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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Friday, April 20, 2018
 
Italian politics
PoliticoEU reports that Italian politicians are no closer to forming a government following the March 4 national election that resulted in no party winning a majority (as is usual in the country) or even a natural coalition of capable of doing so (which is usually possible). PoliticoEU reports: "the parties involved are further apart and more entrenched in their positions than when they started." The two largest parties in parliament are populists -- the left-wing 5Star Movement (which is never labeled left-wing) and the (invariably) "far-right" League -- and they cannot seem to agree on the role, if any, for Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia in any Grand Coalition. Along with Forza Italia, League has 265 seats in the Chamber of Deputies (and 137 in the Senate). The 5Star movement has 227 (and 112 senators). The left-wing Democratic Party has 122 and 60 seats respectively. The Democratic Party's leader Matteo Renzi resigned after the disappointing March 4 election and interim leader Maurizio Martina does not have the authority to negotiate much of a coalition (other than the most temporary arrangement to not defeat a 5Star government) and many party members fear for the Democratic Party's existence if it gets into bed with the 5Star Movement at all. As for Berlusconi, he vows to block any cooperation with 5Star, calling it a "party of the unemployed." Italian politics is complicated but a boatload of fun.


Thursday, April 19, 2018
 
The smallness of Theresa May
To protect the environment, specifically the oceans, British Prime Minister Theresa May says she will soon ban straws, plastic stirrers, and cotton buds in the UK and is calling upon her Commonwealth colleagues to do the same. The ban follows other measures to curtail plastic use:
Plastic microbeads in shower gel have also been banned, a deposit return scheme for plastic bottles and cans is being introduced, and a new tax on single use plastics is being drawn up.
The Coalition government also introduced a 5p plastic bag charge, which ministers claim has led to nine billion fewer bags distributed.
The Sun reports the Institute of Economic Affairs’ head of lifestyle economics Christopher Snowdon is skeptical: "I suspect a lot of this is hugely overblown, and gesture politics to get some friendly headlines." Undoubtedly.


 
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau makes Time's list of 100 most influential people
This is the entirety of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's write-up on Justin Trudeau's influence:
There will be a few names globally that will become etched in our history books. They will be the names that mark the shift in our political landscape, when younger politicians took the reins and heralded a different type of politics. Justin Trudeau will be one of them. Youth alone is not remarkable, but winning over people with a message of hope and warmth, tolerance and inclusion, when other politicians the world over choose an easier route—that is remarkable.
A little early for this conclusion, isn't it?


Wednesday, April 18, 2018
 
Progressivism and populism
CBC: "Despite Trudeau's progressive rhetoric, Canada not immune to populism: experts." What is this "despite"? My working theory is that much of populism is a reaction to progressive politics. My tentative prediction is that Justin Trudeau is birthing Canadian populism.


 
Steve Sailer on intersectionality
Steve Sailer has a post on a black Harvard student who was beaten and arrested after lunging at police when they approached the unruly, high, and aggressive student. I don't like Sailer's flippancy about police violence against a suspect, even if it seems defensible and I'm not sure he's on point in this case asserting "it’s only traditional for black Harvard students to want legal privileges for being black and Harvard students." But he's bang-on about intersectionality:
According to the Theory of Intersectionality, your lack of privilege points are the sum, or perhaps product (Intersectional theorists aren’t really into math), of all the Marginalized boxes you can check. Is “Harvard student” one of those deprived boxes?
One does not need to be 100% correct to provide valid arguments and important insights. If you are offended by Sailer and don't read him for that reason, your bubble is limiting your learning.


