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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Monday, February 29, 2016
What I'm reading
1. The Four Faces of the Republican Party: The Fight for the 2016 Presidential Nomination by Henry Olsen and Dante J. Scala. Received it this morning and read it by the time I got home this evening. Buy it as an ebook and read it today to understand the primaries tomorrow. Will have longer comments on it shortly. One of the best political books I have ever read: concise, insightful, fresh.
2. "Medical Assistance in Dying: A Patient-Centered Approach," the report of the Special Joint Committee on Physician-Assisted Dying. And re-reading the 2015 Supreme Court Carter decision.
3. "Automated Vehicles: The Coming of the Next Disruptive Technology," a report from the Conference Board of Canada and the Van Horne Institute.
4. "Robots in American Law," by Ryan Calo. Through nine case studies, Calo describes how " Robots blur the line between people and instrument."

Drip, drip, drip
The CBC is reporting on how local NDPers are speaking out against the party's federal leader, Tom Mulcair:
Alain Charbonneau, who became president of the Lasalle—Ville-Émard—Verdun riding association last week, is planning to vote against Mulcair in the review, saying last year's election loss was "devastating" for the party.
"We lost so much," he told CBC Montreal's Daybreak.
"He was hired, basically — voted in as leader — because he was supposed to be the one who could win. That was his mission. He failed."
Last month it was Ontario NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo speaking out against Mulcair. Expect more people to come forward with their criticism of Mulcair in the coming month or so, and not just the unnamed source type.
I'm not sure the party will do better under anyone else, but at this point it doesn't matter.

2016 watch (Marco Rubio edition)
The Washington Examiner summarizes the New York Times report on how a brief message left by Marco Rubio hurt Chris Christie's feelings which helped push the New Jersey governor into the arms of Donald Trump, culminating in his endorsement of the billionaire. Christie's attacks on Rubio probably made an endorsement of the senator from Florida unlikely anyway, but if this story is true it reflects both individuals poorly: Rubio has to do more than make one call to former competitors he's courting and Christie seems incredibly delicate in his sensitivities.

2016 watch (Hillary Clinton edition)
Good Wall Street Journal editorial on HRC following her easy South Carolina victory on Saturday. Main points:
1) The coronation is back on track.
2. The only thing that might prevent her from being the Democrat presidential candidate is an indictment over her emails.
3. The Democrats will be united going into the fall.
4. Republicans probably won't be.
5. Republicans should not assume she's an easily beatable candidate simply because she's a terrible candidate.

Sunday, February 28, 2016
What I'm reading
1. The Changing Voice of the Anti-Abortion Movement: The Rise of "Pro-Woman" Rhetoric in Canada and the United States by Paul Saurette and Kelly Gordon. Many of my pro-life colleagues will find it dishonest or attacking, but it demonstrates that people view the world through very different lenses. That said, I don't think Saurette and Gordon take the pro-life argument seriously and consider the pro-woman message of the pro-life movement as nothing more than a communications strategy/public relations. I'll be reviewing this for work.
2. The Wilderness: Deep Inside the Republican Party's Combative, Contentious, Chaotic Quest to Take Back the White House by McKay Coppins. Published this month, it's look at the Republican Party already seems dated; a mere half dozen pages on the Donald Trump candidacy suggests the billionaire's campaign is Quixotic and his early support ephemeral. Planned to review it, but will have to see.
3. The End of Average: How We Succeed in a World That Values Sameness by Todd Rose. I expected to like this much better than I did. Doesn't add much to the existing literature and many of its case studies are already well-known. May not finish it.
4. The March/April Foreign Affairs, with several essays on the cover theme: "The World is Flat: Surviving Slow Growth."
5. The Winter 2016 Cato Journal. It's theme, as I already pointed out this weekend: "Unintended Consequences of Government Intervention."

Donald Trump and David Duke
Hot Air's Allah Pundit handles the issue nicely, with this being the bottom line on Donald Trump's insufficient repudiation of former Klansman David Duke: "We can’t have a nominee enter the general election with people wondering if he’s ambivalent about white supremacy."
This is another important observation: "In Trump’s world the moral fault line between good people and bad people seems to lie between whether they’re pro- or anti-Trump."

I'd say that 95% of conservatives/libertarians at the Manning conference share this view
In 2015 Conservatives believed that Canada would not elect a Justin Trudeau government. They are doubling down on this for 2019. However, this might be true and still not help Tories; a lesson of 2015 couild be that the "change" vote is unpredictable. And the Tories need to have something to offer Canadians, which they might not get right if they are merely counting on Canadians to want to get rid of Trudeau. What many Conservatives (and NDP, and pundits) don't seem to understand is that the vote to get rid of the Harper Conservatives was also a vote for the Trudeau Liberals. If the Conservative want to win in 2019 they need to make both cases: against the Liberals and for themselves.

Air Force Trump
The Washington Post on Donald Trump's 757 jet:
Given that personal wealth has dogged so many presidential candidates eager to connect with voters, a personal Boeing 757 jet is the sort of thing many politicians would hide as soon as they launched a White House bid — or would never own in the first place.
What does Trump do? He flaunts his immense wealth and rolls up in “Trump Force One” at campaign rallies at small airports in eastern Iowa, the Phoenix suburbs and remote Arkansas. In a campaign so dominated by the businessman’s personality and featuring few supporting characters, Trump’s jet has quietly taken an outsize role.
The plane is Trump’s gold-plated flying office and home, allowing him to commute from New York to early-voting states while his rivals have to travel in recreational vehicles, on commercial flights or, if they can afford it, chartered planes.
And it is as gaudy as you would guess:
The plane can accommodate 43 passengers, fly for 16 hours and can go more than 500 miles per hour, thanks to Rolls-Royce engines. Onboard: a wood-paneled galley, “first-class sleeper area” with oversize light-colored leather seats, dining area, main lounge with a 57-inch television screen and “sound system of a top Hollywood screening room,” VIP area, guest bedroom with a full-size bed and “Mr. Trump’s bedroom,” which is decorated with “yards and yards of gold silk.”
“You’ll notice the seat belts, as well as everything else, are 24-karat gold-plated,” Miller says, as the camera zooms in for a look. The Trump family crest is also featured throughout the plane.
Five years ago, Trump released a three-minute YouTube video tour of his plane presented by a former Apprentice contestant.

Saturday, February 27, 2016
Best tweet from Manning Conference

Reynolds on the rise of unfashionable views
Excellent Glenn Harlan Reynolds column in USA Today that explains broader than expected support for Donald Trump and Brexit and other supposedly controversial ideas:
It used to be, of course, that the lower and middle classes were stuffy and constrained by social convention while the freethinkers at universities and in the ruling class got to experiment with unconventional ideas. If their experimenting got enough success, then it might eventually filter down to ordinary people. (The sexual revolution worked this way, more or less).
But now it’s our ruling class that is hidebound by political correctness, and it takes movement by the masses to give it permission to express a controversial view. That’s a major change, and it’s one that the ruling class isn’t likely to appreciate much.

