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, September 24, 2017
 
On the German election
Henry Olsen's twitter feed is the source for quality analysis of the election results (looking at specific regions). Key point: the populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) won three seats outright (that is, not through proportional representation). Greens have only once won a seat outright.
At Unherd, Olsen writes:
The polls have been showing a trend away from Merkel’s CDU/CSU and toward the AfD all month. I said yesterday that AfD could hit 14% and up to 20% in one or two East German states ... It’s not hard to figure out why this happened. As I wrote recently, world politics is increasingly less about Left v Right and more about Ins v Outs. If you benefit from modern cultural norms and the globalised economy, you’re an In. If not, you’re an Out. Since those with fewer skills and lower formal education tend to be more culturally traditional and economically stressed, they are the prime voter moving toward so-called populist parties.
AfD won 14% nationally and 22% in eastern Germany. Both mainstream parties saw their support drop. Merkel's Christian Democrats were down nearly nine percentage points. The Social Democrats are down five percentage points. Politico EU reports that AfD took a million votes from Merkel's alliance and a half-million votes from the Social Democrats. SDU said it won't join Merkel in a grand coalition again. The Guardian looks at the few coalition options Merkel has left.
Unherd's Peter Franklin:
Now we know the biggest difference between Angela Merkel and Theresa May – about 10% of the electorate. If a vote share in the low forties was a humiliation for the British PM then what would you call a share in the low thirties for the German Chancellor?
Exactly what she deserves, might be one answer. Last week I challenged the idea that Germany is the ‘responsible adult’ of European politics. In fact, Mrs Merkel has presided over a series of disastrous policies that have destabilised Germany’s neighbours – and are now destabilising German politics.
That's right -- Merkely has one-third less support than May did a few months ago.


 
May's cabinet fracturing over Brexit?
The Sunday Telegraph reports:
Boris Johnson has demanded a series of Brexit assurances as the fragile Cabinet truce over Theresa May’s transition plan begins to fracture. The Foreign Secretary wants Britain not to adopt any new EU rules and regulations after it formally leaves in March 2019, the Telegraph has learnt. He believes it is wrong for rulings from Brussels to apply in the UK during the two-year transition because Britain will no longer be involved in the decision-making process. The stance goes further than the Prime Minister – who declined to make the promise on Friday – and puts him on a collision course with the Treasury, which wants a “status quo” transition.
The Guardian reports that supporters of Boris Johnson are claiming victory in having the Foreign Minister successfully persuade Prime Minister Theresa May to alter her Florence speech on Brexit. They say he convinced May from backing the Norway option (access to the single market in exchange for payments and adherence to EU rules) and to dismiss the Chancellor of the Exchequer's desire for a long (four- or five-year) transition. The Sunday Mail reports that there is "all-out war" between BoJo and Hammond. For what it's worth, former UKIP leader Nigel Farage doesn't think May will stick to the two-year transition timetable. National Review's John O'Sullivan says that foremost, May's speech "was bent on removing any doubt that Britain would be leaving the EU — a doubt that apparently still shapes some thinking in Brussels and the British media." This is important to signal to the wishful thinkers abroad, but also the increasingly frustrated pro-Brexit segment of the UK Conservative Party and the majority who voted for Brexit.
We must remember that all this is a negotiation and on Friday May put forward a position that is a starting point. It is unlikely the UK government will get everything it wants. One doesn't start off with the compromise one is willing to accept. May's tough line ensures London will get more of what they are asking for than they would otherwise. Of course, May must negotiate the treacherous waters of domestic politics at the same time, which complicates matters.


Saturday, September 23, 2017
 
Against outrage over selective outrage
At Quillette, Spencer Case argues that there are in fact very few cases of selective outrage being hypocritical once one takes into account the reasonableness of differences in opinion or priors. (I'm disgusted I just wrote that sentence, but it's true.) And being justifiably and proportionately outraged at all true injustices is not even possible:
The world’s capacity to produce outrages far outstrips the human capacity to respond emotionally to them. If you are psychologically normal and a loved one is wrongly convicted and executed for an atrocity he clearly did not commit, you will be about as outraged as it is possible for you to be. It would be an unreasonable – indeed, incomprehensible – to demand that you be twenty-two times more outraged at the Manchester bombing, 15,000 times more outraged at the number of children who died of preventable diseases and malnutrition that day, 30 million times more outraged at Mao’s Great Leap Forward, and so forth.
I can imagine God expressing outrage at all of the sins of the world in a way that is completely general and proportionate. I can’t imagine a moral human being doing this, certainly not a psychologically normal human being, in a world so full of outrages. And these psychological and emotional limitations are probably a blessing. It would be unpleasant, even debilitating, to have a constant awareness of all of the evil in the world. Thus, the goal of evenly distributing and proportioning our outrage is neither achievable nor desirable.
Case is not talking about faux outrage. I would add that there is also too much genuinely felt outrage over things that not genuine outrages. But this is not an issue of selective outrage, as Case points out, but a disagreement over the reasonable of the opinion itself. The world would be a better place if we were outraged less often.


 
Smart-mart
Walmart is working on a service that will send groceries directly to a customer's fridge with a delivery person having access to a one-time pass code on your home alarm when you're not home. Waiting for deliveries is a waste of time. Technology -- smart locks, online shopping -- should save time. It would be even better if Walmart knew when my refrigerator needed milk, eggs, juice, and yogurt and delivered them without me asking it to.


Friday, September 22, 2017
 
Why the UN sucks
Douglas Murray has a good essay at Unherd on why the United Nations sucks: democracies have the same legitimacy as the faux-democracies and dictatorships, and everyone pretends its okay. President Donald Trump challenged that polite fiction this week and was criticized for doing so. Murray says the UN is nice in theory, the "physical embodiment of the concept of the 'community of nations'," but there is no community of nations. There are only aligned interests or competing interests featuring some set of countries. What are democratic leaders and dictators -- or their representatives -- supposed to do when they meet? Murray writes:
If the delegates of the world’s democracies at the United Nations were to regularly turn to the world’s despots and remind them of their true moral and representative standing then the business of the UN would break down daily. Instead a form of diplomatic politesse exists, where people listen thoughtfully to the latest eruption from the noble representative of some satrapy or other and grants its emissions a similar weight and judgement as it would accord to representatives who are elected by and accountable to their people.
Some people like the idea of a League of Democracies so that legitimately elected and like-minded countries can work together, but this makes no sense. There is no need for an international body to get Germany and the United States to cooperate because their like-mindedness means they already do.
There is no serious debate about whether or not we need the United Nations. We don't. But no one wants to admit it. The bad ruins whatever limited good it does, but for the most part it does nothing meaningful so everyone can live with it. Some countries (the U.S. and the U.K.) will threaten to audit Turtle Bay's books and maybe even occasionally withhold some funds, but they will never threaten to take their ball and leave the Turtle Bay schoolyard. It's safe to stay as long as no one cares about the UN.


 
'End-of-life chatbot can help you with difficult final decisions'
New Scientist reports:
Could chatbots lend a non-judgemental ear to people making decisions about the end of their life? A virtual agent that helps people have conversations about their funeral plans, wills and spiritual matters is set to be trialled in Boston over the next two years with people who are terminally ill.
People near the end of their lives sometimes don’t get the chance to have these important conversations before it’s too late, says Timothy Bickmore at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts. So Bickmore and his team – which included doctors and hospital chaplains – built a tablet-based chatbot to offer spiritual and emotional guidance to people that need it ...
And it has already seen some success. Bickmore’s team initially tested the chatbot with 44 people aged 55 and over in Boston. Just under half those adults had some kind of chronic illness, and nearly all had spent time with someone who was dying. After spending time talking to the chatbot, most of the participants reported that they felt less anxious about death and were more ready to complete their last will and testament.
For the next stage of the trial, Bickmore plans to give tablets loaded with the chatbot to 364 people who have been told they have less than a year to live. The slightly more souped-up version can also take users through guided meditation sessions and talk to them about their health and medication, as well as conversing on a wide range of religious topics.
The earlier people start considering how they want to die and what they want to happen afterwards, the easier it is for those around them to act on those decisions – for example, ensuring they don’t die in hospice if they would prefer to be at home.
New Scientist does not report whether the chatbot will discuss euthanasia or assisted-suicide options with patients, but it doesn't take much reading between the lines to think that might be the case. Indeed, pro-euthanasia documentarian Avril Furness suggests the chatbot would be a good way to start having what the magazine calls "difficult conversations about death" with Furness saying, "This chatbot isn’t going to judge you."


 
Lists
Business Insider has the list of the best-selling music acts of all-time (defined as "total certified album units sold in the U.S. (including streaming figures)"). Being around in the '70s and '80s helped. YouTube depresses sales. A few surprises (Kenny G, Foreigner, Tupac). Bob Dylan has a lot of albums that did not sell well. Britney Spears and Backstreet Boys count as modern. Lots of country. Rolling Stones are near top of the list but sold a lot fewer than that other band.
Sports on Earth's Matt Brown ranks the top 50 college stadia. Big, loud, history, unique traditions, and nearby landscape count for a lot. Big 10 is well-represented. Love Iowa's new tradition of waving to the children's hospital. Worth clicking on the video links. Would have appreciated more pictures. Not sure how Bryant-Denny Stadium (Alabama) is only 16th.


Thursday, September 21, 2017
 
What I'm reading
1. Maximum Canada: Why 35 Million Canadians Are Not Enough by Doug Saunders. Weird that a person who attends Planned Parenthood Ottawa fundraisers frets about under-population in Canada. Wants massive immigration increases, silent on abortion and contraception.
2. Could It Happen Here?: Canada in the Age of Trump and Brexit by Michael Adams. His short answer: probably not be we need to be careful. Adams focuses on Canada and US values surveys but doesn't prove that certain views are correlated to populism, which he fails to properly define. So far the book is disappointingly exactly what I thought it would be.
3. Why The Dutch Are Different: A Journey into the Hidden Heart of the Netherlands by Ben Coates. Explores Dutch culture and what makes the country punch above its weight.


