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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Sunday, January 31, 2016
2016 watch (HRC edition)
The New York Post reports that the Clinton machine is finding people who knew Hillary Clinton a half century ago to prove she's likable:
Hillary Clinton is roping in her childhood friends on the Iowa campaign trail to try to show voters how likable she is.
Chelsea Clinton revealed that Hillary’s longtime friend Betsy Ebeling has persuaded nearly 40 of Hillary’s high school classmates to stump for the Democratic candidate ahead of the crucial Iowa caucuses on Monday. Hillary attended Maine South High School in Park Ridge, Ill., in the 1960s.
Chelsea bared the strategy Wednesday night at an intimate fund-raiser at the Park Avenue home of Evercore honcho Charles Myers.
If they are looking for high school friends to make the case for likability, is it because those who knew her in adulthood have a very different impression? Some critics are saying that trotting out the high school chums is a desperate ploy, but sad is a better description.

Trump as 19th century Republican
George Will:
All Republican presidential candidates have tax-reform proposals, but only one candidate proposes increasing the cost of government for every American. Here, at last, Donald Trump actually resembles a Republican. Unfortunately, it is a Republican from 125 years ago, when the party stood for big government serving crony capitalism with high tariffs.
Donald Trump slapping tariffs on consumer goods made in China will punish every person who shops at Walmart: class warfare by a billionaire against the working class.

One of my pet peeves

It's hard to do but Bill Clinton was a spectacular politician and the '92 Dem field was weak
It was so weak, in fact, that pundits were talking about a Mario Cuomo write-in initiative on the eve of the New Hampshire primary.

2016 watch (Trump + Huckabee edition)
Hot Air's Allah Pundit says that Mike Huckabee's attacks on Ted Cruz recently may be more than sour grapes and be part of a strategic plan to become Donald Trump's vice presidential candidate. Add to the mix that Trump is in Little Rock next week, leading to speculation that Huckabee will endorse Trump if his own campaign sputters in Iowa, and you have the makings of rampant vice presidential talk before the first primary in New Hampshire the following week. It's plausible that Huckabee is positioning himself for the veep and his populist economics meshes nicely with The Donald, but it could be difficult for Trump to pick someone who could upstage him down the road and the former Fox personality and Arkansas governor is capable of outshining the top of the ticket. That doesn't mean that Huckabee isn't angling for the job, or another one in a Trump administration. I'd expect a Huckabee endorsement of Trump on Wednesday.
For what it's worth, Huckabee is averaging 2.6% in Iowa according to RCP and 2.2% nationally.

Thus spoke the candidates
The Wall Street Journal reports on how few books the presidential candidates sell, books for none and all, so to speak.

'The Language Barrier Is About to Fall'
The Wall Street Journal: "Within 10 years, earpieces will whisper nearly simultaneous translations — and help knit the world closer together." Alec Ross, author The Industries of the Future, writes
Today’s translation tools also tend to move only between two languages. Try to engage in any sort of machine translation exercise involving three languages, and it is an incoherent mess. In the future, the number of languages being spoken won’t matter. You could host a dinner party with eight people at the table speaking eight different languages, and the voice in your ear will always be whispering the one language you want to hear.
The research and commercialization for these breakthroughs are coming from the intersection of the private sector and the defense and intelligence communities. Siri has its roots in a DARPA-funded artificial-intelligence project. Its speech-recognition engine was developed by Nuance Communications, which quietly provides speech software to 70% of the Fortune 100 and spends more than $300 million a year on research and development in voice biometrics.
Needless to say the future as seen by Ross is speculative. But the possibilities are exciting.

Saturday, January 30, 2016
Media's favourite topic: the media on the end of the Guelph Mercury: "149-year-old Canadian newspaper’s final front page is pretty much perfect." J.J. McCullough has the perfect response:
I'd add that the -30- reference on the front page of the Mercury -- a shitty little paper that mostly reprinted Waterloo Record and Toronto Star material in recent years -- exemplifies the mindset of journalists incapable of dealing with changes in the media landscape.
And Gerald Butts is right, too:

The compromise between free speech and tyranny
Gavin McInnes tweets: "You can 'call out oppressive power structures' all you want. Just stop getting people fired and arrested."

Maybe this is why traditional media is in decline
You can't count on it to get the story correct. Hot Air's Ed Morrissey reports that the Washington Post's Erik Wemple exaggerates the significance of CEO Jim VandeHei and chief White House correspondent Mike Allen leaving Politico (among others on the business side of the political affairs website). Wemple says "Politico as we’ve come to know it is no longer" and calls the turnover an "implosion.' Morrissey says the changes are significant and that Allen played a vital part of Politico's most important property, it's daily "Politico Playbook." Wemple and Morrissey admit that there has always been a lot of turnover at Politico (although Wemple says, "The departure rates vastly outpaced industry standards"). Morrissey says it is too early to tell if this means the decline of Politico. It probably means the end of VandeHei's ambitious plans to have Politico reporters in every major state capital in the United States and national capital abroad by 2020, but that hardly means the end of Politico as we know it. There is a difference between imploding and not expanding to the extent an ambitious plan intended.

I think to some degree, this is true of all elections

I'd call this the best-case scenario for the Liberal government
A few days ago National Bank Financial issued a report that said considering the Trudeau government's economic growth forecasts are overly optimistic and as a result it will run a two-year deficit of $50 billion. I would be shocked if it were only $50 billion. II put the over/under at $60 billion and I'll take the over on bets of up to $100.

2016 watch (Bernie Sanders edition)
Nate Silver is still pretty skeptical that Bernie Sanders can win the Democratic presidential nomination. Silver says if Sanders win Iowa and New Hampshire, which has "Sanders-friendly demographics," expect these two observation to be repeated often: "No candidate (Democrat or Republican) has lost the nomination after winning both Iowa and New Hampshire since Ed Muskie in 1972" and "No candidate has won the the nomination without winning either Iowa or New Hampshire since Bill Clinton in 1992." Yet, Silver says it might not matter because these are the two states Sanders could be expected to win/Clinton to lose due to the demographic advantages that skew in Sanders' favour. More importantly, however, "Clinton has the Democratic machine more or less fully behind her" and huge lead among superdelegates. HRC has advantages, to be sure, but they can disappear quickly if she loses both Iowa and New Hampshire, and almost certainly will if she looks weak or loses Nevada. None of this might matter, however; according to Real Clear Politics, polls in Iowa have swung back in Clinton's favour, with the former Secretary of State holding leads of 3, 5, 8, and 6 points in four of the last six polls.

Emailgate part of a pattern for HRC
Investor's Business Daily editorializes that the destruction of emails relating to Benghazi is similar to the destruction of law firm records at the Rose Law Firm more than a quarter-century ago:
Hiding evidence . . . destroying evidence . . . withholding evidence under subpoena. Sound familiar?
From Whitewater to Benghazi and Emailgate, there is a pattern of criminal behavior...

Is inequality and the revolt against the elite related? Does it matter?
Diane Coyle commenting on Branko Milanovic’s new book Global Inequality: A New Approach for the Age of Globalization and Martin Wolf's recent Financial Times column says:
These are fragile times, whether you look at migration, climate change, global epidemics, demography, populism – exactly the circumstances when you would want people to be pulling together rather than diverging into separate worlds (Davos-land, middle England or America, refugee camps) due to such big differences in income. Milanovic’s book lends weight to Wolf’s pessimism: “If western elites despise the concerns of the many, the latter will withdraw their consent for the elite’s projects. In the US, elites of the right, having sown the wind, are reaping the whirlwind. But this has happened only because elites of the left have lost the allegiance of swaths of the native middle classes.”

