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, May 22, 2018
 
Capitalism and choice
Earlier this month, Steven Horowitz wrote about "The Grocery Store as an Indicator of American Progress." A snippet:
An example from the evolution of the grocery store illustrates this point. In the 1970s, there were maybe five or six kinds of potato chips (regular, barbecue, sour cream and onion, ruffled, tortilla chips, and the stuff in the can). Today, the typical grocery store has a potato chip aisle that offers dozens of differentiated products along numerous dimensions. The increase in variety allows consumers to satisfy their preferences more precisely, increasing their subjective well-being. You want your gluten-free, lactose-free chocolate chip cookies? You can probably find them. You want your throwback taco-flavored Doritos? They’re there. The expansion of variety in the typical grocery store has dramatically increased the subjective well-being of American consumers in ways that macroeconomic measures like GDP cannot capture.
I often hear the growing selection consumers have as a criticism of free market systems, with critics of capitalism claiming that it is not necessary to have an endless selection of flavours and styles of chips (or yogurt, cereal, or whatever). To many of us, the panoply of products on offer is a sign of progress, but to some the feature of choice for consumers is a bug. This probably stems from the totalitarian nature of free market critics who do not see consumers as king; the experts know what is best for consumers and they want to dictate their own preferences, which can't be done when stores (of any kind) are giving customers plenty of choice.


Monday, May 21, 2018
 
Crappy government is the root cause of populism
Alberto Mingardi comments on the new coalition government in Italy and he makes a brief observation about the electoral success and growing influence of so-called populist parties in Europe: "[T]hey are, in many way, the 'products' of many not very good governments run by non-populists (and yet not necessarily 'credible') parties in the last few years." Of course I like this observation and think it's true, but that's probably because this is a variation of my argument that the root cause of populism is liberalism. Governments that do not seem attentive to the needs of the working classes and others just about managing will see a backlash. How big of a backlash and whether it breaks toward populist parties will often depend on whether the mainstream opposition parties are seen as an effective alternative or whether too often they are mired in a game of me-tooism.


 
Midterms
Not sure if this CBS poll tells us more or less than a generic Republican vs. Democrat Congressional question. Only 9% of respondents want a Republican is more independent from Donald Trump while 34% want a Republican candidate who is more in line with the President. Assuming that non-Trump supporting voters (GOP and independent/swing) can still vote for a Republican candidate that is backed by the President/backs the President, that means about 43% of the electorate is interested in voting Republican. On the other side of the ledger, 22% say they want a liberal or progressive Democrat while 23% say they want a moderate. Assuming all Democrat-leaning voters can support the party, this indicates 45% of voters are interested in that party. 45%-43% means it's pretty close. These assumptions might not be accurate, however. Those who want a moderate Democrat may support Republicans or likely stay home if the Democrats nominate those on the Left. Likewise, some progressive Democrats could vote Green or stay home if they think the party isn't adequately representing their views. There is also reason to wonder about the reliability of the first numbers when one sees the answers from Democrats and independents about what the priority should be for Democrat members of Congress: oppose the President (22%) or promote a progressive agenda (78%). This would indicate, as David Leonhardt has been arguing in the New York Times lately, that the moderate Democrat is not always the "safe" choice. This poll might tell us about what voters want from their elected representatives after the midterms, but there might be too much noise to tell us who they want representing them.


 
The youth are our future
Some teen tweets:
This tweet has more than 22K retweets and nearly 125K likes. Both the tweet and the response is idiotic. The National Rifle Association is privately funded. There is no defunding to be done. But let's listen to ignorant teens.
But even if it was funded by taxpayers, why does the money have to spent on something else?


 
Peter King ends his MMQB column
I haven't read Peter King the last few years. I didn't find them insightful; his opinions are too conventional wisdom. After an estimated four million MMQB words, he's calling it quits. He thanks people in his final column and in typical Peter King fashion it goes on too long. Too many thank yous, too many lame stories. Of course, there is the usual Brett Favre blow job. But this Paul Zimmerman advice is important for football beat reporters: "He taught me so much. One: Talk to the offensive linemen; there won’t be crowds around them, and they know why everything happens." The O-line is where the game is at and they aren't about me-me-me like so many of the so-called skill position players. In a few thousands words, there is literally one good sentence. That's a terrible ratio. There was a time when I read and almost enjoyed King columns but they were too long, too moralizing, and short of insight. The best thing about King's columns were the dissections of them on the Kissing Suzy Kolber website. On the internet there is so much good analysis to waste one's time with King's long, self-indulgent columns. I'm glad that those who were still reading him will now have more time for more insightful football writing, or something else.


