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, July 31, 2013
Conservatives continue to outraise Justin Trudeau-led Liberals
File this under: #NotTheNarrative. Pundit's Guide reports:
The Conservative Party, battered in the media, continues to be an institution worthy of investing in — at least according to its own financial contributors, as the party posted a very robust non-election year second quarter in 2013.
Raking in $4.86M between April and June of 2013 – a period that would have included registration for the party's subsequently postponed Calgary convention – the party defied expectations and beat nearly every other second quarter in its history, with only the spring of 2005 and election year 2011 coming in higher, according to figures filed late yesterday with Elections Canada ...
Meanwhile the NDP continues to post substantially better results than were the norm for them in third party days; a fact that will no doubt be overlooked in the short-term comparisons of their party against a resurgent Liberal Party in the throes of a honeymoon with its new leader.
We've seen this story before in 2009, but by that measure Trudeau-mania 2.0 has not yet surpassed Iggy-mania. The Liberals' $2.96M total in 2013 stands respectably though a bit behind their $3.88M haul in 2009, but is still their third-highest second quarter since quarterly returns have been filed.
The NDP raised less than half that amount, coming in at $1.37M. This figure is down for them from the heady days of 2011 and 2012, but does represent nearly double their typical second quarter from prior to that.
There are three takeaways from this story.
1. The Conservatives are outraising the Liberals and NDP combined (although some of that was convention fees, not donations).
2. Justin Trudeau's Liberals are raising less money than Michael Ignatieff's Liberals four years ago.
3. The media got the donor enthusiasm story wrong: Stephen Harper is raising more money than Justin Trudeau.

MSNBC is dying
John Nolte at Breitbart notes:
Compared to last year in July, MSNBC was down -12% in total viewers and -4% in the 25-54 demo.
In total day, MSNBC is now in fourth place, behind Fox News, CNN, and HLN.
Nolte says the network can't do anything right:
[MSNBC] has struggled in the ratings since the Boston Marathon bombings exposed the network's glaring weakness when it comes to news gathering. MSNBC had hoped to turn that around by going all-in on with the Zimmerman trial, but it obviously didn't work.

Student, probably in the wrong place at the wrong time, arrested in drug bust and forgotten in jail cell for five days
CNN reports:
A University of California San Diego student left unmonitored in a holding cell for five days by the Drug Enforcement Administration has settled a lawsuit for $4.1 million, his attorney said Tuesday.
"This was a mistake of unbelievable and unimaginable proportions," said attorney Julia Yoo.
Daniel Chong, 25, drank his own urine to survive and even wrote a farewell note to his mother before authorities discovered him severely dehydrated after a 2012 drug raid in San Diego ...
It wasn't until the afternoon of Wednesday, April 25, that an agent opened the steel door to Chong's cell and found the handcuffed student, Chong's attorney Gene Iredale said last year.
Upon his release, Mr. Chong told CNN affiliate KNSD that he was visiting a friend and knew nothing about the presence of drugs and guns. He was never formally arrested or charged, the DEA said.
Even if Chong was a drug user or drug dealer, there is no excuse for this.
(HT: Legal Insurrection)

Art Carden on raising the minimum wage
At Art Carden discusses the minimum wage, says we need soft hearts and hard heads, and finds that raising the legal minimum could be counterproductive by hurting workers:
It’s tempting to think that the higher wages for workers is worth it, but it isn’t. The minimum wage shifts the margins on which people compete with one another from wages to wasteful competitive endeavors like waiting or investing in too many quality signals. Competition in a price-controlled market can erode the entire value of the difference between the minimum workers are willing to accept and the minimum they are allowed to accept. The cruel irony is that a policy designed to pick the pockets of employers for the benefit of workers ultimately leaves everyone worse off.
Counter-intuitively (for most people, at least) the compassionate thing to do is to get rid of the legal minimum wage; raising it could be incredibly harmful.

Obama owns his failures and he/his defenders can't blame obstructionist Republicans
Ron Fournier has a very good article in the National Journal about the odd combination of President Barack Obama's arrogance and assumed impotence. He begins:
Two New York Times reporters recently posited for President Obama this grim scenario: Low growth, high unemployment, and growing income inequality become "the new normal" in the nation he leads. "Do you worry," the journalists asked him, "that that could end up being your legacy simply because of the obstruction ... and the gridlock that doesn't seem to end?"
Obama's reply was telling. "I think if I'm arguing for entirely different policies and Congress ends up pursuing policies that I think don't make sense and we get a bad result," he said, "it's hard to argue that'd be my legacy."
Actually, it's hard to argue that it wouldn't be his legacy. History judges U.S. presidents based upon what they did and did not accomplish. The obstinacy of their rivals and the severity of their circumstances is little mitigation. Great presidents overcome great hurdles.
Focusing on Ezra Klein's mostly correct observations about the problems in politics that make governing difficult if not impossible, Fournier essentially says leaders lead. Obama is no leader. Fournier says: "To say the situation is intractable seems akin to waving a white flag over a polarized capital: Republicans suck. We can't deal with them. Let's quit."
I think Fournier's analysis is spot-on -- if everyone is an honest player, if everything is as it seems. I don't know if it is.
I'm all for Obama giving up and giving in although I don't really think he has, but it's strange that his defenders seem to accept this state of affairs. Unless, of course, they haven't. What if appearing weak is a pose to have the Right put down its guard? Republicans have long under-estimated Obama's political skills, reducing him to great-with-a-teleprompter performer and not much more. As we've seen with recess appointments, the IRS scandals, the official egging on of the anti-George Zimmerman hysteria, and much more, the administration doesn't need to pass laws to get what it wants and to change the culture.

Three and out
3. After considering the various trade rumours, 90% or more which are never going to happen, ESPN's Jayson Stark says: "Even though things have picked up lately, this remains maybe the least compelling group of available players to make up the cast of characters for any trade deadline in recent memory." SB Nation's Grant Brisbee says this is "The worst MLB trade deadline in recent memory," and suggests that Michael Young isn't really the kind of name that should be at the top of team's lists or baseball pundit's breathless tweets because "Michael Young is basically Greg Dobbs." There are plenty of good reasons for the lack of prime trade market meat: teams buying out the first years of arbitration and free agency and on friendlier terms for the teams mean fewer would-be free agents to rented; changes in the Collective Bargaining Agreement that doesn't permit teams renting veterans for a few months from acquiring compensatory draft picks if the free agent leaves after a few months service; new appreciation for the value of prospects, combined with over-valuing prospects; more teams being in the playoff race with the second wild card and more parity; more money in baseball reduces the need to sell marginally expensive players; other incentives and dynamics such as the Philadelphia Phillies wanting to appear good enough to cash in on a huge cable contract, goals such as a 500 season for the Kansas City Royals, or the Toronto Blue Jays keeping the nucleus for a team that could compete next season. Too many baseball pundits don't really understand these concepts that have fundamentally changed the way baseball operates.
2. Grantland has a gif of the best of the fist pump of the season.
1. Last week Grantland's Jonah Keri wrote a wonderful column on the PED scandal and this season of baseball. The title quite nicely captures what it's all about: "Forget PEDs, Baseball Is Fun As Hell Right Now." I have a question that arises out of Keri's column: If Bud Selig is worried about the damage done to baseball's reputation by the use of performance-enhancing drugs, then why is he allowing or leading this massive distraction during an exciting season of baseball? There should be more stories about Yasiel Puig, Ed Lucas, the Pittsburgh Pirates, Manny Machado, Mike Trout, and Miguel Cabrera, and fewer about Ryan Braun, Alex Rodriguez, and Biogenesis. Even if Machado predictably stopped hitting doubles like Earl Webb, he looks like the second coming of Brooks Robinson, but with a better bat; Trout is the new Mickey Mantle; the Pirates are on the verge of ending a history-making streak of futility by not merely reaching 500 but battling for the best record in baseball; Puig might be the next Joe DiMaggio (or next Jeff Francouer so watch his greatness while you can); Cabrera is making the case for being among the best right-handed hitters of all time. Great stories all but moralizing journalists are spending their time talking about an old story given fresh legs because the commissioner of baseball is vainly attempting to earn a legacy as the man who cleaned up baseball. The on-the-field stories are being ignored or downplayed and it risks creating new cynicism among fans and would-be fans instead of reinforcing why baseball is a fabulously fun sport to watch.