Friday, January 29, 2016
The Globe and Mail: "Trudeau pledges government support to La Loche, but doesn't provide concrete details." To be fair, what can a politician do? On the other hand, this is a pattern for The Dauphin.

2016 watch (Rubio edition)
Despite the typical over-wrought New Yorker writing, the Benjamin Wallace-Wells piece on Marco Rubio's long game is analytically on-target. Rubio is a little boring, but so was the tortoise. Rubio's goal is to finish respectably in Iowa to be avoid being weakened and be one of the two or three standing in a month. Wallace-Wells says Rubio hasn't taken off in the polls yet and hasn't flashed brilliance, in part, because he isn't great at debates:
Debates are not Rubio’s best format. His emotional intelligence, keen in his interactions on the campaign trail, is harder to deploy here. The recitation of talking points is obvious. His foreign-policy rhetoric—Putin is a “gangster,” Kim Jong-un a “lunatic”—can sound blurty and shrill. But these particular debates, against these particular opponents, carry a psychological complication. The field of Rubio’s opponents includes both a father figure, Jeb Bush, and a twin, Ted Cruz. Last night he was standing between them.
And yet, the Fox News focus group last night overwhelmingly thought Rubio was the winner.
Rubio's combination of "emotional intelligence," "cloying," and "aspirational" conservatism might bode well for him in the general election, or the later primaries when voters take their responsibility to select candidates for the presidential nomination as more than a signalling exercise of what kind of conservative they the Republican Party to be.

Bureaucracy is not limited to government
Private companies, especially large ones, have layers of bureaucracy (admittedly, in part due to government regulations). Alex Tabarrok quotes a report from Fortune:
Hiring a new employee, for instance, now takes 63 days, up from 42 in 2010, according to a 2015 study we did with 400 corporate recruiters. Meanwhile the average time to deliver an office IT project increased by more than a month from 2010 to 2015, and now stands at over 10 months from start to delivery ...
Tabarrok says, "It certainly feels like more people are required to sign off on something than ever before and that fact is slowing things down." One takeaway from the comments, which, as always, are worth reading: More often than not human resources seems to be an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy so that companies can comply with the CYA principle.


Kevin O'Leary as Canada's Donald Trump
I didn't agree with comparisons of Canadian celebrity investor Kevin O'Leary to Canadian celebrity billionaire Donald Trump based on the ostensible similarities of so-called businessmen entering the political arena. Trump is a particular kind of politician whose appeal is talking bluntly and simply about topics. His solutions may not always make sense, but there is an appeal to the general public, and his rise is proof that general values and worldview signally trump policy considerations when it comes to how citizens vote. O'Leary is a loud-mouth but that didn't make him Trump. However, he is now headed into Trumpian territory with simplistic and unworkable solutions that could sound sensible to a wide swathe of voters. He told Tasha Kheiriddin that Canada should have a referendum on the Energy East pipeline. This is a terrible idea, regardless of whatever the outcome may be. Pipeline approval is complex and the average person, although perhaps capable of understanding the regulatory process involved and judging and weighing various stakeholder and special interest views, will reduce this to a pipeline-good vs. pipeline-bad question. It will become a referendum on Alberta's oil or climate change -- moving oil through pipelines in general -- and not the the merits of the Energy East pipeline itself. It is also a terrible precedent, and not one that corporations will welcome. There are questions that can be settled by referendum, but approval of sensitive and complex infrastructure projects, undertaken by private interests, cannot be one of them.
I'd ask the media to ignore this clown, but Kevin O'Leary gains eyeballs and that's what journalism is about, never mind that journalists are contributing to the dumbing down of political culture and stoking this the ego of this jackass.

Thursday, January 28, 2016
Political life
Will Leitch on Rick Santorum's Quixotic quest for the Republican presidential nomination:
Now, though, on this freezing January afternoon, he is standing in front of the dessert pizza tray as people are trying to get by. Santorum has gone from being the alternative to Mitt Romney to being the guy who is interrupting everyone when they are trying to eat.
Of course, this is what retail politics is, heading from one desolate location to another in order to drum up as many votes as you can. But the contrast between Santorum and Senator Ted Cruz, who filled up an Ottumwa banquet hall on Tuesday—let alone Football Stadium Trump—is nonetheless profound. Santorum has been stuck at the “kiddie table” debates—his words, not mine—since this election cycle began, and he came in 11th in the most recent Bloomberg Politics/Des Moines Register Iowa Poll, ahead of only Jim Gilmore. This guy won this state last time. Now he can’t even beat John Kasich, who not only isn’t campaigning in Iowa very much, he’s even holding a town hall in New Hampshire on caucus night.
It has to be demoralizing, and to be honest, Santorum is beginning to show it. After making his way to every table in the front of the restaurant—one guy, a carpenter, actually asked him if he’d ever met Donald Trump—he began a speech to the loyalists in the back by saying, wearily, “I think this is my 750th Pizza Ranch restaurant.” That’s a joke, I think, but Santorum has essentially spent the last four years of his life in Iowa. After losing the nomination, and after Romney lost to President Barack Obama, he was back in Iowa within a matter of months. He estimates that he has been in Iowa more than 300 days this cycle, and more than 300 for the 2012 election, which means he has spent roughly 4 percent of his life here. He’s had plenty of time to spend here: Santorum has not held elected office in more than nine years.
This is the life of a former senator who just four years ago was part of the first tier of presidential wannabes. This election cycle there are polls in which his support isn't even rounded down to zero because sometimes there are literally no respondents who say they will vote for him.

Third-party candidates
George Will says of third-party or independent candidates: "Most 'successful' independent candidates have three things in common — a vivid personality, a burning issue, and a regional base. And they lose." The column is about Michael Bloomberg, who Will predicts will be the third former New York City mayor thoroughly rejected by the nation's voters since 1972.

Questioning motives
National Review's Jonah Goldberg says of the anti-Trump, anti-Establishment "debate" in conservative circles, that participants should focus on their actual arguments pro and con and ignore their opponents' motives: "Wherever the truth lies, questioning motives is poisonous, because such claims are not only unfalsifiable, but they also give an instant excuse to ignore sincere, reasoned arguments." Goldberg admits that there are times motives matter, but for the most part it is better to ignore what one thinks moves the other side and address their ideas.

Kevin O'Leary is delusional
The Toronto Sun's Joe Warmington:
Our economy is now measured in “dollerettes” and “massive debt” and Canadian businessman Kevin O’Leary predicts if it keeps up, the Liberals may start thinking about replacing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“I think there could be a competition for leadership in the Liberal party because tax and spend is a really dumb idea in a country of no growth,” the Shark Tank star told my Newstalk 1010 show, the Late Shift. “I don’t think Justin Trudeau will have a long tenure.”
It isn't clear what O'Leary means by a long tenure. Does the investor mean Trudeau won't serve out a full term or that the voters will turf him in 2019? It seems like O'Leary is saying the party will dump him before the next election, but no one knows for sure (maybe even the star of Shark Tank, who often seems to just say words). And why would the Liberals ditch their leader and PM? Most of them are true believers of the tax and spend formula of governing. O'Leary's comments are fatuous, filler for papers and panel shows desperate for content.

