Sobering Thoughts

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

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Tuesday, February 20, 2018
 
Jeremy Corbyn, communist sympathizer
Rod Liddle in the (London) Times yesterday:
I had not fully understood just how callous, or catastrophically ignorant, Corbyn is about the victims of state communism until I watched the Labour leader’s interview on the Andrew Marr show three weeks ago. When Marr taxed this opponent of the market economy with the fact that the Chinese economy and people had prospered so much more since the People’s Republic allowed individuals to get rich through private business, Corbyn countered that its economy had “grown massively . . . since 1949 and . . . the Great Leap Forward”. He then gave that little sniff and satisfied smile that we have grown accustomed to seeing from Corbyn in interviews when he thinks he’s made a good point.
Reader, the Great Leap Forward was Mao Tse-tung’s propagandistic term for the policy of forced collectivisation of agriculture from 1958-62. It caused the deaths of an estimated 45m Chinese (or seven-and-a-half times the number of Jews exterminated over a similar number of years in the Holocaust).
As the most respected historian of that period in Chinese history, Frank Dikötter, wrote: “Between 2m-3m of these victims were tortured to death or summarily executed, often for the slightest infraction. People accused of not working hard enough were hanged and beaten; sometimes they were bound and thrown into ponds. Punishments for the least violations included mutilation and forcing people to eat excrement . . . The term ‘famine’ tends to support the widespread view that the deaths were largely the result of half-baked and poorly executed economic programmes. But the archives show that coercion, terror and violence were the foundation of the Great Leap Forward.” And this is what Jeremy Corbyn offers us as an example of successful economic management under communism.
Every time UK conservatives seem to go too far on how the socialist Jeremy Corbyn is unfit for office (of MP, not merely PM), he reminds us that through either ignorance about communism's victims or callousness toward them, Corbyn must be kept as far away from 10 Downing, indeed, Westminster, as possible.


 
Nathalie was dumped by Justin Trudeau in favour of well-to-do cronies
Stephen Gordon has a good column in the National Post about how the Liberals exploited middle class anxiety for electoral gain before governing for the benefit of the upper-middle class:
This raises the question of how and why the Liberals could have developed a plausible story about the need to address middle-class anxieties and then decided that reducing taxes for those at the 90th percentile of the income distribution would help alleviate those middle-class anxieties. Did the Liberals simply aim their tax cut at the middle class and … miss somehow? Was it a game of bait-and switch for the benefit of the upper-middle class? (As I’ve written earlier, a good working definition for the upper-middle class is those between the 80th and 99th percentiles of the income distribution, earning between $70,000 and $225,000 a year; the maximum benefit from the Liberals’ tax cut is for those earning $90,000 a year.) I’ve been wrestling with this question for almost three years now.
But no more: the Liberals have clearly moved on with last week’s “supercluster” announcement: a billion dollars thrown at the usual gang of well-connected consultants and professional sitters-on-boards-of-directors. Perhaps the most startling aspect of the Liberals’ supercluster messaging is what it did not say: the announcement was not accompanied with the usual boilerplate verbiage about how this spending would help the middle class. It would seem that even the Liberals have recognized that there are limits past which that particular talking point cannot be pushed.
Read Gordon's column if you don't remember who Nathalie is.


 
Math is hard
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Indian companies would invest one billion dollars in Canada. That's not correct. In fact, there is one billion dollars in bilateral private investments but three-quarters of that is Canadian business in India, while Indian companies plan to spend $250 million in Canada. The PM claims he misspoke.


Monday, February 19, 2018
 
The Trudeau family's taxpayer-funded family vacation
Brian Lilley writes:
So far we have been treated to photos of the Trudeau family yucking it up at the Taj Mahal, an elephant sanctuary, one of the homes of the late Mahatma Ghandi, the Swaminarayan Akshardham Temple and soon a whole pile of other cultural and religious sites that have little to do with official government business.
No doubt these are great sites to visit and doubly no doubt these sites can all be played up for targeted politicking back home to get the vote out in 2019. But that isn’t what Canadian taxpayers should be footing the bill for on a week long trip to India.
Sure, Trudeau is not the first Canadian politician, provincial or federal, to go to India and use these sites for political gain back home. Stephen Harper, Christy Clark, Patrick Brown, Kathleen Wynne, Jean Chretien, the list is long.
But all of those politicians fit the cultural visits into a busy round of meetings with business and political leaders. Trudeau is doing the opposite, he is squeezing in some time for India’s leaders in between his family vacation photos.
Not that India’s leaders are lining up to meet with PM Trudeau, as columnist and author Candice Malcolm pointed out, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has personally greeted many world leaders but did not greet Trudeau.
It's not just Lilley. The Hindustan Times reports:
As Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau continues his eight-day visit to India, the fact that his schedule includes just half-a-day of official engagements in New Delhi is being described as “unusual” by veteran diplomats and criticised by a Canadian watchdog.
A veteran Indian diplomat said in his long experience with bilateral visits, he had never experienced a trip of this nature, where the visiting dignitary spent so little time in official engagements with counterparts in the Indian government.
The Times also reports that with the exception of the Foreign Minister, "it was equally surprising that six cabinet ministers accompanying Trudeau had scant official engagements." The Canadian Taxpayer Federation said of the Trudeau trip: "While it is understood that a Prime Minister will have to travel frequently, the proportion of time being spent actually meeting foreign counterparts on this trip does not suggest a good use of public money." Indeed.
Not that it was completely devoid of official-like business. Trudeau traveled halfway around the globe to reiterate a long-held Canadian position:


Sunday, February 18, 2018
 
The state has no business in the bathrooms of the country
Huffington Post reports:
The resolution urged the party to immediately recommended the creation of a health subsidy to make menstrual products and contraceptives available to Canadians at no cost.
"Tampon and pads should be treated just like toilet paper," said Tiffany Balducci, a party delegate from the Durham Labour Council. "They serve a similar purpose — items that tend to our everyday, normal bodily functions."
Balducci is correct: Tampons should be treated just like toilet paper, which I remind the NDP is not free.