Senator Mike Lee gets no respect
The media focuses on senator Rand Paul and Ted Cruz and ignore Utah Senator Mike Lee. See Jon Favreau's hysterical piece at the Daily Beast on the supposed small-government/no-government divide in the Republican Party: "In 2016, Sens. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz seem to be the most likely champions of no-government conservatism, with Marco Rubio engaged in a delicate balancing act between purity and sanity," and Jeb Bush and Chris Christie are traditional conservatives who want to keep government but make it smaller. Note to journalists: take note of the junior senator from Utah.

Blogger flogged in Saudi Arabia
Reuters reports:
An international rights group condemned the sentencing of a Saudi Arabian website founder to be whipped 600 times and jailed for seven years for violating Islamic values, saying it undermined the kingdom's stated support for religious debate.
A court in Jeddah handed down the sentence on Raif Badawi, who started the 'Free Social Liberals' website to discuss the role of religion in Saudi Arabia, Saudi media reported on Tuesday.
"This incredibly harsh sentence for a peaceful blogger makes a mockery of Saudi Arabia's claims that it supports reform and religious dialogue," said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East director at U.S.-based Human Rights Watch.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013
Senator Mike Lee on Obama: '[President] thinks he’s a king'
The Daily Caller reports on Utah Senator Mike Lee's address to the Young America’s Foundation where he said: "What we have is an elected president who thinks he’s a king." I really like Lee's fighting spirit. He deserves the kind of credit Ted Cruz and Rand Paul get for resisting the White House and Big Government.

Hillary Rodham Clinton (BC*) 2016
Powerline's John Hinderaker notes that the media (both journalists and Hollywood) will go big for Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2016. There could be several films in the works about HRC, including a documentary, a network miniseries, and a movie that harkens back to the early 1970s:
We already knew that a movie titled Rodham is in the works. It will focus on Hillary’s role as a 26-year-old staffer on the House Judiciary Committee during Watergate. Since Hillary played no perceptible role in the Watergate affair or its aftermath, the movie could make for a boring couple of hours. On the other hand, actresses like Scarlett Johansson, Reese Witherspoon and Amanda Seyfried are reportedly in the running for the role of Ms. Rodham–because, I guess, they look so much like Hillary.
Noting the sort of treatment HRC will likely get from these documentaries and movies, Hinderaker says, "This is the kind of publicity that money literally can’t buy." It's good to have friends in Hollywood.
* Technically one of the films would be Before Clinton.

'Urine used to create teeth'
The miracle of stem cells -- and not the embryonic kind.

Elections Canada -- this is why Tories think you play favourites
The Canadian Press reports:
Former candidates who still owe money from the 2006 Liberal leadership campaign won't be taken to court by Elections Canada, the country's elections commissioner has ruled.
Instead, Yves Cote suggested Tuesday that the candidates pay the money back in a timely manner.
If they were Conservatives, Elections Canada would be at their door with a warrant in hand and television cameras in tow.
Oh, but EC says there is no enforcement mechanism. So, honestly, "timely" can mean "forever." Because there are no consequences, does anyone believe that former MP Joe Volpe will repay $97,000 or former MP Ken Dryden their $225,000?

Obama to offer Republicans deal on economy
The Washington Examiner reports:
President Obama in Tennessee on Tuesday will call for a lowering of the corporate tax rate in exchange for heightened government investments in infrastructure, manufacturing and education, a new effort to entice Republicans wary of virtually all of his prescriptions to improve the economy.
Making the latest stop in his newest jobs tour, Obama at an distribution center in Chattanooga will outline what the White House is framing as a “grand bargain for middle-class jobs.”
It is a grand bargain for government jobs (education). It is a grand bargain for picking winners (manufacturing). It is a grand bargain for pork barrel politics (infrastructure). Corporate taxes need to be reduced and the suggested new rates Obama is offering (25% for manufacturers and 28% for other companies) are much better than the current 35% corporate tax rate, but the cost of probably at least $50 billion is too high. Speaker John Boehner's spokesman said, "This proposal allows President Obama to support President Obama’s position on taxes and President Obama’s position on spending, while leaving small businesses and American families behind." That's a fine Republican talking point and appears to be resistance to a deal, but we'll have to wait and see. I'd say go for it if the deal comes with significant entitlement reform, but neither side is all that serious about cutting such spending.

'Russian lawmaker proposes days off for menstruating women'
Reuters reports:
A Russian lawmaker has asked parliament to give women two days paid leave a month when they menstruate, a move that has irked rights activists worried over creeping conservatism since Vladimir Putin resumed the presidency.
Mikhail Degtyaryov, a member of the nationalist LDPR party led by the outspoken Vladimir Zhirinovsky, wrote on his website that he had proposed a draft law to increase the protection of women at the workplace.
"During that period (of menstruation), most women experience psychological and physiological discomfort. The pain for the fair sex is often so intense that it is necessary to call an ambulance," said Degtyaryov, 32, who is married with two sons.

Is Gareth Bale worth $120 million? Understanding the outrageous sums in the European soccer transfer market
Sometimes you pay for a player for signalling purposes, not because the player on the field is worth the fee. Grantland's Mike Goodman on Real Madrid offering Tottenham $120 million for Gareth Bale:
Taking all of that into account, is Bale worth more than $120 million? Based on his on-field contributions the answer is, of course not. Bale is fantastic, but unless your name is Lionel Messi, or arguably Cristiano Ronaldo, nobody is worth that sum in a vacuum. For Real Madrid, Bale’s value isn’t based on what he does on the field. He’s a status symbol, the most expensive painting at the transfer-window auction. So what if you pay more than the painting’s worth? And who cares if it clashes with the decor in the library? You still bought the painting.
In other words, Real Madrid can signal to their fans and opponents that they are still Real Madrid, a force to be reckoned with. I only question whether it is necessary for them to illustrate that again and again?
Goodman also notes that "Bale is an incredibly valuable business commodity" for his current team and therefore the flashy dollar amount throwing in front of them still might not be enough. The point is you can't just say a player isn't worth a seemingly ludicrous amount of money by what he does on the field. Or as Goodman concludes: "looking beyond the pitch, even if Madrid is crazy for offering that sum, Spurs have a solid case for turning it down."
From an on-the-field perspective, Bale might not be as much of an impact player for Real Madrid with his stupendously great long-distance shooting because he won't get the same number of opportunities to shoot playing beside Cristiano Ronaldo and the other members of what is a virtual all-star team.

Next Fed leader and rules-based monetary policy
John Taylor examines the two supposed front-runners to replace Ben Bernanke at the Federal Reserve, Janet Yellen and Larry Summers. Taylor says:
But the most important question is who is more likely to implement a monetary policy that will help keep us out of a serious financial crisis, and create price and output stability more generally. In other words who will implement a more predictable, less interventionist, more rules-based monetary policy strategy of the kind that has worked well when tried, as in the 1980s, 1990s and until recently?
Examining their own words, Taylor concludes that Yellen is more likely "to endorse a rules-based policy strategy ... in normal times." Considering that President Barack Obama will only consider Democrat-leaning economists and Alan Blinder is not near the top of anyone's speculative lists, it would appear that Yellen is the best choice.
Two good articles about rules-based monetary policy are John Taylor's 2011 address "Historical Evidence on the Benefits of Rules-Based Economic Policies" (which looks at both monetary and fiscal policy) and Milton Friedman's 1968 American Economic Review article, "The Role of Monetary Policy" (which stresses setting a steady course but doesn't use the term rules-based monetary policy).

