Sobering Thoughts

Comments on politics, the culture, economics, and sports by Paul Tuns. I am editor-in-chief of "The Interim," Canada's life and family newspaper, and author of "Jean Chretien: A Legacy of Scandal" (2004) and "The Dauphin: The Truth about Justin Trudeau" (2015). I am some combination of conservative/libertarian, standing athwart history yelling "bullshit!" You can follow me on Twitter (@ptuns).

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Tuesday, May 31, 2016
Brexit for the environment
Harry Phibbs at ConservativeHome: "The environmental case for Brexit." Most persuasive part of his argument is that EU regulations stifle green innovation.
Is anyone going to vote Remain or Leave because of its impact on the environment? Really?

2016 watch (Libertarians edition)
The Wall Street Journal editorializes that "Mr. Trump seems to think he can say whatever he wants because millions of voters are repelled by Mrs. Clinton. The Libertarians give these voters an honorable alternative if Mr. Trump makes himself unacceptable." If he makes himself unacceptable? That boat has sailed, Journal editorialists.
I still think the idea that the Libertarians will get from under 1% -- their 2012 total -- to 5% is unrealistic. The theory is that voters are turned off both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump and will turn to a third choice. I don't think that is necessarily true for two reasons. First, those who hate both HRC and Trump have the appealing choice of staying home, which pundits and strategists always seem to under-estimate. Second, the hate for one candidate will exceed the hate for another just enough to lead the vast majority of disgruntled voters to pick the lesser of two evils.

Monday, May 30, 2016
British man lives as a goat for a week
Sort of, but in typically human fashion, it is "funded by a big chunk of grant money." The Washington Post has the story. This appears to be a prank and not a case of trans-speciesism.

2016 watch (Libertarian edition)

Sign of the (end) times?
The Guardian reports on the new Emoji Bible, although it might be more accurately described as Bible with Emojis.

Sunday, May 29, 2016
Top 13 things you'd hear if you were at the CPC convention in Vancouver
13. Where you from?
12. Where are you staying?
11. When do you think Peter MacKay announces he's running for leadership?
10. So is Jason Kenney running?
9. Jason can't win the leadership.
8. Who do you support for leadership?
7. What about Donald Trump?
6. Beautiful city.
5. Did you see the Kevin O'Leary speech?
4. Kevin O'Leary is a clown.
3. Sunny ways (ironicallY).
2. Does it always rain in Vancouver?
1. Fucking rain.

Saturday, May 28, 2016
Hi from the Left Coast
Sorry posting has been light. I'm in Vancouver at the 2016 National Conservative Party Convention the last few days. I wanted to make time to write about some of my impressions of the policy/constitutional debates, the leadership speculation, and the feel of the party in the corridors of the convention hall, but haven't had the chance so far. This is partly due to a surprising amount of socializing after the daily formal program. I've often noted that small talk is painful for me (actually physically tiring), but three hours of leadership speculation or talking philosophy (how do conservatives introduce love into political discourse and public policy) was reinvigorating. Perhaps the most exciting part of the convention, though, is meeting numerous individuals I've only known online, in some cases for years.
I hope but do not expect to post something before I leave B.C. on Sunday, but I have a few other writing commitments if I find some time to sit at my laptop. Regular blogging should resume on Monday. Or at least I hope it will.

Thursday, May 26, 2016
Will on Brexit
George Will describes why the Brexit vote is so consequential, gives a brief history of European integration efforts, makes the case for why America should care, and suggests that despite polls that show Remain slightly ahead perhaps Leave is in better position to win (passion, demographics, and low voter turnout).