 
2020 watch (Joe Biden watch)
The AP reports that former vice president has talking to his former inner circle and several of them to talked to the media about the meeting. According to one source:
“I’m focused on one thing: electing a Democratic Congress to stop this erosion of the core of who we are,” Biden said. “I’ll look at that a year from now. I have plenty of time to consider whether or not to run.”
If Biden runs and wins, he would be the oldest person ever elected president (78 on inauguration day 20210.
He would probably be the frontrunner now. But even if he isn't in running, Biden needs to pretend he is; once he says he is not interested in running for the nomination, the press and the public will lose interest in him. Pretending to be interested in running in 2020 is about trying to remain relevant.


Saturday, February 17, 2018
 
Progress!
The Toronto Star reports:
Last year, there were only 22 reported new cases of polio, which has been confined now to just a pair of nations: Pakistan and Afghanistan.
But 60 years ago, it held this country and much of the world in terror, with images of children in iron lungs plastered in newspapers everywhere — and no vaccine or cure in sight.
In the Canada of the 1950s, hundreds died and thousands — mostly youngsters — were paralyzed by the disease. In 1953 alone, some 9,000 Canadians contracted polio, which left 500 dead that year.
“Eradication of a disease does not happen often,” says Oliver Rosenbauer, a spokesperson for the World Health Organization in Geneva.
“In fact it’s only ever happened once before, with the eradication of smallpox. So that’s what we’re after.” ...
“The aim is certainly that this year is the year where we finally interrupt the person-to-person transmission of the virus so that we’re not going to see any more cases in the future,” he says.


 
Venezuela and the socialist dream
Even the New York Review of Books recognizes how terrible Venezuela is, even if it was praising Chavez's heaven on earth ten years ago. Enrique Krauze writes (this week) that a decade ago:
Caracas was seen as the new Mecca for the European, Latin American, and American left. Progressive news organizations, magazines, and newspapers including The Guardian, The New Yorker, and the BBC reported favorably on Hugo Chávez, whose presidency lasted from 1999 until 2013. They mentioned the dangers of his cult of personality but yielded to it all the same. Chávez, as the writer Alma Guillermoprieto succinctly noted in these pages, was “indisputably fascinating, and often even endearing.”
Guillermoprieto wrote that in 2005. His essay, which looks at the rise of Hugo Chavez, concludes: "He can smile and go forward, singing. Joyful. Solving problems. Looking to the future." And that future? It created more problems than it solved. As Krauze writes today:
In the spring of 2017, and all through the year, social media feeds in Venezuela were filled with images of deprivation and despair: long lines of people hoping to purchase food; women fighting over a stick of butter; mothers who could not find milk to buy; children picking through garbage in search of something to eat; empty shelves in pharmacies and stores; hospitals without stretchers, drugs, or minimum levels of hygiene; doctors operating on a patient by the light of a cell phone; women giving birth outside of hospitals. Venezuela’s economy, the economist Ricardo Hausmann wrote in a recent study, is suffering a collapse that is “unprecedented” in the Western world. Between 2013 and 2017 the country’s national and per capita GDPs contracted more severely than those of the US did during the Great Depression and more than those of Russia, Cuba, and Albania did after the fall of communism.
This is a humanitarian crisis of immense proportions. By May 2017, Venezuela’s minimum monthly wage wasn’t enough to meet even 12 percent of a single person’s basic food needs. A survey of 6,500 households by three prestigious universities showed that 74 percent of the population had lost on average nineteen pounds in 2016. Infant mortality in hospitals has risen by 100 percent. Diseases nearly eradicated in many countries, like malaria and diphtheria, have flourished; illnesses largely new to the area, like Chikungunya, Zika, and dengue, have spread. Caracas is now the most dangerous city on the planet. All this is happening in a country that has one of the largest oil reserves in the world.
Better than the essays lamenting how socialism didn't work this time, is the Remy song about the Venezuelan diet released last year.


 
The NDP leader
From the Toronto Life profile of NDP leader Jagmeet Singh:
Jagmeet has a taste for dandy luxuries that don’t comport with the monkish minimalism of his party. He wears bespoke suits in the slim British style—his favourite is a brown tweed with cobalt-blue stripes, designed by a tailor in New Delhi, which he often pairs with a millennial-pink turban. He owns two Rolex watches, an Oyster Perpetual Datejust and a ­Submariner (both were gifts); a crimson BMW coupe; and six designer bicycles. “I have just an absurd number of bikes,” he says. “More than one person should have.” His kirpan, the ceremonial Sikh dagger he wears under his jacket, is a steel design by a metal­worker outside Boston. Since joining Queen’s Park in 2011, Singh has become one of the city’s most devoted partygoers, a regular at King West nightspots and gala fund­raisers, at fashion shows and ­Raptors games.
Two Rolex watches, a BMW, and six designer bikes. Real man of the people.
The profile is a tad blowjobby, beginning thusly: "[Singh's] natural charisma makes even the dashing Justin Trudeau look stiff by comparison." With all those watches and the luxury German car, I'd say he makes Justin Trudeau look modest by comparison.