 
Theresa May reads 'riot act' to UN
The Sun reports on Prime Minister Theresa May's speech at the UN this week:
Reading the riot act to the world organisation during her podium speech to its General Assembly, the PM called on it to first win back the UK’s trust before she agrees to release the final 30% of the government’s £2bn in annual contributions.
In her podium set piece, Mrs May warned of a global “crisis of faith” that could be disastrous for everyone.
The PM told world leaders at the UN’s annual meeting major global challenges such as mass migration and globalisation are putting serious strain on the old world order.
But Mrs May also demanded major reforms to the UN to ensure its shortcomings don’t undermine crumbling faith in it any further.
She argued: “We should also acknowledge that throughout its history the UN has suffered from a seemingly unbridgeable gap between the nobility of its purposes and the effectiveness of its delivery”.
Wasteful aid spending and needless bureaucracy must be stopped, the PM demanded.
The United Nations is the foremost example of people judging an organization by its objectives rather than its outcomes. Theresa May called out the international organization for failing to live up to its lofty ideals. Unfortunately, it will not matter as the bureaucrats and NGOs that populate Turtle Bay would rather talk about what are rightly domestic issues -- some of which were endorsed by May -- than solve actual conflicts. But it was nice to see a British prime minister draw attention to this fact and back up the criticism with consequences.


 
Hard to believe the French elected a snotty elitist as president
Politico EU reports that French President Emmanuel Macron is facing criticism after calling opponents of his mild but necessary proposed labour reforms and social spending cuts "slackers" and "people who are nothing." I think people who are nothing is French for deplorable. Macron has accurately described France as a country where it is difficult to enact change because of entrenched interests and an abiding belief among the citizens that their work week should be significantly shorter than other Europeans or that they are entitled to their government handouts. Macron is right to propose small, incremental reforms to change the way these issues are talked about in France and show that real change is possible, that government programs are not a ratchet that moves only one way. But Macron's arrogance, often manifested through a politically toxic mix of condescension toward the working class while enjoying the finer things in life, will not help him achieve his reformist agenda. Macron's allies say the controversies will not derail the President's agenda. We'll see. Real protests begin this weekend and the political class does not have a stellar history of resisting massive street demonstrations. Everything changes when farmers are blocking the highways into Paris.


 
We're fucked
Mark Steyn writes about America and the rest of the west today and its lack of civilizational confidence, manifested in both its unwillingness to tackle the threat of Islam and its zeal to tear down statues:
A culture that will not defend its past is unlikely to defend its future. Indeed, it may be so obsessed with contempt for its past that it can no longer even discern threats to its future. Or, come to that, threats to its present. We see this in the urge to flush attempted mass murder on the London Tube down the memory hole as swiftly as possible. Why exactly is it so necessary to cast the Parsons Green terror attack out of your mind?
Because any useful conversation on the subject would necessarily involve "refugee" policy, and broader questions of immigration and assimilation.
And that's controversial because you'll get accused of being a racist.
And that's career-ending because you come from a country where H G Wells said some beastly things about brown people a century ago.
And that's utterly shameful because, although your nation gave to the world Magna Carta and Common Law and Shakespeare and a Royal Navy that did more than any other institution to expunge slavery from the planet, and notwithstanding that even in the crappiest crapholes like Zimbabwe almost everything that still just about works in that dump comes from your country, your history is less than 100 per cent perfect.
And that's cringe-worthy because you've been raised in a culture that doesn't teach you about any of the good stuff, only to spasm reflexively when accusers cry "racist!" or "imperialist!", "Islamophobe!" or "transphobe!"
And that's life-threatening because, after a generation or two, it seems entirely normal to accept that, as penance for crimes you have never committed, it is necessary to surrender your civilization to barbarians.
Karl Marx said of capitalism: "the rule of the bourgeois democrats, from the very first, will carry within it the seeds of its own destruction, and its subsequent displacement by the proletariat will be made considerably easier." I sometimes wonder if the same might be said of western-style democracy itself.


 
Four week 3 NFL games to watch
Runner-up: New Orleans Saints (0-2) at Carolina Panthers (2-0) early Sunday afternoon: There are reasons to believe that the Drew Brees offense is not what we thought it would be but assuming that attrition hasn't left the QB with too few weapons, this could be a great strength match-up: Saints offense against the dominant Panthers D (12 points and no touchdowns allowed). If the Saints had played the 49ers and Bills like the Panthers have instead of the Vikings and Patriots, they might be 2-0. Cam Newton hasn't looked good. Should be a close divisional game and best chance for the Saints to turn their fortunes around. I predict they do.
4. Dallas Cowboys (1-1) at Arizona Cardinals (1-1) Monday night: Dak Prescott had a tough game last week in Denver, the type of games that challenge rookie QBs but the sophomore didn't face last year: the opposition gets off to a lead and then the defense loads up the box and forces the young QB to throw. Sophomore RB Zeke Elliott ran for less than 10 yards and Prescott didn't pass his test. Dallas and Prescott will need to bounce back but they do so against a strong D. Cards CB Patrick Peterson defending WR Dez Bryant should be a good matchup. Arizona should win their home opener.
3. Houston Texans (1-1) at New England Patriots (1-1) early Sunday afternoon: The Texans are good at getting pressure on opposing QBs, but generally Tom Brady isn't bothered by pressure unless it comes up the middle. The Pats O-line has been good at preventing that from happening in the previous two games. That said, J.J. Watt is no regular edge rusher and Watt vs. Brady is a battle between this generation's best defensive player versus this generation's best QB. No rookie QB has beaten Bill Belichick in Foxborough so Deshaun Watson is battling history, but he faces a Pats defense that hasn't shined thus far this season. It will be tough for Houston to upset New England, but the Texans can give the Pats a scare.
2. Kansas City Chiefs (2-0) at San Diego Chargers (0-2) later Sunday afternoon: Classic AFC West rivalry. Bolts need to win if they have any chance to make the playoffs ... or want to fill their soccer-sized stadium any time soon. Both of their losses were close and winnable: San Diego lost their games by a combined five points. The Chiefs have been solid on both sides of the ball with Alex Smith throwing downfield and third-round pick RB Kareem Hunt making an early case for offensive rookie of the year. According to Football Outsiders, the Chiefs have the best offense in the NFL, by a fair bit. That said, FO has San Diego as the 7th most efficient offense; ESPN's FPI has them as third and eighth respectively in offensive efficiency. Expect scoring. San Diego has suffered too many injuries to beat a Chiefs team that is looking like one of the three best squads in the NFL. Chiefs edge the Chargers in LA.
1. Atlanta Falcons (2-0) at Detroit Lions (2-0) early Sunday afternoon: Only game featuring two 2-0 teams this week. The Falcons are a complete, deep team with loads of talent. The Lions look better than they are having edged out a lackluster Arizona Cardinals team and the even more lackluster New York Giants. Lions schedule gets tougher and there is a good chance if this game is in December no one would care. Football Outsiders has Atlanta as the fourth-best offense and Detroit as the fourth-best defense, so this could be an interesting match-up. Matt Stafford against Matt Ryan is a matchup of top QBs. Falcons are trying to bury their Super Bowl defeat in which they blew a 25-point lead; Lions have nine come-from-behind victories in 2016 and thus far in 2017. But that's a dangerous game and doing so against a Falcons team with a running back tandem that should be able to run the clock will not be easy. Falcons win Detroit.


Wednesday, September 20, 2017
 
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, middle class champion
CBC reports that amidst the controversy that he and his Finance Minister have 11 numbered companies between them while they seek to increase the taxes on small business owners, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, "I no longer have dealings with the way our family fortune is managed." Family fortune, eh?
Trudeau also says that "I have been open and transparent about that, and have been entirely consistent in my desire to not be perceived to be bending or breaking any rules." Perception is important to most politicians, but few admit it. Also, not to be perceived as bending or breaking rules is not the same thing as avoiding doing those things.


 
2020 watch (Democrats edition)
Powerline's John Hinderaker writes about Hillary Clinton's What Happened -- Hillary happened -- and the lessons it has for everyone:
Here’s the rub: the Trumpist movement turned out to be stronger than I, and most others, initially understood. But Trumpists were, and remain, a minority. Trump probably would not have won if he had not been running against a uniquely inept and unpopular opponent.
That is how history works, of course–Ronald Reagan, to take just one example, benefited from running against the rather pathetic Jimmy Carter. So Trump is our president and he should exercise his powers vigorously. But Republicans also should understand that their victory owed at least as much to their opponent’s weakness as to their champion’s appeal.
The good news is that the Democrats don’t obviously have anyone much better than Hillary on the horizon for 2020.
There are candidates that are much better than Hillary Clinton, but they are still terrible candidates. The floor is pretty low with HRC.


 
Cowen interview with Summers
Tyler Cowen interviewed Larry Summers, an economist who served in senior roles in the Clinton and Obama administrations and a former president of Harvard (audio, video and transcript available here). Some excerpts:
COWEN: Who’s innovating in higher education right now, and what are they learning from this innovation?
SUMMERS: Not enough people are innovating enough in higher education. The place to start is, General Electric looks nothing like it looked in 1975. Harvard, Yale, Princeton, or Stanford look a lot like they looked in 1975. They’re about the same size to within a factor of two, they’re about the same number of buildings, they operate on about the same calendar, they have many of the same people or some number of the same people in significant positions.
The main thing to say is that, for something that’s all about ideas and for something that’s all about young people, the pace of innovation in higher education is stunningly slow. We’re still on a system where the break is in the summer. The reason we’re on that system is that when everybody went to pick the plants, that was the natural way to organize school, and it’s still going that way.
Summers, a pro-immigration Democrat, talks about how to build support for immigration:
The right broad deal on immigration is yes, there should be immigration but at least my view is the idea of the melting pot, which has become unfashionable in many circles, is actually a good idea.
The understanding should be that if you immigrate to the United States you’re immigrating to the United States to become an American. That reflects acculturation, one crucial part of which is speaking English and understanding that you’re going to be learning English and that you’re going to be carrying on your life in English. If we had more acceptance of the idea that immigration was about becoming American, we would have more acceptance of higher levels of immigration than generate comfort right now.
Summers on the optimal rate of tax on capital income?
Closer to the tax rate on other income than to zero would be my answer to that. A fair amount of capital income reflects rents of one kind or another. Capital income is substantially held by those at the high end. There’s a fair amount of what’s really capital income in the form of unrealized capital gains that never gets taxed.
So I think the right aggregate capital income tax rate is closer to what would go with a comprehensive income tax than it is to the alternative idea that capital income taxation is just a way of taxing future consumption, and therefore you should tax future consumption and present consumption at the same rate and the tax rate should be zero.
Summers on philanthropy to cities or other levels of government:
[Y]ou need to be very careful to make sure that whatever you think you’re buying is what you’re actually buying. If you give more money to the health budget of the city and the city responds by reallocating its own money from healthcare to other things then you’ll have demonstrated fungibility; you won’t have spurred healthcare. So have a strategy for addressing fungibility.
He also warns philanthropists to avoid "cannibalization" when trying to help and "impose a replicability constraint."
The full interview is self-recommending even if there is no over-rated/under-rated.


