Sobering Thoughts

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

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Monday, June 26, 2017
 
Exchanging the asylum for prison was a bad deal
It's a false dichotomy, I know, but the effect of deinstitutionalization has been reinstitutionalization to an institution ill-equipped to help individuals with mental illness.


 
Privacy concerns
Google gives (sort of). Engadget reports: "Google will no longer scan your Gmail for ad targeting." Yet "the company will still happily gather your data elsewhere."
Amazon takes away. BuzzFeed reports: "Amazon’s New Echo Show Is Very Cool And A Little Creepy." The latest iteration of the new device will tell you when your contacts are active, and presumably inform them you are using Echo.


 
Somewheres vs. Anywheres
The Guardian reports:
After Andrea Leadsom, the leader of the House of Commons, called for broadcasters to be “a bit patriotic” over their coverage of Brexit, the set of Robert Peston’s ITV show has been jokingly decorated with union jacks.
Peston, who presents ITV’s Peston on Sunday, shared a picture of the studio, making light of Leadsom’s comments, which have come under fire.
Here is Peston's Twitter response:
I'm not pleased with Leadsom's premise that seems to questioning the patriotism of journalists who are asking legitimate questions about Brexit negotiations (during a BBC interview with Emily Maitlis). It might be fair to question their patriotism, although not because they are doing their job. Question their patriotism because of their views on Britain outside of London. But Peston's response is dickish, and proves mine (and David Goodhart's and probably Leadsom's) point about cosmopolitan journalists who think love of country is a joke.


 
Tuns on Marche
Thanks to everyone who retweeted mine or JJ McCullough's tweet on Stephen Marche. Scroll down to Saturday to see what I wrote about Marche.


 
Some political truths
Bloomberg View's Jonathan Bernstein points out that anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist and his pro-government opponents are probably wrong when they impart lessons on politics to their children in hopes of turning their offspring into future conservatives or liberals. Bernstein writes:
What political scientists have mostly found is that it works the other way around: People first become Democrats or Republicans, then adopt the policy preferences that their party embraces. And when their party flip-flops on some issue, most voters flip-flop right along with it, often without realizing it -- in large part because most people don't have very strong positions on most public-policy questions.
So how do we wind up in one party or another? Many of us inherit our party identification from our parents. For others, what matters is the group we identify with when it comes to politics. It may be ethnicity, gender, occupation or something else, but of all the groups we belong to, one of them becomes the one that matters for politics -- and we know enough about politics to match that group with one of the major parties.
In his book Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids, Bryan Caplan reports on separated-twin studies that indicate twins are closer to each other in voting habits than they are the parents who brought them up, suggesting a genetic element to politics. Still, there is a point to Bernstein's argument that political affiliation is probably not taught.
And now for something completely different ...
Daily Telegraph columnist Juliet Samuel on why a week is an eternity in politics:
Revolutions often end up a long way from where they started. A year after triumphing in the Brexit referendum, many Conservatives learnt this the hard way during a brutally disappointing election night. The rebellious spirit that carried them to victory last June had seemed sure to manifest itself again by lifting the Tories, the newly committed champions of Brexit, to unprecedented heights. Instead, like a train switching tracks, the momentum suddenly turned and took a hard Left. With the Government now in paralysis, Tory Brexiteers are in danger of losing control of the revolution they began. History is full of examples of campaigns and rebellions that, once started, unleashed new political currents and took up new causes. Yesterday it was sovereignty. Today, austerity.


 
Berlusconi's back
Politico Europe reports that ahead of next year's general election, the right-wing parties are making breakthroughs in Italian municipal elections:
Center-right parties scored a resounding victory in mayoral elections across Italy on Sunday, dealing a blow to the ruling center-left Democratic Party (PD) led by Matteo Renzi ...
[I]n the left-wing stronghold of Genoa, the mayoral candidate for the center-right — led by former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and the leader of the anti-immigrant Northern League, Matteo Salvini — won with more than 55 percent of the votes. That marked the first victory for the center-right in left-wing stronghold of Genoa in the last 50 years.
Center-right candidates also prevailed in another leftish bastion, La Spezia, in L’Aquila, the capital of the central Abruzzo region, and in many of the cities up for grabs in the northern Lombardy region.
Sunday’s runoffs of Italy’s municipal elections, in which more than four million people were eligible to vote to elect mayors in 110 municipalities, were the last key electoral test ahead of the next general elections, due by the spring of 2018.
The strong performance of the center-right marks a comeback for Berlusconi, who campaigned strongly on television in the weeks before the vote, while Salvini hit most of the Italian towns called to the polls in his electoral tour.
A few things.
1. It is remarkable that this story refers to a coalition that includes Salvini's Northern League as both center-right and populist. That is possible, even likely, but many, if not most journalists equate populism with extremism.
2. It is remarkable that four years after being booted from Parliament on tax evasion charges, the 80-year-old billionaire broadcast magnate and former prime minister, Berlusconi is still politically relevant. His party, Forza Italia, usually contends for third place in most national polls.
3. Doing well in local elections may not indicate much for national elections next year. The British Tories did phenomenally well in local elections in May, one month before losing their parliamentary majority in the general election. This is not to say the center-right won't emerge stronger from their municipal victories, but that there is a lot of politics between now and next May (or earlier).
4. Renzi has already suffered a blow to his leadership. He felt it necessary to resign as prime minister in December after his government lost a constitutional reform referendum (to remake Parliament). While some view the move as a necessary first-step to rebuilding political capital and another run for the prime ministership, obviously resigning from the top elected office in the land is a step backward.
5. Looking ahead to 2018, Renzi versus Berlusconi would feature two former prime ministers who have resigned in disgrace.


Sunday, June 25, 2017
 
Instapundit on hack-proof voting
Glenn Reynolds writes in USA Today that "in a democratic polity, people have to believe that their votes are counted honestly, or the legitimacy of the system collapses." He briefly explains that both parties are now raises concerns about Russia or others intervening in electronic voting, and suggests a return to the paper ballot:
Well, we could try to boost our cybersecurity, but given that the NSA, the FBI and the CIA are leaking important secrets on a daily basis, maybe we’re not up to that job. So, once again, let me suggest that we return to something that, by its very nature, can’t be hacked by a guy in St. Petersburg: Paper ballots.
In some ways, paper and ink is a super technology. When you cast a vote on a voting machine, all that’s recorded is who you voted for. But a paper ballot captures lots of other information: Ink color, handwriting, etc. If you have access to a voting machine that’s connected to the Internet, you can change all the votes at once. To change a bunch of paper ballots takes physical access, and unless you’re very careful the changed ballots will show evidence of tampering. Paper ballots aren’t fraud-proof, of course, as a century of Chicago politics demonstrates, but they’re beyond the reach of some guy sitting at a computer in a basement halfway around the world. And there are well-known steps to make Chicago-style fraud harder ...
Perhaps it’s time to mandate paper ballots, and to also legally require other steps to ensure election integrity. Vote-counting systems should be transparent, and regularly audited ...
It’s time, and past time, to get serious about ballot security. Because today’s paranoia and division is just a minor taste of what could happen next time, if we remain unprepared. America can’t afford that.
If there were any sanity in government, jurisdictions that have or are considering online voting will abandon those dangerous experiments. As Reynolds says, paper ballots can be miscounted or manipulated, but its harder to do and easier to discover. It's time for a return to paper ballots.
One need not be a conspiracy theorist to question the integrity of machines counting votes; there is such a thing as computer error. And conspiracy theorists are happy to point out that computer error is a great cover for actual manipulation, as Homer Simpson well knows:


 
A Koch brother teams up with an NFL Hall of Fame cornerback to fight poverty
The Dallas Morning News reports that Charles Koch's Stand Together charity is working with Prime 5, a Dallas charity run by former Cowboy great Deion Sanders. The paper's story doesn't say what the new partnership will do, although Stand Together works with 20-40 groups annually in communities across the country to promote education and combat poverty. The local NBC affiliate's report gives a hint what the partnering will do:
Specifically, the partnership announced Saturday would help fund Dallas-based organizations that address issues such as chronic joblessness, education failure, addiction, personal debt and family breakdowns, said Evan Feinberg, who leads the Koch-backed organization Stand Together.
The Morning News reports that Sanders has no problem working with the controversial entrepreneur and philanthropist: "I saw firsthand how wonderful and gracious and giving and kind the Koch family was in regards to really trying to make this country a better place for everyone." Some reports suggest the pairing is unusual, but as one pastor told NBC, politics doesn't matter when trying to feed the hungry and shelter the homeless. Or does it? Direct help is good, and Charles Koch's libertarian vision is not anti-poor but anti-government; libertarians support private sector solutions, including charities, addressing problems that are inefficiently handled by government programs. But for those who believe that government is the right answer to all (or almost all) of society's problems, then having Koch come in to fill a void does indeed undermine their worldview. The problem, I would suggest, is that they are more interested in promoting their ideology than helping the poor. Thankfully, whatever the politics of "Prime Time" Deion Sanders, he is focused on helping those in poverty.