Friday, February 16, 2018
 
Ontario PC leadership debate
I've meant to comment on it, but haven't had time. The quick and dirty guide.
Caroline Mulroney: Seems sedated, although she showed more energy than she did at the Manning conference. Seems to think that being the only nominated candidate is a meaningful signifier of ... something. No vision but doesn't make the case for her leadership despite running on her name resume.
Christine Elliott: Has very little energy and even less passion. Seems competent. People say she looks like she knows policy but didn't talk about policy so that's a neat trick.
Doug Ford: Has a small-government, populist vision but doesn't look like he has any command of provincial policy. Clears the low bar of his brother Rob Ford's reputed buffoonery. Seemed uncomfortable when talking to the moderator but was strong when talking into the camera.
Tanya Granic Allen: She showed she is not a one-trick pony (sex-ed, sex-ed, sex-ed) although her clear competence is sex-ed. While this was billed as a debate it was mostly a job interview except when TGA pressed the other candidates. Voice of the members, hoping to win over the anti-Patrick Brown vote. Helped herself more than the other candidates did last night.
No one hurt themselves yesterday.


 
School shooting facts
Yesterday at NRO, Jibran Khan took issue with the eye-popping but misleading statistic that there have been 18 school shootings in 2018 already:
The original source of the figure is Mike Bloomberg’s gun-control advocacy organization, Everytown for Gun Safety. The organization arrives at the figure by defining a “school shooting” as any time a gun is fired at or near a school, college, or university, regardless of whether students are present or anyone is injured. In fact, if one counts only events where a shooter enters a school and shoots someone, there have been three school shootings, including yesterday’s. (The other spree shooting was in Kentucky and a murder happened at a school in Texas.) This information is viewable on Everytown’s site itself, as a click on any location reveals the details and news sources of the incident in question.
Everytown’s list includes incidents such as an adult committing suicide in the parking lot of a school that had long been closed down and gun violence in the neighborhood where California State University–San Bernardino is located (it is one of the most crime-ridden cities in the country, with California’s second-highest murder rate.) While such acts are obviously cause for concern in their own right, all that conflating these incidents with “school shootings” does is to create a climate of terror.


Thursday, February 15, 2018
 
What I'm reading
1. Crisis of Responsibility: Our Cultural Addiction to Blame and How You Can Cure It by David L. Bahnsen
2. The Tyranny of Metrics by Jerry Z. Muller
3. Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic by David Frum


 
Fairness
Cafe Hayek's Don Boudreaux quotes Steven Landsburg (from his excellent book Play Fair):
Thus, following the passage of NAFTA, Michael Kinsley wrote in The New Republic that “when a $16-an-hour American loses his job to a $3-an-hour Mexican,” fairness and political prudence dictate that he be compensated for his loss.
Maybe Kinsley is right regarding political prudence, but fairness seems to dictate just the opposite. Here we have an American who has devoted his life to charging the rest of us $16 for something we ought to have been able to buy for $3. What fairness dictates is that he and others who have benefited from protectionism should compensate the majority of their countrymen who have borne the burden.
The Kinsey fairness argument has a certain political appeal, but that appeal is rooted in the widespread misunderstanding of what an economy is for. An economic system is about the distribution of goods and services, not the provision of jobs or profits. There is nothing fair about overcharging consumers for needlessly expensive labour inputs.


 
Infrastructure spending
George Will offers some facts and sober thought about infrastructure spending:
Today, the nation needs somewhat greater infrastructure spending to increase productivity by reducing road and port congestion and boosting the velocity of economic activity. Unfortunately, this subject is not immune to the rhetorical extravagance that infects all of today’s political discourse.
The American Society of Civil Engineers has not actually programmed the computers of politicians and journalists so that whenever the nouns “roads” and “bridges” are used, the adjective “crumbling” precedes them. But the ASCE might as well have. It constantly views with high-decibel alarm the fact that governments at all levels do not buy as much as the ASCE thinks they ought to buy of what civil engineers sell. A calmer assessment of current conditions comes from the Rand Corp.’s study “Not Everything Is Broken.”
Since the mid-1950s, public infrastructure spending “has generally tracked the growth of the U.S. economy.” In 2014, state and local governments — they always have done, and always should do, most infrastructure spending — made 62 percent of the nation’s capital expenditures and 88 percent of operations and maintenance for transportation and water infrastructure. Federal capital spending on highways has been declining since the Interstate Highway System was mostly completed, but at the end of 2016, municipal bond issues to finance infrastructure were the highest in history, more than double the 1996 level. Actually, some infrastructure spending is probably too high (e.g., mass transit operating subsidies; users should pay). And although the construction industry and unions might disagree, not everything ever built merits maintenance in perpetuity.
The Rand Corp's ebook Not Everything is Broken is available online for free. In short: there is a self-interested lobby for infrastructure spending, not all spending is necessary, and not all spending has to be done by government, and not all government spending needs to be done by Washington.