Tuesday, September 19, 2017
 
'FedEx ordered to pay woman $740 after horse semen delivery delay'
That's an actual headline, from CBC Halifax. Explanation: "N.S. woman's horse failed to get pregnant after 'priority overnight' package arrived late." Thank God for the national broadcaster.


 
PM May sorta backs BoJo
Reuters reports that a Sky News journalist tweeted Prime Minister Theresa May's response to being asked about her foreign minister, Boris Johnson: "Boris is doing good work as Foreign Secretary." She's correct, but that statement is terse enough for BoJo to worry about his future in cabinet if that's indeed something he cares about. At this point, he probably doesn't.


 
Markets in everything (deer piss edition) and regulatory capture (deer piss edition)
The New Yorker reports:
There are roughly ten thousand deer farms in North America, and some thirty per cent are owned by the Amish. The deer are usually raised for venison or hunting, but Lapp found another specialty: he is one of America’s premier producers of deer urine.
Walk into Walmart or Cabela’s and go to the back, near the rifles, and you’ll find a wall display of deer urine. It comes in small squirt bottles that hunters spray on the ground to hide their scent. Some hunters spend extra for urine collected from does in heat, which, they believe, attracts bucks. Industry groups estimate that deer urine is a hundred-million-dollar business, with players like Tink’s, Wildlife Research Center, and Top Secret, which for some reason packages its urine in wine bottles. Lapp sells his, wholesale, in three-hundred-and-twenty-gallon vessels, to the big manufacturers, and also runs a small business selling directly to hunters. He is not rich, but he makes a solid living for a young Amishman, and has plans to move his wife and their newborn baby into a larger house.
In an effort to combat chronic wasting disease that is plaguing some deer species, the state of New York has banned deer urine from infected areas, although it has not banned bringing butchered meat from such parts of the country. Curiously, meat is higher risk than urine. As New Yorker's Adam Davidson explains:
[T]he New York deer-hunting industry, which is dominated by firearm hunters, brings in more than one and a half billion dollars a year, and is supported by retailers and a passionate population of hunters. The deer-urine industry, on the other hand, is most vocally supported by bow hunters, who are comparatively few, and is predominantly represented by people like Lapp, small farmers with few resources.
The plan’s disparate treatment of urine and meat is an example of what economists call regulatory capture: the process by which regulators, who are supposed to pursue solely the public interest, instead become solicitous of the very industries they regulate.


 
Black pride okay. White pride not so much.
Taryn Finley, associate editor at HuffPost Black Voices, echoes Issa Rae's "Rooting for Everybody Black" in an essay for the New York Times, explaining:
[E]xpressing black pride is not the same as being racist toward whites ...
Ms. Rae’s critics don’t understand that when it comes to racial pride, the playing field is not level. Black pride does not carry the power to shut others out as white pride does.
The race-conscious left needs to understand if a lot of people, who aren't actually racist, react no so friendly to such double-standards.


 
Indian is not an offensive team name
The Boston Globe's Jeff Jacoby comes to the defense of the Cleveland Indians, and other professional sports franchises with Indian-theme names:
No sports team adopts a name or symbol in order to bring contempt upon itself ... team names typically suggest traits associated with heroes and winners: the speed of jets, the ferocity of bears, the aggressiveness of predators, the tenacity of cowboys.
That explains the abundance of Indian-themed team names in American sports at every level. Braves, Warriors, Blackhawks, Redskins, Indians — they are nods to a common view of native tribes as brave, tough, noble, and intimidating. If that’s a stereotype, it is a flattering one. It may not be historically accurate, but it could hardly be less of an example of invidious racism.
Jacoby also comes to the defense of Chief Wahoo, the symbol Cleveland barely uses anymore:
But there is no negative stereotype of wide-eyed, laughing Indians. Chief Wahoo doesn’t reflect contempt for Indians any more than Bugs Bunny reflects contempt for rabbits or than the Boston Celtics logo reflects contempt for the Irish.
Chief Wahoo is not and never has been the “grinning face of racism.” Like Fred Flintstone, Dudley Do-Right, or the bat-swinging, tonsured monk of the San Diego Padres, he is a cheerful, playful cartoon character, nothing more. The Chief Wahoo logo doesn’t hint at any bigoted subtext. Demonizing it as a racist emblem may feel good to those who enjoy parading their liberal sensitivity, but it does nothing to combat actual bigotry or promote tolerance.


Monday, September 18, 2017
 
Trudeau makes HUGE promise to UK
The Express: "Brexit trade deal with Canada will be EVEN BETTER than EU's Ceta agreement says Trudeau." This looks big. And Brussels might not be happy about it. One might argue it violates Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's promise to the EU to respect its trade rules which do not allow for London to negotiate separate trade agreements until after it has left the European Union (that is, after March 2019). But these are only words and as we've seen the Liberal leader says a lot of things and doesn't follow through (electoral reform, tiny temporary budget-deficits). Negotiations for a post-Brexit free trade deal won't conclude until after the October 2019 federal election which means the final agreement could be decided by a different prime minister and government.
Trudeau said, "we will be able to move forward in a way that benefits in a smooth transition that keeps the essence of Ceta applicable to the UK in ways that will respects the EU's requirements and rules." Not sure how that works, and neither does anybody else in Ottawa or London at this time. Certainly Canada's Prime Minister doesn't know what that looks like. But he mouthed words so all is good.
90% of the time I think these things are said in the same spirit as people asking how others are doing: most of the time the inquirer doesn't care about the answer, it's just the polite thing to say. Except that when politicians talk, it can affect markets, negotiations, and politics.


 
The highly regulated life of a trucker
Fascinating, confusing, and sad article at The Federalist by trucker Matthew Garnett on the regulations with which he must abide (the excerpt is long but worth reading):
For starters, let’s talk “logs” and “hours of service.” While you’re only fighting one clock on your morning commute, a truck driver is fighting five clocks. Like you, he’s fighting real time. You have to be at work by 9:00 a.m., and he has a 9 o’clock appointment at the local distribution center. It’s 8:45 and I-40 is a parking lot. In addition to this, he has four other clocks to worry about: the “eight-hour break” clock, his “14-hour on-duty, not driving” clock, the “11-hour on-duty, driving” clock, and the “70-hour weekly on-duty” clock. For simplicity, I will call each of these the “eight,” the “14,” the “11,” and the “70.”
Now I’ll explain what’s known in the transportation industry as the “Hours of Service” regulations. The Federal Motor Carrier Administration (FMCA) requires drivers to log everything they do, where they did it, the duration of the task, and when the specific tasks were done. The biggest principle to keep in mind is that when any one of the “clocks” runs out, you can no longer drive legally. Once you start the clock by going on-duty, you have eight hours before you must stop driving and take a 30-minute break.
Also, once you start your clock, you have now started a nonstop 14-hour window in which you must get all the driving done you need to for that day. If you get stuck at a shipper for three hours, you now have only 10 hours to drive. Which brings us to your “11”: In any given 14-hour on-duty period, you are only allowed to drive legally for 11 hours within that 14-hour period. In addition, in any eight-day period, you are only allowed to be on-duty (not driving and driving) for a total of 70 hours. Hence, your “70.” (This week, I made it back home with only one hour on my 70… I was cutting it close.)
Clear as mud? Basically, as I said in the outset, the FMCA (that is, Uncle Sam/ Big Brother) not only wants to know when I’m sleeping, resting, and driving—it tells me when I can sleep, rest, and drive.
Even now, as I write, I am being monitored. I am on the “off-duty” line of my logs. If I get pulled over next week by a “diesel bear” (a state trooper dedicated to enforcing FMCA regs), he’s going to want to know where I was and what I was doing at this very moment, and whether the FMCA does or doesn’t allow that. For instance, even though my logging computer says I’m “off duty,” if it were found out that I’m writing an article for The Federalist instead of “resting,” I’d be in violation. I’m technically not supposed to be doing any work right now. I’m not supposed to mow the grass, or take out the trash. I definitely would be in violation if I got a part-time job on the weekend while I was supposed to be “off duty.”
I’ve heard horror stories on this. A colleague of mine was once cited for a log violation because he sent an email to his dispatcher while he was in the “off duty” status. The penalty for that? Well, if the judge wants to throw the book at you, he can send you to jail for six months in some states. The fines are at least $500. So if it were determined by the powers that be that I was “working” during my off-duty time, I could be jailed for that. (Just in case my boss reads this, I consider writing a leisure activity.)
Now back to the logs/clocks, and I’ll show you what I mean when I say Big Brother tells us when to drive, rest, and sleep. Once a truck driver’s “eight” runs out, he has to take a 30-minute break before he can drive again. When his “14” expires, he must take a 10-hour, off-duty rest period. Once he’s driven for 11 hours, he must stop and take a 10-hour break.
But say you get stuck at a shipper for three hours: you can log two hours of off-duty time, which can serve as part of a later 10-hour break, but then you must take the remaining eight hours on the “sleeper-birth” line of your logs. This is called a “split sleeper.” After your eight hours in the sleeper, you will get the time back you had while you were stuck at the shipper, minus any time you used after the two hours, but before you took eight hours in the sleeper birth.
Simple, right? I’ve been driving trucks for a while, and these are aspects of the log system I still don’t completely understand. My outfit uses electronic logs, so basically when that computer tells me to stop driving, I stop. When it says go, I go.
These regulations incentivize unsafe driving because speeding is the easiest way to beat the clocks. These regulations disincentivize entrepreneurism because some truck-driving entrepreneurs will blanch at having every minute of their lives scrutinized by the state.