Obama has diagnosed the wrong problem on mental illness
D. J. Jaffe, executive director of Mental Illness Policy Org, says that President Barack Obama wants to do something about mental health and has called for new spending to help identify people with problems, mostly by giving more money to schools. Jaffe notes a list of violent mentally ill criminals, and says "the problem wasn’t lack of identification. It was lack of treatment." Jaffe says Washington should fund more assisted outpatient treatment (involuntary treatment for the non-hospitalized ill) which appears to have good results. I'm skeptical of involuntary treatment but AOT do appear to work.
The main point Jaffe is making is that providing money to help identify individuals with mental illness issues without providing the programs and legal apparatus to treat them is useless.
I'm currently finishing Out of the Shadows: Confronting America's Mental Illness Crisis by E. Fuller Torrey and recently read his The Insanity Offense and they are two good books to start with to understand the problem of untreated mental illness from both a individual human tragedy and social problem point of view.

The left is divided, too
Michael Barone:
Since last November’s election there has been a lot of punditry about the fissures and schisms in the Republican party. The divisions are real, and some of the commentary has been revealing.
There has been less of a look at fissures and schisms in the Democratic party. They’re real as well.
The most obvious schism is the environmentalist wing of the party versus the "coal- and oil-country Democrats" and so-called moderate Blue Dog Democrats versus Big Government Democrats. As Barone says, in a large, diverse country getting to or near 50% consistently is hard and it requires attracting groups of voters that do not ostensibly belong together. We only get half of the story about from the media: the half about Republicans. Barone reminds us it is a challenge for both parties. The schisms are more obvious for parties that lose, but Barone notes that governing choices by both the administration and Congressional leaders will make holding together the winning majority more difficult in the future.

Econ is better than it used to be
At Worthwhile Canadian Initiative Carleton University economist Frances Woolley has five reasons why the discipline of economics is in better shape today than it was in the 1970s, 80s and 90s. There are also five "not-so-positive flip side[s]." It is definitely worth reading if you have even a moderate interest in economics as a discipline.
(HT: Newmark's Door)

Sammy Yatin shooting
Toronto Sun columnist Joe Warmington had a very good column on Sunday and it remains the best commentary on the police killing of Sammy Yatin. His point is that there are a lot of questions about the case (were nine shots really necessary?). Unfortunately, the usual anti-cop left is behind the "Justice for Sammy" protest and the typically pro-cop right/general public doesn't really give a shit that a teen was shot by police because they care more about getting tough on crime than actual justice.

Paul Wells on Chrystia Freeland
Maclean's columnist Paul Wells says that potential Liberal candidate Chrystia Freeland is the new Michael Ignatieff. That's nasty. Wells explains that Freeland, like Iggy, will have to overcome political commentary that refers to Americans as "we" and "ours."

Monday, July 29, 2013
Government pays dead farmers
The Washington Times reports:
The Government Accountability Office said that from 2008 to 2012 one agency, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, made $10.6 million payments on behalf of more than 1,100 people who’d been dead at least a year. Another branch, the Risk Management Agency, paid out $22 million to more than 3,400 policyholders who’d been dead at least two years.
Some of the payments may have been legal because they were for work done before the farmers died, but GAO said the problem is the two agencies don’t perform the routine checks — such as looking at the Social Security lists — to see ...
[The Agriculture Department] acknowledged their procedures “were not effectively and consistently implemented to identify deceased individuals.”
Hey wait, it's not the first time:
GAO said the Agriculture Department has shown some progress since a previous audit found hundreds payments to 172,801 dead people, totaling some $1.1 billion, between 1999 and 2005.

Conservative attacks ads might be working against Trudeau
The first media-led narrative about the ads Conservatives used against then new Liberal leader Justin Trudeau was that they were ineffective. But as Gerry Nicholls, writing in The Hill Times, reminds us, it was too early to tell: "And I suppose they can be deemed as failures, unless you look at them from a long-term perspective, in which case a different picture emerges." Nicholls explains:
[W]hy did the Tories go on the attack?
Well, they had two goals. First, they wanted to mobilize their own base. Second, and much more importantly, they simply wanted to plant the seeds of doubt about Trudeau’s leadership abilities in the minds of voters.
In other words, the anti-Trudeau ads were designed to lay the groundwork, so that voters would be more susceptible to future Conservative attacks on the Liberal leader.
Indeed, recent polls indicate that despite all the scandals plaguing the Conservative government, the Tory base is still holding firm and Trudeau’s popularity is starting to wane.
So maybe those Tory attack ads worked after all.

If the Conservatives imported an American to run for them ...
But when the Justin Trudeau Party gets a high-profile journalist based in the United States to return home to seek a local nomination, the Media Party gets a Chris Matthews-like tingle down its leg.

The American Civil Liberties Union supports Rand Paul, privacy advocate
The American Civil Liberties Union (which I have increasingly more time for) praises Senator Rand Paul:
You've got to hand it to Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.): He has become one of the foremost members of Congress fighting for Americans' privacy rights, and has worked doggedly to shed light on how the government is using new technologies to monitor us without our knowledge or consent. Given how difficult it is to get federal law enforcement agencies to comply with their obligation to disclose documents to the public under the Freedom of Information Act — I spend a lot of my time working on just that — it is exceedingly valuable to have someone of Sen. Paul's stature pushing for greater transparency.
The ACLU responds to the FBI's response to Paul's request for information on how it uses drones and what privacy protections there might be:
It's good to know that the FBI has "no plans" to shoot bullets or bean bags at Americans using an unarmed robot flying in the sky. It would be even better if the FBI were to commit to notifying Congress and the American people if its plans change, to ensure a debate about whether this is an appropriate way to conduct policing of American citizens inside the United States.
Government policy should not be enacted or carried out in the dark. Secrecy is the enemy of liberty, even in matters of law enforcement and national defense. The public and its elected representatives need to know what policies there are in order to judge them and decide whether they should be continued or not. To the extent this responsibility of legislators, administration officials, and voters is denied them by secret policies, our democracy is severely diminished.
The ACLU can often be left-wing nutty, from attempting to block the Reagan administration from accepting Soviet-era Russian refugees to fully endorsing the abortion license today, but that does not mean that it is always wrong.

'Is John Boehner About to Get Aggressive?'
That's the National Journal headline on this story. My headline: "Will John Boehner find his balls?" And here's why:
GOP lawmakers and aides say Boehner plans to assume a more aggressive posture in the upcoming fights to fund the government and raise the debt limit than he’s displayed so far on immigration. Deadlines, politics, and the enormous consequences of inaction all make the stakes much higher in the coming fiscal battles.
Sounds promising. But ...
When Republicans return from the August recess, they will have just nine legislative days to figure out how to fund the government before the fiscal year ends Sept. 30. Republican leaders are considering a short-term funding measure tied to the across-the-board spending cuts that kicked in earlier this year, said Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Ga., a Boehner ally. But, he said, because Democrats largely oppose tying the government-funding measure to the lowered spending levels, Boehner will need a majority of his conference to pass the bill, a proposition that could prove difficult. During last year’s fiscal-cliff talks, the speaker failed to win support for his Plan B, and just last month he failed to pass a farm bill. Making matters worse, time is not on his side. Waiting until the eleventh hour, Westmoreland said, is “not a good thing.”
Boehner will sound tough. He will thump his chest. He will make threats. But it's obvious to anyone who's watched Washington politics over the past three years that Boehner is not going to fight until there is victory on Republican (policy) terms. After all, read that first paragraph again: he plans to make an aggressive "posture." In other words, this is all a pose, and even the leak to the National Journal is part of this game, posing not only for voters but the Democratic leadership in advance of negotiations.
None of this is to say that Boehner's eventual capitulation is the right or wrong policy (a deal on Democratic terms is not what America needs) or the right or wrong politics (it's hard to see the Republicans winning the budget battle), but merely to point out that Boehner doesn't have the cojones for a real fight.

