Sobering Thoughts

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

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Sunday, July 31, 2016
Why bother with the Olympics?
Matthew Engel has a long piece in The Guardian about the Olympics and what little good they do for hosts. He reports on the problems in London: not producing the promised social legacy, the empty hotel rooms as regular tourists avoid the city, cost overruns. But at least London doesn't have the human rights abuses:
The question that now has to be asked is to what extent the Olympic Games, in its current form, does constitute progress. London was a relatively benign example. Look at the bigger picture and the Olympics are failing on multiple levels: economic, political, humanitarian. And sporting.
[Sports economist Andrew] Zimbalist cites 19 different reports from 2002 onwards showing that Olympic and World Cup hosts derived minimal or negative benefits in employment, tourism and general growth. The empty hotel room has become as much a symbol of the Olympics as the five rings. Mostly, as in London, this reality is tucked away under layers of propaganda, although the locus classicus remains Montreal 1976. “The Olympics can no more have a deficit than a man can have a baby,” swanked Mayor Jean Drapeau. That baby was 30 years old before the city paid off the debt.
Awareness of the Olympics’ dark side is growing. Brazil has been in ferment. Tokyo, the 2020 host, is restless. Boston and Hamburg had to stop bidding for 2024 because of protests. By the 2030s it will probably only be only egomaniac leaders, mostly unelected, who will even dare to get involved.
The IOC loves to present itself as a force for good in international relations. But the Russian drug scandal is a reminder that, as in the three successive Games in the 1970s and 80s at which one bloc or another staged major boycotts, the Olympics can be an irritant rather than soothing balm.
The humanitarian cost? A decade ago the Geneva-based Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) reckoned that in the previous 20 years, starting with 720,000 forced evictions before Seoul 1988, more than two million people had lost their homes to provide Olympic venues. That was before a final figure could be estimated for Beijing 2008, let alone Rio. Sadly COHRE now seems to be defunct; perhaps the office was demolished.
My two cents: for the average person the scandal could be tolerated if the Olympics mattered, but they don't. Interest in the Olympics has faded since the end of the Cold War. International rivalry isn't what it used to be, and won't be as long as Islamic countries generally suck at track and gymnastics. I genuinely believe people wouldn't care about the excessive costs and the human rights abuses if the result was beating up the commie/terrorist bad guys. That's a good thing, because now we can cast a critical eye on an institution that, at worst, is thoroughly corrupt, and at best, leads bid cities to over-promise and under-deliver.

Venezuela turns to forced labour
CNBC reports:
A Venezuelan ministry last week announced Resolution No. 9855, which calls for the establishment of a "transitory labor regime" in order to relaunch the agricultural and food sector. The decree says that the government must do what is "necessary to achieve strategic levels of self-sufficiency," and states that workers can be forcefully moved from their jobs to work in farm fields or elsewhere in the agricultural sector for periods of 60 days.
If the state deems the worker's labour necessary beyond the two-month period, he could be forced into a second 60-day period of forced labour. This is egregious and I'm glad that Amnesty International is speaking out against it. Whether or not this is efficacious is beside the point. Amnesty says it is counter-productive. So does economist David Henderson, although he thinks so for different reasons. But the more important issue, as Henderson admits, is this:
One of the biggest accomplishments of the last two centuries has been the elimination of slavery, much of which was used in agriculture--in most of the Western world. Venezuela's government has taken a further step back to that horrible institution.
Western governments must speak out against the barbaric practice of forced labour, a euphemism for slavery.

Is Hillary the underdog?
Douglas Schoen, a former adviser and pollster to president Bill Clinton in the 1990s, writes in the Wall Street Journal: "The 2016 election is trending toward Donald Trump." The polls he uses do not include numbers that would reflect the final two days of the Democratic National Convention, although the trends started well before the RNC. Trump is ahead in most recent polls, has pulled even or ahead in several swing states, and leads by 18 percentage points among independents according to one poll. It's a pretty compelling picture of momentum for Trump. Schoen admits that Nate Silver's forecast has Trump at about a 47% chance to win the presidency, up from about 20% a month ago. But at 47% -- which includes the RNC bounce -- Hillary is still favoured. Calling the Democratic standard-bearer an underdog screams clickbait.
Schoen writes, "This week’s CNN/ORC poll found that only 30% of voters say she is honest and trustworthy and 68% say she isn’t, her worst rating in that survey." This number might matter more than any other. It means that although Clinton's speech was praised by the press, it will be difficult for it to be well-received by most voters. Ditto anything she says or does on the campaign trail. When two-out-of-three people don't find a candidate trustworthy (which includes a not insignificant proportion of her own supporters), it means campaign promises are unlikely going to win over voters.
Schoen says there are a number of wildcards that don't help Hillary, including what happens with Bernie Sanders' voters. I'd guess they either get back in line and vote Democrat or stay home (with some portion voting Green). The record high polling for the Green and Libertarian parties is probably unsustainable, but certainly reflects the fact that many voters in both parties are willing to look elsewhere.
Hillary Clinton is not the underdog, but she isn't much of a favourite anymore. This reflects her own weaknesses and the fact the Trump is 1) not quite as bad as the media suggests he is and/or 2) he taps into something deeper that the pundit class has totally missed. But it is hard to get away from the conclusion that a merely average Democratic presidential candidate would likely win easily in November and it is far from certain that Clinton is going to be president come next January. Underdog is a little much, but "this-race-is-closer-than-it-ever-should-have-been" seems accurate.

Convention ratings. Who care?
Powerline's Paul Mirengoff notes that more people watched the Democratic convention than the Republican convention, but more people tuned into Donald Trump's Thursday night speech over Hillary Clinton's Thursday night speech one week later (approximately 35 million compared to 32 million). That is probably in part due to the star power of the first three nights for the Democrats (both Obamas, Bill Clinton, Bernie Sanders); recall, many of the Republican big names stayed away from the convention. Yet Mirengoff reminds us that it might not matter:
However, convention ratings have no predictive value in terms of the election. According to the Los Angeles Times, a 2012 analysis by Larry Sabato found that the political party with a higher-rated convention lost the White House in seven out of the last 14 presidential elections.
The party with the higher-rated convention wins exactly 50% of the time. There could be any number of reasons for that and here's my theory: people watch what they need to learn about and sometimes they like what they see and sometimes they don't. It's also possible that most of those who tune in already have their minds made up, so there is no need to learn about the candidates.

Saturday, July 30, 2016
Does Pence know who his running mate is?
Mike Pence on Barack Obama calling Donald Trump a demagogue: "I don’t think name calling has any place in public life." And then the Indiana Governor shovels it for about 200 words explaining why Trump is not a demagogue. But I'm still stuck on "I don’t think name calling has any place in public life."

Donald Trump lies
NFL denies Donald Trump's story that the league complained to him that two of the presidential debates will compete with football games (a Monday Night Football contest between the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints on September 26 and a Sunday Night Football game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Carolina Panthers). Interestingly, those are all NFC South teams, although Florida is a swing state and Carolina and Georgia are trending toward the Democrats on the strength of the black vote. The larger point is that the NFL says Trump's account of their complaint is entirely untrue. Big surprise.

Is Trump's refusal to release his tax information related to his position on Russia?
George Will:
It is unclear whether any political idea leavens the avarice of Trump and some of his accomplices regarding today’s tormented and dangerous Russia. Speculation about the nature and scale of Trump’s financial entanglements with Putin and his associates is justified by Trump’s refusal to release his personal and business tax information. Obviously he is hiding something, and probably more than merely embarrassing evidence that he has vastly exaggerated his net worth and charitableness.
In Wednesday’s news conference, Trump said, “I have nothing to do with Russia.” Donald Trump Jr. says, “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”
Trump Sr. can end the speculation by providing information. If, however, he continues his tax information stonewall, it will be clear that he finds the speculation less damaging than the truth would be, which itself is important information.
If Trump's flirtation with Vladimir Putin is tied to the businessman's commercial dealings, what is Newt Gingrich's excuse for foreign policy folly? (See Will's column for Gingrich's silly statements on NATO and Estonia.)

