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, May 04, 2016
 
Restore the growth agenda
Economist John H. Cochrane, senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, has a good, longish column in the Wall Street Journal, "Ending America’s Slow-Growth Tailspin." The policy conclusion:
Most of all, the country needs a dramatic legal and regulatory simplification, restoring the rule of law. Middle-aged America is living in a hoarder’s house of a legal system. State and local impediments such as occupational licensing and zoning are also part of the problem.
Growth-oriented policies will be resisted. Growth comes from productivity, which comes from new technologies and new companies. These displace the profits of old companies, and the healthy pay and settled lives of their managers and workers. Economic regulation is largely designed to protect profits, jobs and wages tied to old ways of doing things. Everyone likes growth, but only in someone else’s backyard.
Read the full column which explains the problems and challenges of the American economy, and understand how the political class exacerbates what's wrong with the U.S.


 
Clarifying framing of Uber debate
The Globe and Mail editorializes: "If the taxi industry as is didn’t already exist, would we invent it? And if ride-sharing had been around for generations, would we try to limit or prevent it?" The questions answer themselves. The paper notes:
If a city council, such as Toronto’s, wanted to benefit consumers, what would it do? It would turn the existing rules on their head. The business of selling rides for money has to be regulated – but regulation should be light, and focused on the needs of consumers, not the taxi industry’s existing stakeholders.
Just deregulate the industry and allow Uber and other ride-sharing programs to increase competition, and let customers reap the rewards.


 
Wynne sullies reputation of current and recent Liberal MPPs
CBC reports that Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said there have been allegations of sexual harassment against at least two Ontario Liberal MPPs since she became premier in 2013. She did not say who the allegations were made against or how she dealt with the allegations. First, it is lame to say, as the Premier did, that she "dealt with them within the context of the code of conduct that we have in place." Second, by not indicating whether the MPPs were still at Queen's Park or not, Wynne casts a shadow over every MPP, especially every male MPP that has served in the Liberal caucus at any time over the last three years. That's unfair.


Tuesday, May 03, 2016
 
'The Third-Party Temptation'
The Wall Street Journal editorializes about the possibility of running a Republican third-party candidate which would be better titled, "The Third-Party Delusion." The theory behind the third-party idea of stopping Donald isn't backed by the history:
Third-party advocates say the right candidate would give conservatives an honorable alternative to Trump-Hillary. They say a third-party candidate could win enough states to throw the election into the House of Representatives, which would then presumably choose the non-Trump Republican.
This isn’t impossible, but then again it almost never happens. The usual presidential result is that the party that splinters hands the election to the other, more united party. That’s what happened to Republicans in 1912 with Teddy Roosevelt, and again in 1992 and 1996 with Ross Perot. Ronald Reagan won in 1980 despite John Anderson’s third-party run, but the Gipper was the Republican Party nominee while Democrats were divided after Ted Kennedy’s challenge to Jimmy Carter.
Harry Truman won in 1948 despite Strom Thurmond and Henry Wallace breaking from Democrats for third- and fourth-party runs. But Truman was the Democratic nominee, not the challenger, and Democrats were then by far the dominant party. Republicans today are the minority party in voter registration and their approval rating is low.


 
Brexit divisions in the Tory party
Conservative Home sponsored a poll on British Conservative members to see who they blame for divisions in the party as leaders within it take different sides of the Brexit question. Among party members, 52% say Prime Minister David Cameron, Chancellor George Osborne, and other Remain campaigners are most to blame, while just 16% say London Mayor Boris Johnson and Justice Secretary Michael Gove and others in the Leave campaign are most to blame; 11% say both share it equally, while 28% say it's the media stirring the pot.
Meanwhile Labour mouthpieces say Johnson and Gove are only pretending to care about the working class in their case for leaving the European Union in June's referendum.


 
Woman to run for top UN job because woman, but not woman
The Guardian reports:
New Zealand’s former prime minister Helen Clark has started her campaign to become the first woman to lead the United Nations, saying in Paris that “peace really matters to women”.
Clark, 66, said she “never asked for supporters because I’m a woman,” but acknowledged that “Of course I am a woman, and I bring that perspective to a job.”
“It holds generally true that women carry a broad range of family responsibilities” and give priority to health and education, she said.
As such, Clark said women are a vector for peace and stability, stressing: “Peace really matters to women.”
This is playing the woman card, while pretending she isn't.