Having talked about the economy thrice in a week, Obama can now move on to ignoring the economy again
The Daily Caller: "Economy not on Organizing for Action’s ‘Action August’ agenda." Of course, OFAs agenda does not limit the President doing anything, but it is clear that his organization doesn't care about the economy. And if you read Bob Woodward's The Price of Politics, it's obvious that Barack Obama is not interested in the economy either.

World War II in photos
Blazing Cat Fur links to a great collection of photos from World War II.

Doesn't NYC deserve a politician who 'refuses to hide how much of a dirt bag he is'?
The B.S. of A. with Brian Sack has a funny video of a guy who won't apologize when running for office in the Big Apple (not as good as their NSA Funnies video, but still pretty good).

'An animal neediness for public gratification'
On ABC's "This Week" George Will connects Anthony Weiner's constant running for office and his serial online sexual harassment of women sexting.

Quote of the day
"Set up standards of achievement open to all, to the least, to the most inept — and you stop the impetus to effort in all men, great and small. You stop all incentive to improvement, to excellence, to perfection… Don’t set out to raze all shrines — you’ll frighten men. Enshrine mediocrity — and the shrines are razed."
-- Ayn Rand (via an editorial from the April 1980 The Comic Journal)
Bonus quote from the same editorial: "“Half the useful work in the world consists of combating the harmful work."
-- Bertrand Russell

Sunday, July 28, 2013
Why don't economists (and social scientists) study Haiti (or Sri Lanka) more?
Tyler Cowen has some answers (access, language barriers, and violence) before settling on a larger issue: the lack of social science infrastructure, especially the availability of data but also assistants. As always the comments are worth reading but I would like to highlight two points. First, dysfunctional systems and informal markets by definition lack data and are difficult to study. Second, a few people comment that 1) Sri Lanka is well-studied and 2) the World Bank does a lot of good research on all countries so perhaps they are not as under-served by economics and social science research as Cowen thinks. Also, as one commenter said, Haiti should be better studied: "Haiti is a case of such persistent resistance to development that studying it ought to provide some real insight into the causes of persistent poverty and underdevelopment."

9/11 memorial creative director opposed use of iconic photo of firefighters and the flag
Breitbart reports:
According to Elizabeth Greenspan, author of the up coming book Battle for Ground Zero (St. Martin’s Press), Michael Shulan, creative director of the 9/11 Memorial Museum, thought about cutting the famed photo from Ground Zero of three firefighters raising the American flag amidst the rubble of the World Trade Center…because he thought it was too “rah-rah America.” Shulan said, “I really believe that the way America will look best, the way we can really do best, is to not be Americans so vigilantly and so vehemently.”
There is a rah-rah element to the photo, but it also shows resilience and determination and all the qualities that make America (and many other countries) great, and especially at that moment. Shulan says he didn't want to over-simplify 9/11, but the decision (to try) to exclude the iconic photo betrays something either more pernicious or stupid.
There's more at the New York Post on the memorial, including objections from family members over certain items being included for display.

There is a lot of wisdom and perception in this short post
Instapundit a few days ago on U.S. economic history, technology, progress, and leftist politicians. I would add one thing: leftists shouldn't be called progressives if they believe in a fixed pot of goodies.

There is no beepocalypse
Small Dead Animals has a very good question related to the issue. Here's more actual facts from Shawn Regan, a research fellow at the Property and Environment Research Center, on the fact we are not at risk of losing honey bees.

This is why conservatives are constantly disappointed by the Conservatives
The Winnipeg Sun: "Shelly Glover: CBC is 'essential' to Canada."

Weekend Stuff
1. has story and pictures from Joe Johnson's series Megachurches in a neat piece entitled, "Megachurches Use Elaborate Sets and Easy Parking to Amplify God’s Voice." Like the term "pastorpreneur."
2. The Engineer: "Tattoo sensor warns 'extreme' athletes of exhaustion." Could such technology spread beyond detecting fatigue and monitor other health issues and therefore have much broader applications? Does this have implications for transhumanism?
3. Big new bridges. The Guardian recently reported on the world's biggest multi-pylon cable-stayed bridge opening in China. Wired reports on the world's largest self-anchored suspension bridge in San Francisco.
4. Quartz: "The most expensive city in the world to be a foreigner is not what you think." It's not London or Tokyo or any other city you would guess.
5. Grantland: "Playing the 'What If?' Game: We turn to Dr. James Andrews to see if injury-plagued careers from the past could have been saved by modern medicine." Looks at players such as Mickey Mantle, Gale Sayers, Eric Dickerson, and Johnny Unitas, among others.
6. Screen Rant: "Marvel Movies vs. DC Movies – The Differences in Approach."
7. From the animal kingdom. National Geographic has story and videos of fruit-eating crocodylians. Mental Floss: "Why Don't Woodpeckers Get Brain Damage?" Inside Science: "Scientists Produce False Memories In Mice."
8. The Wall Street Journal has "The Science of Winning Poker." The article is subtitled, "Bluffing still matters, but the best players now depend on math theory." Of course this is nothing new and somehow the WSJ doesn't mention Chris "Jesus" Ferguson, whose mother and father were both university math professors.
9. Slate: "Can You Name These Cities by Their Starbucks Locations?" This was a lot of fun. I passed and beat the average; some are pretty obvious if you think about the shape of cities.
10. BoingBoing: "Darth Vader's Tie Fighter, life size."
11. This robot was developed at the University of Pennsylvania and its movements are inspired by parkour moves. The developers hope that some day it can be used in difficult to reach environments such as collapsed buildings. Here is the official description and here's the full academic paper (pdf).

Saturday, July 27, 2013
Keep the White House press briefings
Olivier Knox of Yahoo! News makes the case for keeping the mostly useless White House press briefings, saying 1) the Obama administration is particularly obstructionist and 2) the media needs to do more to ask tough questions. I would add that the Obama-loving media lets the White House get away with not answering questions, not they ask many very penetrating ones anyway.
(HT: Ed Morrissey)

'A Stripper’s Guide to the Modern American Boomtown'
The article from Buzzfeed subtitled, "no one knows better how these communities work — and don’t — than the traveling topless dancer" is interesting throughout (and often depressing). Alex Tabarrok has some observations and questions about the economics of it.

The Obamaconomy
Sal Russo, co-founder and chief strategist of Tea Party Express, the largest tea party political action committee, has a column in Investor's Business Daily on how President Barack Obama's class warfare rhetoric won't create jobs. This fact is quite damning of the president's record: "Under his failed economic leadership, America has suffered through weak economic growth and 54 months of unemployment over 7.5%, the longest stretch since records began being kept in 1948."

Math is hard
And many journalists suck at it. Tim Worstall has an example from the Daily Mail.