Wednesday, February 14, 2018
 
Does autism cause libertarianism?
Reason's Robby Soave takes issue with the assertion by Nancy MacLean, author of Democracy in Chain, that James Buchanan was a libertarian because he might have been autistic. She recently said in a talk in New York City: "It's striking to me how many of the architects of this cause seem to be on the autism spectrum. People who don't feel solidarity or empathy with others, and who have kind of difficult human relationships sometimes." Soave says:
She should have begun with "I don't know," and ended there. MacLean is making two not-necessarily-related claims here: 1) that Buchanan's autism made him unsuitable for politics, spurring his opposition to government, and 2) autistic people are less empathetic, which is why callous, unfeeling libertarianism appeals to them.
These are remarkably bad-faith assumptions (about libertarian philosophy and autistic people) built upon an equally shaky foundation: MacLean presents no evidence that Buchanan was autistic, aside from that single anecdote in his memoir. Her book does make reference to George Mason University economist Tyler Cowen's self-diagnosed autism (and how it inclined him toward "neither sentimentality nor solidarity"), but that's it. MacLean appears to have spun a single story into an entire theory that "many of the architects" of the libertarian cause are autistic.
There is research that suggests people with autism do not lack empathy. MacLean is using a common slur against those with autism to disparage a group (libertarians) she doesn't like.


 
You probably haven't read the most important story of the day
The Washington Post: "A potentially powerful new antibiotic is discovered in dirt." The paper reports:
“Our idea is, there’s this reservoir of antibiotics out in the environment we haven’t accessed yet,” Brady said.
That idea is beginning to pay off: In a study published Monday in the journal Nature Microbiology, he and his colleagues report the discovery of a new class of antibiotic extracted from unknown microorganisms living in the soil. This class, which they call malacidins, kills several superbugs — including the dreaded methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) — without engendering resistance.
You won't find this antibiotic at your pharmacy next week, Brady cautioned. It takes years for a novel molecule to be developed, tested and approved for distribution. But its discovery is proof of a powerful principle, he said: A world of potentially useful untapped biodiversity is still waiting to be discovered.


 
The Oxfam scandal
I fear that the deepening Oxfam scandal will tarnish legitimate charity work in general. The (London) Times reports:
Oxfam hired the aid worker at the centre of the sex exploitation scandal in Haiti two years after he was forced out of another British humanitarian agency over claims about his use of prostitutes.
Roland van Hauwermeiren, 68, was investigated by the charity Merlin, now part of Save The Children, after allegations about his sexual behaviour in wartorn Liberia in 2004. A former Merlin colleague, Paul Hardcastle, told The Times that Mr Van Hauwermeiren used the charity’s drivers to ferry him to clubs to meet prostitutes and take them to the villa rented for him using donated funds.
Penny Mordaunt, the international development secretary, said that she would meet the National Crime Agency (NCA) tomorrow after talks with charity bosses and regulators. She also warned that the government could withhold funding if agencies did not put the beneficiaries of aid first.
Using money given to charities to hire prostitutes. This scandal might not only threaten state funding of these "charities" -- NGOs, really, in some cases -- but it might also persuade citizens that they don't want their donations misspent on hookers rather than help for the vulnerable. Never mind that it looks like these moralizing Oxfam do-gooders are preying on the vulnerable they ostensibly want to help.
A few years ago, a study found that people who recycled acted less ethically immediately afterward, the theory being that the virtuous behaviour gave license to the individual to act unethically. The same psychology may be at play for these NGO staff.
The Guardian's Gaby Hinsliff concludes her column on the Oxfam scandal:
But the moral of this particular story is that boring old management processes matter, even when dealing with the good guys. You don’t assume. You check. You nitpick, even, when you are a charity occupying the moral high ground, as Oxfam does. And, above all, you avoid the trap of assuming that the good guys will always be good.
And conservatives/libertarians should avoid the trap assuming those on the other side will always be bad and hypocritical. We should eschew the temptation of schadenfreude.


Tuesday, February 13, 2018
 
Hosting Olympics is a bad deal
Robert J. Samuelson in the Washington Post:
The numbers are (as they say) eye-popping. In 1997, there were 12 cities competing for the 2004 Summer Games, which were ultimately hosted by Greece. By contrast, the bidding for the 2024 Games ended with two contenders — Paris and Los Angeles — after Boston, Toronto, Rome, Hamburg and Budapest dropped out.
The story is the same for the Winter Olympics. In 1995, there were nine candidates for the 2002 Winter Games. By 2011, there were only three for the present 2018 Games.
What has happened is no secret, writes [sports economist Andrew] Zimbalist in the current issue of the Milken Institute Review. To host either the Summer or Winter Games requires massive construction projects for new stadiums, dormitories and local transportation systems. But the prospective revenue from the Games doesn’t come close to covering the costs. As a result, the Games impose a permanent burden on the host country’s taxpayers.
Zimbalist roughly calculates the cost of the next Summer Olympics at $15 billion to $20 billion against prospective revenue of $4 billion to $5 billion. While costs are going up, the prestige and long-term economic benefits — in increased tourism and investment — seem to be going down.
Here's an idea: Beijing, Los Angeles and "Europe" should rotate Summer Olympic hosting duties for the next few decades, and Salt Lake City, Nagano, and "Europe" rotate Winter Olympic hosting duties. By "Europe" mean shared venues among cities that have recently held Olympic/World Cup competitions (co-hosted by London, Paris, and Berlin, or Lillehammer, Albertville, and Torino), so no new infrastructure has to be built.


