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 24, 2016
 
Bob Dylan
Today is Bob Dylan's 75th birthday. It wouldn't be my list of 10 best Dylan songs, but here is Rolling Stone's take (#1 is "Like a Rolling Stone"). Esquire makes the case for Dylan as a great vocalist, not just a great lyricist. Nat Hentoff profiled Dylan in 1964 for The New Yorker. This is essential to understand the man many consider America's greatest poet:
Having glanced through a copy of Dylan’s new lyrics that he had handed to [recording producer Tom] Wilson, I observed to Wilson that there were indeed hardly any songs of social protest in the collection.
“Those early albums gave people the wrong idea,” Wilson said. “Basically, he’s in the tradition of all lasting folk music. I mean, he’s not a singer of protest so much as he is a singer of concern about people. He doesn’t have to be talking about Medgar Evers all the time to be effective. He can just tell a simple little story of a guy who ran off from a woman.”
I like the distinction of being a "singer of concern about people" from protest music.
My favourite Dylan song is "Shelter from the Storm." While I prefer the Byrd's version, this is probably my second favourite:


 
Climate change politics is great for the well-connected
Margaret Wente in the Globe and Mail on Ontario's new Climate Change Action Plan:
The Action Plan will be a gravy train for subsidy seekers, lobbyists and hawkers of green schemes, who show up in droves whenever free money’s being handed out.
Green schemes need schemers.


 
Grading the NFL off-seasons
For more than a week, ESPN's Bill Barnwell graded each NFL team's off-season. Click on the team to read what each team did well, scored poorly, and still need to do. The letter grades are less important than the comments. The New Orleans Saints did terrible, the Washington Redskins did okay for a Dan Snyder-owned team, the Baltimore Ravens did poorly for them, and while the Cleveland Browns can always screw things up, they have a fantastic grade based on the process they went about rebuilding.


 
Trump's trade war would hurt America
Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell explains why Donald Trump's punitive tariffs against China and Mexico would hurt the American economy and, more importantly, Americans:
If other countries choose to retaliate — or “punch back,” in the Trumpian vernacular — by introducing tariffs of their own, our own exports will get more expensive to buyers abroad. If our exports get more expensive, the employment of millions of workers in export-supporting industries becomes endangered, too. As export­dependent businesses shed workers, those businesses and their newly laid-off workers will have less money to spend, causing knock-on effects throughout the economy.
A downward spiral would result, leading to about 7 million fewer American jobs than there would be in the absence of Trump’s machismo-driven trade policy.
Even if Mexico and China for some reason chose not to levy retaliatory tariffs, mind you, Trump’s policies would still batter the U.S. economy. That’s because tariffs here — just like any other taxes — are not costless.
If we levy new tariffs on Mexican and Chinese imports, those imported products become more expensive to U.S. consumers. Which means Americans have less spending power. Which means they buy less in general, and fewer dollars land in the pockets of U.S. retailers and other producers. Which means those U.S. businesses in turn can employ fewer workers.
American consumers, not "the Chinese" or "the Mexicans," pay U.S. tariffs. Trump's trade policies, to quote the candidate, would be a complete disaster.


 
Donald Trump, 'welfare king'?
The Washington Post's Dana Milbank suggests that Donald Trump is a welfare king because his three-decade old tax returns indicated he took advantage of government tax loopholes he now criticizes. As I noted a few days ago it doesn't look good on Trump that he hasn't released his current tax returns and he may certainly be guilty of hypocrisy in attacking the tax system he has (and may still) benefit from, but Milbank's column is making a mountain out of speculative mole hill. At least for now. There's probably a reason Trump is not releasing his tax returns although being exposed as a hypocrite is probably less of an issue for Trump than it might expose his financial acumen and business success as exaggerated.


