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, May 27, 2018
 
The University of Michigan's diversity industry
The American Enterprise Institute's Mark Perry has collected some interesting statistics from the University of Michigan:
1. The University of Michigan currently employs a diversity staff of nearly 100 (93) full-time diversity administrators, officers, directors, vice-provosts, deans, consultants, specialists, investigators, managers, executive assistants, administrative assistants, analysts, and coordinators.
2. More than one-quarter (26) of these “diversicrats” earn annual salaries of more than $100,000, and the total payroll for this small army is $8.4 million. When you add to cash salaries an estimated 32.45% for UM’s very generous fringe benefit package for the average employee in this group (retirement, health care, dental insurance, life insurance, long-term disability, paid leave, paid vacation, social security, unemployment insurance, Medicare, etc.) the total employee compensation for this group tops $11 million per year. And of course that doesn’t count the cost of office space, telephones, computers and printers, printing, postage, programs, training, or travel expenses.
3. Undergraduate tuition for an in-state student in the College of Literature, Science & the Arts (LSA) last year was $14,500. Therefore, the $11 million payrolls for the 93 UM “diversicrats” could support 765 in-state students per year with full tuition scholarships!
4. Michigan’s Student Housing Office has a diversity team of at least six full-time employees, and according to an email from a former UM employee: 'UM Housing has its own additional diversity army and trains students in paid positions to be “Diversity Peer Educators” in every dorm and apartment area. These students mandate compliance with the ever-changing progressive views on gender and diversity in all campus housing facilities.'
5. Another email from a current UM employee alerted me to the “Office of Health Equity and Inclusion” at the Michigan Medical School, which “develops mechanisms for inclusion, diversity and cultural sensitivity among faculty, students, and staff at Michigan Medicine.” That group has a diversity team of at least 19 full-time staff with an annual payroll of nearly $1.6 million ($2.1 million with fringe benefits).
6. The average salary for a typical UM “diversicrat” is roughly $92,000. Not bad. It’s $10,000 more than the average annual salary of $82,000 for an assistant professor with a Ph.D. in the College of Literature, Science and Arts (LSA) and only $10,000 less than the average salary for an associate LSA professor of $102,000.
7. The Michigan School of Nursing recently hired its own Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at a salary of $123,600.
And it is highly dubious that the Michigan's School of Nursing needs a diversity and inclusion office (operating as these offices typically do) consider that "Nationally, women earn 84.4% of bachelor’s degrees in health sciences, 82% of master’s degrees in health sciences and 59% of doctor’s degrees."
More importantly, as Perry states, the money UM spends on its diversicrats could help students with scholarships. And chances are, considering who doesn't go to university because they can't afford it, this could increase the diversity of the student population. Two years ago, David Leonhardt of the New York Times wrote about adding diversity to the student population by making elite universities more accessible to working class students:
Top colleges are already diverse in some ways, of course. They enroll students of every ethnicity, from around the world. Yet those otherwise diverse student bodies remain distressingly affluent. Worst of all, they remain affluent even though many poor and middle-class students could thrive at top colleges.
A landmark recent study found that most highly qualified low-income students don’t attend one of the country’s roughly 250 top colleges. Many instead enroll in local colleges with relatively few resources and high dropout rates.
Think about what an injustice this is. Thousands of students each year overcome long odds — tough neighborhoods, weak schools, chaotic families — and excel. Then society lets them down once again. They are robbed of the opportunities they have earned, to borrow a phrase from David Coleman of the College Board.


 
Cowen on Solo
Tyler Cowen has a number of observations about seeing Solo: A Star Wars Story (in Ethiopia). Two worth noting:
One of the characters did not understand subgame perfection.
And:
One of the characters did not understand subgame perfection.


Saturday, May 26, 2018
 
New excuse for weird polls: blame the respondents
The Toronto Sun reports on some wild swings in an Ekos poll this week. Somehow, a one-day sample from a rolling poll was leaked that showed a dramatic spike in the NDP vote and sharp decline in PC support, resulting in the NDP being ahead by about ten percentage points. I'm not sure it was the outlier some are suggesting because several internal and private polls, I'm told, indicated the same shift at the same time, as did a Forum Research poll (although they are notoriously unreliable). The counter-argument is that both IRG and Leger show continued stability in the polls with the Tories holding a small lead or being tied. Advanced Symbolics Inc., which uses artificial intelligence to monitor online preferences, seems to reinforce the IRG and Leger findings. The Sun story is not interesting because of the horse-race numbers, however, but rather the ridiculous and self-serving explanation from Ekos president Frank Graves. The Sun reports:
According to EKOS, there’s volatility in the poll numbers thanks to millennial voters, who seem to shift their political allegiances daily. While the Conservatives may have enjoyed an early modest lead, the poll showed the young vote shifted to the NDP’s side.
“They (millennials) seem to be telling us something different night-to-night. This suggests that they’re either not paying attention and not answering (the questions) carefully, or they’re really unhinged on what their preferences are,” said Graves.
This is unusual. I've never seen a pollster blame the incompetence of respondents ("not paying attention"/"not answering the questions carefully") or call out their changing views in a judgmental way ("unhinged"). Perhaps if the respondents are not answering correctly -- which is what Graves implies -- the questions are at fault. Or possibly, Ekos isn't very good at getting a representative sample of millennials and thus their preferences seem to fluctuate wildly. Or perhaps millennials are changing their minds with a greater frequency than the larger population for some reason -- an idea that deserves further study, not the finger-wagging of some pollster.