2016 watch (The-center-will-not-hold edition)
FiveThirtyEight has a chart that shows Donald Trump, Michael Bloomberg, and Bernie Sanders have moved away from the political center.

'The best pollster in politics'
FiveThirtyEight's Clare Malone has a long piece on polling and one of its best practitioners, Ann Selzer, "Iowa's polling queen." Selzer does the opposite of what most pollsters do: she doesn't make guesses or assumptions, uses election rolls not random digit dialing, and starts anew each election cycle. A snippet:
The next step in the Selzer process is that respondents are asked a series of questions to determine whether they’re likely to attend a caucus — only about 20 percent of Iowa’s registered voters do. They’re also asked who they’ll caucus for. Selzer collects data on all the people she contacts, though, not just the ones who say they’re going to participate. When the calls are done, then the data for all those called is weighted based on the “known population parameters” of the voter list — age, sex and congressional district. The list is not weighted by factors such as past caucus and general election voting activity.
“We are not like many other polling firms that say, ‘Well, we think’ — they begin with a guess about what they think the future is going to look like,” she said. “I don’t think that’s science.”

Wednesday, January 27, 2016
The case for AND against a President Donald J. Trump is that he'll troll other world leaders

Improving the teaching profession
The teacher-evaluation system IMPACT seems to be working. Alex Tabarrok says:
The results from IMPACT are starting to come in and they indicate that pay for performance is encouraging low quality teachers to leave, good quality teachers to get better, and high quality teachers to continue teaching and improve even further.
Perhaps not surprisingly the schools with the poorest students see the most teachers leave and they also see the largest gains in student performance as average teacher quality rises.
Tabarrok notes that new research seems to confirm this, and it is nicely summarized by Eric Crampton at Offsetting Behaviour.
Teacher quality is an underappreciated issue in public policy, including political debates about education. For a different view on attracting and retaining quality teachers, read Brookings Institute senior fellow Helen F. Ladd's post earlier this month; she says the key is attracting "high quality college graduates" to the teaching profession and keeping them on the job long enough to learn the ropes. Perhaps, but evaluating teachers (on more than mere student test scores) and firing bad ones must be part of the solution to improving the teaching profession overall. Historically, one reason the profession attracted capable individuals is that teaching was one of the few jobs open to educated women; as Ladd says, "No longer is it the case that college-educated women can be induced to teach at low wages because of the absence of other job opportunities."

What I'm reading
1. The End of Average: How We Succeed in a World That Values Sameness by Todd Rose
2. The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck: How to Stop Spending Time You Don't Have with People You Don't Like Doing Things You Don't Want to Do by Sarah Knight, a brilliant parody of Marie Kondo's 2014 bestseller The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.
3. "Taking Credit for Education: How to Fund Education Savings Accounts through Tax Credits," a Cato Institute report by Jason Bedrick, Jonathan Butcher and Clint Bolick
4. "An Introduction to the State of Poverty in Canada," a Fraser Institute study by Charles Lammam and Hugh MacIntyre
5. "Emerging Stronger 2016: Measuring Progress, Charting a New Course," from the Ontario Chamber of Commerce and the Mowat Centre
6. "Transgender Welcome: A Bishop Makes the Case for Affirmation," a Center for American Progress report by Bishop Gene Robinson

Canada needs more than a referee, it needs a leader
The Globe and Mail editorial takes issue with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's claim that when it comes to the Energy East pipeline what Canada needs from its government is a referee not a cheerleader:
Trudeau needs to persuade Canadians of the fact that a healthy energy sector is a key part of a healthy economy, and of the consequence flowing from that: Oil must move. Where pipelines can transport oil safely, efficiently and in an environmentally respectful way that passes muster with a timely, arm’s-length review process, they should be built.
The Prime Minister doesn’t need to be a cheerleader. A plain old leader will do.

Coercion and persuasion
Donald Boudreaux riffs on historian Daniel J. Boorstin's observation, "Where every sect lacked the power to coerce, they all wisely 'chose' to persuade." Boudreaux offers a corollary:
[W]here some people have the power to coerce, not only do they never choose the option of persuasion, but also their coercion soon comes to be regarded by both the coercers and the coerced as the only possible means of achieving whatever desirable outcomes the coercion is believed to be used to achieve. Using coercion to achieve X crowds out not only the actual use of peaceful, persuasive means of achieving X, it also destroys any realization that X can be achieved non-coercively.

Mental healthcare reform
The Washington Examiner reports that gun control politics is getting in the way of mental healthcare reform in the United States:
And lawmakers of all stripes feel an urgent need to improve access to counseling, medication and other treatment for those with mental illness, as mass shootings, some perpetrated by severely ill people, have multiplied.
But there's a thorn in the side of all of it: gun control. Democrats are unlikely to work with Republicans on mental health reform unless the GOP agrees to gun control measures. And that's a nonstarter for most Republicans, especially in an election year.
But there is much more to it than blaming Republicans for their desire to resist gun control under the guise of addressing mental health issues. There has long been an ideological divide -- a legitimate debate -- between those that want to protect society and limit the liberty of people with mental health issues by requiring treatment, and those who resist involuntary treatment as a violation of an individual's rights. (The former group also includes those who want to protect mentally ill people from themselves, but such voices are not typically heard in the political debate on how to best address mental health issues.) There are also principled arguments about the privacy rights of people with mental illness. Gun control might be one factor in the way of progress toward addressing mental health issues, but for over five decades, there has been great debate among policy makers (and in the courts) about how to best deliver treatment and whether it should be coerced, and those debates are not about to come to an end any time soon.

MarketWatch suggests the next big sport could be drone racing. MarketWatch reports: "This Formula One / eSports mashup is being brought to life by a company called The Drone Racing League, which officially launched today. Its first drone race is set to broadcast to YouTube in February." So far investors have put $8 million into the project.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016
I don't often agree with Doug Saunders

The decline of newspapers
Andrew Coyne, a newspaper columnist:
Newspapers are not failing because the market has failed. Rather, the market is quite accurately reflecting a harsh but inescapable truth: people do not value the thing we are selling at a price sufficient to cover its costs. It isn’t that there is no means of charging consumers who are willing to pay, and excluding those who are not — the classic definition of a public good (policing is the canonical example). It is simply that there are not enough people willing to pay enough.
Maybe. I'm not sure Coyne is exactly right that there aren't enough people interested in coughing up a few dollars daily for the their newspaper each morning, whether it is delivered on dead tree or tablet or whatever. The problem -- if indeed, it is a problem -- is deeper than an unwillingness to pay for news. Perhaps there just aren't that many people who care about the news, even if it were sold at less than cost to produce it.
There is much hand-wringing from journalists who assume what they do is vital. It probably isn't, and consumers certainly don't think so. Newspapers are full of dross; they have looked for non-existent readers with entertainment and life coverage, and chased away serious readers. Or if they haven't chased them away, there just may not be that many people who care about what goes on at city hall, Parliament, and the international scene to follow it each and every day. Many people feel well-informed listening to the summary of the news at the top of the hour on their radio. But many people probably don't even invest that much in what happens in the halls of power.
I'm of the view that there is a market for serious writing and serious journalism, but admit that this view is probably biased because I like reading and newspapers. Assuming I'm correct, however, excellent journalism will be paid for by someone, whether it be a wealthy benefactor or the consumer (and please, please, not the state). But that market is going to be small. As the economist Steven Landsburg has said, people are rationally not interested in politics because they are mostly powerless to change it. Indeed, reading the paper daily might remind them of their powerlessness.

