Sobering Thoughts

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

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Tuesday, January 31, 2017
Obama, the Meddler-in-Chief
The Wall Street Journal subhead on an editorial: "It took all of 10 days for the great moralist to criticize his successor." The paper editorializes:
If you had 11 days and the “over,” you lost. We’re referring to the bet on how long it would take Barack Obama to criticize his presidential successor. For the record our wager was 30 days, but then we always expected more from the former President than he delivered.
Mr. Obama couldn’t even wait until he finished his post-inaugural vacation before he had a spokesman issue a statement Monday afternoon reporting that the former President “is heartened by the level of engagement taking place in communities around the country” against President Trump’s refugee order.
One needs a massive ego to run for president or prime minister. The sheer gall of believing that one has the right to rule over others, even in a nation of laws (ostensibly like the United States) is frightening and stunning. Barack Obama seems especially prone to the egomaniacal view that the world must know what he thinks about everything, all the time. (Says the nobody with a blog and Twitter account.) I wouldn't have taken the over on 11 days for Obama. He desperately needs to lecture America and his political opponents. It is unseemly and ugly but we'll have to live for it for a while. The George Bushes (H.W. and Dubya) are the model of the former presidency: seen but not heard. Obama will be the ex-president who doesn't shut up. Ever.
All that said, it is understandable, and a serious indictment of the Left today, that Obama is speaking out. Politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum. The Left has no serious spokesman for its ideals. There are plenty of spokesmen for the Democratic Party and there is no shortage of sycophantic mouthpieces in the media. But there is nobody with any stature that can speak out in opposition to the Trump presidency. There is no one with (that over-used word) gravitas. I don't believe Obama has it, but his tribe certainly does.

Finally. Getting on with Brexit.
Iain Duncan Smith:
Today in the House of Commons we see the first step delivering on the historic vote on 23rd June 2016, in which a majority of the British people voted to leave the European Union. This very short Bill – four lines long – will give the Government the power to trigger Article 50 ...
Yet as we come to vote, it is worth reflecting on what this is not about, as much as what it is about. The triggering of Article 50 is not, as some maintain, the detail of the negotiation; it is simply a legal device which both starts the two-year process and enables the EU and the UK to engage in negotiations. In effect it is what is required to start the process of delivering on the British people’s vote to leave. The full detail of how that will be accomplished is yet to follow with the repeal of the 1972 European Communities Act. That process of repeal will cover every dot and comma of our relationship and I am sure will subsume Parliament in vexed debate lasting many months. As if that were not enough, all that debate will then be followed by a vote on the final outcome of the EU/UK negotiations.
Smith makes the important point that this bill is not the time to debate how Brexit will proceed. It is not designed to set out terms of Brexit. It is narrowly about giving the government permission to trigger Article 50 -- to tell Brussels what everyone has known since last June: namely, that Britain is leaving the European Union. It is not the next chapter, as Smith says, but the end of one (that began with the Maastricht debates in the early 1990s). Brexit negotiations are the next chapter. It is time to get to it.

(In principle) Americans support Trump's refugee ban
A Quinnipiac University national poll from early January indicates that a plurality of Americans support Donald Trump's Executive Order: "By a narrow 48 - 42 percent, American voters support 'suspending immigration from terror prone regions, even if it means turning away refugees'." Look beyond the press release and you'll find that a quarter of Democrats and half of independents the Trump position. The position might have slightly less support now that the public has seen the policy rolled out.

Living with 'love dolls'
The Washington Post has a photo-essay: "What life is like living with a ‘love doll’ in Japan." The photos illustrate this:
At first, 61-year-old Senji Nakajima’s interest in his love doll, named “Saori,” was purely to fill feelings of loneliness. But after a few months of living with her in his Tokyo apartment, Nakajima, (who is married and has two children but lives away from home because of work) started to think that the doll had developed her own personality. She became more than an inanimate object to him; he began to think of her as his girlfriend. Of Saori, Nakajima said, “She never betrays … I’m tired of modern rational humans. They are heartless … for me, she is more than a doll … She needs much help, but still is my perfect partner who shares precious moments with me and enriches my life.”

Monday, January 30, 2017
White House correspondents dinner is (finally) being questioned
A New York Times story begins:
The annual custom of the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner suddenly seems uncomfortable if not untenable: Journalists mingling with Trump administration aides who loathe them, celebrities decrying Trump White House policies, and an entertainment headliner grappling with the tone and boldness of jokes about President Trump himself.
The idea that those tasked with watching those in power shouldn't be cavorting with those in power is finally being questioned. But this, like the media discovering it has the power to call the words of lying politicians lies, is but a temporary pose.
The Times story is about comedian [sic] Samantha Bee's publicity stunt, the "Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner."
This alternative gala, which is being called “Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner” and was announced on Monday, will be at the Willard Hotel. Ms. Bee said that it was not an attempt to comment on or compete with that other, better-known banquet, but a night to include jokes about Mr. Trump that she and like-minded comedians want to make.
“We’re not trying to supersede it,” she said in a telephone interview. “We just want to be there in case something happens — or doesn’t happen — and ensure that we get to properly roast the president.”
This is infinitely better than the WHCA dinner, where those in power must subject themselves to bad comedians (and vice versa) and also make phony self-deprecating jokes about themselves and coying, half-truth jokes about their colleagues and those who cover them. The sad thing is that this is the first time anyone wants to admit the shit they put up with leaves a bad taste and that for once they are willing to do something about it.

Protect Americans from the American government
The Wall Street Journals's Holman W. Jenkins Jr., writes about two heart-breaking cases of individuals and companies targeted by government officials who had egregiously broad readings of bureaucratic rules. As the title of the Jenkins piece says, "Meet the Victims of the Administrative State." And they are only two. This happens too often in America.

May's deft handling of Trump meeting and the future of NATO
Harry Phibbs at Conservative Home:
So that seemed to go off pretty smoothly. Theresa May’s first meeting with President Trump was the greatest diplomatic challenge for a British politician in living memory. There was an extraordinary balancing act. The media had two stories ready – one that May was subservient to the monster Trump. Another was of a disastrous split imperilling the special relationship. Our Prime Minister’s deft performance made either narrative unsustainable.
A few weeks ago, Donald Trump told The Times NATO was obsolete (although he has also been calling for other NATO members to fulfill their NATO obligations if the organization was to remain viable). On Friday he seemingly nodded approving while Prime Minister Theresa May praised NATO, saying: "On defence and security cooperation, we’re united in our recognition of Nato as the bulwark of our collective defence and we reaffirmed our unshakeable commitment to this alliance. We’re 100% behind Nato."
Meanwhile, the UK-US Special Relationship means Washington and London will start working on a free trade agreement before Britain leaves the European Union. The (London) Times reports:
Donald Trump and Theresa May have delivered a rebuke to the EU by agreeing the first steps in a new free trade deal two years before Brexit. In defiance of claims that Britain should not launch substantive negotiations with other countries until after Britain leaves the EU, the two leaders thrashed out an agreement that they would trade “more than ever”. At lunch on Friday, Trump pledged to ensure that the trade arrangements that the UK has with the US through its membership of the EU will continue when the UK leaves. May and Trump also agreed to start a new trade negotiation agreement that will see high-level talks between the two nations begin immediately.

Sunday, January 29, 2017
The intellectual poverty of the academy and its consequences
George Will riffs on The Chronicle Review article by Tom Nichols (professor at the U.S. Naval War College and the Harvard Extension School) on the modern university's declining standards (which begins: "We are churning out entitled students with paltry knowledge and inflated egos, easy prey for propagandists"). Education has been replaced by the college "experience" and then the miseducated (those ignorant of history, the permanently aggrieved, and social justice warriors) infect the real world and our politics:
Much attention has been given to the non-college-educated voters who rallied to Trump. Insufficient attention is given to the role of the college miseducated. They, too, are complicit in our current condition because they emerged from their expensive “college experiences” neither disposed nor able to conduct civil, informed arguments. They are thus disarmed when confronted by political people who consider evidence, data, and reasoning to be mere conveniences and optional.
Will echoes Walter Berns who said the question is not whether an elite should rule, but which elite. A university education is often a prerequisite for entry into today's elite, the modern university has failed the governing class and the governed.