Winning the fiscal debate
Kady O'Malley tweeted from the Manning Conference yesterday:
If this is what winning looks like ...
Sarcasm aside, this was a popular view in conversations on the floor. Most people I talked to thought that Justin Trudeau's anticipated massive deficits and broken campaign promise doomed the Liberals to one term. I'm not so certain. Both our positions are speculative and I expressed my opinion as such (an opinion) whereas many conservatives I had conversations with, especially Tories from the Hill, were talking about what will happen in 2019 as fact.
Further evidence of not winning the fiscal debate (limiting this discussion to deficits) is that only one province (British Columbia) has a budget surplus this year.
Another point I made, in the form of a question, is what does winning the debate on deficits look like. Most people did not understand the question so I delved deeper: does winning the debate on deficits mean lower spending or higher taxes? Most automatically assume that this means controlling spending while delivering tax cuts. I offered the theory that winning the debate on deficits gives Trudeau license to increase taxes. Everyone on the Right assumes that is a non-starter, laughed, and doubled down on Trudeau losing in 2019. I advised they prepare a non-snarky response to Team Trudeau making a strong, emotional case for increasing taxes to "protect" the things "Canadians love": health care, our environment, diversity, future economic growth, and Canada's larger place on the world stage. I would disagree this vision and so do Conservatives. But on a weekend when everyone is talking about communications strategies and what "we" believe, the most common response on how to answer Justin Trudeau's Liberals is to scoff. The problem is Canadians don't necessarily share our amusement at how naive the Liberal government's economic plan is.
So I would say to Michael Chong and Preston Manning that maybe we had won the debate on deficits, but we are losing it now. The 2015 federal election proved that. Didn't it?

Conservative Party leadership and the Manning conference
If you check out National News Watch, many of the stories are about the Conservative Party leadership, especially with Kevin O'Leary being given a platform, but thre's also John Ivison's story about Jason Kenny being more interested in the leadership contest than he was a few months ago. Expect more of these articles with another four or five potential leadership contenders talking today. But the Huffington Post is just wrong: "Conservative Leadership Race Will Be Top Of Mind At Manning Conference." There are discussions about leadership, but 90% of the conversations in the halls and formal talks in the sessions are about what conservatism should look like in the future and how to sell it to the public. (I think there is far too much discussion about communications strategies and the media, but that reflects the fact that many of the people there are either in media or political staff or former political staff who work in government relations). So saying the leadership race is at the "top of the mind" is false. In fact, it is discussed much less than I anticipated. That might be different when more serious possible contenders take the stage (Jason Kenny, Maxime Bernier, Lisa Raitt, Tony Clement and Kellie Leitch) than the TV reality star sideshow that is Kevin O'Leary's ego.

Good morning

Conservatives use nouns
Via Marginal Revolution:
The researchers, led by Dr Aleksandra Cichocka of the School of Psychology, also established that conservatives generally, to a greater degree than liberals, tend to refer to things by their names, rather than describing them in terms of their features. An example would be saying someone ‘is an optimist’, rather than ‘is optimistic’.
Moralizing? Reductive?

Friday, February 26, 2016
Ontario budget
Not sure what to think of the Ontario budget released yesterday. The bank analyses are generally positive. TD Economics says the path to a balanced budget is optimistic but plausible. BMO Capital Research said the Wynne Liberals could have balanced the budget a year earlier if it really wanted to; it stresses the government moved away from its (more restrained) spending targets. CIBC Economics says that steady progress on deficits is good for provincial credit ratings.
Economist Mike Moffatt looks at the numbers and assumptions the Ontario government uses for their path to a balanced budget. Things might look a little better because of various economic tricks (raiding the contingency reserve, over-estimating debt servicing costs).
The Toronto Sun doesn't like the budget and points out that the Liberal government is cutting spending in the programs that it brags about protecting with its supposed fiscal prudence. The Globe and Mail praises the budget (and recent Liberal track record) for its spending restraint, most noticeably on health care. Nick Taylor-Vaisey of Maclean's says there is a lot of sunny ways (and squinting) to make the budget balance and the Liberals don't get all the credit (robust housing market, trade).
I guess it depends on how you want to view the budget. It appears that despite a lot of waste in recent years, the Ontario government is slowing the growth of program spending and with a little luck, it will balance the budget on its schedule of 2017/18.

Thursday, February 25, 2016
'What should a Conservative look like in 2016?'
Maclean's says that Sara MacIntyre, national columnist at Sun Media and a former Stephen Harper press secretary, "lays down her controversial blueprint for a modern Conservative." It isn't that controversial. It is the conventional wisdom that many people within the party and almost everyone outside it offers: drop the social and cultural conservatism, the so-called wedge issues. Every sentence of MacIntyre's article deserves an essay rebutting it. My problem isn't that MacIntyre is offering Liberal Lite (not quite) but that she wants to neuter conservatism of any real meaning.
Here's a topic for discussion: conservatism is politically irrelevant in 2016. There is room for a right-of-center party to challenge the excesses of rampant liberalism as long as said party doesn't really challenge what government does, but conservatism as an ideology has little to offer the political sphere. I'll grant that social conservatism is a turn-off for many voters (but it also attracts many), but so is small government. People like the state to be there for them. MacIntyre -- and ideological conservatives and libertarians in both Canada and the United States -- want a government too small and too limited to give citizens all the goodies voters want. Polling suggests a slight recoiling from conservative parties (Conservatives in Canada, Republicans in the U.S.), but eventually if you take away the excuse of being too tough on pot or too anti-abortion, the reason for citizens turning their backs on these parties will be that they are anti-education or anti-health care.
My biases: I value liberty and am a believer in unfettered free markets. This will lead to a lot of suboptimal outcomes in society and I am fine with that. I also understand most people are not and that practically there will be more limits on personal and economic freedom than most conservatives would like. I don't think the state can be neutral on killing (abortion and euthanasia) even if it might on drugs and prostitution. Generally people like more freedom, and history seems to be on the side greater liberalization when it comes to regulating personal behaviour, although I'm pretty sure that history doesn't take sides. I am ambivalent about using the military and think most people hold inconsistent views on foreign policy and how and when to use troops. I don't think my agenda meshes well with the larger population. I wish it did. I hope conservatism and conservative parties -- and they are different things -- find a way to be attractive to my fellow citizens. But I'm with Mark Steyn: the culture is against all conservatives and conservative parties are allowed to govern when they demonstrate to voters that they won't rock the boat too much and only after liberalism has gone nutty or corrupt while in power. Citizens are not ready for a bracing serving of limited government.
MacIntyre and I largely agree on leaving as much to individuals as much as possible. Indeed, most people do, and that is what most political debate is about. Where MacIntyre and I disagree is the extent to which the portions of our worldview we share is shared by others or provides a politically attractive agenda. I wish she was correct, but I have my doubts.

Depends who Ontario is competing with
Ontario's Liberal government is tweeting out key talking points from the Finance Minister's budget speech.

Debt-servicing costs
The Fraser Institute has a study on how Ontario's debt seems manageable because interest payments are lower due to low interest rates but that even slight increases in rates will add hundreds of millions to the debt-servicing costs the province's taxpayers will be responsible for. This is something Team Trudeau should understand considering that one of their arguments for opening the spigots on infrastructure spending is that the conditions for borrowing (low interest rates) make it the ideal time for Ottawa to "invest." But what about when the interest rates rise? They won't stay permanently under three per cent and interest rate shock could throw long-term financial forecasts off. Governments will then choices to make: higher taxes or lower program spending (or both, or neither and incur additional debt). The point is that provincial forecasts to balance budgets rely on assumptions about interest rates that might not be safe, and that is true for the federal government as it lurches into deeper and deeper debt.

