Sobering Thoughts

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

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Sunday, April 30, 2017
Sorta defending Le Pen, the second coming de Gaulle
Ross Douthat has a typically good and fair take on the National Front and its leader Marine Le Pen:
At the same time, individual personalities and their policies also matter — and there the case for #NeverLePen seems weaker in important ways than the case for #NeverTrump.
To begin with, nobody seriously doubts Le Pen’s competence, her command of policy, her ability to serve as president without turning the office into a reality-TV thunderdome. Trump’s inability to master his own turbulent emotions is not an issue with his Gallic counterpart.
Nor is there much evidence that Le Pen herself draws any personal inspiration from the Vichy right. However incomplete the project, she is the reason that her party has ejected Vichyites and disavowed anti-Semitism and moved toward the French mainstream on many issues ...
Some argue that Le Pen has simply replaced anti-Semitism with Islamophobia. But her attacks on Islamic fundamentalism and her defense of a strict public secularism have been echoed by many mainstream French politicians. An argument for quarantining her perspective would apply to Nicolas Sarkozy or François Fillon, not just her.
Over all, the politician that Le Pen has obviously strained to imitate is not her father or Marshal Pétain, but Charles de Gaulle — the de Gaulle who fiercely opposed European political integration, who granted Algeria its independence in part because he doubted France could absorb millions of Muslim immigrants, whose “France First” worldview consistently gave other Western leaders fits.
I find Le Pen's refusal to challenge France's dirigisme more problematic than her take on immigration, and her opposition to the European project rather admirable. In other words, she is the best and worst of de Gaulle.

Trump had a terrible 100 days. So did the Dems.
Matthew Continetti on the state of the Democrats:
[The] party is in tatters, reduced to 16 governors, 30 state legislative chambers, a historically low number of state legislative seats, 193 members of the House, 46 senators. The Democrats are leaderless, rudderless, held together only by opposition to Trump. The most popular figure on the left refuses to call himself a Democrat while sitting alongside the newly elected chairman of the Democratic National Committee. That chairman, dirty-talking Tom Perez, represents a professional, technocratic class that supports Wall Street and globalization as long as there is room for multiculturalism and social liberalism. That is a different strategy from both the 50-state approach of Howard Dean, Rahm Emanuel, and Schumer that brought Democrats control of Congress in 2006, and the anti-Wall Street, protectionist, single-payer Left of Bernie Sanders. Perez fights with Bernie Sanders and Nancy Pelosi over whether there is room for pro-lifers in the party — Perez thinks not. Pelosi enjoys the distinction of being an American political figure less popular than Donald Trump.
What is the Democratic agenda? What does the party have to offer besides disunity, obstruction, incoherence, obsession, and obliviousness? They haven’t rallied behind a plan to fix Obamacare or an alternative to the president’s tax proposal. They seem dead set against enforcement of immigration laws, they seem opposed to any restrictions on abortion, they seem as eager as ever to regulate firearms and carbon dioxide. It’s hard to detect a consensus beyond that. Banks, trade, health care, taxes, free speech, foreign intervention — these issues are undecided, up for grabs.
And worse, for the party and their current and erstwhile supporters: "What the Democratic party has yet to understand is that its social and cultural agenda is irrelevant or inimical to the material and spiritual well being of their former constituents." Worse than being irrelevant is not understanding one's own irrelevance.

Will: Eliminate deductibility of mortgage-interest payments
George Will writes about "just one tax change that should be made and certainly will not be," namely the deductibility of mortgage-interest payments. Will explains:
The deductibility of mortgage-interest payments, by which the government will forgo collecting nearly $1 trillion in the next decade, is treated as a categorical imperative graven on the heart of humanity by the finger of God because it is a pleasure enjoyed primarily by the wealthy. About 75 percent of American earners pay more in payroll taxes than in income taxes, and only around 30 percent of taxpayers itemize their deductions. Ike Brannon, of the Cato Institute and Capital Policy Analytics in Washington, argues that, given America’s homeownership rate of about 62 percent, not even half of all homeowners use the deduction. Its principal beneficiaries are affluent (also attentive and argumentative) homeowners, and its benefits, as Brannon says, “scale up” regressively: The larger the mortgage and the higher the tax bracket, the more valuable the deduction is.
It also distorts the housing market by making buying a home a more attractive purchase that it might otherwise be. As such, it prevents capital from investments that generate economic growth over time. And because home ownership is how many people, especially higher up the income ladder, accumulate wealth, artificially high housing prices spur wealth inequality. Will also says that higher housing prices is a contributing factor to the delay of adulthood among some millennials who put off purchasing a home (and perhaps, relatedly, starting their own families). The deduction contributes to a number of problems American society is trying to address.
Will knows that special interests including realtors and home-owners will resist any changes to the deductibility of mortgage-interest payments. As a matter of fairness, if eliminating this tax benefits does occur, it "would have to be grandfathered to accommodate those who budgeted for their home purchases with the deduction in mind." Not that it has a chance to pass Congress as part of tax reform. Nor does Will expect a half-measure such as removing the benefit to the portion of mortgages over a certain (high) amount, like $500,000. What makes economic sense seldom is politically practical.

Saturday, April 29, 2017
What I'm reading
1. Theresa May: The Downing Street Revolution by Virginia Blackburn. My expectation is that it won't be nearly as good as Rosa Prince's excellent Theresa May: The Enigmatic Prime Minister, but will be substantially better than Nigel Cawthorne's rush-job, Taking Charge: The Biography of Theresa May.
2. Margaret Thatcher: A Life and Legacy by David Cannadine. This new, short book seems like a good introduction to the first female prime minister. There is not much new here for people who have read, say, Charles Moore's two-volume biography or Lady Thatcher's autobiographies.
3. Insane Consequences: How the Mental Health Industry Fails the Mentally Ill by DJ Jaffe. I hope this book gets covered by David Gratzer for one of his Reading of the Week blog posts.
4. Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton's Doomed Campaign by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes. This book has got a lot of coverage. Deservedly so. Interesting throughout.
5. Lou: Fifty Years of Kicking Dirt, Playing Hard, and Winning Big in the Sweet Spot of Baseball by Lou Piniella. Briefly perusing this one. I consider books about or by former Yankees mandatory, but autobiographies by loud and angry baseball types from a certain age are not really my bag.

How to run an editorial page
In the daily New York Times email about the Opinion section, editorial page editor James Bennet welcomes new columnist James Bennet, Bret Stephens, the former Wall Street Journal Pulitzer Prize-winning writer. Great move for the Times. Conservatives need to understand that the paper of record/Official Opposition to the White House is never going to hire a Mark Steyn or Ben Shapiro, we should be thankful for the intelligent, principles, clever conservatives they do hire. I'm a fan of both David Brooks and Ross Douthat, both of whom seem under-rated to me in the world of punditry. My guess is that they are too conservative for the Left and they seem insufficiently conservative to the Right simply because they dare write for an enemy paper. That's a mistake.
We tend to over-rate the importance of columnists and what appears on the comment pages. The editorial pages is a small group discussion among the eggheads and egghead wannabes and the political class that excludes most voters (even before papers bled half their readership). The point of editorial pages is to have a discussion about current events offering different points of view. Another view of editorial pages is adding to the discussion that is taking place elsewhere, thereby negating the importance of a diversity of voices -- Washington Times, Los Angeles Times, Toronto Star, and The Guardian -- but the New York Times, like the Washington Post, Canada's Globe and Mail, and (London) Times speaks to a broader audience; it used to be the way that smaller papers like the Orlando Sentinel in the United States or London Free Press in Canada ran their opinion sections, but typically don't any longer. Several staff columnists on the right and left, and guest columns from experts or authors from across the political spectrum. In today's NYT Opinion newsletter, Bennet describes his paper's view of their Op-ed section:
When Adolph Ochs set out the mission for The New York Times at the end of the 19th century, he said he hoped to make its opinion pages a forum for “intelligent discussion from all shades of opinion.” Given how polarizing and partisan this era has become, we think it’s important to recommit ourselves to that goal. Taking the goal seriously doesn’t mean letting any opinion into the debate. There’s no place for bigotry or dishonesty in intelligent discussion. And it also doesn’t mean that The Times sees all the points of view it publishes as equally meritorious — that we’re in some way indifferent, in the end, to the correct answers. Our unsigned editorials will continue to make clear where the institution stands on the most consequential questions.
This seems the right way for papers like the Times (and WaPo, Globe and London Times), if not any daily paper. It no doubt angers many readers who tend to identify with their paper along ideological and partisan lines, but we shouldn't be afraid of intellectually honest debate and challenging ideas. Cynics will point out that all three Times house conservatives are opposed to Donald Trump, and that is a fair criticism up to a point.
By the way, you should read today's article by Stephens, "Climate of Complete Certainty," about the climate change debate that makes an important observation about certitude in politics. An excerpt: "We live in a world in which data convey authority. But authority has a way of descending to certitude, and certitude begets hubris."
Also today, Peter Wehner writes about how Donald Trump has repeatedly admitted the job is more difficult than he expected, the files he deals with harder than he anticipated. Wehner, a veteran of three Republican administrations, says even by the standards of steep learning curves he has experienced, Trump seems unprepared. This is not a partisan point or ideological cheapshot, but a criticism from a patriotic conservative concerned about the administration of his country's government.