Sunday, September 17, 2017
 
There was a time when robot reporter could have been a cool sci-fi beat
Now it describes AI doing the job of reporting and writing. The Washington Post's AI reporter has filed 850 stories over the past year on subjects as diverse as high school sports, the Rio Olympics, earnings reports, and gubernatorial elections. The stories received 500,000 clicks. Important point: the robot reporter is supplementing the coverage provided by human reporters not replacing it. So far.


 
Jacob Rees-Mogg at Conservative conference
The Sunday Express reports:
The MP for North East Somerset is to give no fewer than nine speeches in 48 hours to the party faithful next month according to the Telegraph. He will be addressing everything from Brexit and the Conservative Party to the importance of free markets and the resurgent hard-Left.
The paper doesn't report this, but most of those speeches will be at so-called fringe events during the October 1-4 party conference in Manchester. The speculation is that JRM is building support among future leadership voters by talking to the most committed membership. He is just as likely ensuring that the party sticks to its guns on Brexit ("either you are in or you out") and enthusiastic support for free markets (after some of Theresa May's criticism of business).


 
BoJo blowback
The Sunday Telegraph reports that some of Boris Johnson's cabinet or caucus colleagues are asking Prime Minister Theresa May to sack the Foreign Minister. Boris Johnson's allies insist his Saturday Telegraph essay was not meant to reignite his leadership bid or weaken May's position ahead of her Brexit speech in Italy later this week. The Sun on Sunday came to the defense of BoJo in an editorial: "Our Foreign Secretary is sick of being ignored and has spoken out." The paper says, that without Johnson's persona and rhetoric, Brexit would have lost and it behooves the Prime Minister to listen to Johnson's Brexit vision. Andrew Gimson writes in the Sunday Mail that the May government will need Johnson around to sell whatever Brexit deal is eventually negotiated with the EU. On Twitter, Johnson said: "Looking forward to PM's Florence speech. All behind Theresa for a glorious Brexit." You can read BoJo's article on Facebook if you don't have a Tele subscription.


 
HRC: lots of blame to go around, from Bernie Sanders to those damn voters
Sean Collins at Spiked-Online on Hillary Clinton's What Happened?:
Hillary’s list of those people (other than herself) to blame for her loss is much longer than we’d previously thought. Bernie Sanders is a particular target of her scorn. ‘Bernie’s presence in the race meant that I had less space and credibility to run the kind of feisty progressive campaign that had helped me win Ohio and Pennsylvania in 2008’, she writes. She seems to be saying: if I had no opposition, I would have won. It was exactly this sense of entitlement, that it was ‘her turn’, that she deserved a coronation not an election, that turned many off.
She refers to ‘Clinton fatigue’ being a factor she had to overcome, but she doesn’t fully appreciate how many voters didn’t like that the establishment Democrats had turned to the wife of a previous president (just as the establishment Republicans had turned to Jeb Bush, the son and brother of previous presidents). The idea of family legacies appears monarchical, and just doesn’t fit with a democratic republic. Hillary’s building-up of her daughter Chelsea in the book – clearly being positioned for future office – doesn’t help her appear less aristocratic, either.
What Happened also makes clear that, of all of those apparently to blame, the people she is most upset with are the backward masses who voted for Trump – those who ‘saw the world in zero-sum terms, believing that gains made by fellow Americans they viewed as “other” – people of color, immigrants, women, LGBT people, Muslims – were not earned and must be coming at someone’s expense’. In other words, the ‘deplorables’ who she infamously declared ‘irredeemable’ during the campaign. She gives a quick, half-hearted apology for the ‘deplorables’ comment, before going on to spend pages of text defending her use of it and effectively doubling down on it: ‘Too many of Trump’s core supporters do hold views that I find – there’s no other word for it – deplorable.’
She simply cannot hide the fact that she looks down on the electorate.
Hillary Clinton hates the average American and the average American reciprocates.
God save us from a Chelsea Clinton presidency. Although it would be kind of amusing to see Bill and Chelsea win but Hillary Clinton rejected. HRC is uniquely awful.


Saturday, September 16, 2017
 
Mingardi on Gertrude Himmelfarb and the Fabians
Writing at EconLog, Alberta Mingardi stresses an observation that historian Gertrude Himmelfarb makes in her most recent collection of essays, Past and Present, namely that many reformers who argue for state intervention to solve some particular problem just want to control others.


 
Quote of the year
"Nobody wants to sit through a Chelsea Clinton speech on diarrhea in Africa if her mom isn't going to be president." -- Mark Steyn in a radio interview John Moore, via Five Feet of Fury.


 
Cement exports
Here is a list of the top cement-exporting countries. China, Thailand, and the United Arab Emirates top the list. Japan is eighth, Canada ninth, and the U.S. 13th. Most of the top exporting countries also imported some cement. Tyler Cowen expresses my sentiment on this: "I find it remarkable that cement is exported at all." David Ricardo lives.


 
BoJo's manifesto
This weekend in the Telegraph, Boris Johnson has a long essay marking his policy territory for a leadership bid vision for post-Brexit Britain. It is hard to improve upon Paul Goodman's comprehensive analysis at ConservativeHome. Key points:
1. Echoing Prime Minister Theresa May's Lancaster House speech in which she said that no deal is better than a bad deal, Johnson strongly criticizes the growing conventional wisdom that no deal is the worst possible scenario.
2. A trade deal is desirable but not essential as Johnson asserts trading under WTO rules is workable.
3. Johnson insists on no payment for access to the post-Brexit EU market.
4. His hard line on Brexit could buck-up demoralized Brexiteers within the party. It could also win him back support that he is thought to be losing in the unofficial campaign to replace May as Tory leader by giving so-called hard Brexit MPs a champion they have been lacking (save for Jacob Rees-Mogg, who has no Moggmentum among his colleagues at Westminster).
5. Johnson returns to his long-held pro-growth views on Britain becoming a low-tax, low-regulation country after leaving the EU (a point Goodman doesn't make in his bullet-point analysis).
6. BoJo commits to massive new funding for the NHS, a sort of Brexit dividend he talked about during the referendum, reiterating the questionable (discredited?) £350 million per week figure for what the UK will save when it doesn't have to send money to Brussels.
7. He raises a plethora of new domestic policies on everything from housing to the VAT on feminine hygiene products.
8. There are whispers that the column in his old writing haunt was the draft of a speech 10 Downing prevented him from giving. Interesting.
9. Johnson's essay is meant to destabilize May a month ahead of the party conference, thus putting pressure on her tenuous hold on the Conservative leadership and 10 Downing.
10. This article will reinforce the idea that BoJo puts his personal ambition ahead of both this party and his country.


Friday, September 15, 2017
 
Is George Osborne a politician or a journalist?
The Guardian's Gaby Hinsliff on the former chancellor of the exchequer and current editor of the Evening Standard:
The trouble is that it’s still unclear which side of the fence George Osborne is on. Is he genuinely a journalist now? If so, he ought to be above petty emotional vendettas? Or is he still a politician at heart, using this job as a way of continuing politics by other means? In a world where the line between activism and journalism, driving events and reporting them, is already dangerously blurred, this is surely an ambiguity too far.
Yes, it was thrilling at first to see Osborne replaying old cabinet battles in public, spilling the beans about what went on behind closed doors. For many remainers, it has been deeply comforting too to see his paper making such a sparky case for the benefits of immigration and openness to the world, trying to hold the centre ground and giving the Eurosceptic tabloids a run for their money.
Talk of Osborne now having a gun and not being afraid to use it against old enemies will, meanwhile, seem like jolly spectator sport to many on the left. What’s not to like about Tories fighting among themselves? Some will think it hopelessly naive, in a world where Steve Bannon can describe returning to Breitbart from the White House as getting “my hands back on my weapons”, to imagine the liberal media shouldn’t fire back.
But as time wears on, the nagging feeling that no good can come from allowing newspapers to be used like this grows. Osborne is right to argue that the British press (although not British broadcasters) have always been openly partisan vehicles for expressing their editors’ and proprietors’ personal views and influencing political decisions. What is new, however, is the appointment of an editor who has so much personal skin in the game. If journalism is the first draft of history, then the history of seven years of Tory rule, and its consequences for Britain, is being edited in front of our eyes by someone who was far too deeply involved to have any sense of objectivity.
Osborne lacks the integrity to do the right thing and commit to one (politics) or the other (journalism). Indeed his new position serves his political aims, which are not so much about returning to politics and eventually winning the Conservative leadership -- he may have sunk those chances with the Esquire profile -- but his more immediate political goal of harming the Prime Minister. But his vendetta is so obvious by this point that his journalism (and everything published at the ES) should be questioned. For whatever reason, nearly everyone treats what is published by his hacks as the gospel truth about internal Tory matters rather than one side of a protracted and bitter feud.


 
The fate of the world, or at least east Asia, rests in the hands of The Worm
The Guardian reports:
It sounds surreal, but with tensions rising between the two countries thanks to North Korea’s growing nuclear weapons program, there’s a very real possibility that [Dennis] Rodman, a man who once married himself, ends up playing a key role in preventing armageddon. Rodman himself certainly believes he will. In an interview with Good Morning Britain, the five-time NBA champion offered to “straighten things out” between Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, emphasizing that he considers both men friends.
I get Hunter Felt, a sports writer that appears to take a stab at humour, might be saying this tongue-in-cheek, but it should be labeled humour by The Guardian:
As North Korea expert Ken Gause said to Time that “he’s not the best ambassador we could have but it’s who we have.”
In just about any other situation, Gause would be correct in describing Rodman as an utterly inappropriate ambassador – as the man himself admits “[Kim and I] ride horses, we hang out, we go skiing, we hardly ever talk politics and that’s the good thing.” Rodman also fundamentally lacks the tact and restraint required in most diplomatic situations, and has a tendency to make events all about himself.
Oddly enough, all of these traits might make Rodman the perfect ambassador to North Korea. These are characteristics he shares with both Trump and Kim, which could go a long way to explaining how he became the only high profile individual with a direct line to both leaders.
The problem is that Felt's articles sometimes veer weird but he never writes humour columns per se. So this article will generate clicks and perhaps some "what-if" discussion and that might stoke Rodman's ego. But no one should think that basketball/celebrity diplomacy is all that's standing between an armed conflict between the Norks and Americans.