Three and out
3. The great thing about being as bad as the New York Yankees are and still being in the playoff chase (Baseball Prospectus puts their chances at about 20%) is that even trading for replacement level talent can be a huge upgrade. The Yankees are now famously awful at hitting from the right-hand side of the plate (RHB: 221/283/311), putting up numbers that by some metrics the worst right-handed hitting in the past 20 or 50 years. Or to put it simply: since the first week of June, they have hit precisely one homerun from the right-side of the plate. So picking up LF Alfonso Soriano from the Chicago Cubs, who has one of the worst OPSs in MLB this year among outfielders (who qualify for a batting title) is still an improvement. The Yankees gave up minor league pitcher Corey Black who, if all goes really well for him, might be a decent middle reliever someday. The Yanks have a glut of decentish (and better) pitching prospects so this is no big deal; for more on Black, see this River Ave Blues report on the trade. The Yanks are said to be giving money to the Chicago Cubs, too, but the same reports have the Cubs are paying the vast majority of what's left on Soriano's deal (two years and about $25 million). River Ave Blues reports that the Yanks redirected their attention to Soriano after Alex Rios of the Chicago Cubs rejected a trade to New York. Ben Lindbergh of Baseball Prospectus has a good article on how Soriano 254/287/467 bat improves the team's hitting from the right-hand side and provides a little more pop from a team that has very little of right now outside Robinson Cano. On the plus side, he makes the team more entertaining because as Alex Belth of Bronx Banter notes, it is always fun watching this rail of a player swing so big; it was almost, to use Belth's term, cartoonish. There is, as some people have noted, a glut of underperforming, overpriced outfielders for next year (Soriano, Vernon Wells and Ichiro Suzuki) but 1) the Yanks can afford to use one of them off the bench and 2) Soriano might be able to slip into third base if Alex Rodriguez gets suspended. Lastly, as Lindbergh says, any other team in the situation the Yankees are in would probably consider becoming a seller, but the Yankees don't play by normal rules because of the combination of their payroll, the part-ownership in YES Network, the large new stadium, and the New York press the Bronx Bombers must always be contenders. Must be. The Yanks probably get another win on the season because of Soriano which might be enough if some of their injured stars come back and player 80% of what they typically do, but even if they come up short, that's just what the Yankees have to do. Dave Cameron of Fangraphs says that the Soriano deal seems like throwing good money after bad after the Vernon Wells experiment didn't work out. That would be true of any other team, but the brain trust of the Yankees must at least seem like they are trying to be competitive.
2. Great photo of the legendary Vin Scully. It would make a great poster.
1. Wendy Thurm has a good article at Fangraphs on the TV deals individual teams are signing (and the portion they get from partnerships/ownership stakes in regional sports channels). There is a lot of money for teams now, but Thurm says that as cable customers pushback on paying for channels they don't use and cable companies reject carriage fees the reckoning for the Sports Cable Bubble is imminent.

Friday, July 26, 2013
Dennis Farina: 1944-2013
At Grantland Alex Pappademas remembers actor Dennis Farina:
Farina would always say that he'd seen acting as nothing more than a lucrative side job at first. After Thief, he booked a small role in an episode of Chicago Story, a short-lived network drama whose interlocking cops/lawyers/doctors story lines anticipated Law & Order and The Wire. He met John Mahoney on that set. Mahoney encouraged him to try the stage.
Five Feet of Fury has more links and video. I forgot that he was an actual cop before becoming an actor. From the little I've seen of him in interviews and read about him since his passing, Farina seems like a guy's guy.
I have vague memories of Farina as a recurring crime boss in "Miami Vice" and liked him a lot in "Law & Order" as the too short-lived Detective Joe Fontana, but for me his best part was Ray "Bones" Barboni in Get Shorty.*
* I've never seen "Crime Story" -- I didn't watch crime shows in my teens and I don't think the show was ever in major syndication.

'Map-centric' foreign policy
The Cato Institute's Ted Galen Carpenter makes some very good points about American meddling abroad in his article at The National Interest:
One pervasive, troublesome feature of U.S. foreign policy is the tendency to view all countries as more or less coherent national entities. American officials and opinion leaders are “map centric.” If they look at a map and see an area bounded by solid lines with a large star somewhere in the center to mark the capital city, they assume it is a real country with a national identity. And the usual procedure is to regard the supposed leader, whether his title is president, king or some other honorific, residing in that capital as someone who exercises authority throughout the country.
But in many parts of the world, the Western concept of a nation-state is extremely weak. The primary loyalty of an inhabitant is more likely to be to an ethnic group, tribe, clan or religion than to a country. U.S. officials appear to have difficulty grasping that point, and as a result, the United States too often barges into fragile societies, disrupting what modest order may exist. America is the bull (or more accurately, the eagle) in the china shop, flailing about, breaking delicate political and social connections and disrupting domestic balances of power.
Bosnia is the most obvious example and TGC examines the associated errors in the U.S. approach to the former Yugoslavia. Afghanistan and Libya presented similar, if less extreme problems. Syria could be next.

I bet moralizing 'small-government' conservatives will love this bylaw
Bloomberg reports:
Earlier this month, an ordinance went into effect banning saggy pants on the boardwalk in Wildwood, New Jersey. The new dress code also includes prohibitions on bare feet and bare chests after 8 p.m., but it’s the saggy pants that garnered news media attention -- if only for the delightful talk of underwear and puns about falling “through the cracks.”
The punishment for letting your shorts, bathing suit, pants or skirt slip more than three inches below the waist, exposing skin or underwear -- and not complying when reminded of the rule? A penalty of between $25 and $100 for a first offense and $200 for a subsequent offense, as well as the possibility of up to 40 hours of community service.
Hate the style of exposing one's backside; hate the law to combat it even more. Legislating style preferences is dangerously stupid.

Detroit as warning
The Economist editorializes:
Many people think Motown is such an exceptional case that it holds few lessons for other places ...
Other states and cities should pay heed, not because they might end up like Detroit next year, but because the city is a flashing warning light on America’s fiscal dashboard. Though some of its woes are unique, a crucial one is not. Many other state and city governments across America have made impossible-to-keep promises to do with pensions and health care. Detroit shows what can happen when leaders put off reforming the public sector for too long.

Obamacare and the threat to privacy
Mary Theroux at the Independent Institute blog, The Beacon:
Will it bother you when almost anyone can access your name, birth date, Social Security number, gender, ethnicity, family size, Indian status, incarceration status, veteran status, Peace Corps status, membership in a “recognized religious sect or health care sharing ministry,” email addresses, telephone numbers, health records, health insurance and premium information, and income, including IRS tax return information and Social Security income, as well as financial information from other third-party sources?
A massive database now being constructed to enforce Obamacare will capture all that and more. And the information in this “Federal Data Services Hub” won’t be available only to the 3 1/2 million people who hold confidential/secret clearances, or the 1.4 million people with top-secret security clearance. According to a filing by the Department of Health and Human Services, a wide range of people, including “agency contractors, consultants, or grantees” who “need to have access to the records” to help run Obamacare, as well as law enforcement officials to “investigate potential fraud,” will have access to this information, “without the consent of the individual.”

Remember when Japan was the model for the future?
Market Watch's Jack Tatar:
I remember when I was in graduate school and in my MBA class, the professor had us read, “The Japan That Can Say No.” He described it as a cautionary tale that alerted us to the need for new policies to deal with the rising Japanese economy.
The book was highly critical of U.S. business practices. It had a strong anti-American tone and argued that Japan was a world power to be respected. The author felt that it was time for Japan to be more independent and shouldn’t bow down to the U.S. in either business or foreign affairs.
I thought of this recently when I read another cautionary tale about how many Japanese retirees have resorted to shoplifting in order to get food (they're known as "silver shoplifters"). An article in Bloomberg Businessweek points out that "crimes committed by Japan's elderly have doubled in the past decade and shoplifters are now more likely to be over 65 than juveniles aged 14 to 19".
In both high school and university I had teachers, instructors, and professors insist that Japan, not America, was the future. They were half right.