 
Kevin O'Leary, right and full of shit
The National Post's John Ivison reports that Kevin O'Leary met with Post Media folks in Toronto, and he quotes the television personality and professional loudmouth:
“Nobody is going to out-kumbaya Trudeau; nobody is going to do more sit-ups; nobody is going to punch more punching bags; and, nobody is going to do more selfies. But where he is going to fail is in the math. The math isn’t going to work. You can’t spend $100 billion efficiently. It’s impossible — no government ever has.
“My personal estimate is that one-third of every dollar is wasted. That means probably $30 billion to $40 billion is going down the toilet.”
O'Leary is astute enough to understand that beating Justin Trudeau at his own game will be tough. The Conservatives will make be making a colossal mistake if they try to out-cool the Liberals. And he is also correct to say the budget math is funny, or could be.
But what is O'Leary's evidence that one in three dollars is wasted. I'm not saying government is efficient. I'm not even saying that O'Leary is wrong. But I'm challenging O'Leary to provide some evidence because like the businessman-turned-reality star playing politician south of the border, I think he just makes shit up. O'Leary isn't really running for the job of Conservative leader. He is being given a platform to spout shit. He claims to want to hold the government to account on finances. Journalists should hold O'Leary accountable regarding his claims. $30 to $40 billion is a huge range; O'Leary must explain what he considers waste. If he's the unofficial econ ombudsman, he needs to help the government see the error of its ways, and that requires some specificity not wild, unsubstantiated claims.


Monday, May 23, 2016
 
Post-Brexit referendum Tory politics
Matthew d'Ancona writes in The Guardian about the party politics affecting the Tories after the Brexit referendum (June 23) and whether there will be a reconciliation cabinet promoting Michael Gove and bringing Boris Johnson into the tent. d'Ancona writes:
My conversations suggest that there is no consensus in Cameron’s circle about what to do with the former London mayor if remain prevails. As one senior source puts it carefully: “There will have to be an extent to which people are held to account for what they’ve done.” Another Cameron ally sees different priorities: “The quote about the rebel being better inside the tent rather than outside is such a cliche, but in Boris’s case it may be depressingly true.” This adviser, in fact, is angrier with Gove.
It is possible that Prime Minister David Cameron split the difference and promote Gove and punish Johnson. This is unlikely, but handling pro-Brexit Tories on a case-by-case basis is what is going to happen.


 
Ottawa's needless layers of approval for pipelines
The Globe and Mail does not come out against the new panel the Trudeau government announced last week to review the proposed Trans Mountain pipeline -- indeed they call it "welcome" -- but their editorial says it is unclear what it brings to the approval process, considering the National Energy Board provided its qualified but still largely favourable support just two days after the new panel's creation. The Globe says the deadline for the panel, November 1, is "hardly a fatally long delay, although the second panel won’t have the time to go into equal detail."
What does it bring to the process? More delay. Is this going to be how the Trudeau government gets in the way of this and other pipeline projects: studying them to death?


Sunday, May 22, 2016
 
Drone warfare
In a paper for Policy Exchange, barrister Sean Aughey and former Army officer and current MP Tom Tugendhat dissect the Joint Committee on Human Rights' report into drone warfare, and conclude:
International law provides no clear answer to various key questions concerning the applicability of LOAC [Law of Armed Conflict] and the ECHR [European Convention on Human Rights] to drone strikes outside the “hot battlefield” or in the territory of another State altogether. Different States and academics have adopted a range of views, and some of the broader relevant legal issues are currently being litigated before the English courts.
The JCHR report does seem to be reaching. The website Drone Wars has a less technical critique of both the report and broader debate on drone use in warfare. One good thin the JCHR report does that Drone Wars acknowledges is delve into what governments do when it comes to drone usage rather than what government say they do; the problem is that the Committee attempts to read British Prime Minister David Cameron's mind at times.
The report and the Policy Exchange focus on the important question of the use of force "outside armed conflict," although the report suggests that once drone take warfare-like actions, such conflicts become armed, which seems sensible but as Aughey and Tugendhat argue, there is a fair bit of technical international and domestic law that speaks to the issue, although not always helpfully. It behooves the British government -- and all governments -- to clarify the rules governing the use of drones in both "hot" conflicts and otherwise. Drone Wars says there is an anti-drone Establishment view; I'd add the very word drone shuts down thought on the issue when, in fact, policy-makers and the public should think very hard as to how, if at all, drones are different from conventional weapons and technologies.