 
Adios to Carrier jobs then president-elect Trump 'saved'
Vox: "Layoffs start next month at the Carrier plant Trump 'saved' last winter." Vox's Matthew Yglesias writes:
The Carrier plant in Indianapolis that Donald Trump mentioned frequently on the campaign trail and famously returned to during the transition is preparing to lay off 600 manufacturing workers next month, according to CNBC’s Scott Cohn, who observes that the “deal” Trump and then-Gov. Mike Pence struck to save the plant “is not living up to the hype.”
The production work is shutting down, not because there isn’t demand for the products but because the company has determined that it is more profitable to do the work in Mexico.
Per the terms of the deal, Carrier will continue to employ slightly more than 1,000 people at the location. But of those, only 700 are the manufacturing jobs the argument was about — “the rest are engineering and technical jobs that were never scheduled to be cut.” In exchange, Carrier is getting $7 million in state incentives, which it is pairing with $9 million of its own money to make a $16 million investment in the facility. Trump characterized that investment as being about creating jobs, but “United Technologies CEO Greg Hayes told CNBC in December that the money would go toward more automation in the factory and ultimately would result in fewer jobs.”
No one should be surprised.


Saturday, June 24, 2017
 
Nonsense from Stephen Marche
Stephen Marche is the most ridiculous mainstream English-language writer around. I read him for the same reason I read Dalton Camp years ago: because I'm a masochist. So it is with a sick (dis)pleasure that I read his New York Times article, "Canada Doesn’t Know How to Party." While Marche's writing appears clever, it is actually twaddle. He writes, "The irony is that Canada, at the moment, has a lot to celebrate. Our prime minister is glamorous and internationally recognized as a celebrity of progressive politics." Should glamour be a source of national pride? Despite sharing left-liberal politics, Marche doesn't praise Justin Trudeau's policies and principles, but his coolness. I won't fisk Marche's entire essay; I'm not that much of a masochist. This, however, requires noting:
None of what I have written should be taken to imply that Canadians don’t love their country, or that I don’t love my country. I do. Most Canadians do, too. They just love it quietly. They don’t want to make a big fuss.
Dude, you're writing in the New York Times about your love of Canada. That's making a big fuss. In this Marche is typically Canadian, displaying the self-unaware habit of making a big fuss about not making a big fuss about their national pride.


 
Corbyn
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is a rock star.
And Jacobin.
It is fair to assume Corbyn is imploring the masses take from others, but how? Through democratic means? And is theft through government all that much better? Why isn't Corbyn's radical populism ever condemned as dangerous?


Friday, June 23, 2017
 
What I'm reading
1. The Retreat of Western Liberalism by Edward Luce
2. A Pope and a President: John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and the Extraordinary Untold Story of the 20th Century by Paul Kengor
3. Miracle Cure: The Creation of Antibiotics and the Birth of Modern Medicine by William Rosen
4. Cincinnati Red and Dodger Blue: Baseball's Greatest Forgotten Rivalry by Tom Van Riper
5. "Divided Landscapes of Economic Opportunity: The Canadian Geography of Intergenerational Income Mobility," by Miles Corak
6. "Manufacturing and the 2016: Election: An Analysis of US Presidential Election Data," a Peterson Institute for International Economics by Caroline Freund and Dario Sidhu


 
Modi and India
There is a good evaluation of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in this week's Economist, the gist of which is he has done a good job governing since being elected three years ago, but hasn't delivered the reforms the country desperately needs. The magazine states:
Mr Modi has shown that he is an astute administrator of the economic machinery he inherited. Corruption seems to have abated, at least at the highest levels of government. But he has demonstrated little appetite for the reforms which would bring sustained growth of the sort that could transform the lives of India’s 1.3bn citizens. The few Mr Modi has carried out must be weighed against those he has botched, the areas that have gone without reform, and the sticking plasters that cover up the effects of bad policy rather than deal with their causes.
Not to take anything away from governing competently in the unwieldy country*, but the focus of this article is correctly on the lack of necessary reforms. A goods and services tax seeks to replace a complicated tangle of tariffs that if properly implemented could boost economic growth by removing layers of regulatory compliance for companies, but it is still too cumbersome and complex:
Most countries with a value-added tax settle on a single rate for many goods and services. India has opted for six, ranging from zero to 28%. Officialdom decrees, for example, that shampoo, wallpaper and fizzy water are luxuries to be taxed at 28%; eyeliner, curry paste and plain water will attract an 18% levy. Restaurants will pay 12%, unless they are small (5%) or air-conditioned (18%).
Sub-optimal tax reform is still preferable to the status quo in India. Unfortunately, labour, land, and capital reform -- strict limits on all currently exist -- has been a non-starter. India could be an economic miracle if entrepreneurs were allowed to easily start businesses and grow them. Economic flourishing could enable human flourishing, if the state would get out of the way. We're not talking Ayn Rand-like changes, merely simplifying layers of bureaucracy that make it impossible for businesses to be nimble and productive.
* There are two caveats to praising Modi for governing well. The first is explored by The Economist: the country's finances and general economy have benefited from a nearly 50% decrease in the price of oil since Modi became Prime Minister. This is beyond the government's control, but it helps everyone's bottom line, making Modi look better. The second is that Modi appears to have forced Raghuram Rajan, the head of the country's central bank, out of his position last year. Rajan successfully kept prices in check with the bank's aggressive inflation-targeting. Inflation was kept under control by the decline in oil prices, but it is also a result of the bank's policies. Modi shouldn't have sacked Rajan and it reflects poorly on the Prime Minister that he did so. This should have received more attention from the magazine.


 
We'll never stop hearing from Obama
The Washington Post reports on former president Barack Obama's latest foray into the political arena:
[In January] Obama explained that he wanted to afford respect to Trump to pursue his own agenda, citing the precedent set by George W. Bush’s infrequent public statements after Obama took office in 2009. Instead, since Trump’s inauguration, Obama has made clear that he does not intend to stay on the sidelines as Trump, with help from Republican lawmakers, seeks to dismantle his legacy.
Obama spoke out in January after Trump implemented a travel ban on citizens of seven majority-Muslim nations, declaring that “American values are at stake” and that he was “heartened” by protests across the country. This month, Obama criticized Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord that his administration signed in 2015, ruing “an absence of American leadership.”
But it is on health care that Obama has perhaps the most to lose and, with his lengthy Facebook statement, has signaled his intention to have the most political influence. Though he opened his message with an attempt to elevate the debate — emphasizing the need to listen to those with opposing points of view — he quickly framed Republican motivations as purely partisan.
“I recognize that repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act has become a core tenet of the Republican Party,” Obama wrote, suggesting that the GOP is acting simply to undo “something that Democrats did.”
When other ex-presidents left the White House, they also left Washington, both literally and figuratively. The distance from the nation's capital helps keep them away from politics, or at least above the fray. Bill Clinton and his family's "charitable" foundation at least pretended to rise above domestic politics by focusing primarily on global issues. But Obama remained in DC. It was not an accident. The narcissist must insert himself to the country's political life. Such criticism of the Republican health care bill might be justified if the Democrats were not making the exact same point (see Elizabeth Warren), but complaints that Republicans are mean-spirited is nothing new or unusual.
Get ready for a lifetime of this sort of meddling in politics. There is no way that Obama is going to deny America -- or at least its political reporters and leftist activists -- of the great gift of himself.