Perhaps Afghanistan is a honesty blindspot for Liberals
The CBC reports that at an April 18 New Delhi speech, Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has taken more credit than he should have for a 2006 assault on the Taliban in Afghanistan:
Sajjan told the conference he was "no stranger to conflict," and said he was decorated by both Canada and the U.S. militaries for his service fighting terrorism and the Taliban in Afghanistan.
"On my first deployment to Kandahar in 2006, I was kind of thrown into an unforeseen situation and I became the architect of an operation called Operation Medusa where we removed over, about, 1,500 Taliban fighters off the battlefield. And I was very proud to be on the main assault of that force," he said, adding that he was recognized for his efforts.
Except he was there, not the architect. The CBC reports Sajjan's remarks on misspeaking about the events:
In a statement provided to CBC [yesterday], Sajjan said whenever he speaks about his time in uniform he makes an effort to give credit to those with whom he served.
"Every military operation our Forces undertook in Afghanistan, including Operation Medusa, relied on the courage and dedication of many individuals across the Canadian Forces," he said. "My comments were in no way intended to diminish the role that my fellow soldiers and my superiors played in Operation Medusa.
"What I should have said was that our military successes are the result of the leadership, service and sacrifice of the many dedicated women and men in the Canadian Forces. I regret that I didn't say this then, but I want to do so now."
Sajjan went on to say that Operation Medusa was successful because of the leadership of "Gen. Fraser and the extraordinary team with whom I had the honour of serving."
Brig.-Gen. David Fraser was the Canadian Forces general who commanded the NATO forces in southern Afghanistan at the time.
This is more serious than Maryam Monsef, who appears to have been lied to herself about her origin story (although there was questions about when she found out and whether she persisted with the official Afghan-born narrative after knowing the truth). As the Conservatives are saying, the Canadian public and the Canadian Armed Forces must trust the defense minister, and he is ruining his credibility with easily refutable stories like this one.

Friday, April 28, 2017
Governing is harder than having opinions
President Donald Trump talked to Reuters, which reports:
"I loved my previous life. I had so many things going," Trump told Reuters in an interview. "This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier."

Calling Senator Larry Craig
The Washington Post reports:
About 1 in 10 American air travelers reports having had sex of some kind at an airport, compared with about 8 percent who are members of the Mile High Club, according to an important new survey conducted by a flight-shopping website.
Of those who had some sort of “sexual encounter,” 42 percent reported that it took place in a public restroom, while 28 percent got busy in the “storage cupboards” (?) and 14 percent “under a coat.” Twelve percent coupled in the VIP lounge, which at least makes some sense; 17 percent claim to have been caught in the act by airport staff.
The survey is the work of, which tallied the results from 4,915 Americans who were 18 or older and had flown at least once in the past two years.

Ontario budget
Yesterday Finance Minister Charles Sousa delivered the Ontario budget (with a politically odd black cover). Here is the Finance Minister's speech. According to the Ministry's budget brief, the government is "making life more affordable." It touts a pharmacare program for everyone under 25 years of age ($465 million a year price tag), a $518 million "booster shot" for operating hospitals (as part of a $7 billion hike in health care funding over the next three years), funding to create 24,000 new daycare spots, measures to help home-buyers and renters, a tax credit for caregivers, and a tax credit for seniors who use transit. It also reiterates hydro cost reductions. Checking the budget, (in theory) there are no new income or corporate taxes, but there is $100 million in new fees and licensing charges. And then there's cap and trade that will add an additional 4.3 cents per litre of gas next year and about $5 a month for home natural gas use. Summa Strategies has the budget in brief. The Globe and Mail has a list of the ten things you need to know about the budget.
Media coverage: TVO (3 videos), CBC, Globe and Mail, Toronto Star. The Globe and Mail editorial calls the budget NDP-lite. The National Post's Andrew Coyne says that the Ontario budget isn't really balanced. The Toronto Sun's Lorrie Goldstein makes the same point. The Toronto Star's Martin Regg Cohn calls this an election budget. The Globe and Mail's David Parkinson asks now that the deficit has been tackled, what is the government doing about the massive debt. Another Globe article quotes credit ratings agency DBRS assistant vice-president Paul LeBane saying he is concerned that the focus is on new social spending not repaying debt.
The bank analysis: RBC Economics, BMO Capital Markets, CIBC Economics.
Reaction. The Fraser Institute says there is more spending and more debt. The Ontario Chamber of Commerce is generally skeptical of the budget and worried about the unintended consequences on economic growth. The Ontario Federation of Labour says there are crumbs for families in the budget but generally lets workers down. Toronto Mayor John Tory is complaining there isn't new money for transit or social housing.