 
Politics is not the solution and politicians are not our friends
Guido Fawkes:
The academics see the rise of anti-politics as a problem. The inherent premise being that more politics will be good for us. Therefore the low popular opinion of politicians makes political action more difficult. Guido thinks this is a good thing, that the low esteem in which politicians are held is reasonable, people have made a more realistic appraisal of the nature of those who seek to rule over us. Politicians complain that they feel beset by the media and hostile voters because 72% of people see them as self-serving. Good. People should not be afraid of politicians, politicians should be afraid of the people…


 
Brit journalist beds two MPs. We don't write about politics like this in Canada, and not because it doesn't happen.
For better or worse, in Canada journalists do not write about the personal affairs of the politicians they cover (or each other). But it is not merely the subject matter that is different. Brits write with an honesty and panache about such things that Canadian pundits just do not, and frankly, probably could not.
Sarah Vine wrote in The Daily Mail a few days ago about Serena Cowdy, a 36-year-old reporter for the political magazine The House, who, Vine reveals, had affairs with two Scottish National Party MPs:
Perhaps it was her sparkling prose that brought her to the attention of SNP deputy leader Stewart Hosie, 53, and his colleague Angus MacNeil, a 45-year-old father of three. Both men have now left their wives following affairs with Ms Cowdy, who has described them, somewhat bafflingly, as 'sexy Mujahideen'.
Neither remotely resembles a dashing, dark-eyed desert warrior. But apparently the attraction is more an ideological one: she sees SNP MPs as romantic revolutionaries, bravely standing up to their arrogant Southern oppressors.
It is probably notable that Vine is not merely a Daily Mail columnist, but also the wife of Michael Gove, the Justice Secretary, a leading proponent of Leave, and a frontrunner for the the Conservative leadership when David Cameron steps down.
Vine continues:
As for their poor spouses, Jane MacNeil and Shona Robison, I don't imagine they troubled Ms Cowdy's conscience much.
For women like her, the wives of MPs are like distant aunts — remote, frumpy creatures whose existence is more of an inconvenience than a real concern. I feel for these wives, I really do. Because they will have worked hard to support their husbands — only to be betrayed and humiliated.
There is no suggestion that Gove was involved with Cowdy, but you must wonder where this Vine column is coming from; it sounds, at some level, personal. But I'd also guess that she knows that about which she speaks. She lives in the incestuous world of British journalism and politics.
Vine provides two other insights:
It's why so many parliamentary marriages break up (and also why so many parliamentary wives like to work for their husbands: it's not about the money, it's about keeping a close eye on them).
And:
So why do these men risk it? Well, it's a high-pressure environment, and it's a well-documented fact that pressure fans the flames of passion.
This is something that is true in any work environment, but especially when there are long hours with people who exercise real or imagined power. (Henry Kissinger was right.) To both the journalist and the politician, the other represents power.
Hannah Fearn wrote in The Independent about the scandal, but for her the scandal is about how British political culture (mis)treats women. If this is your bag of tea, by all means read it, but this observation struck me: "after embarking on a couple of affairs with her married work colleagues (if you are a political journalist, MPs are no more nor any less than that) [Cowdy] has suddenly found herself at the centre of a political storm." The description of political reporters and MPs as colleagues is insightful but disturbing. It is practically impossible to be watchdogs for colleagues. Although, evidently, even if that were not the mindset, journalists who sleep with their subject matter are unlikely to be effective watchdogs.
The Mirror has a profile of Cowdy, which includes (contextless) snippets from her blog. One worth noting: "I suspect I may be on some sort of sociopathic spectrum." She admits to not being a team player. And from a post titled, "Nine Lessons Politicians Can Learn from Game of Thrones," she offers several topical pieces of advice: "Understand no one is safe," "Don't break your promises," and "Don't get caught with your pants down."
In another report, The Mirror says one of the MPs billed taxpayers for hit hotel trysts with Cowdy. That might be the least surprising detail revealed this week.


 
Will on the inauguration address we'd like to, but won't, witness
George Will pens an inauguration address that expresses humility about politics and respect for the constitutional division of powers that presidents seldom display. A snippet:
In the next four years, beloved entertainers will die, local law-enforcement disputes will occur, March Madness will come and go — and I will have nothing to say about any of these things because they are unrelated to my duties, which do not include serving as national pastor-cum-pundit.
Such a president would be the best since Calvin Coolidge in his or her approach to the job.
Do read Will's full, brief, fictional inauguration speech.