Stephen Harper, exit stage right
The Globe and Mail editorializes on the fact that the former prime minister will resign his seat as MP before the return of Parliament next fall:
For his supporters, his indifference to popularity was a sign of maturity and experience. He was not a star; he branded himself as Canada’s Thankless Manager, willing to make the tough, unpopular decisions. He portrayed himself in one TV advertisement as a solitary figure, alone in his office late at night, with only his Beatles mug for company as he pored over files of great national consequence. He wasn’t on a team; he was the team.
But after a decade in power, Mr. Harper’s solo act and cold political calculations had become turnoffs. Voters took his majority and handed it to Justin Trudeau last October. No longer leader but still an MP, Mr. Harper became a spectral presence in the House of Commons, slipping in to watch as the new government systematically erases his legislative legacy, and then floating away before the media could catch him. Having maintained a steadfast silence since the election, he will be gone from Parliament by the fall.
How can a man who dominated the public eye for a decade suddenly go quiet? Does he have anything at all to say to us?
Maybe not.
Or maybe he is waiting. Stephen Harper, a man of few but meticulously chosen words, may someday give his version of his time in office, to set the record straight or, at the very least, frame the conversation about the Conservative decade in power under his leadership. He may hint at it tonight at the opening of the Conservative Party policy convention in Vancouver. He might wait. But he has obviously chosen not to do it in Parliament, before the Parliamentary Press Gallery, and there should be no surprise in that considering the tension between the former prime minister and the PPG during Harper's time in office. The naturally shy and unnatural politician doesn't mug for the cameras and could not care less what the press corps thinks of him; I'm not sure he terribly cares how the average Canadian or even rank-and-file Conservative views him. He cannot be happy about the undoing of almost his entire work in office, in just a few short months. I'd rather hear his measured thoughts than his immediate reaction to the vandalism the Trudeau government is doing to the disappearing Harper decade.

CanCon, wrong from the beginning
National Post columnist Andrew Coyne: "The CanCon model isn’t ‘broken,’ it was misbegotten from the start." Coyne says:
It is worth noting at the outset that, although this is ostensibly a discussion about the arts, the object of the policy is quintessentially political: the inculcation of appropriately national, if not nationalist, sensibilities in the populace. In other countries the nation creates the culture; in Canada, culture is supposed to create the nation.
He then mocks the idea through numerous examples, many of which are contradictory or utterly foolish.

The Fear campaign
The Daily Telegraph reports on the lows to which Prime Minister David Cameron stoops as he stumps for Remain:
Elderly people would lose their “dignity in retirement”, with the pensions at risk and care workers in short supply if Britain votes to leave the European Union, David Cameron has warned.
The Prime Minister set out his concerns for pensioners if Britons vote to leave the European Union at next month's in/out European Union referendum in an interview with Saga magazine, published today.
Mr Cameron told the magazine's elderly readers that “a vote to leave would put your pension and investments at risk.”
How? Cameron says leaving the EU will hurt the economy and therefore cost of living increases and investment return decreases could put affordable retirement at risk. This is not true and such scare tactics are shameless. Sod off.
Allister Heath writes in the Telegraph that leaving the EU could benefit the British economy, but correctly observes that the broad Left-Right alliance in favour of Brexit cannot agree on presenting a macroeconomic case for leaving. As such pro-Brexit forces have effectively surrendered the economic argument to the Remain fear-mongers.

Shakedown city
Global Post reports that the average Kenyan city-dweller pays an average of 16 bribes a month, many to the local police. Global Post reports:
While the politicians practice neglect, two police officers admitted they’re more focused on getting cash than keeping the peace ...
Both officers described extortion rings as police policy. Superiors expect a certain cut of illicitly obtained cash at the end of each shift. “It’s right from the junior officer to the higher-most,” the officers said.
And when the police are for sale, criminals buy their freedom.

Government incompetence can harm people
The Wall Street Journal: "The U.S. has paid for a million pounds of peanuts it can’t use. Solution: Dump them on Haiti—causing a disaster for its farmers." James Bovard explains:
The Agriculture Department claims that the peanuts won’t hurt Haitian farmers because they will be packaged in one-ounce bags that “are to be consumed at school only,” as a government press secretary told NPR. Will the U.S. post guards at school doors to prevent “leakage” (the spokesperson’s term) into Haitian markets? After all, Haiti is one of the most corrupt nations on earth and foreign aid is routinely pilfered. Some activists also fear that this million pounds of peanuts will prove to be only the first shipment.
The real culprit here are federal peanut programs with an almost 80-year record as one of Washington’s most flagrant boondoggles. Subsidies have encouraged farmers to overproduce and then dump surplus peanuts on the USDA, which winds up stuck with hundreds of millions of pounds.
The state is not very good at picking winners and losers, but it sure does seem that the vulnerable are often the victims of government screw-ups.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016
What I'm reading
1. How to Run a Government: So That Citizens Benefit and Taxpayers Don't Go Crazy by Michael Barber. Canadian journalists are reading this because he's the "deliverology" guru. The topic is important, but it might be the most boring book I've read in years. I've read many public administration books, but this one is full of meaningless jargon and resembles the dull how-to, buzzy business books that fill used bookstore business section shelves.
2. The Disruption Dilemma by Joshua Gans. Gans is an economist that tackles important and interesting topics (previous book was Parentonomics), but he is prone to business guru jargon and the book can be less elucidating than if, say, John Cochrane, Tyler Cowen, or Stephen Gordon tackled the topic. Almost certainly will not finish the book.
3. And the Weak Suffer What They Must?: Europe's Crisis and America's Economic Future by Yanis Varoufakis. The former gaming company economist and former finance minister of Greece goes all Occupy Wall Street in full-length book form. I was a fan of Varoufakis before he joined the Alexis Tsipras government and this book is part of his continuing, disappointing trend. Probably won't finish this book, either.
4. Keeping Ontario Moving: The History of Roads and Road Building in Ontario by Robert Bradford. This book was published last year and is surprisingly interesting. Infrastructure before infrastructure was cool.