MPs and family life
I know a lot of people (Conservatives) who scoffed at federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna saying she turns off her phone almost every day for a few hours and makes time for her family. I like it and hope it works out for her. The fact is most members of the government are not so essential that they must be in work mode 24/7. (The exceptions might be Finance, Global Affairs, and Defense, plus the Prime Minister.) But the fact is we prioritize work over family too much in our culture and certainly most politicians do. Melinda Gates says she hopes more male MPs follow McKenna's lead. Back in 2009 I did a story on Conservative MP Andrew Scheer, who later became Speaker of the House, which focused on how he makes time for his family. I said afterward that many MPs do not set the sort of boundaries he did with his staff to carve out dedicated family time. These other MPs, I told Scheer, say it is impossible to have set rules or expectations delineating work and family time, and that all too often family will come second. Scheer said that's a choice MPs are making and that they could prioritize differently if they really wanted to. I'm not sure McKenna's method -- two-and-half hours around dinner time six days a week, with exceptions in unusual circumstances such as late sittings or when she is traveling -- is the best. And I know any rules MPs establish with staff cannot be followed 100 per cent. But MPs and even ministers can work toward a better work-home balance.

The pro-proportional representation coalition in Canada

Wednesday, February 24, 2016
Yellow light syndrome
The Globe and Mail's Jeffrey Simpson has an excellent column on how "Canada has become a country of yellow lights, with project after project delayed by governments, courts, aboriginal groups and non-governmental organizations." Simpson says Canada no longer has the ability to make decisions on major projects. I would say that governments are making decisions by actively non-deciding and hiding behind studies and other delaying tactics, and social license and other ways of vetoing projects; it is class buck-passing. Simpson says yellow light syndrome is:
[V]ery popular in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Ottawa, which manifests itself around mines, dams and hydro transmission lines, nuclear waste, roads, pipelines, forest-cutting, fracking and seismic testing. It is defined by the triumph of politics and political pressure over evidence-based reviews that are denounced before they begin, and excoriated when they finish, by those who understand that politicians are much more receptive to the vagaries of public opinion than expert advice and whose decisions, if and when they are ever made, can always be contested in the courts.

How will this affect the Trudeau government's plan to regulate legal marijuana?
Today the Federal Court struck down regulations banning medical marijuana users from growing their own pot at home. Does this affect whatever restrictions the government is planning for legal pot for everyone?

Cowen interviews Silver
Tyler Cowen interviewed Nate Silver, and video and transcript is available at It is, of course, self-recommending. A few excerpts:
TYLER COWEN: If you had to say of all the areas of human life, where can data bring the biggest improvements, what would your answer be?
NATE SILVER: That’s a pretty heavy question. I should have taken half an hour to think about that. The answers are probably obvious in some sense where health is an area where I’ve not done a lot of work personally, but I’m sure it’s incredibly valuable. Doctors are not known for being terribly analytics driven. I don’t know the culture enough as to know why.
Asked a question about soccer, Silver responds:
I feel like I’m answering all your questions the same way, which is analysis is far from perfect, it’ll make lots of mistakes. At the same time, pretty good is hard to beat, sometimes.
There is also a discussion about politics, including Donald Trump and why/how analysts were wrong about him (hint: small sample size and priors.)
Worth reading or watching. Or both.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016
Cato Journal
The Winter 2016 Cato Journal is now available online and literally every single article and review looks amazing. The theme for the feature articles is "Unintended Consequences of Government Intervention" which, to be fair, is sort of the theme of the journal and Cato Institute's work in general.

Liberal deficit up to $18 billion ... before new spending is announced
Finance Minister Bill Morneau has offered a pre-budget fiscal update to inform Canadians that the deficit is on schedule to be $18.4 billion due to revenue shortfalls, a result of the sluggish economy. (What happens if sluggishness gives way to a recession?) But as the Globe and Mail reports, that's "before adding the billions in new spending promised by the Liberals during the election campaign." That means the deficit is likely to be in the $30 billion range, or three times the "tiny" $10 billion deficit Justin Trudeau promised last August during the election campaign. The current deficit is mostly the result of lower revenues out of the control of the Liberal government. But the final deficit figure will be the result of spending choices made by the Liberal government. The Globe once again today editorializes that the government needs to get the right policies if they run these large deficits, balancing fiscal stimulus which packs an immediate punch with the larger need to invest in infrastructure to increase productivity over the long term.
CTV reports that former parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page warns "Sooner, rather than later, we're going to need some talk about how to constrain the size of these deficits," because, "you get to a point where you're talking about sizable deficits." And those sizable deficits are going to be here sooner.
Economist Kevin Milligan writes in Maclean's:
The Liberals have offered three anchors to their fiscal policy from the election through to recent days. First was the commitment to a $10-billion limit on the deficit for 2016-17. Second was the commitment to reach a zero deficit by 2019. Third was a debt-to-GDP ratio that declined every year. Morneau’s announcement on Monday means the government will likely miss on all three commitments.
Milligan says with historically low interest rates, the cost of borrowing is negligible and concerns about a debt spiral are blown out of proportion. That's true as long as 30-year bonds pay only 1.92% interest. What if interest rates go up? Then things change. And, as Milligan suggests, it depends on exactly how much new spending the Liberals take on.

Monday, February 22, 2016
To be fair, times change
But is the only that changed the party of the president doing the nominating?
And if Vice President Joe Biden has changed his mind -- which he is entitled to do -- he owes an explanation.

Both candidates for Democrat presidential nomination support abortion without limits; they're too extreme to be elected
Two can play that game.

Donald Trump, Threatener-in-Chief
Is there any doubt that a President Donald Trump would use the IRS against his political opponents and media critics?
People must stand up to this bullying. That's what these tweets are, and Trump must be called out on them.

2016 watch (Stop Donald Trump edition)
The Wall Street Journal editorial says Donald Trump is "now the clear favorite for the GOP nomination." It urges Republicans to get behind one candidate, probably Marco Rubio, to stop the billionaire's dabbling in politics.
The Washington Examiner reports that among Republican primary voters, at least, Trump's gaffes are what attracts voters: "the very statements that drive Trump's critics to distraction actually serve to strengthen his position with his supporters." Trump is authentic, they believe. The people Byron York talked to think Trump is honest and shares their concerns.

If a Liberal posted the note of an out-of-work guy like Michelle Rempell did ...
Conservatives would say he should spend more time looking for work and less time complaining. The implicit argument Conservatives are making in showing support for this guy, other than attacking Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, is that it should be easier to get Employment Insurance. This, folks, is the Conservative [sic] Party of Canada in 2016.

2016 watch (Donald Trump edition)
Apparently this is "beating the Chinese": Donald Trump has a plan to make goods from China more expensive for American consumers.