Labour strife
The Daily Telegraph reports that some Labour MPs will not countenance a Jeremy Corbyn leadership victory:
Senior Labour rebels are so convinced that Jeremy Corbyn will win the leadership contest that they are planning to elect their own leader and launch a legal challenge for the party's name.
Leading moderates have told The Telegraph they are looking at plans to set up their own “alternative Labour” in a “semi-split” of the party if Mr Corbyn remains in post.
The move would see them create their own shadow cabinet and even elect a leader within Parliament to rival Mr Corbyn’s front bench and take on the Tories.
This could be fun.
If true, I wouldn't classify this as a case of sore losers not accepting the result. It could very well be the considered opinion of sober-minded Labourites that a Corbyn-led party is not only politically disastrous, but morally untenable; that Corbyn's brand of left-wing politics is too extreme and illiberal. This reading is supported by the comments of one unnamed MP:
“Essentially, the majority of MPs will formally set up their own grouping under an alternative Labour banner,” one senior moderate told The Telegraph.
“It is not a ‘we’re off to set up a new party,’ it is a ‘this is our party, we’re not leaving but our current situation is intolerable’.”
Such open talk apparently demonstrates how little confidence the anti-Corbyn wing of the party has in Owen Smith to win the leadership challenge. Perhaps its a ruse to scare some Labour members to vote for Smith in order to avoid a bitter internecine battle. That seems too clever by half.
Meanwhile, Mark Wallace wrote at Conservative Home a few days ago that he could imagine Corbyn fighting to keep his job even if he wins this leadership contest and then loses a snap election if one is called:
[T]he Corbynites would simply blame their performance on the Red Tory Blairite splitters who had dared rebel against Jeremy. If they really believe it, and they will, why would they ever believe their man should take responsibility and lose his job? No, it would instead have demonstrated the need for him not only to carry on but to redouble his efforts to change every part of Labour.
It seems conspiracy mongering, but it also doesn't seem far-fetched considering how Corbyn has grubbily tried to maintain his leadership after being challenged over the past month. That Corbyn can dress this up as principle makes it all the more likely.

While the Democrats were singing 'Everything is awesome'
The economy continues its sluggish growth. The Wall Street Journal's editorial notes:
Republicans in Cleveland were accused of being overly “dark,” and Democrats in Philadelphia (or at least some of them) tried to convince voters that the economy is better than they think it is. But the diminished opportunities that most Americans experience in their own lives is also reflected in the official statistics, which on Friday showed that the economy grew in the second quarter at an annual rate of only 1.2%.
The meager growth took most economists and Wall Street analysts by surprise, coming in at less than half the consensus forecast of 2.6%. The Commerce Department also revised growth down for the first quarter to 0.8% from the prior 1.1% estimate and the fourth quarter of 2015 to 0.9% from 1.4%.
This means that since last September the economy has pumped the brakes from the 2.2% average from 2012-2015 into a near-stall speed of about 1%.
Business investment has been weak for most of the last three years, despite the low cost of financing. The Journal observes:
The investment plunge is a signal that business is on strike, or at least depressed by uncertainty. Most CEOs will be risk-averse and conservative with their balance sheets until they see signs of a growth rebound.
That means business has little faith in the economy, and implicitly, the government.
I'm not sure government policies are entirely responsible for the sluggish economic growth and lack of business investment; I'm convinced that cultural issues, including young people with few prospects eschewing home ownership and the large purchases that come with it, are more influential than most economists appreciate. But speaker after speaker at the Democratic convention highlighting how wonderful the Obamaconomy has been, were painting a picture with bullshit.

'The mysterious case of Hunter Tootoo's ban from the Liberal caucus'
The Globe and Mail editorializes:
One former Liberal MP (and former fisheries minister), Hunter Tootoo, has returned from two months’ treatment for alcohol addiction. But another Liberal MP, Seamus O’Reagan, has returned from 45 days of treatment for alcohol addition and is still a member of the Liberal caucus, while Mr. Tootoo is now mysteriously independent of any caucus, still representing the riding of Nunavut, but in solitude.
Something is missing in this story. Surely it is hardly conceivable in this quite politically correct government that there has been discrimination against an Inuk, in contrast to an MP of Irish descent, Mr. O’Reagan.
Mr. Tootoo still says he believes in the Trudeau government, but he will not sit with it.
Rumour has it that the Prime Minister’s Office had been told that Mr. Tootoo had had an “inappropriate” relationship with a junior female staffer. Whether that means that the PMO believes that any sexual relationship between an MP or cabinet minister and a young staffer is inappropriate is unclear. Or was it that there was, or was believed to be, some extraordinary impropriety?
What is extraordinary is the Globe and Mail editorializing about rumours. (They have also published an article on the rumours.) I'm not saying the paper is wrong -- or right -- just that such an editorial strikes me as unusual. This is probably a story worth pursuing. The seemingly different treatment of Tootoo and O'Reagan screams out for a better explanation. But I still find it strange that the Globe is editorializing on rumours.

Friday, July 29, 2016
Blogging is light
Hint of why on Twitter. Hope to catch up on the news later tonight. Might be blogging if kids are asleep early. Chances of that? Less than 50%, even though they are dead tired. Family vacations are too fun to fall asleep before 11 pm.

Thursday, July 28, 2016
What I'm reading
1) Justin Trudeau: The Natural Heir by Huguette Young. I doubt it will be as good as The Dauphin: The Truth about Justin Trudeau. I'll have something to say about this book soon.
2. Stubborn Attachments: A Vision for a Society of Free, Prosperous, and Responsible Individuals by Tyler Cowen and available in a free ebook when you pre-order his The Complacent Class. I'm not sure if we're allowed to discuss the book which Cowen hopes to someday pitch to publishers.

Blogging note
I'm on the road today. Blogging will probably be light to non-existent over the next four or five days.

We could mitigate some problems with elitism by lowering the status of politics
Jason Brennan makes a phenomenal point at Bleeding Heart Libertarians:
I recently had a conversation with a reporter that went roughly as follows:
Reporter: “You say some people know better than others. Isn’t that elitist?”
Brennan: “Yes, in the same way that it’s elitist to say that plumbers know more about plumbing than I do.”
Reporter: “Oh, that makes sense.”
Of course we recognize that for most topics–baseball stats, Pokémon lore, carpentry, typing, nursing, shredding– some people know a lot, some know nothing, and some know less than nothing. No one thinks anything of that.
But for some reason, when we get to political and social scientific knowledge, we tend to pretend that everyone is equal, even though we have massive amounts of empirical evidence, collected over 60 years, showing otherwise.
My suspicion here is that this is because we treat political participation as a high status activity, while we treat nursing or Pokémon knowledge as low status. To say my plumber understands plumbing better than I do–and, accordingly, that the government should consult his opinion about plumbing rather than mine–doesn’t seem to connote that he’s a superior person overall to me. But to say that I understand economics better than my plumber and and all that does seem to connote, to most people, that I’m superior overall.
But the problem here isn’t with thinking some people know more about politics than others, or that some people’s opinions about politics are more sensible, reliable, or valuable than others. Rather, the problem is that we imbue political participation with such high status. One thing I’ve been trying to do–e.g., in “Civic Virtue without Politics” (chapter 2 of The Ethics of Voting); “For-Profit Business as Civic Virtue,” Journal of Business Ethics; “Political Liberty: Who Needs It?,” Social Philosophy and Policy; and “Politics Is not a Poem,” (chapter 5 of Against Democracy)–is lower the status of political participation. I have an elitist view of political knowledge–I think some know much better than others–but a populist view of civic virtue–I think that political participation is nothing special and should have no more status than plumbing or carpentry.