Monday, January 25, 2016
But then it wouldn't be Tinder

2016 watch (Bloomberg vs. Trump edition)
The New York Post reports that barely billionaire Donald Trump looks forward to facing legitimate big-time billionaire Michael Bloomberg in the general election because "he is opposite on me" for a bunch of issues. There is a little bit of bravado there in Trump wanting to face off against a more polished and successful (in politics and business) opponent, but it's odd to see a candidate invite a challenge from someone who ostensibly disagrees on so many issues because the stakes of losing mean that one's opposite political agenda will be ascendant. But Trump doesn't care about the issues, he only cares about Trump. And facing Bloomberg stokes his ego.

Peter MacKay is definitely keeping his leadership options open or courting media attention
The National Post reports that former federal justice and defense minister Peter MacKay has joined Baker and McKenzie as a partner. The Post reports:
“My focus is here, my focus is practising law. I said when I left politics, Never say never. But I’m going to put my family and my career first. And that means practising law,” MacKay said in an interview on Monday at Baker & McKenzie’s Toronto office.
Read his statement carefully; like Brad Wall saying is running for re-election as premier of Saskatchewan, MacKay is talking in the present tense: my focus is, MacKay says. How Clintonian.
Either MacKay has not closed the the door to a run to lead the Tories or he is knowingly inviting continued media attention because he relishes being in the spotlight.

A sweater depicting Justin Trudeau riding a moose. Topless. Surrounded by Canada geese.

Why so much of journalism sucks

Uber's political victories
Quartz reports on Uber's campaigns for win favourable regulation over opposition from entrenched interests. Most states now have pro ride-sharing regulations that Uber has lobbied for (and which also benefit Lyft, which has generally ridden Uber's political lobbying coattails).

2016 watch (Bloomberg edition)
The Wall Street Journal editorializes:
We’ve been skeptical of a third-party Bloomberg candidacy in the past, but this year’s tumult has thrown convention out the window. Mr. Bloomberg is looking at the primary chaos and figuring he may have a chance if the parties nominate flawed or polarizing candidates who struggle to unite their parties.
The 73-year-old’s opening would widen on the left if the Democrats nominate avowed socialist Bernie Sanders. He’d probably not run if Hillary Clinton is nominated—unless she is wounded by an indictment or plea deal for having mishandled classified information. Mr. Bloomberg tilts left enough on guns, climate change and immigration that many Democrats would find him politically congenial. He’s more centrist on economics, and somewhat hawkish on foreign policy, but many Democrats would not find those views disqualifying amid 2% growth and the rise of Islamic State.
Mr. Bloomberg’s appeal is harder to discern on the political right, though that also depends on the GOP nominee. He has a stellar record reducing crime in New York and he fought the teachers union for school choice and accountability. He’s a social liberal loathed by the National Rifle Association and he has a nanny-state tendency (his failed big-soda ban) that irritates free-marketeers.
But ... Donald Trump. And Ted Cruz.
But even if the conditions were favourable for Bloomberg to run, the series of events required to get the former New York City mayor into the White House "would ... almost never happen in American politics," starting with denying the Democrats and Republicans 270 electoral college votes and then convincing Congress to select as president a candidate who is not leading one of the two parties that will control the House of Representatives.

Sunday, January 24, 2016
AFC parity: it's not Brady v. Manning, but Brady & Manning (and Ben)
Peyton Manning, Tom Brady or Ben Roethlisberger has been the starting quarterback for the AFC team in the Super Bowl in 13 of the last 15 seasons (backwards from this year): Manning, Brady, Manning, Joe Flacco, Brady, Roethlisberger, Manning, Roethlisberger, Brady, Manning, Roethlisberger, Brady, Brady, Rich Gannon and Brady.
For all the Brady-is-a-better-playoff-QB-than-Manning talk, over the past decade, Manning has taken his team to the Super Bowl four times compared to Brady who has done it thrice.
And there's this:

Trudeau's back
CBC: "Justin Trudeau returns from Davos with good press, results to be determined." Canadians love being loved by others so Davos should be good for Trudeau.
Liberals are pretty proud of continuing blow job coverage from the New York Times, as this got retweeted often.

Signs of the Clinton enthusiasm gap?

Is the United States headed for recession? Is Canada?
Business Week's Peter Coy looks at a number of indicators which are sending mixed signals that the U.S. economy is headed into recession, but he concludes his data-rich piece with this useful reminder: "Then again, those soothsayers weren’t predicting a recession at the start of 2008, either. They didn’t realize that one had already begun." Because spending is affected by psychology, the glut of negative news is likely to push the American economy into a recession. In Canada, where oil prices and the loonie are dipping below dangerous psychological benchmarks, the chance of a(nother) recession is pretty high.

2016 watch (Updated 'odds' edition)
Bloomberg View columnist Jonathan Bernstein has updated his "odds" of each Republican candidate winning the nomination; they are are actually his estimated percentage chances of winning the nomination, although if you can do math you can translate the percents into odds. He has Donald Trump declining to 43%, which with the vig in Vegas would be almost even odds. Bernstein has Senator Marco Rubio second with 28 percent followed by Senator Ted Cruz at 13%. I think you can make a case for each candidate being in the vicinity of Bernstein's chances, but then he misses big time. Jeb Bush as 10% and governors Chris Christie and John Kasich at 2% each seems to seriously over-estimate the former Florida governor's chances and under-estimate the current governors, especially relative to each other. I'd have Christie and Kasich around 10% each and Bush at 1% as it seems the Republican electorate has repudiated the idea of another Bush presidency. And putting Ben Carson ahead of the rest of the field, with 1% compared to 0% for the rest also seems to over-value Carson's brief time ahead in the polls six months ago. I'll give my unscientific impressions specific percentages to look more scientific, so here's my "odds": Marco Rubio 37%, Ted Cruz 24%, Donald Trump 19%, Chris Christie 10%, John Kasich 9%, all other candidates combined including a compromise candidate at the convention >1%.