 
McArdle on Senate's health care bill
Bloomberg's Megan McArdle does an excellent job briefly describing what's in the Senate health care bill. It is probably the best short read on what's actually in the bill and I highly recommend reading it. And then she offers her measured assessment:
Well, you know, if you tilt your head to one side and squint a little, you can sort of see … Obamacare. I called the House health care bill “Obamacare Lite,” but compared to the Senate bill, the House was offering a radical new taste sensation. The Senate bill touches very little of the underlying architecture of Obamacare; all it does is eliminate the insurance mandates, cut spending and give states somewhat more autonomy in how those dollars are spent. Repeal Obamacare, you say? They’re barely even worrying it ...
But while there are a few things to like in this bill, overall, it’s a mess. All of the problems created by Obamacare’s architecture remain, and some of the problems will get worse, because lower subsidies, higher deductibles and no mandate penalty probably means that a lot of people will exit the exchanges. Those people are likely to be the folks we most need to stabilize those exchanges: healthy youngsters who don’t use much health care. Which means that the exchanges will be at further risk from the death spirals we’ve already seen in some states.
To be sure, the insurance mandate does not seem to be working very well -- hence the death spirals we’ve already seen in some states -- but the elimination of the mandate is probably even worse for the insurance market than a weak, toothless one has been.
So it doesn't really reform health care. But it does cut taxes for the wealthy. That's not good health care policy, regardless of your views on the proper level of taxes for the upper end of income earners and wealthy.


 
Diversity in the age of global multiculturalism
It is often observed that regardless of where one travels in America, the malls and restaurants are all the same. The same is true of the West's diverse cities, and not only in the names of stores, but the people who populate them. Mark Steyn begins his essay today quoting the most recent Rod Liddle Spectator column and noting, "That last line is a reference to Samuel Johnson, who said if a man is tired of London he's tired of life." Then Steyn reflects on London, and elsewhere:
So I doubt most contemporary Londoners have heard of Samuel Johnson and, if they have, assume he's Boris Johnson's dad. I feel for the most part as Rod Liddle does about the vibrant, diverse "City of Boris". But it's the same in almost any western capital these days. You get off the train at the gare centrale, assuming you've picked a day when it isn't in lockdown for some Allahu Akbar type of eternally mystifying motive, and you walk past the soldiers with their automatic weapons, and you buy a cappuccino and slice of pizza from someone who might be a slightly corpulent Pushtun or an unusually svelte Tongan. But what's the difference? The more diverse we get, the more everything's the same. I miss the Europe of my childhood, when you could drive an hour in any direction from my mum's home town in Belgium and (in a way that for young 'uns is exciting in both the jolly and unnerving senses) be presented with entirely different cuisine, entirely different bathroom fixtures, entirely different mores. The homogeneity of multiculturalism is a complete crashing bore.


 
Thank you minimum wage activists
CNBC reports:
McDonald's shares hit an all-time high on Tuesday as Wall Street expects sales to increase from new digital ordering kiosks that will replace cashiers in 2,500 restaurants.
Cowen raised its rating on McDonald's shares to outperform from market perform because of the technology upgrades, which are slated for the fast-food chain's restaurants this year ...
Andrew Charles from Cowen cited plans for the restaurant chain to roll out mobile ordering across 14,000 U.S. locations by the end of 2017. The technology upgrades, part of what McDonald's calls "Experience of the Future," includes digital ordering kiosks that will be offered in 2,500 restaurants by the end of the year and table delivery.
A minimum wage is of no help to people who don't work. Minimum wages: a robots best friend.


Thursday, June 22, 2017
 
Organic common law vs. deliberate planning
Donald Boudreaux at Cafe Hayek:
Appreciation for the spontaneous and abstract character of the common law has always been rare, and it is getting even rarer. The counsel to follow abstract rules that are the result of human action but not of human design appears to the typical intellectual to be primitive. Far more sophisticated and “progressive” (it is believed) is our deferring to the conscious and discretionary commands of that particular group of human beings who have been elected to exercise power. And yet as Hayek (and a few others, such as A.V. Dicey, James Coolidge Carter, and Bruno Leoni) taught ... one of the many great advantages of governance by the abstract common law is that [it] governs with far more detailed and nuanced knowledge than can possibly be used to inform legislative and administrative dictates.
To state the point differently, relying for governance upon abstract, evolving common-law rules is to rely upon a far more accurate and complete method of the weighing of costs and benefits of alternative courses of actions and social arrangements than is available when “cost-benefit” analyses are carried out by politicians, bureaucrats, or econometricians.


 
Creative destruction
George Will discusses the changing grocery store landscape, from the time consumers handed their lists of desired items to the clerk for fetching to Amazon's purchase of Whole Foods, and finds it reaffirms the truth about the creative destruction inherent in free market economies to improve people's lives:
In the accelerated churning of today’s capitalism, changing tastes and expanding choices destroy some jobs and create others, with net gains in price and quality. But disruption is never restful, and America now faces a decision unique in its history: Is it tired — tired of the turmoil of creative destruction? If so, it had better be ready to do without creativity. And ready to stop being what it has always been: restless.
Americans just now are being plied with promises that the political class can, and is eager to, protect them from the need to make strenuous exertions to provide for themselves in an increasingly competitive world ...
This is a profound truth: The interacting processes that propel the world produce outcomes that no one intends. The fatal conceit — fatal to the fecundity of spontaneous order — is the belief that anyone, or any group of savants, is clever and farsighted enough to forecast the outcomes of complex systems. Who really wants to live in a society where outcomes are “meant,” meaning planned and unsurprising?
There are always winners and losers in the turmoil of any industry, but when you take into account the (massive) benefits to consumers, there are far more winners. The economy exists to provide goods and services to consumers, not profits for company owners or labour for employees.


Wednesday, June 21, 2017
 
'The Liberal government has become a pro-China propaganda machine'
PostMedia columnist Terry Glavin skewers the Liberals for their Sinophilia. Glavin writes:
When it comes to the cause of browbeating reluctant Canadians into subscribing to the sleazy proposition that an ever-more intimate relationship with the thuggish police state in Beijing is in Canada’s national interest, you’ve got to hand it to them. These people just won’t quit.
Glavin's must-read column describes the water-carrying the Liberal government does for Beijing. For example, he says that Pascale Massot of Global Affairs has advised the Trudeau government to convince Canadians that "China should be understood not as the vast, cyber-hacking, dissident-jailing, Tibetan-murdering captive labour sweatshop that it really is, but rather as a 'potential collaborator in the pursuit of the many goals Canada is seeking to achieve'." And, sadly, they have eagerly done so.
At least European countries just tuck their tails between their legs and don't become apologists for Red China's brutality.