Tuesday, April 17, 2018
 
Which US cities are ideologically diverse
Tyler Cowen answers this question: "What is the most ideologically / politically diverse city? Which most moderate in that regard? Where in America am I least likely to be in a bubble and why?" Here is 90% of his answer:
1. Houston. It still has plenty of Texas conservatives, but enough non-conservatives to elect a lesbian mayor. Mexicans fit along a political spectrum of their own.
2. Washington, D.C. and environs. The intellectual class in this city is about half conservative/Republican/libertarian and always will be — just don’t think too hard about who actually lives here! Most of all, everyone is used to the fact that there are oodles and oodles of forces on the other side of the debate. No one flips out over this. Even the media types have a reasonable amount of non-left representation.
3. Chicago. Its presence in the Midwest moderates its left flank, there is a diverse mix of ethnic groups, and the city has lots of Midwestern civic virtue. Real estate prices have stayed relatively low, so not all blue collar and working class types have been driven out. “Old Chicago” is still up and running to some extent.
That’s the national capital, plus two of the five largest cities. And I’ve already argued that, in a Straussian sense, Los Angeles is the most right wing city in the United States. Orange County is ideologically diverse as well. In other words, urban American is doing pretty well on intellectual diversity once you get out of (parts of) Manhattan and San Francisco and Seattle.
San Antonio measures as quite moderate, but is neither typical nor extremely diverse. Here are some basic data, Nashville, Wichita, and Las Vegas also measure in the middle, and of those Las Vegas seems most diverse to me rather than simply dull.
Which place in the country is the least likely to leave you trapped in an intellectual bubble? Somewhere in Ohio? Columbus or Cincinnati? Knoxville, Tennessee? Louisville? Kansas City, MO? In those locales you truly are confronted with the everyday problems of regular American life and you are not obsessing over either crypto or what just passed through the subcommittee.
People are often surprised that as someone who holds a number of traditionally conservative views, that I enjoy living in Toronto and can't imagine living elsewhere. I respond that a city the size of Toronto has more self-identified conservatives than do small cities and rural communities just because there are so many more people. Even if 10% of Toronto is conservative, that is more people than there are in any riding in Canada. Like New York and Boston, it is also home to universities, think tanks, and media, all of which attract conservative intellectuals even if they are a tiny minority. But having more conservatives with which to associate is not the same thing as not being a in political bubble. The Toronto downtown is a bubble, with most voters incapable of appreciating different points of view and in fact looking down on those that don't toe-the-line on any number of issues. (The same is true in so-called flyover country in Canada and America that looks down on urbanites as weird for some of their views (tolerance for transgender politics or campus speech codes) and fear their hostility on others (think guns).)
In Canada, Calgary is not as conservative/libertarian as those in the east think it is. Even when it returns to electing only Conservatives in 2019, there is more viewpoint diversity than its federal political map suggests; the obvious counter-point to the blue federal map are the elections of Naheed Nenshi. Many Canadian cities (in Atlantic Canada, especially) are what Cowen implies Nashville is: a moderation born of dullness rather than diversity. Ottawa has its share of conservatives, but the sheer number of bureaucrats probably makes it more of a bubble. That said, there is a different bubble in the Canadian capital: the government bubble. Ottawa is weird in how much it prioritizes the federal government view of things and role in people's lives. Washington is political, but Ottawa is about government. In terms of ideological diversity, the former is better.
Back to Cowen's post.
In the U.S., cities in the south (in their entirety, not their downtowns) tend to be non-bubble: New Orleans, Tampa, Atlanta, Charlotte. Charlotte is a lot more left-wing than many people realize. New Orleans has the benefit of being both a tourist attraction and not the seat of government which makes it less prone to sliding leftward.
I'd add Cleveland, Philadelphia, Miami, Portland, and Baltimore to Cowen's list of Manhattan, San Fran, and Seattle as liberal fortresses. Denver might be in that group or is well on its way of joining it.
On the other side of the ledger, Salt Lake City is a conservative bubble. Are there are others?
And where does Minneapolis, St. Louis and Detroit fall on this list? Detroit is becoming more hipster. St. Louis is not as much like Kansas City as one might hope. Minnesota might be midwestern to save it from a stultifying ideological bubble. And what about Orlando and Phoenix? I don't know.