NFL conference championships
New England Patriots at Denver Broncos: Football Outsiders says Denver has a 58% chance of winning the AFC Championship, while FiveThirtyEight says the Broncs have a 59% of advancing to the Super Bowl. This seems too high, especially as the line in Vegas is New England by three. The stats FO and 538 rely on, however, employ the two months of the regular season when New England's offense wasn't performing at its usual heights because injuries were regularly taking Tom Brady's targets (and others) out of their games. The Pats lost four of their final six games, and the Brady-led offense failed to break 20 points in three of their final seven games. But it looked back to normal with a fully healthy Rob Gronkowski and WRs Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola on the field against the recently stifling Kansas City Chiefs D last weekend. While Denver also has an exceptional defense (199.6 air yards allowed per game and 18.5 ppg, first and fourth respectively in the NFL), their secondary is missing CB Chris Harris. ESPN's Bill Barnwell has a game plan that the Broncos can carry out to slow down Brady: pressure Brady with four rushers to force him to throw quickly to receivers who are covered. Having linebackers like Demarcus Ware and Von Miller allow the Broncos to attempt this. It will still be difficult, but for the home team to win, the Broncos need to make this Brady-Denver Defense, not Brady-Manning XVII. I don't have a lot of faith in Peyton Manning at this point in his career and I have a lot of faith in New England's QB and coach combination. This game could be close and Denver can win, but I'd bet on New England winning by at least a field goal.
Arizona Cardinals at Carolina Panthers: Football Outsiders says that the Panthers should go to the Super Bowl nearly 65% of the time, while FiveThirtyEight has them as the 61% favourite. The Vegas line has Panthers as 3.5-point favourites. I don't entirely trust the Panthers, who play in the anemic NFC South and faced the weak AFC South and NFC East, and built a 15-1 record on a relatively easy schedule. The 13-3 Cardinals, on the other hand, played the NFC North (Green Bay, Minnesota) and AFC North (Pittsburgh, Cincinnati) as well as NFC West rivals Seattle Seahawks and St. Louis Rams twice each. I totally agree with Mike Tanier's analysis at Bleacher Report that Carolina does more of the small things better but Arizona makes more big plays on both sides of the ball. That said, Carson Palmer's high-octane offense slowed down at the end of the year; from the beginning of the season through game 13, Palmer averaged more than 300 yards per game but in the final three weeks, he didn't throw for more than 274 yards once and in the divisional playoff game against the Seahawks, Carson didn't break 300 yards through the air until his final drive. Still, it is hard to see the Panthers secondary -- which is pedestrian once you get past CB Josh Norman -- stopping the deepest receiving corps in the NFC: Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown, Michael Floyd and J.J. Nelson. The Panthers pass rush must get to Palmer, and it certainly can. The Cards secondary is still deep despite losing safety Tyrann Mathieu to a season-ending injury. How will it end? I agree with Tanier: "So one of two things will happen Sunday: 1) The Cardinals will score a few long touchdowns by attacking the weak links in the Panthers secondary (every cornerback but Norman) with their five-headed receiving corps, take running and options out of the Panthers playbook, and spark a rout. 2) Or the Panthers will peck away at the Cardinals with field position and offensive balance, hold the Cardinals to some field goals, set up short touchdown drives with turnovers and hold on for dear life in the fourth quarter the way they so often do. Either scenario feels equally likely. Game Previews is going with the second one, but we won't be shocked if the first one unfolds Sunday night."

2016 watch (Donald Trump edition)
Yuval Levin has a good piece on Donald Trump in which he essentially says that the GOP presidential wannabe has diagnosed many of America's problems but doesn't have the right solutions. Levin says:
[T]he shallow narcissism of his prescriptions is a warning. American conservatism is an inherently skeptical political outlook. It assumes that no one can be fully trusted with public power and that self-government in a free society demands that we reject the siren song of politics-as-management.
Conservatives should embrace limited government not good management as the solution to what ails America. That said, there are reasons to be skeptical of not only Trump's view of politics but his ability to deliver good management.

Will on Obama's unconstitutional executive action
Examining the Supreme Court's consideration of President Barack Obama's granting of legal immigration status to individuals previously expressly prohibiting from becoming citizens, and his administration's request for the Court to take into consideration the Take Care Clause, George Will observes:
Obama’s usual justification for his unusually numerous unilateral legislating is that Congress refuses to act on this or that subject. But regarding who qualifies for legal status and for the right to work, Congress has acted with notable specificity. Obama simply wants to grant to millions of people various benefits in violation of Congress’s will as written into law.
Obama's willingness to "legislate unilaterally" is the most under-reported aspect -- and dangerous legacy -- of his presidency.

Because it's 2016

Canada's back
U of T News has an interview with political science professor Randall Hansen, director of the Centre for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies at the Munk School of Global Affairs:
Why wasn't Canada invited to this meeting?
Because of the withdrawal of our fighters from the war against ISIS. There is and can be no other reason.
The defence minister says it's no big deal that we weren't invited as there are meetings being held all the time, to which we are invited. Is this true?
No, it isn’t true and he knows it or should. We have been excluded from the central defence meeting on dislodging ISIS from northern Iraq. No amount of spin can hide that.
Do you think we were snubbed?
Yes, and the Liberal government thoroughly deserved it. The Liberals played shabby electoral politics with a matter of immense international importance.
(HT: Chad Rogers)

Canada's back

Saturday, January 23, 2016
2016 watch (Michael Bloomberg edition)
The New York Times (via Hot Air) reports that former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg is considering an independent (or third party) run for the presidency:
Mr. Bloomberg, 73, has already taken concrete steps toward a possible campaign, and has indicated to friends and allies that he would be willing to spend at least $1 billion of his fortune on it, according to people briefed on his deliberations who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss his plans. He has set a deadline for making a final decision in early March, the latest point at which advisers believe Mr. Bloomberg could enter the race and still qualify to appear as an independent candidate on the ballot in all 50 states.
He has retained a consultant to help him explore getting his name on those ballots, and his aides have done a detailed study of past third-party bids. Mr. Bloomberg commissioned a poll in December to see how he might fare against Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton, and he intends to conduct another round of polling after the New Hampshire primary on Feb. 9 to gauge whether there is indeed an opening for him, according to two people familiar with his intentions.
I don't think independent candidates can do much in a general election, but one with deep pockets and running against the combination of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump would be able to win a few states. It is still unlikely Bloomberg could win the Electoral College, but he would alter the election in unpredictable ways. He could also change the dynamics if the parties nominated saner candidates (and that includes Hillary Clinton and Ted Cruz).

Security theater coming to MLB stadia
ESPN reports that Major League Baseball owners met with Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson. One owner told the sports media outlet:
Johnson told the group a stadium could be 100 percent secure if additional steps were taken, such as prohibiting fans from bringing any bags and eliminating food and food-services workers. Checking the trunks and bottoms of cars entering parking lots outside ballparks could be another step discussed at some point.
Actually, no sports stadium hosting 50,000 people can be 100% secure, the chances of anything happening anyway are small, and most of these steps are more about theater than securing facilities.

5 things to watch when Parliament returns on Monday
CBC has their list, here's mine:
1) On what day will pundits praise Rona Ambrose for changing the tone of the Conservatives in Ottawa: Monday or Tuesday?
2) Will Michelle Rempel's first question of Immigration Minister John McCallum include reminding the government that Justin Trudeau said during the fall election campaign that the only thing preventing Canada from accepting 25,000 refugees by the end of the year (2015) was political will?
3) Will Immigration Minister John McCallum fall over at some point answering a question in the next session?
4) Does any Liberal respond to a Tom Mulcair question by referencing his leadership troubles?
5) When will a Liberal cabinet minister actually answer any question specifically and not offer some bullshit about how they are consulting/listening/in the process of whatever?

Forrest McDonald, RIP
The New York Times reported earlier this week that historian Forrest McDonald, "who challenged liberal shibboleths about early American history and lionized the founding fathers as uniquely intellectual," died on Tuesday. I wish I had the time to go write something about his scholarship, but I would only be reiterating Steven Hayward's comments at Powerline this week (excluding Hayward's comments about McDonald's "foray into contemporary punditry" The Phaeton Ride: The Crisis of American Success, of which I wasn't aware). I would recommend The America Presidency: An Intellectual History if you are unfamiliar with McDonald. You can read McDonald's essays at The Imaginative Conservative.

Right, not fast
Former Bank of Canada governor David Dodge says that when it comes to infrastructure, shovel-ready is over-rated: "The important thing is to make the right investments, not necessarily to get it all out in 2016-2017," Dodge told the CBC's The House. "Those are tough choices the government has to make."