Saturday, January 28, 2017
Will Trump's protectionism be responsible for a million early deaths
Steven Landsburg calculates that slapping a 20% tariff on Mexico will result in lower consumption of fruits and vegetables, resulting in an increase in cancer, heart disease, degenerative diseases, and diabetes (and therefore early deaths). Landsburg shows his assumptions and calculations. In (economic) theory it is all true. I'm not sure it will work this way in real-life. But his theory may also underestimate the disease toll by failing to take into account increased fruit/vegetable prices due to less competition, and higher prices for American (or other) produce will also decrease consumption of domestic fruit and vegetables, therefore increasing the disease toll.
It is better to limit our observations to a broad warning that increasing the cost of Mexico fruits and vegetables entering the United States will decrease the consumption of healthy foods by Americans which will have some effect on the health of Americans. The devil is in the (unknowable) details, but it seems probable that Trump will make a good many Americans sick. Literally. Although many of them won't become ill until long after his presidency is over.

Scott Adams on Donald Trump's genius
"Dilbert" creator Scott Adams on the "outrage dilution" strategy of Donald Trump:
I’m having a fun time watching President Trump flood the news cycle with so many stories and outrages that no one can keep up. Here’s how the math of persuasion works in this situation:
1 outrage out of 3 headlines in a week: Bad Persuasion
25 outrages out of 25 headlines in a week: Excellent Persuasion
At the moment there are so many outrages, executive orders, protests, and controversies that none of them can get enough oxygen in our brains. I can’t obsess about problem X because the rest of the alphabet is coming at me at the same time ...
He’s creating so many opportunities for disagreement that it’s mentally exhausting. Literally. He’s wearing down the critics, replacing their specific complaints with entire encyclopedias of complaints. And when Trump has created a hundred reasons to complain, do you know what impression will be left with the public?
He sure got a lot done.
Even if you don’t like it.

Friday, January 27, 2017
Theresa May's address to US Republicans
British Prime Minister Theresa May addressed the GOP "Congress of Tomorrow" conference in Philadelphia and the speech was, as Donald Trump might say, "a great speech, a really fantastic speech. She's a star." May's address was meant to remind American conservatives of the two countries' Special Relationship and, more importantly, common cause. But it was also designed to nudge the President, gently, toward a closer relationship not only with Britain to with those nations, institutions, and principles with which it has been historically aligned. By framing the discussion in terms that Trump understands and appreciates, she was hoping to smooth the discussions a day later (today) at the White House. You don't move Donald Trump toward greater engagement in the world by wagging a finger at him; you show him that America is great (again) when it's engagements are principled and serve its own national interests.
Martin Kettle has a very good column in The Guardian explaining the brilliance of the speech that is worth reading. Unfortunately, this speech has received very little coverage on either side of the lake. One assumes that its primary intended audiences (the President, the Republicans in Congress, members of her party at home) paid close attention.

Cowen on 'mental illness'
Tyler Cowen comments:
I don’t like the term “mental illness,” yet at the same time I reject the Szaszian rejection of the concept. I would say that mental processes can deviate from procedural rationality in especially disadvantageous (and sometimes systematic) ways, and that this is something above and beyond merely having “different preferences.”
I was saved from my Szaszian (and, admittedly, contrarian) view on mental illness. I am sympathetic to Cowen's view, and could agree if he kept it at "don't like" but he added "at the same time I reject" this other thing implying he rejects the term mental illness. One might have good reasons to be skeptical of the term or, more often, be skeptical of the overuse of the term.
Cowen's definition is a good one. It is what most people think of when they talk about mental illness, but definitions are not terms. We can't say "mental processes can deviate from procedural rationality in especially disadvantageous (and sometimes systematic) ways" every time we talk about mental illness. That's a tad cumbersome and MPCDFPRIED(ASS)W is a probably even more difficult to remember. It seems that the term mental health -- stressing getting an individual back to (at least) functionality and, preferably, flourishing) -- is used more in Canada than the United States. This is not a debate about the "politically correct" term. Semantics can frame the topic in ways that encourage or discourage individuals from seeking the help they need.

Thursday, January 26, 2017
Theresa May
George Trefgarne, founder of Boscobel & Partners, a UK communications firm, has an excellent piece at CapX: "Theresa May rises in stature by the day." Despite some early missteps, the British Prime Minister has been great in recent months and phenomenal in recent weeks. I had early misgivings, but I'm a convert now. I agree with Trefgame's observation:
But since the New Year she is transformed. She has delivered well received speeches on her vision for a “shared society”, her approach to Brexit and for the Industrial Strategy. Not only have these gone down rather well, they should be seen as part of a continuum. She is finding her pace and her narrative after an awkward start.
Her steady hand is especially important right now:
As [Trump] continues to emit a powerful and risky radiation from Washington, she gives off, by contrast, a more reasonable, reassuring and steady glow.
She has learned the hard way that she must work through Parliament and not unnecessarily upset business and the City. All that has been lost is a few months in which she and the Brexit secretary, David Davis, have been able to prepare for the tasks ahead. Compared to both the American President and also Jeremy Corbyn here, she looks far more considered, trustworthy and reliable.
Comparisons to Margaret Thatcher are premature. The Iron Lady served for 11 years while May has been in office for seven months. But peak May -- and the last few weeks have seen some remarkable peaks, despite contrary impressions given by The Guardian and BBC -- is comparable to peak Thatcher.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017
UK Supreme Court ruling and Brexit
The British Supreme Court ruled that the United Kingdom government must get Parliament’s approval before triggering Brexit negotiations with the European Union (Article 50). This probably doesn't change a thing, and Brexit Minister David Davis said that a government bill would be ready within days, with early indications it will be a short, direct bill so that opposition parties and desperate Remain Tories cannot slow it down with amendments. Davis said it would be "the most straightforward bill possible to give effect to the decision of the people and respect the supreme court’s judgment." The Express reports that Labour MP Owen Smith said MPs could still vote it down and he wrote in The Guardian that he will not vote to trigger Article 50. Labour leader Jeremey Corbyn has indicated he would not vote down a government bill triggering Article 50, but that he would offer amendments including the requirement the government negotiate access to the single market. The Independent reports that the Scottish National Party will offer 50 amendments, including one that calls for an outright rejection of Brexit, which could derail Theresa May's stated desire to trigger Article 50 by the end of March.
The Daily Telegraph opposes Remain MPs using parliamentary procedures to slow down the process and weaken the UK's hand in negotiating with the EU. The paper editorializes:
Such procedural mischief will not help achieve a deal that benefits the country. If there are Remainers in Parliament who still want to stay in the EU they should have the courage and honesty to say so and face their voters rather than hide behind parliamentary procedure. But the majority who support the Second Reading should make sure that the Government has the flexibility to achieve the best deal and is not hobbled by requirements that make a difficult job even harder.
Labour’s demand for a White Paper setting out a detailed negotiating strategy is not about holding the Government to account but a recipe for confusion and muddle which Mrs May rightly rejected in her Lancaster House speech last week. Besides, she has already set out a plan around which the country is rallying. This involves being out of the single market but with access to it; outside the customs union but with a customs agreement; and new inter-governmental arrangements with respect to justice and home affairs. The aim is an agreement with our partners that is to their advantage and to ours. That is something Parliament should support, not hinder.
More importantly, the rest of the EU has been encouraged by the coherence of the Prime Minister’s position. Everyone now knows where they stand and negotiations can begin on that basis. Parliamentary warfare resulting in a series of defeats for the Government would be a disaster to be exploited by those in Europe who want to see the UK “punished” for leaving the EU.
As the Telegraph says, this is not the time to refight the referendum. It is time to move on. The Court ruled that Parliament must have the final say on the weighty matter of leaving the EU. A reminder that the British parliament voted in favour of having a binding referendum, in effect outsourcing its decision on leaving the EU, so this should be a pro forma exercise; ignoring the will of the people as expressed through last June's referendum would be a bitter betrayal of the voters.
ConservativeHome's Mark Wallace says it is time to get on with it, but concludes: "ultimately, it simply means that Parliament will vote to free our country from the European Union. That feels like an appropriate way to mark the success of a campaign to restore parliamentary sovereignty." Sure, but within limits. At this point it is the job of parliamentarians to rubber-stamp the June 23 vote.