 
Australian craziness
The Daily Mail reports: "Australia Day is scrapped in Melbourne because it is deemed offensive to Aborigines and compared to 'celebrating the Holocaust'." It actually is not Melbourne, but the suburb of Moreland, which became the third municipality in Victoria to choose not to recognize the January 26 national holiday that commemorates the arrival of the first British settlers in 1788. The move was condemned by Liberal Party Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's government with Assistant Minister for Immigration Alex Hawke calling the move "extreme and divisive" and maintaining that "Australia Day is a recognition of our shared history and the Turnbull government, along with the vast majority of Australians, indigenous and non-indigenous, fully support Australia Day remaining on January 26."


 
Bai on What Happened
Reliably liberal Matt Bai, formerly of Rolling Stone and now with Yahoo!, has a very good essay on Hillary Clinton's What Happened. This is exactly correct:
As others have noted, Clinton blames a lot of other people for her loss. As ever, she is really good at declaratively stating that she takes responsibility for things that go wrong, but she doesn’t get what it actually means to take responsibility for things that go wrong.
Invariably, at an interval of what feels like every two pages, Clinton’s momentary mea culpas are followed by a “but,” and then by an explanation of why someone else — the media, the FBI, the Russians, the voters — was really at fault.
Many on the Left do this: say they take responsibility as if saying it is all they have to do. In Canada, Kathleen Wynne did this a lot in the past although I haven't heard it say it recently. But saying one is taking responsibility without consequences or correction isn't the same thing as taking responsibility. Mouthing words are cheap and we should recognize it as such. Kudos to Bai.
Bai also deserves kudos for saying something most pundits are loathe to mention: while Clinton blames sexism for her defeat and conceding that sexism played a role in some of the opposition to HRC, Bai says it is also probably true that the former first lady and secretary of state benefited from being a woman. Bai notes that Clinton barely did worst among some groups than recent male Democrat presidential candidates and even lost among white women, "which at least complicates the gender argument." Bai notes that Clinton had a lot of negatives and her gender was almost certainly not at the top of the list (a list that begins with her "perceived" sense of entitlement, her family's scandals, her age). Bai writes:
In fact, you could make a reasonable case that, just as race actually helped Obama by giving white voters a chance to feel they were turning the page on an ugly historical chapter, gender probably benefited Clinton to some degree, too.
A lot of women who weren’t so excited by her personally were nonetheless inspired to support her candidacy anyway, because of the change she symbolized. That passion, more than anything else, probably enabled her to hold off Bernie Sanders’s ideological insurgency in the primaries.
HRC's slogan "I'm With Her" certainly worked on some people. It might have turned off others. Bai is simply pointing out the obvious that Clinton was a terrible candidate who won some votes because she had ovaries. The standard 2016 narrative -- especially the one being peddled in What Happened -- ignores that fact.


Thursday, September 14, 2017
 
Four week 2 NFL games to watch
Runner-up: Houston Texans (0-1) at Cincinnati Bengals (0-1), Thursday night: Both teams had awful games in week one. Cincy QB Andy Dalton was picked four times because he performs poorly under pressure. Houston has an elite pass rush. Houston should win regardless of who starts, but if rookie DeShaun Watson gets his first start, it could be a very exciting and one-sided game. Or the rookie could struggle and still have a decent chance to win. I'm on the verge of making this a game to watch.
4. Dallas Cowboys (1-0) at Denver Broncos (1-0), late Sunday afternoon: The Broncs defense didn't look like it's missing departed defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, but I'd like to see them do it again. Denver's elite pass rush versus Dallas' elite offensive line is a great battle. Trevor Siemian had three decent quarters last week against San Diego. Denver will be dangerous if he develops into a competent QB. It's important that he does well against the 'Boys okayish D. I think Denver can hold on in a low-scoring game at home.
3. Minnesota Vikings (1-0) at Pittsburgh Steelers (1-0), Sunday early afternoon: The Steelers offense wasn't what it was billed in the off-season. Cleveland's D not only kept the Pittsburgh offense off the scoreboard in the first half, but didn't allow a Steeler first down in the first 30 minutes. Minnesota has a great defense that stopped Drew Brees and company in the opening week, so this should be a battle of strength against strength. It might also show us what Pittsburgh might actually be. That said, RB Le'Veon Bell didn't play in the pre-season so if the rust is off, Pittsburgh is dangerous. The Vikes O-line looked good against New Orleans on Monday night, but the Saints pass rush isn't that strong so it will be interesting to see what it can do against the Steelers as they bring pressure. Sam Bradford looked pretty good in the opening week, but again against a Saints defense that has rated worst or second worst in the last three seasons in defensive efficiency (per Football Outsiders). Steelers by a touchdown although it will feel like a more comfortable win.
2. New England Patriots (0-1) at New Orleans Saints (0-1), Sunday early afternoon: The standard narrative is that no one wants to face the Pats the week after they lose because Brady & Belichick will be angry. Truth is, no one wants to face the Patriots, ever. Drew Brees is 3-1 against Tom Brady in his career. The game probably means more to New Orleans than New England (tougher division, less capable of coming back after a 0-2 start). Considering that the Patriots couldn't stop Alex Smith, the sky is the limit for Brees (even if he's playing indoors). Adrian Peterson may have been a distraction in the Saints opener in Minnesota, but none of the three RBs performed in that contest: three different running backs had six or seven carries and not one had more than 20 yards. Take the over whatever it is -- it's a safer bet than predicting who comes out on top of a high-scoring game. I flipped a coin and it came up bet the over. Just enjoy the game.
1. Green Bay Packers (1-0) at Atlanta Falcons (1-0), Sunday night: Tapped as a possible NFC Championship previewh, the game features two of the best teams and quarterbacks in football. Green Bay has a potent offense because of QB Aaron Rodgers and his cast of receivers, while Atlanta is coming off a historically prodigious scoring season. That said, Green Bay struggled to get something started against Seattle. Atlanta barely held on against one of the NFC dregs, beating the Chicago Bears 23-17 last week when the Bears had the ball on the five-yard line and QB Mike Glennon threw the ball to a receiver in the end zone or just outside it three times only to have the ball bounce out of or through the hands of his target. In other words, Atlanta is lucky to be 1-0. The Falcons defense looked fine and the Packers defense kept the Seattle Seahawks out of the end zone last week. Both teams have solid offensive lines. It will be hard to beat Atlanta at home, but Green Bay is capable of doing it. This should be a great game despite both teams coming off subpar victories in week one. Now that they are less rusty, we should expect to watch a much higher level of football on both sides by both teams. This is the most evenly matched contest featuring quality teams this week and no fan of the game should want to miss it. I'm picking a Green Bay upset.


 
Washington has a rat problem. And no, I'm not talking about the politicians
The Washington Post reports:
The city’s booming human population, along with hundreds of new restaurants and bars, means more trash. Recent mild winters mean fewer rats die from frigid temperatures. And construction across D.C. has disrupted subterranean burrows, sending the creatures scurrying onto sidewalks, into residential yards and [...] into homes.
Complaints to the city’s 311 phone line concerning rats are at a four-year high. There have been 3,286 calls this fiscal year, up 64 percent from fiscal year 2015, according to data from the Health Department.
Part of the solution is new technology:
The 25 solar-powered cans [located in 'rat hot spots'] compact trash so it does not overflow and spill onto sidewalks, providing a buffet of rotting treats for rats. The 32-gallon cans, installed in the Barracks Row and Eastern Market neighborhoods, can compress content up to eight times their size, a spokesman for the Department of Public Works said.
The city also launched a pilot program that dispersed 400 trash cans with lids and sensors that alert the Department of Public Works when the cans need to be emptied.
And an old technology solution:
In January, the Humane Rescue Alliance launched Blue Collar Cats, which pairs feral cats that would otherwise likely be euthanized with businesses and residents struggling with rats. The “employers” agree to provide the feral cats with food, water and outdoor shelter, in exchange for their rodent control services.
The program, which has placed 40 cats and has a wait list, has been a success so far, said Erin Robinson, community cat program manager at the Humane Rescue Alliance.


 
Buses > rail
E21's Emily Top notes that intercity bus revenues are growing much faster than passenger train revenues. Buses have several competitive advantages including more ability to experiment with services and routes. They can also respond more nimbly to consumer demand. Rail requires the building of infrastructure which takes both time and money. Buses require a bus and driver, which can use existing infrastructure. Furthermore, intercity bus services have the ability (and willingess) to test new tech platforms that allow scheduling and stops to reflect demand rather than supply. Rail has its advantages, but it sucks up almost all federal transportation money, and even then it is having trouble competing with a growing number of intercity bus companies. Amtrack will use that fact as an excuse for more money, but politicians should consider letting the market decide this one.


 
Why 'drain the swamp' is a real thing
The Daily Caller reports:
Former President Barack Obama’s presidential campaign advertising agency received nearly $60 million in federal contracts after he took office, according to an analysis by The Daily Caller News Foundation Investigative Group.
The gravy train for the Washington, D.C.-based agency, GMMB, hasn’t slowed since President Donald Trump’s inauguration, the analysis found. The liberal Democratic communications powerhouse was awarded nearly $15 million in a new contract in June, after Trump entered the Oval Office.
GMMB received a total of $58.4 million in federal contracts from 2009 to 2017, according to USASpending, which tracks federal spending through contracts, grants, loans and other forms. GMMB’s annual revenue is an estimated $32.6 million, according to D&B Hoovers, a private business research and rating firm ...
Obama’s presidential campaign, “Obama for America,” disbursed to GMMB upwards of $700 million in media buys for his 2008 and 2012 campaigns combined, according to filings reported by the Federal Election Commission ...
The overwhelming majority of the $58 million funneled to GMMB came from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) created by Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren in 2011. The CFPB awarded the agency a whopping $43.7 million, about 75 percent of GMMB’s total federal funding stream.
GMMB was created in the 1980s by Democrats Jim Margolis and Frank Greer. Margolis is a Democratic media strategist who was a top advisor to Bill Clinton and Barack Obama's campaigns. He also worked for the Hillary Clinton campaign last year. Margolis produced the 2008, 2012, and 2016 Democratic National Conventions and was co-producer of both Obama inauguarations. And their company was richly rewarded for their work (by Democrats who complain there is too much money in politics).