Brexit politics is really about Tory politics
The Times (of London) reports on a YouGov poll: "Only 35 per cent of Conservative voters from the 2015 general election support Remain, while 70 per cent of Labour and 72 of Lib Dem voters will opt to stay in the EU." These numbers indicate that the Leave should win. All the interesting policy and politics debate is happening on the Right (Conservatives/UKIP).

Trump becoming dictator is low on the list of concerns because there are so many other concerns
Several pundits have taken up the mantle of Trump-ending-American-democracy, with at least one of them (The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik) claiming that such worries are not hyperbolic. Bloomberg View's Megan McArdle says they are, indeed, hyperbolic. Her argument is that Gopnik fails to provide evidence for his assertion that "countries don’t really recover from being taken over by unstable authoritarian nationalists of any political bent, left or right." McArdle says there just isn't enough sample or elapsed time to test Gopnik's hypothesis. But even if it were true, American democracy is probably more robust than most other countries were susceptible to nationalistic authoritarians and, anyway, there are many other reasons to worry about a Donald Trump presidency:
I worry more about Silvio Berlusconi-style corruption and abuse of regulatory agencies, an impulsive foreign policy that could lead us into open conflict with a nuclear-armed power, and executive-power overreach. I also worry about simple incompetence, given how uninterested Trump seems to be in policy. All-out dictatorship is pretty low on the list, because American institutions do not seem weak enough to allow it.
A president who abuses his power and whose very personality heightens the risks incumbent when mere mortals are given the awesome power inherent in the presidency are much serious concerns. There is ample opportunity for a vindictive charlatan to abuse the legitimate power of the office of president and is therefore a greater risk than Trump becoming the next Putin or Peron.

Special interests love proportional representation
The Globe and Mail's Jane Taber reports the pro-proportional representation organization Every Voter Counts Alliance includes activist groups representing socialists, labour unions, First Nation agitators, and women's organizations. Taber ignores the real story about why such organizations and other well-connected individuals generally favour proportional representation: PR allows party elite to pick individuals, often from the sort of organizations that comprise the Every Vote Counts Alliance, to create their lists of potential MPs. It is easier for special interest groups to lobby political parties for this elite privilege than it is to convince a plurality of citizens to vote for them. NGOs, academics, and elite opinion-makers make up a social class that will have easier access to the PR list-makers than others, and therefore despite lofty-sounding rhetoric of making every vote count, their support for electoral reform is essentially self-serving.

2016 watch (Economic indicators and political prediction edition)
Economist Tim Taylor says using Ray Fair's formula to use macroeconomic indicators to predict election outcomes the Democrat presidential candidate will win 44.99% of the popular vote in a two-party election and the House Democrats will win 44.09% of the vote. One might quibble with the inputs (three different measures of economic growth or growth and inflation, but none for unemployment), but "if one looks back at historical election data from 1916 up through 2014, this equation is both fairly simple and does a pretty good job in predicting all the elections over time with the smallest possible error." For this election cycle's numbers see Taylor's post. The Fair Model website has detailed data for the 2014 midterm elections and links to previous elections and pertinent articles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 17, 2016
Anti-entrepreneurial Austin policies
Alex Tabarrok notes that on Lemonade Day, Austin, Texas, children need not pay the $35 temporary food sales permit although they must still comply with the city's other cumbersome temporary food licensing requirements. Lemonade stands must have canopies over the prep area, prepared food must be stored six inches above the ground, and the facility must provide three containers for washing, rinsing, and sanitizing, with sanitizing solution that has 50-100 ppm chlorine. Welcome to the real world, kids.