Score one for Ted Cruz
The Washington Examiner reports that Deadspin, "a liberal sports website," invited people to share pictures or video of Republican Senator Ted Cruz playing basketball. The Texas senator shared a pic of Duke's Grayson Allen, a Cruz doppelgänger. Deadspin got pissy with Cruz, and editor Tim Marchman tweeted up a bitchy storm including this one:

Safe spaces and trigger warnings
Harley Price in the February Interim:
[S]afe zones and trigger warnings have hardly been instituted for the protection of “vulnerable” and “marginalized” minorities, so much as for the intimidation of the rest of the officially non-protected student population...
The paper will be in the mail in the next few days. Great column. Can't wait until the full article in posted online.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017
Obama's promise kept/promise broken scorecard
The Washington Post looks at 40 promises made by candidate Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 and finds that he broke 17, kept 11, and compromised on 12. I think a clear promise with a deadline is broken, not a compromise, even if the goal is eventually reached (for example, US troops out of Iraq within 18 months). Notable broken promises were closing the Guantanamo Bay prison, ending the war in Afghanistan by 2014, creating a million manufacturing jobs between 2012 and 2016, raising and indexing the federal minimum wage, doubling research funding over 10 years, and enacting a bunch of governmental reforms (lobbying, transparency, etc). Overall not bad, and he'll blame an obstructionist Republican Congress for some of his failures. Of course, America might be better off due to some of his broken promises (establishing a low national carbon-fuel standard) and would have been better off yet had he broken others (giving the Federal Reserve more oversight power on institutions it bails out).

Donald Trump, not a divider
President Donald Trump brings people together, in this case the heads of the Big Three North American auto companies.

Seen at the Women's March
There were a lot of dumb signs and I'm not sure this one is all that unusual in its extremism and vulgarity:
(HT: Dr. Roy on Twitter)

Liberal Women's March
The Cato Institute's Emily Ekins writes in The Federalist that she would have liked to attend the Women's March in Washington, but didn't feel welcome because of the march's overarching political agenda:
The news cycle Saturday was dominated with coverage of the hundreds of thousands of women, many donning pink hats, gathering in major cities for “women’s marches” to protest Donald Trump. Anyone watching the news would have gained the distinct impression that these marches purported to speak for women across the country, with headlines like: “Women’s Marches Protest Trump Election & Agenda,” and organizers emphasizing that “we represent half of this country.”
But could we be honest about what this really is? This isn’t a “women’s march” but a liberal women’s march. Despite the organizers’ promises to the contrary, these marches were by no means inclusive and failed to represent the diverse array of priorities that many women across the country have. Some were even actively discounted.
The actively discounted were pro-life feminists.
Ekins adds: "I was initially inclined to attend the march myself, but its organizers allowed it to become politicized, divisive, and exclusive. Wasn’t the protest about protesting against exclusivity?" She also writes:
Regardless of your political ideology, position on same-sex marriage, tax rates, gun issues, college funding, corporate donations, etc. most all women can agree that Trump’s attitudes toward women are unacceptable. His words and actions are a personification of a decrepit culture that some men wrongfully embrace for which they should be held accountable and corrected in the public sphere.
But instead these women's marches became about the usual left-wing issues. The Wall Street Journal's Cori O'Connor observed that #WhyIMarch "could be followed by any reason under the progressive sun":
The marchers in Washington seemed to have a million messages. One big theme was reproductive rights. “Get your policies out of my exam room,” read one sign defending Planned Parenthood. Others read “Save ACA, live long, and prosper,” “My body my business,” and “Reproductive rights are human rights.” Many women carried signs depicting the female anatomy or wore crocheted pink cat ears—a pun on a vulgar term Mr. Trump once uttered.
There were plenty of other pet causes. “Racial justice = LGBTQ issues,” read one sign. A popular poster featured a woman in an American-flag hijab and the words “We the people are greater than fear.” Forty-year-old Pablo Rosa, who immigrated to the U.S. when he was 13, carried a sign that said “Mexico owes US nothing.” Other posters called Mr. Trump “the Kremlin candidate” and “Putin’s pawn,” pleaded to “protect our planet,” and proclaimed: “Public education is a civil right.”
As Ekins writes:
Michael Moore encouraged attendees to join Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro Choice America, or a climate change group —hardly an ideologically diverse set of groups.
Why weren’t prominent non-liberal women who were also outspoken against Trump invited to speak, such as S.E. Cupp, Ana Navarro, Condoleezza Rice, or Mindy Finn? Why was there only room for individuals of one political persuasion like Michael Moore, Elizabeth Warren, Van Jones, Gloria Steinem, Cecile Richards, and Ashley Judd?
So let’s be honest: this was a liberal women’s march. And that’s fine. But it’s not a “women’s march” protesting Trump. The organizers were not inclusive and sought to only include women who share their economic, cultural, and social policy views.
These are not women's marches. They are progressive marches. They are anti-Trump marches. But no group could represent the the diversity of 50% of the population (53% of white women voted for Donald Trump, for crying out loud), and the organizers are wrong to claim to speak for Double X Americans, and the media is irresponsible in going along with the conceit.
Everyday I am thankful I am a straight, white guy because it's the only demographic that does not have some organization claiming to speak on our behalf. I can speak for myself, thank you very much.

Why Trump has his staff, advisers lie for him
In his Bloomberg column, Tyler Cowen offers two plausible theories on why President Donald Trump gets his people to go before television cameras to offer alternative facts lie:
By requiring subordinates to speak untruths, a leader can undercut their independent standing, including their standing with the public, with the media and with other members of the administration. That makes those individuals grow more dependent on the leader and less likely to mount independent rebellions against the structure of command. Promoting such chains of lies is a classic tactic when a leader distrusts his subordinates and expects to continue to distrust them in the future.
Another reason for promoting lying is what economists sometimes call loyalty filters. If you want to ascertain if someone is truly loyal to you, ask them to do something outrageous or stupid. If they balk, then you know right away they aren’t fully with you. That too is a sign of incipient mistrust within the ruling clique, and it is part of the same worldview that leads Trump to rely so heavily on family members.
What about the kinds of lies that his subordinates -- and Trump himself -- tell:
The high-status mistruths are like those we associate with ambassadors and diplomats. The ambassador is reluctant to tell a refutable, flat-out lie of the sort that could cause embarrassment, but if all you ever heard were the proclamations of the ambassador, you wouldn’t have a good grasp of the realities of the situation. Ambassadors typically are speaking to more than one audience at once, a lot of context is required to glean the actual meaning, and if they are interpreted in a strictly literal manner (a mistake) it is easy enough to find lots of misdirection in their words ...
These higher-status lies are not Trump’s style, and thus many of his supporters, with some justification, see him as a man willing to voice important truths ...
Trump specializes in lower-status lies, typically more of the bald-faced sort, namely stating “x” when obviously “not x” is the case. They are proclamations of power, and signals that the opinions of mainstream media and political opponents will be disregarded. The lie needs to be understood as more than just the lie. For one thing, a lot of Americans, especially many Trump supporters, are more comfortable with that style than with the “fancier” lies they believe they are hearing from the establishment. For another, joining the Trump coalition has been made costlier for marginal outsiders and ignoring the Trump coalition is now less likely for committed opponents. In other words, the Trump administration is itself sending loyalty signals to its supporters by burning its bridges with other groups.
Cowen also provocatively says that Trump's actions and lies indicate he does not trust either his subordinates or his supporters, and that the lack of trust is reciprocated. I think Cowen is right about the first assertion but underestimates the depth of support among the President's large mass of ardent supporters.

White House upsets the media apple cart
There was a controvery today at the White House. Twitter went bananas when White House press secretary Sean Spicer did not call upon the Associated Press reporter to ask the first question. As the Huffington Post reported:
Spicer bucked tradition by bypassing The Associated Press ― the customary recipient of the first question at the White House’s daily briefing ― and turning instead to the New York Post, the conservative-leaning tabloid owned by Rupert Murdoch.
Spicer followed by calling on a reporter from the Christian Broadcasting Network before working his way through members of the media tucked into the far reaches of the overly cramped James S. Brady Briefing Room. For traditionalists in the press corps, it was another sign that the Trump administration won’t abide by conventions of the past.
Michael Calderone, HuffPo's senior media reporter worries:
Nor is it clear whether Spicer’s willingness to upend the questioning order will result in only the sympathetic members of the media getting called upon. The concern among reporters is that the Trump team may start turning to pro-Trump bloggers when the going gets tough. Such partisan or niche outlets could veer away from a major new story that has preoccupied the rest of the press corps.
Univision was hardly sympathetic to Donald Trump during the primary and elections, and they got the third question. As for the media's traditional big players? Ricochet's Jon Gabriel writes: "Did he blacklist journalists from CNN, the New York Times, etc? No, he got to them a few minutes later. In fact, Spicer stayed as long as the reporters wanted, answering questions for well over an hour." Gabriel adds:
What so appalled the press was that Spicer upset the media’s caste system. After calling on the New York Post, he went to CBN (Christian cable network), Univision (Spanish-language channel), Fox Business Network, and American Urban Radio Networks (African-American focused service). He also announced the creation of “Skype seats” that will allow reporters who live 50 miles or more from Washington DC to ask questions.
Opening question to journalists outside of the Acela corridor seems like a big win for the First Amendment and the freedom of the press. More diverse questions and voices are sure to result.
Perhaps AP deserved it's privileged place at one point, but does that favouritism make sense in 2017? Moving to a larger media room to accommodate more reporters was criticized and the White House relented, but it is hardly an attack on freedom of the press to let more reporters into the briefing room (which was filled to capacity yesterday). Allowing Skype seats likewise expands freedom of the press by allowing more diverse points of view into the briefing room. Allowing different reporters to get the first question is democratic. What seems to upset journalists in the White House press corps is that their vaunted position is being opened to competition and the journos don't like that. I can't see the public having a problem with these developments.