 
2016 watch (Donald Trump's taxes edition)
The Washington Post reports that in the late 1970s, Donald Trump's tax returns showed he paid no federal income tax due to loopholes:
The disclosure, in a 1981 report by New Jersey gambling regulators, revealed that the wealthy Manhattan investor had for at least two years in the late 1970s taken advantage of a tax-code provision popular with developers that allowed him to report negative income.
But ...
Today, as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Trump regularly denounces corporate executives for using loopholes and “false deductions” to “get away with murder” when it comes to avoiding taxes.
Might this be the reason he's been delaying the release of his tax returns, which is not a requirement but a custom in U.S. presidential politics:
He has refused to release any recent returns, meaning the public cannot see how much money he makes, how much he gives to charity and how aggressively he uses deductions, shelters and other tactics to shrink his tax bill.


 
2016 watch (Meaningful platforms edition)
Slate's Jim Newell looks toward the Democratic Convention and the drafting of the party's platform. He says that Hillary Clinton could strike a "deal with [Bernie] Sanders in a way that acknowledges his contributions to the intraparty debate without undermining Clinton’s earned status atop it." He explains the rationale:
The composition of the Democratic Party platform is setting up to be a central vehicle for such dealing. Why the platform? It’s just meaningful enough to signal the general beliefs of a party and the direction in which it’s moving but not powerful enough to bind a nominee to all of its planks. Rather than look at ceding platform planks to Sanders as a burden, the Clinton campaign could see it as a positive means of bridging party divisions ahead of the autumn grind. And though Sanders wouldn’t be the nominee, it would be a victory of sorts to insert planks supporting, say, single-payer health care and a $15 minimum wage into Clinton’s platform.
That's the truth about platforms, and it always is. They are more about party activists scoring points in some internecine battle than a guide to actual governing. Joe Trippi, a Democratic consultant who ran Howard Dean's 2004 nomination campaign, is quoted in the story: "I don't mean it in a disparaging way, but the platform gets locked in a vault somewhere [after it’s passed]. You get a day of, 'Yeah, we won that plank to get big money out of politics' or whatever — whatever it is, I'm not belittling what they're doing — I'm just saying I can't imagine [the Clinton campaign] fighting that hard." This time, party activists scoring points might matter beyond the relative handful of them that take part in the convention. It might matter to party supporters back home, those who voted for Sanders in the primaries.
Newell says:
The Republican Party seems to fully embrace the still meaningful but not binding status of the modern platform as an opportunity to take its id for a walk and appease factional neuroses ... This time around, why not follow Republicans’ lead and fling all of the primary’s passions onto the page?
Not sure that the Republicans are the best model for parties seeking intellectual coherence, usable policy, and party unity. I tend to think that the Sanders supporters, like the anti-Trump movement in the GOP, will mostly return home come November. It may be unnecessary to win them over with planks in the platform. But the highly unpopular and divisive, and even more cunning Hillary Clinton, may feel there is no choice but to pander.
The problem is on which issues HRC and her campaign can give Sanders and his supporters meaningful victories. Newell suggests that $15 minimum wage, banning corporate money in politics (hypocrisy notwithstanding), and some more government involvement in health care are all possibilities, but other issues could be more problematic, contentious, or impossible. These include breaking up the banks, trade agreements, and a ban on fracking. And while the focus in now on Clinton making compromises with Sanders, John Hudak of the Brookings Institution, warns that Sanders could overplay his hand, too.
The irony is that because the platform is mostly meaningless, it is a relatively easy way for Clinton to reach out to those who voted for Sanders in the primaries, but the more this becomes something that is talked about, the more meaningful the platform becomes.


Saturday, May 21, 2016
 
Music banned in the Soviet Union in the 1980s
List could be summarized as "popular music." Some of the banned acts: KISS (for nationalism), AC/DC (neofascism), and Donna Summers (eroticism).


 
It's all relative
President Barack Obama's popularity is growing, rising above 50% and reflecting a 12-point swing in approval/disapproval since the beginning of the year. The Washington Post story doesn't mention this, but there's a good chance that Americans are looking toward the next administration of either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump and growing nostalgic for the merely bad old days of the Obama administration.


 
Elbowgate
J.J. McCullough says that following Canada's elbowgate, everyone sucks. Not surprisingly, the NDP played the gender card, but Conservatives accepted a lot of politically correct bullshit this week (bullying, safe spaces, etc). His line on Justin Trudeau, not surprisingly, is the most poignant: "You say you failed to “live up to a higher standard of behaviour”? No, you failed to resist acting like a camera-mugging, show-boating narcissist, and I am sure that’s not going to change."