Boris endorses Brexit
While most of the Conservative cabinet is backing Prime Minister David Cameron in their (publicly stated) desire to remain in the European Union, another popular member of the cabinet (joining Michael Gove) has endorsed Brexit. London Mayor and MP Boris Johnson writes in the Daily Telegraph:
The fundamental problem remains: that they have an ideal that we do not share. They want to create a truly federal union, e pluribus unum, when most British people do not.
It is time to seek a new relationship, in which we manage to extricate ourselves from most of the supranational elements. We will hear a lot in the coming weeks about the risks of this option; the risk to the economy, the risk to the City of London, and so on; and though those risks cannot be entirely dismissed, I think they are likely to be exaggerated. We have heard this kind of thing before, about the decision to opt out of the euro, and the very opposite turned out to be the case.
Johnson says, probably correctly, that "This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to vote for real change in Britain’s relations with Europe. This is the only opportunity we will ever have to show that we care about self-rule."
Within the column is a graphic of the cabinet ministers and where they stand (in or out of the EU). The three members of cabinet whose opinion I must care about are all anti-EU (Johnson, Gove, Iain Duncan Smith). Predictably (as Fraser Nelson wrote two months ago) Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne is in favour remaining in the EU. Johnson says, "Many of us are deeply internally divided, and we are divided between us. We know that we do not agree on the substance, but I hope we can all agree to concentrate on the arguments; to play the ball and not the man." That would be nice, and it might be possible among cabinet and caucus colleagues, but it is hard to imagine the larger debate remaining civil, considering the stakes. Indeed, that ideal may not be possible within cabinet. Charles Moore, in describing Boris Johnson as "our bastard," writes:
[T]he combination of Boris and Michael Gove will be strong. Mr Johnson will electrify the crowds with his instinctive, liberal-minded patriotism and his jokes against bureaucracy. Mr Gove will ground the argument in its constitutional principles. Both men, who come from the “modernising” side of the Conservative Party, will coalesce with the more “trad” Euroscepticism of those such as Iain Duncan Smith. They will be effective in explaining why the EU is a relic of the 20th century, rather than the shape of the future, just as David Cameron hit the button in 2006 when he described Gordon Brown as “an analogue politician in a digital age”. It was rather pointed of Mr Gove to adapt that image in his statement on Saturday: Mr Cameron will have felt the sting.
The EU has a sclerotic bureaucracy belongs in the dustbin of history, like Soviet communism.

Liberal campaign promise of infrastructure and immediate need for stimulus are distinctly different things
The Liberals will pretend that the infrastructure spending they promised in the 2015 election campaign fills the need to stimulate the economy in 2016 amid sluggish growth. The Globe and Mail begs to differ:
The Liberal platform was all about promoting long-term economic growth through infrastructure investment. That can work if Ottawa invests in the right infrastructure at the right price – a very big “if.” The call for stimulus, in contrast, is about injecting short-term cash into a temporarily faltering economy. Both are reasonable ideas, and Mr. Morneau’s budget can prop up the economy today, while fostering a stronger economy in the future. But they’re different objectives, calling for different tools. And it’s easy to get either or both wrong.
At one time I had confidence in Liberal Finance Minister Bill Morneau to understand the difference and approach each objective sober-mindedly. Over the past two months, we have seen him sell his economic soul to Liberal politics; he has not only accepted Liberal bullshit, he dishes it out. Hugely disappointing, and the consequences of wasting tens of billions of dollars pursuing political goals rather than addressing distinct short-term and long-term economic needs are enormous.

The difference between principle and policy
As a matter of principle many people across the political spectrum favour liberalizing drug laws, especially for marijuana. But like figuring out the limits of assisted-suicide, the practicalities of implementing a workable policy is much easier than arguing for greater liberty. The Globe and Mail editorializes about the difficulty of figuring out how to legalize pot:
Article 253 (1) of the Criminal Code of Canada outlaws the operation a motor vehicle, boat, aircraft or railway engine while a “person’s ability to operate ... is impaired by alcohol or a drug.” The provision has existed for decades, but it’s only recently that the justice system has seriously tried coming to grips with the question of drugged driving – and it has done so only semi-successfully. As the federal government prepares to legalize marijuana, here’s another item to add to the to-do list: setting out specific enforcement criteria for driving under its influence.
It wont be easy:
Once the thorny issue of acceptable thresholds has been dispensed with, there’s the question of coming up with a testing system that will stand up in court. The traditional observational methods used by police – things like balance tests – aren’t always an accurate measurement of whether someone is impaired by pot. Blood analysis is believed to be effective, but it’s invasive. Road-side saliva testing can be expensive, and it’s often inconclusive.
As matter of personal liberty I lean toward a broad license to use drugs.* It is when one tries to figure out what legal drugs looks like that the ideological freedom argument begins to look trite. Most voters are values voters not policy voters (even many who say they care about policy); one gets the feeling that the people we elected are moved by values but haven't thought through the policy implications of those values.
* I have never used illicit drugs or tobacco. I usually go months between adult beverages. I drink too much coffee.

Sunday, February 21, 2016
Gove backs Brexit
Michael Gove, a member of the Cameron government, explains at The Spectator, that he supports the United Kingdom leaving the European Union:
My starting point is simple. I believe that the decisions which govern all our lives, the laws we must all obey and the taxes we must all pay should be decided by people we choose and who we can throw out if we want change. If power is to be used wisely, if we are to avoid corruption and complacency in high office, then the public must have the right to change laws and Governments at election time.
But our membership of the European Union prevents us being able to change huge swathes of law and stops us being able to choose who makes critical decisions which affect all our lives. Laws which govern citizens in this country are decided by politicians from other nations who we never elected and can’t throw out. We can take out our anger on elected representatives in Westminster but whoever is in Government in London cannot remove or reduce VAT, cannot support a steel plant through troubled times, cannot build the houses we need where they’re needed and cannot deport all the individuals who shouldn’t be in this country. I believe that needs to change. And I believe that both the lessons of our past and the shape of the future make the case for change compelling.

The new Bill Simmons venture: The Ringer
Last year Bill Simmons left ESPN"s Grantland, which featured long essays and insightful blogs about sports and entertainment. Grantland fell apart when Simmons left. Simmons is now starting up The Ringer, which will be edited by Sean Fennessey, a former deputy editor at Grantland. It sounds like The Ringer will be a lot like Grantland -- Fennessey told
I think we are going to attempt to capture the spirit of Grantland without limiting ourselves to only the categories that Grantland covered in the past. It is important to us to respect and appreciate the work we did in the past, and there is a reason a lot of our early hires are former Grantlanders.
But it will try to be more -- tied to a HBO show and a network of podcasts -- including this:
Yeah, I think that is fair to say but it’s also the speed in which we respond. I think we want to have a group of young writers that can move inside of the news cycle more quickly than we did in the past. We will still have great columnists. We will attempt to have elite feature writing. Those are hallmarks of what we did in the past and totally meaningful to us going forward. But I think we need to move a little quicker given the way consumption works and the way mobile has transformed content. We need to be more nimble ...
Fennessey says the metric for success: "Quality work and an engaged readership." Unfortunately that won't pay the bills. As a multi-platform news provider, its economics is, well, complicated:
SI: Does the site have to make money?
SF: Make money is very loose term. This is an entire organization and it is not just a website. Given that, I think it would be nice for us to make money. I don’t know what ‘have to’ means.
The Ringer will be up and running in late spring or early summer. I can't wait.

The Globe and Mail's Saudi deal obsession
In this weekend's Globe and Mail: "Liberals mum on Dion’s rationale for not cancelling Saudi arms deal." This story has been on the front-page way too often for a news item almost no other media outlet is covering. The problem for the Liberals is that they haven't satisfied reporter Steven Chase with their multiple explanations. And multiple explanations usually indicate there is not one good compelling reason. Global Affairs Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion's latest "rationale" for cancelling a deal to sell $15-billion worth of armoured fighting vehicles to the Saudis is that Canadian taxpayers would be stuck with "hefty penalties" if Ottawa walked away from the deal (I would add, merely to satisfy Chase's human rights hand-wringing). This is a legitimate reason. It's too bad if Chase and the Globe don't like it.
While polls may indicate that Canadians have an opinion about the deal, if pressed about it, is this something that Canadian voters and taxpayers care about?

Saturday, February 20, 2016
2016 watch (John Kasich edition)
CNN pundits are talking about an unnamed adviser to Governor John Kasich saying the GOP race is still a four-man race. Highly unlikely.