Saturday, February 10, 2018
 
Teams -- and fans -- are getting smarter
George Will has a good column on some basic baseball analytics and what it means for competitive balance:
The Cubs’ and Astros’ successes have encouraged other teams to engage in what the MLBPA says is a “race to the bottom.” Actually, teams that are tearing down old and mediocre rosters are accepting a plunge in order to produce momentum for a surge to the top. What fans most dislike, and what constitutes baseball malpractice, is consistent mediocrity — teams not talented enough to play in October but not bad enough to receive the right to draft the best young talent.


Friday, February 09, 2018
 
#MNC2018
I'll mostly be tweeting today and tomorrow. I'm at the Manning Networking Conference, doing a story on the Ontario PC leadership race for the March edition of The Interim and another on several of the panels that address social issues.


Thursday, February 08, 2018
 
Carbon taxes are about revenue, not the environment
Global News commentator Bill Kelly writes:
Former leader Patrick Brown included the carbon tax in his People’s Guarantee to show that Ontario Tories do care about the environment; but more importantly, carbon tax revenue would fund the many campaign promises in their platform.
Kelly says that the opposition to the carbon tax by Progressive Conservative leadership contenders Doug Ford, Christine Elliott, and Caroline Mulroney means the Tories are signaling to the public their party doesn't care about the environment but also that it has no way to fund all its People's Guarantee promises. When Kelly wonders how progressive the Progressive Conservatives are, he could just as well be talking about the social services a PC government would support through its carbon tax as he is about their environmental position.
Repeat after me: carbon taxes are about government revenues, not protecting the environment. Or: carbon taxes are a mode of virtue-signaling about the environment, not actually doing something about the environment.
Carbon taxes must be high enough to raise funds for government without substantially altering consumer behaviour, or the government will be collecting less revenue. If Ottawa was serious about cutting carbon emissions, it would need a carbon tax that was painful enough to pay to deter consumption. The Trudeau government doesn't want that. The Wynne government doesn't want that. And the Progressive Conservatives don't want that. They all, however, want tax revenue. (The Liberals tax companies through their system of cap-and-trade permits, which Ontario sells.) Taxes are always about revenue.


 
Trudeau and diversity
Conservative MP Erin O'Toole in the Toronto Sun, on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's ideological litmus test to receive money through the Canada Summer Jobs program:
While Justin Trudeau uses the slogan, “Diversity is our strength,” he has demonstrated time and again that he does not extend that diversity to thought or conscience. The Liberal government should strive to respect the fundamental rights and freedoms of all Canadians, and support summer job creation accordingly. They cannot just pick and choose only those that suit their political interests.
A very smart political observer told me that there is an inherent condescension at the core of the Trudeau government. He said that the Liberals don’t just disagree with their political opponents, but they feel that anyone who opposes their view simply “doesn’t understand Canada.”
This same conceited attitude and rhetoric is shockingly underscored by attempting to exclude people of faith from community programming across Canada. First, they tried to roadblock church groups from organizing to bring Syrian refugees into Canada, and now they don’t want kids to get summer jobs at camp. Their approach is not just unfair, it is eerily reminiscent of George Orwell’s 1984 “Thinkpol” thought police and must be challenged.
Trudeau doesn't just have an ideological litmus test for the summer jobs program; he has a litmus test for makes someone Canadian.


 
Will on emotional support animals
George Will acknowledges the benefits animals provide to many people, but he also observes: "[T]he proliferation of emotional-support animals suggests that a cult of personal fragility is becoming an aspect of the quest for the coveted status of victim."


Wednesday, February 07, 2018
 
#FakeFakeNews
The Huffington Post reports on an Oxford study on #fakenews -- or what the authors call "junk news" -- and Trump supporters:
Trump supporters and extreme conservatives consume and share more “junk news” on social media than every other political group combined, a University of Oxford study has found.
The three-month study, published Tuesday as part of the school’s Computational Propaganda Research Project, scrutinized the habits of 13,477 politically active U.S. Twitter users and 47,719 public Facebook pages in the months leading up to the State of the Union address late last month.
The authors then mapped how links to junk news sources flowed through the social media networks. Based on the links users shared and other factors, researchers separated them into distinct (yet often overlapping) cohorts, which they labeled “Hard Conservative,” “Women’s Rights,” “Conspiracy,” “Libertarian,” “Trump Support,” “Democratic Party,” etc.
The study linked a full 55 percent of all junk news traffic on Twitter to the “Trump Support” group. “On Twitter, a network of Trump supporters shares the widest range of known junk news sources and circulates more junk news than all the other groups put together,” the authors noted.
For comparison, the “Democratic Party” and “Progressive Movement” groups together accounted for 1 percent of junk news traffic on Twitter, according to the study.
Among the organizations identified by Oxford's CPRP peddling so-called junk news are National Review, the New York Daily News, and The Federalist (put out by the reputable Heritage Foundation think tank). Junk news is often in the eye of the beholder, and it's usually viewed through a partisan lens. It is hardly surprising that Trump supporters shared articles from conservative sources, which is essentially what this study finds.