The long economic decline of Ontario and Quebec
The Fraser Institute's Livio Di Matteo says that compared to Atlantic Canada and the western provinces, Central Canada (Ontario and Quebec) have had lagging economic growth in each of four economic periods since 1962 (pre-'73 robust growth, 1973-1995, the boom of 1996-2008, and the post-2008 fiscal crisis and recession). In other words, Ontario and Quebec's economic woes are not merely a recent manufacturing crisis but a product of long-term, government policies that have hindered economic growth.
In a separate article, Di Matteo notes that proposed energy policy changes to supposedly make Ontario greener are unlikely to help Ontario's already ailing economy:
This massive government intervention in the provincial energy system has the potential to cause significant economic disruption and harm to a province that is already been suffering a protracted economic slowdown. The plan’s potential to cause economic damage is compounded by the fact it comes on top of two decades of change to the electricity system that have left Ontario with some the highest electricity prices in North America.
It also represents a massive intrusion into the automobile industry - a sector that is already reeling from economic change.
Moreover, what the government is proposing is a massive and relatively sudden transformation of the energy system, which historically has seen major adjustments take place over a much longer time horizon.

Monday, May 16, 2016
12 divisions within the UK Tories
At Conservative Home Mark Wallace writes about the 12 issues dividing the British Tories which were deepened by the Brexit referendum. Some of these are directly Brexit-related, others have been exacerbated by the contentious EU referendum debate. Wallace may exaggerate some of them, but do not underestimate how much personal grudges and slights can come into play in politics. The Michael Gove and Iain Duncan Smith divisions from the current leadership have the potential to inflame the differences in the next Tory leadership race. Europe has always divided the UK Tories, but that debate was borderline academic at times. Now it matters as Brits will decide whether or not remain or leave the EU. One division I would add to the list is the debate within the caucus and party over whether David Cameron made a political mistake calling the referendum in the first place.

2016 watch (HRC no great candidate either edition)
The Washington Post reports that some Democrats are awakening (or admitting) that their party's presidential standard-bearer has "weaknesses." Some of Hillary Clinton's weaknesses include poor polling among young women, untrustworthiness, lackluster campaign style, and being "a conventional candidate in an unconventional election," but most of all it's her unlikability. Peter Hart, a longtime Democratic pollster who has being doing focus groups on this election cycle for the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania sums it all up: "I bring it down to one thing and one thing only, and that is likability." HRC has a serious problem that after nearly a quarter century in the public eye she is not very well liked. And as people pay attention in the forthcoming months and are reminded of her ethical lapses (to put it politely) she will have a growing problem with her trustworthiness. These problems, perhaps more than the left-wing populism of Bernie Sanders, might be what has prevented the presumptive frontrunner from sealing the deal by now. Donald Trump has his own (many) problems, but unlike conventional candidates, Trump has no problem (sometimes hypocritically) pointing out his opponents' flaws in ways that voters, and the mainstream media, will not be able to ignore.

Sunday, May 15, 2016
2016 watch (The morning after Trump wins edition)
David Frum imagines the column explaining a Trump victory in November. There is a path to victory, which is pieced together by winning larger percentages of Asian voters or Hispanic males than Republicans have in recent elections. Frum sees this as a possibility:
The Clinton campaign had tried to appeal to soft Republicans, especially women, by depicting Trump as dangerous. Trump ads seized on the word “DANGEROUS” and made it their own slogan. They contrasted surging murder rates in some of the country’s largest cities with Hillary Clinton’s commitment to reducing prison populations. Pundits had expected Trump’s anti-China message to cost him Asian American votes. Hillary Clinton’s soft-on-crime message cut deeper, however. While this bloc again voted majority Democrat, Trump’s anti-crime message delivered the GOP its highest share of Asian American votes since George H.W. Bush’s 55 percent in 1992.
It’s harder to understand exactly what happened with male Latino voters. Clinton wooed Latinos ardently, and she won a majority of their support. But her policy-dense message could not overcome reservations among younger Latino men that Hillary Clinton did not represent them. Already in 2012, political scientists observed a very significant Latino gender gap: Although white women were 7 points more likely to vote for Barack Obama than white men, the comparable gap among Latinos was 11 points—the highest of any ethnic grouping, in fact.
Of course, the winning scenario includes doing as well as Mitt Romney did with college-educated voters in 2012 and better than Romney among lower-income, less-educated whites. Trump's skepticism toward trade and immigration resonates with those voters.
The range of outcomes for Trump is greater than any other Republican who ran for the presidential nomination this year, and it includes (I have long predicted) a greater chance of being elected president than any of his erstwhile GOP opponents, but also a greater chance of being blown out. Trump represents the best chance of blowing up the red state/blue state model of presidential elections that have dominated American political discourse and strategy for the past 16 years. That's because he has a better chance than traditional Republicans to reach out to Americans who would have never considered voting Republican in recent years. There are more low-income, less-educated whites who have given up on voting and could mark their ballot for Donald Trump than there are disgruntled National Review or Weekly Standard readers. (I admit to belonging to the latter group.)

