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).

XML This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?
Monday, March 27, 2017
 
Labour is disappearing. From the news, at least.
ConservativeHome's Mark Wallace writes:
Regular readers may have noticed rather less coverage of the Labour Party on ConservativeHome recently. This extends not just to our opinion and analysis pieces, but also to the daily newslinks, where we collate and summarise all the political content in each day’s newspapers.
There’s a reason for this – Labour has become less and less relevant to the nation’s political life. Indeed, where normally we could provide at least one headline and several bullet-points about the Opposition in each day’s newslinks, currently it’s common for the Labour Party not to have a single story of interest in the entire national press – even in The Guardian. Labour is disappearing from the media about as fast as it is falling in the polls.
Wallace says opposition parties can usually count on a little coverage of their inevitable infighting, but even that barely warrants close scrutiny (unless you a Labour MP or otherwise heavily invested in their never-ending trouble). At CapX, Chris Deerin offers a reason why after reading the long New Statesman essay by Dan Jarvis on the post-Brexit Labour strategy (and others offering their too inside baseball accounts of Labour's woes:
But none of them has yet answered the great questions that confront them and their party: what, today, is the point of the centre-Left? Who are their people? Are they socialists or just nicer Tories? Do they genuinely believe in the market, or is that merely an attempt to accommodate the grim prejudices of the electorate? And if not the market, what? What, in the end, is the simple message that will bring voters back? It sure ain’t “a civic capitalism in the public interest”.
Labour have been horsed at Westminster and in Scotland because voters look at them and see nothing much that they want. The party expresses its loathing of its one popular modern PM at every opportunity. It has twice voted in an incompetent scarecrow as leader, who every time he opens his mouth makes you long for the oratorical skills of, say, Lassie. It has failed to come up with anything as credible or compelling as New Labour. And from the looks of things, that’s not changing anytime soon. Meh Labour, No Danger.
Deerin is on to something, but isn't quite there. Jeremy Corbyn doesn't just look "not like a leader" but like he could never be one. Tony Blair was once popular but his brand is tarnished, perhaps more so within his old party than the public at large. But stuck between Corbyn's socialism-lite and Blair's embrace of markets and George Bush's foreign policy, the Labour Party is, at best confused, at worst divided, about what it is. Just as I write that sentence I don't think it's right. The Labour Party is not stuck between those two sides -- its membership has chosen Corbyn twice -- but is perceived to be stuck. It has factions completely at odds with each other and there is no conceivable way to reconcile them. Historically factions can come together with the prospect of victory, with one side willing to take some lumps for the sake of power and little victories here or there. That's not possible at the moment.
So deeply divided internally, the Labour Party cannot answer the important question for progressives: what is it and what is the point. Too much of the maneuvering is less about principles than personalities (including that of Dan Jarvis); journalists, the public, and perhaps even members don't particularly care for those battles, at least right now. Labour could get people to care if the party looked like it had a viable (if unlikely) path to power, but at this point nobody can see one. And it all becomes a viscous circle. Until it doesn't. Perhaps Corbyn will resign. Perhaps the Theresa May government will make a major misstep (Brexit is full of traps). But until something changes, Labour will appear irrelevant to many observers. But when it does change, it will become obvious that we should have been paying closer attention and we'll wish we read that overly long New Statesman essay.


 
Culture trumps economics
Arnold Kling posits six cultural explanations for why America has ended up, "in Josh Barro’s words, with an economy that spends 1/6th of GDP on health care with nobody wanting to spend 1/6th of their income on it." Some include the obvious like a desire to pay (or have someone else pay) for medical treatments to deal with the results of lifestyle choices rather than changing one's bad habits or the reluctance for health care providers to admit health care is a commodity. These two have the biggest policy implications:
1. The American middle class does not believe in saving up for health care expenses. The idea that you should have $10,000 – $15,000 set aside for the occasional acute medical episode is abhorrent. The idea that you should save up for the inevitable medical expenses of old age is abhorrent. We are not Singapore.
2. The American middle class does not believe in paying taxes in order to support people who are very poor or very sick. We are not Denmark.
In short, we tend to overvalue our lives relative to what we are willing to pay for it, and undervalue the lives of others.


 
Loewen on McGill fiasco
University of Toronto political scientist Peter Loewen has a great thread that you should read, but these two tweets are worth highlighting:


 
What makes headlines and talk radio might not be the most important news
Tyler Cowen wonders in a post about what's happening in Washington and abroad (Donald Trump not scaring his party or foreign governments) if we are ignoring the real news: "the end of global QE is rapidly approaching, with U.S., European, and possibly Chinese central banks all tightening at about the same time; maybe that’s the real news!" Washington politics is "the show" while what is happening at the central banks really matters.


Sunday, March 26, 2017
 
Use Brexit to cut regulations in UK: Gove
According to The Independent, Conservative MP Michael Gove told a Advertising Week Europe event his past week that the United Kingdom should sheer itself from the European Union's onerous business regulations. Gove said, "If there are regulations which hold any business here back, we now have the potential to amend or even if necessary rescind them." He cited the Commission’s Habitats Directive which impedes the construction of housing with environmental limits and the Clinical Trials Directive which could slow or prevent treatments that could address patients' "pain and misery."
The paper reports:
The Government plans to transfer all EU law into British law with the so-called Great Repeal Bill. Ministers are then expected to remove regulations they do not like on a case-by-case basis, meaning all EU laws would stay on the books until they were specifically repealed.
Gove's argument is simple: the UK doesn't need many of these regulations, and in many cases they cause harm, so there is no need to keep them.


 
Thy does the Republican Party win locally and suck nationally
By winning and sucking I don't mean electorally. In The Corner, Charles C.W. Cooke writes about how North Dakota lawmakers have passed a conceal carry law while in Washington, healthcare reform is (at best) stalled and (at worst) dead. Cooke notes that Republicans control both elective branches of government in both Bismark and DC, but that one scores policy victories but the other doesn't. Cooke says that the GOP is better at the state level than the national level in implementing conservative/libertarian policy:
At the state level, the GOP has been remarkably effective at ushering in reform over the last seven years; at the federal level, by contrast, it has been able only to hold the line.
This, of course, is partly because the GOP has only just got full control of the federal government, whereas it has been running most of the states for half a decade now. But one can’t help but notice the difference in ambition. At the state level, Republicans have ruthlessly passed right to work legislation, even in unlikely places such as Michigan, Indiana, and Wisconsin; they have expanded charter schools; they have done yeoman’s work restoring the Second Amendment; they have cut taxes and regulation; and they have enacted as many pro-life measures as the courts have allowed. They have, in other words, lived up to their billing.
At the federal level, meanwhile, they have narrowed their intentions from the get-go. Under Donald Trump, there will be no entitlement reform, and possibly no healthcare reform either; there will likely be a massive, goodie-laden “infrastructure” bill, of the sort that GOP likes to rail against when a Democrat is in the White House; no departments will be shuttered, or radical structural changes made to the federal behemoth; and the promise of tax reform — that is, a substantial change to the way the system works — has already been replaced by “tax cuts.” How strange the difference in achievement between the local and the national.
Is this because the Republican lawmakers and executive in the states have more spine or are more principled? Maybe. But this seems an oversimplification. Cooke doesn't say Republicans in Washington are cowardly or unprincipled, but many readers could jump to that conclusion. What other reasons might contribute to the fact Republicans seem to achieve more at the state level than in the nation's capital? I can think of a few.
1. The issues politicians deal with at the state level are easier to deal with or have greater demand from voters than do national level issues. The issues at the state level more directly affect the lives of voters (delivery of education and health, local transportation) and therefore voters expect results.
2. The stakeholders (from bureaucrats to unions to special interest groups) at the state level may be more interested in change and achievement.
3. Politics at the national level is more symbolic than is politics at state level. See points #1 and #2.
4. Some states may have veto-proof majorities in the legislature thereby negating the need to compromise with Democrats.
5. The Republican caucuses could be more monolithic at the state level. The national GOP caucus is diverse, representing Congressional Districts from across the country and therefore its members are less likely to agree. The representatives and voters within a state, a smaller jurisdiction, are more likely to agree on solutions than are representatives and voters from across the country.
6. Republicans in mostly Republican states might face particularly weak political opponents (Democrats) or stakeholders (unions and bureaucrats).
7. Republicans have a less hostile media than the Washington press corps and therefore aren't afraid of controversy.
8. State-level Republican politicians are looking at higher office (Congress, governor) and must deliver resume-padding achievements to get elected; there is less incentive to have delivered policy as a member of Congress.
9. Systems of survival come into play in Washington. The ambitious member of a state legislature might look to move up to Washington or the governor's mansion, but the ambitious member of the national legislature is looking to move up the leadership ladder in his or her institution of the moment. Becoming chairman of an important committee or moving up the ranks to whip or leader requires not rocking the boat.
10. The states as laboratories for policy have winning examples from other states. Washington doesn't have that luxury.
There are other possible theories and explanations and contributing factors. Many work together.