Clinton hypocrisy
Victor Davis Hanson has a long but good essay on the influence-peddling of the Clintons, which goes hand-in-hand with their decrying of greed:
Some have suggested that Bill Clinton’s impoverished upbringing accounts for his near-feral ambition to get rich. But he also seized a unique moment in which to do so. Globalization of the early 21st century and a rather new phenomenon of progressive Silicon Valley and Wall Street families’ having fabulous fortunes certainly made the idea of being a multimillionaire many times over hardly embarrassing in the fashion of the old caricatures of the robber barons in the days of J. P. Morgan and John D. Rockefeller. Banking, investment, and high technology seemed a less grubby route to elite financial status than did the old pathways of oil, minerals, agriculture, railroads, steel, and construction. The Clintons discovered that one could become very rich from a host of sources and still be considered quite progressive; indeed, liberal pieties both assuaged any guilt about one’s privilege and in a more public manner provided exemption from the logical ramifications of one’s own redistributionist rhetoric ...
[U]nlike other presidents, Bill Clinton never quite entered emeritus status. Hillary Clinton was no Betty Ford, Nancy Reagan, or Barbara or Laura Bush but, while her husband was still in office, sought a U.S. Senate seat from New York in an undisguised trajectory designed for the 2008 presidential campaign and predicated on the idea that a mature Bill would de facto be back in the Oval Office as well. Indeed, well before Hillary Clinton’s failure in the Democratic primaries in 2008 and her subsequent appointment as secretary of state, the Clintons had found a way to exploit the idea that both of them would return to the White House. That reality gave them access to quid pro quo opportunities, often funneled through a philanthropic foundation, of a sort unknown to any past American president. Most important, the Clintons had long since discovered that public outrage at their impropriety could be dismissed as the empty and vindictive charges of a “vast right-wing conspiracy” ...
But if the Clintons’ opportunities for lucre were unique — in both what the couple had to sell and the huge resources of those who wished to buy — and if they could peddle myths that they were perennial victims of right-wing witch hunts, still, what accounts for their inordinate greed? Why not settle for a fortune of $50 million — in Obama’s formulation that “at some point you’ve made enough money” — rather than risk the public opprobrium of Bill’s globetrotting shakedowns or Hillary’s efforts to hide personal e-mails that were tangential to her job as secretary of state? Their previous embarrassments, from the mundane to the existential (Whitewater, the Clinton Foundation troubles, writing used underwear off as IRS deductions, the all-but-impossible odds of making a $100,000 profit in cattle futures from a $1,000 initial investment, etc.), all reflect a nonstop drive for lucre.
Hanson says the Clintons saw themselves as entitled to the elite life of fortune and power because they were just so darned good. Their pursuit of wealth may seem hypocritical to the untutored eye of the plebes, but to the smart set, it is their just reward.

EU's new Brexit negotiator
Former French EU commissioner Michel Barnier, who has held numerous cabinet posts in various French governments, is Brussels' new chief negotiator. The Daily Telegraph reports that he blames Britain for losing his foreign minister's job in 2005 after the French government lost a referendum on the European constitution. I'm sure there are no hard feelings. The paper also reports:
Diplomats have said he is "far from a soul mate for Britain" and is hostile to the “Anglo-Saxon” free market model of capitalism.
In 2010 the Telegraph described him as “the most dangerous man in Europe” ...
Mr Barnier is likely to be a tough negotiator and take a hard line on EU rules.
Speaking after the referendum vote, Mr Barnier said that shouldn't be "prisoner to the British question" during Brexit negotiations.
He has insisted that Britain will have to accept freedom of movement - "without exception or nuance" if it wants to retain access to the single market.
This is important:
Jacques Lafitte of the Avisa investment advisory group said: “After all these years that the City has demonised Michel Barnier, often unjustly, the commission could not have sent a firmer message to the English.”
There was some hope the EU would try to ensure a smooth transition and maintain a good relationship with the United Kingdom. That hope became dimmer with the appointment of Barnier.

No greater divide between elite and the masses than on Islamic terror The Spectator's Douglas Murray: "Europe’s terror summer: will politicians now accept the reality of Islamic terrorism?" Murray writes:
It is now a fortnight since Mohammed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel shouted ‘Allahu Akbar’ and ploughed a truck along the Nice seafront, killing 84 people. The following Monday Mohammed Riyad, who said he was from Afghanistan but almost certainly came from Pakistan, screamed ‘Allahu Akbar’ while hacking with an axe at his fellow passengers on a Bavarian train. The next day another Mohammed, this time Mohamed Boufarkouch, shouted ‘Allahu Akbar’ and stabbed a Frenchwoman and her three daughters (aged eight, 12 and 14) near Montpelier. Mixing things up a little, that Friday’s shooter in Munich was a child of Iranians called Ali David Sonboly. Skip forward a couple of days and a ‘-Syrian asylum seeker’ with a machete was hacking a pregnant woman to death in Stuttgart. The next day another ‘Syrian asylum seeker’, Mohammad Daleel, carried out a suicide bombing outside a bar in Ansbach, Bavaria. And a little over 24 hours later two men shouting the name of Isis entered a church in Rouen during Mass, took the nuns and congregation hostage and slaughtered the priest with a knife.
Although the public know what is going on, the media seems loath to find any connection between these events.
Pundits and politicians rather focus on childhood bullying or city planning deficiencies (really?) than obvious cultural explanation.
Murray observes:
Sections of the media and political class seem determined to stop the public coming to any conclusions. But most of us probably did that a long time ago, and these conclusions are being reinforced on a daily basis.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016
Thiel's case for smarter government spending
It is possible to be both insightful and wrong at the same time. Bloomberg's Noah Smith is a tad too cute in his column on Peter Thiel's speech at the Republican convention last week, which Smith describes as making the case for Big Government. Smith is indeed perceptive to notice that Thiel implicitly endorsed government spending on infrastructure and research, but that is hardly the same thing as endorsing Big Government. There is a difference between big government projects and the project of Big Government.
Thiel is no fan of the Welfare State, in part because governments cannot just print money at a time of negligible productivity gains in order to pain for entitlements and welfare. He wants more economic growth and concedes that government could, with the right spending, help make that a reality. Smith says that with Thielian conservatism, the "debate over redistribution versus growth is a much healthier debate than redistribution versus dysfunction." Indeed, moving the debate from the optimal size of government to growth vs. redistribution would help more people. Thiel's wager is that economic growth -- even the kind torqued with infrastructure and research spending -- will lead to a government significantly smaller than the one we have now as redistribution will be less "necessary" that in today's stagnant economy. This vision is hardly a brand on conservative Big Government.

The Brexit economy
Bloomberg's Mark Gilbert says the economic crisis predicted immediately after the Brexit vote hasn't materialized, and while a month is not long enough to gauge what will happen long-term, 1) the first over-reaction is correcting itself, and 2) there are reasons for optimism.
Regarding the over-reaction: the FTSE 100 dipped 3.15% in the day after Brexit but is up 6% since then. The British pound fell from $1.50 (US) to $1.30 overnight a month ago, but has since stabilized.
Meanwhile, the future still looks bright. Despite some land deals going south in the Brexit aftermath -- more over-reaction -- various financial institutions including Wells Fargo are committing to London:
Wells Fargo is going ahead with plans to spend about 300 million pounds on a new London headquarters. The U.S. bank currently employs about 850 people in London; it says it will occupy all of the new building, which can house about 2,600 workers and is scheduled for completion in the third quarter of next year. If a bank with a market capitalization of $245 billion trebles its City workforce, that's quite a vote of confidence in the financial capital's post-Brexit future. With the cost of moving a financial staff member abroad coming in at about 50,000 pounds per chair, according to consulting firm Synechron, maybe the feared stampede of departing bankers won't materialize.
The City is safe.

My thoughts on CPC leadership race
I have 26 tweets about the Conservative Party leadership race in reaction to Don Martin's CPC leadership odds piece he wrote for

Cowen's conversation with Michael Orthofer
If you have an interest in literature, don't miss Tyler Cowen's interview with Michael Orthofer of The Literary Saloon. You can read, watch, or listen.
I really like Orthofer's advice for parents looking to guide their children's reading (in this case, a 12 year old, but it applies to younger children, too):
I think you want to let them loose in a book environment, in the library, in the bookstore. And you want to give them the freedom to explore for themselves, because I think reading is very much a personal thing, especially in childhood and especially when parents are often tempted to — “Well, is this a book that’s good for the kid?”
I think you want to avoid that, because the child has a completely different perspective and really has to want to read the book. I think by letting them make their own choices, their own selections, finding their own way, and not really pressuring them. I don’t think you want to say, “Reading is good for you. You have to read whatever it is.” Just make it easy for them to read whatever they want to read.
Also, Cowen says that sometimes you can judge a book by its cover (effective signaling from the publisher) although Orthofer dismisses covers in favour of texts. And talking about The Canon, he says, "I’m not a big fan of Dostoevsky."