 
Priebus is probably wrong about the post-Trump GOP
The Washington Examiner reports that former GOP Chairman and White House chief of staff Reince Priebus told Georgetown University’s Institute of Politics and Public Service that the Trump presidency is "unique" and that the next Republican president won't be like the current one. I was interested to learn more about his comments but then I realized Priebus is talking more abou the Trump style than his policies: "He’s very unique, he owns it and he does it and he does get away with a lot." He hints that while Trump "has been very good for the party in a sense of being a party that’s returned to the idea of that the American worker is worth fighting for. That we’re not about Wall Street," the GOP is likely to return to its former policies, notably trade and international relations. I don't think that's true. Reihan Salam wrote at The Atlantic last week that Paul Ryan was born a decade too late, with his Reaganesque conservatism being out of style over the past decade, and even more so since Trump's ascendancy. The Washington Post's Catherine Rampell says many in the GOP are stuck in the '80s. She's right, but this misses a more important point: that while culturally Trump looks at inner cities in 2018 as they are all pre-Giuliani New York and that rhetorically many Republicans say they pine for the small government and low tax rhetoric of Reagan, neither GOP politicians nor their voters are serious about it. Polls show the GOP base has moved dramatically on any number of issues toward comfort with Big Government and skepticism of free trade. There is no reason to expect them to shift again simply because Trump is no longer the party's standard-bearer. They might, but it will take leadership from a Republican presidential candidate or conservative of national stature to move the base. I don't see that happening any time soon.


Sunday, April 15, 2018
 
Not The Onion
The Daily Mail a few days ago: "Anne Frank House banned Orthodox Jewish employee from wearing his skullcap at work." The paper reports: "The 25-year-old was told wearing the skullcap might endanger the neutrality of the foundation which runs the museum and 'influence its work combating antisemitism'." I don't get it, either.


 
2020 watch (Joe Biden edition)
The Washington Post reported that former vice president Joseph Biden talked to MSNBC's Al Sharpton about whether he would seek the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020. Biden said: "I’m really hoping that some other folks step up. I think we have some really good people ... I got to walk away knowing that it is — there’s somebody who can do it and can win because we’ve got to win. We’ve got to win in 2020." There are a couple ways to read that. I'd bet Biden has already decided he won't run, but he becomes less relevant to the political discussion and his party the minute he is no longer a candidate. He'll tease his interest as long as he can. Or perhaps he has decided he is going to run, but candidates with high profile wait until later to announce; there is only disadvantage in being one of the first candidates in the race unless the hope is to scare away everyone else. But Democrats believe 2020 will be a good year to run for president so even the former veep's profile is unlikely to scare away the ambitious senators, governors, or celebrities eyeing the White House. Or Joe Biden is being honest, in which case Joe Biden is Joe Biden's backup plan.


Wednesday, April 11, 2018
 
Blogging
Last week there was a day in which I had a burst of blogging. Then it slowed down again. I hope to return to regular blogging soon. There are stories and columns I had intended to highlight and comment upon but never got around to. I have been incredibly busy in recent weeks, both personally and professionally. The rest of this week is busy with family responsibilities and some work-related travel. I don't know when, precisely, I'll have the time to post things, but I hope sooner rather than later. Thank you for dropping by and please keep doing so.


Tuesday, April 10, 2018
 
PC/Liberal vote gap
Ekos shows that the Liberals are further behind the Conservatives among millennials (44-19) than they are among men (50-27) in Ontario.