Friday, May 25, 2018
 
Unsurprising headline of the day
Washington Post: "Rachel Dolezal, the white woman who posed as black, charged with welfare fraud." She should have self-identified as needing public assistance.


Thursday, May 24, 2018
 
Eating in Ethiopia
Tyler Cowen provides him impressions of the food scene in Ethiopia. Cowen says:
I will compare to Ethiopian food in the United States, so I won’t be starting from scratch here.
The good news is that the product is tastier in Ethiopia. But the other good news is that the U.S. version of the cuisine is fairly similar, and it really does give you a pretty good idea of at least mainstream restaurant cuisine in Addis Ababa ...
I had two meals in private homes, one in a well-to-do apartment in Addis, the other in a rural village. Neither overturned the basic impressions I have been receiving from the restaurant food.
And this:
This is a wonderful country for vegetarians and vegans. I am told that for the Christian religiously observant, about one-third of all days specify an abstention from meat. So virtually all restaurants have a wide selection of vegetarian food and it is no worse than the meat dishes, perhaps better on average.
The comments are worth reading.


Wednesday, May 23, 2018
 
MADD is a liberal special interest group
Some years ago, one of the conservative American magazines looked at the politics of Mothers Against Drunk Driving in the United States. They found almost every state chapter president was a registered Democrat and that MADD had passed numerous resolutions backing various liberal causes from support for gun control and reproductive rights to opposition to school choice, the war in Iraq, and capital punishment.
American charities do that type of thing. So do corporations. Not so much in Canada. That doesn't mean some groups don't have a partisan or ideological agenda. Yesterday, MADD appeared alongside Liberal leader Kathleen Wynne to condemn PC leader Doug Ford's plan to sell beer and alcohol in convenience stores as recklessly irresponsible. MADDs argument is that increasing access to alcohol makes the streets of our province less safe. But three years ago, MADD voiced no opposition to the Liberal plan to increase access by allowing beer sales in grocery stores.


Tuesday, May 22, 2018
 
Most people don't follow politics
I came across some British statistics from Number Cruncher Politics via CapX: "78 per cent of people don’t talk about politics most days, and 99 per cent of people don’t watch Prime Minister’s Questions." That is, most people are rationally irrational about their views and politics. For all the QP prep politicians do and all the analysis done on panel shows, almost none of it matters to voters. My theory about those who do follow it is that what goes on in the daily sparring in Question Period or PMQ or on a campaign trail doesn't matter because people who watch political panel shows and read political news closely are already heavily invested in politics and therefore have stronger partisan views that the average person and can't be moved off their position (ideology or partisan brand) very easily.


 
Capitalism and choice
Earlier this month, Steven Horowitz wrote about "The Grocery Store as an Indicator of American Progress." A snippet:
An example from the evolution of the grocery store illustrates this point. In the 1970s, there were maybe five or six kinds of potato chips (regular, barbecue, sour cream and onion, ruffled, tortilla chips, and the stuff in the can). Today, the typical grocery store has a potato chip aisle that offers dozens of differentiated products along numerous dimensions. The increase in variety allows consumers to satisfy their preferences more precisely, increasing their subjective well-being. You want your gluten-free, lactose-free chocolate chip cookies? You can probably find them. You want your throwback taco-flavored Doritos? They’re there. The expansion of variety in the typical grocery store has dramatically increased the subjective well-being of American consumers in ways that macroeconomic measures like GDP cannot capture.
I often hear the growing selection consumers have as a criticism of free market systems, with critics of capitalism claiming that it is not necessary to have an endless selection of flavours and styles of chips (or yogurt, cereal, or whatever). To many of us, the panoply of products on offer is a sign of progress, but to some the feature of choice for consumers is a bug. This probably stems from the totalitarian nature of free market critics who do not see consumers as king; the experts know what is best for consumers and they want to dictate their own preferences, which can't be done when stores (of any kind) are giving customers plenty of choice.


Monday, May 21, 2018
 
Crappy government is the root cause of populism
Alberto Mingardi comments on the new coalition government in Italy and he makes a brief observation about the electoral success and growing influence of so-called populist parties in Europe: "[T]hey are, in many way, the 'products' of many not very good governments run by non-populists (and yet not necessarily 'credible') parties in the last few years." Of course I like this observation and think it's true, but that's probably because this is a variation of my argument that the root cause of populism is liberalism. Governments that do not seem attentive to the needs of the working classes and others just about managing will see a backlash. How big of a backlash and whether it breaks toward populist parties will often depend on whether the mainstream opposition parties are seen as an effective alternative or whether too often they are mired in a game of me-tooism.


 
Midterms
Not sure if this CBS poll tells us more or less than a generic Republican vs. Democrat Congressional question. Only 9% of respondents want a Republican is more independent from Donald Trump while 34% want a Republican candidate who is more in line with the President. Assuming that non-Trump supporting voters (GOP and independent/swing) can still vote for a Republican candidate that is backed by the President/backs the President, that means about 43% of the electorate is interested in voting Republican. On the other side of the ledger, 22% say they want a liberal or progressive Democrat while 23% say they want a moderate. Assuming all Democrat-leaning voters can support the party, this indicates 45% of voters are interested in that party. 45%-43% means it's pretty close. These assumptions might not be accurate, however. Those who want a moderate Democrat may support Republicans or likely stay home if the Democrats nominate those on the Left. Likewise, some progressive Democrats could vote Green or stay home if they think the party isn't adequately representing their views. There is also reason to wonder about the reliability of the first numbers when one sees the answers from Democrats and independents about what the priority should be for Democrat members of Congress: oppose the President (22%) or promote a progressive agenda (78%). This would indicate, as David Leonhardt has been arguing in the New York Times lately, that the moderate Democrat is not always the "safe" choice. This poll might tell us about what voters want from their elected representatives after the midterms, but there might be too much noise to tell us who they want representing them.