Monday, May 02, 2016
 
2016 watch (Contested convention edition)
The Washington Post reports that Bernie Sanders can force a contested Democrat convention, but he is unlikely to win it:
Fifteen percent of all of the Democratic delegates are unbound superdelegates. So unless you have about an 18 percentage-point lead among delegates by the time the voting wraps up, you'll need some superdelegates to put you over the top. This makes the difference between a close race and a blowout a little murky — which can be advantageous to the underdog.
Right now, Hillary Clinton has about a 10 percentage-point delegate lead over Bernie Sanders. (For comparison: Barack Obama's pledged delegate lead was only about four percentage points by the end of the 2008 race.) The current margin is not likely to change much between now and the end of the contest, with the two likely to play to a draw in California, Clinton to win big in New Jersey and D.C., and Sanders to triumph in smaller states between now and the end of the race. For it to change significantly in Sanders's favor, he'd need to do very, very well in California and New Jersey in particular, a promise that he has issued often and delivered rarely ...
"It is virtually impossible for Secretary Clinton to reach the majority of convention delegates by June 14 with pledged delegates alone," [Sanders] said. "She will need superdelegates to take her over the top at the convention in Philadelphia. In other words, the convention will be a contested contest."
That's because Sanders will choose to contest it. But unless something big happens between now and Philadelphia, Hillary Clinton probably has enough superdelegates to put her over the top.


 
Crony capitalism in action in Ontario
Great return on investment for ethanol-maker GreenField Specialty Alcohols which gave $433,000 to the Dalton McGuinty/Kathleen Wynne Liberals and received $163 million in taxpayer-funded corporate subsidies. Good story by the CBC looking into the green energy scheme and one of its generous beneficiaries:
The government of Dalton McGuinty mandated that every litre of gasoline in the province must contain 5 per cent ethanol, starting in 2007. At the same time his Liberal government also created the $520-million Ontario Ethanol Growth Fund. That funding helped kickstart the building of the six ethanol plants in the province — three of which are owned by GreenField — and annually subsidizes ethanol producers' operations.
This must be why Greenfield has become the biggest corporate donor to the Liberals since Wynne became leader in 2013.
Some will look at this story and see justification for campaign finance reform, but it just as easily argues for limiting the size and scope of government. Big government has more opportunity to reward donors.


 
2016 watch (Trump > Arnie edition)
A report by NRO's John Fund from the California Republican convention, which includes the detail that former governor Pete Wilson, a social liberal but immigration hardliner, endorsed Ted Cruz:
Joel Anderson, a GOP State Senator backing Trump is from Wilson’s home town of San Diego. He says that while he admires the former governor his support for Cruz wont have much impact on average voters. “Trump is exciting voters in my district in ways that make excitement for Arnold Schwarzenegger pale by comparison,” he told me. “I think Trump will get a very strong vote.”
More exciting than the former Governator.


Sunday, May 01, 2016
 
A reason to vote Trump in the general election
Hot Air's Allah Pundit on the White House Correspondents Dinner (or as they self-flatteringly call it, #NerdProm):
How would President Trump do at the WHCD? He can be very funny riffing off the cuff but I don’t think I’ve ever seen him tell scripted jokes. And he might have problems walking the line between gentle mockery of his opponents and outright insults from the podium. On the other hand, polite society disdains him enough that they may have to scrap this event next year if he’s elected due to a mass boycott by the regular invitees. Which, now that I think about it, is one of the best reasons I’ve heard yet to support him.
I agree with every single word of that paragraph.


Saturday, April 30, 2016
 
Breaking news: Conservative Policy Convention shocker: Ambrose, Rempel scuttle policy process
I have a story at The Interim on the Conservative Party of Canada interim leader Rona Ambrose's efforts to scuttle debate on abortion motion. This motion might have had difficulty passing at convention, but by killing it prematurely she makes it a story. Dumb. There have already been reports on divisions within the party along social issues such as same-sex marriage. Allowing a debate where everyone gets their say and those who can live with the decision work together in the party is the way to promote unity. Pretending that differences do not exist to the extent that party elites prevent the debate, especially detrimental to one side, only ensures the divisions continue, and in the open. As I said, dumb.


 
Sannikov wins John Bates Clark award
Yuliy Sannikov, a professor at Princeton University, won the John Bates Clark award for best economist under the age of 40. A Fine Theorem explains Sannikov's work on dynamic contracting, for which the highly mathematical Sannikov is most famous. I find his work too math-heavy and don't read him, but his contributions to areas such as game theory (including incentive theory), contracting theory, and macroeconomic fluctuation modeling are important and indisputable. Bloomberg reports on Sannikov's influence:
Fed Chair Janet Yellen cited his work with Markus Brunnermeier, another Princeton professor, in a speech she gave at the International Monetary Fund in 2014. In a footnote, Yellen said the two economists had developed an economic model to explore whether long periods of relative economic stability led to excessive risk-taking and financial imbalances that damaged the economy when they were unwound.
In a presentation to the Kansas City Fed’s Jackson Hole symposium in 2012, Brunnermeier and Sannikov argued that central bankers can’t just focus on achieving stable prices.
"Policy rules that ignore financial stability fail to lean against the buildup of imbalances and systemic risk in normal times and are not credible in crisis times," they said.
Their 2013 paper on financial friction making economics shocks worse was published in the American Economic Review and is an important study of idiosyncratic risks.