Obama prematurely won the Nobel Peace Prize in his first year as President
The New York Times reports that under Barack Obama the United States will have been at war for every day of his presidency:
President Obama came into office seven years ago pledging to end the wars of his predecessor, George W. Bush. On May 6, with eight months left before he vacates the White House, Mr. Obama passed a somber, little-noticed milestone: He has now been at war longer than Mr. Bush, or any other American president.
If the United States remains in combat in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria until the end of Mr. Obama’s term — a near-certainty given the president’s recent announcement that he will send 250 additional Special Operations forces to Syria — he will leave behind an improbable legacy as the only president in American history to serve two complete terms with the nation at war.
However, there many fewer soldiers in harm's way, so there's that. Still, the fact is Obama ran as the anti-war candidate in 2008 and promised to bring peace to the world.

College kangaroo courts and sex assault
George Will:
Academia’s descent into perpetual hysteria and incipient tyranny is partly fueled by the fiction that one in five college students is sexually assaulted and that campuses require minute federal supervision to cure this. Encouraged by the government’s misuse of discredited social science (one survey supposedly proving this one-in-five fiction), colleges and universities are implementing unconstitutional procedures mandated by the government.
Will notes several cases in which college kangaroo courts railroaded students accused of rape. Such students can fight back with due process lawsuits against university administrations that, in the parlance of the popular Canadian hashtag, #BelieveTheSurvivor, even when it isn't clear that there is a sexual assault survivor to believe.

Saturday, May 14, 2016
WSJ interview with Russ Roberts
Great interview in which Russ Roberts talks about economics and economists (more the latter) and the limits of data. Roberts says everyone brings a bias to looking at evidence, we should be aware of them, not necessarily exclude them, and bring more humility to their assertions especially when making predictions. Excellent throughout.

Minimum wage = job killer
David Neumark, director of the Center for Economics and Public Policy at the University of California, Irvine, writes in the Wall Street Journal on how study after study demonstrates that minimum wage laws are job killers:
Raising the minimum wage will cost jobs, particularly those held by the least-skilled.
Economists have written scores of papers on the topic dating back 100 years, and the vast majority of these studies point to job losses for the least-skilled. They are based on fundamental economic reasoning—that when you raise the price of something, in this case labor, less of it will be demanded, or in this case hired.
Among the many studies supporting this conclusion is one completed earlier this year by Texas A&M’s Jonathan Meer and MIT’s Jeremy West, which reaffirmed that “the minimum wage reduces job growth over a period of several years” and that “industries that tend to have a higher concentration of low-wage jobs show more deleterious effects on job growth from higher minimum wages.”
The broader research confirms this. An extensive survey of decades of minimum-wage research, published by William Wascher of the Federal Reserve Board and me in a 2008 book titled “Minimum Wages,” generally found a 1% or 2% reduction for teenage or very low-skill employment for each 10% minimum-wage increase.
Neumark details further studies, before concluding:
Some proponents defend a higher wage on other grounds, such as fairness, or compensating for the low bargaining power of low-skill workers. But let’s not pretend that a higher minimum wage doesn’t come with costs, and let’s not ignore that some of the low-skill workers the policy is intended to help will bear some of these costs.
I will never understand why it is better to be unemployed at $15 than working for $9.

Friday, May 13, 2016
African leader has message for Justin Trudeau on abortion
LifeSiteNews has coverage of the annual, massive National March for Life in Ottawa, which includes a list of dignitaries (MPs and pro-life and religious leaders). The highlight from the speakers was African pro-life leader Obianuju (Uju) Ekeocha, who said, "Only a few days ago, I got the heartbreaking news that Canada will now be funding abortion in developing countries. I beg you to not use the blood of the innocent to pave the path to development." There is video of Uju's brief comments at this LifeSiteNews story focusing on her remarks.

Globe and Mail to Prime Justin Trudeau regarding electoral reform
Slow the fuck down. That's my characterization of the Globe's slightly more reasoned editorial.
I take issue with one part of the editorial: "In spite of the FPTP system, Canada is one of the most successful democracies in the world." Perhaps it's because, not in spite of our electoral system that Canada is a successful democracy. Just something to think about.