 
The youth are our future
Some teen tweets:
This tweet has more than 22K retweets and nearly 125K likes. Both the tweet and the response is idiotic. The National Rifle Association is privately funded. There is no defunding to be done. But let's listen to ignorant teens.
But even if it was funded by taxpayers, why does the money have to spent on something else?


 
Peter King ends his MMQB column
I haven't read Peter King the last few years. I didn't find them insightful; his opinions are too conventional wisdom. After an estimated four million MMQB words, he's calling it quits. He thanks people in his final column and in typical Peter King fashion it goes on too long. Too many thank yous, too many lame stories. Of course, there is the usual Brett Favre blow job. But this Paul Zimmerman advice is important for football beat reporters: "He taught me so much. One: Talk to the offensive linemen; there won’t be crowds around them, and they know why everything happens." The O-line is where the game is at and they aren't about me-me-me like so many of the so-called skill position players. In a few thousands words, there is literally one good sentence. That's a terrible ratio. There was a time when I read and almost enjoyed King columns but they were too long, too moralizing, and short of insight. The best thing about King's columns were the dissections of them on the Kissing Suzy Kolber website. On the internet there is so much good analysis to waste one's time with King's long, self-indulgent columns. I'm glad that those who were still reading him will now have more time for more insightful football writing, or something else.


Sunday, May 20, 2018
 
UK vote in the fall?
The Sunday Times reports that UK Tories are preparing for a snap election call this fall as Prime Minister Theresa May seems incapable of overcoming party divisions over the customs union as Britain prepares to leave the European Union. Maybe some Tory MPs feels this way but the analysis doesn't add up. May already seems week and taking a divided party into a general election seems like a recipe for disaster. It is virtually impossible to gloss over the differences within caucus while the Conservatives run the government, but it only gets worse when May will have to articulate a clear vision for Brexit and run on it during a campaign. Maybe there is a bluff on the party of May's strategists or the Prime Minister herself but it is hard to see how it can be anything more than a bluff. Jacob Rees-Mogg calls May's half-in Brexit plan -- customs union without a say -- as "perpetual purgatory" but that's what the party could face if it goes into an election divided as it seems to be. Both the bitter Remainers and uncompromising Brexiteers would see a general election as a way to win the Brexit debate once and for all and both sides might be willing to suffer partisan defeat for forcing the issue. I just don't see 10 Downing Street willing to pay that price at this time.


Saturday, May 19, 2018
 
Election headline and commentary is dumb
NationalNewsWatch's headline for a Canadian Press story on the Ontario election: "The outcome of the Ontario election no longer ‘absolutely’ certain: Experts." The CP reports:
"It's interesting because the outcome is no longer absolutely certain," even though the Tories still appear poised to win a majority, said Barry Kay, a political science professor at Wilfred Laurier University who specializes in polling and public opinion.
Three super quick points.
1. Elections are never certain because, as the cliche goes, campaigns matter.
2. Elections are never over until the voters have their say. The people still insist on having the final say.
3. The "outcome if no longer absolutely certain" is a falsehood. As a matter of logic, if it is not certain now, the previous certainty was wrong -- or in a word, uncertain.


 
Jacob Rees-Mogg for PM
Earlier this week, Jacob Rees-Moog lamented that the United Kingdom has fallen from 30th to 40th according to the Daily Mail's ranking of countries for freedom of the press. "Perhaps most insultingly, we are even below the French," said JRM, as colleagues try to suppress their laughter.


Thursday, May 17, 2018
 
Better late than never?
The (London) Times reports:
Oxfam’s chief executive is to quit after the charity’s cover-up of the Haiti sexual exploitation scandal.
Mark Goldring, 61, spoke of the “very public exposure of Oxfam’s past failings” as he said he would leave the global aid agency at the end of the year. He will not receive a severance package.
The Times disclosed this year that seven senior Oxfam staff working in Haiti had been sacked or allowed to resign after an investigation into allegations of paying young women for sex, downloading pornography, bullying and intimidation.
The Times reports that others "allowed to quit" Oxfam included: country director Roland van Hauwermeiren, who admitted trading aid for sex with a Haitian woman, and Goldring's deputy, Penny Lawrence, who admitted Oxfam knew of problems with van Hauwermeiren from a previous mission to Chad.
It is disappointing that Goldring was "allowed to quit" rather than be fired, and disturbing that Oxfam apparently has no problem with him at their helm for another seven months. At least the renewed publicity of this scandal and his continued presence at the organization will serve as a reminder to both the government and donating public of the exploitive sex scandal the aid agency was involved in.


