby Hinsliff concludes her column on the Oxfam scandal:
But the moral of this particular story is that boring old management processes matter, even when dealing with the good guys. You don’t assume. You check. You nitpick, even, when you are a charity occupying the moral high ground, as Oxfam does. And, above all, you avoid the trap of assuming that the good guys will always be good.
And conservatives/libertarians should avoid the trap assuming those on the other side will always be bad and hypocritical. We should eschew the temptation of schadenfreude.