Thursday, May 12, 2016
Amtrak and the unlimited state
George Will's column today is about the federally chartered Amtrak, which "illustrates the administrative state’s routine drift into constitutional impropriety." Will says:
The obvious way to avoid such dangerous jumbles of public and private responsibilities is to never have such government-chartered entities as Amtrak (and Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and others). “Indeed,” [Judge Janice Rogers Brown] warns, “government’s increasing reliance on public-private partnerships portends an even more ill-fitting accommodation between the exercise of regulatory power and concerns about fairness and accountability.”
This reliance is another unpleasant feature of America’s predictable future. For almost eight years, Barack Obama has had the courage of Woodrow Wilson’s anti-constitutional conviction that the separation of powers is an anachronistic inconvenience. It supposedly denies Americans the blessings of what Professor Woodrow Wilson of Bryn Mawr College called administrators with “large powers and unhampered discretion.” It will be at least four years before even the possibility of a president who thinks otherwise.
There might never be another such president, now that the Republican party is embracing a candidate for chief executive who embraces Wilson’s enthusiasm for unbounded executive power. Now that both parties regard constitutional conservatism as an inconvenient anachronism, Amtrak is a harbinger of future bipartisanship: There will be the steady permeation of ostensibly, but not really, private entities with government’s presence, which for a century has been progressives’ consistent goal.

Donald Trump's budget math
Vox dismisses claims by Donald Trump economics adviser Sam Clovis that a President Trump would turn around the economy and produce a budget surplus of $4.5 trillion to $7 trillion. Considering that the economy would have to grow at an impossible 10% annually just to balance with Trump's proposed tax cuts, there is simply no path to a multi-trillion dollar surplus.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016
IDS on the social justice case for Leave
In a London speech yesterday, Iain Duncan Smith, former Tory leader and Cameron work and pensions minister, said the EU benefits the rich and powerful:
My plea to better off Britons who have done well in recent years is to consider using their vote in the referendum to vote for a better deal for people who haven’t enjoyed the same benefits as them. Because the EU, despite its grand early intentions, has become a friend of the haves rather than the have-nots.
Take the euro, for example. It has greatly favoured already wealthy Germany and its export industries at the expense of southern Europe. The euro has meant serious unemployment for millions of young Greeks, Portuguese, Spaniards and Italians and has produced political extremism. The EU is also working well for big banks. The bailouts being financed by extreme levels of austerity in countries like Greece have largely benefited financial institutions that lent irresponsibly before the crash.
The EU is not benefiting the UK's working poor, either:
And this takes me back to my central appeal to what I think are the best, compassionate instincts of the British people. When you vote on 23rd June – even if you believe what you are being told by those who want to remain in the EU; that you may have done ok from the EU – think about the people who haven’t and, just as importantly, think about the economic changes that are coming fast down the track and ask, very seriously, whether a Britain in charge of all policy levers will be better equipped to cope with those changes than a Britain that is still part of what, all evidence suggests, is the dysfunctional, declining, high unemployment EU.
And answering Remain campaigners who claim that staying in the European Union allows Britain to work to improve what's wrong with the EU, IDS concluded:
I hope I’ve persuaded you that leaving the EU is in the clear interests of social justice within Britain. Let me end by saying I also think it could also advance social justice across the whole continent. A vote to Leave by the British people might be the shock to the EU system that is so desperately needed. Perhaps I’m being unrealistic. The EU does not have a good track record of changing course after member states have voted against the EU project in referenda. But Brexit – coming after the Greek crisis, after so much impossibly high youth unemployment, after the election of so many extremist parties –s hould be the moment when Brussels finally decides to give member states more freedom to design economic, social and migration policies that reflect the democratic will and particular needs of each individual state. Given we are so uninfluential inside the EU, our maximum moment of influence might be in leaving. Confronting the rest of the EU with the need and opportunity to radically change its structures is the most socially just and, indeed, European-friendly service that Britain can provide to our neighbours across the Channel.