Saturday, April 07, 2018
 
Restoring voting rights to felons
George Will has a good and important column on restoring voting rights to felons. He describes the battle in Florida:
Florida is one of 11 states that effectively disqualify felons permanently.
[There are] 1.6 million disenfranchised Florida felons — more than the total number of people who voted in 22 separate states in 2016. He is one of the more than 20 percent of African American Floridians disenfranchised. The state has a low threshold for felonious acts: Someone who gets into a bar fight, or steals property worth $300 — approximately two pairs of Air Jordans — or even drives without a license for a third time can be disenfranchised for life. There is a cumbersome, protracted process whereby an individual, after waiting five to seven years (it depends on the felony) can begin a trek that can consume 10 years and culminates with politicians and their appointees deciding who can recover their vote.
And Will explains why it matters:
Intelligent and informed people of good will can strenuously disagree about the wisdom of policies that have produced mass incarceration. What is, however, indisputable is that this phenomenon creates an enormous problem of facilitating the reentry into society of released prisoners who were not improved by the experience of incarceration and who face discouraging impediments to employment and other facets of social normality. In 14 states and the District , released felons automatically recover their civil rights.
Recidivism among Florida’s released felons has been approximately 30 percent for the five years 2011-2015. Of the 1,952 people whose civil rights were restored, five committed new offenses, an average recidivism rate of 0.4 percent. This sample is skewed by self-selection — overrepresentation of those who had the financial resources and tenacity to navigate the complex restoration process that each year serves a few hundred of the 1.6 million. Still, the recidivism numbers are suggestive.
What compelling government interest is served by felon disenfranchisement? Enhanced public safety? How? Is it to fine-tune the quality of the electorate? This is not a legitimate government objective for elected officials to pursue. A felony conviction is an indelible stain: What intelligent purpose is served by reminding felons — who really do not require reminding — of their past, and by advertising it to their community? The rule of law requires punishments, but it is not served by punishments that never end and that perpetuate a social stigma and a sense of never fully reentering the community.
Stripping all felons of their voting rights is part of the mindless and cynical get-tough-on-crime politics that conservative politicians have exploited for years. There is room for just desserts when administering justice -- indeed, proportionate punishment is an integral part of a just legal system -- but there is also room for mercy and compassion, and whether or not something works. Recidivism rates, as Will says, are suggestive that being unnecessarily punitive may be counter-productive.
The punishment that continues after release from prison through the lost opportunities that the stigma of being an ex-con costs individuals cannot be entirely avoided. But it is wrong that people who commit non-violent or minor crimes are stained for the rest of their life for relatively minor infractions. And separation from society for a set amount of time -- a prison sentence -- is the proportionate punishment, not a lifetime of inconvenience and misery. Granting voting rights to felons can help restore some semblance of normalcy to lives that desperately need it to reintegrate into society.


 
It's easier to screw every consumer than piss off a handful of special interests
Economist and Mercatus Center adjunct fellow Bruce Yandle in the Washington Examiner explains why politicians get away with imposing tariffs:
But Public Choice economics also teaches us that wise politicians will only bestow favors on special interests when the costs are spread out among a vast number of unorganized consumers. It’s easier to bill 1,000 people an extra penny than to get 10 people to pay an extra buck without noticing.
Take, for example, the Trump tariff imposed on Canadian dairy products. The benefits of that tariff are concentrated across an identifiable, concentrated, and politically influential part of the U.S. dairy industry. But the costs are stretched thinly across a huge number of dairy product consumers who hardly notice that the prices they pay for milk or cheese are just a few pennies more expensive. Machiavelli would be proud.
This type of arrangement (concentrated benefits and dispersed costs) is key to a politically successful bout of protectionism that rewards highly organized producers at the expense of unorganized consumers.


Friday, April 06, 2018
 
Nikki Haley, best American ambassador to Turtle Bay since Jeane Kirkpatrick
National Review Online reports:
“I know John Bolton well. I have gotten advice from him, I have talked to him. I know his disdain for the U.N. I share it,” [Nikki] Haley said at an event at Duke University in North Carolina. “I think we’re going to have a great working relationship.”
The combative, hawkish, controversial Bolton is set to start Monday as President Trump’s replacement for ousted national security advisor H.R. McMaster. He had Haley’s job during the George W. Bush years and is famously contemptuous of the U.N. He once said it would make no difference if ten floors were removed from the international body’s New York headquarters.
As ambassador, Haley has gained a reputation as a tough diplomat who puts America first and pulls no punches in negotiations. The former South Carolina governor has, like Bolton, criticized the Iran nuclear deal and accused the U.N. Human Rights Council of grievous bias against Israel.
“When the Human Rights Council treats Israel worse than North Korea, Iran, & Syria, it is the Council itself that is foolish and unworthy of its name,” Haley said in a statement last month, issued in response to the Council’s five resolutions condemning Israel. “Our patience is not unlimited. Today’s actions make clear that the organization lacks the credibility needed to be a true advocate for human rights.”


 
US opioid fact of the day and it what it doesn't mean
Unherd on the opioid crisis in the United States: "someone dies of an opioid overdose every 12.5 minutes."
I'm not convinced, as US Surgeon General Jerome Adams is, that everyone needs to carry Naloxone to help save people at risk. Those five deaths every hour are not evenly distributed among the U.S. population, and most Americans will never be in a position to save someone's life from an opioid overdose. But the number is still shocking.