Wednesday, May 16, 2018
 
Jamie Oliver vs. poor people
The Independent reports:
Scotland has a childhood obesity problem, and Nicola Sturgeon is – quite rightly – worried about it.
Unfortunately, rather than undertake a serious analysis of the various nuanced socioeconomic factors at play in order to create a considered multi-pronged approach to tackle it, she’s been bitten by the Jamie Oliver bug, which has manifested over and over again as a shockingly thoughtless reaction along the lines of “This looks unhealthy! Let’s make it really expensive so that stupid poor people don’t eat it!”
It was unfortunate that she unveiled her plans while meeting with Oliver, and that her quest to end two-for-one pizza deals has taken centre stage. It’s easy to see why – it’s not going down particularly well that a celebrity chef from Essex worth £400m, who owns a chain of fairly mediocre and overpriced Italian restaurants, is telling people in Scotland what sort of pizza they should and should not eat.
The National has twitter reaction to Oliver's idea, the gist of which is that Oliver hates poor people and wants to deprive them of affordable food. Here's my fave:


Monday, May 14, 2018
 
The Supreme Court of Canada being accessible
Means keeping their records secret. The Globe and Mail reports:
The judges of the Supreme Court of Canada have ensured that documents disclosing their secret inner workings will not be revealed during their lifetime – and possibly ever.
The court has placed a 50-year embargo on public access to files related to the deliberations of the judges, from the time they rule on a case.
The restriction took effect last June when the court and Library and Archives Canada announced it as part of an agreement to “ensure that the case files of Canada’s highest court will be preserved and accessible to future generations.” (The announcement went largely unnoticed at the time.)
What the court and the archives did not say, but the agreement makes clear, is that the Supreme Court can withdraw the files at any time, and keep the documents secret forever, without providing a justification.
To be clear, to ensure case files are accessible, SCOC files will be hidden from the public for a half century and if the justices do not want the public prying into its inner workings, they can declare them off limits for even longer. Accessible apparently means something different to the Supreme Court and Archives Canada.


Saturday, May 12, 2018
 
UK super rich are self-made, not inheritors of wealth
The Sunday Times reports:
Britain has been transformed into a country where the self-made can succeed, with almost all the 1,000 richest people now entrepreneurs who built their own fortunes. Inherited wealth and old money have been all but banished from the 30th annual Sunday Times Rich List.
When the Rich List was first published in 1989 just 43% of the entries had made their money themselves and the surest way to a fortune was to be a landowner — preferably with a title.
Today 94% of those in the Rich List are self-made entrepreneurs behind some of Britain’s game-changing businesses.
Labour politicians show their socialist tendencies and economic illiteracy by attacking these self-made millionaires and billionaires, because they view free market economies as zero-sum systems:
However, the success and transformation in the country that the Rich List highlights has attracted the ire of the Labour Party. In a speech to the Institute for Public Policy Research tomorrow the shadow Cabinet Office minister Jon Trickett will claim that our annual ranking of Britain’s wealthiest men and women “exposes a warped system in which a super-rich elite runs rings around the rest of us”.
Trickett will say: “People have had enough of years of the elite pinching wealth from the pockets of ordinary working people. Labour will overturn the rigged economy that the Tories are obsessed with protecting.”


 
The UN can sod off
The (London) Times reports:
A UN inspector provoked a backlash yesterday after arguing that Britain’s decision to leave the European Union had left racial and ethnic minorities “more vulnerable to racial discrimination and intolerance”.
Tendayi Achiume, the UN’s special rapporteur on racism and xenophobia, said that hate crimes had risen starkly since the EU referendum in 2016 and that anti-migrant and anti-foreigner rhetoric had become “normalised” even among high-ranking civil servants ...
She made the comments after a 12-day tour of Britain that began when Amber Rudd resigned as home secretary over the Windrush scandal. Last year the UN asked Britain whether its experts could visit to examine the impact of Brexit on race relations.
Iain Duncan Smith, the former work and pensions secretary, said: ‘These visits are completely pointless. They are politically motivated, they are inspired by the extreme left, and the idea is to kick the UK.”
The Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, leader of the influential backbench group of Brexiteers, the European Research Group, said: “The UN ought to have better things to do than issue tendentious reports about the UK.”
The UN expert said the “rotten core” of the hostile environment policy dated back to immigration reforms introduced by Tony Blair in 2006. However, it had intensified after laws introduced in 2014 and 2016 which led to the “demonisation of ethnic minorities”.
90% of the what the UN does is NGO-like social justice activist nonsense. It is shameful when leaders like Theresa May, who should know better and who do not agree with the assumptions of the SJW crowd at Turtle Bay, allow the activists to officially visit their countries.


Friday, May 11, 2018
 
Forest. Trees.
Globe and Mail columnist Denise Balkissoon:
Right now, only about 24 per cent of Ontario children ages 2 to 4 are in licensed daycares. That means a whole lot of kids are being taken care of by home daycare providers such as Kelly, who are self-employed.
A whole lot of kids are with home daycare providers, but Balkissoon is ignoring (obtusely or deliberately) the number of parents who care for their own children at home or have a family member watch them. According to Stats Can in 2011, about half of children four and under are in a formal or informal daycare which suggests that about half of all children are being watched by family members. Balkissoon's column doesn't mention this group at all.


 
The Elizabeth May Party
The Toronto Star reports that the investigation paid for by the Green Party into allegations that leader Elizabeth May was verbally abusive to party staff and volunteers and created a hostile work environment. Vanessa Brustolin, who was one of the three alleged victims, did not cooperate with the investigation. She said:
“I knew this would be the result,” Brustolin wrote Thursday. “The Green Party would never have commissioned a report, which would have been unfavourable to Elizabeth May. The Green Party of Canada is Elizabeth May.”
There was never a chance that this investigation was going to find May created a toxic work environment in the Green Party. Never. That said, perhaps modern workers complain too easily about so-called toxic work environments. The National Post's Christie Blatchford said the investigation's findings are a victory for adulthood because not every workplace interaction is rainbows and jelly beans. But that said, this incident should expose May as a not-very-pleasant person. For all her high-handed moralizing in the House of Commons, she needs to get her own house in order. According to the Star's report of the investigation, lawyer Sheila Block's findings did not exonerate May of what she was alleged to have done to employees and volunteers, merely that her actions and words "if true" did not constitute the legal definition of workplace harassment under Ontario labour law.