 
'Stop BoMogg'
The (London) Times reports:
Senior Conservatives have launched a search for a “Stop BoMogg” candidate to prevent Boris Johnson or Jacob Rees-Mogg becoming prime minister in a sudden leadership contest ...
While Mr Johnson and Mr Rees-Mogg have emerged as favourites to become Tory leader, their opponents have yet to identify a candidate. Amber Rudd, the home secretary, Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, and Gavin Williamson, the defence secretary, are all seen as being from the moderate wing of the party and are expected to enter the race. Some are predicting up to 20 possible candidates.
“It is easy to keep one person off the final ballot that goes to members,” one senior minister said. “It is harder to stop two. We need an ‘Anybody but BoMogg’ candidate.”
I'm not sure Rees-Mogg has the caucus support to make it to the final two for consideration by members, when the vote to replace Theresa May finally happens. The best way for the Remainers and party's "moderate" (read: liberal) wing to keep BoMogg at bay is to back the current Conservative leader and Prime Minister.
Meanwhile, the same Times story reports:
One cabinet source said plans were being drawn up for Mrs May to return to the themes of her Downing Street speech in 2016 in which she vowed to tackle “burning injustices”. “We need to get back to that message, when people actually liked her,” the minister said.
Threatening division that could topple the Tories and deliver Jeremy Corbyn to 10 Downing won't endear the "moderates" and Remoaners to the party faithful. Show unity with the current leader to strengthen her hand against the growing support for BoMogg with the party.
If I did selfies, I'd post a picture of the Mogg shirt I am wearing while typing this. I'm both a Rees-Mogg and BoJo supporter, but I'd also like to see the 2016 version of Theresa May back in charge of the party and government.


Tuesday, February 06, 2018
 
There is still a war going on in Syria
A one-sided war. The (London) Times reports:
The Assad regime and Russian forces have intensified their assault on the last pocket of rebel control in northern Syria, launching dozens of airstrikes and an apparent chlorine gas attack.
Scores of civilians were buried under rubble and at least 43 people were declared dead yesterday after airstrikes hit the northwestern province of Idlib and other rebel-held territories.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which is based in Britain, said that Idlib had been under continuous, intensive and violent bombardment since a Russian fighter jet was shot down on Sunday.
The Guardian reports there might have been as many as 150 airstrikes in three days. The useless United Nations is calling for a one-month truce so aid can be delivered to three regions being blockaded at the moment.
As the civil war in Syria enters its eighth year, the UN’s assistant secretary general and humanitarian coordinator in Syria, Panos Moumtzis said: "We feel really outraged. Dramatic developments have been building up and it has reached a point where we can no longer stay silent." There may not be a feasible and effective military response to the on-going fighting in Syria, but issuing statements isn't going to save lives, no matter how much outrage those at Turtle Bay are feeling.


 
Anti-Mogg campaign
The (London) Times reports:
A former cabinet minister has hinted that she may quit the Conservative Party if Jacob Rees-Mogg becomes leader. Justine Greening, who left government last month, suggested it would be a “stretch” to remain in the party in those circumstances.
Smells like a campaign to put an end to the Moggmentum.
If the right-wing of the Conservative Party was making such an ultimatum, there would be party grandees calling for everyone to play nice.


 
Soubry threatens to leave UK Tories
The Guardian: "Anna Soubry threatens to quit Tory party if Brexiters take over." She's particularly worried about Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg. But wait, the headline doesn't quite accurately reflect Soubry's main concern, namely Rees-Mogg's social conservatism. She told ITV: "Somebody like Jacob, with his views on things like abortion, a man who says he’s had six children and never changed a nappy, somebody who says that even if you were to be raped by your father you wouldn’t have a right to choose to have a termination – I’m sorry, but I couldn’t stay in a party led by somebody like him." That might be framing the issue a little uncharitably. Soubry expressed concern about Prime Minister Theresa May being overly influenced by the most strident Brexiteers within cabinet (and caucus), but her main concern seems to be something other than Brexit in regards to a Rees-Mogg leadership.
Soubry also calls Johnson and Rees-Mogg "not proper Conservatives," which is a little much. But most egregious is her political analysis, which is terribly off-the-mark: "Unless Theresa stands up and sees off these people she is in real danger of losing huge swathes of not just the parliamentary party but the Conservative party." Does Soubry not realize that the Party cannot afford to alienate the "hard Brexit" constituency, either. Indeed, the hard Brexit camp is probably larger than the Remainer camp at this point. May be in a no-win situation politically, but losing Johnson, Rees-Mogg, and Michael Gove would be a bigger blow to the conservative wing of the Conservative Party that would mean certain doom for not only May but the Tories.