2016 watch (Ted Cruz edition)
Senator Ted Cruz will likely finish third (0.2 percentage points behind with 99% of the vote counted) but even if he finishes second Cruz isn't winning delegates (nor might Marco Rubio). But Nate Cohn has a great question:

2016 watch (Hillary Clinton edition)
Yeah Hillary Clinton won Nevada (by just five percentage points), but ...

2016 watch (Non-Bloomberg independent candidates edition)
Hot Air's Allah Pundit, riffing on Jim Geraghty's idea that Mitt Romney could run a third-party campaign (and win the presidency among Republicans in the House of Representatives), ponders Condi Rice, Jon Huntsman, or Dick Cheney could change the election dynamics. Cheney, AP says, couldn't win, but he could prevent a Donald Trump victory. I would add that no third-party/independent presidential run is going to win the Electoral College, but a centre-right, former Republican could become president. It's all fanciful, because most Republican voters and donors will still back Trump in the end.
Candidates who ran for the GOP nomination in this election cycle are prohibited from running in Texas and South Dakota, making it difficult for Ted Cruz (or someone else) to mount a challenge against Trump from the right. Romney wouldn't have that legal obstacle.
Again, I think talk of viable independent/third-party candidates or the nomination being decided at conventions is silly pundit talk at this stage. Until it happens, I guess.

Dutch police arrest guy for wearing a pig hat
The New Observer Online reports on illiberal Netherlands:
The leader of the anti-Islamification of Europe Pegida movement in the Netherlands, Edwin Wagensveld, has been arrested for wearing a furry hat in the shape of a pig’s head, Dutch media have reported.
Wagensveld was, according to the police, engaging in “provocative behavior” by wearing the joke hat, which is widely available at party shops and is normally worn by children.
The arrest, which demonstrated how little freedom of speech is left in Europe, occurred during a protest in the town of Ede organized by Pegida Netherlands against the planned arrival of 1,400 “asylum seekers” there.
Just the latest dispatch on the death of freedom of speech. Being provocative can't be a crime.

The carbon tax gamble
Canada's Environment Minister Catherine McKenna says that now is the time for a carbon tax despite the sluggish economy. Many environmentalists see the carbon tax in paradoxical terms: it will reduce oil consumption but not hurt the economy. McKenna says bringing in a carbon tax -- rumoured to be $15 per tonne -- will get Canada to a greener, more prosperous future: "This is the opportunity to move to a lower-carbon economy, to create new jobs, to foster innovation." Green jobs of the future have been promised for decades. There will be some, but it is hard to imagine them replacing oil industry jobs, or at least doing so efficiently. I'm trying to figure out how to design a bet for environmentalists that carbon taxes will not result in green jobs. After all, if the Environment Minister is willing to gamble with the Canadian economy she should be willing to make a small wager on her confident prediction.

Friday, February 19, 2016
There was no massive Adelie penguin die-off due to climate change
Earlier this week some media reports uncritically repeated a study by climate change scientists that claimed 150,000 Adelie penguins died in Antarctica because climate change landed a massive iceberg in their feeding area. Ends up the story is bullshit. When the iceberg came, instead of dying off, the penguins got up and left, joining another Adelie colony. When it comes to penguin news, ignore climate change "scientists" and pay attention to biologists who study penguins.

Trudeau's cult of youth? Or is new Liberal government seeing something that media does not?
The new government apparently has no place for Bob Rae, former interim Liberal leader and former NDP premier of Ontario. The Toronto Star's Tim Harper says there were plenty of fitting jobs for someone with Rae's stature (ambassadorships to Washington, London, Tel Aviv, Turtle Bay, or heading up a high-profile inquiry), but so far he hasn't been called. Harper wonders if dissing his elder is part of generational change? How about this possibility: Rae is over-rated and Team Trudeau knows it.

2016 watch (Bernie Sanders edition)
The Hill reports that Shepard Fairey, designer of Obama iconic "Hope" image, endorsed Senator Bernie Sanders. Fairey says he's backing Sanders because he supports "principles, not personalities" (he says endorsing one person over another) and that Sanders "embodies the principles of justice, equality, liberty and access to the American dream." Fairey designed a Sanders t-shirt that includes the senator's "Feel the Bern" slogan and a call for "political revolution."

Getting police budgets under control
The Globe and Mail editorializes that cities spend too much money on police, especially with crime rates declining. I'm not a fan of that argument. Perhaps crime is going down because of the level of policing? In other words, our policing policies are correct in that they have taken a bite out of crime. It is more likely that lower crime rates reflect demographic changes (an aging population commits fewer crimes). But the Globe is correct in joining the growing chorus calling for cuts to police budgets, which must, as the paper says, include fewer police and deploying police differently. (A third but politically unfeasible option is to cut police pay.) Municipal politicians, however, have been unwilling to cut police budgets:
Basically, police departments in Canada exist in their own world, and so far there has been little that taxpayers and politicians have been able to do about it. This has to change. Policing is a difficult and necessary business, and officers deserve to be well paid. But there has to be more of a give and take, starting with the acknowledgment that police budgets aren’t sacrosanct.
The system in Toronto is messed up. The police department puts in their budget request which is always more, more, more. The police board does not send it back to the department for cuts. The city accepts the department's own proposal with minimal complaints. Both the police board and the city must say no. Limit growth in spending to population and inflation or, ideally, freeze spending for two years for force the department to make difficult decisions: "The only serious choice for departments that are asked by their taxpayers to cut costs is to reduce the number of uniformed officers on staff, and use those that remain in a more efficient way, with the help of new technologies and new thinking." Other jurisdictions are finding non-uniformed officers to do the jobs of cops as one cost reduction measure. Brian Kelcey told AM 640 yesterday that there are savings in modernizing the police force, including more rational shift structures ("we pay for 28 hours of policing for every 24 hours day"). Other reforms in overtime, retention pay, and two-officer patrols might be feasible changes.

Stop talking the talk and start walking the walk
I don't agree with Toronto Mayor John Tories wish-list, nor Edward Keenan's. I don't want ambitious government. I want leave-it-alone government. But most people don't. Most people (probably) want their politicians to follow through with their campaign promises or to deliver their long-debated "plans." The Toronto Star's Keenan says at some point the list of things city politicians talk about doing has to become a list of things the politicians get done:
And there’s the catch. As a list-maker, I appreciate a good plan to get things done, but I also understand too well that there’s a point where making a list stops being preparation and becomes procrastination. I’m wary that, as a city, we are approaching that point. I’m not saying we’re there. But I think this is about the last budget cycle under Mayor John Tory where we can talk about the great things we’re going to do without really getting into paying for them and taking steps to make them happen.

2016 watch (Hillary vs. Bernie edition)
The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC poll finds that nationally Senator Bernie Sanders is closing the gap with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, trailing now by just 11 percentage points: 53%-42%. Last month, Clinton led 59%-34%. While Clinton has a lead among women, Sanders leads among women under 50. Sanders is also narrowing the gap among visible minorities, cutting a 42-point lead by the former First Lady in January, to a 29-point lead now.

2016 watch (Jeb Bush edition)
Is South Carolina Jeb Bush's last stand? Powerline's Paul Mirengoff says probably. If the polls hold up, Mirengoff says, "Bush will be under intense pressure to leave the race. Nor, it seems to me, is he likely to resist the pressure." After Dubya came in to help his brother and failing to win Governor Nikki Haley's endorsement, finishing fourth or fifth in the Palmetto State would be disastrous. Mirengoff asks what is the rational for continuing? None, actually.