 
The irony of Ottawa funding a Toronto AI project
Colin Horgan at The Article: "What the budget didn’t tell you: Toronto is getting an A.I. institute: The federal budget was vague, but more AI investments are coming." Horgan writes:
[Jordan] Jacobs is the co-CEO and co-founder of Layer6 AI, a Toronto company that markets an end-to-end deep learning recommendation prediction engine — a tool that might be used to curate personalized video recommendations, or understand a consumer’s level of satisfaction in real-time and proactively help them, or even engage in predictive health care.
Jacobs, together with his business partner, Tomi Poutanen, along with Geoff Hinton and Rich Zemel — both professors at the University of Toronto — conceived of the new facility.
The concept, Jacobs says, is “a grad school that is a world leader in research, that graduates more machine learning PhDs and master’s students than any school in the world, that is designed in a way to create flexibility so that…faculty don’t have to get bought out by a company; that if they can decide if they want to do research, they can do both – so research and commercialization.”
It’s an idea the federal government will soon announce it is going to help come to fruition. The Ontario government and other partners will also provide funding.
The plan, Jacobs says, is to have this institute become the engine for an AI-based economic “supercluster” – a term Canada’s minister for innovation, Navdeep Bains has used a lot lately.
Jacobs says Canadian artificial intelligence projects cannot attract personnel because the big companies can easily buy whatever talent they want to grab for themselves. So this independent institute, affiliated with the University of Toronto but open to other institutions, will be funded by Ottawa and competing with Google and Facebook and Apple. Not sure that this is the best use of taxpayer money. If the institute wants to fund research, it should commercialize its early successes not suck at the teat of government. And yet it isn't that government is picking winners and losers that most bothers me about this project but its irony: at a time when government is rightly looking at skills development and retraining for people who have lost or risk losing their jobs (due to automation and globalization), it seems odd to be spending money subsidizing jobs in a tech sector that could lead to more automation and other job-killing technology.


Saturday, March 25, 2017
 
But the west does give in to terrorism
Charles Moore writes in the Daily Telegraph that despite the bold rhetoric of politicians, the United Kingdom (and other western democracies) does legitimate terrorism:
Although it beat the Provisional IRA militarily, Britain did, to a surprising extent, give in to them. We accepted (and thus boosted) their democratic pretensions, released their prisoners, got rid of the police force (the RUC) which used to catch them, and never collected their guns and bombs. We gave them large chunks of political power and public money. McGuinness became one of the Queen’s (deputy) first ministers. Beside McGuinness’s coffin on Thursday stood Bill Clinton. It is hard to imagine a former US president making that journey for any Northern Irish politician who had never killed anyone. Sinn Fein/IRA did not win outright in Northern Ireland, but they did a lot better than if they had always followed the paths of peace.


 
A treatment for sepsis
Instapundit points to a story from Norfolk, Virginia, in which a local doctor treated several patients that had sepsis with a concoction of vitamin C, vitamin B, and hydrocortisone. They all recovered. As one nurse said, "We have seen patients walk out of here we didn’t think would leave." To get widespread usage, the treatment would require studies but no pharmaceutical company is going to fund a study to determine if a $60 treatment saves lives. An Instapundit correspondent suggests insurance companies, which could save a bundle of money to avoid long-term treatment and hospital liabilities, might step up to fund studies.


 
'Europe's soulless liberalism'
The Wall Street Journal's Sohrab Ahmari writes about two recent disturbing cases of the intolerance of continental liberalism: the French state's reaction to an advertisement about Down syndrome because it could bother women who aborted their preborn Down syndrome-diagnosed babies and the persecution of a midwife in Sweden that did not want to participate in a late-term abortion. Ahmari writes:
At its best, liberalism revels in the hubbub of a crowded marketplace of ideas. But a dour, self-righteous and conformist model has now come to define the liberal idea across much of Europe, one that brooks no dissent from the latest progressive precepts.


 
Divided government with one party in charge of both elected branches of government
The Wall Street Journal's Gerald F. Seib writes about the failure of the health care bill and the root of the Republicans' political problem: they are not really one entity. There is a Republican of one sort in the White House, and Republicans of another sort in the Congressional leadership, and the GOP caucus is not monolithic. Seib writes:
In the aftermath of the failure of the health bill in the House, Mr. Trump immediately blamed that lack of Democratic support. And Democratic opposition was, in fact, absolute and unshakable. But ultimately the fatal problem was his inability to move enough wavering House Republicans to pass the measure in the way it was always destined to be moved along: on a straight party-line vote.
And the biggest problem on the Republican front was Mr. Trump’s inability to pull a set of the House’s most conservative members over the line to support the measure.
Why?
[T]he difficulty in moving those conservatives also reflected the fact that some of them remain suspicious of Mr. Trump, who they think doesn’t really share their beliefs and didn’t do enough to push their principles into the health legislation.
Many of those House members come from reliably conservative districts, where defying a president and House leaders on ideological grounds isn’t a politically risky step. Mr. Trump’s sway also isn’t helped by the fact that his job-approval ratings are slumping below 40%.
Seib says the Republicans will need to find a creative way to build a Team Trump. The next issue on the agenda is tax reform, and nothing unites Republicans like tax cuts. There can be different priorities and agendas, but unlike the complexity of health care reform, there should be more room for cooperation and compromise. But even if the different wings of the party and branches of government can find agreement, it could prove an insufficient foundation for long-term unity.


 
What I'm reading
1. The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation by Rod Dreher (Again.)
2. Sir John's Echo: The Voice for a Stronger Canada by John Boyko
3. Basic Income: A Radical Proposal for a Free Society and a Sane Economy by Philippe Van Parijs


Friday, March 24, 2017
 
Trudeau's imperialism
Glen Argan has a terrific column in the Catholic Register on Justin Trudeau seeking to impose liberalism on the developing world:
Liberalism is not Stalinist communism, but it has its own authoritarian streak. The most recent evidence on this matter is Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s $650-million program to finance and promote abortion and related “reproductive health” concerns in the developing world. This, according to International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau, is in the interest of empowering and protecting women.
Unstated was how the Trudeau government would react if other foreign governments began sponsoring advocacy groups in Canada to change our laws in line with their own ideals. The age of imperialism supposedly came to an end with World War II, but no, not really.
Today, we have liberal imperialism, a religion which aims to impose its will on countries around the world in the interests of their own “improvement.” The heathens are not capable of discerning right from wrong — abortion being a putative right — and so enlightened Canada will have to show them the way.
If this is not cultural imperialism, it is hard to know what might be deserving of the name ...
What needs to be recognized is that liberalism, secularism or whatever you want to call it is a religion of its own, an aggressive religion that wants to impose itself on the rest of the world. It is not at all pluralistic; it is determined to wipe out all alternative views. Dialogue is not part of its modus operandi.