Monday, January 23, 2017
Is this a good deal or a bad bargain?
The Washington Post reports that President Donald Trump is vowing to slash regulations:
In the opening hours of his first formal day in the White House on Monday, President Trump welcomed leaders from several of the country's largest corporations and promised to wipe out at least 75 percent of government regulations that hinder their businesses, fast-track their plans to open factories and cut taxes “massively.” ...
“We're going to be cutting regulation massively,” Trump told a large group of business chief executives over breakfast, which was briefly open to the news media. “Now, we're going to have regulation, and it'll be just as strong and just as good and just as protective of the people as the regulation we have right now. The problem with the regulation that we have right now is that you can't do anything. ... I have people that tell me that they have more people working on regulations than they have doing product.” ...
His message to them and other CEOs on Monday: Keep your production within the United States, and you will be rewarded. For those looking to grow or start new factories, Trump promised to expedite their requests and provide incentives to build.
Companies that move abroad will face punitive tariffs for their business decisions. This puts free market advocates in an interesting position. Cutting regulations (and taxes) are good things that should spur enterprise in America. But the administration is coupling this appetizing carrot with the stick of an import tax. Ideally this is not an either/or proposition: fewer regulations and freer trade is a possibility, although, apparently, not for this administration. So are deep cuts to needless regulations and significantly lower tax rates a good trade for the limits on trade and the infringements on businesses to decide where to locate operations? I could see the case for it, even if I'm not happy about it.

America the free. But it could be freer
Cafe Hayek's Donald Boudreaux:
According to the Fraser Institute’s (and Cato Institute’s) Economic Freedom of the World 2016 Annual Report, the United States is today the world’s 16th freest country economically. That’s not great; it’s a shame that American economic freedom has been eroded in recent years. But comparatively speaking – especially considering that economic freedom globally has increased substantially over the past few decades – being ranked the 16th freest county economically does indeed mean that it is wrong to assume that businesses in the United States all operate under the burden of uniquely oppressive taxation and heavy regulations.
Do I believe that this taxation is too high? Absolutely and without a doubt. Do I believe that government-imposed regulations in the U.S. are too many and too burdensome? Absolutely and without a doubt. Do I support efforts to cut taxes and reduce regulations? Absolutely and without question and across the board. But do I believe that Americans are, in comparison with most other people in the world today, uniquely burdened with high taxes and heavy regulations? Absolutely not. We simply aren’t so burdened in comparison with most other people in the world today.
Many conservatives today often make two inconsistent claims. First, they assert that Americans are indeed uniquely burdened with high taxes and restrictive economic regulations. Second, they complain about the U.S. trade deficit, even offering this deficit as evidence of the unique economic totalitarianism under which Americans today are allegedly crushed. Yet the U.S. trade deficit means that foreigners are investing more of their resources in the American economy than Americans are investing in non-American economies.
Why would such large amounts of investment funds continue to flow into the American economy, rather than into other economies, if the American economy were such a uniquely impossible place to do business profitably?
Likewise, the most free countries could still probably afford less taxation and less regulation of their business. Rankings don't say much about the level of the thing being measured, only how a country does compared to others. Still, Boudreaux is correct to admonish the inconsistencies on the Right and celebrate the relative freedom that America has compared to the most of the world. I would add Canada, which is fifth according to the Cato/Fraser report on economic freedom. By the way, New Zealand is third and Australia and the United Kingdom are tied for tenth, so the Anglosphere does pretty well even if the US is a (comparable) laggard.

America First will hurt America
The Globe and Mail editorializes:
So that’s the agenda facing NATO, the European Union, Japan, the rest of the democratic world – and Canada. The United States has provided global leadership for 75 years. It has always looked out for its interests, and then some. But its leaders generally understood that international affairs, including trade, did not have to be a zero-sum game. For America to win, it did not mean that others had to lose. In economic theory, trade is capable of being a win-win arrangement. In Trumpian theory, apparently not.
The Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the U.S. was not an American plan to strip Canada’s economy. NAFTA was not a plot to crush America’s neighbours. The World Trade Organization was not a scheme to benefit American exporters at the rest of the world’s expense. And that’s Mr. Trump’s chief complaint about America’s trade agreements: They failed to put America First.
After the Second World War, the United States briefly considered keeping the peace by turning Germany and Japan into enfeebled, agricultural societies. Instead, it rebuilt Western Europe with the generosity of the Marshall Plan, and transformed Japan into a model democracy. It saw the prosperity and success of its former enemies as the best guarantor of America’s own peace, prosperity and leadership.
It was one of history’s greatest acts of enlightened self-interest. Europe and Japan boomed. So did trade. So did the United States. America was the free world’s leader because it did more than just put America First.
George Friedman, chairman of Geopolitical Futures, writes at RealClearWorld about Trump's foreign policy views:
Trump’s core strategic argument is that the United States is overextended. The core reason for this overextension is that the United States has substituted a system of multilateral relationships for a careful analysis of the national interest. In this reading, Washington is entangled in complex relationships that place risks and burdens on the United States to come to the aid of some countries. However, its commitments are not matched by those countries in capability, nor in intent.
Sure. But there's the bathwater and then there's the baby. Trump talks in absolutes. Perhaps he will bring nuance to governing that he didn't in campaigning. Maybe his advisers and cabinet can curtail the worst of Trump's foreign policy inclinations. But until he proves otherwise, we should be look askance at Trump's trade and foreign policy views. There is room for improvement in America's trade agreements and alliances, but fixing them isn't always about getting a better deal for the United States, not when such deals are viewed through the distorting zero-sum lens.
The American economy grows when its allies -- its primary trade partners -- exchange goods and services with it. America is safer when the country is engaged with the world. There are trade-offs, of course, but Fortress America is a smaller, poorer, less safe America.

And free will
I agree that there is a problem with the binary of nature vs. nurture, that it can be both. And epigentics. And free will. Everyone forgets free will.