2020 watch (Cruz edition)
It's never too early to start thinking about the 2020 presidential election. Amber Phillips in the Washington Post on Senator Ted Cruz:
This week, the Texas senator returns to his day job on Capitol Hill facing a decision that carries perhaps just as much weight: whether to continue being an obstructor to official Washington or to try to work within official Washington.
What tack Cruz decides to take could shape his political future. There are political benefits to Cruz if he doubles down on the brand that Washington loves to hate, and there are plenty of benefits to him if he makes friends in this town after the failure of a presidential campaign without them.
Cruz's reputation, after all, is what brought him to the dance. But his lack of likability wound up hurting him toward the end.
Cruz could reinvent himself like his friend and ally Senator Mike Lee (Utah) has. Many pundits will write off Cruz as having and missing on his shot at the GOP nomination and presidency. But he could be a formidable leader within the GOP, especially if Donald Trump wins the presidency; Cruz could be the unifying anti-Trump candidate challenging an incumbent in four years. Or he could be the outsider candidate that doesn't scare the heck out of the Establishment, unifying religious conservatives and very conservatives without frightening moderate conservatives. Without predicting Cruz will be the candidate in 2020, it is premature to write him off; he has four years to refashion his image and he has the political savvy to do it right.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016
It's that time of the election cycle again
Time for a story on the end of the religious right in American politics. Author Sarah Posner begins her New York Times column:
FOR more than three decades, conservative white evangelicals have been a dominant force within the Republican Party, shaping presidential primary contests and turning out to vote for the eventual nominee. This year, though, the relationship is coming undone, as the party — with the votes of a not insignificant number of conservative white evangelicals — is poised to nominate Donald J. Trump.
And for nearly two-and-a-half of those three decades, journalists have been writing about the waning influence of the religious right. This will be followed by stories about the rise of evangelical voters. It's the American version of the European story on the continuous rise and fall of the far-right/extremist fringe/anti-immigration parties on that continent.
It could be different this time, and stories about the decline of the religious right might end up being true. Or 2016 could be a rare example of the meme appearing to be true but actually being an outlier. That said, the challenging issues of gay or transgender rights might force a rethink of what it means to be a morally conservative politician or even voter. Posner's piece doesn't really explore these possibilities. For her, the story is that evangelicals will not be able to countenance Donald Trump's personal boorish behaviour and break with evangelicals on numerous cultural issues. And yet she reports that Trump won evangelicals -- not all, but many -- in the primaries. Why assume those that didn't vote Trump can't be persuaded to join their brethren in November?
This is a good election for politically conservative Christians to focus on Congress and local races. And in these campaigns they will find kindred candidates that can be enthusiastically supported, and contrary to the suggestion that its influence is on the decline, the Religious Right can exercise it in a way that will limit the power of whoever occupies the White House next January.

Brexit truth: Leave must engage the Left
Dominic Frisby at CapX: "To win Leave needs more than just Tory and UKIP votes." Frisby says:
Leave must recognize that, just as Farage may be toxic to some, Boris, IDS and the Tory right are just as toxic to traditional Labour voters. IDS is loathed for the welfare cuts he has made. Boris is not exactly popular in Liverpool. There are many undecided voters in these regions, who could be persuaded to vote Leave, but they will never vote for the likes of Boris or IDS. If Leave can win their vote, they can win the referendum. Somehow, somewhere Leave must find a charismatic left-winger to make their case and win the hearts and minds of the undecided left. This person should be shoved into the limelight wherever possible. [Nigel] Farage can do some good here, but ideally it should be someone from the Labour party, probably Kate Hoey or Frank Fields. But such is the sad state of affairs in this area of the campaign, the LabourLeave website is not even working.
It won't be easy: "215 of Labour’s 222 MPs are remainers, just 7 are Leavers." But if this is a partisan question and the Tories are split (if not evenly), Leave will lose. There has been very little done by Leave to reach undecideds and fence-sitters who are not predisposed to support the Conservatives, and that includes going beyond Boris Johnson's "liberal cosmopolitan case" for Leave.

Tyler Cowen controversial statements of the day
Tyler Cowen weighs in on Facebook suppressing conservative news and makes two statements that are sure to upset many people but are worth pondering:
Most media bias in journalism is demand-driven.
Overall I think of Twitter as radicalizing, and Facebook as calming and connecting.
I'm not convinced that bias is demand-driven, but neither do I think media bias is necessarily a result of a conscious attempt to push a liberal agenda. In 2012, I spoke and wrote about the sources of media bias when it comes to abortion and my arguments apply to journalism and political bias more generally. In brief, journalists are lazy and stupid.
I don't do Facebook but spending three minutes on Twitter can demonstrate that Cowen is not entirely incorrect about that platform.
As always, the comments at Marginal Revolution are worth reading.