 
Cost of the Brexit divorce
CapX's Andrew Lilico says the £50 billion price tag that is bandied about for the United Kingdom leaving the European Union is surely exaggerated, and he suggests some considerations in regard to what the British government should pay for and for what it shouldn't. In short, the UK should "pay because we get something in return," either directly or indirectly. An example of the latter is paying for EU inspections in Europe that could be duplicated when they enter the UK if that is the cost of a trade deal. There are also obligations that the UK undertook whilst a member (pensions for workers, mortgages on buildings) that it should fulfill. That said, they own a portion of those buildings, too. The UK would also contribute to its obligations through 2020 (under the current 2014-2020 budget framework) even if the country leaves the year before. This all makes sense, as does Lilico's idea that the UK remain a member of the Single Market for an extra year sans a no-free-movement provision to allow a smooth transition within the obligations the UK has. I doubt that there will be the prerequisite "common sense and goodwill all around" that would make this possible.
These are all pragmatic contributions for the UK. I share Lilico's rejection of the idea that the UK be liable for new expenditures arising before they leave (and after the invocation of Article 50). Based on existing obligations and the benefits the UK receives, there will be a substantial cost to London for leaving but Theresa May's government must reject the high-end estimates that are surely little more than attempts by Brussels (and the remaining 27 capitals) to be punitive.


 
Robocall fact of the day
The Federal Communications Commission is considering regulations that would crack down on robocalls. The Washington Post reports that there are 2.4 billion automated calls each and every month in the United States. That sounds like a lot, but is it really? There are 125.82 million households in the US, or about 19 calls per month per household. It should be noted that not all automated calls are illegitimate or illegal so the new restrictions will not eliminate the problem, only curb it, even if they work, which should not be assumed.


 
The myth of the lone wolf terrorist
Lone wolf terrorists are still attracted to radical networks and while they often act alone (and sometimes without direction), they seek to connect to a larger group. The Henry Jackson Society has an illuminating report based on the profiles and analyses of 269 people convicted of Islamist terror offenses, or those killed while committing acts of terror, in the United Kingdom between 1998 and 2015. Fortunately, all but two were arrested before they struck with their lethal intentions. In the report's introduction, David Anderson says:
It comes as no surprise that most Islamist terrorists in the UK are British men aged 18-34. But the reader learns also that 16% of offenders were converts, 76% were known to the authorities prior to their terrorist offences and 26% had prior criminal convictions. Trends noted include rises in travel related offending and in intended beheadings and stabbings. And while individual offending and online radicalisation have both increased, this work reveals the extent to which offenders – even if convicted alone – tend still to be in real-world networks with partners, siblings or long-standing friends.
The six-page executive summary is full of statistics to paint a picture of who is committing what author Hannah Stuart calls "Islamism-related offenses." It is also broken down into sets of dates from 1998-2010 and 2011-2015 to illustrate that the stark increase in IROs after the death of Osama bin Laden and the beginning of the Syria and Iraq conflicts. Another noteworthy finding: "there is little correlation between involvement in terrorism and educational achievement and employment status where known."


 
Jordan Peterson AMA
Last night Jordan Peterson did an Ask Me Anything on Reddit. If you have watched a lot of his videos or interviews there wasn't a lot of new stuff there, and that's fine. Something new, at least to me, was his view on pornography. He said:
I think that pornography entices people away from life. So that's not good. It's a quick, easy, low quality solution to a complex problem. I can't see its use as something that increases integrity and promotes strength.
Then he was asked: "Should every aspect of one's life promote strength? Is there room for weak indulgences?" He replied:
I think there's room for indulgence, that I don't think that that's the same as saying that there's room for weak indulgence. Why do something if it makes you weak? Unless you wish to be weak...
Asked about whether he believes in God and whether he prays, Peterson answers:
My God is the spirit that is trying to elevate Being. My God is the spirit that makes everything come together. My God is the spirit that makes order out of chaos and then recasts order when it has become too limiting. My God is the spirit of truth incarnate. None of that is supernatural. It is instead what is most real.
It depends on what you mean by pray. I don't ask God for favors, if that's what you mean.


Thursday, March 23, 2017
 
NCAA tournament, 2nd weekend
The first round was almost universally crapped on by basketball pundits as boring because there weren't enough upsets. For just the second time in decades, the top four seeds in every region won their opening game to make it to the round of 32. You know what that set up? The best round of 32 in recent memory. There were a number of good four-five contests. As exciting as watching your 13-seed defeat a 4-seed is (or 12s over 5s, ect&), it sets up too many one-sided contests in the second round. Most upsets are the result of 1) unfavourable match-ups for the better seeded team due to personnel (size) or scheme or facing a dominant defense that can shut down good offenses, 2) improperly seeded teams that score superficial "upsets" based on seeding not quality (think Wichita State this year), and 3) a particularly good night for the lower-seeded team or off night for the favourites. It's good to remember that if the game was played 1000 times, the lower-seeded team would probably lose two-thirds of the time or more. If alternative universes are your bag, we saw upsets in that rare parallel universe in which the lower-seed team actually won. But then that lower-seeded -- and frankly inferior team -- plays another top seed and promptly loses a one-sided affair. There was less of that this year and we had excellent games in round two and will continue to have them throughout the tournament. That's a great thing for fans of quality basketball.
My predicted final of North Carolina beating Duke for the championship cannot happen. Fortunately, the Tar Heels are still in but (happily) the Blue Devils got beaten by the South Carolina Gamecocks. UNC almost lost to the Arkansas Razorbacks. Both SEC teams played scrappy, in-your-face defense and took advantage of turnovers against their superior ACC opponents but only one of them was fortunate enough to win. UNC played a great game in their 49-point opening win and flashed their dominance for brief stints against Arkansas, leading the pundits to point out the obvious: play their best and the Tar Heels can beat anyone but play their worst and they are beatable. Of course, that's true of every team. Gonzaga looked pedestrian in the first half of their opener. UNC was tied with the team they almost lapped for the first ten minutes in their opener. Teams are prone to hot and cold streaks within games. It is dangerous to make too many conclusions based on one or two games -- 40 or 80 minutes -- in a tournament setting. That said, this information can be added to what we know (not replace what we already knew) to make some predictions going forward.
My (updated) predictions:
Midwest:
Kansas (1) vs Purdue (4), Thursday, 9:40: Purdue was thought to be the best team coming out of the Big 10 and the only team from the conference on selection Sunday thought to be able to make it to the Elite Eight. The Boilermakers will have to get through what most people consider the best team in the tournament, the Jayhawks. This should be a great game featuring two finalists for the National Player of the Year: Jayhawk Frank Mason III and Boilermaker and double-double machine Caleb Swanigan. Outside of watching those two, the game-within-the-game to watch is Kansas' superior outside shooting facing Purdue's so-so three-point defense and Purdue's strong inside game against Kansas' middling defense on the inside. Here's the problem for the Jayhawks if they scheme to stop the inside game: Purdue is the nation's sixth best three-point shooting team with four players hitting 40% of their treys. That said, the Jayhawks are entirely capable of coasting to victory if Swanigan gets into foul trouble, Kansas freshman guard and likely high lottery pick Josh Jackson takes over the game, or Purdue's shooting goes a little cold. Kansas wins.
Oregon (3) vs Michigan (7), Thursday, 7:09: The Wolverines are the narrative favourite, going from near tragic plane accident to winning four straight to take the Big 10 tournament, to winning their first two NCAA tourney games. They are now ranked third overall in Ken Pomeroy's offensive efficiency rankings and they'll be tough to beat. Against #2 seed Louisville, their three-point shooting went cold and they still beat one of the best defenses in college hoops. Oregon is not as strong as they could be without six-ten forward Chris Boucher who is missing the tournament with an ACL injury. With Boucher, Oregon could beat anyone in the country but their chances are severely diminished without their second best player. It is one thing to beat lower seeds on opening weekend, but now dipping further into the bench will get exposed. Should be a close game, but I see Michigan scoring the upset.
West
Gonzaga (1) vs West Virginia (4), Thursday, 7:39: Zaga is rated 12th overall in KenPom's offensive efficiency and 1st overall in defensive efficiency. They are almost criminally underestimated by fans, although not by analysts. The school has made it to 19 consecutive NCAA tournaments and made the Elite Eight several times, but have never been in the Final Four. Mark Few has his best squad he's coached at the school. And with Villanova and Duke out in the East, their path to the finals, let alone the Final Four, is as clear as it has ever been. But they have a tough path back to the Elite Eight. Press Virginia as they are called by basketball writers play a suffocating defense and their superiority on the offensive glass gives them second chances to make up for an improved but still inferior (at this level) shooting percentage. Gonzaga has not put together a solid game yet in the tournament; West Virginia is capable of laying an egg on the court. It should not surprise anyone if either team has fans scratching their heads wondering why it is still in the tournament, but more likely they should play a close, tight game, with each team dominating for brief periods. Zaga should be able to do that at the end of the contest and move onto the Elite Eight.
Arizona (2) vs Xavier (11), Thursday, 10:09: Xavier has too much history in the tournament to be considered a Cinderella but they are the lowest seed left at #11. A poor second half of the season had them on the bubble, a case of adapting to the injury of guard Edmond Sumner. The Musketeers have beat both their tournament opponents by double digits on the strength of guard Trevon Bluiett's play. It seems their run should end, facing a versatile Arizona Wildcats team that can beat opponents in any element of the game. Zona is not super great at any aspect of the game, but they don't really have weaknesses. They also have seven-foot power forward Lauri Markkanen. He score 15.8 ppg and hits more than 43% of his three-pointers. Meanwhile guard Allonzo Trier average 17.1 ppg. It is hard to stop both of them. I don't see Xavier doing it.
South
North Carolina (1) vs Butler (4), Friday, 7:09: The Tar Heels are the better team but Butler defeated #1 overall Villanova twice in the Big East this year and defeated another top seed (Arizona) early in the season. Carolina is a veteran team with phenomenal depth that survived Arkansas despite two of their top players barely being a factor in the contest. They dominate the boards, especially on offense, which helps when their shooting is off. Against the Razorbacks, the Tar Heels made an unusual number of turnovers and that almost cost them. They shouldn't be that sloppy in back-to-back games. Butler is capable of winning, but I think UNC wins comfortably.
Kentucky (2) vs UCLA (3), Friday, 9:39: This is the only 2-3 contest and it features two teams that many pundits said on selection Sunday could win the tournament. UCLA is a scoring machine (2nd according to KenPom) and they beat Kentucky 97-92 at Rupp Arena in December. Perhaps no game features as much top-level talent (Lonzo Ball and TJ Leaf for the Bruins, Malik Monk, Bam Adebayo, and De'Aron Fox for the Wildcats). UCLA is probably the most entertaining team to watch because of their high octane offense and giant personalities. The Bruins don't do defense, so Kentucky is facing a different challenge than the defensive-minded Wichita State opponents they struggled to beat last weekend. Kentucky can hold their own and in a tournament that hasn't had its buzzer beater moments, this game might be expected to come down to the last possession. These are not the same teams that faced each other in December, with Kentucky becoming a solid defensive team and the Bruins improving, too. The Wildcats are adept at taking away the three. Kentucky gets their revenge and makes it to the Elite Eight to face North Carolina, a team they beat 103-100 in December.
East
Baylor (3) vs South Carolina (7), Friday, 7:29: As exciting as the Gamecocks victory over #2 Duke, effectively at home, was, they have a tough road ahead. South Carolina isn't a strong offense (122nd according to KenPom) but they won on the strength of 65 second-half points against Duke. That isn't sustainable so they'll have to beat Baylor with their fourth-ranked defense. Baylor is a solid team, with superior offensive rebounding and a strong defense (14th according to KenPom). They've held some of the top scoring teams to low scores this season (Arizona to 49, Michigan to 58). Baylor has a big size advantage, which means a lot more rebounds and a trip to the Elite Eight.
Florida (4) vs Wisconsin (8), Friday, 9:59: A defensive battle featuring (according to KenPom) the 3rd (Gators) and 7th (Badgers) best defensive units. Florida demolished Virginia 65-39 in round 2 while Wisconsin beat the #1 overall seed Villanova. The Gators had some help as the Cavaliers were stone cold on offense (as they are prone). The Badgers have the better talent (Ethan Happ and seniors Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig) that seems more Final Fourish than a Florida team missing center John Egbunu. That said, KenPom has Florida as the third best team in the nation. In a low-scoring game, either team has a real chance and while Florida has been playing as well as anyone in the tournament, I like the Badgers to make the Final Four from the region.
My new final four: Kansas (same), North Carolina (same), Arizona (same) and Wisconsin (replacing Duke). North Carolina beats Arizona for the championship.