Wednesday, September 13, 2017
 
Esquire profile of an asshole George Osborne
The British edition of Esquire has an interview with former chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne. Osborne has been a prick since being unceremoniously dumped from cabinet within minutes of Theresa May becoming prime minister. Tit for tat, you might say, but she dumped him because he was incredibly nasty to her when they were cabinet colleagues in the David Cameron minority government. Since leaving cabinet he has taken a number of jobs including editor of the Evening Standard, from whose pages he and his allies have waged a bitter war against the current Conservative government. While a political leader might want to keep her friends close and her enemies closer, his behaviour since getting the boot has demonstrated she was not wrong to rid her government of that snake.
Anyway, this quote from the profile is getting a lot of attention, and rightly so: "Osborne has told more than one person that he will not rest until [May] 'is chopped up in bags in my freezer'." I have heard too many politicians and their hangers-on talk like they are in the mafia, but they seldom rise above backbench MP or, in one case, a junior cabinet post. One did become an important organizer in his party. Osborne is not a nobody, though. Osborne is the editor of a daily British paper and former chancellor. Talking like a thug is for show, and it shows he's an asshole. But as one source told Esquire, "He doesn't want people to think he's an asshole, because he's not an asshole." Another sycophantic aide from his Downing Street years told the magazine: "[H]e's got a gun now. One thing people in the Conservative Party will realise is: 'you mess with George Osborne at your peril'." I don't know. He kinda sounds like an asshole.


 
Allan J. MacEachen, RIP
Allan MacEachen, a long-time Liberal MP, senator, and cabinet minister, passed away yesterday. MacEachen was an MP from 1953 to 1984, save for four years during the Diefenbaker majority. He was also Canada's first deputy prime minister, a post created by Pierre Trudeau, and was interim leader in 1979 when Trudeau briefly thought about leaving politics. MacEachen was instrumental in the creation of the modern Canadian welfare state, serving as Lester Pearson's minister of national health and welfare from 1965-1968 when medicare was launched. He also was a cabinet supporter of the Canada Pension Plan. A few years ago I wrote a column for the Ottawa Citizen saying that while many people think it was Trudeau the Elder who remodeled Canada into a European-style welfare state, it was mostly Lester Pearson. The column was history not polemic, although long-time readers of this blog would know that I was not a fan of the Pearson-Trudeau revolution. My column did not betray my bias; MacEachen sent me a hand-written note thanking me for acknowledging Pearson's contribution, lamenting that few people recognize Lester Pearson's influence on modern Canada. It was a short, sweet note, and I appreciated the gesture even if he was incorrect in appearing to assume some sympathy on my behalf.
You have to take what is written in political memoirs with a grain of salt, but the leaders and cabinet ministers from that period praised their colleague MacEachen as a man of integrity and intellect, a model of what public service should be. I won't begrudge that. But for better or worse, he also created Canada's welfare state. I wish public service did not always mean enlarging the reach of the state. Unsurprisingly, Justin Trudeau has praise for MacEachen


 
What I'm reading
1. What Happened by Hillary Clinton. It's obvious she doesn't know what happened, namely that the Democrats put forward as their presidential candidate a singularly terrible candidate. She demonstrates much of what normal people don't like about her: the sense of entitlement, the condescension, the lack of self-awareness even while being introspective. The publishers, at least, understand that the problem was Hillary Clinton which is why they were smart enough not to a picture of the author on the front underneath the title.
2. Gorbachev: His Life and Times by William Taubman. It's a long book that I feel obligated to read, but I'm only quickly perusing it. It might well be the definitive English-language biography of Gorby but there is not a lot of new material of significance. Taubman definitely views Gorbachev as a tragic hero and perhaps gives the last Soviet leader too much credit as a reformer rather than someone whose hand was forced by history (the failure of communism, Ronald Reagan's challenge to the Evil Empire) to change tact.
3. The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics by Mark Lilla. A slim but deep volume and a scathing indictment of modern left-wing politics which has abandoned the ideal of New Deal liberalism that focused on increasing opportunity for all, in favour of an endless war of identity politics.


Tuesday, September 12, 2017
 
The fifth was too many


 
The lack of 9/11 commentary
I found the absence of articles marking September 11 a little jarring. To be fair to pundits, I'm not sure what there is to say 16 years later that hasn't already been said and ignored. The warnings are ignored. The trite talk is ignored (thankfully). Mark Steyn said, "I find it harder to mark [the anniversary of the terrorist attack] as the years go by." Indeed. Some would argue that life returned to normal and that contra Steyn we are no longer in a war against ... whoever or whatever. But what Steyn goes on to say is worth thinking about:
September 11th 2001 was supposedly "the day everything changed" - if by "everything changed" you mean "the rate of mass Muslim immigration to the west doubled". As that absurd statistic suggests, we are not where I thought we would be 16 years on: We run around fighting for worthless bits of barren sod like Helmand province in Afghanistan, while surrendering day by day some of the most valuable real estate on the planet, such as France and Sweden.
A few years ago Steyn said the next time terrorists won't need to fly into a skyscraper to destroy it, we'll just give them keys to the front door. It is hard to come to any conclusion about the War on Whatever other than we've surrendered. And that way too many people shrug at (admittedly smaller scale) terrorist attacks in the west. I understand that in the United States the chances of dying at the hands of foreign terrorist is extremely low (about one-quarter as likely as dying in a heatwave or half as likely as dying in an animal attack), but that's beside the point. Governments seem to want a national security state with full-on airport security theatre and useless foreign wars while allowing parts of Europe to audition for the part of Beirut. It all seems so incongruous.


 
What to glean from Don Martin's Jagmeet Singh tweet
I had three takeaways regarding CTV's Don Martin's tweet about the NDP leadership candidate Jagmeet Singh:
1. This is an indictment of the media. They haven't been covering a major party's leadership race. Shame on them. Journalists never stop telling us about their vital role in a democracy, and then they utterly ignore the third-place party? A party that could hold the balance of power after the 2019 federal election.
2. The NDP leadership candidates have been debating ideas and policies. They may not be good ideas. The policies may be inchoate. But they have certainly been ignored by political reporters and pundits. The media coverage of the Singh-handles-heckler story is further evidence (if any more was necessary) that political reporters prefer style over substance.
3. Seeing that journalists have ignored the NDP race and knowing that reporters prefer style over substance, isn't there a chance Jagmeet Singh's campaign staged this event? If so, this is further evidence (if any more was necessary) that reporters are easily manipulated. It is easy for the NDP and Liberals to pull their strings because they (the Liberals, NDP, and most political journalists) share a wide set of assumptions about the world and have the same prejudices. Assuming this is what happened -- and I think there is a 50% chance it was staged -- kudos to Team Singh for exploiting this and shame on journalists for allowing themselves to be used.


Monday, September 11, 2017
 
Single-payer health care and innovation
David Leonhardt of the New York Times has five questions about single-payer health care -- Bernie Sanders says he will introduce a bill with some form of single-payer this month -- and this one stands out as vitally important:
3. Could the United States keep its distinctive advantages under single-payer?
The American system is expensive and inefficient. It also produces many of the world’s most important medical innovations — new drugs, devices, treatments and the like — and is home to many of the best hospitals and researchers. That’s why wealthy people from other countries often come here for treatment.
It’s certainly conceivable that a single-payer system could retain these advantages while making American health care less wasteful. But I’d like to hear a fuller explanation from advocates about how it all would work.
This is my foremost concern regarding any reform of the US health care system. The world mocks America's expensive and inefficient health care system: the US spends more than any other country and it is a bottom dweller in international comparisons of rich countries. This is obviously a problem. While pointing a finger and laughing at the United States, the rest of the world should consider that they have cheaper health care systems in part because America leads the world in medical innovation. Hospitals and doctors in other countries pick up those medical innovations. Everyone gains, but American companies, hospitals, and patients pay the price of experimentation. Does changing the system risk future medical advances? We don't know. Is is worth the risk? I don't know. But it should be at the top of the mind of health policy experts and politicians when deliberating on systemic reforms. When politicians fiddle with some aspects of the system, there can be unintended consequences. Future medical improvements would be a major cost to pay for other efficiencies.


 
Price 'gouging' or business as usual
I'm not against so-called price gouging, but if we are going to debate the practice of surging prices during natural disasters, let's make sure that is what we are actually talking about. This past weekend, the New York Times reported on steep increases in airfares from Florida and the consumer and political reaction to the jump in prices which might be nothing more than business as usual:
“Sure, some are high, but last-minute fares are often more expensive in general,” George Hobica, the founder of AirfareWatchdog.com, wrote in an email. “I don’t think airlines would be callous or stupid enough to be consciously jacking up fares.”
Airfare data by Hopper shows that the price hikes that took place this past week are similar to those from two weeks ago, suggesting that the price changes are typical for a week of departure flights.
“If there’s any gouge, it’s just the last minute walk-up airfares that are designed for desperate business fliers,” Mr. Hobica said. “It’s just the computer programs doing what they do when it’s last minute and seats are scarce.”
That said, prices increasing from $550 to $3200 seems larger than usual. Still, there are other explanations that come to mind. Hurricane Irma would affect both supply and demand: the planes that could make it to south and central Florida and the number of people who wanted to leave. Prices should have naturally increased even if it wasn't part of a normal pattern.