Thursday, April 27, 2017
2017 NFL draft
These aren't predictions, but an analysis of a what a rational team would do.
There are three B-grade quarterbacks that shouldn't be top-ten picks and two borderline Bish-grade QBs who probably shouldn't first round picks, but some team will draft a QB in the top ten, and possibly trade up to do so. This is a mistake. Ditto for San Francisco or Chicago who might trade a top-five second round pick (and more) to move up for one of the last picks on the first night. You could make the case that each of the first five teams in the draft need a QB (Jacksonville is in denial about Blake Bartles) but none of them should use their pick to fill the position.
This is a weak draft for the O-line, particularly at tackle. The conventional wisdom has it that no offensive lineman are drafted in the top ten. But some teams might reach for the better tackles because they are unlikely to score O-line upgrades in the middle rounds of the draft. That said, there are a number of developmental right tackles.
The acquisition by the Oakland Raiders (Marshawn Lynch via trade) and New Orleans Saints (Adrian Peterson via free agency) could affect the draft as running back-needy teams might feel they must reach for RB or fill that positional need earlier as their backup plan is no longer available.
Oklahoma RB Joe Mixon will almost certainly be picked in the second round despite the 2014 video of him decking a woman at a restaurant. If not for that video, Mixon would be a top-ten pick. Mixon hasn't shown any remorse over the incident until recently, but has otherwise seemed a model citizen. Most teams won't want to take the PR hit. Some team will see this athleticism and not be able to take a pass.
1. Cleveland Browns. We should resist the temptation to think the Cleveland Browns will fuck up their draft because they always fuck up their draft. But they will fuck up their draft if they don't pick the best overall player, defensive end/outside linebacker Myles Garrett first overall. There are rumours they fell in love with North Carolina QB Mitch Trubisky and could take him with the first overall pick. There are rumours the Browns will trade up to #6 (Jets) to get their QB. Picking Trubisky first would be a serious mistake and trading some of their stockpiled picks to take the Tarheel at sixth would be a normal mistake. Five years ago you could make bank on the former. The fact that it is the latter is progress.
2. San Francisco. They have a lot of needs. It would be defensible to move down a few spots to get additional picks. That is unlikely. The best player available will be defensive end Solomon Thomas (Stanford) or Jonathan Allen (Alabama). Picking cornerback Marshon Lattimore wouldn't be a terrible move either. I'd prioritize rebuilding the defense first, which means it would be a mistake for the Niners to use their second-round pick to find their QB. I think they will make that mistake (or worse, by trading back up into the first round).
3. Chicago Bears. They have a lot of needs. It would be defensible to move down a few spots to get additional picks. That is unlikely. They need to address a lot of areas, but defense should be prioritized. Cornerback Marshon Lattimore is the Niners don't take him would help the secondary. Solomon Thomas would be great if he fell to third. Defensive end Jonathan Allen isn't out of the question. Yeah, it would make sense if the top three picks were DEs. It won't happen, but it would make sense. I cut and paste the beginning of the Bears capsule, so I might as well do the same for the conclusion: I'd prioritize rebuilding the defense first, which means it would be a mistake for the Niners Bears to use their second-round pick to find their QB. I think they will make that mistake (or worse, by trading back up into the first round).
4. Jacksonville Jaguars. I'd take Jonathan Allen to add strength to an adequate unit (defensive line) but I'd bet money that they take LSU RB Leonard Fournette. The Jags haven't had a 1000-yard rusher since Maurice Drew-Jones did it in 2011. Their best move would be to convince teams that are looking for a quarterback that to guarantee the one they covet, they should trade a treasure trove of picks to Jacksonville. It won't happen. Because the free agent frenzy focused on D, I'll predict Jax's first pick is on the offensive side of the ball, so Fournette it is.
5. Tennessee Titans. Their best move would be to convince teams that are looking for a quarterback that to guarantee the one they covet, they should trade a treasure trove of picks to Tennessee. If that doesn't happen and Lattimore hasn't slid past the first four teams, TE O.J. Howard becomes the first Alabama player picked. Coach Mike Mularkey's exotic smashmouth style of offense should add a playmaker and that doesn't necessarily mean a wide receiver. There will be plenty of them in the second and third rounds. Titans also have a second first round pick.
6. New York Jets. They have a lot of needs. They desperately need to upgrade the skills positions and secondary. Trading down makes a lot of sense, but they might go quarterback. Patrick Mahomes seems to be the QB connected to the Gang Green. I think its too early for Mahomes or any other QB. The Jets need plenty of picks and hope they hit with a few of them. But they're the Jets so a suboptimal pick -- either a process mistake or player that never works out is the likely outcome.
7. San Diego Chargers. The Bolts desperately need O-line improvements, but a rangy safety like Jamal Adams (or Malik Hooker if he didn't have the injury problems) can make an instant impact on the secondary which also needs a playmaker with instant impact. Could trade back and use a mid-teens pick for an offensive lineman without reaching if there was a trade partner to be found.
8. Carolina Panthers. They'd like a running back but Fournette isn't likely to fall to eighth, so they'll pick a defensive lineman who falls this far. That's probably Jonathan Allen.
9. Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals desperately need to find pass rushers at defensive end. Tennessee's Derek Barnett fits the bill.
10. Buffalo Bills. You could make a case that they could use a running back or corner back. The Bills will probably use a second or third round pick if a decent QB is still on the board. But they could go sexy with WR Mike Williams of Clemson. He has problems with his hands but his speed is tantalizing. Opposite Sammy Watkins, this could be a lot of fun to watch if new coach Sean McDermott and his staff can teach QB Tyrod Taylor to go through his progressions. If they don't pick the best WR in the first round, they'll need a WR in the second or third round considering their depth chart at the position requires even longtime Bills fans to head to
11. New Orleans Saints. The Saints need to totally rebuild their defense and there's talk of the Saints looking for Drew Brees' replacement. They shouldn't waste their early picks this year because they should exploit the narrowing window of opportunity Sean Payton has with Brees. It's too early to take a playmaking running back although Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey and his great hands must have Payton dreaming of what Brees did with backs who are a threat in the passing game like Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas were. And the Saints still have the Patriots 32nd overall pick. They are rumoured to be interested in trading their 11th overall for cornerback help (Richard Sherman from Seattle, Malcolm Butler from New England). Assuming they don't go that route -- and I'd bet they don't -- they take the best linebacker (Reuben Poster), edge rusher (Derek Barnett might slip this far), or safety (Malik Hooker). They can load up on CBs in the middle rounds -- it's a great draft for cornerbacks.
12. Cleveland Browns. They will either trade up to draft a QB or use this pick on QB. I think this is a mistake and that they should load up on the defensive line, secondary, and O-line, but they might not want to test the fans and ownership's patience on their rebuild. That means abandoning their plan and desperately finding a quarterback in a weak quarterback season. They take Mitchell Trubisky here but they should pick linebacker Rueben Foster or safety Malik Hooker if they are still available. Trading back three or four spots and not reaching for O-line help and picking up more draft capital would make even more sense, but there is no way they do this.
13. Arizona Cardinals. They might be thinking Larry Fitzgerald or Carson Palmer replacement. Corey Davis or John Ross should be available here for WR help. I don't like a developmental QB in the middle of the first round. They have needs at linebacker, too, so Rueben Foster is a good fit if he isn't picked yet.
14. Philadelphia Eagles. They desperately need CB help and they are in luck as there is an abundance of talent at the position in this draft. They could defensibly pick CBs in two of the first three rounds. Alabama's Marlon Humphrey looks to be the best CB available at this point but their process might have identified a better fit. Might be the best tackling cornerback in the draft.
15. Indianapolis Colts. Could use linebacker, defensive line, and O-line help. Might pick versatile offensive lineman Forrest Lamp or linebacker Haason Reddick. They will use a second or third round pick on a cornerback and could use safety help, too. With so many defensive needs and a new general manager in Chris Ballard, predicting what Indy does is not easy.
16. Baltimore Ravens. They have more needs than you realize. Their strategy of collecting picks (not resigning free agents so they can collect compensatory picks and trading back to add picks) hasn't been as bountiful in recent years. But they desperately need a wide receiver. Because they have deep threat Mike Wallace on one side of the field, I feel like they'll take possession receiver Corey Davis rather than deep threat John Ross, but the combination of Wallace and Ross would wreak havoc on opposing offenses, especially their secondary-deficient division rivals. The team was 24th in sacks so they could target a defensive end, or an outside linebacker such as Takkarist McKinley, especially with Elvis Dumervil not returning and Terrell Suggs turning 35.
17. Washington Redskins. They have a lot of needs including a playmaking inside linebacker, a quality running back, and upgrades along the defensive line, but I would be shocked if they don't pick a wide receiver after losing their top two starting wideouts in free agency. Corey Davis or John Ross are instapicks if they are still available. I've seen Stanford running back anywhere from mid-top ten to mid-20s on various mock drafts. He'll be a tempting choice for the Skins, especially because he is such a great receiving back, adding another dimension to the offense. Trading starting QB Kirk Cousins isn't out of the question, so picking a quarterback here is a possibility.
18. Tennessee Titans. I'd go with the best player available. They need WRs, CBs, and upgrades. They are looking to win the AFC South, so they'll probably go with the most NFL-ready player left on the board. If any of the three big receivers are still available, there's no doubt the Titans take them. Otherwise, a cornerback? Quincy Wilson or Gareon Conley, I guess. Safety Jabrill Peppers wouldn't be a bad pick here although he's a bit of a hybrid safety that might scare traditionalist coaching unit's like Tennessee's. Even if Tenny picks a CB in the first round, expect them to use a mid-round pick on another cornerback.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I see three distinct possibilities. Forrest Lamp, the Western Kentucky left, tackle might become the best guard taken in the draft. He is also practicing snapping the ball and might be the only center worth taking in the first three rounds. If he is available, the versatile offensive lineman is hard to pass up. If he's already off the board or the Bucs have identified some problem I could see them taking Miami tight end David Njoku or Florida State running back Dalvin Cook. Yeah, those are both players from the Sunshine State but Tampa has taken a lot of players from the state in recent year. Cook seems superficially unlikely because the team has Doug Martin and Charles Sims, but the former has a drug suspension to start the year and Sims has a hard time staying healthy. Njoku could provide a nice additional weapon for Jamies Winston.
20. Denver Broncos. John Elway doesn't usually do the expected thing, but two moves make sense. If either of the top two RBs (Christian McCaffrey or Leonard Fournette) are available, this seems like an easy choice. The team needs an upgrade at the position. It also needs to improve the offensive line. Despite the dearth of O-line quality, the 20s are about where the talent level is for the position, so Utah OT Garett Bolles makes sense here, as does four-year Wisconsin OT Ryan Ramczyk.
21. Detroit Lions. You probably think of the Lions having a pretty disruptive defensive line. You are remembering 2014. Last year they were 30th in sacks and 32nd against the pass according to Football Outsiders DVOA. UCLA OLB Takkarist McKinley is scooped up here if he's still available, creating a pretty dynamic pass rush alongside Ziggy Ansah. Michigan defensive end Taco Charlton is a popular mock draft pick, presumably because of the temptation of Detroit picking a Michigan product, but Charlton had 10 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss in 2016. They might also look at an improvement at safety and Jabrill Peppers could be available.
22. Miami Dolphins. With last year's first round pick Laremy Tunsil moving from left guard to left tackle, the Fins need a LG. They'll pick the best one available, either versatile offensive lineman Forrest Lamp or Alabama's Cam Robinson. Sometimes you don't have to overthink things. While they need CB help, they can get that later in the draft although I haven't picked Ohio State cornerback Gareon Conley so that might be a no-brainer if he has actually slid down this far.
23. New York Giants. It will be on the offensive side of the ball, guaranteed. If tight end David Njoku is available, they could use another offensive weapon for Eli Manning. A running back makes a lot of sense, so if Dalvin Cook is still available, that's a distinct possibility. They could use some tackle depth, but there might not be a lot of value available here. How many times can I say Forrest Lamp if he slides this far down.
24. Oakland Raiders. This should be the best available cornerback. Period. Sometimes you don't need to overthink things. That said, Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster got kicked out of the combine and that probably means his draft stock has declined. He might be too good to pass up and the Raiders don't mind the type of players that other teams eschew. Improve the linebacker corps and address the secondary later in the draft.
25. Houston Texans. They almost certainly take a quarterback but they had a number of free agent departures on defense that should be addressed. QBs Patrick Mahomes or Deshaun Watson will be taken if they are available. I could even see Houston trading up for one of them if they fell in love with a particular QB in the combine/interview process. That said, they should pick a cornerback. Kevin King, a Washington CB who didn't give up a TD last season, would be a decent replacement for A.J. Bouye, who left for Jacksonville via free agency. But they are taking a quarterback. And having traded their
26. Seattle Seahawks. They desperately need offensive line improvements, up and down the line. I'd say the best lineman available. If Seattle trades Sherman, they'll need a CB. If Jabrill Peppers is available, he's the sort of talented and versatile safety they already have when he's healthy (Earl Thomas). I can't help think that Kevin King is often linked to Seattle because he played his university football at Washington, but he is a good fit for the SeaHawks' Cover-3 style. I predict they'll ignore their O-line, like they have for the last two years.
27. Kansas City Chiefs. There are two moves make a lot of sense that aren't particularly sexy but needed. Linebacker depth (and veteran Derrick Johnson's eventual replacement) with someone like Jarrad Davis. The more immediate need is a cornerback to play opposite Marcus Peters. That could be Tre'Davious White, Chidobe Awuzzie, or Adoree’ Jackson. White might be the best fit who could have develop into the best CB of the draft.
28. Dallas Cowboys. Not offense. They should improve their defensive line. DE Taco Charlton would be a good fit if he's available. The versatility of Missouri outside linebacker/defensive end Charles Harris would be a good player even if he doesn't quite seem like a system fit (he mostly plays as a 3-4 OLB, not a 4-3 DE). With the departures of Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne, new cornerbacks are needed but like many teams, Dallas can afford to wait until the second or third rounds.
29. Green Bay Packers. Need pass rushers. Charles Harris is a great fit if he's available. T.J. Watt played in Wisconsin and is the younger brother J.J. Watt, so he's a popular pick as linebacker for the Packers. He seems more like a second-round talent, but pedigree could move him up a bit. If there is a cornerback they had on their board that's still available, they could draft the replacement for Micah Hyde, who left via free agency.
30. Pittsburgh Steelers. They need secondary help but a safety like Obi Melifonwu (one of the best combines ever) or Jabrill Peppers would be a great fit. Both could help cover up the mistakes the Steeler cornerbacks make or contribute to the pass rush. If neither are available, they'll draft the best available pass rusher and draft secondary help in the second or third rounds. If they don't take a linebacker or defensive end in the first round, they'll do so in the second round. In one of the first four rounds, the Steelers will also pick a WR who will make a good short- and intermediate-area target.
31. Atlanta Falcons. They have two needs: guard depth and a pass-rusher. I think they'll wait to address their guard situation until the mid-rounds (third-fifth unless a good guard drops tonight) so Michigan State DE Malik McDowell or Youngstown State's Derek Rivers might be the best choice here to give Vic Beasley some help. A surprising number of mocks have Forrest Lamp falling to Atlanta, but I just don't see it.
32. New Orleans Saints. They need defense, defense, defense, but I think they make a trade. This pick could be traded back to the Patriots for CB Malcolm Butler (and a mid-round pick), but that's a tad bit too cute. More likely they trade back into the second for a top six in that round for a team wanting a quarterback. That might allow them to draft a number of defensive players and a developmental QB in a middle round. The Bears and Jets are candidates to trade up a half-dozen spots. All that said, I think they traded Brandin Cooks to New England for their first rounder with the hope of drafting their quarterback of the future here. Best QB available, although they would benefit beefing up the secondary or obtaining a pass rusher.

Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson appears on cover of NR
The May 15 edition of National Review has a story on The Rock, a former wrestler turned movie star. An excerpt from the preview excerpt in The Corner:
Johnson clearly aims to entertain. He understands a core truth: that there is nothing wrong — and a lot right — with sheer, unmitigated fun. Not everything has to have a Message. Not everything needs to reveal Larger Truth. Sometimes a man has to shoot down an attack helicopter with a minigun. Not for social justice and not for individual liberty — but because it’s a cool thing to do.

A progressive VAT and Leviathan
Hoover Institute economist John Cochrane says "A VAT (value added tax) with no other tax — no income, corporate, estate, etc. etc. etc. — is pretty much the economists’ ideal," but that policy experts have had trouble making it progressive (that is, to not disproportionately harm low-income earners). Cochrane thinks he came up with a solution:
Everyone pays the maximum VAT rate — 40% say, equal to the maximum marginal federal income tax rate. Then, as you spend money over the year, you turn in your receipts — figuratively, we’re going to do al this electronically in a second. So, for the first (say) $10,000 of purchases in each year, you get a refund of all VAT taxes paid. For the next $20,000 of purchases, you get $30 out of every $40 tax payments back, so you pay a 10% rate. And so on. Finally, after (say) $400,000 you don’t get anything back, so you pay the 40% maximum rate.
As you see, I give people an incentive to declare all their consumption. That incentive completes one of the main advantages of a VAT over an income or sales tax. In a VAT, each business in the production chain pays the VAT on its inputs, and charges the VAT on its sales. It then deducts the VAT payments on its inputs against the VAT it has to pay on its sales. That gives the business a strong incentive to collect the VAT on sales, and for its business customers to demand proof the VAT was paid so they in turn can deduct VAT payments against their VAT collections. Now people will also demand “receipts,” proof of tax payment.
Clearly this works only if everything is electronic. I would not inflict expense reimbursement drudgery on the American taxpayer. But that largely is the case. We have a sales tax reporting mechanism, so adding or substituting VAT tax reporting is not that hard.
The big change is that each transaction must report the buyer as well as the seller. As a civil libertarian, this initially struck me as a deal killer. We have already lost far to much privacy and anonymity of transactions. But on second thought perhaps it is not that bad. We already report to Leviathan every source of our income, and under e-verify and other immigration controls we have to ask Leviathan for permission to work. Just how much worse is it to report every purchase too?
Solves one problem (regressive taxes, anti-growth taxes) with another (destroying privacy). I don't think the economic gains are worth it.
And getting rid of cash, which transaction tracking requires, will put an end to the tooth fairy -- what are parents is she going to do, put a receipt under the pillow?

George Will on Macron
George Will calls Emmanuel Macron, the presumptive next president of France, the Gallic Barack Obama:
In 2008, Obama, a freshman senator, became a national Rorschach test, upon whom Americans projected their longings. Emmanuel Macron, 39, is a former Paris investment banker, untainted by electoral experience, and a virtuoso of vagueness. His platform resembles ( in The Spectator’s Jonathan Miller’s description) “a box of chocolates from one of those upscale confiseries on the Rue Jacob: full of soft centers.” This self-styled centrist is a former minister for the incumbent president, socialist François Hollande, who in a recent poll enjoyed 4 percent approval. (Last Sunday, the Socialist-party candidate won 6.35 percent of the vote.) Macron calls his movement En Marche!, meaning “on the move,” which is as self-congratulatory and uninformative as Obama’s “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” Macron proposes to cure France’s durable stagnation by being ever so nice. Which means, above all, by not being . . . her.
Her is Marine Le Pen.
Macron offers empty gestures and simple platitudes so he can be the vessel for the wishful thinking of the electorate. One need not think Le Pen is the answer to France's most pressing problems to understand that Macron won't solve them either.