 
Liberal MPs attempt to 'intimidate' senators on budget vote
Dale Smith at Routine Proceedings:
As the spring sitting of Parliament draws to a close, and the Commons is getting tired and cranky as MPs are restlessly looking to get back to their ridings, all eyes are on the Senate to see if they’ll pass the budget bill unamended so that MPs can leave, or if they’ll be forced to stick around to deal with delays. It looks like the latter is going to happen after the Senate voted to adopt changes made at the committee that would remove the automatic escalator on beer and wine taxes ...
So while this means that the Commons wasn’t able to rise last night, and may have to stick around until Thursday, depending on whether or not they pass it at Third Reading tonight, and how fast it takes the Commons to turn around a vote on accepting or rejecting (almost certainly the latter) the amendment.
But that’s not the only curious part of this tale. Apparently when the vote was about to happen, all manner of Liberal MPs and ministers arrived in the Senate to watch the vote happen – but not in the gallery. No, they were instead on the floor of the Senate, behind the bar at the entrance.
While this attempt at intimidation is quite unseemly in and of itself, I’ve also been hearing complaints that Senator Peter Harder, the Leader of the Government in the Senate – err, “government representative,” is admonishing senators not to amend bills this late in the game because recalling the House of Commons to pass or reject those amendments “is expensive.”
I. Can’t. Even.
Telling Senators not to do their constitutional duties of reviewing and amending legislation because it might inconvenience a few MPs is gob-smacking in and of itself, but couching it in dollar terms is beyond the pale. Apparently, we can only have parliamentary democracy if it’s done on the cheap.
Intimidate might be a little strong; Senator Linda Frum called it pressure. Whatever it was intended to be, the actions of the Liberal MPs are less offensive than Senator Harder's comments.


 
New Ken dolls
The CBC reports:
After producing the toy for more than five decades with the same basic body structure, Mattel is introducing 15 new versions of its Ken doll, looks that include new skin tones, body shapes and hair styles.
Barbie got a similar treatment about a year ago, and the move to makeover Ken is part of the toymaker's plan to market the dolls to a new diverse group of children and collectors ...
The new doll comes with three basic body types: slim, broad and original. But each body type comes with many other options, including seven skin tones, eight hair colours, nine hairstyles and modern fashions.
One of the new 15 iterations of (Cactus Cooler Ken) will feature a man-bun. No word whether Ken is finally going to get a penis.


 
What the Ossoff loss means
Maybe the special congressional election last night matters, maybe it doesn't.
Republican Karen Handel beat Democrat Jon Ossoff in the Georgia 6th Congressional District runoff, 52.1%-47.9%. The seat has been held by the GOP since Newt Gingrich first won it in 1979. Democrats had high hopes of taking the seat that the Atlanta Journal-Constitution called "the most expensive U.S. House contest in history." Democrats and their media allies were hoping for a Republican loss; the fact the special election required a runoff -- Ossoff won the 18-person open race a few months ago but without winning the requisite 50% to take the seat -- was being spun as a rebuke to President Donald Trump. The New York Times said an Ossoff victory "would be a powerful sign of Republican vulnerability as the Trump presidency unfolds." Sometimes a special election isn't all that special. A Republican victory in a Republican congressional district isn't really all that big of a deal.
Yet if the Democrats had a chance to win this district -- and the fact Ossoff nearly won half of the vote twice suggests they can -- there might be lessons for the party. Matthew Yglesias at Vox on what Ossoff's loss means for the future of Democrats:
Jon Ossoff’s narrow loss in the Georgia House special election seat will come as a crushing emotional blow to Democrats even though it hardly dooms their hopes to take back Congress next year.
To gain a majority, Democrats need to find a way to win races in districts like this one — traditional Republican bastions endangered by Donald Trump’s weakness with college graduates — but they don’t need to sweep them all by any means ...
The fact that the district was competitive is a sign that the GOP majority is at risk; the question is simply what can Democrats do to put themselves over the top?
One thing they might want to try is developing a substantive policy agenda to run on. They came close this time, and they’ll just need to put forth an attractive package for voters in the 2018 midterms ...
Ossoff’s effort to stay bland and inoffensive let hazy personal and culture war issues dominate the campaign — and even in a relatively weak Trump district, that was still a winning formula for Republicans.
If 2016 proved anything, it is that Democrats, at least for the time being, will lose elections fought on identity politics and culture wars. They need to get serious about their domestic agenda beyond merely opposing Trump and the Republicans.


 
Perhaps my favourite tweet of all-time


 
Justin Trudeau's MO
I meant to note this last week: a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/true-north/2017/jun/12/justin-trudeau-deploys-the-politics-of-hype-jeremy-corbyn-offers-politics-of-hope?CMP=share_btn_tw">Martin Lukacs in The Guardian on the Canadian Prime Minister's modus operandi:
Trudeau’s coronation as a champion of everything fair and decent, after all, has much to do with shrewd and calculated public relations. I call it the Trudeau two-step.
First, he makes a sweeping proclamation pitched abroad – a bold pledge to tackle austerity or climate change, or to ensure the rights of refugees or Indigenous peoples. The fawning international coverage bolsters his domestic credibility.
What follows next are not policies to ambitiously fulfill these pledges: it is ploys to quietly evacuate them of any meaning. The success of this maneuver – as well as its sheer cynicism – has been astonishing.


Tuesday, June 20, 2017
 
British Tories: calm down and get behind May
Iain Duncan Smith, who was ruthlessly dispatched as Tory leader himself a generation ago, at ConservativeHome:
Whatever one’s views of the campaign we fought, and I will come back to this, most in the Party understand the need to create a stable government. The only possible alternative, a Labour-led government with Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister, is grave indeed.
However there remain some – a small band, to be fair, but nevertheless a vocal group – who seem determined to sound off about what they want us to do, regardless of the circumstances. Sunday was a good example. The morning papers were full of the views of some in this group about the Prime Minister’s future, even in the shadow of the terrible tragedy of Grenfell Tower.
The media are, of course, desperate for the Party to turn in on itself, and are baying at us for that reason.
IDS explains:
[W]e need to get the support for our key measures from the DUP, which will allow us to pass the Queen’s Speech and make real progress on the Brexit talks. That requires us to support the arrangements Theresa May makes with them.


 
Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose
The Guardian reports that new French President Emmanuel Macron has lost two cabinet ministers in two days due to ethics problems:
France’s newly appointed defence minister Sylvie Goulard has resigned from government after a magistrate launched a preliminary investigation into allegations her party misused European parliament funds.
Goulard, who only took up her post in Emmanuel Macron’s administration a month ago, stepped down on Tuesday. She is the second high-profile minister to go in less than 24 hours.
President Macron has pledged to clean up French politics and public life after a series of scandals that have damaged voter confidence in their elected representatives. A “moralisation bill” that bans politicians from employing family members and obliging them to declare their personal interests when in office is expected to be one of his government’s first pieces of legislation.
On Monday, Richard Ferrand, minister for territorial cohsion and the general secretary of Macron’s fledgling political party La République en Marche (La REM – Republic on the Move) resigned after he was put under preliminary investigation for nepotism and financial impropriety.
Politico Europe reports: "Macron, who vowed during his campaign to make French politics more ethical, resisted calls for Ferrand and others to step down prior to the election."