 
Harry Wu, RIP
China's Solzhenitsyn has passed away. The Wall Street Journal editorializes that "the cause of Chinese human rights lost a brave advocate this week with the death at age 79 of Harry Wu," a political prisoner who spent nearly two decades in Red China's "reform through labour" camps, or laogai. The Journal says:
Wu’s work continued through his Laogai Research Foundation and museum in Washington. He often testified to Congress about Beijing’s unmet promises to reform its estimated 1,000 labor camps, as well as forced abortions and sterilizations, Internet censorship and religious repression. In 2002 Hong Kong denied him entry on specious “safety” grounds, an early sign of Beijing’s authoritarian influence in the former British colony.
It is a shame that the laogai are not as famous -- or infamous -- as the Soviet Union's gulags. They deserve the same level of infamy and opprobrium. If you are unfamiliar with the Chinese labour camp system, the Laogai Research Foundation has a brief but useful explanation. The Washington Post's obituary (via The Independent) tells of Wu's crusade to inform the West through Senate presentations and media appearances of the laogai:
Mr Wu described the prisons, which purported to deliver laogai, or “reform through labour,” as the Chinese gulag, and said he would not rest until the word laogai appeared in “every language dictionary in the world.”
In an interview with The Los Angeles Times, he described them as “the cornerstone of the Chinese Communist dictatorship and the machinery for crushing human beings physically, psychologically and spiritually”.
The American Enterprise Institute's Marc Thiessen says in his remembrance of this freedom fighter:
Wu passed away yesterday at the age of 79. The Chinese regime stole 20 of those years, and he spent his remaining time fighting for those left behind in the Laogai. As he put it in an interview, “Millions of people in China today are experiencing my experience. If I don’t say something for them, who will?”
Harry Wu, you fought the good fight and spoke up for those who could not speak for themselves.
There is a brief bio and links at the Political Prisoners website and of course there is a Wikipedia entry.


 
2016 watch (Too little too late? edition)
The Washington Examiner reports that according to one poll, Senator Ted Cruz has a significant lead over Donald Trump:
Cruz leads Trump by 16 points, 45-29 percent, among registered voters in the state according to a poll released by the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics. Underdog candidate John Kasich follows in third place with 13 percent of the vote, while another 13 percent of voters remain undecided.
While these numbers may be favorable for Cruz, they do not match the other polls that have come out of the state in recent days showing Trump leading the field.
According to Real Clear Politics, two of the other three most recent polls has Cruz within margin of error behind Trump. John Kasich is still garnering 13% to 21% support.
There are 57 delegates. The statewide winner gets 10 and the winner of each of the state's nine congressional districts receives three. The delegates have already been selected but are bound to the winners for the first round at the convention. The other 20 delegates (three RNC members and 17 preassigned "bonus" delegates) do not appear bound to any candidate.


Friday, April 29, 2016
 
I assume half of Twitter was 'cool' and the other half was 'WTF'
National Post: "C.J. Cregg, a.k.a. Allison Janney, stopped by the White House for a surprise press briefing." Journalists probably wet themselves.


 
Excellent advice for political candidates (and others managing crises)
Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, says that Donald Trump doesn't need to persuade people that his controversial statements about women are correct, but reframe the question to the women's issues on which he agrees with most people. This is sound advice: reframe, don't persuade. It is hard to change someone's mind; it is easier to get others to look at something a little differently. There is obviously room for persuasion in political discourse, but reframing is better for managing a crisis.
Adams also notes that Trump isn't particularly nasty to women, he's nasty to all his opponents. That sort of reframing probably isn't what Adams has in mind.


 
Boehner vs. Cruz
Former House Speaker John Boehner called Senator Ted Cruz "Lucifer in the flesh." He elaborated: "I have Democrat friends and Republican friends. I get along with almost everyone, but I have never worked with a more miserable son of a bitch in my life." Senator Mike Lee was not happy with Boehner's remarks, noting the former Speaker doesn't call out Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, or Hillary Clinton, but he rails against the Texas senator. Lee said it "was appalling" and Boehner should apologize." Radio host Mark Levin said he's never heard Lee so angry. NRO also weighs in with an editorial, stating: "Boehner’s attitude is widespread among Republican insiders who are foolishly allowing personal ill will to cloud their reasoned judgment about who, among the candidates left in the GOP race, is the best representative of conservative principles and policies, and about who would be the best candidate in the upcoming general election."