The Obamaconomy
Karlyn Bowman and Andrew Rugg of the American Enterprise Institute note that Americans are none too excited about the state of the U.S. economy:
In a Quinnipiac poll of registered voters taken in late June and early July, 55% of registered voters disapproved of the way President Obama was handling the economy and 41% approved. In the new mid-July Marist-McClatchy poll of registered voters, 56% gave the president low marks on the economy while 37% approved. In this week’s NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, the picture was only slightly better. Fifty-one percent disapproved of his handling of the economy and 45% approved.
Economic gloom: Many pollsters found signs of economic pessimism in their latest surveys. In a mid-July poll from the Pew Research Center, 44% said it will be a long time before the economy recovers, 26% said that it was not yet recovering but would do so soon, and 28% said it was currently recovering. In a new NBC and Wall Street Journal poll, 31% said the economy would get better in the next 12 months, 21% worse, and 47% stay about the same. And in a Fox News poll, only 38% said that the “economy has started to turn the corner and the worst is over.” Fifty-seven percent did not agree.
Not only are Americans worried about current conditions, they also fear for the future. In a late June Gallup poll, 17% volunteered that the economy was their greatest worry about the future of the United States, followed by 11% who said the debt and 6% who said unemployment or jobs.
All the polls are linked to in the original AEI article.

The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, 'I'm from the UN and I'm here to help'
With all due respect to Ronald Reagan ... the United Nations is probably scarier than the government. From Foreign Policy: "Scientists Now Say U.N. Peacekeepers Likely Culprit In Cholera Outbreak That Killed Thousands."

'Argumentative, perpetually horny middle-aged man'
Apparently this is Anthony Weiner's description of himself according to (the wonderfully named) Syndey Leathers.

Thursday, July 25, 2013
Liberal by-election candidate being investigated in connection to cancelled gas plant scandal
The Ottawa Citizen reports that Ottawa South Liberal candidate John Fraser, a former assistant to former premier Dalton McGuinty, has been named in gas plants email search after the Ministry of Government Services located 38 deleted emails that can be examined. Fraser says he only worked on matters in the riding and not government policy. Indeed, there might be nothing at all to this; we'll know if he is telling the truth when details of the emails are made public. But voters should vote against the Liberals in Ottawa South, and the other four by-elections, to punish the governing party. Imagine their arrogance if they can get away with cancelling gas plants at a cost of at least a half billion dollars just to save the jobs of a handful of Liberal MPs?

Best. Headline. Ever.
National Post: "Justin Trudeau seeks ‘bottom’." The story is even about the Liberals looking for a candidate in Toronto Center, home of the gay village.

This makes me happy, happy, happy
Breitbart reports that Duck Commander founder Phil Robertson has the best-selling book of the Summer:
In figures just released Robertson's book, Happy, Happy, Happy: My Life and Legacy as the Duck Commander, scanned 15,417 copies for the week of July 21. Second place was Sarah Young's "Jesus Calling," with 13,319 scans.
Robertson's book has sold 350,029 copies since its May 7 release, proving his writing is on track to be as successful as his duck calls.
Robertson is a devout Christian, committed family man, and successful entrepreneur.

Time for a little Nina Simone
Love this version of "Mr. Bojangles" by Nina Simone.

'1,646 days in, Obama says the economy remains his top concern again'
Andrew Malcolm of Investor's Business Daily:
One way to look at President Obama's latest speech tour beginning today:
President Obama takes his firm commitment to grow the American economy on the road today, stopping in Illinois and Missouri to urge creation of thousands of new jobs to continue expansion of the middle-class within the heartland and across this great nation.
"The President will deliver remarks at Knox College," the White House announced with excitement, "to kick off a series of speeches that will lay out his vision for rebuilding an economy that puts the middle class and those fighting to join it front and center."
Another way to look at Obama's latest speech tour:
Lord spare us, the nation's most addicted campaigner heads out for -- what? -- the 84th time today to call on somebody to do something about the country's stubbornly stagnant economy to finally create the hundreds of thousands of new jobs he and Joe promised more than four years ago when he started spending trillions of our dollars.

'Canada doesn’t need fourth wireless carrier, says Rogers CEO Nadir Mohamed'
Or so the Toronto Star headlines its story. Here's a different headline: "Rogers doesn't want competition."

Wednesday, July 24, 2013
Secret plan to get the Liberals elected?
Huffington Post Canada reports: "Justin Trudeau: Marijuana Should Be Legal In Canada To Keep It Away From Kids." HuffPo explains:
"I see my friend waving a sign about decriminalizing cannabis. I’ll take that as a question," he said, to some laughs. "I’m actually not in favour of decriminalizing cannabis – I’m in favour of legalizing it. Tax and regulate. It’s one of the only ways to keep it out of the hands of our kids because the current war on drugs, the current model isn’t working."

Caroline Kennedy nominated as ambassador to Japan
The Associated Press gushes reports: "President Barack Obama on Wednesday nominated former first daughter Caroline Kennedy as U.S. ambassador to Japan, offering the most famous living member of a prominent American family a new role of service to country." That's one way to put it. The AP does imply it is payback: "Kennedy helped propel Obama to the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination in a celebrated endorsement over Hillary Rodham Clinton — the only time she's endorsed a presidential candidate other than her uncle Ted Kennedy in 1980."
I wonder if Caroline Kennedy will put a billboard on her thigh.

Life is good
At ProWomanProLife, Andrea Mrozek has a nice list of "Ten things I don’t take for granted." For all the problems Canada and the rest of the West have this is still a good time to be alive; for all the attacks on liberty, we are a fairly free people. Of course, not taking things for granted includes fighting to keep them, being cognizant that others are not as fortunate as ourselves, and remembering the Source of all good things.

Obama's speech on Trayvon race
The Manhattan Institute's Heather MacDonald:
The only question about President Obama’s surprise Trayvon Martin expostulation on Friday is whether it was the worst speech he’s ever given or simply the worst race-related speech. Obama has now put the presidential imprimatur on the crudest kind of racial victimology, in the process diminishing his office and undermining his own record of occasionally speaking the truth about inner-city dysfunction.

Links, snark, etc&
Me on Twitter. Tends to be a bunch of libertarian or pro-life stuff. Minimal sports, unless there's a big game on.

What I've been saying: GOP is foolish to embrace amnesty
Investor's Business Daily: "GOP Foolish To Pander For Latino Vote, New Study Suggests." IBD explains:
Among the more cynical partisans, especially Democrats, a recent talking point has been that Republicans are alienating a potentially powerful base of new voters by opposing mass legalization of 11 million illegal aliens.
A number of lawmakers, but in New York Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer in particular, have repeatedly lectured Republicans that they must agree to comprehensive immigration reform, including amnesty, or be left in the political wilderness as a new majority is formed.
But a study released this week by the respected Pew Research Center shows just how false that idea is — and how foolish some in the GOP are to believe it ...
In April, the online magazine Politico released its own analysis of 2012 voting data. It too found "if undocumented immigrants had voted in 2012 and followed the same electoral trends as other Hispanic voters, President Obama's narrow victory would have been significantly wider."
Chuck Schumer does not have the best interests of the Republican Party in mind when he advises them to do anything.
I know I've already covered this but it is worth repeating.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013
'How normal people see macroeconomics'
Noah Smith ponders the question, defining as normal people "smart and educated non-economists" who might read an economics blog and has two observations:
1. Normal people see macro as inherently political.
2. Normal people see macro as being mostly about redistribution rather than about efficiency.
That sounds correct, but is also saying the same thing twice: politics is almost all about redistribution. When thinking about economic questions people tend to think about them politically; most people think about how to divide the pie rather than how big the pie is.
Because Smith qualified what he considers normal people, I'll avoid the snarky comment that most truly normal people don't think at all about macroeconomics.