Monday, June 19, 2017
 
Vox interviews with eight GOP senators illustrates what is wrong with Republicans
Last week Vox reporters interviewed eight Republican senators about the "health care bill they're crafting in secret." What is scary is how little these senators know about the bill. Or, if they know, what they are hiding from the public. Asked specifically about how their health care bill will improve the lives of Americans, they clearly have no idea. Most senators offer platitudes, slogans and talking points, but when pressed on them they cannot answer what they mean. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas offers boilerplate about "giving consumers more choices, more options, more competition," which will automatically provide "lower prices that are more affordable." Senator John McCain of Arizona talks about process when asked what problems the bill is trying to solve. Senator John Boozman of Arkansas is repeatedly asked how the bill will make health care coverage more affordable for people in his state. He asserts and reasserts it will, and when Vox's Jeff Stein asks "What's the mechanism for fixing it [costs]?" Boozman replies, "It's working together and coming up with a bill that does that." Again, process. Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi apparently thinks describing Obamacare as "teetering on the brink" and describing the problems with the status quo is an answer to "why you think the [GOP] bill will help the marketplaces." And it goes on like this for each senator except Alaska's Lisa Murkowski who admits there is nothing in the bill to address any problem she or her colleagues have identified. Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa is embarrassing:
Chuck Grassley: Well, I can tell you what it's going to do for Iowa. We are one of those states that in a couple of weeks if [the insurer] Medica pulls out, we'll have 94 of our 95 counties won't have any insurance ,even for people who have the subsidies. That's what we have to concentrate on now.
Jeff Stein: How do you think the bill will fix that problem?
Chuck Grassley: Well, by bringing certainty to the insurance market. They don't have that certainty now.
Jeff Stein: By bringing certainty to the insurance market. What certainty?
Chuck Grassley: What?
Jeff Stein: What do you mean by certainty?
Chuck Grassley: Well, they can't even file. They have to check the rates real high if they don't know what the government policy is. And so the certainty is that passing a bill gives the health insurance companies certainty.
Jeff Stein: Wouldn't not passing a bill also do that?
Chuck Grassley: No, it ... well, yeah — it gives them certainty that you'll have a lot higher rates than if you pass the bill.
Jeff Stein: So you're saying [the bill] will lower the rates?
Chuck Grassley: Um, if you're talking about lowering the rates from now down, no. The rates could be way up here. [Points to sky] And if they — if we get a bill passed, it maybe wouldn't go up or would go up a heck of a lot less than they would without a bill.
Too many Republicans are obsessed with opposition, process, and theory, and have little inclination to answer the question: how will this bill -- any bill -- help people. To a point this is true for all politicians, but at least liberals can make their answers sound caring. Getting government out health care sounds to a great many voters that Republicans in Congress are not offering them anything. That they are taking away. Republicans cannot offer a plausible explanation about how less government will make health care coverage cheaper or better or easier to access. It doesn't help when not one of the eight Republican senators (roughly one in every 6.5 GOP senators) cannot answer simple questions about how the GOP bill will help with the specific problems Republican lawmakers are identifying as desperately requiring redress.


 
Lotteries consider Illinois a credit risk
Chicago Business reported last week that the three-year long budget stalemate between Republican Governor Bruce Rauner and the Democrat-controlled legislature is leading two major interstate lottery players to reconsider whether it wants to operate in the Land of Lincoln:
The multi-state lottery association overseeing Powerball and Mega Millions games will dump Illinois by the end of June if the state doesn't end its budget impasse.
Illinois Lottery Acting Director Greg Smith said Thursday that the lack of a budget will result in players being "denied the opportunity" to participate in popular games ...
The Sun-Times says Illinois reported $99 million in Mega Millions sales and $208 million in Powerball sales in 2016. It's unclear how much Illinois received.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported the state gets to keep about 40% of sales to invest in education. The paper also reports:
Concern over the state’s fiscal condition prompted the Multi-State Lottery Association to drop Powerball in Illinois, according to internal Illinois Lottery communications obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times ...
A spokesman for the Multi-State Lottery Association said the group “is focused on protecting the integrity of its games and the experience of its players.”
The Illinois Policy Institute's John Kristof reports:
2017 has seen no progress toward a sustainable, balanced budget, and Illinois’ fiscal situation remains unstable as ever. In fact, just two weeks before MUSL’s announcement, S&P downgraded Illinois’ credit rating to BBB-minus. At the beginning of June, Moody’s lowered Illinois to a Baa3 credit rating. Both ratings are just one rating above junk status. Illinois is the only state with such a poor credit rating.
Given the recent history of Illinois’ fiscal policy, and given the Illinois Lottery’s dependence on the state government for payouts, it should come as no surprise that popular lottery games no longer wish to play with Illinois. The budgetary uncertainty combined with some of the highest effective taxes in the country build an economic environment hostile to consumers and businesses alike.
To lotteries, Illinois just isn't worth the gamble.


 
On the New York Times
Denyse O'Leary at Blazing Cat Fur on the criticism speakers had of the New York Times, who supposedly sent three reporters to cover Rebel Media's live event on the weekend:
Many other speakers aimed at the Timesies through the day. At one point, Sheila Gunn Reid asked everyone to take out their handheld and hold it up. That, she told the crowd (but especially the cocktails-with-people-who-Matter journalists) is the future of journalism – citizen journalism ...
Still, I couldn’t help wondering if the constant denigration was fair. The Cool media are dying. Are we kicking a dying cripple?
But [Ezra] Levant offered a sobering comment: The moribund media are not elected. When Hillary Clinton lost the election, she lost it. After that, she had to, eventually, shut up. The dying cripples of gatekeeper media can melt down in public indefinitely, with increasingly diminished responsibility.
Much is at stake. The New York Times is not going to survive unless it becomes a state medium. It must help elect progressive governments inclined to make that happen.


Sunday, June 18, 2017
 
May's tenuous hold on power and desperate maneuvers to maintain power
The Sunday Times reports:
Theresa May has 10 days to save her premiership after she was put on notice to “shape up” and show she is fit to lead. Confidence in the prime minister is in free fall in Tory ranks as constituency party bosses told ministers and MPs to force her from power. Up to a dozen MPs are ready to demand a vote of no confidence in May by submitting letters to the backbench 1922 committee. Their ranks are expected to swell this weekend as MPs consult grassroots grandees about May’s faltering response to the Grenfell Tower inferno in west London.
The Sunday Telegraph reports:
Theresa May has cancelled the 2018 Queen’s Speech to smooth the path for Brexit reforms as a deal with the DUP hangs in the balance. The Prime Minister announced that a two-year parliamentary session will be launched on Wednesday rather than the traditional one-year session. The step breaks with historical precedence and was last taken in the early days of the Coalition as it scrambled to create stable government in 2010.
It seemed difficult for Prime Minister Theresa May to maintain her hold on power sans a deal with another party after the election or stay at the helm of the Conservative Party after reducing the Tories to a minority when she sought a larger majority. Difficult but not impossible. After the public relations disaster of Grenfell it seems impossible.


 
Douthat on violence and the Left
New York Times columnist Ross Douthat on the would-be assassin of Congressional Republicans: "[He was] an ordinary Midwestern Democrat with far more rage but the same frustrations as many decent liberals." And those decent liberals are responsible for creating an environment in which violence is an acceptable mode of political action:
The second thing to say is that a murderous attack on Republicans by an angry liberal should be an important reminder for our media-cultural establishment that societies can be pulled apart from the left as easily as from the right. Of course, network anchors and magazine editors and editorial boards know this on an intellectual level. But because our centrist elites are actually center-left there is a constant, involuntary tug toward emphasizing what’s wrong on the right-wing side of the spectrum and excusing what’s wrong on the other.
There’s a great deal wrong on the right in the age of Donald Trump, and the scrutiny directed rightward is not at all misplaced. But as Trump proves more hapless than dangerous — or only dangerous because he’s hapless — the derangement that he inspires or amplifies among his critics also matters. And if America slides toward a rendezvous with 1968, the tendency of the establishment to only see one side’s dangers — to treat Marine Le Pen as uniquely terrifying but Jeremy Corbyn as merely dotty, to “remember” that Loughner was a Palin fan or that right-wing hate killed J.F.K. — will make things more dangerous overall.
Part of what went wrong in America in the later ’60s was that the liberal establishment carried water for, protected or excused its far-left children’s rage. Part of what could go wrong today is evident in the way that violence in the left-wing core, the university campus, gets met with excuse-making, appeasement and halfhearted punishment from liberal authorities. The House whip bleeding on a baseball field is a reminder that brighter lines against lesser acts of violence serve the entire culture well.
What happens on campus does not stay on campus, an excusing the behaviour of thugs in shutting down speech with which they disagree can lead to the legitimization of violence in society. It isn't just that differences are larger and rhetoric more intemperate. It is that violence is not merely tolerated, but often justified. We shouldn't be surprised when partisans and ideologues off campus notice.