Friday, January 22, 2016
2016 watch (Jeb Bush edition)
Barbara Bush endorsed her son Jeb. Previously she had been against the idea of another Bush term. Hot Air's Allah Pundit says it might have been the wrong Bush endorsement:
I’m surprised, though, that he didn’t use Bush 41 in this ad instead. That’s always been the logical counter to fears that Jeb will be another Dubya: I’m more like the Bush who invaded Iraq and left, he could say, than the one who invaded Iraq and stayed. Maybe 41 isn’t physically up to it nowadays, or maybe Jeb’s mindful of the fact that previous Bushes have fared poorly in New Hampshire. Or maybe Jeb’s saving him for the final week in New Hampshire? That would be quite an X factor as everyone’s making up their mind. If Bush 43 is set to reemerge in this race, Bush 41’s got to show up at some point to balance the scale.
I doubt it would help. America and Republicans both have Bush fatigue.
For what it's worth, Donald Trump weighs in.

The Obama legacy
The Washington Examiner reports that a Pew Center poll finds just 37% of respondents saying President Barack Obama's legacy will be successful, compared to 34% who say it will be unsuccessful and 26% who say it is too early to tell. (The 26% are correct in their assessment, but the 34% are the only ones likely to say "I told you so.") More tellingly, 51% say Obama's failures will outweigh his accomplishments, while 39% think his successes will be greater. That 51% are actually saying Obama's legacy will be unsuccessful (a net failure) even if they don't want to admit that to a pollster. Other than health care coverage and some health care outcomes for those in the bottom income quintiles, and for homosexuals (if you care about so-called equal marriage), how is America better off today than it was in 2008: income or employment, crime, race relations, personal freedom (especially religious liberty), foreign policy?

Thoughts about driverless cars, and virtual reality sex
Tyler Cowen has a few sober-minded thoughts about autonomous vehicles: Singapore will do it first (agreed), regulators will not be too heavy-handed (strongly disagree) and oddly require a driver behind the wheel (sadly he's probably right), and it will have its American breakthrough as individualized mass transit function (probably). About virtual reality, Cowen says it is unlikely to take off but could change sex in a big way. As usual, comments are worth reading.

The Establishment
The Wall Street Journal's Kimberley A. Strassel has an amusing column on the politics of using The Establishment as an epithet, in which she observes:
Meanwhile, since to support an Establishment candidate is to be The Establishment, and since every Republican contender qualifies by one definition or another, the entire conservative electorate is The Establishment.
Just because some politicians and pundits have inflated the definition of Establishment does not mean there is not one or that the term has meaning.

Thursday, January 21, 2016
'Lacking a sense of irony' is Jason's polite way of calling Canadian cabinet minister a hypocrite

Even 'Global Shapers' love getting selfies with Justin
But apparently the young Global Shaper can't operate his own phone camera. And who the hell calls themselves Global Shapers.

2016 watch (Economic advisers edition)
Mike Bloomfield, president of the American Council for Capital Formation, has an article at The Hill on the economic advisers to various presidential candidates. George Mason's Thomas Rustici is advising Ben Carson, GOP establishment econ professor Glenn Hubbard is advising Jeb Bush, hedge fund manager Mark Spitznagel advises Rand Paul, and Bernie Sanders "listens to" Paul Krugman and Joseph Stieglitz (whatever that means). The "Committee to Unleash Prosperity" -- Steve Moore, Arthur Laffer and Larry Kudlow -- advise unnamed "presidential candidates on the keys to pro-growth economic policy." Donald Trump's top economic adviser is Donald Trump.

2016 watch (Trump vs. Ted edition)
Nate Silver says there is "One Big Reason To Be Less Skeptical Of Trump": the party establishment seems more mobilized against Senator Ted Cruz than Donald Trump. Silver notes that various party elders have spoken out against Cruz, but not Trump, and that there is an anti-Cruz PAC but no anti-Trump equivalent currently operating in Iowa. Silver says:
If, like me, you expected something like this to happen to Trump instead of Cruz, you have to revisit your assumptions. Thus, I’m now much less skeptical of Trump’s chances of becoming the nominee.
The article is definitely worth reading, and explains the challenges of the various establishment candidates to break through.

Trudeau tax changes will net Ottawa $9 billion less over next six years
The Canadian Press reports:
Since winning the election, the Liberals fulfilled their campaign vow to cut federal income taxes for middle-income earners by raising the rate on the highest-earning Canadians.
The Liberals had initially projected the adjustments – which include the creation of a new, upper bracket – to be revenue-neutral.
But last month they acknowledged the plan will actually lower government revenues by more than $8.2-billion over six years.
The parliamentary budget office now says that figure will be $8.9-billion.
As the politicians say, to be clear 1) the Liberal government already downgraded their estimated take and 2) the independent PBO says Finance Minister Bill Morneau's department were too rosy in their assumptions. And to be clear, the shortfall from the campaign vow isn't $100 million per year, but nearly $9 billion over six years. In other words, hardly revenue neutral.
What's the final over/under on revenues as a result of this Liberal tax policy? How long until these or other taxes are increased to make up for the shortfall, or will the Liberal government just have larger deficits?

Ontario's debt no impediment to more spending: study
The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives issued a report, "No Crisis on the Horizon: Ontario Debt, 1990-2015" which claims says that with low interest rates and the current ratio of debt to provincial gross domestic product, the province can handle spending more on social programs and infrastructure. Author Sheila Block says the Kathleen Wynne Liberals were re-elected with an "activist mandate" and yet, the author claims, "it has always allowed concerns about debt and deficits to hamstring its agenda." (Various ratings agencies would disagree.) Block rightly notes that Ontario has the lowest per capita spending of all Canadian provinces, which does not mean it needs to spend more.
You can accuse Block of cherry-picking dates and other facts, but she seems to undermine who own argument when talking about debt ratio. Looking at the 1991 and 1998 recessions and the six-year "post-recessionary periods" afterwards, Block notes the province's debt-GDP ratio doubled from 13.4% in 1990/1991 to 31.3% in 1996/1997 while there was a "smaller increase" from 2008/2009 to 2014/2015 (22.8% to 35.9%). True, but note that the the ratio is indeed higher and the trajectory isn't markedly improving (when you look at the chart). As the politicians like to say, to be clear the ratio is higher and probably less sustainable ratio now than in 1997. This slightly smaller increase in debt ratio compared to the 1990s is not proof that Ontario can afford to spend billions on new programs and projects, and resting an argument for spending on the fact that Ontario increased its debt ratio less now than it did two decades ago when the current ratio is higher makes little sense given even a moment's thought. It is also fallacious to jump from the argument that "Ontario does not face a debt crisis" to "Ontario can afford to spend a lot more money."

We trust the state to do the big things even though it screws up the small things
Tim Worstall makes note of a story out of South Korea in which families who lost kids in a 2014 ferry accident received notice that their sons were to report for military duty. Worstall says:
Consider, these are the people we entrust with running the country. you know, variously, decide what medical care we should get and how, the number of people who should be allowed into the country, the regulations surrounding the cost and technology of energy generation. And yet they’re incapable of even checking off death certificates against the conscription roll.
It is odd that many people think bureaucrats dumb and lazy and yet entrust so much of their lives from their health care to the education of their children, to them.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016
Richard Florida is thus always right, his critics always wrong

It's easy to write a political speech, but not so easy to write a good one
Still, politicians fuck up political speeches much too frequently. Now, reports, "How an AI Algorithm Learned to Write Political Speeches." Me: computer-generated political speeches will be better than average but not nearly as good as the best ones.