More evidence of media's pro-abortion bias
Hot Air's Ed Morrissey: "Big Three broadcasters gave Wendy Davis three times as much coverage as Gosnell trial." More from the Media Research Center, which notes: "In the 19 days since her June 25 filibuster, ABC, CBS and NBC have devoted 40 minutes, 48 seconds of their morning and evening news programs to stories including Davis. That’s more than three times the 13 minutes 30 seconds they gave Gosnell during the entire 58 days of the murder trial."

The Obamaconomy
Gallup notes the lack of confidence by Americans in the U.S. economy:
Americans are less upbeat about the economy now than they were in May and June. Gallup's U.S. Economic Confidence Index held steady at -12 last week, but the current score is substantially lower than the five-year weekly high of -3 reached in late May and early June ...
For the most recent week, 43% of Americans say the economy is getting better and 52% say it is getting worse, for a net economic outlook score of -9.

Euphemism watch
New York magazine on pick up artists: "the seduction community." Good Lord.
(HT: Heidi Moore)

(Not) Thomas Sowell's random thoughts
I always enjoy Thomas Sowell's occasional columns of random thoughts. Today, though, his thoughts are not his own, but collected wisdom from writers and statesmen. Two of my faves:
“A society that puts equality — in the sense of equality of outcome — ahead of freedom will end up with neither equality nor freedom. The use of force to achieve equality will destroy freedom, and the force, introduced for good purposes, will end up in the hands of people who use it to promote their own interests.” (Milton Friedman)
“The study of history is a powerful antidote to contemporary arrogance. It is humbling to discover how many of our glib assumptions, which seem to us novel and plausible, have been tested before, not once but many times and in innumerable guises; and discovered to be, at great human cost, wholly false.” (Paul Johnson)

RCMP and preventing looting
Sun News reports that RCMP stole secure guns in High River:
On Friday, Sgt. Patricia Neely of the RCMP told Sun News Network that some of the 539 weapons seized during the High River flooding had trigger locks. This brings into question if the RCMP broke any laws by seizing secured weapons.
The RCMP complaints commission has not yet begun its review of the Mounties' seizure of guns from residents evacuated from their High River, AB homes.
If we ever get to the bottom of this story, I bet that "some of the 539 weapons seized ... had trigger locks" will become "many" or "most." Governments lie. So do the police.

Michael Krieger of the Liberty Blitzkrieg blog says drones are not as efficient as we are often told, as there is still a high civilian casualty toll:
A lot of Americans have an impression that drone strikes are less damaging to civilian populations that conventional airstrikes. This would be false. In fact, earlier this month I highlighted an article from the Guardian that demonstrated how in reality drone strikes are 10x more likely to harm civilians per incident. Now, thanks to a recently leaked document we find that many more civilians including children have been killed in these strikes than many of us would like to admit.
In fact, of the 746 people killed in drone strikes in Pakistan from 2006-2009, an incredible 20% were civilians and 94 (13% of the total) were children.
(HT: ZeroHedge)
Fred Kaplan has a very long but thoroughly interesting article on drones at the MIT Technology Review. This stands out: "By the fall of 2009, the Air Force was training more drone-joystick pilots than airplane pilots." Kaplan's article includes Cold War drone developments and how George W. Bush's second Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, overcame the military's institutional opposition to drones:
He was particularly appalled by the Air Force generals’ hostility toward drones. Gates boosted production; the generals slowed down delivery. He accelerated delivery; they held up deployment. He fired the Air Force chief of staff, General T. Michael Moseley (ostensibly for some other act of malfeasance but really because of his resistance to UAVs*), and appointed in his place General Norton Schwartz, who had risen as a gunship and cargo-transport pilot in special operations forces. Just before his promotion, Schwartz had been head of the U.S. Transportation Command—that is, he was in charge of rushing supplies to soldiers and Marines. As the new chief, Schwartz placed high priority on shipping drones to the troops in Iraq—and over the next few years, he turned the drone-joystick pilots into an elite cadre of the Air Force.
(HT: Alex Tabarrok)
* Unmanned aerial vehicle.

Will this display of Trayvon solidarity extend to other states, or just Florida?
The Hill reports:
Some of the music industry's biggest acts are joining Stevie Wonder in boycotting Florida over the state's controversial "stand your ground" law.
Artists joining Wonder include Rod Stewart, Madonna, Usher and Justin Timberlake, a source close to the legendary musician told American Urban Radio Network's April Ryan.
Rappers Jay Z, Kanye West, Trey Songz, Young Jeezy and Wale have also signed on to the boycott threat, as have pop acts like R. Kelly, Rihanna and Alicia Keys.
Wonder says he will not play in any state that has a "stand your ground" law, but so far none of the other celebrities have made a similar commitment. More than 20 states have such laws, so if you want to keep Jay Z, Kanye West, and Rihanna out of your state, it might help to lobby for a stand-your-ground law if your state doesn't already have one.
Also, what good does it do boycott a state for a law that affects so few people? How many people actually resort to such defenses? And as the Daily Caller reported last week, stand-your-ground laws benefits blacks disproportionately. The boycott is pure posturing and while it might make Stevie Wonder, Madonna, and Usher feel superior to others for their very easy public stand, it is unclear what it can really accomplish.

And now back to the economy
Investor's Business Daily editorializes:
The White House is treating President Obama's upcoming economic speech as the "must see" event of the summer. It's more likely to resemble all those big-budget movies this year — an overhyped flop ...
But does anyone really think Obama's got a hit on his hands? Well anyone, that is, beside the sycophantic mainstream press? (The New York Times actually ran this headline about the speech: "Obama Plans to Unveil His Agenda for Economy"—as though he'd been keeping it hidden for the past four years.)
IBD notes that rather than focusing on jobs, the President has been fixated on gun control. Bloomberg News somehow ignores that point:
President Barack Obama, looking ahead to renewed battles with Congress over fiscal policy and the debt ceiling, is seeking to revive his stalled economic agenda with a series of speeches over the next several weeks.
Starting with an address tomorrow in Galesburg, Illinois, Obama isn’t planning any dramatic steps designed to break a deadlock with Republicans.
Rather, his aides said, Obama wants to turn attention back to the economy -- and how his policies have added to job growth and stability -- following months during which the focus has been on the president’s second-term job appointees, his push for a revision of immigration policy, attempts to block his signature health-care law and Republican-led investigations into his administration.

Monday, July 22, 2013
Useless cabinet positions
Gods of the Copybook Headings considers the question: "What is the most useless cabinet position?" GCH's Richard Anderson says:
Ask any halfway educated Canadian, say the typical university graduate, why exactly Canada needs a Minister of State for Sport and you will get no clear answer, not even a half decent guess. Apply the same question to a professor of political science and you will get no better response. Ask a senior bureaucrat you will get not response at all, except a stream platitudes each less discernible than the last. Yet all will swear that Canada needs a Minister of State for Sport. I mean, what have you got against Sport? Or Multiculturalism? Or Western Economic Diversification?