Best line of political punditry of the year. So far.
Kevin Williamson in NRO:
The Democrats deride the GOP as the party of tired, old, out-of-touch white men living in the past . . . and then introduce Paul Simon for one last warbling and off-key rendering of “Bridge over Troubled Water.”
The column is about celebrities in politics. No, not the presence of Sarah Silverman or Pat Sajak at a convention, but the presidential candidates themselves. It's worth reading.

Brexit book
The Guardian reports that Craig Oliver, former prime minister David Cameron’s director of communications, has signed a deal with Hodder & Stoughton, which will release his insider's account of the Brexit vote this fall. Unleashing Demons: The Inside Story of the EU Referendum is based on Oliver's detailed notes while advising Cameron and will cover everything from the decision to call the referendum to the aftermath of the vote, and will include private conservations with foreign leaders, political opponents, and fellow Conservatives including Boris Johnson and Michael Gove. Of course, Oliver will probably still be spinning for his former boss, but even so it will inevitably provide interesting tidbits about the fateful decision to call the Brexit vote and the subsequent campaign.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016
Cruz vs. Kerry
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry recently said in Beijing: "After all, that's the purpose of government — to represent the people and to meet the needs of our people, both of us — even though, as President Xi said, we have different systems, different culture, different history. We acknowledge that. We respect that." Senator Ted Cruz wrote a column in the Dallas Morning News criticizing Kerry's remarks, noting:
The call by Kerry to respect China, and the suggestion that the Communist Party of China "represents the people" and "meets their needs," were devastating blows to the hundreds of political prisoners languishing in China today.
One such prisoner is Yang Maodong, better known as Guo Feixiong. Guo is serving a six-year term in Yangchun Prison for organizing peaceful protests against press censorship. Currently on the 78th day of a hunger strike, he has lost at least a third of his body weight.
While China has a nominal constitution, there is no corresponding rule of law. Still, brave souls there have given and are giving their lives to change this harsh reality. Guo began his advocacy on behalf of religious minorities, providing legal counsel to incarcerated Christian pastors and Falun Gong-affiliated attorneys. A founding member of the "rights movement" in China, he has defended thousands of Chinese citizens who did not know they were theoretically entitled to civil rights.

Could Michelle Obama's performance backfire?
There is a downside to Michelle Obama's widely acclaimed speech last night:

Watching terrorists isn't enough
The Daily Mail: "Jihadists storm French church during Mass chanting 'Allahu Akbar'." Three Muslims entered a Catholic church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray near Rouen and slit the throat of 84-year-old Fr. Jacques Hamel. The Daily Mail reports that "the Catholic church was on a terrorist 'hit list' found in the apartment of a suspected ISIS extremist last April." And:
One of the extremists who stormed into the church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray near Rouen during mass was a French 19-year-old, who was being monitored by electronic tag after twice attempting to join fanatics in Syria. Unbelievably, his bail terms allowed him to be unsupervised between 8.30am and 12.30pm - the attack happened between 9am and 11am.

Apocalympics 2016
The Wall Street Journal reports: "Olympics organizers on Monday rushed to fix bad wiring, broken plumbing and other problems in the athletes’ village after several foreign teams complained that accommodations were dirty and in disrepair less than two weeks before the start of the Games." Before the games started. The Australian contingent got hotels, the Dutch haven't decided what they're doing, and the Italians have hired contractors to repair the problems themselves. Olympic organizers in Rio admit they are "behind schedule" on the athlete village, some two weeks before the Olympics open.

Despite the fact that President Obama has 'fulfilled most of his major progressive policy goals' ...
The Wall Street Journal says he "is leaving to his successor a world of spreading disorder and a country as economically anxious and more politically polarized than he inherited." The paper editorializes that for the most part, Barack Obama got what he wanted:
Even opponents of Mr. Obama’s agenda have to admit that he has achieved most of what he campaigned on. With a Democratic supermajority in 2009-2010, he passed the largest stimulus spending bill in decades, pushed through ObamaCare, nationalized the student-loan industry, and turned the banks into public utilities answerable first to government.
Democrats resisted him on cap and trade and union card check, but he has since achieved by executive fiat most of what he wanted on climate change and labor organizing. As the Bush tax rates expired in 2013, he insisted on and won a huge tax increase. His one major unfulfilled ambition is immigration reform, but that hangs on who nominates the next Supreme Court Justice.
And yet:
As Mr. Obama leaves office, the national mood is more sour than at anytime since the 1960s. The polls say some two-thirds of the voters think the country is on the “wrong track,” and a majority say they expect their children to do less well financially than they did. This reflects the historically slow economic recovery and incomes that have only recently begun to return to where they were when the recession ended ...
These frustrations also reflect an American politics that is increasingly divided by ideology, age, race, class and gender. This is in no small part the result of Mr. Obama’s governing strategy. When Democrats ran Congress with supermajorities, he settled for passing his agenda on partisan votes. He thus built no durable consensus for ObamaCare ...
As for the world, U.S. retreat has produced the opposite of Reagan’s pax Americana. His premature departure from Iraq and abdication on Syria created a vacuum for Islamic State. A refugee crisis threatens Middle East stability and torments Europe with terror attacks on trains and family outings to view fireworks. Authoritarians in Iran, Russia and China are advancing to dominate their regions.
It is hard to see the Obama presidency as anything but a failure.

Monday, July 25, 2016
Taube is officially a grumpy old man
Michael Taube doesn't like Pokemon Go. And get off his lawn.
In all seriousness, this is a weak column. Instead of joining the moral panic over a game, a so-called distraction -- and dismissing the importance in "escaping" the daily grind of everyday life -- there is space for a column examining the costs and benefits of augmented reality. Taube concludes wondering if we'll ever look back at this phenomenon and find that it was beneficial. Of course, he doubts we will, but his column never considers the possibility of an upside. Instead, he falls prey to the familiar but tired trope that people have the right to play this game if they want, while sneering at their choice. I'd add that his essential argument is also an argument against watching television or reading most non-fiction.
For a different view see Jack Karsten and Darrell M. West in the Brookings Institute TechTank, who say that augmented reality has important applications beyond gaming:
Though it may be just a game, it’s a brief insight into the technology our world will wield ten or even five years from now.
Augmented reality of the future means instead of seeing a Charizard in front of your apartment building, a fireman can see the structural vulnerabilities, temperatures, and exit routes. The internet of things (IoT) adding billions of sensors means that instead of tracking down virtual monsters, wearables will help emergency services track down victims or your house will automatically call 911 if it’s on fire.
Fifth generation (5G) wireless networks and the IoT will be transformative to healthcare in the near future. For example, wearables will allow doctors to proactively treat and diagnose patients, and 5G networks will enable the instant transfer of high quality imaging, letting patients receive quality care from specialists around the world and breaking down barriers built by cost and geography.

Sanders supporters boo Sanders
The Washington Examiner reports that at a rally in Philadelphia, Bernie Sanders was booed by his own supporters after he encouraged them to elect Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine.

Unasked questions
Arnold Kling: "I wonder how much of the trend toward industry consolidation and loss of dynamism in the past twenty years is due to regulation and rent-seeking." This is worth examining in-depth.

Brexit-lite is EU-lite which is still too much EU
The Daily Mail reports that pro-Brexit MPs are not happy with the idea being floated in Brussels that Britain will maintain access to the single market, still pay hundreds of millions of euros, and only regain partial control over immigration. Not good enough. As former Tory MP John Redwood says: "The UK did not recently vote for a slightly beefed up version of Mr Cameron’s attempted renegotiation with the EU." Redwood explains: "We voted to leave, to take back control of our laws, our money and our borders. Those phrases were repeated throughout the Leave campaign, heard and understood by many, and approved by the majority of voters."
The story also reports that some MPs are no so crazy about the idea of staying within the single market, saying out means out. But pro-Brexit leaders were consistent in their messaging about not allowing Brussels to set rules for Britain and needing to regain control of migration, but they were not of one mind about free trade with Europe.