 
Licensing boards vs. innovation
Via Marginal Revolution, Austin Frakt explains in the New York Times that state medical boards are one of the biggest impediments to telemedicine: "Georgia’s state medical board requires a face-to-face encounter before telemedicine can be delivered, while Ohio’s does not."


Friday, May 20, 2016
 
Populist parties rise where elites are out of touch with large segments of the population
That is the implicit message of this Wall Street Journal article on the rise of nationalist fringe parties in Europe. The Journal reports:
For decades, the major Continental European parties have held a strong consensus about the merits of European integration. That includes open borders, tariff-free trade across these borders and a common currency.
Not all ordinary Europeans shared this view. Many have expressed their reservations, as referendums in France, the Netherlands, Ireland and elsewhere have shown.
But the firmness of the mainstream parties’ commitment to European integration has helped drive the dissent to fringe parties. It has allowed nationalists and populists to win over people disenchanted with the mainstream, pro-EU consensus, to such an extent that euroskeptic language is creeping into major parties, too, in some places as they seek to stop voters from moving away.
While we see this sort of punditry every few years, the Journal says, "today’s version of populism more potent than previous iterations," in part because of pocketbook-related issues such bailouts and fear of terrorism.


 
Prison reform
A few days ago, Simon Jenkins had a very good article on the problems of British prisons, and many of his observations apply to other countries. Jenkins says in his Guardian column that "reform starts with prison numbers" because there are simply too many people behind bars:
Britain is jail crazy. We jail tens of thousands of young people for drug-related offences that are now legal in many US states. We jail old men for “inappropriate sexual behaviour” in the distant past, to no sensible purpose. We lock people up for hacking phones, owning dangerous dogs, rigging energy prices, underpaying foreigners, causing “emotional harm” in marriage, phoning when driving, shoplifting, TV licence evasion, exposing bottoms in a cathedral, boat race disruption, killing goshawks and microwaving rabbits.
All these acts are undesirable and many are dangerous to others. But the community cannot be made that much safer, except in a small minority of cases, by sending their perpetrators to prison.
This goes doubly so for the United States.
Jenkins concludes:
There are dozens of ways to punish criminal behaviour. Deprivation of liberty, earning capacity and family life is the harshest and most costly way of all. Penal policy should be professionally targeted at the toughest of violent psychopaths. Prison should not be a sanitised version of a public execution, a gesture of social revenge, a sign of politico-judicial virility. It should be an absolute last resort. We seem no nearer to making it so.
If fewer criminals were sent to jail, the Cameron government could fix the prisons, making them more humane and less incubators of future crime.


 
Plea for civility within Tory family
Steve Baker, Conservative MP for Wycombe and co-Chairman of Conservatives for Britain, in Conservative Home: "Remain campaigners – including Downing Street – must stop these nasty personal attacks." It is especially important for Prime Minister David Cameron to be civil, but the advice goes for the PM's proxies such as John Major and Michael Heseltine, Norm Lamont and Nigel Lawson, some very imminent personalities within the party. Baker says the key is debate policy, not personality, as inviting as Boris Johnson might be as a target. He also begs his fellow Tories not to question the economic literacy of the Leave supporters:
There is nothing economically illiterate about wanting to take back control of our own finances, taxes and whether we must pay bills the Prime Minister refuses. By even the most cautious of estimates, we send a huge amount of money just to remain a member of the EU: roughly £20 billion a year gross and £10 billion a year net.
The Left could be more civil, too. Via Samizdata, a Labour MP on the Remain side called a voter a "horrible racist" for supporting Brexit and vows to eschew the entire neighbourhood in the future.


 
Civil service reform
Alex Morton writes in Conservative Home about the need for civil service reform in the United Kingdom. He says that it is necessary whether the government's agenda is social justice or economic efficiency:
In the wake of the Queen’s speech, I want to argue for the biggest social justice reform of all. Britain has a civil service machine set up for a small 19th century administrative state, not tackling 21st century problems. We have a deficit to eliminate and major social problems to solve. The only way we can do both is through reforming Government to be much more efficient.
Morton says there is a "a reflex bias toward more government" and that bureaucratic incentives "create a bias against spending money or increasing regulation." These need to be reversed.
His observations apply beyond British politics.