Sunday, January 22, 2017
NFL Championship Weekend
Green Bay Packers (10-6) at Atlanta Falcons (11-5) 3:05 pm: These are first (Atlanta 33.9 ppg) and third (Green Bay 28 ppg) scoring offenses in the NFL. Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers are probably going to finish first and third in MVP voting. A lot of commentary leans toward believing that Aaron Rodgers has magical powers and that Green Bay is unbeatable. ESPN's Bill Barnwell notes that as good as Rodgers has been during his eight-game winning streak, Matt Ryan has actually been better. (Scroll down to the first chart in this article.) Two of Rodgers' top three receiving targets, Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams, could play but are coming off injuries. Furthermore, these two potent offenses are facing below-average defenses. Green Bay was 19th in points allowed (24 ppg) while Atlanta was 26th (25.1 ppg) and are tied for 26th in total defense (367.5 ypg). In week eight, the Falcons beat the Packers in Green Bay 33-32, but that was before Rodgers got hot and the Packers defense were without their top two cornerbacks and linebacker Clay Matthews (and the offense was without Randall Cobb and Jared Cook and the running game was in complete shambles rather than hardly existent). Vegas has the over/under at 61, which seems low. The biggest difference-maker on defense on either side is Falcons outside linebacker Vic Beasley who had 15.5 sacks to lead the NFL during the regular season; he'll try to put pressure on Rodgers. The problem for Green Bay is that Ryan has just too many weapons. Julio Jones is a top three WR in the NFL but if a D manages to take him out of the game, Atlanta has a great dual-threat running back tandem (Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman) who combined for nearly 2,500 yards from scrimmage and 24 TDs; Coleman averages 13.6 receiving yards per catch. I'd love to see Rodgers and the Pack go on, but I can't imagine their defense can do enough to stop Ryan's historically great offense (7th most regular season points in NFL history). Atlanta wins the final NFL game at the Georgia Dome to make their second Super Bowl and first since 1999 when Green Bay settles for field goals while Atlanta finishes their drives.
Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5) at New England Patriots (14-2) 6:40 pm: Either team is capable of putting up a pile of points on the scoreboard, but there are reasons to favour the Pats. There is the troubling (for Steelers fans) issue of Ben Roethlisberger's home/road splits: 70.8 completion percentage at home, 59.4% on the road; 20:5 TD to interception ratio at home, 9:8 on the road; 116.7 QB rating at home compared to 78.4 on the road. Big Ben had a poor game last week in Kansas City, not getting the ball into the end zone once, and the Steelers only won because Chris Boswell kicked a playoff record six field goals and a penalty negated a Chiefs two-point conversion that would have tied the game. If Pittsburgh plays like that again, the Patriots will win handily. Will they? Probably not that poorly. The Pats win by taking out the most dangerous offensive weapon but who does New England neutralize, Antonio Brown or Le'Veon Bell? Bell is the best running back in the NFL but will face a strong run defense: eighth in yards per attempts at 3.9 and fourth in rush defense according to Football Outsiders more advanced metrics. Roethlisberger will either need to step up or Brown will turn short passes into big plays like he did in the wild card contest against the Miami Dolphins in which he translated a slant pass and screen pass in the middle of the field into 50+ yard touchdown catches. That makes Roethlisberger's stat sheet look better than he really performed. New England's 15.6 ppg allowed was the best in the NFL by three points, a ridiculous margin. It has been well-documented that the Pats faced a weak schedule, facing only three of the top 15 QBs in the NFL and none in the top 10. The Steelers are capable of scoring 40 points but they are more likely to put 20-24 on the scoreboard. So the question is whether Pittsburgh can keep New England from scoring. The Steelers were eighth in points allowed (19.7 ppg) and were slightly stingier on the road (19.2 ppg). By Football Outsiders weighted DVOA (which gives more weight to recent games), the Pats have the third best offense and Pittsburgh the fourth best defense, and according to FO the Pats are eighth in red zone offense and Pittsburgh fourth in defense within their own 20. This should be a tremendous battle. The Steelers kept the week seven loss to New England (sans Roethlisberger) close for most of the game, but they hardly pressured Tom Brady. Since week eight, the Steelers are fourth on pressuring opposing QBs and they'll likely get to Brady more often. Ben Volin of the Boston Globe has a tremendous article explaining how the Houston Texans showed opponents how to beat the Patriots by bringing pressure up the middle with their outside linebackers: "Attacking the interior and forcing Brady to hold onto the football got Brady flustered." And he made mistakes. Because Pittsburgh's secondary is its defensive weakness, and at times an outright liability, having Bud Dupree move inside to go after the quarterback might be the only way to neutralize WR Julian Edelman. These formulations might also limit the damage done by New England's running backs. I don't think it will be enough, but at least it's a viable game plan. New England wins by more than a score and Tom Brady and Bill Belichick return to their seventh Super Bowl.

Saturday, January 21, 2017
Why people who care about freedom should worry about President Trump
At Hit & Run, Peter Suderman has "9 Reasons Why Libertarians Should Be Worried By Donald Trump." Nothing new here, but Republicans seems to need reminding. Among Trump's most troubling positions: support for building "a massive, expensive wall," a"more aggressive stance on trade," "authoritarian leanings" on national security," taking a "dim view of constitutional free speech protections," past use of eminent domain as a businessman, and the lack of "interest in meaningful budget reforms" he had shown as candidate.

Will on Trump's Inauguration speech
George Will wasn't a fan of Donald Trump's first speech as President. Will says:
Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s White House counselor, had promised that the speech would be “elegant.” This is not the adjective that came to mind as he described “American carnage.” That was a phrase the likes of which has never hitherto been spoken at an inauguration.
Oblivious to the moment and the setting, the always remarkable Trump proved that something dystopian can be strangely exhilarating: In what should have been a civic liturgy serving national unity and confidence, he vindicated his severest critics by serving up reheated campaign rhetoric about “rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape” and an education system producing students “deprived of all knowledge.” Yes, all.
But cheer up, because the carnage will vanish if we “follow two simple rules: Buy American and hire American.” “Simple” is the right word.
Katherine Mangu-Ward, editor of Reason, said there are similarities between the new President and the one that preceded him: "When you set aside Obama's customary poetry and Trump's habitual bluntness, both men are circling around the same idea: that loyalty to the state will lead Americans on a path to personal goodness."

How to visit a new city
Tyler Cowen:
Then I try to walk through at least two neighborhoods, to get a general sense of the city. More importantly, I can then later take some time over lunch without feeling I haven’t seen anything yet. These neighborhoods should be connected to the main drag in some way but not the main drag itself. The main drag is often boring, though essential, and it is more likely to get a fuller treatment on day two, with only a quick peek on day one.
The best art museum will come after lunch, and then be followed by more neighborhood walking, perhaps in a more distant part of the city. A major food market will come on day two, a vista or city lookout will come on day three. It means less if I go to either right away, because I have less information about what I should be noticing and looking for.

Friday, January 20, 2017
Caplan on 2016 waking people up
2016 was just like other years, only more so. Bryan Caplan:
Since I think that most news is overblown fluff, I have little sympathy for the endless pieces about "What we've learned about the world in 2016." Against the background of all of human history, 2016 taught us next to nothing. If you just discovered that horrible people often gain vast political power with widespread popular support, you're in dire need of remedial history. If you've just discovered that politicians' personalities matter at least as much as their policy views, you're in dire need of remedial political science. If you've just discovered that demagogic appeals to national identity work, you're in dire need of remedial psychology.
Lots of links at the original post explaining many of these assertions. Also, Caplan describes what he did learn from 2016, which is mostly how his previous pessimistic beliefs may have been too sanguine.

Remembering Obama
Does it already seem dated to talk about Barack Obama?
The Economy? Bloomberg's Matthew A. Winkler looked at 14 economic factors (from hourly wages to GDP to car sales to productivity) and found that among the last six president (going back to Carter), the economy did better under only Bill Clinton. Annual improvement in "disposable income per capita" is half that experienced during the Clinton administration and is ranked fifth. Likewise "productivity" is ranked fifth. This suggests that the benefits of the economy are not being felt by workers (Trump voters) and that there could be long-term challenges arising from the low productivity Obama years. It's not true as Donald Trump campaigned that the economy is a disaster but Obama and his partisans shouldn't be bragging, either.
The Cato Institute's Ilya Shapiro has a list of the "Top 10 Ways Obama Violated the Constitution during His Presidency." Shapiro charges Obama with expanding the imperial presidency and ignoring checks and balances. There is a giant sub-list under Obamacare's implementation. The professional corruption might be Obama's great legacy, because it provides cover/inspiration for future presidents to ignore constitutional checks and balances.
The Washington Post's Glenn Kessler looks at the former candidate's and president's "10 biggest whoppers" -- the lies so blatant and obvious that even a paper that leans toward giving Democrats the benefit of the doubt couldn't ignore them. What would be the worst? "If you like your health-care plan, you can keep it" or "I didn’t call the Islamic State a ‘JV’ team." Obama lies about Republicans a lot. And maybe he doesn't lie about the economy as much as he just doesn't get economics.

Thursday, January 19, 2017
Addiction is not a crime
David Gratzer's weekly reading this week looks at a longish Wall Street Journal article about how some American states are tackling the opioid crisis by experimenting with addiction treatment for individuals who abuse drugs rather than treating them as criminals. The war on drugs hasn't worked and the drug crisis gets worse (there are now more heroin deaths than gun deaths in America). Gratzer says, "These experiments in treatment (instead of jail time) are important." Indeed. He notes that in Canada there is some experimentation in directing individuals with drug addictions to treatment rather than sending them to jail. Gratzer also notes a Globe and Mail article on the federal government's response to the opioid crisis in Canada, in which federal Health Minister, Jane Philpott, says, "Addiction is not a crime. Addiction is not a mark of moral failure. It is a health issue." It is also a cultural issue so there are non-policy needs (such as changing attitudes to addiction); however, changing the federal response -- from policing and penal, to health -- will help lead that cultural change. This week's readings are important and I hope that Dr. Gratzer's audience goes well beyond his usual one of his medical colleagues, and is read and carefully considered by policy makers.