Donald Trump was right
Donald Trump has repeatedly said the Democratic primaries were rigged to help Hillary Clinton and screw over Bernie Sanders. The Washington Post reports that the Wikileaks dump of 20,000 emails from the Democratic National Committee reveal that the DNC tried to hinder the Sanders campaign and cooperated with the HRC campaign in doing so:
Many of the most damaging emails suggest the committee was actively trying to undermine Bernie Sanders's presidential campaign. Basically all of these examples came late in the primary -- after Hillary Clinton was clearly headed for victory -- but they belie the national party committee's stated neutrality in the race even at that late stage.
The Post then lists nine examples of the DNC's violation of their supposed neutrality in the primaries, including "A Clinton lawyer gives DNC strategy advice on Sanders," and "Wishing Sanders would just end it."
My two cents: party leadership/establishment has every right to work for favoured candidate. Just don't pretend to be neutral.

Is 'cool' presidential
The Washington Post says that First Lady Michelle Obama should help the Democrats open their convention, rallying the base (read: blacks and young people) behind Hillary Clinton because of fears among party leaders that the former first lady hasn't been able to close the deal with these segments of the population. The Post's Krissah Thompson writes:
As it happened, Michelle Obama’s most visible appearance last week was her instantly viral “Carpool Karaoke” segment with “The Late Late Show” host James Corden, in which she sang along to Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” and rapped along to Missy Elliot’s 2001 hit “Get Ur Freak On,” accompanied by Elliot herself. Vanity Fair, upon seeing this, dubbed her the “Coolest First Lady.”
Good grief.
The celebrity-obsessed Left gobbles this stuff up and the Right (perhaps jealous that their star power shines much dimmer) hates it. To conservatives, this is proof of the vapidity of not only Michelle Obama but her adoring fans and a not insignificant portion of Democratic voters.
Hillary Clinton doesn't do cool, and maybe that's fine. Karen Yuan wrote at Bustle a few months ago about candidate Clinton trying too hard to be cool and failing miserably. HRC doesn't need to be cool, she needs to be presidential. If she needs cool to win over young voters, better to outsources it, like she is to the current First Lady on Day 1 of the Democratic convention.

Apocalympics 2016
All the latest horrible stories from Rio at Reddit's Apocalympics 2016. Some recent stories include the Australian Olympic team skipping the Olympic residences because of faulty toilets and, well, "The Media Village at the Rio Olympics Is Built on a Mass Grave of Slaves."

It's still early, but there are reasons for optimism among Brexiteers
The Observer reported:
Plans to allow the United Kingdom an exemption from EU rules on freedom of movement for up to seven years while retaining access to the single market are being considered in European capitals as part of a potential deal on Brexit. Senior British and EU sources have confirmed that despite strong initial resistance from French president François Hollande in talks with prime minister Theresa May last week, the idea of an emergency brake on the free movement of people that would go far further than the one David Cameron negotiated before the Brexit referendum is being examined. If such an agreement were struck, and a strict time limit imposed, diplomats believe it could go a long way towards addressing concerns of the British people over immigration from EU states, while allowing the UK full trade access to the European market.
That's not just Boris Johnson optimism, but eurocrat acceptance of the obvious: having Britain tied to Europe with strings attached (no pun intended) is better than Britain falling away from Europe because of continental stubbornness.

Euthanasia is incompatible with the medical profession and U.S./state constitutions
Writing in the Wall Street Journal Dr. Phillip Dreisbach, director of the Desert Hematology Oncology Medical Group at the Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, Calif., makes two essential arguments against euthanasia. The first is very straightforward:
Killing is never medical care. There is no circumstance when any compassionate, competent physician would prescribe a deadly drug to any patient. If “medical practice” has any meaning, it definitely does not include using drugs to willfully kill a patient or for a physician and pharmacist to supply a lethal drug so that a patient can kill himself.
The American Medical Association has spoken for all physicians by stating: “Physician-assisted suicide is fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as healer, would be difficult or impossible to control, and would pose serious societal risks.”
It should be noted that the aggressive treatment of pain that unintentionally results in the death of a patient is not euthanasia or assisted-suicide.
The second reason is constitutional:
Equal protection is not a mindless bumper-sticker slogan. It is a pillar of state and federal constitutions and must not be corrupted. Under the law, equal protection must apply not only to the healthy and able but to the most vulnerable — the unhealthy, the disabled, the elderly — and all who might fall victim to those peddling physician-assisted killing.
A somewhat novel argument and one that should be taken seriously by lawmakers and judges.

Sunday, July 24, 2016
Will on Trump and Pence
George Will wonders if Donald Trump can increase the non-college-educated white turnout enough to win the election and whether Mike Pence will flip-flop from former positions on entitlements and trade to those of his running mate's. If I were a betting man I'd want 3:2 odds in favour of Trump increasing non-college-educated white turnout to 66-67% (which could be enough to win unless college-educated white turnout increases by more than 1%). I'd have to give 10:1 on Pence flip-flopping, but I'd still take that bet.

The cost of subway delays
Alex Tabarrok on transit delays in Washington DC:
I had to take the Metro to DC earlier this week and due to track closings for safety improvements it was miserable, at least 45 minutes of delays for the roundtrip. Some 700,000 people ride the metro every day and if each is delayed by just 15 minutes total (7.5 minutes each way) then at $15 an hour that’s 2.6 million dollars worth of delay every day.
Politicians and bureaucrats do a lousy job accounting for citizens' time in determining the benefits of any particular public policy.

Why Thiel is supporting Trump
Peter Thiel, says the Wall Street Journal's Holman Jenkins, thinks the status quo of unproductive economic growth and a growing welfare state is unsustainable, and is looking for someone to "blow-up" Washington to challenge the way things are. As Jenkins says, despite differences on immigration and trade, for Thiel, "Trump is a wrecking ball at a time when Washington needs a wrecking ball. It needs a candidate whose very existence forcibly disrupts its ways and patterns." Jenkins explains:
You had to know where Mr. Thiel was coming from to know where he was going with his support of Mr. Trump. Few voters did. Yet the job Mr. Thiel gave himself is an important one. The Republican convention has now wrapped up. Those immune to histrionics and heavy breathing have only one question: Will Mr. Trump mount a fall campaign equal to the task of returning a Republican majority to both houses of Congress?
Even voters sensitive to the many ways that Donald Trump has given lip to an agenda that likely would do more harm than good can see him as a gift of providence. He’s here to scare the bejesus out of the establishment.
Mr. Trump fulfills this role even if he loses by a smidgen to Hillary Clinton. Mrs. Clinton and the GOP House and Senate leadership of Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell will be left acknowledging a near-run thing. Mrs. Clinton will have no second term, no legacy; Mr. Ryan will have no hope of the presidency; Mr. McConnell will finally fall to the Tea Party types who have been gunning for him so long—unless they make the deals that begin America’s renewal.
Thiel was a strong supporter of Ted Cruz. Now he's backing Trump. What Thiel is hoping to do is not win the election, necessarily, but change the Republicans, to get them moving away from the Big Government-supporting party it has become.

Saturday, July 23, 2016
Politics is personal
The Sun reports that Boris Johnson is in no hurry to mend fences with Michael Gove, a former ally. At a meeting between the two, according to sources, Gove did most of the talking but maintained he was right to put his own name forward for the Tory leadership. Another source said of the meeting, "Boris could barely bring himself to look at Gove." It is understandable. I'm not sure this relationship was ever as close as people assumed, or if it can be fixed. A successful stint as Foreign Secretary might make Gove irrelevant to Johnson's future.

May government to cut taxes?
The Daily Mail reports that economists and political watchers are reading Phillip Hammond's comments that the Chancellor of the Exchequer's Autumn Statement could be an opportunity to "reset fiscal policy if we deem it necessary to do so in light of data that will emerge over the coming months" means the Theresa May government could accelerate the corporate tax cuts promised by Hammond's predecessor George Osborne and that the government could cut the VAT. This is thought to be necessary to calm post-Brexit economic jitters.
No one knows how the Brexit negotiations will go, but one reason to be optimistic is that European stakeholders will press pro-EU ideologues to ensure a smooth transition. German corporate heads and Luxemburg officials are open to Britain limiting migration and maintaining access to the common market. Shutting British business out of Europe is in no ones interests (except those who want to make an example of Britain to thwart others from leaving).