Sunny ways

The Trudeau government position on fighting the Islamic State
The Globe and Mail in its editorial today:
On balance, we think it’s better for Canada to be a player in the anti-IS coalition. Given that IS doesn’t have an air force or modern anti-aircraft defences, using CF-18s to bolster our allies on the ground makes a lot of sense, and carries little risk. Pulling them out makes sense if the government believes the whole military mission is a mistake and that this is a Middle Eastern quarrel that ought to be left to Middle Eastern governments, or if, unlike Canada’s closest friends, the Trudeau government believes that dropping bombs is ineffective or counterproductive. We might not agree with those propositions, but we’d at least see the logic of the argument.
But the government has never made those arguments. It hasn’t really made any arguments. It ran on the promise to withdraw the CF-18s, and it plans to honour that promise, because it ran on it. At the same time, the government stands ready to continue a dangerous mission to train Kurdish troops so close to the front lines as to be effectively in combat – but it doesn’t want them to have the support of Canada’s most effective weapon, the CF-18s. It is also willing to militarily support the fighter jets of our coalition partners as they fly the combat missions that Canada will soon abandon, even though those same partners want our jets to remain.
If Canada’s allies are frustrated, is anyone surprised?
I think the editorial is largely correct although it might be charitable in its characterization of the Trudeau government's policy as merely confusing and potentially incoherent. It is possible that the confusion is deliberate. A few observations.
1) There are Liberals who ascribe to the position that bombing IS targets is ineffective (I think that's the position of Roland Paris). There are certainly people who think it is counterproductive (I'm no Liberal but that's my position, seeing that bombing Muslims tends to radicalize other Muslims). There have been occasional signals that this is what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is thinking, but as the Globe says, the Liberals are not making their case. Why?
2) A few possible reasons come to mind. The Rebel Media wing of Canadian conservatism will say it's because Trudeau is not serious about fighting Islamic terror because the Prime Minister is pro-Islam if not a closet Muslim himself. More likely it is a combination of the standard progressive reluctance to use the military and the view that fighting the war on Islamic terror buys into what Trudeau derided last year as the politics of fear, and this regime wants nothing to do with that. Yet, for domestic political and foreign relations reasons, the government does not want to appear weak against terrorists, so it can't come out and do what Trudeau truly wants, namely withdraw militarily from the Middle East completely.
3) Many non-conservative pundits have been as critical of Liberal foreign policy on this front, which may come as a surprise to this PMO. My guess is that they were counting on having columnists and editorialists explain their policy for them, but it hasn't turned out that way.
4) The Conservatives are scoring easy (talking) points against the government over the confusing signals the Liberals are sending, which allows Rona Ambrose and her caucus to appear tough without being specific about what they'd do. This may or not matter in the next election cycle, and my guess is that it may do more harm to the Tories over time than the Liberals because eventually there will be casualties and voters will get cold feet. Perhaps the too-clever-by-half Trudeau Brain Trust is giving the Conservatives enough rope to hang themselves.
5) There are bright people around Trudeau, so they should be able to explain to the Canadian people and our allies what Ottawa's policy regarding Islamic State is, and why. Trying to have it both ways, as Team Trudeau appears to want it right now, is not a long-term option. This isn't just politics, it's foreign policy and international security. Clarity is necessary. The Globe editorial title says succinctly: "Canada can be in or out of the war against IS – but not both."

Currency instability
The Eclectic Econ says that currency instability is just the market working and is not necessarily a problem for Canada (and Canadian companies).

The Selfie Prime Minister
What Gods of the Copybook Headings wrote back in mid-November seems even more fitting today.

Davos rock stars
Bloomberg lists Bono as "an actual rock star" and Justin Trudeau as a "government rock star" among the list of celebs attending the 46th annual World Economic Forum in Switzerland.

Questions seldom asked about Uber
A few days ago Scott Alexander linked to a story about there being three times as many Uber drivers in San Francisco as taxis. Alexander wondered: "I’m not sure how much of that is them taking market share from taxis versus them creating new demand for people who use them but would not have used taxis."

2016 watch (Bernie Sanders ascendant edition)
According to the CNN/WNUR poll of New Hampshire Democrats, Bernie Sanders has a commanding 27-point lead in the Granite State. Sanders has 60% compared to just 33% for Hillary Clinton. According to Hot Air's Allah Pundit, "Last May, just eight months ago, Hillary led Sanders 51/13. Today it’s 60/33 for Bernie. There’s been a 65-point swing." The trend lines for their respective favourability ratings are headed in opposite directions with Sanders moving up and Clinton moving down. According to the Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, Sanders leads Republican Donald Trump 54%-39%. And yet his real victory, as the Journal notes in an editorial, is that while he is an actual socialist who is only now being taken seriously, he has moved Clinton (and thus the Democratic Party and thus American politics) leftward as she chases him.
Weekly Standard executive editor Fred Barnes writes in the Wall Street Journal that Clinton is in trouble because she is the status quo candidate at a time when "angry voters have turned increasingly to populist, antiestablishment and future-oriented candidates" in both parties. Barnes also says that Clinton has no new ideas for voters while even "Sanders, though bound by his 19th-century ideology, has a few."

Tuesday, January 19, 2016
Urban planning: end the cookie-cutter solutions
John D. Macomber in the Harvard Business Review (via CapX) on how fashionable urban renewal plans may not be transferable from one city to another, and that city planners (and western intellectuals) need to take local circumstances (history, culture, industry, needs) into consideration. Macomber says, "What’s appealing for intellectuals in Copenhagen or Amsterdam is unlikely to help millions of workers in Jakarta or Lagos." Or, put more simply, "Cities are different. So are solutions." He has four model city types and how they are replicable elsewhere in the world for new and legacy cities.

Financial transaction tax avoidance larger than economists thought
Berkeley economist Maria Coelho has a new paper (November) that finds aggregate avoidance of financial transaction taxes are larger than many economists had previously thought, based on study of French and Italian transaction tax avoidance. Coelho says in her abstract, "The results shed light on overlooked features of optimal FTT design, suggesting they may be poor instruments for both revenue-raising and Pigouvian objectives." The paper is 73-pages and should be required reading for those who favour taxes for redistributive or Pigouvian reasons.

Republican field and pro-life
I look at the Republican field in the January Interim and where everyone stands on pro-life issues. I didn't get into this analysis in the article, but it does appear that moral issues are becoming less important among Republican voters, including, perhaps among evangelical voters; concerns about immigration and anti-Washington sentiment seem to be growing among American conservatives (maybe).

2016 watch (Ted Cruz edition)
Senator Ted Cruz is eligible for the presidency says the Cato Institute's Ilya Shapiro: "Two and a half years ago, I looked into Ted Cruz’s presidential eligibility and rather easily came to the conclusion that, to paraphrase a recent campaign slogan, 'yes, he can'." The full legal analysis was written for the Daily Caller in 2013, the gist of which is:
In other words, anyone who is a citizen at birth — as opposed to someone who becomes a citizen later (“naturalizes”) or who isn’t a citizen at all — can be president.
So the one remaining question is whether Ted Cruz was a citizen at birth. That’s an easy one. The Nationality Act of 1940 outlines which children become “nationals and citizens of the United States at birth.” In addition to those who are born in the United States or born outside the country to parents who were both citizens — or, interestingly, found in the United States without parents and no proof of birth elsewhere — citizenship goes to babies born to one American parent who has spent a certain number of years here.