What I'm reading
1. Audacity: How Barack Obama Defied His Critics and Created a Legacy That Will Prevail by Jonathan Chait
2. A Consequential President: The Legacy of Barack Obama by Michael D'Antonio. Carlos Lazada's Washington Post review of D'Antonio's and Chait's books is very good.
3. We Are the Change We Seek: The Speeches of Barack Obama edited by E.J. Dionne Jr. and Joy-Ann Reid

Donald Trump: Making Journalism Great Again
The New York Times announces:
The Trump White House will be an extraordinary, evolving story, and Times journalists will be covering it in practically every section of our daily report. But one desk in particular will be exceptionally busy over the next four years — that of our Washington bureau. So, to ensure that we continue to deliver the in-depth journalism our readers deserve, we’re expanding, including the addition of a new Washington investigations team to our existing teams covering the White House, Capitol Hill and the Pentagon.
There is certainly a partisan or ideological slant to this decision, but shouldn't the paper of record have an extensive investigations team in the nation's capital?
Dig, baby, dig.

Kevin O'Leary's chances
The Globe and Mail's Konrad Yakabuski examines the Conservative Party of Canada leadership field and finds 13 candidates lacking. But he thinks there are game-changing possibilities in reality show and business television personality Kevin O'Leary. Yakabuski says that O'Leary may speak to more Canadians than his opponents or the pundits realize: "If you think his mad-as-hell shtick will never fly in polite and progressive Canada, you probably haven’t been listening to your neighbours lately." I'm not sure that Canadians are interested in shaking up the political establishment in the same way that British and American voters have in the last year, but I wouldn't bet against it, either. And if they are, Kevin O'Leary will be electable. The first step to answering that question -- can the self-described Mr. Wonderful lead the Conservatives back to government -- is the Tory leadership race and it will be answered if a critical mass of Conservative Party members are willing to take a chance. The issue in many leadership races is "who can beat the incumbent next time." Other candidates are making not very compelling cases based on various issues, their biography/resume, or the tone they bring to politics. We'll see if Tory voters think their fellow Canadians are ready for the issues, biography/resume, and tone that Kevin O'Leary brings to the table.

HRC vs. De Blasio
According to a Quinnipiac poll, Hillary Clinton leads among every demographic except Republicans if she ran as an independent against New York City mayor Bill De Blasio, and would win 49%-29% in a two-way race (with no Republican -- although there are already declared GOP candidates and Donald Trump Jr. is sometimes rumoured to be interested in running). This poll is silly: Clinton gets a post-presidential run bump, she probably wouldn't run as an independent, and if there was a Clinton-De Blasio race, the GOP would certainly run their own credible candidate to try to "come up the middle" and win. The more interesting question would be how she'd do in a Democratic primary against De Blasio? The mayoral election is this year so HRC would have to get to work soon. As the 2016 presidential campaign illustrated, she probably doesn't have the energy to run another grueling campaign. I don't expect Clinton to run, but it's fun to speculate. It should also be noted that Hillary Clinton is to the right of De Blasio.

Maybe it's because 'alt-right' is an imprecise, catch-all term
Forward: "The ‘Alt-Right’ Hates the Jews. But It Also Loves Them — and Israel." Crappy article. It doesn't so much cherry-pick facts as throw a bunch of them together even if they aren't related. A "movement" that attracts anti-Semites and Zionists might be too broad to be a real movement.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017
Obama approval rating grows as term ends
CNN: "Obama approval hits 60% as end of term approaches." It is the highest it's been since 2009 although it still ranks behind Bill Clinton (66%) and Ronald Reagan (64%) among recent presidents as they left office. But his approval should be increasing considering all fellatio journalists ... fawning coverage he's been getting the last few weeks. It also helps that he looks pretty good (to independents) by comparison to the man replacing him.

Theresa May's Brexit speech
I have my biases, of course, but Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit speech at Lancaster House yesterday is a great and important speech. You can read it here and watch it here. I'd go so far as to say that this speech is more significant -- more substantial -- than anything Barack Obama has said in his eight years as president. May isn't the performer that Obama or Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are (or British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson can be). But the words matter. Only the words matter. This is the opening salvo of a negotiation, an immensely important negotiation. This speech will affect British and European public policy for decades to come.
Former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper's philosophy regarding speeches was to get to the point and eschew rhetoric. He wasn't using any occasion as a teaching moment. May is reminding Britons of their values, and they need reminding. The United Kingdom is an open, liberal, tolerant, and democratic society, and a dynamic market-economy. There is a domestic audience, but it is secondary. The key audience is the European Union. The theme was "A Global Briton" -- expressing the desire that the UK become "one of the firmest advocates for free trade anywhere in the world -- but the bottom line is that "I am equally clear that no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain." As Richard Tice of Leave Means Leave, said, that's the strapline of his organization. It is the hardest of Brexits. There is no "half-in, half-out." She wants free trade with and immigration from Europe, but on British terms, not Brussels's. This government has established that it considers it vital that London, not Brussels controls its borders. May clearly and firmly rejected single market:
But I want to be clear. What I am proposing cannot mean membership of the single market.
European leaders have said many times that membership means accepting the ‘4 freedoms’ of goods, capital, services and people. And being out of the EU but a member of the single market would mean complying with the EU’s rules and regulations that implement those freedoms, without having a vote on what those rules and regulations are. It would mean accepting a role for the European Court of Justice that would see it still having direct legal authority in our country.
It would to all intents and purposes mean not leaving the EU at all.
And that is why both sides in the referendum campaign made it clear that a vote to leave the EU would be a vote to leave the single market.
So we do not seek membership of the single market. Instead we seek the greatest possible access to it through a new, comprehensive, bold and ambitious free trade agreement.
She wants a free market deal, built on what Europe already has -- there is no need to start from scratch: "So an important part of the new strategic partnership we seek with the EU will be the pursuit of the greatest possible access to the single market, on a fully reciprocal basis, through a comprehensive free trade agreement." She will not pay for that access. No more "vast contributions" to the EU, but rather a buy-in for programs which the British Parliament chooses to participate. May also wants access to the customs union where it works, but the ability to pursue the best free trade agreements on Britain's own. This will not be easy. But it is not impossible, and Prime Minister May signals her willingness to play hardball:
I know there are some voices calling for a punitive deal that punishes Britain and discourages other countries from taking the same path.
That would be an act of calamitous self-harm for the countries of Europe. And it would not be the act of a friend. Britain would not – indeed we could not – accept such an approach. And while I am confident that this scenario need never arise – while I am sure a positive agreement can be reached – I am equally clear that no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain.
How will it be calamitous for European countries? May explains:
[W]e would have the freedom to set the competitive tax rates and embrace the policies that would attract the world’s best companies and biggest investors to Britain. And – if we were excluded from accessing the single market – we would be free to change the basis of Britain’s economic model.
Not only would European companies potentially lose access to important supply chains and financing from The City. A May government could set up Britain as a tax haven off the coast of Europe. This ... threat? ... is positively Thatcherite. May is tough. May took a conciliatory but very firm stance with her European colleagues, especially those who might be tempted to make an example of Britain or punish the nation for its decision. May backed Remain, but she has embraced her responsibility of carrying out the mandate of the Brexit referendum last June. In some ways, she's pushing a harder Brexit than some on Leave would have (including, possibly Boris Johnson and Michael Gove). And she has changed tact from her predecessor; former prime minister David Cameron accepted the European status quo as the baseline and sought incremental reforms but that left little room for negotiation. Prime Minister May has opened with the ideal, and if the result is something short of that, it could still be radically different than the UK-EU relationship today. And that's what British voters endorsed last June.
May warns the new partnership with Europe the UK seeks cannot be "an unlimited transitional" deal that becomes a "permanent purgatory." The agreement must be reached by the end of the two-year Article 50 process, which seems a little ambitious. May suggests Britain is willing to walk away from Europe without a deal; remember, no deal is better than a bad deal.
May also warns politicians and journalists to be responsible -- what she calls "disciplined":
Because this is not a game or a time for opposition for opposition’s sake. It is a crucial and sensitive negotiation that will define the interests and the success of our country for many years to come. And it is vital that we maintain our discipline.
That is why I have said before – and will continue to say – that every stray word and every hyped up media report is going to make it harder for us to get the right deal for Britain. Our opposite numbers in the European Commission know it, which is why they are keeping their discipline. And the ministers in this government know it too, which is why we will also maintain ours.
It is better to be transparent about the goals of negotiations -- and this speech does that -- but the negotiations themselves cannot be public. May said -- and I love this line -- "Because it is not my job to fill column inches with daily updates, but to get the right deal for Britain. And that is what I intend to do." So don't expect to hear much more about Brexit from Prime Minister May or senior ministers. She said that parliament will get to vote on the final deal but indicated it will not be open to negotiation. It seems she thinks (correctly in my view) that it is parliament's job to affirm the decision made by the people and the government's job to carry it out.
May asserted repeatedly she wants a prosperous Europe and a partnership with the continent, but strongly hinted that if necessary the United Kingdom is willing to go-it-alone and look elsewhere for trade partners. Her goal is not to maintain the European status quo, but to build a "better Britain" -- preferably with Europe, but not necessarily. The ball is now in the court of Brussels and the 27 European capitals. They should take May seriously and literally, even if she must move off some of her positions slightly during negotiations. This lady's not for turning, either.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017
Getting serious about serious cutting
The Washington Examiner reports that President-Election Donald Trump wants federal spending slashed:
Making good on a promise to slash government, President-elect Trump has asked his incoming team to pursue spending and staffing cuts.
Insiders said that the spending reductions in some departments could go as high as 10 percent and staff cuts to 20 percent, numbers that would rock Washington if he follows through.
At least two so-called "landing teams" in Cabinet agencies have relayed the call for cuts as part of their marching orders to shrink the flab in government.
The cuts would target discretionary spending, not mandated programs such as Medicare or Social Security, the sources said.
A lot of people like to talk about targets of 10%, but one-tenth of discretionary spending is a huge amount. And presumably defense costs are off-the-table as Donald Trump has promised to increase defense spending. Stakeholders special-interests will make noise. There is a bit of a dodge there with that "up to 10%" but as an aspirational goal this is significant spending (requiring cuts in government employees and the services they oversee for various groups of Americans). Non-defense discretionary spending is roughly 17% of the budget or $583 billion (out of a total of around $3.5 trillion). Cuts of "up to" $58 billion in a $3.5 trillion budget may not seem like much, but it will mean large cuts in particular programs. That said, the Chretien government's approach in Canada in the 1990s remains wise: targets can be larger or smaller in various ministries so that Native Affairs (at the time) was left untouched while the Ministry of Transportation saw spending decline by about 80%. A government doesn't cut one-tenth of spending by merely reducing waste -- there must be a reduction in program spending or employee costs.
A reduction in Department of Education spending means less money for schools, a cut in Homeland Security spending means less money for national security, and a lower budget for the Department of Health and Human Services means that agency has to consider giving less money to the National Institutes of Health for research. Perhaps Washington is paying for excessive security and health research, and an argument could be made that it is well past time that the federal government stop interfering in schools, but these discussions must be had if DC is going to cut one-tenth of spending in various departments. This won't be pain-free. Ten-percent targets sound good to those on the Right who want smaller government, but they are harder to achieve because it means that priorities have to be debated and decided. Good luck with that. I don't mean to be negative, just realistic. It's a positive sign (from the viewpoint of getting serious about how spending works) that the incoming administration is willing to cut staffing levels. Salaries and benefits are a huge expense and deep cuts are not possible without layoffs.