Health regulations and porn
Reason's Elizabeth Nolan Brown reports that porn industry performers are not thrilled that the Golden State considered treating condom-free sex as an occupational safety hazard:
At the 2016 AVN Adult Entertainment Expo in January, porn-industry legal experts warned that the rules require not just condom usage but also dental dams and other "personal protective equipment," such as safety googles worn during facial scenes.
"These are unworkable regulations based in fear and stigma, not science or public health," said Eric Paul Leue, executive director of the Free Speech Coalition, in a statement this week. "Cal/OSHA has repeatedly refused to listen to performers concerns about their health and livelihoods, and performers are rightly furious."
The Guardian reports that the regulations were nixed: "Occupational Safety and Health Standards board voted 3-2 in favor of the rules, failing to reach the four-vote threshold necessary for adoption."

Thursday, February 18, 2016
Ontario's spending problem
The Fraser Institute has a new bulletin on Ontario's deficit and debt problems which says that the root of the shortfall is the Liberal government's spending addiction. Since 2003/2004, program spending has increased an average of 4.7% annually, far in excess of population growth plus inflation (2.8%) or economic growth (3.2%). The authors find that if program spending increased at the same rate as economic growth, the province would have a $10.7 billion surplus instead of a $7.5 billion deficit; if spending were limited to population growth plus inflation, Ontario would have a $15.1 billion surplus. It should be noted that the cumulative budget surpluses would also result in paying down debt and lowering interest payments.

Liberals can promise, but can they govern?
John Ivison writes in the National Post along the same lines that David Frum (video) talked about on The Agenda Monday night: the Liberals were adept at delivering promises but not great at keeping them, in part because they were politically motivated campaign trinkets that have little bearing on what it takes to govern. One example: the Liberals said refugee resettlement would cost just $100 million but it looks more like it will be $1.2 billion. Another? They said the middle class tax cut would be revenue-neutral once they "asked" those making $200,000 or more to pay a little more tax, but there will be, in fact, a gaping hole. Governing is hard, especially when economic growth is anemic. And as Ivison points out, the Liberal government (most recently in the form of Finance Minister Bill Morneau) is not showing grace under pressure.

Anatomy is not voting destiny
Susan Sarandon backs Bernie Sanders: "I don't vote with my vagina."

Wednesday, February 17, 2016
Rebel Media wins. For now.
Global News reported earlier today that Alberta's NDP Premier Rachel Notley is backing down from its blanket ban of Rebel Media contributors from covering the government from its premises. Ezra Levant claims victory ... for now:
Governments do not have the power to regulate journalists. And any blacklist barring journalists from public events based on political vendettas is obviously illegal discrimination.
So: it’s a partial win — a win for freedom, and for Albertans who want independent journalism. But there’s a massive loophole built right into it, for Notley to come back and regulate later.
Rachel Notley is a bully. She just couldn’t get away with it this time. But she’s not done trying.

2016 watch (Bernie Sanders edition)
The Bernie Sanders program is indefensible according to four liberal economists in good-standing. Four former chairs of the Council of Economic Advisers to Democrat Presidents Bill Clinton or Barack Obama (Alan Krueger, Austan Goolsbee, Christina Romer, Laura D'Andrea Tyson) has sent a letter to Bernie Sanders that states:
We are concerned to see the Sanders campaign citing extreme claims by Gerald Friedman about the effect of Senator Sanders’s economic plan—claims that cannot be supported by the economic evidence. Friedman asserts that your plan will have huge beneficial impacts on growth rates, income and employment that exceed even the most grandiose predictions by Republicans about the impact of their tax cut proposals.
As much as we wish it were so, no credible economic research supports economic impacts of these magnitudes. Making such promises runs against our party’s best traditions of evidence-based policy making and undermines our reputation as the party of responsible arithmetic. These claims undermine the credibility of the progressive economic agenda and make it that much more difficult to challenge the unrealistic claims made by Republican candidates.

2016 watch (Hillary vs. Bernie edition)
Kirsten Powers wrote in USA Today that the Hillary Clinton campaign has "belatedly" taken the Bernie Sanders campaign seriously. The Clinton campaign has gone after Sanders for the simplicity of his message:
The New York Times reported that Clinton’s flailing campaign is trying out a new line: that Sanders is a “one-note” candidate who is captive to an obsession with Wall Street and campaign spending. Clinton is determined to prove that Sanders is not ready for office, but that she is. “If we broke up the big banks tomorrow,” Clinton asked a group of union members, “would that end racism? Would that end sexism? Would that end discrimination against the LGBT community?”
Just so we’re clear: Sanders is an unserious pie-in-the-sky candidate because he wants to rein in campaign spending and institute a health care system that is commonplace in Europe. Clinton, on the other hand, will eradicate sexism and racism in America. Who’s the dreamer here?
Excellent point. And what is more dangerous to the Republic: the simple-minded socialist worldview of Bernie Sanders or the messiah-complex of the lone saviour of America?

'Scalia in the Pages of Regulation'
Before he was a judge (and Supreme Court justice) Antonin Scalia was an editor at Regulation, then published by the American Enterprise Institute, and later by the Cato Institute. Nick Zaiac, Peter van Doren, and Thomas A. Firey collect some of his important contributions to conservative thought on regulatory policy for the CI's blog, and conclude, "These articles remind readers of Scalia’s skill in communicating complex and important issues to a general audience. Such talents are as important — and scarce — today as they were in the 1970s and 1980s." Of special note is Scalia's 1982 review of the Freedom of Information Act (which he opposed as written and implemented).

Cato on the 'reign of Terroir'
The Cato Institute has a new study, "Reign of Terroir: How to Resist Europe’s Efforts to Control Common Food Names as Geographical Indications," by K. William Watson looking at the European Union's (long-standing) efforts to ban the use of food names that suggest they are from Europe (hence no champagne, port, sherry, parmesan, gorgonzola, and feta unless they are from such places). Watson says:
At the heart of Europe’s approach to GI protection is the idea of terroir — that there is an essential nexus between a product’s characteristics and the place it was made. When others use place names in a generic way, they are, in the European view, unfairly usurping the value created in that name by generations of local producers. Supporters claim that strong GI protection is needed to prevent fraud, ensure fairness, and promote economic development.
GI-protections actually privilege entrenched interests with the costs being paid by consumers who will be denied meaningful consumer choices.
Watson argues that the United States should pushback against the EU's protectionist policies:
The United States should fight against Europe’s attempt to spread its GI protections around the globe. This means, first, resisting efforts to expand the mandate for GI protection at the World Trade Organization. Second, the United States should, like it did in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, secure open markets for generically branded products within regional and bilateral agreements. Finally and most importantly, U.S. negotiators should make it clear that GIs will not be a subject for negotiation in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
Indeed, all countries should vigorously resist these protectionist measures.

The ignorance of voters
Cafe Hayek's Donald Boudreaux writes in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review about how all voters are ignorant about most issues:
To say such a thing is to incur the wrath of democracy’s gods. “How dare you call voters ignorant!” scream the gods. Yet the gods are wrong. No one thinks me to be wise enough or well-enough informed to march over to my neighbor’s home, pistol in hand, to command him to raise the pay of his toddler’s baby sitter or to forbid his wife from having her nails manicured by people who I disapprove of.
In our daily lives we naturally recognize that each of us knows far more about our own affairs than we know about the affairs of others. And each of us would unhesitatingly resist the dictates of anyone who presumed to tell us how to go about our own affairs.
Because I’m ignorant of the personal and professional affairs of everyone but myself — and because you’re ignorant of the personal and professional affairs of everyone but yourself — each of us is ignorant of the affairs of others.
Because government makes so many decisions about the lives of everyone, voters are ignorantly imposing their worldview on others. Boudreaux explains why democracy means replacing expertise with ignorance:
The dispersion of knowledge and experience is one of the most important reasons for relying on free markets. Politicians and bureaucrats, despite their pretenses, know next to nothing about the all-important details of the economic affairs that they regulate. This reality means that government regulation is the displacement of expertise by ignorance.

