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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Wednesday, February 15, 2017
Carbon tax won't affect climate, will impact economic growth
Diana Furchtgott-Roth in Investor’s Business Daily: "Carbon Tax Won't Curb Climate Change, But It Will Clobber Growth." She questions whether recent advocates of a carbon tax/price/dividend (yes, dividend) can fulfill their vision to return carbon taxes to American taxpayers, especially the poor. There is always the promise of lower income taxes or, more recently, increases in the Earned Income Tax Credit. Furchtgott-Roth says:
Under our polarized system of government, any tax on carbon would be an additional tax, without the offsets that make it so attractive to academics. It would hurt the poor and raise domestic prices relative to prices of imports.
And every special interest will try to get its greedy hands on the carbon tax revenue.
It is an economic, budget, and political nightmare (benefiting blue states and harming red ones), and at the moment it does little for the environment: "America is responsible for 16% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and America's reductions in carbon usage will not help climate change unless other countries also limit their emissions." There are also serious questions that Furchtgott-Roth does not raise about the modest levels of carbon taxation and whether any politically feasible rate would do enough to discourage the use of fossil fuels.
The carbon tax is a solution to a problem, but it isn't environmental. The problem is that Washington needs wants more revenue.

The cultural roots of economic problems
Conservative MP and founder of the Centre for Social Justice Iain Duncan Smith at Conservative Home:
Figures show that family breakdown is a big driver of UK poverty as children in families that break apart are more than twice as likely to be living in long term poverty. When couples break up, children suffer and poverty in the family is often not far behind.
As a society, we should be much more concerned about this, especially when we consider that family stability is unequally shared. By the age of five, 48 per cent of children in low-income households are not living with both parents, compared to 16 per cent of children in middle to higher income households. Two out of three children growing up in poverty will experience family breakdown. Family stability is becoming a middle class preserve.
There are also ramifications for elder care:
Figures show that the offspring of difficult broken homes are less likely to care for their elderly or sick parents and grandparents. This in turn, places a strain on communities and services, a widely acknowledged problem issue at the moment.
And this has costs for taxpayers:
It is peculiar that with facts as shocking as these that we don’t talk about family breakdown more, especially when we look beyond the human cost and consider how much it costs us all as taxpayers. Every year the Relationships Alliance attempt to put a price tag on the cost of family breakdown, the amount our broken relationships costs the Government each year. This year it’s anticipated to exceed £48 billion. That’s an eye-watering amount to simply ignore. To put this into context, whilst I have nothing against helping support the Church repair the fabric of its buildings, the state spends more on this (some £20 million) than it does on supporting relationships and helping families stay together (£14 million). This is a serious problem because this relationship support has shown conclusively that when undertaken responsibly it can help repair family relationships and stabilise marriage.
As Mark Steyn has often said, it makes little sense to be fiscally conservative but socially liberal.

Returning to the Commonwealth
The Daily Telegraph reports that British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson has announced that Gambia will return to the Commonwealth. Ahead of a trip to a pair of African countries, Johnson said:
"I am very pleased that Gambia wants to rejoin the Commonwealth and we will ensure this happens in the coming months."
"The strength of our partnerships show that Global Britain is growing in influence and activity around the world."
Former president Yahya Jammeh called the Commonwealth a neo-colonial organization and vowed his country would have nothing to do with it. Adama Barrow, who was recently elected president, vowed to bring the west African country back into the Commonwealth and is carrying through on his election promise. Gambia will become the fourth country to leave the Commonwealth and return. Johnson says the decision is proof of the United Kingdom's post-Brexit influence ("Global Britain"). This seems to have more to do with Gambian politics than it does British leadership.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017
Did Trudeau 'cower' before Trump
Andrew Stiles at Heat Street:
Trump intimidated Trudeau by assuming a wide stance during a photo op in the Oval Office. This is sometimes referred to as “manspreading,” and is a common tactic used by alpha males, including former President Bill Clinton.
Trudeau, meanwhile, signaled weakness during the photo session by keeping his legs in close proximity to another, a behavior sometimes referred to as “cowering before greatness.”
Or sometimes a wide stance is just a wide stance -- and not anything else.

I don't get this logic
The Toronto Star reported on the anti-John Tory, anti-tax, pro-Doug Ford event held in Toronto. I found this confusing:
Toni Raimondo, an event planner, said in an interview she attended because taxes and fees keep going up under Tory.
“I have a very sick child, with cancer, and all my money goes to medicine — the increases are more than inflation, it adds up,” she said.
Asked what she would cut in the budget, Raimondo said people need to pay for the services they use.
“If you go to a community centre you should pay and if you can’t afford it, you don’t go.”
I don't understand how the answer to rising fees is ... user fees.

Monday, February 13, 2017
Ethics commissioner to investigate Prime Minister
The CBC headline -- "Ethics watchdog opens second investigation into PM's trip to spiritual leader's private island" -- on a Canadian Press story is incorrect. Technically it is the first investigation by Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson, and it is the result of the review of a complaint about Justin Trudeau using the Aga Khan's personal helicopter to travel to his personal island for a winter vacation. The timing of the mildly embarrassing announcement to the Prime Minister is questionable, coming the same day he traveled to Washington to meet with U.S. President Donald Trump, pretty well guaranteeing the story gets buried.

Hot Air's Ed Morrissey looks at two stories on the weekend (one from the New York Times, another from Politico) on how bureaucrats are not happy that Republicans in the White House and Congress want to roll back regulations. Morrissey observes:
Democrats and the media may be cheering the so-called “resistance” movement within the federal bureaucracy, but this proves what conservatives and Republicans have long argued. The bureaucracy has become its own special-interest group, and amounts to an unaccountable shadow government that strips Americans of their right to select the policies they want for their own self-governance. Rather than serve the elected government of the United States, these bureaucrats want to force elected officials to serve them. Regardless of whether or not the policies of those elected officials are entirely wise, those officials serve the voters, and the federal bureaucracy is supposed to implement their policies ...
Since Trump’s election, we’ve seen a plethora of warnings about the coming authoritarianism. Stories like those at the New York Times and Politico should prompt questions as to whether it had been here all along, and whether these hysterical outbreaks are a sign that it might be coming to an end.
Also, bureaucrats invoking the "will of the people" in a battle with elected officials (the president and his administration, and Congress) is a little rich.

PMJT: wrong even when he's right
The Guardian: "Justin Trudeau says it's not Canada's duty to 'lecture' Trump on immigration." Canada's Prime Minister engaged in some virtue signalling on refugees on Twitter recently but did not raise the issues of immigration or refugees with the new American President, and correctly so. Trudeau apparently was criticized for his silence during his visit to Washington. The PM answered his critics: "The last thing Canadians expect is for me to come down and lecture another country on how they choose they govern themselves. My role, my responsibility is to continue to govern in such a way that reflects Canadians’ approach and be a positive example in the world." It would have been irresponsible and imperious for the mouse to tell the elephant how to conduct its internal affairs, and one could imagine the Canadian outrage if Trump encouraged Trudeau to take a similar tact as Washington has to (supposedly) prioritize national security. And yet, Trudeau's comments were still intended to insult to Trump and his policies. Trudeau's comment that the Canadian "approach" is to be a "positive example in the world" is an implicit criticism of American policy. This is the foreign policy equivalent of the campaign tactic to publicly eschew attack ads against opponents with its implicit criticism that others are going negative. It should be obvious that there is criticism intended in Trudeau's comments, even if they do not come in the form of a traditional lecture.