 
What Hayek knew
F.A. Hayek died 25 years ago today. There are essays remembering his legacy by Matt Ridley at CapX, David Boaz at the Cato Institute, Eamonn Butler at the Adam Smith Institute, and Donald Boudreaux at Cafe Hayek. The unifying theme of their essays or remarks is praise for Hayek's insight that freedom is critical to spontaneous order because collective action through uncoordinated efforts (markets) is superior to collective action through coordinate efforts (central planning) as the planner has insufficient knowledge to take into account everyone's wants and needs. John Cassidy describes this understanding in his 2000 New Yorker column (via the Hoover Institute):
Centralized systems may look attractive on paper, he argued, but they suffered from a basic and incurable ailment: the "division of knowledge" problem. In order to know where resources should be directed, the central planner needs to know both what goods people want to buy and how they can most cheaply be produced. But this knowledge is held in the minds of individual consumers and businesspeople, not in the filing cabinets (or, later, computers) of a government planning agency, and the only practical way for customers and firms to relay this knowledge to each other, Hayek argued, is through a system of market-determined prices.
"We must look at the price system as such a mechanism for communicating information if we want to understand its real function," he wrote in a 1945 paper, "The Use of Knowledge in Society." In a market system, people simply go out and buy the things they like, leaving unwanted goods on the shelves. If they want more of something—say, heating oil—it becomes scarce and its price rises, thereby prompting oil companies to increase production and consumers to economize. If people decide to use less oil, say, because natural gas has become cheaper, the price of oil will fall, and its production will be scaled back—all this taking place without any orders being issued by a government agency. "I am convinced that if it were the result of deliberate human design, and if the people guided by the price changes understood that their decisions have significance far beyond their immediate aim, this mechanism would have been acclaimed as one of the greatest triumphs of the human mind," Hayek wrote.
This view of capitalism as a spontaneous information-processing machine—a "telecommunications system" was how Hayek referred to it—was one of the great insights of the century. It may have been implicit in the work of some previous economists, notably Adam Smith, but Hayek was the first to spell it out.


 
Thinking about UBI
I don't think Oren Cass makes the case against Universal Basic Income in this short essay for City Journal. He begins by raising an important and largely ignored question: "what would it mean to remove the expectation that one provide for oneself and one's family?" Important, indeed. Ignored, in part because it is unanswerable. I'm not sure Cass proves his cases that UBI would turn everyone in society into trust-fund kids.
But a sentence in the Cass essay got me thinking. He describes UBI as "an unconditional, irrevocable right to receive the cash for meeting basic needs." UBI could begin as unconditional and irrevocable, but short of a constitutional requirement for this form of social policy, there is no guarantee it is either. It is easy to imagine that eventually conditions could be imposed. Perhaps UBI becomes contingent on completing high school or, more ambitiously, university. Benefits could become dependent on some form of national service, either serving in the military or mandatory volunteer time. William Buckley favoured tying government benefits from student loans to welfare to voting rights to a form of national service. But the UBI, which begins with the intention to help individuals have more choice (in jobs, work-family balance), could become a vehicle by which to punish people by cutting the UBI for individuals that commit crimes or sin against social norms (failing to vote, holding the wrong views). I'm most worried about using UBI as a weapon in the war against crime; it isn't difficult to see the public uproar over paying someone convicted of a crime but who served their time as gist for politicians to score easy points (looking tough on crime and protecting the public purse).
This is not to say that UBI is unwise social policy. It might very well be. But UBI could be used to nudge -- or more than nudge -- citizens to certain behaviours and outcomes because, hey, if the state is paying a significant benefit, the state gets input on how you live your life. And it isn't hard to see how universal wouldn't be universal for long. These are aspects of UBI to think about.