Why is it still news that the Trudeau government is breaking campaign pledge of 'modest' $10 billion deficits?
A few things about this Bloomberg story: "Trudeau’s Liberals Back Away From Canada Balanced-Budget Pledge."
1) This is no longer news. The government telegraphed back before Christmas they were "backing away" from their campaign promise of limiting budget deficits to a "modest" $10 billion per year.
2) "Back away" is, I guess, the journalistically neutral term for "break promise."
3) Reporter Josh Wingrove writes: "Freeing themselves from the balanced budget pledge effectively gives them more scope to run larger deficits over the next couple of years. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg estimate the deficit will range between C$20 billion and C$35 billion in the fiscal year starting April 1. About C$10 billion reflects the fiscal impacts of slower-than-expected growth." Nice calling out the government's claim that the larger deficits are the result of "this economic environment." Most of the deficit is the result of choices the government is making. Even if you add the reduced revenue/increased spending associated with lower economic growth to the "modest" deficits Team Trudeau promised on the campaign trail, you have a $20 billion deficit, maximum. It looks like it will be significantly more.
4) "Freeing themselves" of a campaign pledge is apparently also journalist-speak for "breaking their promise."
5) Why do Liberals get to "free" themselves of campaign promises? Very odd idea for a political reporter to put out there.

Rebel Media: happy anniversary, Alberta bans conservative website
The same day Ezra Levant's Rebel Media celebrated its first anniversary, Alberta's NDP Premier Rachel Notley banned anyone associated with Rebel from government buildings:
In the past year, we've produced 2,720 videos that have been viewed 24.8 million times.
Over the past 365 days, 6.90 million different people have been to our website.
It’s a fitting coincidence that on this anniversary day we are faced with an existential threat — that Rachel Notley of Alberta ordered armed sheriffs to block our reporters from government buildings, then ordered the Department of Justice to declare that no-one even “connected” with is considered a journalist.
That's unconstitutional.
We’re going to fight it.
The National Post reports that a Notley spokesman points to Ezra Levant saying in 2014 that he was a pundit not a reporter, leading to an asinine debate (at least on Twitter) over what merits consideration as a journalist. (Of course columnists are journalists.) The Post also reports that Darcy Henton, legislature press gallery president and Calgary Herald reporter, said, "It’s long been a practice in Alberta ... You don’t have to be a member of the press gallery to cover news conferences at the Alberta legislature." Except, that is, if the NDP determine you are not worthy. Those on the Left deriding the death of newspapers because it hurts democracy by limiting the coverage of governments (thus holding them accountable) should be on the side of Rebel Media; no prize for guessing which side most progressives fall on regarding banning Levant's website.
The Globe and Mail editorializes:
This is beyond deplorable. It is not the place of a government to decide what constitutes a journalist or a media outlet. This is not Russia, not Egypt, not Iran – countries where government controls the media through bogus licensing regimes or outright censorship ...
The Rebel is one of them. Run by well-known provocateur Ezra Levant, it is completely partisan, entirely hostile to the NDP, and usually unwatchable to anyone but its most fervent followers. But it is also self-evidently a media outlet. Its reporters cover the news, criticize the government, and comment on society. You can like it or despise it, think it amateurish or low-budget, but that’s irrelevant. It shouldn’t get to disrupt government press conferences. But it’s impossible to argue it shouldn’t be allowed to sit in on one.
The Notley government says that it does not recognize blogs or websites are media. How quaint. The Globe also says that the definition of media must be defined broadly (including websites and blogs) to protect freedom of speech. It is 2016 and the idea that a journalist is someone who works only at a dead-tree newspaper or magazine, or a radio or television station, seems, frankly, very dated.
Ezra Levant wonders whether the ban is related to the fact that Sheila Gunn Reid's The Destroyers: Rachel Notley and the NDP's War on Alberta is a bestseller at Amazon.

The Wall Street Journal's Allysia Finley argues that with the passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and the raised stakes of the federal election (the guarantee that the president will nominate at least one Supreme Court justice), the GOP needs to nominate Senator Marco Rubio as their presidential standard-bearer because the polls show he is the most electable Republican. Electability is a terrible standard because who seems like a winner today may not be in nine months; campaigns matter. And election history is full of "electable" candidates who lost.

WSJ defends not confirming Scalia replacement until new president is sworn in
Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal editorialized that the Senate should refuse to consider any Supreme Court appointment put forward by President Barack Obama:
Justice Scalia correctly predicted that when judges behave as politicians, the people will treat them that way. And so we can see his prophesy play out in the already emerging fight to replace him. President Obama says he will nominate a replacement in this his final year, as he can under the Constitution.
But the Senate has no obligation to confirm or even vote on his nominee — especially from a President who has so willfully abused his executive power to rewrite statutes and pack the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. A Senate debate in an election year would be unfair to the nominee, who would face very low odds of confirmation. The political brawl would also damage the Senate and the Court itself by suggesting that the judiciary is no different from the elected branches as a venue for partisanship.
By contrast, Justice Scalia was known for his personal goodwill and friendship even with those he disagreed. In this respect he lived his philosophy that self-government requires its partisans to be able to debate and then tolerate opposing views even if those views prevail in politics.
His vacancy should be filled by the next President. The public would know the seat is part of the election stakes, and the Senate would honor Justice Scalia’s legacy by shielding the Court from the worst of America’s rancorous political divisions.
To many on the Left this will seem hypocritical, partisanship masquerading as principle. To those on the Right, the contradictions are poetry, even poetic justice.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016
People love the inconvenient government train to the airport
When it's free. The UPX from downtown Toronto to Pearson International Airport is a colossal boondoggle, and PR exercises aren't going to fix it.

Liberal values not synonymous with Canadian values
The Globe and Mail correctly editorializes that the Liberal Party is not the only repository of Canadian values in the country, despite the party's best (and self-serving) efforts:
From that time in 1965 when the Liberals painted our national flag the same colour as their party logo, the Liberals have behaved as though they have a copyright on the marquee values that make Canada a great – sorry, Canadian – country: diversity, equality, protected freedoms, universal health care and peacekeeping.
The editorial goes on to say remind the Liberal government:
Policy is good, bad or indifferent. It doesn’t have a national identity.
There are 5.6 million Canadians who voted Conservative in the general election. They and their values, biases and beliefs are no less Canadian than those of the 6.9 million who voted Liberal. The same goes for the 3.5 million who voted NDP.
The Liberal Party swears fealty to diversity and is obliged in its current role as the ruling party to represent everyone in the country. But too often the Trudeau government resorts in its messaging to the not-so-subtle implication that there is only one “Canadian” way to do things, and that it knows what it is.
The paper warns that the arrogance of equating the Liberal way of doing things to the Canadian way of doing things could lead to their eventual defeat. Probably. But the issue is bigger than politics and goes even beyond whether Team Trudeau will govern for those who voted Liberal or for all of Canada. I would add that the Liberal arrogance of equating their partisan values with what it means to be Canadian risks dividing the country, and worse, turning those who don't support the Liberal Party against their country.