Secret Labour search for Corbyn replacement
The Sunday Times reports that Labour is conducting focus groups and polls in north England to test the appeal of possible Corbyn successors shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey and shadow education secretary Angela Rayner:
Labour is conducting secret "succession planning" for Jeremy Corbyn’s departure, according to leaked documents that warn the party is facing meltdown under his leadership. The public appeal of two rising stars, Angela Rayner and Rebecca Long-Bailey, has been tested by a focus group as the hard left looks for potential successors to Corbyn. The group, organised by Labour’s pollster BMG Research, delivered a damning verdict on Corbyn himself with participants saying he was "boring," appeared "fed up" and "looks like a scruffy school kid."
Regarded as rising stars within the party, their focus groups have found the response to Rayner was "overwhelmingly negative" with responses ranging from "not likeable" and "weird." The feeling was that voters would not take her seriously. The responses to Long-Bailey were more positive: passionate, genuine, sincere, and smart. The Times reports that polling would be conducted in other parts of the country.
Corbyn won a second mandate from Labour last year but polls have found Labour support tanking.
The Guardian's Matthew D'Ancona puts the Labour exercise in perspective:
Let us not get carried away. One qualitative testing session in Manchester is not going to make or destroy a political career. Much more interesting was the apparent purpose of the exercise: to identify a potential successor to Corbyn who would appeal to the public but keep the party on the same ideological trajectory. Replace the captain, in other words, but maintain course towards the iceberg.
D'Ancona says the Corbynistas usually blame the Blairite wing for the leader's troubles, but it is the left-wing of the party that is organizing against Jeremy Corbyn, undermining his leadership, and questioning his viability going into the next election. D'Ancona says that there are capable centrist Labour politicians, but the left-wing is better at organizing within the party. They just aren't very good at winning elections.

Sunday, February 12, 2017
Political tumult in Europe
Three noteworthy stories this weekend from Europe.
In The Guardian, Jan Kubik, director of the UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies, is worried about the direction of eastern European countries (Poland, Romania, Hungary), "where three forces vie for dominance: disconnected and sometimes corrupt 'traditional' politicians, increasingly impatient and angry publics and assertive demagogues." There are economic and cultural forces at work (as there is wherever there are strong populist movements). Kubik is more concerned about fear-mongering about the ingratitude of populist movements than understanding them. There are several reasons for the rise of populism in the east: post-communist economic liberalism has improved overall well-being but those gains have been uneven and have yet to deliver Western European standards of living. But more importantly, as Ryszard Legutko, a Polish intellectual and representative in the European Parliament, writes in The Demon in Democracy: Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies, the progressive project of the European Union is too similar to the communist regimes half the continent shed two decades ago. They both require religious-like adherence and were gestated in the same Englightenment and French Revolution ethos, that they are practically sisters. In the name of equality (communism) and diversity (liberalism), intolerance of different worldviews because suffocating. Just as communism failed to deliver equality and dignity for all, liberalism has become bastardized to create second- and third-class citizens who dissent from official orthodoxy. Perhaps economic liberalism and traditional religion cannot cohabitate, but the sort of cultural liberalism foisted upon EU members ensures that there is little room for the latter.
The Express reports, "France and Dutch EU votes expected even if Wilders and Le Pen lose." The British paper reports that in both the Netherlands and France, "far-right candidates propelling their parties high up in the opinion polls," but even if they lose, their popularity is pushing so-called mainstream parties to consider referenda on the future of the EU -- I would argue as a democratic safety valve. Mark Littlewood, director general of the Institute of Economic Affairs, told The Express, "The public are calling for a referendum in the major EU countries. It is going to be harder and harder for governments to resist." Indeed. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it will be almost universally painted as such.
The New York Times reports that it is far from a sure thing that Christian Democrat Angela Merkel will be re-elected as chancellor. Of course, seven months out from an election, nothing is a sure thing. But after being squeezed on the right by the rise of German populist parties, the left-wing Social Democrats are gaining in the polls. Being the Times -- or just 2017 -- there are the Donald Trump inferences: German political reaction to the new U.S. president and finding his German equivalents. It is unclear, however, whether the embrace of the Social Democrats is a result of Merkel's own move to the right on migration and deportations. It would be contradictory for Germans to be tired of massive numbers of refugees flooding the country to turn their back on Merkel in favour of a party who favours her former, more liberal migration policies. It is entirely possible, as the Times suggests, that Merkel made political missteps that led the Social Democrats to be taken more seriously. She let her foreign minister, Social Democrat Frank-Walter Steinmeier (Merkel leads a coalition government), to stand as president, which he won handily (931 votes in the 1260-member assembly). The paper reports, "Despite being a largely ceremonial position, the presidency provides stature and an important platform for Mr. Steinmeier, a popular and charismatic politician. In his brief acceptance speech, he encouraged Germans to be bold in difficult times." He is given to Barack Obama/Justin Trudeau-like rhetoric, which might stir the German soul. Or it might not. What is clear -- as it always should have been -- is that Merkel, one of the supposed last, great hopes for the European project, no longer looks like a shoe-in for re-election. And after 11 years in power, the fatigue with the government in power just sets in. Whether she is weakened by the anti-EU, anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany or she loses to the Social Democrats, Germany, and Europe, won't be the same. And that's not necessarily a bad development.
The rise of populist parties has been a staple of political reporting from Europe since I was in high school in the 1980s. This time, however, even if they can't win, their message can no longer be ignored.

Wall Street Journal eliminating the Google loophole
Digiday reports:
Starting Monday, it’s turning off Google’s first-click free feature that let people skirt the Journal’s paywall by cutting and pasting the headline of a story into Google. The Journal tested turning off the feature with 40 percent of its audience last year. But the eye-popping moment was when the Journal turned it off four sections for two weeks, resulting in a dramatic 86 percent jump in subscriptions. The Journal said the full turnoff is a test, but didn’t say how long it would last ...
The Journal is a rarity in publishing in that it gets more money from readers than advertising, so it’s protective of its paywall, which includes being discriminating when it comes to distributing its articles outside its own platforms. But with print advertising waning, the Journal is looking for ways to lean more on readers for revenue. According to a reader survey it’s fielding, it’s exploring an ad-free version of the Journal, charging for individual articles and even charging extra for home delivery.
Video is still in front of the paywall — video commands high ad rates so the Journal wants to maximize its audience, and it’s also a way to draw in would-be subscribers — but it’s the exception. Starting last summer, previously free sections including arts and lifestyle have joined the rest of the sections that are locked down.
The Journal, unlike a lot of other papers, is worth paying for.
There are still loopholes:
Meanwhile, a new team has been tweaking the subscription messaging to get people to convert, learning that telling people they can cancel any time and putting price information front and center had positive results driving subs. Since tightening the paywall, the Journal said, the average number of stories leading people to subscribe is up 66 percent, which the pub says is testament to the strength of its long-tail.
While it’s ending Google first click free for now, which lets subscription publications be indexed by Google search, the Journal is increasing its exposure to new audiences by letting people read for free links that are shared on social media by subscribers and staffers. Since making that change, the Journal has seen a 30 percent boost in traffic from social media, primarily from Facebook. The Journal is treating the social sharing ability like a perk for subscribers.
Follow the writers and sections you like on social media.