Monday, February 05, 2018
 
Needed: a new US immigration policy, and immigration debate
Washington Post columnist Robert J. Samuelson has a thoughtful column on US immigration policy that tries to honestly examine what works and what doesn't. He is pro-immigration but admits that "the ability to absorb new immigrants is one of of the glories of the American project, but it is not infinite." Consequently, he wants to substantially reform immigration policy in order to provide a boost to US economic growth, reduce poverty, and obtain widespread public support for a welcoming but not unlimited immigration policy. Samuelson calls for legal status for the so-called dreamers and other illegal aliens, tougher border security including a wall, a thorough employer check on immigration status, changes to immigrant criteria focusing on workplace skills and education, and a lowered ceiling of about one million immigrants annually. Samuelson describes why the current system doesn't work and the politics of trying to tweak the system here or there. Most importantly, he acknowledges that a good many Americans are offended by either (both?) the lawlessness (illegal entrants) or repression (heavy-handed police enforcement) of the current system that distracts politicians from debating what good immigration policy looks like; that is, Washington focusing on illegal or "non-documented" immigrants is reactive to a particular set of policy problems while it ignores central arguments about immigration. One might disagree with Samuelson's policy prescriptions, but he is to be applauded for arguing that the policy debate out to be about immigration rather than immigrants.


 
Washington elite scoff at $1.50/week savings
The reaction to the fact that Speaker Paul Ryan tweeted about a Pennsylvania secretary who was happy about saving $78 a year because of the Republican tax cut speaks volumes. Ryan, and indirectly Julia Ketchum (the secretary), is being mocked for celebrating the saving of $1.50 per week. For those who don't think twice about spending four or five dollars for a coffee every day, $1.50 is nothing. For many Americans, most of whom don't buy coffee daily, $1.50 per week is not nothing, even if Paul Krugman says it is nothing more than the cost of a small fries at McDonald's. Ketchum said her tax break will pay for her annual Costco membership. But there are people who are so out-of-touch with the lived experience of most Americans, that they cannot fathom how anyone could appreciate not surrendering another $78 of their hard-earned income to Washington. I loathe the expression "check your privilege" but it truly does apply to those who think $78 is a trivial amount to money to many Americans. The Washington Post's Avi Selk writes, "Why the House Speaker decided to highlight Julia Ketchum of Lancaster, Pa., and her $1.50 a week savings, the world may never know." Many Americans do know, however, because they know the value of each marginal dollar to their lives.


Sunday, February 04, 2018
 
Kling on Peterson
Arnold Kling has some observations about Jordan Peterson, and other intellectuals. Kling says:
He may now be over-rated by his fans on the right. But he is badly, badly, under-rated by smug leftists whose ability to understand opposing viewpoints pales in comparison with his.
Many on the Left would scoff at the very idea that Peterson is an intellectual, thus proving Kling's point.
Kling, by the way, is more critical of Peterson than are many on the Right.


 
Kellie Leitch isn't good at politics
Royce Koop, head of the department of political studies at the University of Manitoba, wrote Friday in the Winnipeg Free Press about Conservative MP Kellie Leitch leaving federal politics, and specifically about her failed leadership bid last year when she ran on the idea of screening immigrant for Canadian values:
Often, it seemed as though Leitch’s critics were less concerned about her actual ideas than they were with what those ideas represented: an electoral bulwark for Trumpism.
That's quite fair and perceptive. I'm not sure if there was actually a debate about Leitch's ideas during the leadership race, as much as a reaction against her expressing them. To be fair, it's not like Leitch did much to promote her idea. As Koop says:
As the political scientist Richard Fenno put it, politicians must find themes that work for voters. But they also have to find themes that work for them.
With this in mind, Leitch falls into a familiar category of inauthentic politicians. Saddled with a platform she herself hardly seemed to believe in, she often appeared uncomfortable and awkward defending it. An obviously intelligent person, Leitch nonetheless struggled to explain aspects of her proposals, and so resorted to the use of catchphrases and slogans. She stumped for her proposals with all the passion and conviction of an IT guy instructing someone to turn his computer off and on again.
In the end, having failed to convince herself, she could hardly convince others.
Most pundits and other politicians have a single takeaway from Leitch's failed leadership bid, and it's about the politics of immigration or populism. But Koop sees a more universal lesson, and one that suggest that the conventional wisdom in Canada about immigration and populism might be missing the point.