Thursday, May 10, 2018
 
Opportunity for UK Tories
Guido Fawkes notes that the most recent YouGov poll finds the Conservative Party has overcome its massive disadvantage among working class voters. In January, they were behind Labour among working class voters 45%-35%; today they are ahead 43%-40%. Hard-core Remainers are moving toward the Liberal Democrats and many Labour-minded Brexiteers are moving toward the Conservatives following Jeremy "Corbyn’s customs union betrayal." Conservatives will be throwing away those votes Prime Minister Theresa May makes the same mistake (very soft Brexit, which could end up dividing the Tories). As John O'Sullivan notes, Labour can't win without its working class strongholds. The Conservatives could win some of those constituencies by sticking to the Jacob Rees-Mogg view that Brexit means Brexit. It probably wouldn't hurt if May started talking about (and doing something for) the just-about-managing voters again, although her concern about JAMs seems so long ago now.


 
Truth in political advertising
Tom Paine at The Last Ditch on the British Labour and Conservative parties: "A consumer regulator might usefully force both parties to change their names to the 'Let’s Fuck it Up' and the 'Let’s Fuck it Up More Slowly' Parties."
(HT: Samizdata)


Wednesday, May 09, 2018
 
The Simpsons: America's mirror
J.J. McCullough has a good column at National Review Online about The Simpsons:
Playing Japanese video games as a child, I remember being struck by how many curious tropes seemed to consistently reoccur — say, how popsicles were always blue, or how this cyclops umbrella monster seemed to show up a lot. It was only after I went to Japan years later that I was able to fully appreciate how much of what originally struck me as deliberately bizarre was just shorthand for things everyone in the country took for granted: blue popsicles were the dominant brand, cyclops umbrella monsters had served as generic goblins since Samurai times, etc. In short, much of the weirdness was never intended to be such; it simply mirrored common cultural knowledge that appeared alien to outsiders.
It’s easy to take for granted the degree The Simpsons performs this function for our own society. How so many of its goofball characters, settings, and plot premises exist as stylized caricatures of familiar aspects of American life that collectively form the distinctive essence of American culture as commonly lived.
McCullough also makes this observation:
The Simpsons’ ambitious premise, simply to tell as many tales of American life as possible, also helps explain why the series is a great deal less overtly progressive in its politics than are so many other works of American pop culture. It is not a show inclined to lie by omission or only tell half the story ...
That is, the cartoon is more real than live-action shows when it comes to reflecting America.


Tuesday, May 08, 2018
 
There are two UK parties divided by Brexit
There is no end of stories about how Therea May's Conservatives and her cabinet are in disagreement about how to proceed with Brexit. The Times reports that Boris Johnson is challenging 10 Downing to sack him over calling the government's customs plan crazy. Meanwhile MPs are publicly chastising each other over the Brexit positions they are taking (for example, MPs Nicholas Soames and Gary Streeter going on Twitter on the weekend to chastise Jacob Rees-Mogg for his supposedly hardline Brexit position). And yet the Tories are not the only political party in Westminster to be divided. The Daily Telegraph reports that shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry said “we want to remain in the customs union” despite Labour’s official position being slightly more nuanced than that (with the Telegraph describes as "the UK should strike a customs union deal which would give Britain a say over future trade deals"). I think this is all a sign of political health that those within a political party can disagree with the leader and official policy as a matter of principle (although, I'd prefer, not as a matter of habit or political posturing). Brexit is an important issue for the United Kingdom. Many members of Parliament would have joined their parties before this was an issue. The tribe can be divided on the best approach on decoupling the country from the European Union without it destroying the party. But media coverage focuses almost exclusively on the governing Tories' division, and that is understandable; the Conservatives, after all, are the government and must negotiate the exit. But it leaves the impression that Labour is united, when indeed it is is divided and even officially a little muddled. A little more media coverage of Labour's Brexit divisions would be beneficial to journalism (honest reporting and all that) and social cohesion (lessening the Brexit cleavage by making it less partisan).