Is Iran a 'normal country'
Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal says no, despite what the progressive left says:
Iran will become a “normal” country only when it ceases to be an Islamic Republic. In the meantime, the only question is how far we are prepared to abase ourselves in our quest to normalize it.
As an example of Iran's intransigence, Stephens says:
In Syria, Bashar Assad is trying to bring his enemies to heel by blocking humanitarian convoys to desperate civilians living in besieged towns. The policy is called “starve or kneel,” and it is openly supported by Hezbollah and tacitly by Iran, which has deployed its elite Quds Force to aid Mr. Assad’s war effort.
At the same time Stephen Kinzer writes in Politico that it is wrong to describe the regime in Tehran as evil, choosing, instead, to describe Iran as "hardly blameless" in various acts of barbarity and warmongering.
No, Iran is not a normal country, except, as Stephens says, its leaders respond to incentives, noting that like many countries it "is again being given good reasons to believe that it can always extract a bribe for its bad behavior?" and acting accordingly. Giving up four hostages in exchange for the ability to sell 12 million barrels of oil is a deal most governments would make.

Monday, January 18, 2016
2016 watch (Donald Trump edition)
Republicans are considering nominating a presidential candidate who wants to a private company where to make its products.

Successful use of the 'Hitler gimmick'
Tyler Cowen on the novel Look Who’s Back by Timur Vermes:
I don’t usually read books with “the Hitler gimmick,” but this recently translated German novel caught my eye in a London bookstore. Imagine that Hitler comes back (an unexplained plot twist), no one believes it is “the real Hitler,” and he is given his own TV show as a kind of crank celebrity imitator. It’s an interesting meditation on the commercial trivialization of evil, and how the modern world can process virtually any kind of message. Relevant for American politics today, I even laughed at some parts and I don’t usually find novels funny.

Liberals shrug off potential conflict-of-interest for Ag Minister COS
The Financial Press reports that Mary Jean McFall, a failed Liberal candidate in eastern Ontario and the holder of more egg quota than any other Canadian, is the chief of staff to Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay. The story suggests the "heiress" to an egg fortune could be in a conflict-of-interest because her "family" owns Burnbrae Farms, Canada's largest egg producer (a supplier to MacDonald's). Economics professor Ian Lee says her family is one of the largest beneficiaries of the supply management system (estimated value of her quotas is $140 million) and that she could not possibly objectively review the system that enriches her: "I think this is a grotesque and flagrant conflict of interest." The NDP have also criticized McFall's appointment saying that she might be seen as "looking out for her own interests." MacAulay was not available for comment despite the Trudeau government's new emphasis on openness, transparency, and ministerial availability to journalists (see the minister mandate letters), but McFall says she will "fulfill my obligations in an open and transparent manner." So everything is fine.
Sylvian Charlesbois, a business professor at Guelph, said the appointment should be seen as the government "getting closer to farmers." Every government does that, after all, because farmers are an important stakeholder for the Agriculture Ministry. What such a close relationship can lead to, however, is forgetting that agriculture, like any sector of the economy, exists to provide goods and services to consumers. Ian Lee says that marketing boards harm the middle class. Rob Silver, husband to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's chief of staff, Katie Telford, once described marketing boards as "evil" on the CBC because they force everyone, especially poor single mothers, to pay more for milk (and other products) than they would otherwise. Former Liberal leadership contender and MP Martha Hall Findlay has made the case for scrapping marketing boards. Having a defender of marketing boards as Ag Minister Chief of Staff would be bad enough, but having a beneficiary with a clear conflict-of-interest is indefensible, even unconscionable.

The NDP in 2016
From The Hill Times: "the NDP will hold its pre-parliamentary strategy meeting at the historic Chateau Montebello in Montebello, Que., also the world’s largest log cabin." Because nothing says 2016 like a log cabin.

Sunday, January 17, 2016
Cowen on The Hateful Eight
Tyler Cowen on Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight:
Think of the film as a retelling of John Locke’s social compact story, except the individuals are not tabula rasa in terms of history, but rather they bring ineradicable racial and historical backgrounds to the table, epistemically uncertain backgrounds as well. The game-theoretic solution concepts unfold accordingly. The setting and details of the story are then set up to spoof Agatha Christie and the British haunted house tradition, except with snow, guns, and the American West as props ... Straussian throughout.
I also liked Cowen's suggestion on how to treat divided reviewer opinion.

2016 watch (Chris Christie edition)
George Will says that polls show New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has reversed his favourable/unfavourable ratings, and that his favourability scores are improving among conservatives, Republicans, and independents. This is, of course, good for the general election, and if we can put the cart (presidential campaign) before the horse (winning the nomination), this is all good. Will hypothesizes that Christie might benefit from Trump's adventures in the GOP race:
Christie might benefit from Donald Trump’s caroms in this year’s political pinball machine. As Jeremy Carl of the Hoover Institution argues in National Review, Republicans cannot win with Trump or without his supporters. Christie could be an alternative alpha persona, but without the ignorance. (Check Trump on the nuclear triad.) In 2012, Republicans nominated a northeastern blue-state governor, with unsatisfactory results. Christie, however, might be an un-Romney, connecting viscerally with voters — especially whites without college educations — who in 2012 stayed away from the polls in droves.
Will also says that Republican governors still might exert some influence in the GOP nomination:
As chairman of the Republican Governors Association in 2014, Christie campaigned frenetically, dispersing more than $100 million as 17 Republican governors were re-elected and seven new ones were elected. So far, only four governors have endorsed candidates: Alabama’s Robert Bentley supports Kasich, Arkansas’s Asa Hutchinson supports Huckabee, Maryland’s Larry Hogan and Maine’s Paul LePage support Christie. So, 24 Republican governors, many of them indebted to Christie and all of them disposed to admire executives, have political muscles to flex.
Will suggests that Christie could be the candidate accepting the Republican presidential nomination in Cleveland in July. It's possible.

Trump and abortion
John McCormack has a good article in The Weekly Standard about Donald Trump's evolving view of abortion. In 1999, Trump supported abortion throughout pregnancy and opposed a ban on partial-birth abortion, yet in the last two presidential cycles, as the billionaire flirted or sought the Republican presidential nomination, he claims he is pro-life. McCormack says:
During the first Republican presidential debate, Trump explained that he "evolved" on the issue at some unknown point in the last 16 years. "Friends of mine years ago were going to have a child, and it was going to be aborted. And it wasn't aborted. And that child today is a total superstar, a great, great child. And I saw that. And I saw other instances," Trump said. "I am very, very proud to say that I am pro-life."
When the Daily Caller's Jamie Weinstein asked Trump if he would have become pro-life if that child had been a loser instead of a "total superstar," Trump replied: "Probably not, but I've never thought of it. I would say no, but in this case it was an easy one because he's such an outstanding person."
That Trump could go from supporting third-trimester abortion--something indistinguishable from infanticide, something that only 14 percent of Americans think should be legal--to becoming pro-life because of that one experience is a bit hard to believe. If it's true, the story still indicates at the very least that Trump is not capable of serious moral reasoning.
Trump's lack of intellectual and moral seriousness is a bigger problem than anything else the buffoon does, and it goes well beyond abortion. But for an issue that matters to many in the GOP base, Trump's position on abortion should do more than cause pause.