Saturday, February 11, 2017
Ambassador Palin?
At NRO Michael Taube writes about reports of Sarah Palin being named ambassador to Canada and he lists numerous reasons why she is unfit for the job. I have two complaints about the column, including Taube's list of potential other ambassadors:
Fortunately, there are more acceptable options. Former House speaker Newt Gingrich and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton have both infrequently travelled to Canada. Texas senator Ted Cruz was born in Calgary, Alberta. Former Massachusetts governor Scott Brown, who was briefly considered for secretary of Veterans Affairs, is certainly a possibility. Plus, there are Republican advisers and strategists who either supported or worked on various projects with Canada, including the Keystone XL pipeline.
Becoming ambassador to Canada after being posted at Turtle Bay is a step down. Ditto for Cruz, and ambassador is not a great job from which to launch a future presidential bid. (I also doubt whether in the view of the Trump administration that being born in Canada is a credential to be ambassador to the country.) I'm not sure Gingrich is much better than Palin or whether he would consider Ottawa a large enough stage for whatever Newt would want to do as ambassador. Brown seems like the sort of non-entity who gets these types of appointments.
My larger problem with the column is an analytical point that many pundits are missing. If the rumour is true, why is the administration considering the former Alaska governor for the job of ambassador. No one is asking what would qualify Palin for the job. I think there are two possible explanations. The first is that the appointment of Palin to Ottawa would signal how seriously the Trump administration takes Canada or the Trudeau government. (Answer: not very.) Another is that he wants a fighter to combat the virtue signalling of the Prime Minister and his office with their not terribly subtle oppositional tweets against the Trump White House. Palin could answer back and Trump could, as needed, say its just how she is.
The most likely scenario is that Palin's name gets mentioned and leaked to flatter her even though there is no intention to give her a job of any sort. The body language of Trump at the Palin endorsement (of him) spoke volumes.

Eliminating urban blight
The Washington Post reports on efforts to clean up parts of Baltimore:
Mable Olds, 69, the last resident of 936 N. Bradford, was on hand to see the government-paid excavator roll up to the house where she — and many mothers before her — had raised her family ...
She was not the only one uncertain about the intentional destruction she was about to witness. Baltimore, like Detroit and other aging American cities plagued by abandoned housing, is spending millions of dollars tearing out blighted pieces of itself in the hope that, like a pruned tree, the rest of the city will bloom.
As Maryland’s largest city has dwindled from a peak population of 950,000 in 1950 to about 620,000 today, the receding tide has left behind 17,000 boarded-up houses and buildings, unoccupied, unwanted and unstable. They are scattered throughout the city, with major concentrations on the east side, as well as in battered West Baltimore, where 25-year-old Freddie Gray’s death from an injury suffered in police custody triggered riots in 2015.
Some of the vacant houses are brick hulks, roofless and irreparable, in such danger of collapse that the city keeps a demolition crew on standby 24 hours a day. But many are structurally sound, artifacts of Baltimore’s rich history and the craftsmanship of its earlier days ...
“When I was a kid, they used to have a model of the whole neighborhood at [Johns] Hopkins, how they wanted it to look,” he said. “This is the fruition of that plan.”
It's not only Baltimore:
The country’s inventory of abandoned homes grew by more than 4.5 million between 2000 and 2010, fueled by the foreclosure crisis. Rust Belt mayors, confronted with neighborhoods that looked like deserted movie sets, started talking less about growth and more about “right-sizing.”
Toledo and Akron, Ohio; Flint, Mich.; Buffalo and other cities began demolishing vacant structures as an alternative to managing them. Detroit has torn down almost 11,000 using more than $580 million from the federal government’s Hardest Hit Fund, a program targeting the states most stricken by foreclosures.
The promise of demolition is twofold. It eliminates the hazards associated with abandoned buildings and boosts the values of the houses that are left. It also creates green space — sometimes urban gardens, sometimes weedy lots.
Cleaning up isn't cheap:
Baltimore, still struggling to recover from the chaos and soaring crime that followed Gray’s death, has spent about $40 million laying siege to blighted neighborhoods since 2012. Approximately 500 rowhouses were knocked down in 2016, about the same pace as the previous year. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has pledged $74 million in state money. It would take about $500 million to clear away all of the boarded-up properties.

Friday, February 10, 2017
More on Rosling, another rational optimist
Rob Lyons, columnist for Spiked, writes about the late Hans Rosling:
Essentially, Rosling told a story of a world in which things have been getting better for almost everyone. In making this point, Rosling wasn’t alone. Others, like Indur Goklany, Matt Ridley and Steven Pinker (and, of course, spiked), have, in various ways, pointed out the benefits of a richer, better educated and more peaceful world. Nonetheless, Rosling was certainly rowing against the stream in an age where many of the elite and influential commentators were obsessed with climate change and overpopulation. Human beings were screwing up the planet on the one hand while, on the other, billions of people were doomed to lives that would be nasty, brutish and short ...
The most pressing question we face, therefore, is how everyone on the planet can enjoy the freedom that comes from washing machines and other labour-saving devices.
This human-centred outlook was what made Rosling’s statistics and presentational skills matter. There are plenty of ways of making data look entertaining. Rosling’s contribution was to put that gift to the service of making the case for more development. The world’s most high-profile neo-Malthusians, Paul and Anne Ehrlich, did Rosling the greatest compliment by rubbishing his ideas, calling him ‘a confused statistician’ and claiming – as they have done for decades – that extreme poverty would be the lot of the great majority of humanity when the inevitable civilisational collapse occurs. Rosling showed that industrial and technological progress could solve the big problems facing humanity, if we didn’t do anything so stupid as to turn away from these powerful, welfare-enhancing tools.
Capitalism is not a panacea, but it delivers more improvements to human well-being than anything else. It is troubling that the nattering nabobs of negativism are anti-capitalism; it is sad that they attack the very system that could improve the lot of those for whom they express concern. Rosling was an evangelist for the fact that the state of the world was getting better and that industrial and technological progress (usually brought to the masses through free markets) was responsible for these improvements. Rosling did not deny that too many people were still wanting -- wanting for better health and longer lives, for better living conditions, for the chance to flourish. But the fact that some were falling outside the circle of productivity (to use Pope John Paul II's term) does not diminish the fruits of expanding that circle to those who did benefit.

The snowflake generation -- do they even read books?
NRO's Katherine Timpf: "Authors Are Employing ‘Sensitivity Readers’ To Problematic-Proof Their Novels." Timpf reports:
According to a piece in Slate, novelists are now employing “sensitivity readers“ in an attempt to avoid representing characters from other communities in an inaccurate or offensive way ...
Slate’s piece begins with the story of an author and clinical psychologist named Becky Albertalli, who wrote a book in which her protagonist “muses that girls have an easier time coming out than boys, because their lesbianism strikes others as alluring” — which led to Albertalli’s being slammed for playing “too readily into a narrative” that they found “offensive,” the “fetishization of queer girls.”
Albertalli felt terrible about it, and made sure to employ “sensitivity readers” to review her next book before publishing it in order to avoid making a mistake like that again — but she should have responded by saying: “Give me a f****** break.”
Is this view that Albertalli’s character expressed “problematic”? Sure, but why the hell is anyone getting mad at Albertalli about it? It’s not like she was saying it was her view, it was simply the view of a fictional protagonist. But apparently, it’s not even enough to be perfectly politically correct in your own life to avoid angering people, you also can’t write a fictional book where a fictional character has a single “problematic” thought.
And if exquisite sensitivity is the order of the day, wait until triggering events are expunged from books. Conflict and adversity are bad and have no place in the fake world of fiction. Not only will there be no (genuine) diversity, there can be no drama. It is easy to exaggerate an incident reported in Slate to make it a phenomenon in the whole publishing world, but what is today's weird eccentricity among a handful of writers could just as easily become a trend in the industry.