2016 watch (Election choice edition)
Hot Air's Ed Morrissey riffs on P.J. O'Rourke saying he will vote Hillary Clinton because she's the second worst thing that could happen to America by observing many Republicans will come back home even though 2016 is "basically the South Park election choice writ large" of a Giant Douche or Turd Sandwich mascot.

Boris Johnson's 'liberal cosmopolitan case' for Leave
I highly recommend Boris Johnson's (long) speech at the Vote Leave HQ yesterday morning. Here is Johnson's conclusion:
Above all – to get to the third key point of the Remainers – if we leave the EU we will not, repeat not, be leaving Europe. Of all the arguments they make, this is the one that infuriates me the most. I am a child of Europe. I am a liberal cosmopolitan and my family is a genetic UN peacekeeping force.
I can read novels in French and I can sing the Ode to joy in German, and if they keep accusing me of being a Little Englander, I will. Both as editor of the Spectator and Mayor of London I have promoted the teaching of modern European languages in our schools. I have dedicated much of my life to the study of the origins of our common – our common European culture and civilization in ancient Greece and Rome.
So I find if offensive, insulting, irrelevant and positively cretinous to be told – sometimes by people who can barely speak a foreign language – that I belong to a group of small-minded xenophobes; because the truth is it is Brexit that is now the great project of European liberalism, and I am afraid that it is the European Union – for all the high ideals with which it began, that now represents the ancien regime.
It is we who are speaking up for the people, and it is they who are defending an obscurantist and universalist system of government that is now well past its sell by date and which is ever more remote from ordinary voters.
It is we in the Leave Camp – not they – who stand in the tradition of the liberal cosmopolitan European enlightenment – not just of Locke and Wilkes, but of Rousseau and Voltaire; and though they are many, and though they are well-funded, and though we know that they can call on unlimited taxpayer funds for their leaflets, it is we few, we happy few who have the inestimable advantage of believing strongly in our cause, and that we will be vindicated by history; and we will win for exactly the same reason that the Greeks beat the Persians at Marathon – because they are fighting for an outdated absolutist ideology, and we are fighting for freedom.

David Cameron Brexit inconsistencies
Conservative Home's Mark Wallace: "If Cameron really believes Brexit would mean war and genocide, why did he offer a referendum on it?" The claim is the worst form of fear-mongering but if UK Prime Minister David Cameron really believes this, why did he risk it?

Monday, May 09, 2016
The growing irrelevancy of so-called conservative parties
Ben Shapiro at The Daily Wire:
Republicans used to earn votes from blue collar white voters based on two of the three legs of the Reagan Republican stool: social conservatism and foreign policy. They didn’t win such voters on the basis of economics. During the Cold War, opposition to weakness vis-à-vis the Soviet Union put blue collar white voters behind Republican candidates. After the fall of the Soviet Union, as leftist Thomas Frank wrote in What’s The Matter With Kansas?, pro-life positions and traditional marriage beliefs put blue collar white voters in play for Republicans.
But the Bush Administration’s war in Iraq plus the Republican Party’s decision to abandon social issues after Bush’s victory of 2004 cracked two of the three legs of the stool – the very legs Republicans needed to win blue collar white voters. All that was left: economics, where Republicans had little appeal to such voters.
We're often told that Republicans/Conservatives/Progressive Conservatives can't win because they are too socially conservative. But social conservatism has an attraction to many voters that our economic conservatism does not. Abandon the fight for the culture and conservative parties are ceding entire swathes of voters -- or more accurately, abandoning them -- to liberal parties that speak to their (perceived) economic self-interest.
I would add that it doesn't help conservative parties that too many conservatives and libertarians are perceived as mean-spirited (or worse).

What I'm reading
1. Call Me Dave: The Unauthorised Biography of David Cameron by Michael Ashcroft. Not nearly as damaging as the British press suggested it was when it was released on that side of the big lake last year; Lord Ashcroft, a former Tory treasurer and deputy chairman, actually admits he is withholding some juicy tidbits for his own memoirs. This is gossipy but very little of it is substantial enough to care about.
2. The Perfect Bet: How Science and Math Are Taking the Luck Out of Gambling by Adam Kucharski. I'm not far into it, but The Perfect Bet looks like it is a series of stories about the mathematically inclined who advanced knowledge and theories about betting.
3. "The administrative state’s legitimacy crisis," a recent Brookings Institute paper by Philip A. Wallach. This month's Cato Unbound is related to that paper: "Questioning the Administrative State." Thus far it is a great conversation. If you are interested in this topic I suggest the under-rated but important 2014 book Is Administrative Law Unlawful? by Philip Hamburger.