The downsizing and de-glitzing of the WHCA
The Washington Post has a longish story on the White House Correspondents Association dinner this Saturday night and how fewer celebrities are going, how the glossy magazines aren't hosting after-dinner parties, and the President himself is skipping the event. It's about time.
The Post reports:
A professional comedian will entertain, but his name might not ring a bell. And — perhaps you’ve heard? — for the first time in 36 years, the president of the United States will not attend.
After more than a decade of celebrity glitz and lavishly underwritten partying, Saturday’s White House Correspondents’ Association dinner is shaping up to be a slimmed-down, more sober, slightly dowdier affair. It’s possible the event will never again be quite as epic.
And for some longtime attendees — that’s just fine. Maybe even a relief.
“This is clearly going to be different,” said Susan Page, White House bureau chief for USA Today. “Last year, I was at a table with Kendall Jenner, and this year I’m at a table with Madeleine Albright.” ...
The lack of celebrity frisson isn’t necessarily a bad thing, she said. “In a way it refocuses the dinner . . . on the role we want the press to play in a democracy.” ...
Yet Trump’s absence also seems to have magically relieved some of the tensions that had been building around the dinner for years — the ethical discomfort, for some attendees, in the spectacle of journalists yukking it up with the government officials they cover ...
“There’s always this angst and acrimony,” said Julie Mason, a host of a political radio show for Sirius/XM and a former WHCA board member, “over what is basically a Rotary Club dinner.” (Granted, one that is aired live on C-SPAN.)
Said Juleanna Glover, a corporate consultant and Bush White House veteran who has skipped the festivities in recent years, “If it turned into a boring journalism dinner, I would be delighted to be there.”
The hand-wringing over the unseemliness of the whole thing has been minimal, with few journalists openly questioning the ethics or optics of the fourth estate socializing with those they are supposed to be watching; it was almost never an issue until Donald Trump was elected. The infestation of celebrities just made it worse.
The Post focuses on the loss of the celebrity factor, but there is still the issue of the Washington press corps being overly chummy with those they are expected to watch closely and be skeptical. This is move in the right direction, but it would be even better to can the WHCA dinner altogether.

Endorsements for Labour and leader Jeremy Corbyn
The (London) Times reports:
[T]wo hard-left groups, the Communist Party of Britain and the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, have overcome their aversion to gradualist socialism and announced that they will not oppose Labour on June 8.
Historic and unsurprising.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017
Government debt and the economic growth problem
Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Stephen Moore examines the recent Congressional Budget Office's projections for economic growth and federal debt for the next three decades. National debt will grow to 150% of GDP due to a combination of high spending and low economic growth. The CBO estimates economic growth averaging 1.9% until 2047. It's difficult to make long-term predictions about growth, but this is in line with private sector projections. Slowth, as it has been called, is a serious problem. As Moore writes, "If weak growth persists, there is almost no combination of plausible spending cuts and tax increases that will get Washington anywhere near a balanced budget." Moore calls for a pro-growth fiscal agenda to spur the economy, which will lead to higher tax revenues for Washington. The economy will be larger and annual federal deficits will be lower, goes the thinking, and the debt to GDP ratio will be manageable -- or at least more manageable than debt representing 150% of GDP.

UN inserts itself into US domestic politics
Fox News reports:
The United Nations warned the Trump administration earlier this year that repealing ObamaCare without providing an adequate replacement would be a violation of multiple international laws, according to a new report.
Though the Trump administration is likely to ignore the U.N. warning, The Washington Post reported the Office of the U.N. High Commission on Human Rights in Geneva sent an "urgent appeal" on Feb 2.
The Post reported that the confidential, five-page memo cautioned that the repeal of the Affordable Care Act would put the U.S. “at odds with its international obligations.”
The warning was sent to the State Department and reportedly said the U.N. expressed “serious concern” about the prospective loss of health coverage for 30 million people, that in turn could violate “the right to social security of the people in the United States.”
Dear United Nations: sod off.

Balanced view of Trump's first 100 days
New York Times columnist Ross Douthat says the first 100 days of the Donald Trump presidency could have been worse. Easily, far worse. Douthat makes his case for why things are tolerable compared to expectations/fears/early hints. The economy "is still O.K, still creating jobs and growing." Trump's White House personnel picks are getting better, to go with a competent (or better) cabinet. Illegal border crossing is down, decreasing the likelihood of a "draconian" response on the issue from Trump. The "successful nomination of Neil Gorsuch" is a real achievement and kept promise. For the most part, the anti-Trump protests have not led to an overall collapse of civil debate. (Really!) Counter-intuitively, another upside is the failure of the Obamacare replacement. Douthat explains:
Sure, this isn’t good news for Trump on the usual presidential metrics, where big legislation counts as promises kept, points on the board, the building blocks of a legacy and so forth. But it is good news for the country, because the proposed Obamacare replacement was so flawed that its passage would have achieved little or nothing for the common good. And it’s quite possible to imagine that pattern repeating itself going forward: Good right-of-center legislation under Trump may be a pipe dream, but better no legislation at all than bad legislation, and with a Republican Party that’s both internally divided and incompetent at policy making, Trump’s inability to close the deal could save the country from a great many lousy bills.

Blame perpetrators
The Canadian Press reports:
The wife of a Thai man who hanged their 11-month-old daughter on Facebook Live said Wednesday her husband is the only person to blame and she bears no anger toward the social media site or the users who shared the horrific video.
The video showed 20-year-old Wuttisan Wongtalay killing his child by hanging her at an abandoned hotel. The video was livestreamed Monday evening and made inaccessible by Facebook late Tuesday afternoon.
Police said the man later killed himself. The video was apparently available for viewing online for almost 24 hours until Facebook pulled it down.
There is a fair bit of criticism leveled against Facebook for enabling this murder. While death porn is obscene, but all moral culpability belongs to Wuttisan Wongtalay.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017
The truth about trade
International borders doesn't make trade special or dangerous.
Last week Dave Donaldson, winner of the John Bates Clark Award, said this in an interview with the Wall Street Journal:
I have always believed strongly that the study of trade should not, and our interest in trade as citizens and policy makers should not, just be focused on international trade. There’s nothing fundamentally, at all different between California trading with China and California trading with Colorado. It’s all just trade.
(HT: Cafe Hayek)

Prime ministerial
Yahoo! reports that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was interviewed for the April 24th episode of The Jonah Keri Podcast:
“One last question, which I do at the end of every podcast, is I always ask the guest for a life tip, a nugget of wisdom,” Keri said, before clarifying that the tip could be either very serious or very silly.
“So I throw it out to you. It’s one thing that is just, if I met you in a bar you’d say, ‘Oh yeah, this is what I’m about,'” Keri said.
Trudeau responded rather simply: “In a bar? Flush the urinal with your elbow.”
That's quick considering he took the question very literally about "in a bar?" Still, he's Canada's PM.

The more things change ...
John O'Sullivan has a longish essay on the French elections. He argues that there is a political realignment going on and that Emmanuel Macron's victory will be short-lived:
The game is not over. Macron can’t be defeated in this round, but he will probably suffer some loss of reputation at the hands of Marine Le Pen in debate. His major problem is that despite the media chatter about reforms, he is the candidate of the status quo. That commits him to the Europeanist and progressive policies that have made Hollande unpopular. Worse, Macron is a more candid champion of such policies than any of their original architects. He has gone so far as to charge that French colonialism was a crime against humanity, to deny that there is any such thing as French culture, and to call for open borders. Unless he changes both politically and rhetorically, he will encourage the drift of native-born Frenchmen to the National Front. And he will do so in the face of two dangerous trends: the continuing turmoil produced by Islamist terrorism in France, and the silent destruction of jobs, ever higher up the occupational ladder, by domestic automation aggravated by globalist competition. France is in a serious crisis about itself that will get far worse in the next presidential term. If Macron faced any opponent other than Ms. Le Pen who, somewhat unfairly, cannot shake off her family’s past, he would be defeated. Before long a less tarnished political entrepreneur on the right will realize the fact, steal some of Le Pen’s policies, and add his own to fashion a winning costume.
The same point is made by O'Sullivan's NRO colleague, Andrew Stuttaford: "France’s next presidential election isn’t until 2022, but Marine Le Pen — or someone like her — will be waiting, and that wait may not be in vain."