Trade is cooperation by another name
Donald Boudreaux:
Those who wish to restrict trade wish to artificially shrink the opportunities for people to help others and to be helped by others. And what makes protectionists – right, left, and center – all so galling is that they proclaim that their goal is to help humanity.

Thursday, February 09, 2017
Europe to Muslims: not welcome
This explains European populism: according to a Chatham House survey in ten European countries, a plurality in Spain and United Kingdom and majority in all others agree with the statement "all further migrations from mainly Muslim countries should be stopped." In all but Spain, "neither" beats "disagrees." In no country but Spain did even a quarter of respondents "disagree" with stopping Muslim migration. The political and business elite are out of touch with the general population on Muslim immigration and Muslim refugees.

New MRI scans could revive abortion debate in United Kingdom
The Daily Mail reports on a "revolutionary new MRI scan" developed by London's iFIND. A new video of the scan of a preborn child at 20 weeks:
The ensuing footage is so detailed that you can clearly see the tot fiddling with the umbilical cord, turning its neck and stretching out in the womb.
The Daily Mail says:
The incredible detail reveals just how fully formed a foetus is at 20 weeks and reignites the debate on lowering the current 24 week legal abortion limit in the UK.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has previously supported slashing the limit to 12 weeks and there have also been calls to reduce it to 20 weeks.
The 20-second video is pretty amazing.

Trump's 'conservative' cabinet
The Washington Examiner reports:
President Trump has succeeded in picking the most conservative Cabinet of the modern era, and possibly ever, even besting the team put together by former President Reagan, according to a scorecard from the American Conservative Union, host of the annual CPAC convention.
ACU Chairman Matt Schlapp told Secrets that Trump's team, made up in part with House and Senate lawmakers graded by the group over the years, has a 91.52 percent conservative rating, significantly surpassing Reagan's by 28 points.
Only the Cabinet of former President George H.W. Bush, who was Reagan's vice president and followed the Gipper into the Oval Office, came close with a 78.15 conservative rating.
"By our ranking of the members of Congress in the Cabinet, this is the most conservative Cabinet of any Republican including Reagan," Schlapp said.
I have several thoughts and reactions.
1. Who cares? Well, Republicans do, frankly. Many were worried that Donald Trump wasn't a conservative. It is reassuring to them that Trump has picked conservatives for his cabinet. But we should care less about an ideological purity test than competence. There are no scorecards for that.
2. The title of most conservative cabinet is based on five of 21 picks because Trump only picked that many from Congress. The ACU doesn't score business leaders, philanthropists, and generals. With more than three-quarters of the cabinet unrated, labeling a cabinet more or less conservative seems meaninglessly incomplete. Of Reagan's 46 cabinet secretaries, only seven came from the legislative branch.
3. Looking back at some key cabinet posts in the Reagan administration: Secretary of State Alexander Haig is more conservative than Rex Tillerson. I'm not sure whether Secretary of the Treasury Donald Regan or James Baker was more conservative than Steven Mnuchin is today (they are fairly non-ideological). Trump's Secretary of Defense James Mattis is probably more conservative than Cap Weinberger. But Reagan's most conservative cabinet secretary was his first Secretary of the Interior, James Watt, who wouldn't have been rated by the ACU because he was a former member of the Federal Power Commission and the head of conservative legal outfit. Ed Meese and Bill Bennett, two of the more conservative members of the Reagan administration (Attorney General and Secretary of Education), likewise had no legislative career to rate.
4. Even more conservative than Reagan seems to be an odd description of the Trump cabinet considering that the administrations of both Bushes and Gerald Ford leaned more conservative according to the American Conservative Union.

Trade limits on non-Americans are no different than limiting exchange with people whose names start with the letter ...
Donald Boudreaux responds to his correspondent, William:
Do you think me to be “unobjective (dogmatic)” because I support a policy of complete free trade with people whose first names start with “W”? Do you truly believe that a policy that allows those of us with first names that start with a letter other than “W” to trade without obstruction with you and other W-folk is so likely to inflict harm on us non-Ws that it is “unobjective (dogmatic)” for me to oppose any and all restraints on trade between us non-Ws with you Ws?
Until and unless you convince me that my support for unconditional free trade between Ws and non-Ws is “unobjective (dogmatic)”, you will not convince me that my support for unconditional free trade between Americans and non-Americans is “unobjective (dogmatic)”.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017
A conservative case against tax reform
Arnold Kling writes: "The more radically you reform taxes, the more you risk creating new distortions, both foreseen and unforeseen." He favours lowering tax rates:
It is true that lowering the corporate tax rate would reduce the malincentive effects of loopholes in the tax. Lowering the stakes involved would lower the rent-seeking. Also, simply lowering the rate seems less risky.
Not necessarily my view, but it is worth thinking about. A lot.

Taki on Alexander Chancellor
Taki Theodoracopulos remembers his first Spectator editor, Alexander Chancellor, who recently passed away. Taki concludes:
After Tina Brown hired him to write the Talk of the Town for The New Yorker, which she edited for a while, I saw quite a lot of him. Tina, an obsessive climber and go-getter, did not stick by him. He was surprised to discover a very large Christmas tree being raised in Rockefeller Center and wrote about it, unaware that it was an annual event, as old as the building. Fellow hacks made fun, but they were basically anti-Alexander because he refused to take them—or himself—seriously, as grave a mistake to make among American journalists as plagiarism.

Pence has done something Biden never did
Break a Senate tie. I still find it unbelievable that Joseph Biden served two full terms as vice president without once breaking a tie vote. FiveThirtyEight notes that for the first time a vice president broke a tie-vote on a cabinet appointment and the seventh time a presidential appointment needed the vice president to break a tie (and just the second presidential appointment tie-breaker since 1862).