Tim Kaine has a lot of flip-flopping to do
The Washington Post has highlighted three areas in which Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton's running mate, doesn't follow the standard line for Democrats: trade, banks, and abortion. HRC -- and increasingly the party -- does not tolerate any dissent on their no-limits-on-abortion position. Kaine has supported the Hyde Amendment, parental consent, and pro-life license plates.

Friday, July 22, 2016
Brexit, the convenient explanation for everything that is bad
Ed Conway in the Times (of London):
Brexit is Britain’s great gift to the world: a giant pre-cooked excuse for absolutely everything. The French have an alibi if their economy falters; the Italians can blame the UK when their disastrously undercapitalised banking system goes under; the Germans can point the finger when Deutsche Bank loses its battle with financial gravity. And when the single currency finally implodes or the broader European project disintegrates, you can be sure that as the ship goes down, one curse will be audible above the gurgling: Brexit. Little matter that the vast majority of these problems existed long before David Cameron cooked up the idea of an in-out vote.
The same is true of Britain's economic problems.

Against 'radical' and 'extreme'
Tyler Cowen, as he often does, makes an excellent point:
In general, I am suspicious when someone dismisses a view for being “radical” or “extreme.” There is usually sloppy thinking behind that designation. Why not just say what is wrong with the view? How for instance are we supposed to feel about “radical Christianity”? Good or bad? Does it mean Origen or Ted Cruz or something altogether different? Can’t we just debate the question itself?
More generally, when that term “radical” or “extreme” is introduced, there is a presupposition that no external argument or perspective can be so strong to counter what one’s own swarmy group takes for granted.

How is a conservative to vote in 2016?
Matthew J. Franck, director of the William E. and Carol G. Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution at the Witherspoon Institute, has a thoughtful reflection on why conservatives cannot vote for either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. Choosing the lesser of two evils only works when one is not evil, but, says Franck, both HRC and The Donald are evil. His advice -- and it is what has guided my voting post-1996 -- is beautifully simple: "Vote as if your ballot determines nothing whatsoever — except the shape of your own character. Vote as if the public consequences of your action weigh nothing next to the private consequences."

Thursday, July 21, 2016
Douthat on Cruz
Ross Douthat in the New York Times on Ted Cruz's speech last night:
You don’t know what strategy will play well four years hence — so stand up for your own integrity, your cause’s principles and your family’s honor. The future is unwritten — but you can make sure that when the history of the present year is written, your place won’t be with those timid and temporizing souls who surrendered both their party and their dignity to Donald Trump.
That’s what Cruz earned himself last night: not a better chance at the presidency, but a profile in political courage that will be remembered no matter what happens to his political ambitions henceforth. And it’s yet another irony of this most ironic year that it would be the most overtly Machiavellian of Republican politicians who would keep his honor, and pass a test that so many politicians of more conspicuous high-mindedness have failed.

2020 watch (It's never too early edition)
The standard "analysis" of Ted Cruz's refusal to utter the words "endorsement" in relation to Donald Trump last night is that the Texas senator has 2020 presidential ambitions. But what about John Kasich? He is not speaking at the convention but he's working the town -- he is governor of Ohio, after all -- and he spent 15 minutes with the New Hampshire delegation, telling them, "For the people in New Hampshire ... I’ll be back." There is only one reason for a politician to spend time in the Granite State, right?

What if Republicans lose Texas?
George Will says that demographic trends -- urbanization and majority minority population -- suggests that Texas is becoming less reliably Republican. I don't think the GOP is permanently lost if Texas becomes a swing state; I think the GOP will change radically to contest such states. I think you will see a change in Ted Cruz over the next two years to not only win the GOP presidential nomination in 2020, but to retain his Texas senate seat in 2018.

Cruz at RNC
Ted Cruz refused to explicitly endorse Donald Trump. He told Republicans -- and all Americans -- to vote their conscience, up and down the ticket, to defend freedom and the constitution. After attacking the record and worldview of Obama and Clinton, that could be read as an endorsement of Trump, had it not been for the chants of "endorse Trump" that the Texas senator ignored. Brandon Kiser tweeted: "If "vote your conscience" makes you think someone is saying not to vote for your guy, maybe your conscience is telling you something." You can, and should, watch the convention's most conservative speech. It is not all that surprising that the walking ego himself made a public appearance in the stands to upstage his primary rival. The Washington Examiner reports that Heidi Cruz had to be escorted from the convention floor for her own safety.
I was surprised Cruz's speech wasn't vetted and approved by the Trump team. Josh Barro said that Trump letting Cruz speak without securing an endorsement is evidence that contrary to Trump's boasts, he's a lousy dealmaker.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016
Kasich reported offered presidency veep job by Trumps
The Daily Mail reports that Donald J. Trump Jr. offered Ohio Governor John Kasich the vice presidential nomination with responsibility for "domestic and foreign policy" which doesn't leave a lot left for a President Trump to do. I could live with that.

Trudeau's two Supreme Court nomination recommendation committees
The Globe and Mail reports:
The Liberal government is expected to let people nominate themselves for the Supreme Court job that becomes vacant on Sept. 1, with potential candidates asked to write in on their own behalf and explain why they deserve to be on Canada’s highest court.
The government will position the move as an attempt to open up a secretive process and make it less elitist, as it did with self-nominations for the Senate earlier this year, a Liberal source said. The names of the self-nominated will be given to a new selection committee the Liberals will establish to keep Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s promise of greater transparency and public involvement in the appointment process.
The committee, which will include people from the legal profession and the public, will be described as independent and will winnow down the names to a short list for the Prime Minister, multiple sources told The Globe and Mail.
But behind the scenes, and with no public announcement, the government has already established a small committee of cabinet members, including Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and Government House Leader Dominic LeBlanc, to come up with a short list of names for the Prime Minister, a source says. It is not clear what the relationship between the two committees will be, or whether one group’s recommendations will get priority, or how the two groups’ lists will co-exist.
One is real, the other is not. One is for PR, one does the real work. All the talk about being open and transparency is just talk. The Globe quotes law professor Richard Devlin who says "this is just a shell game. It’s smoke and mirrors. It would be the Liberal government saying we’re changing the process but more symbolically than functionally."

State bragging rights
The Washington Post lists the brags of each state delegation at the Republican National Convention, from bourbon production to the home of spam. And Florida trolls Cleveland.

What. The. Hell?
Rick Springfield covering Katy Perry's "Roar" at a concert at the Republican National Convention. Because, why not?

Medicine > politics
Reason: "Rand Paul Isn’t at the RNC. He’s Literally Curing the Blind Instead." Yeah, the "Libertarian leader skipped the GOP convention in order to perform pro-bono surgery on needy patients."

Tuesday, July 19, 2016
Labour now has one anti-Corbyn candidate
Labour MP Angela Eagle has dropped her bid to become to become the party's next leader. That means opponents of Jeremy Corbyn can unite behind Owen Smith. Eagle took the heat for challenging Corbyn first and forcing the leadership race. Smith is untainted by the charges of disloyalty. Still, according to the oddsmakers, Corbyn is expected to survive the challenge.

The post-coup clampdown
The Guardian reports:
Some fear that Erdoğan may be using the backlash against the plot’s architects as a smokescreen for a wider crackdown on other political opponents.
Erdoğan’s allies said measures taken by the government were a necessary and justified response to a coup attempt that had almost toppled an elected administration, left the parliament badly damaged and killed hundreds of civilians.
Erdoğan was nevertheless accused of mission creep, with almost 9,000 policemen, 30 regional governors and more than 50 senior civil servants dismissed since Friday and more than 7,500 people arrested.
The detainees included more than 6,000 soldiers and 103 generals and admirals – just under a third of the military’s high command. Arrest warrants were still out for 2,700 judges, and all 3 million civil servants have been given travel bans amid government fears that some plotters within the deep state might attempt to flee. One journalist was listed for arrest, and by some estimates 20 news websites critical of the government had been shut down.
The speed and breadth of the response should raise alarms.