 
Budget 2017: red ink as far as the eye can see
Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau presented his budget today. The Finance Department website has the budget, budget in brief, press release, and text of Morneau's speech. The Canadian Press has highlights (via the Toronto Star) and Deloitte has a good summary of the budget's implications for business. Bottom line: there's an increase in projected spending to $330.2 billion while revenues will be just $304.7 billion, for a deficit of $28.5 billion. That means the Liberal government is running another deficit much larger than the tiny deficits of no more than the $10 billion they promised on the campaign trail in August 2015. Morneau projects nearly $120 billion in new debt over the next five years. As the Toronto Sun's Anthony Furey says the budget "offers no plan of escape from years of red ink."
Balanced budgets are out, but gender balance is in vogue. The CBC has a story on the gender-sensitive budget noting it focuses on getting women into the workforce. On the gender-based budget approach, the Globe and Mail's Erin Anderssen says: "Canada’s first gender-based budget is like a friend who oozes sympathy over coffee but can’t find cash when the check comes: It falls short, but means well." Kate McInturff of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives disagrees, noting in an Ottawa Citizen column the government is responding to differences in male-female outcomes with policy and an indication it will undertake more analysis of what might have once been considered disparate impacts.
There is media coverage from the Canadian Press (via the Toronto Sun), CBC, Globe and Mail, and CTV. In a thorough report, Bloomberg summarizes the budget: "Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hit the brakes on new spending and major tax changes in a wait-and-see budget that marked a major shift for his activist administration, which last year unveiled an ambitious deficit-spending plan to stoke growth." The Vancouver Sun looks at how the budget affects British Columbia by funding transit and infrastructure. The Calgary Herald looks at how the budget affects Alberta, including the elimination of (new) drilling deductions and $30 million to clean-up closed and unowned wells; the paper reports, "the Petroleum Services Association of Canada had originally sought $500 million in loans from Ottawa for the project," with PSAC head Mark Salkeld complaining the oil industry only got about a tenth of what Quebec-based Bombardier got in the form of a loan previously from this government. Of course, the Quebec government doesn't think it got enough money from Ottawa. The Halifax Chronicle Herald looked at seven ways the budget affects Nova Scotia, focusing on employment insurance (including skills training). According to the Toronto Star, the winners are cities, parents, caregivers, and veterans, while losers include Uber users, transit users, the military, and tax cheats. The Globe and Mail editorial is excellent: "Move along, nothing to see here – but just wait until next year."
Maclean's has comprehensive coverage including stories on "21 ways the federal budget will hit Canadians’ wallets" and "Eight Liberal budget promises that recycle old spending." It also has a good column by Mark Milke on how the budget brings back 1970s industrial policy as the Liberal government tries to micromanage the economy.
For the most part there is nothing new in the immediate future. Most of the new announcements (social housing, daycare) are over the long-term and don't kick in until later. There is only about $4.4 billion in new net spending over the next five years. For example, spending for daycare spots doesn't begin until 2019 and most of the $11.2 billion slated for housing isn't scheduled to be spent until after 2022. As the National Post's Andrew Coyne says there was no new money or no new ideas but plenty of "empty buzzwords": "I have read a good many tedious, empty budgets in my time. I cannot recall ever reading one quite as mind-bendingly empty as this one." Many of those buzzwords are about innovation. The budget is aspirational talking about the idea but there is no clear plan to foster innovation (if government even can do it).
The banks have their analysis: TD Economics (cautious, business as usual), BMO Capital Markets (delivers on low expectations, no plan to balance budget), RBC Economics (stay the course), CIBC Economics (an unexciting budget that finally puts the details on last year's plans), and Scotia Bank ("no market impact anticipated" because there were no surprises).
Right reaction (and business). The Canadian Federation of Independent Business welcomed spending on skills development, initiatives to support entrepreneurs, and measures to ease the hiring of foreign workers, but is worried about increases in employer and employee contributions to Employment Insurance. The CFIB is "relieved to learn there are no measures to raise taxes on capital gains or small business income in 2017," but is still "concerned that several key tax measures for independent businesses are under active review." The Chamber of Commerce applauded some of the "measures in the budget on skills and innovation" but is deeply concerned that Canada's competitiveness will take a hit as Ottawa stubbornly refuses to roll back regulations or cut taxes. Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters welcomes the plan to spend innovation but says the budget is short on details of how that will be delivered. The Canadian Taxpayer Federation said deficits continue to grow, innovation is largely corporate welfare, and boutique taxes are back. The Fraser Institute says it is a status quo budget that doesn't have a plan to bring down deficits or tackle the debt and does nothing to address uncertainty about the possibility of tax increases. Cardus has concerns about money for childcare; Cardus executive vice president Ray Pennings also has a video questioning whether government is the instrument to "renew social architecture" saying that central planning cannot replace bottom-up flourishing, and that the budget fails on that count. The Conservative Party talking point is that the Liberals are nickel-and-diming Canadians.
Left reaction (and labour). The Canadian Federation of Municipalities called the budget "a game-changer for municipalities" because it puts money into transit, housing, and infrastructure. Other than the CFM, the reaction was generally more critical. The Broadbent Institute's Rick Smith called it "Crumbs for Canadians" claiming there was nothing to address inequality. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives complained the budget didn't tackle inequality. The Canadian Labour Congress welcomed money for skills training and child care but is worried about public-private partnerships for infrastructure. Predictably the Public Service Alliance of Canada did not think there was enough money for to help federal workers deliver "quality" services to Canadians. The Canadian Federation of Students said the government has no vision for higher education. The Canadian Council for International Co-operation is not happy that there is no commitment to increase foreign aid. Despite $7 billion over a decade being committed to daycare beginning in 2019, even the Child Care Advocacy Association of Canada was "disappointed the budget is not more ambitious in its spending especially at the start of the ten year period" claiming there are insufficient funds to "build accessible, affordable, quality child care."
Me: while Finance Minister Bill Morneau talked about the debt-to-GDP ratio as a fiscal anchor in his post-speech interviews, the budget documents dropped that language and the ratio is projected to mostly flatline in the forseeable future. It is disconcerting that the Liberal government is ditching this (last) fiscal anchor after brazenly breaking its campaign promise not to run deficits over $10 billion and to only do so for a few years. Now its massive deficits for decades. I'm pleased that the government didn't raise capital gains taxes, but it is clearly leaving the door open to doing so and raising other taxes if it needs to. At a time when the United States is considering lowering top income and corporate tax rates, Canada should have boosted the competitiveness of this country's economy by lowering these tax rates, too, or at the very least ruling out tax increases on high income earners, small business, and capital gains. I don't buy the narrative that this budget is a reaction to the uncertainty caused by the Trump administration (and what will happen with trade and tax rates there); that seems like a convenient excuse to stay the course rather than introduce major spending initiatives or radical tax changes. The Trudeau government is more handcuffed in their budget choices by their large deficits than the Trump effect.


Wednesday, March 22, 2017
 
Best reason ever for taking a bribe: to keep his kids out of public schools
That, at least, is the way I'm reading what Pennsylvania prosetutor Seth Williams said. Time reports:
Federal authorities have charged Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams with accepting more than $100,000 in gifts, travel and cash, often in exchange for official favors, according to a bribery and extortion indictment that was made public on Tuesday.
Williams faces charges on 23 counts, including bribery, extortion and wire fraud, following a nearly two-year investigation into his financial matters. The top attorney, who was reelected into his second term in 2013, received an annual salary of about $170,000, according to court documents. Williams has said he encountered financial issues following a divorce and while paying for private school for his daughters, the Associated Press reported.