 
Women (and maybe men) who don't have kids should get maternity leave: childless author
NRO's Katherine Timpf:
Meghann Foye, recently came out with a book titled Meternity — the fictional story of a woman who fakes a pregnancy to get maternity leave. In an interview with the New York Post, Foye explained that even though the story in her book is fictional, it is rooted in her very real belief that childless women should get maternity leave, too.
Yep. Foye told the Post that she was 31 years old and working as a magazine editor when she started feeling like it wasn’t fair that the people who had kids got to, like, leave early to pick up those kids and take off time to have them.
“The more I thought about it, the more I came to believe in the value of a ‘meternity’ leave — which is, to me, a sabbatical-like break that allows women and, to a lesser degree, men to shift their focus to the part of their lives that doesn’t revolve around their jobs,” Foye said.


Thursday, April 28, 2016
 
Resist Remain fear-mongering
In the Brexit vote, Remain campaigners are painting an economic worse-scenario that takes effect immediately if the United Kingdom decides to leave the EU. Daniel Hannan, MEP for South-East England, provides some clarity for what a Leave vote means:
A referendum is best understood as voters instructing their government, rather as a client instructs his barrister. Voting to leave means giving ministers a mandate: we’d be telling them to negotiate our departure on the best possible terms.
Remain campaigners don’t want us to understand this. They want to make the prospect of withdrawal seem as abrupt and as scary as possible. Hence their suggestion that a Leave vote on 23 June would somehow start a countdown, that we’d have two years to negotiate a new deal and that, if no agreement were reached within that time, we’d in some unspecified way be outside all trade arrangements.
A moment’s thought reveals how absurd all this is. A vote to leave won’t start any countdowns. Ministers would simply be under instruction to find departure terms that suit Britain – and, indeed, that suit the rest of the EU.


 
Boris has been a great mayor
Writing at Conservative Home, Chris Philp, Conservative MP for Croydon South, says the British capital has thrived under Mayor Boris Johnson:
From 2010 to 2014 we saw economic growth of 15.9 per cent in real terms compared to 8.2 per cent nationally.
London has confirmed its place as a leading international financial hub. The brightest and best French financiers flock in their thousands to London, much to the disgust of the French socialists who have driven them away. Boris Johnson should take huge credit for this renaissance.
Economic strength and resilience starts with a strong and flexible workforce. The employment rate in the capital increased from 67 per cent in 2010 to 73 per cent in 2015, which is pretty much at the highest rate since records began. With Boris as Mayor and George Osborne as Chancellor, London has got back to work.


 
Damned if the government does, damned if they don't
The Globe and Mail editorial on paying ransoms for hostages is tough and fair, raising important points about how Canada has, despite denials, paid for the safe return of citizens abroad. It also raises vital questions:
Mr. Trudeau must take a firm and unequivocal stance – in public. But a blanket refusal to negotiate is not always the right response. The evidence suggests that our government has actively worked in the past to free Canadian hostages, and was willing to let ransoms be paid.
Which raises a troubling question: Why did the efforts to free Mr. Ridsdel fail? Could the Trudeau government have done more to save him, the way previous governments apparently saved others? Or did a new intransigence on this government’s part doom him?
This is a difficult issue. Most people, I would guess, have a visceral reaction either against rewarding hostage-takers (and incentivizing further hostage-taking) or in favour of saving the lives of hostages. Any political leader who makes this call can't win: pay and save a life, and get criticized for rewarding hostage-takers and making it more likely that more hostages would be taken in the future, but don't pay and the hostage dies, the leader will be criticized for not acting to save the life.
This would be one of the hardest issues any prime minister faces; it makes sense that as the Globe notes, Gar Pardy, a former director general of Canada’s consular affairs bureau, strongly suggests that whatever the public policy might be, in reality Canada pays ransoms. Still, when hostages are killed, prime ministers are going to be second-guessed.


 
Liverpool and the Tories
ConservativeHome's Paul Goodman has an essay that looks at the long-term trend of the Conservative decline in Liverpool, which began before Thatcher and culminated with Cameron as the Tories lost their last seat in the city. Furthermore, the party does not have a single city councilor. However, I'm hesitant to endorse Goodman's suggestion that Michael Heseltine be given responsibility to win back Liverpool to the Conservative side of the political ledger.