Race relations are improving
Noah Rothman at Mediate last week:
Gallup polling over the course of the last 50 years measures the trajectory of how blacks and whites view one another. Since Gallup started recording data on race relations in 1963, the trend has been an undeniably positive one ...
In Gallup’s most recent survey of the state of race relations in America in January, 2013, a majority of Americans said that they were “somewhat” or “very” satisfied with racial progress in America. While all of the above data points have fluctuated – and racial progress comes in fits and starts, occasionally receding at times – the trajectory of race relations in America are following a historically positive trend.
It is not merely a fact of American life measured in survey responses. Gaps indicative of racial disparity in this country continue to dissipate. “According to the most recent census data, blacks have virtually closed the gap with whites not only in the percentage graduating from high school but also in the percentage graduating from junior college,” wrote Orlando Patterson in the New York Times… in 1997. Today, in an underreported but critical development showing how race relations have improved, the 2010 census showed that, while blacks were slightly less likely than other groups to receive a college degree, “Blacks were also more likely to have completed some college than any other group.”
Unfortunately halted by the onset of the Great Recession, the income and wage gap between blacks and whites was gradually, though not fast enough, approaching parity in 2005. Persistently higher unemployment among blacks in the wake of the financial downturn has exacerbated the perennial problem of a wealth disparity between the races. But the statistical trends are hard to ignore.
None of these statistics are cited as an effort to show race relations are perfect, or that racial disparity does not exist. Inequality and racism do exist in America – in varying degrees, they probably always will. But these statistics do empirically advance the notion that the equality of opportunity for blacks and whites, as well as non-white Hispanics and Asians, is progressing every year.
As Shelby Steele noted in the Wall Street Journal -- in a column I've already linked to today -- when there is little real injustice to address, the activists need to find fake outrages to rail against. Thus Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman.
(HT: Cafe Hayek)

The GOP suicide plan: amnesty for illegal immigrants
Whether or not amnesty for illegal immigrants is a good policy for America might be a difficult question to answer. Whether or not its a good policy for Republicans is not. Breitbart reports:
A poll released Monday by Pew Research Center shows that Latino illegal immigrants, given the opportunity to vote, would vote Democratic at an eight-to-one clip. 31 percent of illegal immigrants of Latino descent identify themselves as Democrats, compared to just 4 percent who identify as Republicans; another 23 percent lean Democrat, compared with 15 percent who lean Republican ...
Overall, Latino immigrants eligible to vote identify as Democrats vs. Republicans at a 54 percent to 11 percent clip.
Why the GOP wants to make millions of people citizens who would overwhelmingly vote against them is something I do not understand. Will Karl Rove and Marco Rubio please explain the logic of a policy that seems so obviously politically suicidal?

Rick McGinnis on Walker Percy
Rick McGinnis has a good review/column in the July Interim entitled, "Rediscovering Percy’s Love in the Ruins." Somehow McGinnis gets from This Is The End to the novelist Walker Percy, and his sobering conclusion includes this observation:
I’d like to think that a book like Love in the Ruins could find an audience today, but I doubt it. In the course of my lifetime Percy, like so many esteemed authors, has fallen into obscurity, joining names like Dos Passos, Saroyan, Maugham, Forester, Mailer, Jones, O’Hara and dozens more in dusty library stacks and paperback sales.

More on the geography of income mobility
At NRO"s The Agenda blog, Reihan Salam has a good post on metropolitan data in the United States and income mobility. It is certainly worth reading, but this stands out as a potentially insightful and frightening observation: "black families might be moving to low-productivity, low-density regions in part to improve their relative status, even if their absolute incomes decline."

2014 watch
Instapundit: "With all the scandals and the stagnant economy, taking the Senate should be easy for the Republicans — but instead it’ll be uphill since (1) they’re inept; and (2) the press is totally in Obama’s corner." The GOP is its own worst enemy -- even worse than the media.

I think this column is stupid reprints a Paul Rondeau Washington Times column: "America joins in on the #GreatKateWait; even as they protect abortion." It amazes me that pro-lifers are simply unable to understand how others think. There is a sizable portion of the population who takes the view that a wanted baby = good, an unwanted baby = expendable. It may be morally reprehensible and ostensibly hypocritical, but the human mind has a wonderful way of compartmentalizing things.

Tweet of the day
Sheldon Richman tweets: "If Limbaugh and Hannity didn't exist, the progressives would have to invent them."

Shaidle on Suzi Quatro, rebel
Good column by Kathy Shaidle at PJ Media on Suzy Quatro regretting her 1970s abortion and her divorce. Shaidle notes:
Quatro’s anthemic if cryptic song “Kids of Tragedy” always sounded to me like a condemnation of all the Baby Boomers who made their children watch as they acted out their own psycho-sexual “experimentation” — a sort of three-minute version of the movie Foxes.
Having read that new interview with Suzi Quatro, the tune sounds even more like a Jeremiad against the prevailing attitudes of the 1960s and 70s.

Against inclusiveness
James Kalb has a long, sometimes rantish, mostly good essay at Intercollegiate Review against the very notion of inclusivity. He argues:
[I]nclusiveness destroys liberty and diversity. Every significant institution must accept it and make it an overriding priority. If the institution is one that traditionally transmitted Western culture, like a museum or university, it must turn it against itself. Art must become edgy, curators and critics must interrogate the works they study and show how they are either subversive or wanting. The same applies to the churches: the Faith must be reformulated on inclusivist lines to bring it in line with the new order, and claim to represent the cause of the oppressed while in fact serving the interests of the comfortable and extremely self-satisfied ruling class whose members and hangers-on are the audience for liberal mainline religion.

2016 watch (not too early to be disappointed edition)
The Washington Examiner's Byron York: "Are Republicans already dissatisfied with their 2016 field?" York says:
Now, even though the race has not fully begun, Republicans in early-voting states are already taking a closer look at potential candidates. And when that happens, flaws emerge. At some point in the process, GOP voters will (probably) make their peace with at least one candidate’s flaws. But at this early stage, there’s a lot of evaluating — much of it negative — going on.
York lists the flaws (Rubio and immigration, Ryan and loser status/immigration, Paul is divisive, Christie cooperates with Democrats, Bush has the wrong last name -- and I would add, immigration). There are good reasons for this lack of early enthusiasm (wait for a perfect candidate to come along) and bad reasons (Republicans hate to settle for anything less than a perfect candidate). It's early and it makes a lot of sense for party supporters to not coalesce around one candidate quite yet because the party is not monochrome, but the likelihood is that the party will never get united behind one candidate until it has a named Democratic opponent to run against in 2016, and even then the unity will be tepid. York says there is excitement about Senator Ted Cruz because the party base is anti-establishment right now but he could very well be the flavour of the month.

Shocker: abuse in the welfare system
The New York Post reports:
Food stamps are paying for trans-Atlantic takeout — with New Yorkers using taxpayer-funded benefits to ship food to relatives in Jamaica, Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
Welfare recipients are buying groceries with their Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards and packing them in giant barrels for the trip overseas, The Post found.
The practice is so common that hundreds of 45- to 55-gallon cardboard and plastic barrels line the walls of supermarkets in almost every Caribbean corner of the city.
The feds say the moveable feasts go against the intent of the $86 billion welfare program for impoverished Americans.

Life satisfaction study
The Daily Mail reports on a new study released by study by the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics: "We're at our happiest aged 23 and 69 ... but mid-50s is the worst time for regrets." Makes sense, as it confirms previous studies that have found "human contentment follows a U-shaped pattern, with those in their early twenties and the retired ranking highest." The article doesn't really get into the why this is so (perhaps the study does but I haven't seen it yet), but this seems intuitively true: People in their early 20s are not yet burdened by most adult responsibilities and still have their fantasy life ahead of them -- the world is their oyster and all that -- while those in their late 50s have paid off their houses, seen their children graduate and grandchildren born, and have more leisure, trends that continue into one's late 60s; but after that, one's health declines and people must face their own mortality as loved ones and acquaintances begin to pass away.

Detroit dies despite thriving American auto industry
In an editorial about Detroit ("socialism's theme park"), Investor's Business Daily has a wonderful line about car and truck manufacturing in the United States: "the American auto industry is indeed surviving, bolstered largely by a Ford that refused government assistance and foreign transplants located in right-to-work states."

Obama(care) lies
This Investor's Business Daily editorial rebuts so many false claims by the administration about its signature policy (Obamacare), they are impossible to excerpt.

The geography of income mobility
Tyler Cowen has links on where income mobility is high and low in the United States. The New York Times graphic is good. Quoting the work of Raj Chetty et al, Cowen highlights this: "Income mobility was also higher in areas with more two-parent households, better elementary schools and high schools, and more civic engagement, including membership in religious and community groups."