Matt Welch on Trump's convention
Reason's Matt Welch quotes from a number of Monday's RNC speakers and summarizes:
1) Win, 2) Permanently incarcerate without due process, 3) Erase restrictions on killing, 4) Talk tougher and back it up, 5) Lead, and 6) Use different words. These aren't policies, they're authoritarian slogans.
Welch also quotes Josh Barro's wise observation: "Most voters don't have opinions about policies. They have feelings about issues." That applies to both liberal and conservative voters.

Hague's advice to Boris Johnson
Excellent advice from William Hague, a former Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, to Boris Johnson, the new Foreign Secretary:
Make the most of your unusual advantage of being both very well known and underestimated at the same time. You can ignore the ribaldry that has greeted your appointment in some quarters – wherever you travel, governments and people will want to hear the words of one of our most recognisable foreign secretaries in history. Travel a lot – the plane doesn’t break down every day, I assure you – and show all the inhabited continents the energy and internationalism of the United Kingdom. This job is about a lot more than Brexit.
In all there are ten pieces of advice, several focusing on particular areas of the world (Turkey, southern Europe, Asia), but others are more mundane:
Build the Foreign Office into one of the great institutions of foreign policy thinking in the world. As you have seen already, it has a lot of excellent people in its ranks. They respond to a Foreign Secretary who knows what he wants, and asks them to perform. I reopened the FCO Language School, which our Labour predecessors senselessly closed, although I arrived too late to save the library they dispersed. I planned the Diplomatic Academy, which Philip Hammond supported and opened. Now it should be linked to the thinking and learning of our allies.
Also important is Hague's advice to "keep opening new posts to show Britain is getting more global, not less." The world needs more Britain.
There are eleven pieces of advice if you include, use Chevening House and its "exceptional library" as a place for reflection.

Brexit might be the priority but many issues beckon for the government's attention
Andrew Laird, founder of Mutual Ventures, writes at Conservative Home about how Theresa May's government must not let Brexit scuttle the public service reform agenda that David Cameron's government began:
For sure some legislative time will need to be devoted to unpicking our membership of the EU – but the public will judge this government as much on the delivery of serious public service reform as on executing a successful Brexit.
An overbearing cross-governmental focus on exiting the EU would threaten things like the devolution agenda and the work going on across the country in areas such as Manchester and Liverpool. These areas have been making huge strides towards taking control of local services and thinking differently about how these services are delivered. There are ambitious and innovative proposals to join up children’s services across council boundaries, which would create a more seamless service for young people. This is exciting stuff which will make a real difference to people’s lives but these devolution areas are in a state of semi-reform and the momentum must be maintained or the early progress will be lost. Also delicately placed are reforms like the integration of health and social care. This is critically important as our population gets older and services face ever-increasing pressures.
Both are ambitious projects -- to say nothing also of the need to tend to the economy during what will be tumultuous times -- but government must be able to juggle several balls at one time.

The story of Day 1 of the GOP convention
Melania Trump borrows heavily from Michelle Obama speech. Making plagiarism great again. Remember, however, that before the media caught her, they uniformly thought Mrs. Trump was the highlight of the first day.

Monday, July 18, 2016
Adult governance
I generally liked former British prime minister Dave Cameron's government and lean toward giving him and his senior ministers the benefit of the doubt, but there were two big weaknesses (that may or may not be problems): the small and insular ruling clique (as happens with any government) and its tendency to gimmickry and fashionableness. So I liked Dominic Lawson's Daily Mail column, "Government by Twitter is dead and (at long last!) the grown-ups are back in charge," on the new Conservative government of Theresa May. Announcing policy on Twitter is not 21st century, it's obnoxious.

2016 watch (Trump doesn't read edition)
The Washington Post reports:
He has no time to read, he said: “I never have. I’m always busy doing a lot. Now I’m more busy, I guess, than ever before.”
Trump’s desk is piled high with magazines, nearly all of them with himself on their covers, and each morning, he reviews a pile of printouts of news articles about himself that his secretary delivers to his desk. But there are no shelves of books in his office, no computer on his desk.
It's not Donald Trump's lack of reading that is the problem, but that he seems to lack any intellectual curiosity and the stubborn belief that he knows everything he needs to know.

The Left as posture politics and why it doesn't resonate with voters
Nick Cohen has an incredible column in The Guardian, as the frustrated lefty finds the Labour Party flirting with political positions that won't help it get elected, and probably won't even help its pet projects. Cohen writes:
Three-quarters of Labour members are middle class and just over half have a degree. A practical programme of redistribution would not only hurt the super-rich but them too. Large numbers would hurt enough to think again about giving Corbyn support. Instead of asking them to bear pain, the 21st-century far left allows them to enjoy socialism without tears. Contrary to Stalin’s apologists, it maintains you can make an omelette without breaking eggs.
Anyone can be against austerity and poverty, spin and the Westminster bubble, the bankers and the corporations, if there is no price to pay. Students can project their hopes on to the blank slate Corbyn offers them. Old soixante-huitards and the militants of the Thatcher era can refight the battles of their youth as painlessly as the Sealed Knot refights the Civil War. Wykehamist Marxists can stand shoulder to shoulder with exhibitionist celebrities; wild intellectuals with the justifiably furious shop stewards.
Empty leftism gave Corbyn control of the Labour party, but little else. He has the lowest popularity rating of any opposition leader in history. The public sees a political movement that doesn’t want to govern them and does not much like them either. Government necessarily involves the trade-offs the far left pretends need never trouble us. Labour’s founding constitution of 1918 said its first purpose was to establish and retain, in parliament and in the country, a political Labour party. The far left has to reject it because it can never win elections without losing its illusions.

Is Obama to blame for cops being killed?
The Manhattan Institute's Heather Mac Donald thinks so. She recounts President Barack Obama using the memorial service for the slain Dallas cops as an opportunity to grandstand and rebuke America and especially its cops for their alleged racism, and argues:
The irresponsible zealotry of this rebuke was stunning. Obama was fully on notice that the hatred of cops was reaching homicidal levels. And yet his commitment to prosecuting his crusade against phantom police racism trumped considerations of prudence and safety, on the one hand, and decent respect for the fallen, on the other. Of course, Obama also uttered the mandatory praise for officers who “do an incredibly hard and dangerous job fairly and professionally,” and he warned against “paint[ing] all police as biased, or bigoted.” This was self-indulgent hypocrisy. A passing denunciation of stereotyping hardly compensates for the insane accusation that black parents rightly fear that any time “their child walks out the door,” that child could be killed by a cop.
It is possible that the Dallas killers and the Baton Rouge killers had not heard Obama’s most recent speeches on criminal-justice racism, or even the many that preceded them. But even if the cop murderers had not encountered Obama’s exact words, the influence of his rhetoric on the hatred in the streets is absolute. Obama’s imprimatur on the Black Lives Matter demagoguery gives it enormous additional thrust and legitimacy, echoing throughout public discourse into the most isolated corners of the inner city.

Obama: vote on Merrick Garland
Writing in the pages of the Wall Street Journal, President Barack Obama pleads with the GOP-controlled Senate to vote on his nominee to the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland. Sure, but vote him down.

The Islamic problem
Felix Marquardt, founder of the Al-Kawakibi Foundation for Islamic Reform and the think tank Youthonomics, writes in the Globe and Mail:
Being Muslim in the West in 2016 means having your faith’s compatibility with modern, peaceful, democratic values questioned on a daily basis by at least three constituencies: non-Muslim racists and bigots of all sorts, Muslim fundamentalists and, particularly in places such as France, hysterical secularists. Facing these constant attacks can be quite disheartening.
Unfortunately, adding insult to injury, it also increasingly means being so-called defended by people and institutions that think they are being clever and constructive in arguing that there is no link between the barbaric acts of violence carried out all over the world these days by monsters in the name of Islam.
This makes the position of Muslims who argue that there is no intrinsic, indeed ontological, incompatibility between universal values and Islamic ones absolutely untenable ...
If Muslims want to be taken seriously when we argue that our religion is one of love and peace and social justice, then we must not cede to the natural inclination to say we have “nothing to do” with the authors of the ignominious crimes committed in the name of Islam.
We have one thing in common with them. We all call ourselves Muslims.