Saturday, February 03, 2018
 
Super Bowl LII
I don't have time to write up an analysis for the New England Patriots-Philadelphia Eagles game. Here are some articles I strongly suggest you read if you are interested in the game.
My go-to for advanced football stats is Football Outsiders. Aaron Schatz and Scott Kacsmar have a not-too-technical analysis for the game. This game is going to be exciting because the Pats are the top offense and they are facing a top five defense (and they are among the best in both offensive passing and rushing and defensive passing and rushing). The Eagles have a good offense that is difficult to evaluate because the team lost their MVP-calibre quarterback in the final month and we aren't quite sure what to make of Nick Foles in Carson Wentz's stead. The Pats have the 31st ranked defense according to Football Outsiders, but a top five defense in the red zone. There are not many good reasons why teams that are generally not good at defense become difficult to beat in the final 20 yards of the field and the bend-don't-break defense is a bit of myth -- except for the Patriots, who seem to do it with consistency over the years. Schatz and Kacsmar don't make a real prediction but suggest that the Pats will win, but win the way New England wins Super Bowls: in a close game.
Bill Barnwell's articles at ESPN are always must-reads, and his Super Bowl preview is no exception. He focuses on pace of game, Jim Schwartz's D, how Doug Pederson coaches Foles for success, and what wrinkles to expect. Barnwell predicts a Pats 27-20 victory.
At The Ringer, Robert Mays previews the three different types of games we could see: Pats blowout, Pats eking out a win, or Philly winning the war of the trenches to hold on for a narrow victory. This isn't some bet-hedging exercise. Mays understands we don't know what's going to happen Sunday night and predicts various outcomes on the way games can unfold between these two teams.
All three of the aforementioned essays combine superior analytics, deep thinking about the game, and quality writing. If "analytics" scares you, you need not be afraid of the Football Outsiders, Barnwell, or Mays articles. If you only have five minutes, then Mays is the piece to read.
Some other good articles to read: Sports Illustrated's Andy Benoit: "For Philadelphia and New England, the Super Bowl Could Come Down to Versatile Safeties." Five Thirty Eight's Ty Schalter: "The Patriots Defense Needs 30 Minutes To Figure Out How To Beat You." And Von Miller's advice at The Player's Tribune: "How to Beat the Patriots."
I want to pick the Eagles to upset the Pats. Part of that is the fact I don't want the Patriots to be tied with the Steelers for a record sixth Super Bowl. But emotions and fandom aside, I think Philly is as complete a team as any the Pats have faced in any of their Super Bowl games. The Eagles might be the most balanced and complete team in the NFL this season. If Wentz didn't get hurt, I'd pick Philly in a heartbeat. But it's hard to pick the team with a backup quarterback facing Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. I'm not saying Doug Pederson's team can't win with Nick Foles, but it is foolish to predict it. And as good as the Eagles front four are at getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks, even with their quality rotation up front (see Barnwell's article), the pace of Pats' games wear out opponents. Prediction: Patriots 30, Eagles 24, but this feels wrong, like I'm slighting New England.


Thursday, February 01, 2018
 
The American poor are a tragedy, but they are not 'as destitute as the world's poorest'
I have a great deal of respect for the economist Angus Deaton, but his recent New York Times op-ed on America's poor is simply wrong in every imaginable way: bad economics, bad punditry, bad basis for policy or personal charity. Vox's Ryan Briggs has rebutted Deaton's argument and facts:
Last week, Angus Deaton, a Nobel Memorial Prize-winning economist, published an opinion piece in the New York Times in which he claimed that millions of Americans — specifically, 3.2 million to 5.4 million, depending on the poverty line used — “are as destitute as the world’s poorest people.” This is simply wrong ...
It is true that America has serious problems of poverty and inequality ... Nevertheless, it is incorrect and misleading to draw an equivalence between poverty in America and poverty in low-income countries. It is only through the misinterpretation of poverty statistics that one can equate the two. Let me explain how Deaton is misusing data here (and he is not the only one to make this error).
Let’s start with the purely economic side of poverty. In order to measure poverty, we need to survey people and record how much they “earn.” There are two main ways of doing this. The first, common in low-income countries, is to ask people about their consumption and then derive a dollar figure from their answers. The second approach, more common in high-income countries, is to simply ask people about their income.
There are many problems in comparing data across these different types of surveys. The largest is that poor people in rich countries often receive many non-cash benefits that boost consumption without boosting income — for instance, in the US, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
In one analysis, the non-cash benefits provided to American households with near-zero income increase their household consumption by an average of about $20 a day. A very well-regarded book on the analysis of household surveys notes that “survey-based measures of income are often substantially less than survey-based measures of consumption […] even in industrialized countries.”
The World Bank, which runs many of these surveys, has noted the dangers in comparing income and consumption-based poverty figures. In one report, its experts observe that many of the people who “declare zero income on a survey” have “a consumption level that is not zero.”
Nevertheless, people keep making this mistake. For example, Kathryn Edin and Luke Shaefer, of Johns Hopkins and the University of Michigan, have claimed that millions of Americans live on less than $2 a day, the threshold used by many international agencies for determining extreme poverty. They use income-based surveys to measure poverty and ignore programs like SNAP. (When Laurence Chandy, now of UNICEF, and Cory Smith, now an MIT PhD student, redid Edin and Shaefer’s calculations using a more comparable consumption survey, they found that almost nobody in the United States lives on $2 a day.)
Deaton makes the same fundamental error: His American poverty figures measure income, but the poverty figures for poor countries measure consumption. Citing the Oxford economist Robert Allen, Deaton also argues that the extreme poverty line for Americans should be higher than $2 a day, perhaps even as high as $4 a day, because “[t]here are necessities of life in rich, cold, urban and individualistic countries that are less needed in poor countries.” For instance, people in warm countries may not need housing, he says, and “a poor agricultural laborer in the tropics can get by with little clothing and transportation.”
These are debatable claims (and Allen’s work on the subject has come under a lot of scrutiny), but even if we grant a higher $4 a day poverty line for Americans but use apples-to-apples consumption-based poverty measures, then it turns out that America still has only a tiny fraction of its population in extreme poverty. The fact that anyone in the US lives on less than $4 day is a genuine tragedy, but Deaton’s count of 3 million to 5 million Americans in extreme poverty is off by an order of magnitude.
Deaton calls for a reconsideration of Washington's spending priorities to redirect the minuscule amount of foreign aid the United States gives to domestic poverty relief and says he is himself re-prioritizing his charitable giving. This is a mistake. Enlarge the pie if the state must, but considering the serious, abject, life-threatening poverty in the developing world, reducing foreign aid is literally removing a lifeline for extremely vulnerable people. To go down this mistaken policy path because of a misreading of the economic stats would be egregious.