Monday, April 24, 2017
A small city behind bars for parole violations
The Marshall Project reports:
Among the millions of people incarcerated in the United States, a significant portion have long been thought to be parole violators, those who were returned to prison not for committing a crime but for failing to follow rules: missing an appointment with a parole officer, failing a urine test, or staying out past curfew.
But their actual number has been elusive, in part because they are held for relatively short stints, from a few months to a year, not long enough for record keepers to get a good count.
To help fill the statistical gap, The Marshall Project conducted a three-month survey of state corrections departments, finding more than 61,250 technical parole violators in 42 state prison systems as of early 2017. These are the inmates who are currently locked up for breaking a rule of parole, rather than parolees who have been convicted of a new crime; the number does not include those in county and local jails, where thousands more are likely held.
The numbers would be higher if Alabama, Connecticut, Louisiana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia kept track of such statistics.
While 61,250 is small as a percentage of the 2.3 million incarcerated Americans, as Marc Mauer, executive director of The Sentencing Project, says, "the numbers aren’t trivial."

US politics in 2017, and 2020
The Washington Post reports on the Washington Post/ABC News poll that finds 58% of Americans think the President is "out of touch with the concerns of most people. This number includes 20% of Republicans and 10% of Trump voters. Asked the same question about the Republican Party, and 62% answer in the affirmative, including 30% of Republicans. Democrats shouldn't gloat. Two-thirds of Americans (67%) and 44% of Democrats consider the Democrat Party out of touch with the concerns of most people. Independents consider Democrats (75%) more out of touch than they do Republicans (68%). It is easy for each side to point the divisions across the partisan divide, and Republicans will certainly gloat that Democrats are viewed as more out-of-touch.
It is unsurprising that partisans consider the opposite party out-of-touch, but for a third or more to consider one's own tribe in such a way suggests that the United States is not immune to political upheaval. I'm not suggesting the rise of populist parties to challenge the bipartisan tradition. It is more likely, as we saw with Donald Trump and the GOP and Bernie Sanders and the Democrats, that the challenge could come from within. There is a very good chance that what was started last year by Trump and Sanders is not a one-off.
Related, leading Democrats don't think pro-life voters can be authentically Democrat.

France's anti-establishment presidential election
There is a sense of relief from many observers of the French election that Emmanuel Macron made it to the second round and is expected to easily dispatch Front National presidential candidate Marine Le Pen in two weeks. The euro rallied when it became obvious that Macron would be in the run-off. This could be misread as the return of normalcy to French politics, but as the Daily Telegraph observed, the results were a rebuke to the political establishment. Macron is invariably described as centrist, but it should be remembered that he started a new party, En Marche!, last year. It may have been political opportunism as the current Socialist President, François Hollande, is terribly unpopular. But it is also a rebuke to the governing Socialists, in which government Macron had recently served as Minister of Economy, Industry and Digital Affairs. The upstart party won 23.9% of the vote under Macron, who fashions himself as something of a post-partisan politician. The so-called far-right populist Front National finished second with 21.4%. La France insoumise, another new party started by another former Socialist minister, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, won 19.6% of the vote, as the left-wing populist alternative. That's nearly two-thirds of the vote going to populist and/or new political parties.
Typically, French presidential elections are contested by the Republicans on the centre-right and Socialists on the left. The Republican presidential candidate, François Fillon, finished third and won 19.9% of the vote, barely edging out Mélenchon. The governing Socialists finished fifth under Benoît Hamon, with just 6.3% of the vote. That is, the two traditional political powerhouses, who have been trading the presidency since 1959 (not including two brief couple month stints in 1969 and 1974), combined for about a quarter of the vote. It is too early to say that this is a political revolution, but ostensibly it appears that French voters rejected the status quo political parties.
And here's something interesting, via The Guardian's thorough live coverage yesterday: Front National expert Sylvain Crépon says that Emmanuel Macron may play nicely into Le Pen's hands. The conventional wisdom is that Le Pen will lose badly, as polls about the second round have consistently shown Macron beats her easily in the run-off. He might. Probably will. But Crépon says that the conventional wisdom misses an important point, namely that he plays into her strength:
Of all the candidates Marine Le Pen could have faced in the second round, Emmanuel Macron is the one who is projected to beat her the most convincingly. For all that, he is the candidate that she would most like to confront.
To understand why, we need to return to the FN’s project of reconfiguring French democracy around the question of identity ... It wants the principle divide to be between those attached to national identity (nationalists, patriots, souverainists) and those who seek to destroy it (globalists, cosmopolitans, pro-Europeans).
If Le Pen can replace a supposedly outmoded left-right divide based on economic and social criteria with with this new division, she can present her party as the one true alternative to what she describes as a system of “uncontrolled globalisation”. And that is a system of which Emmanuel Macron is the perfect incarnation. Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen victorious in snub to establishment politics.
If the Telegraph is correct and the real story about the French election is the rejection by voters of the political establishment, perhaps Le Pen has a surprise in store. The left-right narrative might miss the point about the French election and potential political realignment taking place.
I will admit that this post might contradict my previous one about the French presidential election. That's because the changes taking place now might not play out fully until 2022, and the fact that the previous post was mostly talking about the trajectory of French policy, not electoral politics.

Sunday, April 23, 2017
France's political future is a lot like its recent past
The conventional wisdom following the first round of presidential voting in France is that so-called centrist Emmanuel Macron will easily win the second round early next month. Let's assume the CW is correct. Jonathan Miller in The Spectator: "Macron's presidency looks unlikely to resolve any of the challenges facing a nation that seems unable to agree on anything." France's problems, rooted in excessive government regulation of the economy, especially the labour market, are the root of both left-wing and right-wing populism. And despite Macron's likely second-round victory, there is still tremendous opposition to the status quo, especially on the EU and NATO. With the supposedly right-wing Front National garnering nearly 22% and the left-wing La France insoumise of Jean-Luc Mélenchon winning almost 20%, four in ten French voters seem ready to drastically shake things up. There is tremendous pressure for Macron to solve France's economic and social problems. As an enthusiast for Europe and immigration, Macron better perform. The FN has slowly increased its share of first round voters since the 1990s and La France insoumise had a great showing for a first-time party. Populism isn't going away just because the young, cosmopolitan candidate won.

Tony Blair's endorses not-Labour/not-Brexit
The Guardian reports:
Tony Blair has advised voters to consider backing Conservative or Liberal Democrat candidates in June’s general election, if they promise to have an open mind on the terms of the final Brexit deal ...
In an interview on the BBC’s World This Weekend, Blair also said he was so concerned about the prospect of Britain plunging out of the single market that he could even return to frontline politics, saying: “I look at the political scene at the moment and I almost feel motivated to go right back into it.”
It is interesting that Blair does not include Labour, a clear signal he has no faith in his former party.
It is ridiculous for Blair to say "I almost feel motivated" to intervene in the public square when he has clearly return to politics.
But most important, Blair is mistaken in what he is trying to do. The former British prime minister told the BBC, the issue in this election is to "return as many members of parliament as possible to parliament that are going to keep an open mind on this Brexit negotiation until we see the final terms." Blair said returning a massive Tory caucus would be seen as the electorate endorsing "Brexit at any cost." That might be true, but that political reality will strengthen Prime Minister Theresa May's hand in negotiating with the other EU-27; by adding a sizable contingent of open-minded MPs, the public will undermine the next government's leverage to get the best deal for the United Kingdom by adding a great deal of uncertainty and forcing the government to deal not only with the EU and 27 foreign capitals, but a precarious parliamentary situation as well. A strengthened May can more easily fight for a UK in the single market on favourable terms, whereas if Blair gets his way London will only stay in the single market with too many concessions.
Former prime ministers and presidents should be seen, not heard.

Freedom vs. democracy
Donald Boudreaux:
Freedom is not a synonym for the right to vote in fair and open elections. Fair and open elections with a wide franchise might – might – be a useful instrument for promoting freedom. But contrary to much shallow thinking, the right to participate in such elections is not itself “freedom.” Freedom is the right to choose and act as you please, with this right bound only by the equal right of every other peaceful individual to do the same. (Or to quote Thomas Sowell, “Freedom … is the right of ordinary people to find elbow room for themselves and a refuge from the rampaging presumptions of their “betters.” I would add that freedom requires also elbow room from the rampaging presumptions – and from the enviousness, ignorance, myopia, and even the good intentions – of one’s peers and, indeed, from those of everyone.)

'The "Oh Never Mind" President'
George Will on Donald Trump's flip-flops:
The notion that NATO is obsolete? That China is a currency manipulator? That he would eschew humanitarian interventions featuring high explosives? That the Export-Import Bank is mischievous? That Obamacare would be gone “on Day One”? That 11.5 million illegal immigrants would be gone in two years (almost 480,000 a month)? That the national debt would be gone in eight years (reducing about $2.4 trillion a year)? About these and other vows from the man whose supporters said “he tells it like it is,” he now tells them: Never mind.
The column is otherwise about the red-lines the current President, or members of his administration, has set out and whether they -- mostly, he -- have any credibility abroad.