Coups and economic growth
Tyler Cowen is now a Bloomberg View columnist. (Great pickup for Bloomberg.) His inaugural column examines the economic effects of coups and coup attempts. Research "suggests failed coup attempts against democratic governments don’t much lower subsequent rates of economic growth in those countries." Coups against autocracies generally help the economy, while coups against democratic governments generally harm the economy and various measures of social well-being.

Sunday, July 17, 2016
Theresa May's cabinet
I intended to write a full analysis of Theresa May's cabinet, but I haven't had the time. Overall, it's very good. I had hoped that Liam Fox and David Davis would return to cabinet, and Boris Johnson would get a promotion and they did. I also hoped that Oliver Letwin and Michael Gove would stay in government, and be joined by Iain Duncan Smith who left David Cameron's government in March. That didn't happen. If they had been called to 10 Downing Street -- Davis, Fox, Gove, Johnson, Letwin, and Smith -- May would have had the most conservative cabinet in modern British history, even more so than anything Margaret Thatcher put together. Alas, Gove probably sealed his own fate with his post-Brexit political maneuvering, but he was never on good terms with May at the Home Office. My quick and dirty impression of the cabinet shuffle mirrors Gaby Hinsliff's in The Guardian: "the cool kids are out, age and experience are in." There has been a lot of talk of breaking up the Cameron clique and the rise of Brexiteers, but some more basic is at play. Britain faces very real challenges, most, but not all, related to Brexit. Competence -- and May's confidence in her ministers -- was the over-riding factor in selecting the cabinet. Some are sure hands, others are a bit of risk, but all are more than capable of fulfilling their duties to the Crown, the British people, and the Conservative government. May has passed her first test of governance.

Globalism vs. nationalism
I increasingly think the left/right or conservative/liberal frame for western politics is insufficient and increasingly the debate is between open and closed. Political parties still adhere to the left/right continuum, but voters do less so. Even if just 20% of voters move away from the left/right dichotomy, it has incredible power to change electoral politics.
Instead of open and closed, a close way of thinking about our world is nationalist and globalist. At The American Interest, Jonathan Haidt has a very fair examination of the nationalist vs. globalist mindset that increasingly separates a good chunk of the citizenry outside capital cities, commercial hubs, and academic centers, from the ruling elite.
I recommend reading the full essay, but Haidt makes excellent observations about so-called racism among nationalists that are worth highlighting:
Racism is clearly evident in some of the things that some nationalists say in interviews, chant at soccer matches, or write on the Internet with the protection of anonymity. But “racism” is a shallow term when used as an explanation. It asserts that there are some people who just don’t like anyone different from themselves—particularly if they have darker skin. They have no valid reason for this dislike; they just dislike difference, and that’s all we need to know to understand their rage.
But that is not all we need to know. On closer inspection, racism usually turns out to be deeply bound up with moral concerns. (I use the term “moral” here in a purely descriptive sense to mean concerns that seem—for the people we are discussing—to be matters of good and evil; I am not saying that racism is in fact morally good or morally correct.) People don’t hate others just because they have darker skin or differently shaped noses; they hate people whom they perceive as having values that are incompatible with their own, or who (they believe) engage in behaviors they find abhorrent, or whom they perceive to be a threat to something they hold dear. These moral concerns may be out of touch with reality, and they are routinely amplified by demagogues. But if we want to understand the recent rise of right-wing populist movements, then “racism” can’t be the stopping point; it must be the beginning of the inquiry.

Trump sort of introducing Pence
Vox's Ezra Klein can be a putz, but he's correct in his analysis of Donald Trump introducing his running mate Mike Pence:
What started as farce continued as farce. Trump emerged without Pence. He spoke, alone, at a podium adorned with Trump’s name, but not Pence’s. And then Trump proceeded to talk about himself for 28 minutes. There is no other way to say this than to say it: it was the single most bizarre, impulsive, narcissistic performance I have ever seen from a major politician ...
I can tell you that he rambled, but that doesn’t do it justice. He spoke about Hillary Clinton, about himself, about his victories. He talked about crushing the Republican establishment in the primaries and talking to a buddy building plants in Mexico. He bragged about the beautiful hotel he is building in Washington, DC, and patted himself on the back for his foreign policy foresight over the years.
Every five minutes or so, he seemed to remember, just for a moment, like a man trying and failing to wake from a dream, that he was there to introduce Mike Pence, and so he would say something like, "now back to Mike Pence," but then he would slip back again, and tell another anecdote about himself.
Near the end, Trump actually talked about Pence:
When Trump finally stuck to Pence, at the end of his lengthy speech, he seemed robotic, bored, restless. He recited Pence’s accomplishment like he was reading his Wikipedia page for the first time, inserting little snippets of meta-commentary and quick jabs as if to keep himself interested.
Watching any Trump speech is painful, and this one is no different.

Saturday, July 16, 2016
What I'm reading
1. Viking Economics: How the Scandinavians Got it Right -- and How We Can, Too by George Lakey. Second book out in the last few months on this topic (I just finished reading The Nordic Theory of Everything: In Search of a Better Life).
2. The Great Invention: The Story of GDP and the Making and Unmaking of the Modern World by Ehsan Masood. Questioning GDP is nothing new, but there seems to be a cottage industry on the topic lately.
3. Innovation and Its Enemies: Why People Resist New Technologies by Calestous Juma. Essentially a book-length and broader version of the recent feature in The Economist about fearing artificial intelligence.
4. Business and the Roberts Court edited by Jonathan H. Adler. Perusing more than reading. When you get past the usual political splits, the Roberts court has some fascinating legal minds.

Brexit negotiations
Ian Dunt, editor of, has an article summarizing the views of various observers of the European scence: "Everything you need to know about Theresa May’s Brexit nightmare in five minutes." Dunt takes a very negative view, saying freedom of movement and the single market are one, indivisible aspect of Europe. All negotiations break down because of this fact. It is possible that the European Union would be more flexible in order to maintain a decent relationship with the UK and to address the concerns of EU-skeptical populations throughout Europe (Austria, Netherlands, increasingly France). More likely, the EU will try to make an example of the UK. What most observers do not take into account is the lobbying of corporations on both sides that have a vested interest. Dunt also says a Canadian-style free trade agreement with the EU is unlikely.
(HT: Marginal Revolution)

Carbon tax coming by end of the year
Bloomberg reports that Environment Minister Catherine McKenna is saying a little more than she's "committed" to a carbon tax -- although Liberals are calling the tax a "price" -- as she tells Bloomberg TV that legislation will be introduced this fall: "We need a national price on carbon. So that’s what we’re going to have in the fall." It's an indication that Ottawa is willing to go ahead without agreement of the provinces.

Raitt and Conservative leadership
CBC: "Lisa Raitt 'leaning positively' towards Conservative leadership bid." She is infinitely more qualified for the job than those who have already announced. She is by far the best on economic files in the caucus.
My theory of the Conservative leadership: if Peter MacKay runs, the race becomes MacKay, the stop Peter MacKay candidate, and a social conservative, with a bunch of people who can't break 10%. Maxime Bernier is trying hard to be the non-MacKay by running an ideological campaign to win over the libertarian wing of the party, but Raitt is better positioned to be PMac's primary opponent with broader appeal. If MacKay doesn't run, the race becomes much more wide open and that might not help Raitt.
The Ottawa Citizen "reports" on the D-list leadership candidates. Kellie Leitch, Michael Chong, Deepak Obhrai, and, if it is true he is considering a run, Paul Calandra are D-list or worse. Maxime Bernier, Tony Clement and Lisa Raitt are not. Clement is over-rated, but he's not D-list. Raitt is under-rated.
Why are people talking up Chris Alexander? He's probably D-list, too. And what makes Peter MacKay or Rona Ambrose A-list? Ambrose has been a moderately effectively interim leader who has been able to change the tone of the party, which was going to happen anyway when it moved on from Stephen Harper. And what is the evidence of MacKay being a star candidate? He was leader of the rump Progressive Conservatives and negotiated its takeover by the Harper-led Canadian Alliance. He was a high profile cabinet minister but I challenge anyone to name his successes.
While I'll support the most viable socially conservative candidate, Raitt is the best of the rest of the field.