 
Betting market specialized expertise, Trump edition
The New York Times reports:
Paddy Power, the Irish gambling website known for its over-the-top marketing stunts, says wagers associated with Mr. Trump have been more popular than any other novelty bets it has offered in the last year, including bets associated with Britain’s referendum on whether to leave the European Union.
Now, Paddy Power is hiring a “head of Trump betting” to oversee bets related to the American president and his administration.
The company, which is part of Paddy Power Betfair, a bookmaking business based in Dublin, is advertising the three-month contracted position amid sustained interest in Trump-related bets.
(HT: Marginal Revolution)


 
GOP priorities and why Donald Trump is a better politician than the average Republican lawmaker
Henry Olsen looks at the debate around the American Health Care Act (the GOP plan to replace Obamacare) and finds that Republican talking points prioritize cost savings and tax cuts over how it affects the health care coverage of the average American. This reinforces the traditional (70 year) view that Democrats care about regular folks while Republicans only care about their rich friends. That is a caricature that rings true to many people and even if it isn't true the Republicans have to deal with this perception. Donald Trump won a surprising victory in part because he changed the perception, Olsen argues, and now the Republican leadership, especially Speaker Paul Ryan, risks reverting voters to their former view of the party. Olsen explains:
Democrats often like to charge that Republicans cut programs that benefit the average person to finance tax cuts for the rich: the AHCA lets them do that with impunity.
Republican politicians need to understand that most non-Republicans do not value the freedom a wealthy person gains from lower taxes more than the spending that directly makes their lives more comfortable and more secure. There’s plenty of government spending that doesn’t fit into that category, and President Trump’s budget placed a lot of that on the chopping block.
But for most voters, money isn’t fungible and saving it certainly isn’t one of the Ten Commandments. A dollar spent on foreign aid programs is much less valuable to them than a dollar that helps them afford the good they most desire, a healthy life.
Donald Trump instinctively gets that. Conservatives mocked him in the primary for spending most of his life as a Democrat or an independent, but I think his core supporters found that a plus. When he says that companies shouldn’t make a buck by shipping American jobs overseas, his voters hear someone who values their lives over his friends’ money. He shouldn’t forget that this belief, the perception that he cares about people like them, was his greatest asset in his race for the presidency. The president should spend the dividends from that investment on this early test and make sure that the Obamacare replacement bill that finally passes values a person’s life more than it values a billionaire’s dollar.
Olsen is not some New York Times columnist throwing class warfare rhetoric around to attack Republicans. He is a conservative at the Ethics & Public Policy Center and writes regularly for National Review. The Republican Party and conservative movement should head his warnings.
Now, Trump may not be that great of a politician. Vox's Andrew Prokop argues, the President himself is unable to make a case for AHCA, either getting into the political weeds or bashing Obamacare. This is probably because AHCA is so flawed, there is no case for it.


 
Democrats vs. Gorsuch
The Daily Wire has the "4 Worst Moments For Democrats From Their Judicial Hearings on Gorsuch," and somehow it doesn't even include Senator Diane Feinstein's laughable claim that Roe v. Wade was a superprecedent. Elliott Hamilton notes that "Democrats did not shut up about Merrick Garland" and "Sen. Dianne Feinstein beat the straw man on 'originalism'," among others. Of course, there's the endless hypocrisy, with Hamilton noting:
Returning to the same tired Democratic talking points about "big corporations" and the "gun lobby," Sen. Whitehouse revisited the same scorn that his party holds to the individual's right to keep and bear arms. The ridiculous claim that Gorsuch cares more about corporations than the individual was also shared by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who announced she opposes Gorsuch for those reasons.
Of course, Democrats did not complain when a Supreme Court majority, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kennedy voted in favor of Kelo v. City of New London, which held that a city taking private land from individuals to assist a corporation was legal under the Fifth Amendment. Originalists view that ruling as an abomination. Look no further than Justice Thomas' epic dissent.
Among other worst moments was Feinstein claiming she once sentenced a woman to prison for having an abortion even though the California senator has never been a judge (or lawyer).


Tuesday, March 21, 2017
 
'Supreme Court needs judges like Gorsuch because America has leaders like Schumer'
The Washington Examiner has a phenomenal editorial on Senator Chuck Schumer's attempts to derail Judge Neil Gorsuch's Supreme Court appointment by scoring emotion-laden but irrelevant political points. And this is nothing new as Schumer tried to block several Presidnet George W. Bush appointments using a thinly veiled religious-test ("deeply held personal beliefs"). But the issue is larger than Schumer's attacks on qualified judges. It goes to the role of the courts and the rule of law:
But aside from his personal behavior, Schumer's attempt last week to impose the tyranny of anecdote on the judiciary evinces a hopelessly distorted and corrosive idea of what law is.
It's true that laws often protect "little guys" from "big guys," and there are several noteworthy cases where Gorsuch has taken on the role of upholding little guys' rights. But, he also recognizes that we are all supposed to be equal before the law, so the law should not always side with the little guy. It is there to protect everyone, not just Schumer's favored classes. Gorsuch hasn't ruled for the smallest guy in the room in every case, because the law is not about "big" versus "little." It is about legal versus illegal. Especially at the Supreme Court level, decisions are often about the simple but momentous question of whether laws are compatible with the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.


 
Who killed the Alberta Tories?
Gillian Steward writes in the Toronto Star following Jason Kenney's victory this past weekend in the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta leadership race:
Believe it or not, the new leader of the Alberta Progressive Conservatives won on a promise to kill the party. The party of Peter Lougheed and Ralph Klein, the party that held the reins of government for 44 years is now on life support, waiting for its leader and majority of members to pull the plug.
Er, okay. This is the conventional wisdom. Steward isn't the only such hand-wringing column -- the Edmonton Journal's Emma Graney made the same point yesterday about it being the end of the party -- but it is conveniently typical. A few points to rebut it (the column and the CW).
1. If the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta is dead, Jim Prentice killed it. The PCs are now the walking dead. It's a zombie, with almost no chance of winning power until Kenney became leader. It was behind Wildrose in the polls and was raising almost no money (in 2017, the PCs raised only a third of Wildrose's total and one-quarter of the NDP's). The PCs of Alberta were unable to raise money. Think about that.
2. This isn't the party of Lougheed and Klein. If it was, the PCAA wouldn't be in the Alberta legislature with the third most seats. No, the party might not be dead, but it became irrelevant. If Kenney hadn't won, the PCs would struggle for relevancy with a remnant in some parts of Calgary and Edmonton but incapable of winning enough seats to form government. A party on the life support of nostalgia -- with articles invoking memories of Lougheed and Klein -- is now revitalized.
3. There is a maxim in business that says there is no such thing as a merger, just various degrees of takeover. Kenney has established himself as the dominant leader as he goes into negotiations with the dominant party. He strengthened the PCs and now the PCAA is about to takeover Wildrose, not get taken over (if not formally taken over, in effect doing so as Wildrose could pick off voters like Reform/CA did with the federal Tories).
4. Speaking of which ... If the PCAA closes shop and unites with Wildrose -- a marriage that will mostly be a reunification than a completely new entity -- it doesn't kill the PCs off anymore than Stephen Harper's (re)unification of the federal PCs/Canadian Alliance killed off the old Tories. It is more of a resurrection than a death. The name doesn't really matter, especially if the word conservative appears in it somewhere.
5. Once the parties are united, the new entity will be referred to as the Tories, betraying all the stories about the death of the Alberta PC dynasty.
So who killed the Progressive Conservatives of Alberta. There are several answers. No one, they're not dead. The Tories themselves, committing suicide in 2014 and 2015. But mostly the media, with a narrative that seems credible but isn't true.


 
The costs of borrowing
Most people think that the only cost borne when the government borrows money is the interest paid on the debt incurred. The Liberal Party ran on a platform that argued because of historically low interest rates, now is the perfect time to "invest" in infrastructure. Not so far. Marcel Boyer, a C.D. Howe Institute Research Fellow, writes in an Institute memo to finance ministers, including Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau, that the total costs of borrowing should be taken into account. Boyer explains:
Governments can borrow at a low financing cost because of their power to raise additional taxes if projects fail. Public borrowing may appear risk-free to lenders, as government borrowing is not done on a specific project basis, but it is clearly not risk-free for taxpayers who cannot avoid supporting project risks. The risks of an investment project do not disappear because the project is financed by government borrowing; risks are simply transferred from lenders to taxpayers.
The implicit insurance granted by taxpayers to their government to require additional funds to meet commitments to lenders is a social cost of the project. By not taking such costs into account, current evaluations of public infrastructure projects are exposing taxpayers to unaccounted-for risks and bad investment decisions and allocations, thereby harming taxpayers.
Looking only at the borrowing cost of government when evaluating an infrastructure project underestimates the real cost of capital. The government cost of capital should include a premium for the investment risks borne by taxpaying citizens. When risks are properly taken into account, there is no significant difference between the capital cost of the public and private sectors.
Boyer says that some projects would not pass a cost-benefit analysis if these other risks were taken into account, which is why they will continue to be ignored by politicians.


 
'You can't do anything these days without getting the progressives all bent out of shape'
PJ Media's Tom Knighton notes that there are people upset that in the upcoming movie about her, Wonder Woman has shaved armpits and the snowflakes freak out.