 
Google's bail bond ad ban will hurt minorities
Google has announced a new policy banning "ads that promote bail bond services from our platforms" because, they claim, "studies show that for-profit bail bond providers make most of their revenue from communities of color and low income neighborhoods when they are at their most vulnerable, including through opaque financing offers that can keep people in debt for months or years." Alex Tabarrok responds:
Google’s decision to ban ads from bail bond providers is deeply disturbing and wrongheaded. Bail bonds are a legal service. Indeed, they are a necessary service for the legal system to function. It’s not surprising that bail bonds are used in communities of color and low income neighborhoods because it is in those neighborhoods that people most need to raise bail. We need not debate whether that is due to greater rates of crime or greater discrimination or both. Whatever the cause, preventing advertising doesn’t reduce the need to pay bail it simply makes it harder to find a lender. Restrictions on advertising in the bail industry, as elsewhere, are also likely to reduce competition and raise prices. Both of these effects mean that more people will find themselves in jail for longer.
As with any industry, there are bad players in the bail bond industry but in my experience the large majority of providers go well beyond lending money to providing much needed services to help people navigate the complex, confusing and intimidating legal system.
Tabarrok points to a number of studies that suggest that bail bond services ameliorate the damage done once visible minority clients are already part of the criminal justice system. It's worth reading if you are interested in the issue or care about rebutting bad arguments that bail bond providers are racist.
Aside from the troubling policy (for those who need bail services), Tabarrok has a politico-philosophical problem with Google's action that should concern a wider audience, those that are unlikely to ever need the services of bail bond providers:
In addition to being wrongheaded, Google’s decision is disturbing because it is so obviously a political decision. Google has banned legal services like bail bonding and payday lending from advertising on Google in order to curry favor with groups who have an ideological aversion to payday lending and the bail system. Google is a private company so this is their right. But every time Google acts as a lawgiver instead of an open platform it invites regulation and political control. Politicians on both sides will see that Google’s code is either a quick-step to political power without the necessity of a vote or a threat to such power.


Monday, May 07, 2018
 
The state of the Ontario provincial election
Jean Chretien's old polling outfit Pollara has released their numbers on the lay of the land in Ontario and it's interesting. More than that, the poll is meaningful. Paul Wells writes about them in Maclean's. The headline numbers: PCs 40%, NDP 30%, Liberals 23%, Green 6%. This seems high for the NDP and is the first poll in a while to show the Liberals not only in third but behind by a large margin. Of course, any one poll is just one poll, and all these numbers must be taken as, at most, a snapshot in time that is accurate 19 out of 20 times, blah, blah, blah. The problem for the Wynne Liberals is that these numbers are part of pattern consistent with other polls and, more problematic, there is worse news for their party the deeper you look. Respondents were asked about their second choice and the NDP was named by 33% of Ontarians, followed by the Green Party with 16%. The PCs and Liberals were each named as a second choice by 11% of respondents. Wells explains that second-choices seldom come into play, but to the degree they do it shows the NDP has a much larger universe of voters from which to draw upon. I'd add that there is a trap in here for the PCs: if the Tories look scary or incompetent, the ceiling for the NDP -- probably the result of a willingness of non-PC voters to get behind one candidate to stop the PCs -- is much higher than the ceiling of support for the Progressive Conservatives. Pollara also asked Liberal supporters: "And, during the campaign, if it looked like Andrea Horwath and the NDP had the best chance of stopping Doug Ford and the PCs from winning the election, how likely are you to switch your vote to Andrea Horwath and the NDP?" Nearly eight-in-ten Liberal supporters would be willing to switch (78%). Again, this likely won't be a factor, but could be if the Ford Tories make serious missteps or (paradoxically) jump to a larger lead which scares non-PC voters. Pollara also asked respondents if their vote was more motivated to elect a party leader as premier or to stop another leader from winning the job. Not surprisingly, more people wanted to stop a partisan opponent than they did to elect one of their own. Pollara found: 49% of PC supporters wanted to stop Kathleen Wynne while 46% wanted to see Doug Ford become premier. Among Liberals, 41% wanted Wynne to be premier while 46% do not want to see Ford become premier. Spite is a powerful political emotion. It might be the most under-rated political motivation among voters.
On every measure tested, Wynne comes behind both Ford and Horwath (fights for people like you, shares your values, is a strong leader) with the exception of the statement "is a typical politician," for which the Liberal leader is well ahead. Even on issues, the PCs are ahead of the Liberals on education, health care, and the environment (but behind the NDP); only on the issue of daycare are the Liberals ahead of the Tories, and then just barely, and still far behind the NDP. This suggests that there is little Wynne can do to pull over NDP or PC supporters or those (mythical?) swing voters. This looks like a two-way race with a clear favourite at the moment.
The PCs have to be careful that they don't pull a David Peterson (1990) and forget about the NDP. (And the Lynn McLeod Liberals of 1995 forgot about the Mike Harris Tories.) Pollara's Don Guy says as much: "The last time we saw this kind of unrealized potential for the NDP was in 1990, an election it eventually won. And the last time we saw this kind of alignment on leadership attributes and issues in favour of a PC leader was Mike Harris in 1995." In most of Canada, elections are not simply a choice between Red Teams and Blue Teams, as much as election narratives are about this binary choice. Running against the Liberals is a vital part of their campaign, but the PCs could inadvertently open the door to the NDP by making the argument for change but not closing the sale on themselves. It is also likely that Kathleen Wynne's ultra attack campaign strategy -- repudiating Michelle Obama's advice of "when they go low, we go high" as a recipe for electing Donald Trump -- could hurt the PCs and not help the Liberals a lick, instead boosting the NDP. Again, the Pollara numbers suggest that Liberal voters are much more likely to switch partisan allegiances to stop Doug Ford than are NDP voters. It is still to early to make predictions, but the current polling shows that there is no foreseeable way for the Liberals to win the 2018 Ontario election. This is a two-way race for the PCs to lose to the NDP. Unless something unforeseeable happens.