Thursday, May 19, 2016
 
The state steals more than burglars do
According to Mark J. Perry of the American Enterprise Institute, governments took more property from Americans through civil asset forfeiture than burglars did through theft, and it wasn't that close: in 2014, the state confiscated more than $5 billion through civil asset forfeiture while burglars stole less than $4 billion worth of property.
Perry noted that there is a new bill before Congress, the Deterring Undue Enforcement by Protecting Rights of Citizens from Excessive Searches and Seizures (DUE PROCESS) Act, that he explains would "enact meaningful reforms to the federal civil asset forfeiture process," by enhancing procedural protections for forfeiture procedures, increases the state's burden of proof requirements, improves protections for claimants, establishes the right to counsel in all civil asset forfeiture proceedings, improves forfeiture notification process for property owners, and attempts to provide some protection for those who have no yet been found guilty of crimes, among many other reforms.


 
Will on Budweiser changing its name to 'America'
George Will:
Budweiser’s name change is part of an advertising campaign featuring the slogan “America is in your hands.” The brewer says this will “remind people . . . to embrace the optimism upon which the country was first built.” So, between now and November 8, whenever you belly up to a bar, do your patriot duty by ordering a foamy mug of America. Nothing says “It’s morning in an America that is back and standing tall” quite like beer cans festooned with Americana by Anheuser-Busch InBev, a firm based in Leuven, Belgium, and run by a Brazilian.
That' funny. For Budweiser, this not:
America has more than 4,000 craft breweries. Most American adults — 235 million of them — live within ten miles of a local brewery. And more than 40 percent of Americans 21 to 27 have never tasted Budweiser. They prefer craft beers (a craft brewer ships no more than 6 million barrels a year; Budweiser shipped 16 million in 2013, down from 50 million in 1988), which perhaps explains Budweiser’s current weirdly truculent commercials, such as this: “Proudly a macro beer. It’s not brewed to be fussed over. . . . It’s brewed for drinking, not dissecting. . . . Beer brewed the hard way. Let them sip their pumpkin peach ale.” And this: “Not small. Not sipped. Not soft. Not a fruit cup. Not imported.” Not cheerful.
I'm not a beer drinker but when I do, it's craft beer. I can't even recall the last time my lips touched the bottle or can of one of Big Beer's products.


 
Cowen on Brexit
Tyler Cowen with a not entirely unreasonable view: "It’s not enough that leaving be better than staying. Since 'wait and see' is an option, leaving has to be much better than staying, given the mathematics of the expected value of irreversible decisions."