Even in the Trump era, some things never change
New York Times columnist Ross Douthat writes about the "liberal Holy War against Betsy DeVos" which shows not a lot has changed for Democrats. For all the huffing and puffing about Trump and immigration, Trump and international institutions, Trump and unqualified cabinet secretaries, the Democrats plant their flag on the battle for Education Secretary because teachers unions are Very Important to the party:
[W]hen interest groups talk, politicians listen — and the teachers’ unions are simply more powerful in Democratic circles, with more money and leverage and clout, than most of the groups leading the charge against other Trump policies or nominees.
Battles over school choice have barely changed since the early 1990s despite, as Douthat points out, evidence suggesting school choice (private schools, charter schools) are usually a net benefit. But they threaten the Education Blob -- the education bureaucracy and the teachers unions -- so screw whatever modest benefit there is too children and families.
Douthat makes some important points about school choice -- modestly better outcomes but hardly a panacea -- that are secondary to his political narrative:
That “modestly” is important, because it tracks with much of what we know about school choice in general — that it offers real potential benefits without being a panacea. Decades of experiments suggest that choice can save money, improve outcomes for very poor kids whose public options are disastrous, and increase parental satisfaction. (The last is no small thing!) But the available evidence also suggests that choice alone won’t revolutionize schools or turn slow learners into geniuses, that the clearest success stories are hard to replicate, and some experiments in privatization (like Louisiana’s recent voucher push) can badly disappoint.
Douthat concludes suggesting that Democrats are the real reactionaries:
Finally, even after Trumpism’s disruptions, the older culture-war bogeymen still get liberals excited. Sure, they’re officially more worried about white nationalism and the fate of NATO, but wave the cape of looming theocracy, and suddenly it’s 2004 all over again.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017
Hans Rosling, RIP
Hans Rosling, the host of the phenomenal "Joy of Stats" documentary, passed away today. Fast Company says:
Rosling died today, so it seems an appropriate time to revisit some of his best videos. Rosling's most compelling work applied statistics to people's often-mistaken ideas of what was happening globally, causing them to question their assumptions about the state of global development. The Gapminder Foundation, of which Rosling is a founding board member, is dedicated to achieving the UN's Sustainable Development Goals; the general thrust of Rosling's talks is that while poverty is still endemic, the world now is much better than it was 50 years ago, and can continue to improve with the right investments. Perhaps most compelling was what appeared to Rosling's true joy and excitement while explaining the leaps humanity has made: very rarely are talks about health statistics and average incomes this enjoyable.
At that Fast Company link are several of his best videos, although it doesn't have his best, "Don't Panic" (about population growth). The world needs more Hans Rosling -- his commitment to data, evidence-based policy, and, most importantly, his optimism.

What I'm reading
1. "A Federal Fiscal History: Canada, 1867-2017," a Fraser Institute study by Livio Di Matteo
2. "Living Standards 2017: The past, present and possible future of UK incomes," a Resolution Foundation study by Adam Corlett and Stephen Clarke
3. "Work in progress. Towards a leaner, smarter public-sector workforce," a Reform study by Alexander Hitchcock, Kate Laycock and Emilie Sundorph
4. "Skills and Innovation," a summary of proceedings of the working group by the Institute of Fiscal Studies and Democracy and the United States National Governors Association
5. "Canadian Exceptionalism: Are we good or are we lucky?" a report from the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada and University of Toronto School of Governance
6. The Winter 2017 edition of Cato Journal. I especially recommend the Chris Edwards article "Margaret Thatcher’s Privatization Legacy."

Trudeau government restores Court Challenges Program
The CBC reports:
The Liberal government's revival of the controversial Court Challenges Program will be expanded to include additional charter rights on top of equality and language rights.
According to a background briefing Tuesday, the new program to fund court challenges will include cases based on freedom of religion, freedom of democratic rights, and right to liberty and security.
Here is what I wrote for The Interim when the Harper government scrapped the CCP:
The Court Challenges Program funded homosexual and feminist organizations, among other groups, to intervene in court challenges to the constitutionality of federal laws. Gay rights groups received funding for their court challenges, seeking the inclusion of homosexuality among specially protected classes of people and a change to the traditional definition of marriage. Feminist groups received money to fight against cases that would have enshrined fetal rights ...
The program cuts are not only good economics and just policy, but smart politics. Both fiscal and social conservatives support the defunding of special interests, with not only Campaign Life Coalition, REAL Women and the Institute of Canadian Values, but the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and the National Citizens Coalition applauding the announcement. Gerry Nicholls, vice-president of the NCC, said defunding the CCP was a victory for “taxpayers and democracy.” Edmonton Journal columnist Lorne Gunter noted that the CCP hardly ever funded individuals, only “powerful rights-seeking lobbies, and almost always the same dozen or so lobbies.” Nicholls said that taxpayers should not have to fund court challenges with which they disagree.
Critics charge the CCP with funding litigation for special interest groups to score political victories that they haven't earned at the ballot box. Relentlessly challenging the constitutionality of laws invites judicial activism and is fundamentally undemocratic. The government promises a transparent funding process, but Justin Trudeau's Liberals are going to pick panelists who agree with the permanently aggrieved class of potential litigants.

'Why We Don't Need a Department of Technology Policy'
Writing at Reason, Andrea O'Sullivan of the Technology Policy Program at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University rebuts Bruce Schneier's argument for a "Department of Technology Policy":
Like many who make "market failure" arguments, Schneier believes that the government alone can intervene to fix the problem. Specifically, he thinks an entirely new federal agency is needed, fearing that without a Department of Technology Policy nothing could compel device manufacturers to internalize the externalities of poor digital security.
But behind every suspected market failure is usually an existing government failure. Schneier himself says as much when he discusses the many laws that inhibit security research and contribute to smart-device insecurity. In particular, laws like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) penalize computer scientists who try to test or report certain software vulnerabilities. These laws should be amended before we do anything else.
Perhaps more importantly, when considering how best to address market failures, we must not succumb to what economist Harold Demsetz called the "Nirvana fallacy." If you compare an imperfect existing situation with the perfect ideal of government intervention, of course the government solution will be tempting. But government bodies operate in an imperfect reality, and once created, they will generate their own set of unintended consequences, which will be very hard to turn back.
With many technological advances we tend to consider worst-case scenarios and imagine a ban or government regulation can prevent them all. In actuality, the worst-case scenario is probably unlikely nor is government likely to prevent all harm.

Good news about the Pakistan economy
Every year Tyler Cowen picks the most underrated and overrated economies in the world. This year he picked Pakistan as underrated and in his latest Bloomberg column explains why:
Gross-domestic-product growth has hovered in the range of 4 percent and now may be reaching 5 percent. That’s not going to rival recent Chinese performance, but it is enough to put the economy on a fairly positive path. Since 2002, the rate of poverty has fallen by half, and over the past three years the rate of terrorist deaths has declined by two-thirds. It’s now the case that 47 percent of Pakistani households own a washing machine, up from 13 percent in 1991, and retail is booming more generally.
On the macro side, inflation is not a problem, the country has staved off a foreign-exchange crisis, and it is rebuilding its reserves. The debt-to-GDP ratio is high at more than 60 percent, but the country has graduated from its adjustment program with the International Monetary Fund and appears to be in a stable fiscal state.
There is, however, significant downside:
To be sure, the problems remain staggering. The education system is poor, exports are not making progress and rely too heavily on textiles, investment is insufficient, and much of the country has a series of interlocking problems with weather, water and drought. The political situation is improved but still far from ideal, and Pakistan is not situated in a calm part of the world. There is plenty of talk of the country benefiting from China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative, but for now I consider that speculative.