What I'm reading
1. Governing Global Health: Who Runs the World and Why? by Chelsea Clinton. The former first daughter raises important issues, but you always wondering about her real agenda (self-promotion, boosting the Clinton Foundation).
2. The New Urban Crisis: How Our Cities Are Increasing Inequality, Deepening Segregation, and Failing the Middle Class—and What We Can Do About It by Richard Florida. It's precisely what you think it is.
3. Dean Smith: A Basketball Life by Jeff Davis. Probably the second best college basketball coach of all-time.
4. Rock Solid: My Life in Baseball's Fast Lane by Tim Raines. I'm not a fan of player autobiographies, but The Rock was one of my favourite players.
5. The Slide: Leyland, Bonds, and the Star-Crossed Pittsburgh Pirates by Richard Peterson. That Bucs team from the early '90s was good, and entertaining.
6. "Understanding Wealth Inequality in Canada," a Fraser Institute paper by Christopher Sarlo
7. "France: A Critical Player in a Weakened Europe," a Brookings Institute Center on the United States and Europe paper by Philippe Le Corre

Saturday, April 22, 2017
Ideology not psychology explains the snowflake generation
Heather Mac Donald recently joined the roster of conservative speakers prevented from speaking an American university campus because student activists didn't like her point of view. She writes about the phenomenon in the Wall Street Journal:
This soft totalitarianism is routinely misdiagnosed as primarily a psychological disorder. Young “snowflakes,” the thinking goes, have been overprotected by helicopter parents, and now are unprepared for the trivial conflicts of ordinary life ...
Campus intolerance is at root not a psychological phenomenon but an ideological one. At its center is a worldview that sees Western culture as endemically racist and sexist. The overriding goal of the educational establishment is to teach young people within the ever-growing list of official victim classifications to view themselves as existentially oppressed. One outcome of that teaching is the forceful silencing of contrarian speech.

What happens when labour is inexpensive
Alex Tabarrok says that "Labor is cheap in India which leads to some differences from the United States." For example:
Every mall, hotel, apartment and upscale store has security. It’s all security theatre–India is less dangerous than the United States–but when security theatre can be bought for $1-$2 an hour, why not?
Offices are sometimes open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Not that anyone is in the office, just that with 24 hour security there is no reason to lock up, so the office physically stays open.
Every store has an abundance of staff. This one is puzzling since it results in worse service. Even in a tiny store, for example, it’s common to have one person tabulate the bill and then hand it to another person to ring you up. My guess is that this is an anti-theft procedure for the owner as it then requires two to collude to rip the owner off.
Tabarrok also has an amusing story about being dropped off at a restaurant.

Friday, April 21, 2017
Support for free trade
A few days ago Washington Post columnist Robert J. Samuelson looked at polling data on support for trade in America. Support for trade is generally strong and remains so in the Age of Trump, with 48% of Americans says NAFTA has generally been good and 46% saying generally bad. Looking back over the past few decades, it can make a difference depending on what pollsters ask (about trade or trade and jobs) and when they ask it (during economic downturns?). Samuelson concludes:
All in all, Americans seem to favor engaging the world economy and to reject protectionism. But the conviction is weak and subject to numerous qualifications. Americans’ attitudes on trade seem confusing, inconsistent and variable because they are confusing, inconsistent and variable.

Syria fact of the day
The Guardian reports: "Syrian families are naming their children Putin as a mark of gratitude for the Russian president’s support for his Syrian counterpart in the six-year war, a government official has said."
Or so they claim. Such flattery from the Damascus envoy to Moscow makes diplomatic sense even if he is only reporting anecdotes, and no official figures are available. Also, apparently Russian has been made the second language of Syria.

African megacity fact of the day
Daniel Knowles in CapX on Kinshasha, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo:
This is Africa’s third biggest city. At 12 million, its population is bigger than London’s. Yet it has almost no connections to the outside world. On normal days, there are only 11 international flights out of Kinshasa per day. At Heathrow, the figure is around 1,400. Apart from the airport, the only other way into this vast megacity is the rickety ferry from neighbouring Congo-Brazzaville.
That is from the Knowles article on how many African megacities are growing in population but not in capacity to provide basic services and needs (from transportation to energy to sanitation).

Unfairness vs. inequality
At BloombergView, Tyler Cowen writes about how little traction doing anything about inequality has among the general public. It's a fine column but this snarky remark is the highlight: "I also find it striking how frequently anti-inequality messages come from academia, which in reality has a remarkably inegalitarian system of allocating rewards."
Cowen points to a new study published in Nature Human Behaviour by psychologists Christina Starmans, Mark Sheskin and Paul Bloom, that shows people really care that rewards are distributed fairly, rather than equally. To some, these are synonymous but to many they are not. CapX's Oliver Wiseman does a great job summarizing Starmans' et al's study and findings. There are problems with the lab studies, and the inequality being tested never gets near the the level of inequality between the top 1% and the bottom of American society, but there seems to be a point in differentiating unfair and unequal. Wiseman then applies the political lesson from their research:
Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump didn’t get as far as they did by quoting GINI coefficients and pay ratios. It was the picture they painted of a system which rewarded the wrong things, in which hard work didn’t pay off and the ropes and pulleys of social mobility were frayed or outright broken.
Wiseman says that combatting unfairness is likely to be part of the United Kingdom general election. Defining fairness is no easy job, but it would appear that the Left is undermining its message by focusing on the unequal distribution of rewards.
CapX's Andrew Lilico would disagree fairness is not easily defined, stating:
Being fair is a special kind of being proportionate, of which equality, proportionality, and desert and the best-known forms. That is to say, sometimes being fair does mean being equal (“proportionality to unit”). Sometimes it means proportionality to action (what we call “desert”). Sometimes it means proportionality to some other relevant dimension, such as proportionality to income or need or appetite. But to be fair is always a matter of being proportionate.
Fairness is related to justice, but is not the same as it, for while justice is a moral concept and an ethical/normative obligation (i.e. one always ought to be just), fairness is a technical concept and an ethical consideration (i.e. sometimes it is right not to be fair, but one should take account of that unfairness in working what is right).
Proportionality matters. It seems that the public cares about proportionality to action (just desert). The Left would argue that the current economic system results in disproportionate rewards for the most well-off, but as Cowen points out, this doesn't seem to move people to demand large-scale and radical redistribution.

UK-US free trade
The Wall Street Journal reports:
U.K. Treasury chief Philip Hammond said Friday he is confident the U.K. and the U.S. can strike a free-trade accord once Britain has left the European Union, saying a wide-ranging deal would benefit both economies.
Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in Washington, Mr. Hammond said there is “very strong political momentum” in both the U.S. and U.K. to reach an agreement on boosting trade ...
“There is clearly a very strong political momentum behind this deal,” Mr. Hammond said.
As an EU member, the U.K. can’t currently ink trade deals on its own, but Mr. Hammond said London is eager to start talks as soon as possible.
“As soon as we are able to, as soon as it’s possible in terms of our obligations to the European Union, we will begin preliminary discussions with the United States” on a trade accord, Mr. Hammond said, adding Britain would aim for a “comprehensive” agreement covering both goods and services.

The meaning of the special elections
Michael Barone has a good column in the Wall Street Journal, "How to read this year's special elections." It is tempting to say that two Congressional special elections are a small sample size, but Barone looks at the type of districts in play: one suburban with a large number of college educated and evenly split between Trump and Clinton in 2016, the other with a lower college educated population and a large Trump victory last year. Noting that opposition parties have certain "inherent advantages" (more flexibility, better ability to stress local issues, protest against unpopular party in power without disrupting government), Barone says that the "specials show that Trump-brand Republicanism is unpopular with high-education voters and made zero inroads among Trump opponents." He concludes "that's "interesting, but not Earth-shaking." That's not clickbait and it avoids partisan triumphalism in the face of modest outcomes, but that sounds about right in terms of analysis. For all the Democrat euphoria following Jon Ossoff's 48% showing in Georgia's 6th CD, against the combined 51% for the 11 Republican candidates, forcing a run-off election, that just about mirrors the Trump-Clinton result last November (48.3%-46.8%). In other words, despite everything that has happened over the past six months and the fact the Left put everything it could into Ossoff's campaign, almost nothing has changed vote-wise in the sort of congressional district Democrats need to win to take back the House of Representatives.