 
Thaw in Saudi-Israel relations?
The Jerusalem Post reports:
Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman made a discreet visit to Israel despite the fact that the Jewish state and Saudi Arabia do not have official diplomatic ties, Israeli and Arab media speculated earlier in the week.
Rumors about the momentous visit, which was not confirmed by Israel, started swirling when Israel Radio's diplomatic correspondent covering Arab affairs, Simon Aran, took to Twitter to announce the visit. Aran tweeted that a senior Arab figure from the Gulf region paid a visit to Tel Aviv last week.
The story lists Arab media reaction. There are a lot of Saudi princes, but if it is Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, it is a very bid deal. That prince is the defense minister of Saudi Arabia and was recently named heir apparent to the Saudi throne. Perhaps this visit is why Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said relations with the Gulf states has never been better before he set off to travel to Argentina.
Israel's relations with the majority of African countries, however, continues to be icy. It was just announced that the Israel-Africa summit scheduled for next month in Togo has been cancelled.


Sunday, September 10, 2017
 
2017 NFL predictions
NFC
NFC East:
New York Giants (11-5): The defense jumped from 30th to 2nd according to Football Outsiders defensive DVOA and usually you would expect such a jump to be followed by some regression but there are reasons to believe the G-Men are legitimately an elite D after hitting on every one of their big 2016 defensive free agents and seeing their 2015 second-round pick Landon Collins develop into one of the best safeties in the NFL. The Giants invested in improving their offense this off-season including signing WR Brandon Marshall who should alleviate some of the pressure on Odell Beckham Jr. and drafting tight end Evan Engram in the second round. Along with slot receiver Sterling Shepard, Eli Manning has lots of weapons. The running back and offensive line situations are well below average. If the Giants develop a running game or the O-line becomes average, the Giants have the potential to be the best team on the NFC. They should be good enough to be the best team in the competitive NFC East.
Philadelphia Eagles (9-7, wild card): The Eagles had a stout defense in 2016 and made minor additions to add depth. They spent the off-season finding receivers who won't drop Carson Wentz's passes, adding free agents WRs Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith. Philly has a diverse set of running backs (five of them) that add several dimensions to the offense. Wentz and the running game operate behind a solid if unspectacular offensive line. I'm not entirely sold on coach Doug Pederson, but there is enough talent and depth to turn Philly into a legit playoff contender in Wentz's sophomore year.
Dallas Cowboys (9-7): Dak Prescott had a phenomenal rookie season and he's followed up with a strong pre-season. Still, he's likely to regress a little, or at least turnover the ball a little more than he did last season (four picks, four lost fumbles). It won't help that the 'Boys elite O-line lost one guard to retirement and another to free agency. The defense is in flux, including a complete remake of their secondary. At least second-year RB Ezekiel Elliott's suspension is on hold due to a court injunction, although it is folly to believe he'll replicate his incredible rookie performance. Dallas is still a good team, but they were a great team in 2016 and it was always going be difficult replicating their record even without all the change. They'll be part of the playoff hunt but come up short.
Washington Redskins (7-9): 'Skins have replaced their wide receivers corps, a risky move considering how good Kirk Cousins has been the last two seasons. The loss of DeSean Jackson changes the dynamics of this offense. Jackson's speed forces opposing defenses to tip themselves. It will be interesting to see what Cousins and his crew can do without having that little tidbit of information as often as they had in recent years. Jackson's contribution doesn't show up in the stat sheet but it was felt on the field. Washington comes up a little short of their third consecutive winning season and finishes last in the NFC East.
NFC North
Green Bay Packers (11-5): Aaron Rodgers carried the Pack on his shoulders to the playoffs in the second half of 2016. Jordy Nelson should be fully recovered this season and Green Bay has added TE Martellus Bennett to the offense so there is every reason that Green Bay's offense will be every bit as good as it ever has been under Rodgers and coach Mike McCarthy, However, Rodgers has to perform his magic behind a revamped and possibly lesser O-line. The team also invested in the secondary in the off-season, and a slight improvement in the defense could make the Packers the team to beat in the NFC. However, too often, this team relies on Rodgers' heroics and it is easy to see them sliding into this bad routine.
Minnesota Vikings (7-9): Last year, the Vikes faced an unbelievable number of injuries, including an injury stack that led Minnesota to use five different left tackles. The conventional wisdom is that a healthier Vikings team will improve in 2016, but it will be difficult for Sam Bradford to replicate his record-breaking completion percentage (71.6%). Bradford's completion percentage disguises his poor passing performance (19th overall in yards per attempt, 7.02, just ahead of Broncos Trevor Siemian). The Vikes don't have a bona fide number one receiver and they are counting on rookie Dalvin Cook to lead their running game. Despite suffering injuries on the defensive side of the ball, also, including safety Harrison Smith, the defense was third in passing defense and sixth in points allowed, some regression is to be expected.
Chicago Bears (6-10)): The defensive front four is among the best in the NFL but the coverage unit is among the worst. A little more health on this side of the ball should improve the defense which was about league average. The offense lost WR Alshon Jeffrey to free agency and slot receiver Cameron Meredith to injury, but are hoping for a healthy Kevin White who has missed most of the last two seasons (just 19 catches) and addition Markus Wheaton provide weapons for some combination of Mike Glennon and, eventually, rookie QB Mitchell Trubisky. The North Carolina alum has a higher ceiling and it would probably be better for the Bears if Glennon performed poor enough to warrant an early replacement. Chicago will double their wins in 2016 and move out of the NFC North cellar.
Detroit Lions (5-11): The Lions are an over-rated team. They had eight come-from-behind victories in 2016, an NFL record. Going 9-7 last season, they were not behind in the fourth quarter only once all season. That's a dangerous game to play. Matthew Stafford is great when he has great receivers. Marvin Jones and Golden Tate are good complimentary receivers but not genuine #1 WRs. TE Eric Ebron has been a disappointment. RB Ameer Abdullah has been injured and is unproven. The Lions are remaking their O-line, which is necessary and could take time. The defense had no pass rush in 2016 and their coverage is bad despite the presence of (over-rated) CB Darius Slay. The come-from-behind magic isn't replicated and the Lions fall to last in their division.
NFC South
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-6): The Bucs will improve more on the field than they will in the win-loss column as the South becomes a very tough division. Jamies Winston continues his development which the Bucs hope includes cutting down his 24 turnovers (2nd worst in the NFL). The team is in serious trouble if the third-year pro continues making the volume of bad decisions he has in his first two seasons. Free agent WR DeSean Jackson and first-round TE O.J. Howard will force defenses to be honest while attempting to cover the consistently great wideout Mike Evans. The running game needs to improve on Doug Martin's disappointing 2016 season (and he's facing a three-game suspension). While it won't be an elite unit, the O-line has depth and versatility. The team should improve their kicking game after ditching rookie kicker Roberto Aguayo who actively cost them games missing eight of 30 field goal attempts. The defense was just slightly below average last year but is a work in progress. If Winston has a big breakthrough (cutting back turnovers) and the defense improves to a top 10 squad rather than just about average, Tampa could get a first-round bye in the playoffs. In 2016, they missed the playoffs due to a third-tier tie-breaker; in 2017, they win the division on a second-tier tie-breaker.
Atlanta Falcons (10-6, wild card): The Falcons are not going to slip because of a Super Bowl hangover. They will slip because it is impossible to repeat their historically great offensive season. The Falcons will be among the league's best offenses, but their slippage turns them into wild card contenders rather than the best team in the NFC. Also, the loss of both their offensive coordinator (who became the 49ers coach) and defensive coordinator (fired after the Super Bowl) means more change than returning 21 of 22 starters would suggest. Furthermore, all five of their offensive lineman started all 16 games in 2016. It is unlikely they are that fortunate again. Atlanta returns to the playoffs as a wild card team.
New Orleans Saints (9-7): Saints offenses are always great with perennial 5000-yard QB Drew Brees. In each of the last three seasons New Orleans has had the worst or second-worst defense according to Football Outsiders. If the D is merely bad rather than the worst, the Saints become a winning team because they won't be on the losing end of multiple shootouts. If the Saints D becomes average, New Orleans wins the South and probably a playoff bye. Unfortunately for Saints fans, there is no reason to think the defense is good enough to become average. It will improve enough to avoid a fourth consecutive 7-9 season.
Carolina Panthers (7-9): Too many question marks. Is Cam Newton healthy? Will the substandard O-line improve enough to let rookie RB Christian McCaffrey add a new dimension to the offense? Will gains on the offense, if they occur, be for naught if a borderline top ten defense plays more like an average defense? Carolina isn't quite back to contending.
NFC West
Seattle Seahawks (11-5): Every unit on this team is good to great except its O-line which is frighteningly terrible especially if you are Russell Wilson. With a goodish offensive line, the Seahawks would be the hands-down best team in the conference. The scary good D got better with their trade for DE Sheldon Richardson. The defense becomes mediocre if safety Earl Thomas gets hurt; his ability to cover so much of the field is the key to everyone else being that much better. But it looks like Thomas is healthy after missing the end of the 2016 season when Seattle's defense became very middling without him.
Arizona Cardinals (8-8): The Cards disappointed in 2016 due to the substandard offense, but 2017 could hinge on the defense. Arizona lost three important defensive pieces to free agency: both starting safeties and tackle Calais Campbell. There is plenty of star power on the defense and Arizona added LB Karlos Dansby and S Antoine Bethea, but the Cardinals D lives on its versatility. We'll see if they still have that with the personnel changes. As for the offense, I'm not convinced that Carson Palmer's terrible 2016 was an aberration or that RB David Johnson can replicate his team record total yards (2118) or TDs (20). This team could be a 6-10 squad if the defense doesn't quite click and we see a repeat of last year's Carson Palmer or Johnson regression. This team could be 10-6 if Palmer bounces back and the defense does what Cardinals defenses always do. I split the difference knowing they are likely to be better or worse.
Los Angeles Rams (4-12): Wade Phillips is the new defensive coordinator for what was a defense that was better than average and has the talent to be elite. However, sophomore Jared Goff doesn't look like a pro quarterback when you observe his throws or presence in the pocket. Goff must improve to adequacy quickly for the Rams to be competitive assuming Phillips performs his usual defensive magic. LA will probably be on the losing end of a frustrating number of 14-9 and 17-10 games.