Planned Parenthood has quotas for abortion
The latest Live Action video has former Planned Parenthood managers admitting the abortion provider has quotas for abortion, and centers that did not do abortions had quotas for referrals. Hot Air has some choice quotes, including from Sue Thayer, a former manager:
“I trained my staff the way that I was trained, which was to really encourage women to choose abortion; to have it at Planned Parenthood, because it counts towards our goal.”
“It sounds kind of crazy, but pizza is a motivator [for getting abortion numbers up].”
Pizza parties for centers that consistently hit their goals.
More from Thayer:
“If they’d say, ‘I’m not able to pay [my bill] today,’ then we would say something like, ‘Well, if you can’t pay $10 today, how are you going to take care of a baby? Have you priced diapers? Do you know how much it costs to buy a car seat? Where would you go for help? There’s no place in Storm Lake (or whatever town they were in), you know, where you can get help as a pregnant mom. So really, don’t you think your smartest choice is termination?’
Hot Air's Ed Morrissey observes: "This points out more clearly what Planned Parenthood actually sells — despair. They want women to panic, to despair, in order to profit off of it. This sales pitch takes a woman at her most vulnerable and heaps the weight of the world on her shoulders … simply to meet a sales goal."
And this, from Live Action's Lila Rose:
“Planned Parenthood doesn’t have quotas for adoptions. It doesn’t have quotas for prenatal care. But quotas for abortions? Absolutely,” said Lila Rose, president and founder of Live Action. “Planned Parenthood makes a profit off women in the midst of their most difficult experiences and incentivizes ​its staff to take the lives of chil​dren in the womb with pizza parties, paid time off, ​and lunch​es with upper management.​ It’s time to redirect our tax money toward local health clinics that actually provide real care to women, instead of to Planned Parenthood, a corporation focused on upping ​its abortion numbers.”
Here are a few more quotes from the Live Action video, via the Washington Times:
Marianne Anderson, a former nurse at Planned Parenthood, says she felt more like an “abortion salesman” than a medical professional sometimes.
“I felt like I was more of a salesman sometimes, to sell abortions,” Ms. Anderson says in the video. “We were told on a regular basis that you have a quota to meet to keep this clinic open.
“We were constantly told you have quotas to meet to stay open,” she continues. “It was just, like I said, I felt more like I was selling abortion sometimes than treating people.”
Morrissey says this sounds more like "Glengarry Glen Ross" than a health care provider. Red State's Jay Caruso noted:
Having worked in supply chain, we had metrics of red, yellow, and green. I never thought I would hear of its use as a measure of how many pregnancies Planned Parenthood, terminates.

Monday, February 06, 2017
Trump's war on regulations
Robert J. Samuelson writes in the Washington Post about Donald Trump's "regulation to curb regulations," specifically his mandate to cut two regulations for everyone that is promulgated. Some might charge Samuelson's even-handedness as too pro-regulation, but he offers a counterpoint to the regulation-bashing Republicans: many estimates of the costs of regulations do not include the benefits, so it is difficult to weigh whether or not they are worth it. I'd add that many of the benefits are theoretical or unknowable while most of the costs are tangible, so self-serving government studies that find regulations are justified are questionable, to say the least. There is every likelihood that the benefits of many regulations are exaggerated. Still, Samuelson's point must be acknowledged and government needs to do a better job understanding the real costs and true benefits of its regulations. Samuelson is also correct about the politics, namely that Democrats will paint deregulation as a giveaway to Trump's rich friends at the cost of the unprotected masses. We can expect excessive scare-mongering about children dying because Washington is gutting safety restrictions. The debate is not likely to be very edifying.
I'm not suggesting that there is a middle ground, the "truth is somewhere in the middle" stance, regarding regulations. There is not some magic amount of regulation that is good or bad for the economy, or good or bad for the public. Rather, excessively onerous regulations with dubious benefits must be cut and even regulations with real benefits should be re-examined to see how they can streamlined. There can be little doubt that increasing the costs of doing business is not good for business, and it especially hurts new and smaller companies that don't have the resources to cope with government meddling. But likewise, it should not be doubted that many regulations do protect consumers and the public. The political debate must move beyond caricature; Samuelson calls on Democrats to admit "regulations have been carelessly overused" and for Republicans to concede "that the regulatory state isn't going away." However, in today's zero-sum politics, finding the spot where those two ideas meet will not be easy.

Are teledildonics safe?
Motherboard reports on BlowCast, the simulated oral sex available for one dollar a blow (plus cost of the technology, presumably):
In essence, BlowCast allows a user to buy a simulated blow job from dozens of amateur and professional cam girls. The way it works is a cam model interested in offering a simulated blowjob is given a Kiiroo Pearl, a vibrating dildo that has been hacked by CamSoda to collect sensory data while the model fellates the device. This data is then uploaded to a repository on BlowCast and a user can select a blowjob based on the model and user reviews.
On the customer-side of things, the user will have an internet connected "sleeve" (essentially a high-tech Fleshlight) which takes the sensory data from the cam girl's dildo and replicates it in the sleeve. When paired with a video feed, it simulates the experience of receiving a blow job from that particular model ...
"This does not feel like real sex with someone, but it's the best thing that's out there yet," CamSoda president Daron Lundeen told Motherboard. "It transfers what's occurring, so you feel exactly what the girls are doing on the device." ...
Lundeen hopes that as more people begin using the service ... "There's a lot of people out there curious about how they stack up," Lundeen told Motherboard. "We'll ship the recording device to anybody so anybody can submit a blowjob. This is real people having a real virtual sex experience."
Other teledildonic devices are susceptible to being hacked, but BlowCast is hopeful that their platform is more secure. Hopes. The problem, as reporter Daniel Oberhaus puts it, is the "possible health risk if you have a motor capable of applying pressure strapped around your penis."
(HT: Marginal Revolution)

Sunday, February 05, 2017
Super Bowl snacks
Sports on Earth has a meh list of Super Bowls snacks ranked, which starts great (chicken wings) and heads downhill quickly (beer shouldn't be on the list, but if it is, it shouldn't be #10). In our house, the snacks ranked would be: strawberry salsa with cinnamon chips, buffalo chicken wings, chicken quesadilla, nachos and dip, (tie) wiener wraps and mozzarella cheese sticks.
Here are pictures of stadia made out of Super Bowl eats.
The greatest Super Bowl feast is Epic Meal Time's Roethlisberger.

Super Bowl LI
I'm an analysis guy. I like numbers. I like going deep into the match-ups. And pretty well everything I look at says that the New England Patriots will win. There's a reason Football Outsiders has the Pats as 58.6% favourites. These are two amazing teams -- the Pats beat two division winners in the post-season by 18 and 19 points while the Falcons beat two division winners by 16 and 23 points. It should be a good game, and I wouldn't be surprised if either the Pats or Falcons won a close one, but I wouldn't be surprised if either won by two scores, either. Both these offenses are very good (Atlanta score 34.4 ppg while New England was third at 28.4 ppg). Despite, New England having the top scoring defense this season, according to Football Outsiders they have a merely average defense (while Atlanta's D was one of the worst according to these advance metrics). The fact is both these teams are even on offense and New England has a large defensive advantage. The best analysis of the game is by ESPN's Bill Barnwell and I don't really disagree with any of it, other than the conclusion (New England winning). Barnwell's main point is that the key to beating Tom Brady is rushing him up the middle, something that Atlanta is unlikely to do much. Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders has a very long and detailed analysis. It's also very good and the stats demonstrate, as Schatz says: "The Patriots are more likely to slow down Matt Ryan than the Falcons are to shut down Tom Brady." FO's Ben Muth has a good analysis of both teams' O-lines. New England's is probably a little better. I usually don't buy into narratives about experience or momentum or wanting-it-more or destiny, but there is something to be said about knowing what to expect and how to prepare in these two intense, hype-drenched weeks, which is obviously an advantage for New England. You should also check out Danny Kelly's look at the "Four questions that will decide" the Super Bowl including match-ups and scheme. Kelly also had an article about the importance of the turnover battle, but this will be a fluky thing: the teams have almost identical takeaway/giveaway stats (both teams had 11 giveaways and the Pats had 23 takeaways while the Falcons had 22). But I'm going with Atlanta and am doing so with confidence. Historically good offenses are hard to beat (although New England beat the Greatest Show on Turf early in the Brady/Belichick era when they were 14-point underdogs). Brady, as Barnwell noted, is 8-6 lifetime in games against teams with All Pro wide receivers. Julio Jones was an All Pro this year. I'm not convinced that Matt Ryan is going to ride Jones to victory, but I do believe New England's defense will have a hard time defending all the offensive targets Ryan has (WRs Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel and RBs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman). The Falcons are a mediocre team in the red zone (on both sides of the ball) and score a disproportionate amount of their points on big plays while the Pats are the stingiest team in points surrendered on big plays. But this game is going to be different, despite what the stats say. That's illogical, but it's what I'm betting on.
Prediction: Falcons 34, Patriots 30.