 
Why do we discriminate against robots/computers?
The Washington Post reports on Amazon's takeover of Whole Foods to raise concerns about employees losing their jobs to automation. Fair enough. Whole Foods is a leader in retail of in offering (relatively) generous salaries and benefits. Retail jobs aren't growing as fast as other jobs. Policy makers should be concerned about the mass loss (or stagnation) of retail jobs; not everyone is equipped -- or wants -- to join the creative class of privileged and high-paying or meaningful employment in other sectors.
Despite This struck me as silly:
Outside a Whole Foods in the nation’s capital Friday, John Casey, a 52-year-old real estate developer, explained why he visits the store nearly every other day. “I don’t shop online,” he said, sitting before a platter of rotisserie chicken. “I like to come in and see people. The cashiers know me as a regular.”
The automatic teller can learn about you (combined with knowledge from Amazon, the Whole Foods robo-cashier could ask you how you enjoy the specific book you may be reading) and remember you better than a human cashier. Why do so many people -- especially the type of person who goes to Whole Foods -- discriminate against robots and computers? I'm not being entirely facetious in asking the question.


 
Interview with Diane Coyle
The Free Think Tank interviews University of Manchester economist Diane Coyle, who blogs at The Enlightened Economist. Two snippets:
Q: Let your imagination take over for a minute and tell us what you hope your successors will be working on in 2116?
A: I hope existing disciplinary silos will have disappeared and researchers will be working together on problems and the braiding of different strands of expertise needed for specific questions. All the interesting work takes place in the borderlands.
And:
Q: If you could give your 18-year-old self one piece of advice, what would it be?
A: Be brave. Be open to opportunities; don’t turn them down because you lack confidence.
I recommend reading the full interview. I also highly recommend Coyle's The Enlightened Economist which focuses on commenting on recent economics books.


Saturday, June 17, 2017
 
Labour is a market and employers have incentives to treat workers well
Donald Boudreaux makes a point about how labour and consumer markets are similar, riffing on J.R. Shackleton’s new book Working to Rule: The Damaging Economics of UK Employment Regulation:
The typical person who complains about too much [consumer] choice has little understanding of economics and, as a result, misdiagnoses markets in general, and market choices in particular, from start to finish. Yet whatever you think about having lots of choices, the existence of many choices reflects competitive market forces. Executives at Kellogg’s and at Procter & Gamble routinely spend millions of dollars developing and launching new products because that’s the only way they can retain a good chance of continuing to attract consumer patronage.
Curiously, labor markets are assumed to operate very differently. There’s no good reason for this assumption. The same companies that are driven by competition to cater to every fancy and whim of consumers are assumed – mostly by people on the political left, but sometimes also by those on the right – to ignore the tastes and preferences of workers.
Labor contracts are commonly regarded as being written by employers and then forced upon a hapless or ignorant (or both) work force. Employers are assumed to have inadequate incentives to take account of workers’ preferences for the likes of paid leave and workplace safety. No matter how many labor contracts actually provide for paid leave, no matter how much attention employers pay to workplace safety, critics of markets assume that it’s not enough.


Friday, June 16, 2017
 
What I'm reading
1. Canada's Odyssey: A Country Based on Incomplete Conquests by Peter H. Russell. Probably the frontrunner for the best Canadian history/politics book of 2017. That is not meant as an asteism.
2. Scale: The Universal Laws of Growth, Innovation, Sustainability, and the Pace of Life in Organisms, Cities, Economies, and Companies by Geoffrey West
3. The Money Formula: Dodgy Finance, Pseudo Science, and How Mathematicians Took Over the Markets by Paul Wilmott and David Orrell. If you want to learn about the development of various financial derivatives this is a good but technical book. So far it isn't coloured by the financial crisis, so it feels like a fresh perspective.
4. Baseball's Roaring Twenties: A Decade of Legends, Characters, and Diamond Adventures by Ronald T. Waldo


 
Support for the EU and referenda on future in EU grows
Politico Europe reports:
Most EU citizens don’t want their countries to leave the Union but support a referendum on membership, according to a survey by Pew Research Center published Thursday.
Support for a national referendum on EU membership was particularly high in Spain (65 percent), France (61 percent), and Greece and Italy (both 57 percent).
Greece and Italy also recorded the highest level of support (35 percent) for an actual departure from the EU. France and Sweden followed, both on 22 percent ...
But the EU is more popular than it was a year ago. Most of those polled in nine of 10 EU member countries hold a favorable view of Brussels.
Support for the EU has grown in Poland, Germany, and Hungary. The only country in which more people disapprove than approve is Greece. Notably, Spain is the most supportive of the idea of a referendum but also one of the country's with the lowest opposition to the European Union. An actual referendum with propaganda campaigns by both sides could change the levels of support for the EU, and I would expect actual referenda results would skew more heavily to leave than the polls indicate today if an opportunity to vote against Brussels was ever presented to voters anywhere in Europe.
A few days ago, Jean Quatremer, Brussels correspondent of Libération, wrote in The Guardian that Brexit has united Europeans behind the EU. Brexit has put the fear of chaos in people across the continent:
[L]eaving the European Union is exceptionally difficult (assuming it is even possible), carries an undeniable cost, and plays havoc with the politics of the country attempting it – as the fiasco of Britain’s snap election, on 8 June, amply demonstrates.
That’s why I was in favour of a victory for leave: it would mean all the Europhobes and Eurosceptics of the union would see their dreams shatter on the brick wall of reality.
The populist wave is slightly smaller than it was a few months ago or a year ago, but it still exists, and can gain momentum again. But it does seem that the hard line eurocrats and the leaders of the E27 are taking with London is doing its job of frightening eurosceptics on the continent.


 
Sports and politics
The New York Times reports:
The ownership group of the Storm, Force 10, is planning a “Stand With Planned Parenthood” rally on July 18 in KeyArena’s West Plaza, along with continuing efforts to aid fund-raising for Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands. Five dollars from the sale of each ticket for the game that day between the Storm and the Chicago Sky will be donated to the chapter. The Storm, one of the few professional teams owned by women, will also host a fund-raising auction.
Dawn Trudeau, a co-owner of the team, said she had been frustrated by her inability to “make a meaningful impact on the national health care debate.”
“Obviously, we are progressives, so throughout this year we’ve had conversations about what was going on in the country, and what we might as individuals might do about it,” Trudeau said in a phone interview ...
She said that when one of the partners went to a Planned Parenthood event, “a light bulb went off there, that this was an organization we should do something with.”
Planned Parenthood has long been a target of Republicans and conservatives, who have sought to defund the organization.
Obviously, we are progressives. Because what decent, intelligent person wouldn't be, right? And the team seems confident that their fans share their politics:
“We just made the decision as an ownership group,” [Trudeau] said. “We were pretty confident that our fans would respond in a positive way, because we know the kind of people that we have coming to the arena, but we didn’t do any formal research.”
They might be right. The company has every right to support whatever charitable or political endeavours they want, but Trudeau and the Storm should not complain when fans who don't share their political leanings decide to eschew the game or even the team. My guess is that the July 18 will be a sellout and a tremendous short-term success for both the Storm and Planned Parenthood. But one wonders whether this is good for sports, which is often promoted as a force for unity in a deeply divided country.


 
Happy birthday Adam Smith
Adam Smith, sometimes credited as the founder of capitalism, but more accurately described as a pioneer in political economy, was born this day (June 16) in 1723. He is most famous for his treatise An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics's entry on Smith states:
Today Smith’s reputation rests on his explanation of how rational self-interest in a free-market economy leads to economic well-being. It may surprise those who would discount Smith as an advocate of ruthless individualism that his first major work concentrates on ethics and charity. In fact, while chair at the University of Glasgow, Smith’s lecture subjects, in order of preference, were natural theology, ethics, jurisprudence, and economics, according to John Millar, Smith’s pupil at the time. In The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Smith wrote: “How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature which interest him in the fortune of others and render their happiness necessary to him though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it.”
Fred Smith (no relation) of the Competitive Enterprise Institute writes at Forbes.com to explain:
Adam Smith [is] a Scottish intellectual greatly admired for clarifying the virtuous, self-organizing nature of free markets. Smith noted that humans’ evolved self-interest trait encouraged people to seek wealth-creating exchanges. That was the key element of his famous work The Wealth of Nations. But Smith also realized that such exchanges require that each party have some knowledge of what the other party seeks and what it would view as a fair deal. And that realization led Smith, in his book The Theory of Moral Sentiments, to focus on another human trait, empathy. This is the social skill that we all possess to varying degrees to get inside the mind of the other, to understand what they value. This trait is equally critical if markets are to exist and wealth creation is to occur.
Self-interest encourages deal-making and empathy makes it more likely that such deals will be fair—and, thus, more likely to be repeated. Smith recognized that free markets were the result of the creative synthesis of these two traits. Too few capitalist defenders today realize that understanding both traits is critical.
Smith was more a moral philosopher than an economist, and to properly understand free markets -- another name for the strange amalgam of competition and cooperation -- one must comprehend the moral dimension of capitalism.