San Francisco 49ers (2-14): Journeyman QB Brian Hoyer had his best season under then Clevleand Browns coordinator Kyle Shanahan. Shanahan is now the coach of the Niners. There is no reason to confidently predict Hoyer regains his 2014 form. The rest of the Niners are awful. San Francisco should be drafting in the top three again. That's not a bad thing.
AFC
AFC East
New England Patriots (14-2): They are the odds-on-favourite to win the Super Bowl and its hard to go against that prediction. They were 14-2 last year with Tom Brady missing the first four games. They spent the off-season upgrading and adding depth, notably acquiring speedy WR Brandin Cooks from New Orleans. They won a Super Bowl and got better. Not having WR Julian Edelman (out for the season due to an ACL injury) hurts, but the Pats still have depth at wide receiver. Brady is unlikely to be as good as he was in 2016 when he should have won the MVP, and he could do what every 40ish QB does at his age: fall apart suddenly without notice. But they are in a weak division and you don't bet against Brady and Belichick. If they are forced to use QB Jimmy Garoppolo, they would still be the class of the division.
Miami Dolphins (8-8): The conventional wisdom was they were a fringy wild card team before QB Ryan Tannehill got hurt and they coaxed Jay Cutler out of retirement for the year. In my book that's a slight upgrade. But they have a tough schedule. And as the Football Outsiders 2017 Almanack says, the Fins are good at one thing: being mediocre. Eight and eight sounds about right.
Buffalo Bill (5-11): It is hard not to think they are Moneyball tanking, falling down the draft board and creating cap space by trading away veterans. They traded away or let every useful free agent leave. Instead of watching teams pull away just before half-time to break Bills fans' hearts, Buffalo will be sucky from the opening kickoff. Tyrod Taylor will run around for one-yard gains after not seeing his intended target open even more than usual. Taylor's occasional competence highlighted by a miracle play won't be enough with a defense that is atrophying. On the plus side, Rex Ryan insanity won't get in the of the Bills winning; it will all be on the talentless roster.
New York Jets (2-14): Moneyball tanking so they can land their choice of QB in the 2018 draft. In the meantime, Jets fans will get to watch sub-NFL quarterbacking for 16 games. It is hard to go 0-16 but this is a team designed to attempt such a feat. Before trading DE Sheldon Richardson, Sports Illustrated's Andy Benoit rated five Jets in the top 400 players in the NFL. For comparison, the Patriots had 19 on that list and five in the top 106. With the trade of Richardson, the Jets now have four of the top 400 and only two in the top 349. This team is bad.
AFC North
Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4): Most pundits and the Football Outsiders playoff odds have the Steelers are the team most likely to get in the way of a Patriots Super Bowl. They are probably the best all-around offense -- a deep receiver corps led by one of the two best WRs in the NFL (Antonio Brown) and a running game led by one of the two best RBs in the NFL (Le'Veon Bell). They should be better at tight end with the addition of Vance McDonald from the 49ers. The O-line is one of the best in the NFL. The defense was almost top ten last year and its getting better. The young cornerbacks should continue to improve and if they do, they'll be able to stop some of the air game that has fueled too many early leads/late comebacks against Pittsburgh. The conventional wisdom is that the one thing that can prevent the Steelers from battling for a playoff bye is an injury to QB Ben Roethlisberger. Any absence by Bell would turn the Steeler offense one dimensional (and hurt the passing game, too, considering Bell is one of the best receiving backs in football) and could sink them, too. But as is, Pittsburgh is clearly one of the three best teams in the NFL.
Cincinnati Bengals (8-8): Improved offense but too many changes on defense to know what the D really is. Whatever it might be capable of doing, it will take some time for the defense to come together. Andy Dalton has some new offensive weapons but is working behind a retooled O-line. Cincy needs WR A.J. Green and TE Tyler Eifert to stay healthy and play together. Bengals have a solid trio of RBs. It wouldn't take much for Cincinnati to be legitimate playoff contenders, but it won't take much for the Bengals to fall apart.
Cleveland Browns (6-10): They had a very strong draft and the team has more talent on its squad than it has in recent memory. If rookie QB DeShone Kizer could be the best quarterback the team has had in years, which isn't saying much but competency at the position would be transformative for the Browns. They have put in the sort of infrastructure (read: quality offensive line) to develop and eventually thrive. First overall pick DE Myles Garrett will miss a few games due to injury, but he looks like a J.J. Watt type defensive superstar who will terrorize AFC North QBs for years to come. Safety Jabrill Peppers could transform the secondary in the way Garrett will alter the pass rush. If the rookie class works out immediately, the Browns will surprise everyone, including, perhaps, the organization that is rumoured to be looking at more high draft picks next year. They should be good enough to crawl out of the AFC North cellar.
Baltimore Ravens (5-11): The Ravens have missed the playoffs three of the past four years. Injuries have been a factor. Joe Flacco's mediocrity has been, too. Baltimore's formula of good drafting via quantity hasn't worked in recent years with Ozzie Newsome missing on too many picks. For nearly a decade, the Ravens were a deep team with talent coming through the draft to replace aging veterans. Now the team is mostly aging veterans and young players who haven't played up to their potential. The Ravens are in trouble.
AFC South
Tennessee Titans (11-5): The conventional wisdom is that Tennessee was good last year and will continue to improve. The Titans acquired weapons for third-year Marcus Mariota including drafting a pair of wide recievers (Corey Davis is a legitimate candidate for rookie offensive . He plays behind a solid O-line and can rely on very good running backs. But young QBs don't always steadily improve. Titans should be good as long as Mariota does not regress. The Titans improved the secondary through free agency and the draft. But Tennessee will need to air it out a little more (25th in passing) to win the AFC South and management has provided Mariota the tools to do so. Forcing opposing defenses to respect the passing game will make the Titans ground-and-pound that much more effective.
Houston Texans (10-6, wild card): With just league average quarterbacking, the Texans could be a formidable team. The D was very good last year despite missing J.J. Watt for most of the season. He returns. But the Texans have lost one of the top CBs in the NFL (A.J. Bouye) and starting safety Quintin Demps, which might be felt more than most pundits are accounting for. The offense should be better once Deshaun Watson is on the field. Opening day QB Tom Savage is not the long-term or short-term solution under center. Bill O'Brian is quick to get rid of substandard QBs, so the obvious in-house solution is only one or two bad games away. Of course, in a 16-game schedule, one or two losses is enough to push a divisional contender out of the playoffs. The Texans were in the bottom four for total offense, passing, red zone offense, and first-down yardage; they were dead last in Football Outsiders offensive DVOA. Being merely bad rather than among the worst could reap huge benefits for Houston and average QB play could turn Houston into a regular season powerhouse. Those are big ifs.
Indianapolis Colts (6-10): If Andrew Luck was healthy, you could get Indy to a fringy playoff team. They have an elite WR in T.Y. Hilton, but that's about it. Their defense is in transition and coach Chuck Pagano isn't very good. With Scott Tolzien under center, 6-10 seems high, but this prediction is counting on Luck returning to the field by early October and returning to his usual self quickly. The defense is a work in progress ... as always.
Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11): Another off-season free agent frenzy won't be enough to compensate for whoever is playing QB is Jacksonville: Blake Bortles or Chad Henne. Bortles isn't very good. He appeared to briefly lose the starting job. Henne couldn't hang on to it. Bortles is back. Jacksonville looks like it will lose double digits again. The saving grace for Jax fans is that the defense should be above average.
AFC West
Kansas City Chiefs (11-5): A dominating defense, a dominating special teams unit, and an offense that doesn't turn the ball over is a pretty good formula for regular season success. Losing safety Eric Berry in the opener hurts, but Andy Reid's defense lives and dies on its superior pass rush.
San Diego Chargers (10-6, wild card): The Bolts suffered an ungodly number of injuries last year (31st by adjusted games lost) and they have already been bitten by the injury bug this season. But they have Phillip Rivers and a returning healthy Keenan Allen which elevates the offense. Last year, San Diego quietly had the 7th most efficient defense and they should repeat. Defensive end Joey Bosa is a massively disruptive force and will be a candidate for Defensive Player of the Year; along with Melvin Ingram, he forms one of the best pass rush duos in the NFL. The secondary is very good, too. There are concerns about the retooled O-line and having a rookie coach (former Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn). But the Bolts have the personnel and schedule (Jacksonville, Cleveland, and the New York Jets) to surprise the league and fans.
Oakland Raiders (9-7): Regression. The Raiders had a scoring differential of +31, indicating something closer to 8.5 wins rather than the 12 Oakland ended up with. Teams that outperform their scoring differential often give back a few wins the following season. QB Derek Carr is inconsistent in his accuracy and it's risky relying on a running back who unofficially retired last year and didn't play in 2016 and is returning at the age of 31 (Marshawn Lynch). The pass defense is a major liability -- 25th in Football Outsiders DVOA last year with little reason to think it will be any better in 2017. Still, Carr is a good QB, he plays behind a very good O-line, and he has a dangerous pair of receivers who can make spectacular plays.
Denver Broncos (6-10): The defense has lost pass rusher DeMarcus Ware, safety T.J. Ward, and coordinator Wade Phillips. The offense is quarterbacked by young QBs unable to clearly win the open quarterback competition forcing Denver to resign Brock Osweiler, a QB that was traded along with a second-round pick so another team would take him only for that team to decide it was better to pay him $16 million not to play for them. Even if the defense doesn't take a step backward, Denver doesn't have the offense to win 13-10 games anymore.
Individual awards
MVP: Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay)
Coach of the Year: Anthony Lynn (San Diego)
Offensive Player of the Year: Le'Veon Bell (Pittsburgh)
Defensive Player of the Year: Joey Bosa (San Diego)
Offensive Rookie of the Year: DeShone Kizer (Cleveland)
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Myles Garrett (Cleveland)
Comeback Player of the Year: J.J. Watt (Houston)
Playoffs:
Wildcard NFC: Atlanta (5) beats Tampa Bay (4), New York Giants (3) beats Philadelphia (6)
Wildcard AFC: Kansas City (3) beats San Diego (6), Houston (5) beats Tennessee (4)
Divisional NFC: Green Bay (1) beats Atlanta (5), Seattle (2) over Giants (3)
Divisional AFC: New England (1) beats Houston (5), Pittsburgh (2) beats Kansas City (3)
NFC Championship: Seattle (2) over Green Bay (1)
AFC Championship: New England (1) over Pittsburgh (2)
Super Bowl: Seattle beats New England