Saturday, February 04, 2017
CPC leadership
The CBC has a story on Conservative Party membership sales in his leadership race. The CBC reports:
"There (are) going to be fewer memberships sold in this membership race compared to 2004," candidate Michael Chong said last week at the party's caucus meeting in Quebec City. And he's not alone in this assessment.
The conventional wisdom is that in 2004, the new Conservative Party of Canada benefited from the merged lists of the Canadian Alliance and old Tory parties. Right-leaning voters were tired of the scandal-ridden Liberal government that had been in power for more than a decade. Also, there have been rule changes about the campaigns buying blocks of memberships. (Eliminating mass sales obviously affects total memberships, but it will also likely means a more invested membership.)
How many members are expected to be eligible to vote?
Party estimates tally the current membership at just over 100,000. This figure is growing, as lapsed members renew to vote and candidates' teams sign up new supporters.
But Chong said he'll be surprised if there are 150,000 eligible voters on May 27 when the party picks its new leader. That figure might be a bit conservative, but no one CBC News spoke to expects much more.
That would be down significantly from 250,000 in 2004. I've talked to a number of campaigns and there are two that are freely discussing their goal of 10,000-15,000 new members. I think three or four campaigns could reach that goal: Maxime Bernier and Brad Trost and probably Kellie Leitch and Kevin O'Leary. Bernier, Trost, and Leitch are running ideological/issues-based campaigns (libertarian, socially conservative, and populist, respectively) that can attract individuals who care about those ideas and issues. O'Leary said he was going to focus on the existing membership but his campaign also claims to have already signed up 9000 members. Still, there is no denying O'Leary's celebrity and celebrity sells.
Still, 15,000 new members nationally, is nothing compared to the 40,410 memberships Patrick Brown famously signed up in his quest for the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party leadership in 2015 in one province. Monte McNaughton, who dropped out, signed up around 12,000. In other words, the candidate who who dropped out in Ontario could be a front-runner in the national race. Sure, membership sales rules are different. Brown was able to sign up blocks of ethnic voters and McNaugthon and Brown both signed up large swathes of social conservatives.
It isn't only membership rules, but economics: in one case incentives and the other finances. Because every riding is worth 100 electoral points (divvied up according to the proportion of votes cast in the riding), there has been a focus on Quebec and, to a lesser extent, Atlantic Canada, where candidates think a few dozen members in a riding could deliver significant points. This is thought to be much more efficient than signing up hundreds or thousands in large Alberta or Greater Toronto Area ridings. Also, strict fundraising rules have limited the money available to many of the campaigns (save Bernier's and Leitch's). Organization costs money. The campaigns have too many media consultants and not enough organizers. I said after Brown's victory in 2015 at the expense of Christine Elliott represented the victory of the spread sheet over the Rolodex. A great contact list can land a story in the papers and marketers can put a candidate's brand in front of you eyeballs on social media, but organizers are the human touch that convince people to sign up and get out to vote. The Conservative Party isn't operating in an open primary system (and neither are the federal Liberals despite their free membership scheme). A candidate probably can't win the air war in the way Donald Trump did in the American primaries and coast to victory.
How this affects the race is unknowable. I think O'Leary's celebrity will be unbeatable, but it also appears he is signing up members (contrary to early indications that was not his focus). But it does mean that long-term, more heavily invested members will be decisive. My working theory is that these members are less ideological and are inclined to vote for the person they think 1) will win the leadership and 2) can win the next general election. That's why Brown advertised the 44,410 number so much in 2015. That represented about half the PC leader electorate and he signaled his victory was inevitable. (Note: turnout among his 44,410 was lower than McNaughton's sign-ups or the long-term members and he still won decisively.) There will be stop-O'Leary and stop-Leitch campaigns, and if Trost signs up the second most memberships, a stop-Trost campaign. I don't see a stop Bernier campaign. The ranked ballot comes into play. O'Leary is playing for a first-round victory (although I'm predicting it takes two or three). Most others need to win a war of attrition among the 14 candidates. Trost's path to victory is winning over Andrew Scheer and Pierre Lemieux voters in later counts. Leitch needs to out-survive Trost and win over populist-minded social conservatives. (This probably won't be enough.) O'Learly can pick up "want-to-win" voters among some Red Tories along with Leitch populists with his straight-talk and Bernier libertarians with his economic message. I just don't see how Erin O'Toole has a realistic path to victory by being the number two selection of a critical mass of voters. The problem is that he is the natural number two on the ranked ballots of candidates who are likely to be eliminated earlier in this process.
The battle for second (and strong third) could be important and dictate the type of party the Conservatives becomes. If Bernier finishes second, there is a clear message that the libertarian wing is important. If Trost finishes with a fifth of the vote or better, it means social conservatives have an important role to play. If Leitch finishes a strong second, the party needs to figure out how to keep disaffected populists. So with two months to sell membership (one month before the late membership penalty kicks in for the leadership campaigns), new members can play an important role in deciding the future of the Conservative Party. I'm just not sure it will be enough to stop Kevin O'Leary from becoming the Leader of the Opposition.

Friday, February 03, 2017
Can Trump administration punish Berkeley?
From The American Interest:
The violent protests at UC Berkeley that ran Milo Yiannopoulos off campus were probably the best public relations gift the young administration has received to date. They also gave the President an opportunity to do what he does best: Exploit a political disconnect between elites and the median voter (i.e., on special snowflake ideology on college campuses) and then make an outrageous suggestion via a spontaneous tweet designed to send his opponents into fits of hysteria that would discredit them further. In this case, Trump raised hackles by suggesting that the federal government might cut off funding to California’s flagship public university ...
To be clear, the events that took place at UC Berkeley yesterday would not have qualified the university for de-funding under the 1991 bill. However, it’s possible to imagine different statutory language that would require colleges receiving federal funding to make a good-faith effort to protect student speech rights, so that patterns of violence shutting down speakers would raise eyebrows at the Department of Education.
And even without any new legislation, enterprising bureaucrats at the Department of Education have various tools at their disposal to put pressure on universities for political reasons. As Walter Olson points out: “The power that the Department of Education and allied agencies have gathered to themselves over university life has steadily mounted, often against feeble resistance from the universities themselves, as in the Title IX instance.” If a feminist speaker had encountered violent protests that forced her to leave campus, it’s possible to imagine a Title IX “hostile environment” investigation. What if right-wing Department of Education lawyers argued that the resistance to Yiannopoulos was due to his sexual orientation (he is openly gay) or even his gender?
This is not a game I want to play, but it is a game that the other side started. Donald Trump is willing to play the game the Left started and according to the rules they have established. When in a fight with bullies punch back twice as hard.