 
The challenge for conservatives
National Review's Kevin Williamson has a longish essay on William Kristol's attempt desire to create a new conservative party. Williamson gets to the heart of the problem for conservatives regardless of whether the movement attempts to fix America's problems through the Republican or some other party:
Much of what conservatives need to do in the service of the genuinely national interests of these United States is going to be unpopular, at least with some special-interest group, corporate-welfare client, or other constituency. Balancing the budget in a responsible way is a program without a real constituency. So is the related project of reforming entitlements. The most modest of steps toward reforming our underperforming primary-education system produces howls that we have declared war on schoolchildren and their teachers. Further liberalizing our trade relationships with the Far East, the European Union, the United Kingdom, and Latin America — which is very much in our national interest — is going to vex a whole lot of self-described economic nationalists.
The Republican apparatus may be cowardly, craven, and more than a little corrupt, but it is not the main obstacle toward achieving meaningful conservative reform. The main obstacle toward achieving meaningful conservative reform is the same as the main obstacle to the success of the Libertarian party: Americans do not want what they are selling. The tasks of conservatives is to explain to Americans why they should. It will not be easy.
This is true almost everywhere, especially in much of the Anglosphere. George Will has said it is the job of conservatism to tell the public unpleasant truths. The problem is that this makes conservatives unelectable. As P.J. O'Rourke wrote several decades ago in Parliament of Whores, Democrats are like Santa Claus giving voters free stuff while Republicans are like God judging people. Is it any surprise that voters prefer one over the other? (O'Rourke added: Santa isn't real.) I'm generally of the view that conservative politicians are like doctors and most voters only want to see them when things get really bad. That is conservatives get elected when things really suck. Once that immediate bad thing is over (or seems over), voters bring the Left back into power until the next crisis.


Thursday, June 15, 2017
 
Post-Grenfell politics
The Daily Mail reports:
Theresa May’s new chief of staff was in the dock last night over claims he ‘sat on’ evidence which showed high-rise blocks were vulnerable to fire.
Dozens of people are feared dead and many others remain missing after a devastating blaze ripped through Grenfell Tower block in White City, west London, on Wednesday morning.
A series of blunders are being blamed for the disaster with residents claiming there were no working fire alarms, no sprinklers and the only staircase leading to safety was blocked.
Gavin Barwell, who was housing minister until he lost his seat last week, promised to respond to a major coroner’s report which demanded safety improvements following a previous fatal blaze.
This could be inconvenient.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn says that there should be an investigation (and that the empty "luxury" homes of wealthy people living abroad should be "requisitioned" for the Grenfell homeless). CapX's Andrew Lilico tweets:
There should be an investigation -- and Prime Minister Theresa May has called for an inquiry. She hasn't said what the scope of the inquiry would be, although one assumes it would be narrow and on the immediate causes rather than how government policy has disappointed residents of public flats for some time. Perhaps the inquiry should be broader. Social housing in the United Kingdom is generally in terrible shape. The government has clearly not lived up to expectations that anyone would have for private landlords. But a broader inquiry could capture her new chief of staff in its net, seeing that he put off a fire safety review of the building (which was long overdue even before he became housing minister last summer).
The complaint about politicizing tragedy is sometimes valid, but at other times tragedy calls out for political action. This might very well be one of those times. And the answer is not always more money, although clearly there should be investments in safety. But just as the Conservatives should not fear an honest look at public housing in Britain, the opposition parties, press and activist groups must eschew attacking those who are earnestly seeking answers on how best to house those on the margins just because they do not concur with headline-grabbing calls for massive investments in housing. Under Thatcher, the government allowed public housing tenants to purchase their council houses at discount and roughly two million did. Houses and apartments are different things, but the idea could be extended to flats. I'd like to see the Conservatives experiment with a 21st century version of Thatcher's housing policy, including rent-to-own schemes. The social science indicates that renters in public housing have more interest in both maintaining their property and building bonds with neighbours when there is a long-term benefit. Let the inquiry, and discussion, begin.


 
UK Conservatives lost due to narrow focus
Colin Horgan writes about the British election in Maclean's and explore Nick Timothy's observation that the Tories didn't cast their net wide enough. The Conservatives focused too narrowly on what they thought was their base and mostly in the targeted constituencies. This meant not talking to enough of their base in the ridings they already held and were flimsier than expected, or finding enough new voters to meaningfully grow their potential pool of voters. Furthermore, the Conservative online game was substandard. This became mutually reinforcing:
Sam Jeffers, co-founder of a group called WhoTargetsMe? that monitored online political advertising via a browser extension downloaded by 11,000 volunteers all over the U.K., echoed Timothy’s assessment in the Times over the weekend. In the final 48 hours of the election, he said, WhoTargetsMe? noted that the Conservatives targeted ads at only 205 constituencies, whereas Labour focused on 464. While both campaigns were targeting voters, the Tories appear to not have cast their net wide enough, outsmarting themselves in their bid to only speak to a certain kind of voter.
The move, Jeffers told Maclean’s in an email, “suggested [the Tories] had a lot of confidence in their victory and needed only to focus on the gains. When the gains failed to materialize, they fell back.” ...
Using a range of techniques, Labour was likely able to find more and more voters throughout the campaign who were receptive to their message. They cast a wider net, which might have meant they collected more information on who was sharing their ads, who was following their Facebook page, and—as importantly—which people were part of those users’ social circles who might also be a potential Labour voter. In retrospect, it seems obvious why Timothy lamented Conservative strategy: his party, though offering enough to voters to win the election overall, served up a nothingburger online.
“Labour seems to have done a better job of mobilizing people, using their policy offer to give them a reason to vote, then connecting them practically to voting labour on polling day,” Jeffers said. The Conservative ads on Facebook, he says, were simply “swamped by shared content,” which generally favoured Labour.


 
Cowen ranks Shakespeare
Tyler Cowen has a fantastic treatment of a request to rank Shakespeare's plays. The Henriad as a unit finishes first. King Lear is second. Lear would top my list. Merchant of Venice also rightly ranks quite high. I quite liked the category: "OK, and would be pretty awesome from anyone else." Bottom line for Cowen: "Shakespeare is very likely the deepest thinker the human race has produced, so these are worth careful study!" (I could have done without the exclamation point.)


Tuesday, June 13, 2017
 
NBA's plan to make players stay at school before turning pro
NBA commissioner Adam Silver wants to raise the minimum age to play in the National Basketball Association from 19 to whatever, claiming the young athletes are unprepared. (For what, exactly?) Kevin Grier's reaction: "So some old white skeleton dude thinks young black kids shouldn't get paid. OMG, can we really still be doing this in 2017?"