Sunday, May 06, 2018
 
The essence of conservatism
British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson writes in the New York Times about the nuclear deal with Iran which he says is deeply flawed but probably the world's best bet to curtail Tehran's nuclear weapon ambitions. It's a fine column, but this is important:
Churchill’s famous conclusion was that democracy constituted the “worst form of government — except for all those other forms that have been tried.” He was not succumbing to pessimism; on the contrary, faced with an array of unappetizing options, there is a deep wisdom in choosing the one with the smallest downside and then fixing its limitations.
This is conservatism, properly understood. Conservatives do not believe in utopias. They do not believe man is perfectable. They understand most government programs are, at best, improvements at the margins. A few years Newt Gingrich said his Republican opponents for the GOP presidential nomination were happy to manage the decline of American civilization, which seems to me a noble goal for conservatives. Johnson articulates this sentiment in regards to Obama's terrible nuke deal with the Ayatollahs: this deal is problematic but there are no good options. The problem for conservative parties is that mitigating harm is not a terribly inspiring call to political action.


 
Robocall fact of the day
The New York Times reports:
Though automated calls have long plagued consumers, the volume has skyrocketed in recent years, reaching an estimated 3.4 billion in April, according to YouMail, which collects and analyzes calls through its robocall blocking service. That’s an increase of almost 900 million a month compared with a year ago.


Friday, May 04, 2018
 
Voting for Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party
(London) Times columnist Janice Turner on voting Labour in the council election yesterday: "I wasn’t so much holding my nose as wearing a full hazmat suit." And theoretically, at least, national politics should not be relevant to local elections. But that's what happens, however, when a mainstream political party picks a leader who, if not communist and anti-Semitic, is way too comfortable for these toxic ideas.


 
Chicago gun violence
The Chicago Tribune: "Nearly 40 shot over three days in Chicago, including young mother, 4-year-old girl, teen on CTA bus." By my count, the actual number is 36. Chicago and Illinois have strict but ineffective gun control laws.
This from the Trib suggests that this is a deviancy from the normal course of gun violence: "this level of violence on weekdays is usually not seen until the middle of summer, according to data kept by the Tribune." What's especially puzzling, it seems is not that 30-some people were shot over three days, but that it happened in early May. Police and the paper note that more people are outside because of the hotter weather ("in the 80s") and apparently Chicagoans can't congregate without some guns going off.


 
NDP MP not suspended for sexual harassment, but rather speaking out of turn
Dale Smith at Routine Proceedings:
First thing Thursday morning, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh took to the microphone in the Foyer, caucus behind him, to announce that he had expelled Erin Weir from caucus following the conclusion of the investigation into harassment allegations. And to be clear, he wasn’t kicked out because of the conclusions, given that Weir agreed to anti-harassment training and conciliation with his accusers – rather, it was because he had the temerity to go to the media to respond to the leaked allegations made to him without getting the permission of the leader’s office. And then the other MPs told reporters that Weir “expelled himself” by doing so, because it meant there was no trust in that relationship. So…wow.
Smith also explores some of the rumoured harassment by Weir, which really does seem to be more socially awkward encounters than anything 99% of the population would consider harassment. He concludes noting the possibility that "the party was looking for an excuse to boot Weir for whatever the reason," because of a series of apostasies and not toadying to the leader's office.


Thursday, May 03, 2018
 
Features, not glitches
George Will writes in defense of the Electoral College and each state representing two senators so that Wyoming and California have the same number of elected representatives in one half of the legislative branch: "American democracy, as in the electoral college, accommodates considerations more complex than simple-minded majoritarianism." Beautiful. It democratizes politics by encouraging political parties to build broad coalitions, says Will:
The electoral college gives the parties a distribution incentive for achieving geographical and ideological breadth while assembling a coalition of states . The electoral-vote system, combined with the winner-take-all allocation of the votes in 48 of the 50 states (all but Maine and Nebraska), serves, as scholar Herbert Storing said, “to drive all interests into one of two great parties.” This discourages a destabilizing proliferation of small ideological parties and encourages the two parties “to cast their nets very widely.”


Wednesday, May 02, 2018
 
2020 watch (Bill Weld edition)
Reason's Matt Welch: "Bill Weld Lays Groundwork for 2020 Libertarian Presidential Run." Most of what the former Massachusetts governor says is about the possibility of a strong Libertarian Party contender in two years, including setting the groundwork for a principled libertarian candidate, being on the ballot in all 50 states, and having a $50-$100 million war-chest. He's also doing the hardwork of visiting LP state convention after LP state convention. Welch interviewed Weld who seems to have stronger libertarian credentials than he did in 2016, and supporting and recruiting Libertarian candidates for state and federal office. Welch raises the possibility that Weld is doing this work for someone other than himself, but considering his move to a more consistent libertarianism it seems likely it'll be him.
Yet there are questions about Weld's libertarian bona fides and Welch wonders if "activists [are] ready to put forth a fourth consecutive ex-Republican politician as presidential nominee?" Welch also says that the LP needs to reach beyond the anarchist wing of the Party to build its base beyond hardcore libertarians and a mainstream(ish) politician like Weld might help recruit activists and voters that the traditional mold of Libertarian leader does not. That seems to ignore that once a so-called mainstream politician runs as a Libertarian, they are no longer mainstream in the eyes of the media gatekeepers.