PM May fights for NATO
The (London) Times reports:
The prime minister will see EU leaders in Valletta, Malta, this morning to brief them on her recent trip to the United States. Mrs May will highlight the guarantee that she secured from President Trump on his support for Nato. “She will go on to encourage other European leaders to deliver on their commitments to spend 2 per cent of their GDP on defence, so that the burden is more fairly shared,” a No 10 spokesman said. “She will say that it is only by investing properly in our defence that we can ensure we are properly equipped to face our shared challenges together.
One of those challenges is President Donald Trump. Getting NATO allies to carry more water for the alliance is a prerequisite for Trump recommitting to the organization. Prime Minister Theresa May's encouragement to spend 2% of GDP on defense may not be enough, considering that NATO leaders are bashing the American President. For example:
Dalia Grybauskaitė, the Lithuanian president, offered a withering verdict on the recent meeting between Trump and Theresa May. “I don’t think there is a necessity for a bridge. We communicate with the Americans on Twitter,” she said.
Don't poke POTUS. If Trump is as horrible a human being as many people believe (including myself) and that he is vain, vindictive, and juvenile, why take gratuitous shots at him?

Thursday, February 02, 2017
Trump and the Johnson Amendment
While social media was going nuts over President Donald Trump taking shots at Arnold Schwarzenegger for his low ratings since taking over "The Apprentice," the POTUS announced a major new policy today at the National Prayer Breakfast:
The president also declared that he would work to repeal the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits some tax-exempt groups from endorsing political candidates. And he pledged to protect religious freedom.
“I will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution,” Trump said. “I want to express clearly today to the American people that my administration will do everything in its power to defend and protect religious liberty in our land.”
Even the Washington Post buried the real story.

Hunt Allcott of New York University and Matthew Gentzkow of Stanford University have a new study, "Social Media and Fake News in the 2016 Election," in which they conclude: "for fake news to have changed the outcome of the election, a single fake article would need to have had the same persuasive effect as 36 television campaign ads." Allcott and Gentzkow define fake news as "false or misleading information" and not merely stories partisans don't like. Maybe we've focused too much on fake news.

McCullough on the Quebec mosque shooting
J.J. McCullough writes in the Washington Post about how Quebec sees its disproportionate share of mass murders and attempted mass killings. That's in what many consider Canada's most "progressive" province. McCullough writes:
Privately, English Canadians are far less defensive. They grumble about Quebec’s dark history of anti-Semitism, religious bigotry and pro-fascist sentiment, facts which are rarely included in otherwise self-flagellating official narratives of Canadian history. They complain about the exaggerated deference the province gets from Ottawa as a “distinct society” and “nation-within-a-nation,” and its various French-supremacist language and assimilation laws, which they blame for creating a place that’s inhospitable, arrogant and, yes, noticeably more racist than the Canadian norm. And now, they have good reason to observe that the province seems to produce an awful lot of lunatics prone to public massacres, who often explicitly justify their violence with arguments of dissatisfaction towards Quebec’s unique culture.
As I tweeted when McCullough made these points on Twitter: #DistinctSociety.
McCullough concludes with a larger point about the politicization of these tragedies and the typically Canadian response to them:
The mosque shooting has been quickly politicized by the Canadian left who have seized upon its useful victims to say the sort of things they were going to say anyway: Canada is both a wicked Islamophobic place that must check its various privileges and a multicultural utopia whose pride and empathy for its Muslim community knows no bounds.
The self-flagellation, self-congratulation narrative is a bit much. It's sad to see so-called conservatives join the Liberal, NDP, and Green parties and their allies in the corporate media for this parade of progressive-speak contradiction.
Well, that's not quite the conclusion. McCullough says that "Rather than drag the entire country along for this tendentious ride, it might be more useful to narrow the focus." True, too.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017
What I'm reading
1. Never Enough: Capitalism and the Progressive Spirit by Neil Gilbert
2. Trumping Trudeau: How Donald Trump Will Change Canada Even if Justin Trudeau Doesn't Know it Yet by Ezra Levant

Government can trigger Article 50
Parliament votes 494 to 114 for the May government's bill.

Judge Gorsuch
President Donald Trump has nominated Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court of the United States. As the Cato Institute's Ilya Shapiro wrote in the New York Post:
In naming Judge Neil Gorsuch as his Supreme Court nominee, President Trump showed that he was serious all along about an issue that secured his election as much as any other. He also picked someone who, perhaps more than anyone on his fabulous list, fits the mold — or robe — of the irreplaceable Antonin Scalia.
Speaking of the Cato Institute, in 1992, Gorsuch co-wrote a Cato Institute Policy Analysis paper on term limits.
Ed Whelan of the Ethics and Public Policy Center thinks the choice is inspired, saying:
Gorsuch is a brilliant jurist and dedicated originalist and textualist. He thinks through issues deeply. He writes with clarity, force, and verve. And his many talents promise to give him an outsized influence on future generations of lawyers.
Bloomberg columnist Jonathan Bernstein goes through some of the politics. Neal Katyal, acting solicitor general in the Obama administration, wrote in the New York Times: "Why Liberals Should Back Neil Gorsuch":
I have no doubt that if confirmed, Judge Gorsuch would help to restore confidence in the rule of law. His years on the bench reveal a commitment to judicial independence — a record that should give the American people confidence that he will not compromise principle to favor the president who appointed him.
I have an article at The Interim: "Pro-lifers pleased with Judge Neil Gorsuch." One point I could have included in that short piece is that sometimes I wonder if in American political discourse, "Supreme Court" is code for "abortion."
Ramesh Ponnuru says that Gorsuch is a worthy originalist/textualist heir to Antonin Scalia, with perhaps one exception. Ponnuru says:
Gorsuch has expressed an optimism about the trajectory of American jurisprudence that Scalia did not. His tribute to the late justice argued that thanks in large part to Scalia, even liberals on the Supreme Court were more likely to look to the text and original public meaning of laws in making their decisions.
As good as this pick is, even if Judge Gorsuch is approved, not that much will change in the short-term.

Article 50 debate
Conservative Home: "Labour and Lib Dem MPs demanded more time to debate Article 50, then failed to show up." Mark Wallace reports:
We’ve heard a lot of protests lately from Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs about the Government’s timetable for triggering Article 50. There have been claims that insufficient Parliamentary time was scheduled by the Government for debating the current Bill, with the implication that MPs are being denied the opportunity to fully scrutinise the historic decision before them.
One measure to address those concerns was the extension of the debate yesterday by five hours, so that the Commons debated the Bill until midnight. Labour and the Lib Dems wanted more time and they had got some.
It was therefore quite odd to see the benches of those two parties almost empty during the extra hours of debate that they had demanded – an absence noted by Conservative and SNP MPs, some of whom had been in the Chamber for ten or eleven hours.

Nearly half of Americans support Trump's refugee ban
Yesterday I noted that a Quinnipiac University national poll from early last month (before President Donald Trump issued the executive order) indicated a near majority of Americans supported a suspension on immigration/refugees from "terror prone regions" (48%-42%) and suggested that there might be "slightly less support now that the public has seen the policy rolled out" due to the reaction against it. Nope. A Reuters-Ipsos poll finds that 49% of Americans support Trump's policy and 41 are opposed. That said, by a 41%-38% margin, respondents said that the ban sets a "bad example"/"good example" on "how to best confront terrorism."
Politicians, journalists, academics, business leaders, and other (mostly) urban elite simply do not understand the depth of concern about immigration and national security among many Americans (and probably Canadians). There is some racial element to it, but there is also a genuine belief that their way of life is threatened by invasive immigration and their lives are threatened by terrorists and criminals that has nothing to do with race.