 
Police body camera video
Matt Stroud writes at The Verge about how police video from body cameras is being hidden from the public:
North Carolina, for example, passed legislation last year excluding body camera video from the public record, so footage is not available through North Carolina’s Public Records Act. That means civilians have no right to view police recordings in the Tar Heel state unless their voice or image was captured in the video.
Louisiana also exempts body camera video from public records laws.
South Carolina will only release body camera footage to criminal defendants and the subjects of recordings.
Kansas classifies body camera video as “criminal investigation documents” available only when investigations are closed. The Topeka Police Department may have wanted positive public relations with the release of its pond rescue video, but if a news outlet had requested that video through Kansas’ Open Records Act, that request would’ve likely been denied.
This opaque state of affairs was not how body cameras were originally pitched. Body cameras have been available to police since at least 2007 when Steve Ward, a salesman for Taser International, broke off from the company, now known as Axon Enterprise. He then formed his own body camera company, Vievu. But body cameras weren’t considered a necessary police tool until the aftermath of Michael Brown’s killing by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014.
As people around the world tried to piece together what occurred in Ferguson between a dead man and a living officer, civilians and police alike began to understand the benefits of body cameras. Representatives of Black Lives Matter called for more body cameras alongside major police organizations. It was a virtually unanimous agreement at first: body cams would hold both police and civilians accountable. But there was a pact underlying those mutual calls — a tacit agreement that taxpayer-purchased body camera videos should be available to taxpayers.
Except that's not the way it's working out. Police release video of them saving people, making themselves look like heroes. But they are not providing the sort of transparency that would keep police forces accountable.


 
Coyne's take > Wherry's take
Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin is retiring. Cue political response:


 
How to think about vocabulary
Tyler Cowen, perhaps too modestly, "I think of myself as commanding only a limited English-language vocabulary." He says there is a personal reason for this -- he learned two other languages as an adult and each marginal increase in foreign vocabulary is better than the marginal increase in English. There are three other reasons why the "limited" vocab is not only defensible, but maybe preferable, including this one:
Another factor is the complementarity of “direct speech” modes and a fairly modest vocabulary; it doesn’t make sense to talk common sense and suddenly interject “albescent.”
Although Cowen does not get into it, related to this point is that much vocabulary is jargon. Jargon gets in the way of common sense.


 
The case for free markets
John Cochrane has a great response to Noah Smith's assertion that he (Cochrane) was a free market purist when it comes to health care. It is a long post and if you are interested in Kenneth Arrow's theory on how markets for health care are unlike many other markets, it is worth a read. But this is worth highlighting because it does a fine job of describing the conservative case and maybe even many libertarians' case for free markets: "Remember, the free market case is not that markets are perfect. It is the long and sorry experience that governments are worse." Free markets are perfect but they work better than government.


Monday, June 12, 2017
 
Two cheers for failure
Brittany Hunter, an associate editor at the Foundation for Economic Education, praises the newly opened Museum of Failure in Helsingborg, Sweden:
While most of the products in this museum appear to be duds, each one taught their respective innovators a valuable lesson about the market process. For Coca-Cola and Heinz, both companies learned that sticking to their original recipes was more beneficial when it came to sales revenue.
Google, on the other hand, learned that it had a great product with Google Glass, but the excitement surrounding this innovation may have caused the company to rush their prototype to market before it was ready.
With each failure comes a lesson that, in the end, has resulted in a win for the consumer.


 
Most religious leaders are more partisan than their congregants
The Upshot at the New York Times reports:
[P]astors are even more politically divided than the congregants in their denomination: Leaders of more liberal denominations tend to be even more likely to be registered as Democrats, and those of more conservative denominations even more likely to be registered as Republicans.
Does this matter? Maybe not because there's a chicken and egg problem:
The data brings fresh evidence to questions that have long been of interest to researchers. Does a religious leader who is significantly more liberal or conservative than his congregation bring their views more in line with his? Or are churches more like markets, where congregants attend a place of worship that best reflects their worldview? The data suggests both can be true: Clergy influence the views of their congregants, but they also represent the communities where they serve.
As one of the experts the Upshot talked to says, there is no reason to think the political sorting that has been going on in America for the last generation or so does not affect religious affiliation and practice.


Sunday, June 11, 2017
 
Election fallout
This weekend, Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill resigned as co-chiefs of staff to Prime Minister Theresa May. This is regrettable. Timothy's deep desire to have the Conservative Party address the concern of those who are just about managing -- and not only to beat Labour in the midlands and north, but because it is the right thing to do -- is something that will certainly be lost as the Conservatives either retrench to Thatcherism or retreat back to the Cameronian modernization project. Timothy's ideas deserve to have a hearing within Tory circles. From his explanation as to why he resigned:
One can speculate about the reasons for this, but the simple truth is that Britain is a divided country: many are tired of austerity, many remain frustrated or angry about Brexit, and many younger people feel they lack the opportunities enjoyed by their parents’ generation.
Ironically, the Prime Minister is the one political leader who understands this division, and who has been working to address it since she became Prime Minister last July. The Conservative election campaign, however, failed to get this and Theresa’s positive plan for the future across. It also failed to notice the surge in Labour support, because modern campaigning techniques require ever-narrower targeting of specific voters, and we were not talking to the people who decided to vote for Labour.
I take responsibility for my part in this election campaign, which was the oversight of our policy programme. In particular, I regret the decision not to include in the manifesto a ceiling as well as a floor in our proposal to help meet the increasing cost of social care. But I would like to make clear that the bizarre media reports about my own role in the policy’s inclusion are wrong: it had been the subject of many months of work within Whitehall, and it was not my personal pet project. I chose not to rebut these reports as they were published, as to have done so would have been a distraction for the campaign. But I take responsibility for the content of the whole manifesto, which I continue to believe is an honest and strong programme for government.
Here is Hill's terse statement.
Conservative Home comes to the reluctant conclusion that May cannot lead the Conservatives into the next election, although they are agnostic about when she should leave. Paul Goodman says the pitfalls of a coronation are as dangerous as the Prime Minister sticking around too long. Tim Montgomerie says May must go right away. The Sunday Times reports that at least five cabinet ministers are pressing Boris Johnson to challenge May's leadership immediately. A new cabinet has been named today and contrary to rumours of being demoted or dropped entirely from cabinet Liam Fox and Priti Patel remain. I think May's choice of defeated MP and former housing minister Gavin Barwell, author of How to Win a Marginal Seat, combined with the lack of cabinet moves and sort of people she did bring into the cabinet indicate May is not planning to stick around long. I have mixed feelings about this.
For all the talk about the campaign at the top and the leadership of May, what's missing is an examination of the problems at CCHQ. Mark Wallace says that the 2015 general election and Copeland by-election victories masked a seriously "misfiring machine at CCHQ and the party's regional structure. both at the centre, namely CCHQ, and in the regional structure. The ground operation is lacking. Wallace says:
Rather than treat victory as a window of opportunity to fix problems before they became more damaging, there appears to have been no serious effort to do so. Resting on laurels was a risky decision, particularly given that the 2015 majority was founded on the decision of just 901 voters in key marginals going Conservative rather than Labour.
As a result of that decision, the Conservative Party went into the recent election with a weaker machine than it needed, and suffered a series of demoralising and damaging problems in its campaign as a result.
Perhaps with better policy, better leadership and better circumstances, those problems would again have been concealed by victory. Instead, the Conservative Party fell 287 votes short of winning enough seats for a working majority, and 1,688 votes short of winning a full majority. A machine that worked properly could have made all the difference – but we lacked one.
To discuss this failure isn’t to detract from policy problems and other errors. But for the good of the Conservative Party’s future, it must not be swept under the carpet again.
And the Tories need a new campaign guru. Tom Peck says in The Independent describes Sir Lynton’s "latest triumph":
[T]aking a British Prime Minister widely regarded as the safest pair of hands in politics, pushing her through the now immaculately tuned Crosby sausage machine, and watching her emerge at the other end with her reputation, majority, authority, party, country and dignity in tatters.
I'm not usually a critic of going negative or keeping messaging simple. But his brand of divide and conquer politics backed by empty sloganeering is presently passé in much of the West. At the moment, voters seem tired of this, but Crosby can't learn new tricks. It doesn't help matters than Crosby is an adviser to Boris Johnson, which means Sir Lynton's role with the party is probably safe.
The Conservatives have succeeded in pushing out the door May's top advisers whom they blame for the disappointing Tory showing. They may well succeed in pushing out the door the leader. But without a set of policies that help them overcome traditional reticence toward the Tories and fixing the entrenched problems at party headquarters and its basic strategy, a change in the leadership will not likely help the party's fortunes in the next British election, whenever that might be.