Sunday, May 20, 2018
 
UK vote in the fall?
The Sunday Times reports that UK Tories are preparing for a snap election call this fall as Prime Minister Theresa May seems incapable of overcoming party divisions over the customs union as Britain prepares to leave the European Union. Maybe some Tory MPs feels this way but the analysis doesn't add up. May already seems week and taking a divided party into a general election seems like a recipe for disaster. It is virtually impossible to gloss over the differences within caucus while the Conservatives run the government, but it only gets worse when May will have to articulate a clear vision for Brexit and run on it during a campaign. Maybe there is a bluff on the party of May's strategists or the Prime Minister herself but it is hard to see how it can be anything more than a bluff. Jacob Rees-Mogg calls May's half-in Brexit plan -- customs union without a say -- as "perpetual purgatory" but that's what the party could face if it goes into an election divided as it seems to be. Both the bitter Remainers and uncompromising Brexiteers would see a general election as a way to win the Brexit debate once and for all and both sides might be willing to suffer partisan defeat for forcing the issue. I just don't see 10 Downing Street willing to pay that price at this time.


Saturday, May 19, 2018
 
Election headline and commentary is dumb
NationalNewsWatch's headline for a Canadian Press story on the Ontario election: "The outcome of the Ontario election no longer ‘absolutely’ certain: Experts." The CP reports:
"It's interesting because the outcome is no longer absolutely certain," even though the Tories still appear poised to win a majority, said Barry Kay, a political science professor at Wilfred Laurier University who specializes in polling and public opinion.
Three super quick points.
1. Elections are never certain because, as the cliche goes, campaigns matter.
2. Elections are never over until the voters have their say. The people still insist on having the final say.
3. The "outcome if no longer absolutely certain" is a falsehood. As a matter of logic, if it is not certain now, the previous certainty was wrong -- or in a word, uncertain.


 
Jacob Rees-Mogg for PM
Earlier this week, Jacob Rees-Moog lamented that the United Kingdom has fallen from 30th to 40th according to the Daily Mail's ranking of countries for freedom of the press. "Perhaps most insultingly, we are even below the French," said JRM, as colleagues try to suppress their laughter.


Thursday, May 17, 2018
 
Better late than never?
The (London) Times reports:
Oxfam’s chief executive is to quit after the charity’s cover-up of the Haiti sexual exploitation scandal.
Mark Goldring, 61, spoke of the “very public exposure of Oxfam’s past failings” as he said he would leave the global aid agency at the end of the year. He will not receive a severance package.
The Times disclosed this year that seven senior Oxfam staff working in Haiti had been sacked or allowed to resign after an investigation into allegations of paying young women for sex, downloading pornography, bullying and intimidation.
The Times reports that others "allowed to quit" Oxfam included: country director Roland van Hauwermeiren, who admitted trading aid for sex with a Haitian woman, and Goldring's deputy, Penny Lawrence, who admitted Oxfam knew of problems with van Hauwermeiren from a previous mission to Chad.
It is disappointing that Goldring was "allowed to quit" rather than be fired, and disturbing that Oxfam apparently has no problem with him at their helm for another seven months. At least the renewed publicity of this scandal and his continued presence at the organization will serve as a reminder to both the government and donating public of the exploitive sex scandal the aid agency was involved in.


Wednesday, May 16, 2018
 
Jamie Oliver vs. poor people
The Independent reports:
Scotland has a childhood obesity problem, and Nicola Sturgeon is – quite rightly – worried about it.
Unfortunately, rather than undertake a serious analysis of the various nuanced socioeconomic factors at play in order to create a considered multi-pronged approach to tackle it, she’s been bitten by the Jamie Oliver bug, which has manifested over and over again as a shockingly thoughtless reaction along the lines of “This looks unhealthy! Let’s make it really expensive so that stupid poor people don’t eat it!”
It was unfortunate that she unveiled her plans while meeting with Oliver, and that her quest to end two-for-one pizza deals has taken centre stage. It’s easy to see why – it’s not going down particularly well that a celebrity chef from Essex worth £400m, who owns a chain of fairly mediocre and overpriced Italian restaurants, is telling people in Scotland what sort of pizza they should and should not eat.
The National has twitter reaction to Oliver's idea, the gist of which is that Oliver hates poor people and wants to deprive them of affordable food. Here's my fave:


Monday, May 14, 2018
 
The Supreme Court of Canada being accessible
Means keeping their records secret. The Globe and Mail reports:
The judges of the Supreme Court of Canada have ensured that documents disclosing their secret inner workings will not be revealed during their lifetime – and possibly ever.
The court has placed a 50-year embargo on public access to files related to the deliberations of the judges, from the time they rule on a case.
The restriction took effect last June when the court and Library and Archives Canada announced it as part of an agreement to “ensure that the case files of Canada’s highest court will be preserved and accessible to future generations.” (The announcement went largely unnoticed at the time.)
What the court and the archives did not say, but the agreement makes clear, is that the Supreme Court can withdraw the files at any time, and keep the documents secret forever, without providing a justification.
To be clear, to ensure case files are accessible, SCOC files will be hidden from the public for a half century and if the justices do not want the public prying into its inner workings, they can declare them off limits for even longer. Accessible apparently means something different to the Supreme Court and Archives Canada.