Thursday, April 20, 2017
'Should Cameron campaign for the Conservatives in the coming election?'
ConservativeHome's Paul Goodman asks the question and offers the case(s) for and against:
Case for: He fought two general elections, lost neither, kept increasing the Conservative seat total, won two referendums, isn’t unpoular, is effective on the stump, might help swing some seats in the Remain-friendly home counties where the Liberal Democrats will be active. If he’s willing, he’ll be a loyal trooper – and is too canny to get caught out by awkward questions.
Case against: He lost the EU referendum and his day is done.
Views, please.
David Cameron is a good politician and he has a lot of strengths on the hustings (when he isn't making patently ridiculous claims about Brexit). He may even be a better politician than Prime Minister Theresa May, although I could argue either way. I really liked Cameron's Big Society and Life Chances speeches, but he didn't deliver the necessary policy to back up his words with actions. Big Society and Life Chances fit nicely into May's priorities (helping those who are Just About Managing), but ultimately he would be a distraction. Cameron's presence would force comparisons between May and her predecessor rather than May and the opposition leaders. More importantly, May has implicitly criticized Cameron's government and leadership as style over substance, and dismissed his close allies for treating the serious business of politics as a game. There would be just too much difference in style between the current and former leader of the Conservatives for Cameron to be an asset.
Cameron's role should be limited to a joint-appearance with the Prime Minister endorsing whatever Brexit strategy she announces. That would symbolically unify the Remain side of the party (and country) with the realities that May is working with (Brexit means Brexit).

Wednesday, April 19, 2017
Comparative advantage
Two-hundred years today On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation by David Ricardo was published. Douglas Irwin writes a brief appreciation at VoxEU, noting the vital concept or framework Ricardo introduced in economics:
The publication of Ricardo’s book deserves special notice because in it he set out, for the first time, the theory of comparative advantage. Ever since, the idea of comparative advantage has been an essential part of every economists’ intellectual toolkit.
The key idea behind comparative advantage is that every country, no matter how advanced or behind it might be in the productivity of its labour compared to other countries, would be able to engage in beneficial trade with others. A country with a productivity advantage over other countries would not export everything, but only those goods in which it had a comparative advantage. Thus, paradoxically, an advanced country would find it advantageous to import goods even if it could produce those goods more efficiently than other countries. Conversely, countries behind the technological frontier without an ‘absolute’ productivity advantage in anything (in comparison with others) could still export goods in which its comparative disadvantage was the least and import goods in which its comparative disadvantage was the greatest – and benefit from doing so.

Tyler Cowen points to a study that found, "94% of participants wished to possess a superpower, and majority indicated using powers for benefitting themselves than for altruistic purposes."

British politics is the best
The Guardian reports:
[O]netime Labour MP, Shahid Malik, who was ousted from his Dewsbury seat in 2010 after being embroiled in the expenses scandal, says he fancies contesting Rochdale for Labour if the party doesn’t reinstate the incumbent, Simon Danczuk, in time.
Danzuk has been suspended since late 2015 after a sexting scandal involving a 17-year-old dominatrix who sold her toenails on the internet.

Michael Chong's email to supporters this morning begins thusly:
A lot of the other candidates in this race say they can defeat the Trudeau Liberals in 2019. Many of them make good points. And there is no doubt we need to defeat the Trudeau Liberals in 2019.
But I'm the only one who can take on Trudeau and win.
Chong's email is a lot like the emails from other leadership contenders confidently touting victory in 2019. This is hogwash. We have no idea what the political climate will be like in two years. Heck, in early August 2015, the question pundits were asking amongst themselves was how many seats Justin Trudeau needed to win to keep his job as leader of the Liberal Party. Two months later he led the party to a majority government. 18 months ago, no one thought Donald Trump would win a primary let alone the GOP nomination, and once he secured the nomination few pundits gave him any chance to win.
I get that Chong may honestly believe only he can win. (Remember this email, and the messages from others, when they confidently predict victory under whoever becomes the next Consevative leader.) And he taps an important sentiment among leadership voters, specifically the desire to pick a winner (both a leadership victory and general election win). But he doesn't know -- no one knows -- who can win in 2019.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017
UK election call
After months of rejecting an early election, British Prime Minister Theresa May surprised everyone today when she called a general election for June 8. The polls show that the Tories hold their largest lead since the Thatcher years, with some showing May's party leading Labour by more than 20 percentage points. Labour is currently weak and it forces the party to go into the next general election with the discredited Jeremy Corbyn as leader. Labour is expected to see a number of sitting MPs retire rather than risk the embarrassment of losing in June. This could weaken Labour as it loses experienced MPs who might look like responsible cabinet ministers, but at the same time it will (paradoxically) strengthen Corbyn's hand within the party by forcing a number of his distractors out. The potential winner of Labour's woes is supposedly the Liberal Democrats but they might not appear an effective vote against the Tories because despite Labour's poor polling numbers (low 20s), the Lib Dems are hovering around 10%. Because of Theresa May's personality and priorities (the focus on JAMs), the Tories are likely to gain as much from the decline of Labour as the center-left parties (Lib Dems, Green). Also, with May pushing a hard Brexit, she takes the winds out of the sails of UKIP, creating an existential crisis for the United Kingdom Independence Party.
And yet, I don't think May called this election because it was an opportune time to beat her political opponents across the aisle at Westminster. With a mere 17-seat majority, there was little room to maneuver during Brexit negotiations, or perhaps even deliver hard Brexit. Nicky Morgan and Dominic Grieve won't be able to dictate the terms of Brexit if the Tories win a larger majority. Winning a new mandate (unnecessary because last year's referendum gave the government a mandate to leave the European Union) with a larger Conservative majority, gives a clear signal to Britons and Brussels, that May means what she says when stating (threatening?) that no deal is better than a bad deal. The idea that May is an opportunist will be a BBC and opposition talking point but won't register with voters. She has and will continue to make the case that strong, decisive leadership is necessary to deliver the best possible Brexit. Her hand may be strengthened while negotiating with the other European capitals due to the weak state of her domestic political opponents, but the former matters more her than the latter. The Wall Street Journal reports that "a senior EU official" said that with the election call, "the chances for a good outcome of the Brexit negotiations have just gone up tremendously." And as The Guardian explains, there is a narrow window to call an early election: "The breakneck speed reflects a narrow window of opportunity in Europe. Any later would eat into the precious negotiating time reserved for Brexit and risk exposing the contradictions in Britain’s position. Instead, the prime minister hopes to exploit the lull between invoking article 50 and the upcoming French elections to strengthen her hand before the trials ahead."
There is a small danger that there will be a greater demand that May be clearer on her Brexit position. This could harm negotiations in the longer-term, although the election probably means a two-month hiatus from negotiations during the campaign. But there should also be demands of the Labour and Lib Dem leaders to clearly articulate their Brexit goals. May could be in a tricky position because her supporters probably want more control over immigration (read: less of it) than the British government is likely to either negotiate with the EU or implement even if they have full control of it. My guess is that the Prime Minister will skirt questions about the number of immigrants and talk more about the process.
What I most look forward to in this election campaign is May putting some meat on the bones of the vision she has already articulated, namely about helping ordinary Britons (the JAMs) with better public services. I can already hear a certain kind of conservative complaining that it sounds like Labour-lite, but I have a lot of time for her stated goal of making government work for the people who most need it. The Spectator's James Kirkup said May will campaign tough on Brexit and soft on society. Making life a little less tough for those struggling to get by is an honourable Conservative goal.
I don't believe that Theresa May plays political games, but if this is purely an opportunistic election call, the timing is the best the Tories are likely to face. Brexit negotiations could get rough. The economy is due for a (cyclical) downturn. The polls seem to favour the Conservatives. Her opponents are weakened. Most of all, she presses former Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne to shit or get off the pot; will he stand down as MP to commit himself full-time to his half-dozen other jobs.
Against charges of playing games and opportunism, May can respond that 1) election outcomes are not guaranteed so she is taking a risk, and 2) that she is calling the election before redistribution which was anticipated to increase the Tory numbers in the House of Commons so she is presumably surrendering gains the party could have made if she waited.
We won't know about this for a bit, but the results of the French presidential election could influence the British campaign. This is will be worth watching. I guess the opposite is true, too, that the British election could influence the French vote, although less so.
Two-thirds of the House of Commons must vote for an early election but there doesn't seem to be much interest in voting against the motion scheduled for Wednesday.