 
The Queen's Speech
Yesterday Queen Elizabeth II delivered her 65th Queen's Speech -- the British equivalent of Canada's Throne Speech -- outlining the government's agenda. Prime Minister David Cameron called it, "a One Nation Queen's speech from a One Nation Government," that sets out a clear programme of social reform, so we break down the barriers to opportunity and extend life chances to all." The programme includes prison reform, a four-year plan to get autonomous vehicles on British roads, and create the right to broadband internet access. The Guardian offers analysis of some of the notable bits.
The Daily Telegraph's James Kirkup says that the Tory right might not be happy with the social justice flavour of the Queen's speech but there is plenty in it to make Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Gove happy, if not quite Boris Johnson. Kirkup would like to see more of the social reform agenda from the Cameron government:
A legislative agenda dedicated to helping vulnerable and “hard to reach” groups will not persuade angry Corbynites to join Mr Cameron’s Remain campaign, but it might just persuade a few wavering Left-wingers that not everything the Conservative leader wants is wicked.
There’s a better reason than tactics for the social reform agenda, though: conviction. Politics is too much about what’s expedient and convenient, not enough about beliefs and ideas. Mr Cameron has done more than his fair share of expedient, pragmatic politics (the referendum is a prime example: he didn’t want it and doesn’t really care much about Europe, but felt he had to keep his party happy) so it’s only right that his final years as PM are spent trying to do things he really believes in. And if he believes anything deeply, it’s that some of the privilege he was born to and the opportunities it gave him should be shared with others. His post-election promise of a One Nation government came from the heart and his best days as party leader and prime minister have come when that heart overcomes a head that inclines to short-term compromise and managerial fudge.
I have much more time for Cameron's social justice agenda than the Canadian conservative agenda to blur the distinctions between themselves and Liberal parties/governments, most notably in Ottawa and Ontario. The Cameron (Gove-IDS) vision is based on principle, not calculation (or not primarily calculation). And while Canadian conservatives play me-tooism, and essentially promise merely to run Big Government more efficiently than do Liberals, British Conservatives are laying the intellectual groundwork for an alternative to the state in their own Big Society (to use a phrase Cameron had, at least until recently, used himself). Some on the right might not like this vision, might not find it sufficiently small government or pro-liberty or whatever -- I have my own reservations -- but I admire the distinctive vision the Tories are carving out to challenge the left-liberal assumptions of modern governance and culture.
For an alternative take, The Spectator's Isabel Hardman finds the speech too cautious:
Pro-Cameron ministers are pleased with the focus on life chances, but some are similarly disappointed with the light content. One says ‘it felt like the last speech of parliament before an election, not our second session’. There is a theory among those pro-Cameron ministers that the Prime Minister and George Osborne have lost a fair amount of self-confidence over the past few months as a result of the rows that followed the Budget and the Panama Papers. One says: ‘it is the beginning of the end. Which is a shame for those of us who think Cameron is the best leader, but you can see it etched on his face.’
That might prove to be an overly pessimistic assessment, given Cameron’s knack of defying doom-laden predictions. But you can certainly see caution etched over this Queen’s Speech.
Conservative Home's Paul Goodman wonders if the increasingly fractious Tory majority will get behind the Cameron programme, and says, "All in all, the speech is a bit of a holding exercise until after June 23."
A note on the speech itself: it's a tad boring. The formula does not make for speeches that soar ("My Government will," "legislation will be brought forward," "legislation will be introduced"), although the Tony Blair-era Queen's Speeches had some meat on the bones that are lacking in recent years. That may represent the modesty of the conservative and Conservative agenda compared to the haughty fix-the-world desire of the Labour leader. Speeches going back to the mid-1990s can be read at the British Parliament website.
On another Canadian note, there are hints of Cameron's life chances agenda in the Throne Speech prepared by new Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister earlier this week.


 
Whit Stillman
Rick McGinnis has pics of his favourite living director, Whit Stillman, that he took in 1990, and a nice, longish, write-up. McGinnis writes:
What I cherish about Stillman is how mannered his characters are, even the loutish ones, as they banter upstream, trying to articulate their life crises and social dilemmas. Coming from a country that has never been rhetorically equipped to talk about class, Stillman's films are unprecedented in that they're all about the subject; the poster for Metropolitan actually used the phrase "downwardly mobile" to describe itself, one of the first times I'd ever encountered this very prophetic concept.
I recommend reading "Whit Stillman's comic art" by Mary Nicholls. Slate wrote about Stillman in 2006 and vehemently disagreed with the class lens through which McGinnis (and Mark C. Henrie) view the director.


Wednesday, May 18, 2016
 
Kickstart the trade liberalization regime
Gary Clyde Hufbauer and Euijin Jung of the Peterson Institute for International Economics say the economic growth of the second half o the 20th century was largely the result of trade liberalization, much of it instigated through the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. It has been 21 years since the last successful GATT agreement and the trend in recent years has been away from trade liberalization and, since the 2008-2009 Great Recession, toward "micro-protection" (often in violation of World Trade Organization agreements). The authors suggest a wide-ranging trade agreement that liberalizes trade could reignite global economic growth.


 
2016 watch (HRC veep watch edition)
The New Yorker's Margaret Talbot makes the case that Senator Elizabeth Warren (Mass) would be a good vice presidential candidate or campaign surrogate, in part because she appeals to Bernie Sanders supporters, but also because she's not afraid to scrap with Donald Trump. Covering well-known ground for some, Talbot recounts the recent Twitter battle between the senator and billionaire, a battle that Warren embraced enthusiastically. Talbot concludes that Warren, who at 66 is just two years younger than Hillary Clinton, could reinvigorate the Democrat campaign by not only exciting Berniacs, but by being a happy warrior on the campaign trail ... whether or not she is the vice presidential nominee.