Wednesday, April 04, 2018
 
Facts get in the way in gun debate
Jacob Sullum at Reason:
"Americans are now more likely to be shot to death than to die in a car accident," Margaret Renkl declares in a New York Times op-ed piece calling for more gun control. Since Renkl is talking about mass shootings, which she says "are no longer so unthinkable," the implication is that the risk of being murdered with a gun is on the rise. But that risk is in fact much lower than it was in the 1970s, '80s, or '90s.
To back up her claim, Renkl links to a CDC fact sheet that shows guns killed slightly more Americans in 2015 than car crashes did. Yet 61 percent of those gun deaths were suicides, while 36 percent were homicides. Contrary to Renkl's implication, Americans are nearly three times as likely to die in a car accident as they are to be murdered with a gun ...
Renkl is afraid because other people are afraid, and she is not interested in considering whether those fears are reasonable. "Not only am I married to a schoolteacher, and the mother of one, I also have two younger sons in college," she writes. "Not a single day goes by when I don't worry about whether they will all be safe in their classrooms."
In reality, Renkl's sons are nearly 1,000 times as likely to die in a traffic accident as they are to die in a mass shooting, which is roughly as likely as being killed by a dog and only slightly more likely than dying from a lightning strike. Stinging insects kill more Americans each year than mass shooters do.
Links for the stats available in Sullum's piece.


Tuesday, April 03, 2018
 
Free-range parenting recognized in Utah law
Lenore Skenazy writes at Reason.com about a new Utah law, nicknamed the free-range parenting bill, which was passed unanimously last month and which takes effect in May:
In signing the Free-Range Kids Bill, Utah just became the first state to explicitly recognize the right of parents to raise their kids without the threat of government intervention. Imagine that: it will no longer be considered negligent to let your kid walk to school, play outside, come home with a latchkey, or even, under certain conditions, wait briefly in the car ...
Free-range parenting has captured America's imagination because America has captured its kids. We have been locking them up at home, transporting them to supervised classes, and tracking them by text and GPS, all in the name of safety. We do this, even though the crime rate today is back to what it was when gas was 29 cents per gallon.
Skenazy notes the comments in various media outlet reporting on this development. The best one (at Yahoo! News): "So basically it's now legal to go outside and play like when I was a kid."
We could also call these laws -- one of which rejected in Arkansas last spring -- the "Letting Kids Be Kids Law" or "Parental Non-harassment Law." The point is not to criminalize parents taking their eyes of their children while they take small but reasonable risks like walk to school or play unattended at park or stay alone in a car for a few minutes or at home for a while.


 
India's back-to-the-future military
UK Defense Journal: "68% of Indian military equipment is ‘vintage’ say officials." The Journal quotes an Economist article that reported of the state of India's military equipment: "Only 8% could be considered state-of-the-art." The Journal also reports:
Contemporary criticism of the Indian military has drawn attention to several issues, such as lack of political reform, obsolete equipment, lack of adequate ammunition and inadequate research and development due to over-reliance on foreign imports.
In addition, the lack of a ‘strategic culture’ among the political class in India is claimed by some to have hindered the effectiveness of the Indian military. Critics believe these issues hobble the progress and modernisation of the military.
Some of the equipment is Soviet-era vintage. And one submarine was rendered useless after leaking.
It might be nothing.


 
International incidents (Masterchef edition)
The Daily Telegraph reports:
The Prime Minister of Malaysia has criticised the judges of Masterchef UK, who started an intercontinental row after eliminating a Malaysian-born woman because they did not think her rendang dish was "crispy enough".
Malaysia's prime minister Najib Razak questioned: "Does anyone eat chicken rendang 'crispy'? #MalaysianFood”.
Judges John Torode and Gregg Wallace said Zaleha Kadir Olpin's chicken rendang did not have the requisite "crispy" skin ...
Malaysian commentators were furious at these remarks, and said the judges had misunderstood the dish, which was made by someone from its origin country.
This entertainment story might be beneath the dignity of the Malaysian Prime Minister. This row is definitely below the dignity of The Telegraph.