Obama's legacy
Guest-posting at Instapundit, Stephen Green is succinct:
What do you wager will be left of Obama’s legislative or foreign policy legacy by, say, the end of this summer?
If Obama has any lasting legacy at all, it will consist of little more than a mountain of debt and the ridiculous-ization of the Progressive Left.

Monday, January 16, 2017
What I'm reading
1. Nordic Nationalism and Right-Wing Populist Politics: Imperial Relationships and National Sentiments by Eirikur Bergmann traces such parties from their creation in the 1970s to their recent (a decade ago?) rise.
2. Putin's Master Plan: To Destroy Europe, Divide NATO, and Restore Russian Power and Global Influence by Douglas E. Schoen and Evan Roth Smith. I skipped this book when it came out in September, but it seems newly important. Schoen is a former Clinton adviser (Bill and then Hillary) but this book was written long before Putin became an election issue.
3. Better Now: Six Big Ideas to Improve Health Care for All Canadians by Danielle Martin. A few years ago Martin -- Dr. Martin -- testified in Congress and was quite feisty in her defense of Canada's universal system. Now she says what's wrong with it and how it can be improved. Martin is cheerleading for Canada's health care system. While this book is billed as an inside look at the system by a practitioner, it is more accurately described as an ideological defense of a cherished Canadian social program.

Oxfam's global wealth inequality report
Every January Oxfam releases a report on global inequality, focusing on wealth. This year is no different -- you can read the report here. It's fodder for stories on inequality and how the two richest Canadians have wealth equal to 11 million "poorest" Canadians (CBC) or that eight men own more than 3.6 billion people plant-wide (The Guardian). There are methodological problems, namely using net wealth instead of income or gross wealth figures; net wealth includes the debt of mortgages or student loans that imply some sort of asset (a home or university education). The effect is that many Americans are among the billion poorest while rural developing world peasants are not. This is just bizarre. Mark Littlewood of the Institute of Economic Affairs says the report's focus on "aggregating net wealth figures is largely meaningless headline fodder."
The problem goes much deeper than that. Oxfam's focus on the rich distracts us -- the public, the media, policy-makers -- from poverty. The welfare of the poor is more important than their relative income or wealth. The fact is, as Johan Norberg points out in his book Progress, people are healthier and living longer as improvements in nutrition, sanitation, and medicine reach more people. While the wealthier live longer than the poorer, the gap between the two has shrunk dramatically over the last half century. There are still improvements to make, but this has little to do with inequality and more to do with access (to hospitals, quality schools, drugs). The life expectancy gap has been steadily reduced and despite some sliding back in some jurisdictions, overall this is a mostly ignored success story.
Another problem with the Oxfam report is the tone, which is anti-capitalist. The authors say, "super-rich elite are able to prosper at the expense of the rest of us," which is pure economic nonsense. Expanding the circle of productivity (to use Pope John Paul II's lovely phrase) within free markets has done more to improve well-being than foreign aid. The abject poor do not live in squalid conditions because Bill Gates or Carlos Slim or Galen Weston Sr., are wealthy, providing goods and services that enrich the lives of millions and millions of consumers. Class envy doesn't feed the hungry. Oxfam's demonizing of the rich undermines the capitalist system that employs, feeds, shelters, and clothes hundreds of millions of the world's poor, and they'd be poorer off without it. This is not to say the system is perfect or that there is not room for some redistribution. But Oxfam's priorities do nothing to help those they purport to want to help.

'Obama era was great for the One Percenters'
That's the comment by Glenn Reynolds on this Chris Martenson report (via ZeroHedge):
If you want to understand why Trump won the recent US presidential election, you can't overlook the economic data. If you do, his victory may look mighty confusing, alarming even. But once you understand the degree to which the average US family and the entire Gen-X and Millennial generations are being completely hosed economically, everything starts to take shape.
As most struggling Americans can tell you, real household income has gone nowhere for more than 20 years ...
This multi-decade burden of "running ever faster just to stay in the same place" is what led many US voters to reject Hillary Clinton, the establishment candidate, and instead roll the dice on the iconoclast promising to upend the system.
Martenson says that predatory pricing practices by private companies mean a dollar doesn't go as far for the middle class (see his data on cell phone or injectable insulin costs) and the political system allows this to happen. Regardless of the reason(s), a dollar doesn't go as far for many consumers and they'll blame government or business. The Obama years haven't helped, and in some cases have hurt. 25% annual increases in premiums are untenable and would be the source of endless front-page stories if it occurred during a Republican presidency. And yet -- and this is what Reynolds is referring to when he says the last eight years have been great for the 1% -- these premiums are the result of Obama's signature accomplishment; Martenson says:
Obama and the DC politicians crafted the Affordable Care Act as a monstrously large bill. And they failed to take on the biggest source of fat in the entire system: the healthcare insurance companies themselves. Of course, these companies have very well-funded lobbyists and pushing back against them on would have required real leadership and possibly cost some political capital. So they were left entirely alone, with all of the massive increases in healthcare premium costs left to be borne by “somebody” other than them.
Donald Trump isn't the answer to these problems. But things were so bad for too many Americans that Trump was worth the risk.