Monday, February 15, 2016
Jacoby on President John Tyler
It is easy to forget John Tyler, the tenth president of the United States and one generally rated very poorly by historians. Jeff Jacoby has a column on Tyler assuming office after William Henry Harrison's death and the importance of that precedent (previously there was debate whether the vice president assumed the office of the president or just his responsibilities). Jacoby examines Tyler's courageous rejection of the party which sought to control him:
Tyler had been expected to support Whig priorities, and high on the party's agenda was the reestablishment of a national bank. But when Congress passed a law resurrecting the Bank of the United States, Tyler — adhering to his longstanding view that the bank was unconstitutional — vetoed it. Congress passed another version of the same law; Tyler vetoed that one, too.
What happened next was unheard-of. Whig leaders gathered and issued a statement expelling Tyler from their party, and every member of the cabinet (except Webster, who was then enmeshed in foreign negotiations) resigned. A mob of Whig supporters rioted outside the White House, throwing rocks at the building, firing guns in the air, and burning Tyler in effigy. The Whig press went ballistic. "If a God-directed thunderbolt were to strike and annihilate the traitor," editorialized one Kentucky newspaper, "all would say that 'Heaven is just.'"
William Henry Harrison died of pneumonia in April 1841, just one month after being sworn in. It was the first time a US president had died in office, an event that has since occurred seven more times.
For the rest of his term, nearly three-and-a-half years, Tyler was a president without a party. In 1843, a House committee for the first time in US history recommended that the president be impeached (the resolution was defeated on the House floor). In 1844 Tyler became the first incumbent president to announce that he would not seek a second term.
Another bit of trivia: Tyler was also the first president to have a veto over-ridden.
The point of Jacoby's column is that presidents, and running mates, should not be under-estimated. Indeed.

Bee-free honey won't save bees
Alex Tabarrok says that bee-free honey will save honey bees like the combustion engine saved the horse. Apiarists have an interest in battling colony collapse disorder, nature does not.

Will on conservatives and judicial activism
George Will on the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia:
Scalia was, however, one of the most formidable thinkers among the 112 justices who have served on the Court, and he often dissented in the hope of shaping a future replete with majorities steeped in principles he honed while in the minority.
Those principles include textualism and originalism: A justice’s job is to construe the text of the Constitution or of statutes by discerning and accepting the original meaning the words had to those who ratified or wrote them. These principles of judicial modesty were embraced by a generation of conservatives who recoiled from what they considered the unprincipled creation of rights by results-oriented Supreme Court justices and other jurists pursuing their preferred policy outcomes.
Lately, Will has said that conservatives should not be so deferential to precedent and the so-called democratic branches of government, and embrace a little judicial activism:
Do they want a passive court that is deferential to legislative majorities and to presidents who claim untrammeled powers deriving from national majorities? Or do they want a court actively engaged in defending liberty’s borders against unjustified encroachments by majorities?
Will explains why a little judicial activism might be warranted:
Democracy’s drama derives from the tension between the natural rights of individuals and the constructed right of the majority to have its way. Natural rights are affirmed by the Declaration of Independence; majority rule, circumscribed and modulated, is constructed by the Constitution. But as the Goldwater Institute’s Timothy Sandefur argues, the Declaration is logically as well as chronologically prior to the Constitution. The latter enables majority rule. It is, however, the judiciary’s duty to prevent majorities from abridging natural rights. After all, it is for the securing of such rights, the Declaration declares, that “governments are instituted among men.”

Sunday, February 14, 2016
This Smithsonian Magazine article on kissing -- the what and why -- is interesting throughout. There are, of course, evolutionary reasons for kissing:
[K]issing helps heterosexuals select a mate. Women in particular value kissing early on. Saliva is full of hormones and other compounds that may provide a way of chemically assessing mate suitability—that’s the biological brain stepping in.
There are also fascinating statistics on what exactly is being swapped when people kiss (10 million to 1 billion bacteria, for example).
(HT: Alex Tabarrok)

Government does not equal country
Hate the line "your country is red." No it's not. The government is. For now, and probably a while. But millions of Canadians don't agree with the Liberals. At all. A little humility would be nice, but according to Grits only Conservatives are arrogant. Libs are just ... patriotic.

What I'm reading
1. The Age of Stagnation: Why Perpetual Growth is Unattainable and the Global Economy is in Peril by Satyajit Das. Tyler Cowen warned a few years ago in The Great Stagnation that the low-hanging fruit has all been picked.
2. Strange Gods: A Secular History of Conversion by Susan Jacoby. I won't finish the book. Jacoby has written on variations of this theme for a long time.
3. Out of the Cold: A History of Caring by Michael Swan. The story of a good charity in Toronto that grew out of a high school project. I didn't know that, and it's one of the reasons such histories are good to have. Swan is hardly a disinterested observer -- he's a Jesuit-trained social justice warrior -- but such priors cannot disqualify Catholic journalists from being the chronicler of such a group.
4. "New Estimates of Real Income and Multifactor Productivity Growth for the Canadian Business Sector, 1961-2011" by W. Erwin Diewert1 and Emily Yu. They challenge the idea of lagging Canadian productivity.
5. "Robot, take the wheel: Public policy for automated vehicle," a Mowat Centre study by Noah Zon & Sara Ditta
6. "Can robots be lawyers: Computers, lawyers, and the practice of law," by Dana Remus and Frank Levy

The Left vs. free speech
George Will notes that both contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, favour greater limits on political speech through restrictions on campaign donations:
They favor amending the First Amendment to permit government regulation of political campaign speech. Hence they embrace progressivism’s logic, as it has been explained separately, and disapprovingly, by two eminent economists, Ronald Coase and Aaron Director:
There is no reason the regulatory, redistributive state should distinguish between various markets. So, government that is competent and duty-bound to regulate markets for goods and services to promote social justice is competent and duty-bound to regulate the marketplace of ideas for the same purpose.

Saturday, February 13, 2016
Scalia, RIP
Justice Antonin Scalia has passed away. While his death ups the stakes for the general election if Senate Republicans follow the example of 1968 (and they should, for reasons best explained by Ed Whelan), his passing should conjure more than politics. In 2014, Rory Leishman examined Scalia's judicial philosophy in his The Interim review of Bruce Allen Murphy's Scalia: A Court of One:
Scalia has derided the judicial activists in Canada, the United States, and elsewhere who come up with such arbitrary rulings as “the Mullahs of the West.” He points out that under the guise of interpreting a “Living Constitution,” they routinely dictate changes to the Constitution through interpretation to bring it into conformity with their personal understanding of what the so-called realities of modern life now require.
In a provocative lecture given at Princeton University in 2012, Scalia asserted: “The Constitution is dead. Dead. Dead. Dead.” He argued that the Constitution of the United States is not a living organism subject to arbitrary judicial change, but a “dead” or, as he prefers to call it, an “enduring Constitution” that consists of fixed legal principles which judges are bound to apply. Consequently, he said: “When a case comes to me, I don’t do whatever I feel like doing. I have a standard. The standard is what would the people at the time the Constitution was enacted have said.”
As Texas Governor Greg Abbott said in a statement confirming Scalia's passing: "His fierce loyalty to the Constitution set an unmatched example, not just for judges and lawyers, but for all Americans." Indeed.
My favourite Scalia moment, however, was not anything he wrote in his brilliantly written (and sometimes acerbic) decisions, but his protest at President Barack Obama's second inauguration.