 
Paul Ryan on entitlement reform
Stephen F. Hayes, editor in chief of The Weekly Standard, has a long interview with the Republican Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan. It covers a lot of ground and if this is your thing, it's definitely worth reading. My guess is it will reinforce your priors over and over again. This nugget illustrates the disappointment many of us have in the man who was once a conservative reformist within both the Republican Party and conservative movement:
Hayes: If the president is reelected in 2020, do you expect that he's gonna tackle entitlement reform, in the way you would, in his second reform?
Ryan: I have no reason to believe he would not do that. I don't want to speak for the president, I'm not gonna get out in front of him, but he knows the math. I've had so many conversations with him about this.
Ryan has morphed into Good Team Player rather than a challenger of Republican orthodoxy. The man has become a major disappointment for those of us who thought he would help the GOP seriously govern the country by not only proposing policy that solved problems plaguing both government and Americans struggling to get by and flourish, but fighting for those types of policies. But he hasn't.
Yet, Ryan definitely talks like he has scored a victory. He seems convinced that he has moved the goalposts so Republicans can tackle entitlement reform:
Let's go back to one thing you said: You and I talked about this back in 2012. Our party wasn't even touching this stuff, our party wasn't even willing to touch this stuff. So I wrote budgets when I was budget chair, doing this, specifically and with great detail, forcing members to vote on this stuff. I wanted to do that. I wanted to force members to take tough votes so they would go explain it and go out there and, what I call, "normalize the idea." Now, we've been doing that in the House ever since 2007. So, House Republicans, they've been going out and talking about how to fix entitlements specifically, and they've voted for this stuff. So I do believe we have built a foundation for entitlement reform among grassroots Republicans and House Republicans.
This seems to exaggerate how much he has "normalized" talking about entitlement reform. James Capretta, Milton Friedman chair at the American Enterprise Institute, writes in the current Weekly Standard about the budget process as an impediment to tackling entitlement reform, and concludes with observations that strongly suggest the Republicans are no nearer choosing to act on curbing the costs of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid and a handful of smaller entitlements (which, in total, account for about 60% of federal spending), despite Ryan's supposed building a foundation for reform:
Federal debt is rising at a rate unprecedented in the nation’s history, and the situation will get worse in the coming years because of the growing expense of entitlement programs. The primary obstacle to reform remains the political risk associated with advocating for change. Still, the current budget process isn’t making it any easier for Congress to find its way toward a solution. Before it’s too late, Congress should rethink the budget process to draw more attention to the actual problem and to develop workable and realistic options for addressing it.


Tuesday, May 01, 2018
 
Drop the Nobel Prize for literature
With allegation of sex abuse and financial crimes scandals swirling about the Swedish Academy, there is chatter that the Nobel Prize for Literature might not be awarded this year. It might not be that big of a loss. Robbie Millen, literary editor of the (London) Times, argues it is time to retire the prize, saying it serves no purpose:
When was the last time you plucked a Tomas Tranströmer from your shelf? Or a volume by Herta Müller? JMG Le Clézio? Elfriede Jelinek? What, you’ve not read these recent winners? And what in God’s name possessed them to award it in 2007 to dreary old Doris Lessing? She called motherhood the “Himalayas of tedium”; her oeuvre is surely the “Andes of dullness”.
Occasionally, they bless someone worthwhile with their bounty of 9 million Swedish krona, the equivalent of 1.77 million meatballs in an Ikea restaurant, or £750,000. Kazuo Ishiguro won it last year, and Svetlana Alexievich, the Belarusian journalist, has now found a small audience in the Anglophone world for books such as The Unwomanly Face of War or Boys in Zinc. But stopped clocks and all that.
The prize is like Kim Kardashian: rich and with no discernible point. If it is to introduce writers from different cultures to new audiences, it has little impact. If it is to honour brave writers in troubled places, such as Alexievich, then why give it to Swedish translators? If it is to recognise brilliance in the written word, then why Bob Dylan? Is it to allow writers who are past their best to buy holiday homes?
I didn't even disagree with the Academy's award for Bob Dylan and it's hard to argue with Millen's column.


 
It's been two months, so it's time for another Italian election
PoliticoEU reports:
The leader of Italy’s largest party, Luigi Di Maio, called for new elections in June to break a deadlock in talks on forming a new government.
“At this point, for me there is no other solution,” Di Maio said in a video statement on his Facebook page on Monday, blaming the center-left Democratic Party (PD) and the far-right League for refusing to cooperate with his 5Star Movement, which won the most votes in Italy’s inconclusive March 4 election.
Di Maio’s comments will put further pressure on the PD to put an end to the post-election limbo and enter into a coalition with the populist party. The PD has emerged as the populist party’s likeliest coalition partner, after Matteo Salvini’s League refused to split from its center-right ally, Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, to govern with the 5Stars.
The Democratic Party, which has an interim leader at the moment because Matteo Renzi underperformed on the March 4 election, is likely to get shellacked by the two populist parties. But assuming DP holds onto a third of their seats, it will be unlikely that either the 5Star Movement or the League will win enough seats to form government, leading to another round of coalition negotiations. The DP would probably lose badly enough that they will have no choice but to prop up a 5Star government.


 
Not all scientific progress is an improvement
CNET: "Artificial womb could grow mammoth-elephant hybrid, researchers say." CNET reports:
A team of researchers at Harvard University, led by renowned geneticist Professor George Church, say they have isolated and "resurrected" 44 genes from the woolly mammoth. Speaking at the Fourth International Vatican Conference in Vatican City last Friday, Church said researchers could use gene editing to create hybrid elephants capable of resisting cold temperatures, The Telegraph reports.
"My goal is not to bring back the mammoth, it's to bring back mammoth genes and show that they work and that we have already done it," he said.
While there might be applications for these developments, but there is little ethical discussion by those conducting the research. Just because we can doesn't mean we should.
And why are scientists announcing this at a Vatican-sponsored conference?