Monday, March 20, 2017
 
Let me finish that headline
CTV: "Morneau opts for dress shoes from Canadian sisters in pre-budget tradition ... that no one outside the K1A gives a fuck about."


 
Former MLA bolts from Kenney-led Alberta Tories
Loser PC MLA Thomas Lukaszuk wants nothing to do with the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta because he doesn't like conservatism the direction new leader Jason Kenney will take the party: toward respect for social conservatives, united with the Wildrose, and to government. According to 770 AM, Lukaszuk said he didn't like Kenney winning with federal Conservative and provincial Wildrose supporters buying memberships to support a leadership candidate Lukaszuk obviously considers a political tresspasser. Lukaszuk, a former deputy premier, says only provincial Tories should select the leader. Funny, I don't recall Lukaszuk complaining when Liberal and NDP supporters in teachers unions bought membership to support Alison Redford's leadership. 770 AM also reports, "Lukaszuk has given the remaining political donations he received from supporters to charity, rather than Jason Kenny." That's not right; presumably people gave money to Lukaszuk for political purposes not whatever charities the erstwhile politician feels like supporting. These donations are not for him to use however he wants. Lukaszuk should return the money to the donors or hand them over to the party. While some of Lukaszuk's supporters may agree with him, it is not a safe assumption that all of them share his disdain for Kenney or believe the PCAA should be denied their financial support even if they do have problems with Kenney's leadership.


 
What I'm reading
1. The Perils of "Privilege": Why Injustice Can't Be Solved by Accusing Others of Advantage by Phoebe Maltz Bovy. Contrary to protests of some on the Right, privilege is a real thing. Bovy, a progressive, recognizes that privilege exists but does little to advance arguments to bring about change.
2. Turn of the Tortoise: The Challenge and Promise of India's Future by T N Ninan
3. The Unmade Bed: The Messy Truth about Men and Women in the 21st Century by Stephen Marche. I don't see myself reading much of this book. His writing is pretentious, his arguments are dumb, and his life isn't that interesting.


 
The UN is a useless talk shop and poser (Haiti edition)
The New York Times reports:
When the leader of the United Nations apologized to Haitians for the cholera epidemic that has ravaged their country for more than six years — caused by infected peacekeepers sent to protect them — he proclaimed a “moral responsibility” to make things right.
The apology, announced in December along with a $400 million strategy to combat the epidemic and “provide material assistance and support” for victims, amounted to a rare public act of contrition by the United Nations. Under its secretary general at the time, Ban Ki-moon, the organization had resisted any acceptance of blame for the epidemic, one of the worst cholera outbreaks in modern times.
Since then, however, the United Nations’ strategy to fight the epidemic, which it calls the “New Approach,” has failed to gain traction. A trust fund created to help finance the strategy has only about $2 million, according to the latest data on its website. Just six of the 193 member states — Britain, Chile, France, India, Liechtenstein and South Korea — have donated.
Other countries have provided additional sources of anti-cholera funding for Haiti outside the trust fund, most notably Canada, at about $4.6 million, and Japan, at $2.6 million, according to the United Nations. Nonetheless, the totals received are a fraction of what Mr. Ban envisioned.
This is hardly surprising to anyone who has paid any attention to the way Turtle Bay operates. UN functionaries make grand announcements. Sometimes world leaders are on hand to get their pictures taken. The organization gets some blowjobby coverage positive headlines. And then nothing happens. This Times story is unusual in that it follows up the unfulfilled promise. Good for those at 620 Eighth Avenue who made this a story, especially reporter Rick Gladstone. Shame, as usual, on the United Nations.


 
The hypocrisy/cluelessness of Bernie Sanders
PJ Media's Rick Moran: "Senator Who Owns 3 Houses Rails Against Americans Who 'Worship Wealth'." That would be Vermont's Socialist senator, Bernie Sanders, who recently bought a third home, a vacation getaway, for $600,000. Sanders went to Twitter to preach: "We are living in a nation which worships wealth rather than caring for the poor. I don't think that is the nation we should be living in." Moran says:
A man who owns three houses -- including the recent purchase of a vacation home for $600K -- and pays a smaller percentage of his income in taxes than most middle class Americans, should not be taking a dump on America in a glass house.
There are two possibilities for Sanders' obvious cluelessness; 1) he knew full well the kind of reaction he would get and was looking for attention; or 2) he really is oblivious to how incredibly hypocritical his words are.
I would think the latter explanation is closer to the truth. Liberals like Sanders -- like most rich liberals in Hollywood and elsewhere -- believe they deserve their wealth by dint of some special talent or brilliance they possess. They feel themselves above the mundane, petty concerns that most Americans have about great wealth. That their hearts are so noble, their intent so pure, and their lives so devoted to the less fortunate -- all this makes these liberals better than the rest of us.


Sunday, March 19, 2017
 
Special rights for some crime victims
The Sunday Times reports that UK Justice Secretary Elizabeth Truss has announced reforms which will ensure alleged rape victims no longer face cross-examination live in court. Truss told the paper, “There is more we can do to help alleged victims in these cases give the best possible evidence they can give in an environment that is much more suitable than open court.” The government reports that the changes were experimented in cases of child sex abuse and it found that there was increase in the number of plea bargains defendants took, thus sparing alleged victims the ordeal of testifying in court. Truss adds:
"What this has led to is a much higher level of early guilty pleas. That has a huge amount of benefit. It resolves the case much earlier for the victim. It reduces the level of trauma for the victim. I want to see that being the standard offer in those cases and that will give more victims the confidence to come forward."
Why this benefit for some victims of crime and not others? Could this violate the rights of the accused, including their right to face their accuser? I get that voters don't care about alleged criminals and do care about the costs of the legal system, but we in the west have an admirable history of providing rights to defendants to ensure they are not railroaded by the legal system. This would seem to tip the systemic balance against them. It is disconcerting that Truss wants to raise conviction rates rather than allow courts to do their job of determining whether or not crimes were committed.
We should also be concerned about creating a hierarchy of victims, with some gaining special rights. This is not to demean the ordeal that these (usually) women go through, but the legal system must protect the rights of the vulnerable; with all the resources of the state, the vulnerable individual includes the accused.
A better system would include better funding and training for victims services, and this agency should provide independent preparation for victims who appear in court. The problem is that it will be too easy for this mechanism to become an adjunct of the police or prosecution that serves the interests of "the system" rather than being separate agency to serve the interests of alleged victims of crime. This service should be available to all victims of violent crime, with specialized services for those who are grieving lost loved ones as well as services for those dealing with the traumatic experience of sexual assault.


 
Hostile takeover?
Dave Cournoyer writes about Jason Kenney winning the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta leadership, calling it a "hostile takeover" by the former federal immigration minister and his social conservative allies. Never mind that Kenney's coalition is much larger than socons. Kenney convinced existing grassroots Tory supporters and new members to get behind his attempt to unite the PC and Wildrose parties. It's not hostile if a majority of the Tories agree to his vision for the future of the party. On the first ballot, nonetheless, after none of the big names in the party would even take on Kenney. (Are there still big names in the PCAA?) Furthermore, Cournoyer says, "Despite all the big talk by party stalwarts about the strength of the progressive-wing of the party, the political moderates just did not show up to vote in this race." So it's not a hostile takeover, it's a surrender by the old guard.


 
Graham Gladwell, RIP
Former University of Waterloo engineering professor Graham Gladwell passed away last week. He is the father of author Malcolm Gladwell. His obituary noted this: "He would have been amused by the fact that the date of his death was a rare sequence of three prime numbers: the 11th day of the 3rd month of the 2017th year." #NerdObits. (By the way, it is worth reading the obituary; it sounds like he was a delightful fellow.)


 
Nursing grievances can hold back progress
I recommend the Wall Street Journal's weekend interview with Thomas Sowell. It focuses on education, but also talks about growing up in North Carolina and Harlem, Donald Trump, and his heroes (Joe Louis and Joe DiMaggio). This is worth highlighting:
Has there been any change for the better? “Oh, yes, yes, yes,” he says. “In fact, for blacks who have education and who have not succumbed to a new lifestyle—the grievances, and the coarseness represented by rap music—it’s gotten tremendously better. What’s disheartening, though, is that when you study ethnic groups around the world, the ones that are lagging behind are those where their leaders always tell the same story: that it’s other people holding you back, and that therefore you need to stand against those other people and resist their culture. But that culture may be the key to success.”