 
The British councils' war on Englishmen's eyes
The Daily Telegraph reports that Public Health England warns LED streetlights "could disrupt people's sleep and even damage their eyesight," because, in PHE's words, they could "cause damage to the retina of the eye." High levels of blue light is know to damage the retina according to the Chief Medical Officer's annual report. Local councils are moving to LED for environmental and cost-savings reasons -- they can reduce energy use by 40% -- they have done so at an alarming rate: 30% of roads under Highways England control have converted to LED lights without studying their effect on drivers' health. Furthermore, they may inadvertently make British roads less safe:
Public Health England said: "An extreme example is daylight-running lights on cars. These are clearly visible to other road users and pedestrians. At night, if they do not dim, they can be very dazzlingand more so for young children (who have higher transmission of light through to the retina) and older people (who will suffer from scattering of the light, particularly in the lens of the eye).
"This means that older drivers, in particular, will be dazzled by oncoming vehicles with the risk that they may not see hazards until too late. The problem is exacerbated by fog."
The Telegraph reports this is not the first time alarms have been raised over LEDs. The American Medical Association has advised how LEDs could be made safer in a 2016 report:
The concerns have been echoed in the US, where a report by the American Medical Association (AMA) warned that blue light emitted by LEDS can affect sleep rhythms, leading to "impaired daytime functioning" and obesity.
The AMA report calls on cities to use the lowest-intensity LEDs possible and shade them better to reduce glare, which it warns can also harm wildlife.
As a matter of public policy, the savings in energy use must be weighed against increased costs of reduced productivity, increased risk of accidents, and other side-effects of LED use. Thus far, we have been sold the idea that LEDs are a cost-free panacea for the environmental. Pretty clearly that is not true.


 
Rent-seeking bastards (car rental companies edition)
The Washington Post reports on how car-sharing services like Turo -- "Airbnb for cars" -- is disrupting the car rental market. Of course, the car rental industry wants the heavy hand of the state to come to its assistance:
Turo allows its 200,000 members who are car owners to post vehicles online and rent them out for as little as $10 a day. Turo officials say their company is a technology platform that allows car owners to earn extra cash, not a rental car company. Because Turo doesn’t own any vehicles, they say, the company shouldn’t be subject to the same regulations as traditional rental companies.
Those rental companies — represented by the American Car Rental Association — say that car-sharing companies such as Turo are clearly car-rental companies. The only difference between Turo and Enterprise, officials say, is that Enterprise complies with state and federal laws governing rental car companies, while Turo has so far avoided them ...
Instead of waiting for the competition to comply, the rental industry has introduced bills replete with new regulations for car-sharing companies in more than a dozen state legislatures across the United States — including a bill under debate in Maryland’s General Assembly. If turned into law, those regulations would treat car-sharing companies like traditional rental car companies ...
ACRA officials, who support attempts to regulate car-sharing networks, say their goal is to level the “playing field.” The networks enjoy an unfair advantage and put public safety at risk, ACRA says. Their members might bypass annual inspections and not track recall notices — making the roads more dangerous. They also operate freely at airports instead of in designated areas, which adds to chaos and congestion.
The trade group is supported by airports with a big stake in this dispute: the billions of dollars a year they take in to lease lots to rental companies. But Turo — the most outspoken opponent of the legislation — says rental-car giants have another objective in mind: destroying competition by squelching innovation.
Safety is the last refuge of vested interests holding on to their diminishing market share.
I'm not sure if the playing field isn't level, as ACRA complains, because it isn't obvious to me that they are precisely the same service. Perhaps, though, regulators could look at reducing the regulatory burden on the traditional rental car market where appropriate. But that's not what the legacy companies really want -- they really want the state to eliminate their competitors.
It does seem like Turo offers a more convenient service (curbside delivery at the airport, rather than being transported to some distant lot where customers may have to queue before getting their rental vehicle), and sometimes at a better price. The legacy companies should compete on price and service to beat the tech-aided upstarts, rather than cry to the sugar daddy state to fight their battles for them.