Sunday, January 15, 2017
Denying human exceptionalism
The Washington Post reports that Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circuses are ending their traveling shows. I have mixed feelings. My own prejudices are against seeing animals kept in sub-optimal conditions in captivity, especially transported from venue to venue, but also in favour of keeping an iconic company that employs 500 people open. I'm also afraid of what animal rights extremists will do next. Just because some animal training regimens might be objectionable or that particular captivity conditions are insufficient, hardly means that all zoos and animal exhibitions are wrong. But PETA and the Humane Society will target them next. Indeed, the Post quotes PETA's official statement reacting to the closure of the circuses:
All other animal circuses, roadside zoos, and wild animal exhibitors, including marine amusement parks like SeaWorld and the Miami Seaquarium, must take note: society has changed, eyes have been opened, people know now who these animals are, and we know it is wrong to capture and exploit them.
From one target to another. But the public shouldn't be fooled by PETA, which denies human exceptionalism. Note that the statement says that "people now know who these animals are." It's what these animals are, not who. PETA and their allies want to ban pet ownership and zoos because they consider animals equal to human beings.

Saturday, January 14, 2017
McGinnis on first-contact movies
In his January Interim column, Rick McGinnis writes about Arrival (starring Amy Adams) and first-contact movies:
I have always been a sucker for the “first-contact” subgenre of sci-fi movies – films like Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Contact, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Alien, District 9 and, at the very genesis of the genre, The Day The Earth Stood Still. Distinct from the usual sort of sci-fi that re-imagines westerns or war movies with ray guns and space ships, these films try to imagine how humanity would cope with an alien race that has built a civilization without our history or cultural references, and the existential crisis this would inevitably provoke ...
First-contact movies are a philosophical exercise masquerading as an entertainment, and one with profound spiritual implications. They’re a by-product of a culture that has been secularizing with growing speed for over a century, but they touch on every kind of theological idea and heresy, flirting with Gnosticism and imagining the aliens as both devils and gods – or even God. When made with intelligence and skill, you can feel the spiritual yearning in every shot, the desire for an answer even if – absent any actual aliens – we’re really just asking ourselves the question.

Action vs. design
CafeHayek's Donald Boudreaux's comment on his selected quotation of the day:
Neither society in general, nor the economy in particular, is a machine to be engineered; instead, each is a process that emerges, along with each of their many and ever-changing specific features, as the result of human action but not of human design.

NFL Divisional Round
Houston Texans (9-7) at New England Patriots (14-2) Saturday 8:15 pm: This is considered one of the most lopsided games in playoff history with the Vegas line is at 15 points. No one is giving the Texans a chance to win this -- Will Leitch says the best chance Houston has to win is if New England forfeits the game because it misses the bus to the stadium. The Patriots have the best scoring defense in the NFL and the second best offense according to Football Outsiders; Houston has the 30th best offense according to FO. The Pats won their week three contest 27-0 using third-string quarterback Jacoby Brissett. This game could be close. The Texans have a decent pass rush and if they get to Tom Brady, maybe he makes a mistake and Houston gets lucky. I just wouldn't be on it.
Seattle Seahawks (10-5-1) at Atlanta Falcons (11-5) Saturday 4:35: Seahawks beats the Falcons 26-24 in October, but that game was in Seattle. The 'Hawks have only forced three turnovers in the five games since safety Earl Thomas's season ended in injury against Carolina in Week 13; in that time they held the Los Angeles Rams to three points and the Detroit Lions to six, but have also allowed 38 points (Green Bay Packers) and 34 (Arizona Cardinals). Without Thomas the entire 'Hawks defense is ... different. It doesn't have the depth to mix things up to confuse opponents. The Falcons D ranks 27th in points allowed (25.4 ppg) -- it allowed at least 24 points in each of its five losses -- so if the O-line can protect Russell Wilson and the Seattle run game does just enough to keep Atlanta's defense honest, Seattle should be able to put up points. While Seattle has the second best scoring defense (17.5 ppg), they face a dynamic Falcons offense that scored an average of 33.8 ppg during the regular season, or a ridiculous 540 points in total. Even if Richard Sherman takes Julio Jones out of the game, Atlanta QB Matt Ryan has has distributed the ball around all season that losing his top target shouldn't matter that much. The way Russell Wilson has played this season, Seattle can't really be expected to keep up with Atlanta's high-scoring offense, and without Thomas, it is difficult imagining the Seahawks keeping the game close. Atlanta wins at home to get to the NFC Championship game.
Green Bay Packers (10-6) at Dallas Cowboys (13-3) Sunday 4:40: Probably the two premier teams in NFC history, although the Packers have appeared in five NFC Championships since the last time the Cowboys made such an appearance. This is another rematch from the regular season (in fact, all four divisional games are). In week six, the 'Boys went to Green Bay to face one of the top run defenses at the time. Ezekiel Elliott ran for 190 yards in a Dallas 30-16 victory. Green Bay isn't going to win because of some Aaron Rodgers magic, but the Pack have a chance. Green Bay has scored at least 30 points in each of their last five games and put exactly 38 on the scoreboard three times. While the Dallas D greatly improved this year, it is only a slightly below average defense overall. The Cowboys could be hard pressed to stop Rodgers who has been nearly perfect since Week 12, running the table to win the NFC North by throwing 19 TDs (with no picks), completing 70% of his passes and posting a 121.7 passer rating. He beat the Giants last week, and despite the fact New York has a superior defense, he put up 362 yards against the G-Men. Even without Jordy Nelson, Rodgers should be able to feast on the Dallas secondary. The Cowboys have an efficient and diverse offense. Elliott led the league in rushing and keeping the ball out of Rodgers' hand will be essential for Dallas to win. Eating clock makes sense. Rookie QB Dak Prescott has shown incredible poise all season: four picks and four lost fumbles, whereas Rodgers had seven and four respectively. According to Football Outsiders, Dallas the the second best running offense, third best passing offense, and third best offense in the red zone. The Packers have been missing numerous cornerbacks at the same all time all season, and this weekend is no different. Prescott should be able to eat up yardage in the play action and the deep threat to Dez Bryant. The Boys have just too many offensive weapons for the injury deleted Packers to stop. Green Bay could win in a shootout, but I wouldn't count on it. Dallas wins a high-scoring game to return to the NFC Championship for the first time since the 1995 season.
Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5) at Kansas City Chiefs (12-4) Sunday, 8:15: The game has been moved from the early afternoon to nighttime due to an ice storm hitting the area this weekend. Steelers have won eight in a row (including the wild card game) and earlier this year they beat the Chiefs at home 43-14, but week four is an eternity ago. Both sides were better teams by the end of the season. The Steelers had the fewest sacks up to week 10, but have the most sacks since then. Pittsburgh has scored at least 24 points in each of their last eight games and have allowed 20 or fewer in six of them. The offense is capable of putting a lot of points on the board. Ben Roethlisberger, Le'Veon Bell, and Antonio Brown are an unrivaled trio at the offensive skill positions, with Bell the best running back in the NFL and Brown one of the top two wide receivers. They can beat opponents by running the ball, short passes, or the deep threat. Teams can defend two of the three but it impossible to scheme against all three, although the weather might take long passes out of the playbook. Last week, Brown scored two 50+ yard touchdowns, but they were on a slant and a screen pass. Bell scored two TDs, including completing a drive in which he carried the ball on all ten plays. Both Pittsburgh's offense and defense is top ten according to Football Outsiders. Kansas City has a middling, vanilla offense predicated on avoiding turnovers. Any Steeler fan would rather have Pittsburgh's linebackers keeping short passes small plays than have their secondary try to prevent big ones, so this could be a favourable matchup for Pittsburgh. That said, Kansas City's Travis Kelce has emerged as the best tight end in the NFL when The Gronk is sidelined with injuries. The key for the Chiefs is Tyreek Hill, a dynamic WR and the league's most dangerous punt returner; Pittsburgh must figure out how to minimize long runs and possible scores when kicking and punting (KC has eight returns for score). It will help the Chiefs that they can pressure Roethlisberger with LB Justin Houston and without blitzing to keep enough defenders in coverage to prevent Brown from turning short passes into long distance runs. Safety Eric Berry has been a beast in the secondary, with two pick sixes since his return. He is exactly the kind of opportunistic defender to make Roethlisberger pay for foolish throws under pressure. Everyone expects a close game. If it is, special teams could make a real difference. Football Outsiders has the Chiefs as the best special teams in the NFL and Pittsburgh's punt return coverage is the weakness for its special teams unit. There is a lot of variance in this game, partly because of special teams and turnovers. If the 3 Bs are on and Pittsburgh doesn't turn over the ball, the Steelers could have a lop-sided road victory. But KC's defense could dominate and keep Pittsburgh off the scoreboard or force them to kick field goals. Both of these teams are top five defenses in the red zone and with the poor weather, I expect a close, lowish scoring game. This is probably my heart speaking, but I'm see either a late Pittsburgh field goal or defensive stop to help the Steelers get to the AFC Championship.