 
Papers on Osborne becoming editor of the London Evening Standard
Former Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne was named editor of London Evening Standard this week. He was canned from cabinet by Theresa May when she replaced David Cameron has Prime Minister but Osborne remains an MP. That isn't necessarily all that wrong. Many MPs serve as regular columnists in the papers and in the past MPs (including Boris Johnson) served as editor of The Spectator. However, this is different. The Speccie is an opinion magazine and columnists are responsible for nothing more than presenting their own views. Osborne is editing a newspaper and could influence their reporting and viewpoints. Osborne is a particularly nasty piece of work who holds other powerful, well-paying jobs and holds grudges against members of the current government. The reaction against the naming of Osborne as editor has been roundly condemned in the other papers (other than Matthew Parris at The Times who admires and respects the former chancellor, shares many of his views, and wants them amplified).
The Daily Telegraph editorializes:
George Osborne has been accused by allies of Theresa May of plotting to undermine her plans for a clean Brexit by establishing a “new power base” as Editor of the London Evening Standard. In a direct warning to Mrs May he said that the newspaper would be “fearless” confronting the Government if it fails to represent the interests of Londoners. “If it isn’t, we’ll be quick to say so,” he said. His appointment prompted fury in Downing Street and accusations from Mrs May’s allies that the former Chancellor would use his position to undermine the Prime Minister.
The (London) Times editorializes:
George Osborne knowingly flouted anti-sleaze rules by accepting a job as Evening Standard editor without waiting for approval from the official watchdog. The former chancellor stunned Westminster and Fleet Street yesterday by taking the editor’s chair at London’s evening paper and insisting that he would stay on as MP for Tatton. Last week it was revealed that he was earning £650,000 for working one day a week at the US fund management firm Blackrock, a company that features regularly in the Standard’s business pages. It is thought that he will earn about £220,000 as editor, which would involve an “average of four days a week”.
The Guardian's Aditya Chakrabortty:
[H[is appointment is bad for the press, for politicians and for democracy.
The fundamental job of any free press is to hold power to account. This recruitment blows that idea out of the water. How will the London Evening Standard scrutinise a government when it’s run by a man who less than a year ago was its de facto number two – and who remains an MP for the ruling party? In the financial capital of the world, how much credibility will the Standard’s City pages command when their ultimate editor is in the pay of a giant fund manager? And how is journalism ever going to become an industry that represents its audience if one of its plum jobs can be lobbed by the son of a Russian oligarch into the lap of a public schoolboy who has never subbed, reported or edited?


Saturday, March 18, 2017
 
End supply management
A few years ago Rob Silver, a Liberal and husband to now Justin Trudeau chief of Staff Katie Telford, said on Power & Politics that supply management was evil. He used the world evil to describe a government-enforced supply system that benefits farmers at the cost of consumers, including, as he said, single moms who have to pay a higher price for milk for their children.
Last August Vincent Geloso and Alexandre Moreau of the Montreal Economic Institute write in the Financial Post about supply management and its effect on consumers living at the edge of the poverty line. Their research estimates that the average household spends $438 more on milk and chicken because of import limits and thus, "we find that somewhere between 133,000 and 189,000 Canadians are pushed into poverty because of the cost of supply management. This represents from 67,000 to 79,000 households." This isn't right; as Liberal strategist Silver once said, this is evil. As Geloso and Moreau say, "Anyone preoccupied with the plight of the poor should reflect on the burden imposed upon them by supply management." This issue is one reason why Maxime Bernier is one of only four leadership contenders in the Conservative leadership race I will consider ranking on my ballot and why Lisa Raitt, Steve Blaney, and Erin O'Toole are disqualified from consideration (they are supply management's loudest defenders).
It should be noted that Bernier was vice president of the MEI before becoming a Member of Parliament.


 
Housing prices and rental units
The Globe and Mail has a thoughtful editorial on the housing bubble in the Greater Toronto Area and Vancouver. The Globe identifies a number of factors for sky-high housing prices including low interest rates, population growth, and the buyer (can't wait lest they get shut out of the market) and sellers (wait longer and get more for their house) psychology that is distorting both supply and demand. The paper is right to warn that policy changes should be local because attempts to cool the market in Toronto, Hamilton and Vancouver could have deleterious effects in Halifax and Saskatoon.
I'm disappointed the editorial ignores a recent CIBC report that identifies increasing the supply of rental properties as one part of the the solution to (what is perceived as) the problem of rapidly rising housing prices. (The Globe channels Yogi Berra, saying, "Things are so good, they’re bad. And if they get any better, that’ll be worse." Indeed.) The CIBC report says, "it’s becoming clear that the condo market can no longer be the only option available to renters," and calls for an increase in the construction of apartments. The profitability gap for apartments is minimal, which makes an NDP proposal to expand rent control in the province a bad idea. The CIBC advises the implementation of policies to make building apartments more attractive to developers: expediting the approval process for construction, cutting HST and development charges on such projects, and "higher intensification rates for purpose-built developments" (higher buildings with more units). Increasing the number of rental units to consumers could bring some rationality to the housing market by changing the warped psychology of buyers and sellers through the introduction of a wider set of options. At the very least, it needs to be a larger part of the discussion, and not in the way the Ontario NDP are doing it.


 
Red America is getting poorer
The American Council on Science and Health story these stats are taken from is about the rising suicide rates in rural America:
[I]n 2000, George W. Bush won 2,397 counties (compared to Al Gore's 659), and those counties represented 46% of America's GDP. Fast forward to 2016. Donald Trump won an even larger share: 2,584 counties (compared to Hillary Clinton's 472). Yet, counties that voted for Trump accounted for only 36% of the nation's GDP. Since most Bush counties also voted for Trump, that means -- in a span of just 16 years -- economic productivity shifted by 10 percentage points, away from small town America and toward the big cities.
My guess is that these counties are also losing population (so per capital GDP might not be shifting as quickly), but this is a significant, and frankly predictable, trend.


Friday, March 17, 2017
 
Credit ratings agencies don't like Alberta NDP government's budget
The Financial Post reports that Moody's Investor Services and DBRS Ltd. said their credit ratings for the province of Alberta could be downgraded following the high-debt budget the NDP government introduced yesterday. The government is forecasting the debt to GDP ratio for the province to nearly double from 10.6% to 19.5% by 2020, spurring Moody's to say they will review its credit rating and DBRS to monitor the situation. It is significant that despite bringing in more revenue with the carbon ax and higher-than-expected bitumen royalties, this year's provincial deficit was about $200 million more than originally forecast. The Notley government is wildly irresponsible and cannot be trusted to govern.


 
The paradox of modern mercantilism
Donald Boudreaux has a post on the sadomasochism of trade wars to which he adds this insightful postscript:
It just dawns on me how very peculiar it is for mercantilists such as Trump and my correspondent Mr. McKinney to be so confident “that America is strong enough to win a trade war” but too weak to prosper by trading freely.


 
Trump budget to cut funding for Meals on Wheels is Fake News.
Walter Olson looked into it and it's not true. Olson says that the fear-mongering about cutting money to the Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), which gives a little bit of money to Meals on Wheels, was a classic example of turning a molehill into a mountain. Olson explains:
[T]he major source of federal funding for the programs, accounting for 35 percent of overall local budgets, comes through the Sixties-era Older Americans Act. (Local programs also obtain support from state and county governments, private donors, and so on.) ...
So where do the federal block grant programs come in? Well, they give states and localities a lot of discretion on where to allocate the money. One option is to add money to supplement Meals on Wheels funding. Some do use it for that purpose.
But as Scott Shackford makes clear in his new piece for Reason, that isn’t what CDBG is mostly about. CDBG funds regularly go into pork-barrel and business-subsidy schemes with a cronyish flavor. That’s why the program has been a prime target for budget-cutters for decades, in administration after administration.
It’s important to the CDBG program’s political durability that its grantees wind up sprinkling a bit of extra money on popular programs mostly funded by other means. That way, defenders can argue that the block grants “fund programs like Meals on Wheels.”
And journalists and social media users fell for it.