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).

XML This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?
Friday, September 28, 2018
WWE Power Rankings
I'm going to try something new here. Let's see how it works and whether I can maintain it. I used to write frequently about NFL and MLB. I don't do that anymore. But I'm going do pro-wrestling power rankings, limiting it to the WWE Universe (Raw, Smackdown, 205 Live, NXT, but not the Mae Young Classic or the Mixed Match Challenge). It'll be the top 13 with an honourable mention when warranted and then the bottom ranking for the worst performance/storyline of the week. Wrestling and promos are considered, looking at performance, entertainment value, and narrative. Tag teams may be considered as units or individuals, and be listed taking one or two spots.
Dead last. Renee Young (Raw): When Renee Young moved permanently to the announcer's table, I was hopeful but concerned. Young is the best backstage interviewer by far and any gains from having the incredibly weak Jonathan Coachman replaced on the mic could be lost to a poorer product in the (staged) behind-the-scenes interviews. Still it was worth a risk. But the dynamics haven't worked. Her fan-girl persona has given way to shrill, exasperated contradictions to Corey Graves. And Graves, who was often the highlight of watching Raw and Smackdown, lost his foil on Raw (Coach); he can't be a jerk to Young in the way he was, so justifiably, to Coach. So the whole broadcast team has been disappointing since Young was added a few weeks ago. This week, it hit new, extremely disappointing lows. Young's comments were neither insightful nor in character. It's part of her job to cheer for favourites, but this week she was excited by heels and, much worse, cheered when one of the faces cheated. The point of the fan girl personality is to mark for faves, yes, but she demeaned herself and Bailey when she defended the latter's trip of Jinder Mahal. It's all made worse when Graves won't challenge her lameness like he used to with Coach. WWE is not undoing this experiment, but it doesn't help their product.
13. The Brian Kendrick (205 Live): He returned from injury to beat a "local competitor" by submission in less than nine seconds. Good to have the veteran cruiser weight back in action and with such a strong showing to boot.
12. Montez Ford (NXT): One half of Street Profits, which lost their contest against Shane Thorne and Nick Miller, as their feud continues. Ford had a series of impressive moves against The Mighty, including getting incredible distance jumping out of the ring and effortlessly hopping onto the ring apron to avoid a sneak attack. It was a lot of fun to watch.
11. Samoa Joe (Smackdown): I'm torn on bringing the family of A.J. Styles into the feud storyline between the champion and challenger Samoa Joe, but this week's segment of video of the big Samoan going to Styles's house continued the psychological warfare he's inflicting on the champ. Styles reacted to the video from the middle of the ring in Denver where he was scheduled to sign the contract for their Super Show-Down contest in Australia next weekend. Samoa Joe narrated the reactions Styles was going through, from desperation to anger to fear. It was terrific and well-executed. Fortunately, the segment ended with Samoa Joe ringing the doorbell and saving viewers from witnessing whatever interaction there was going to be between Styles's family and his rival. I admire the restraint, although it is hard to think of where the WWE had the door been answered. It all sets up a great rematch and third consecutive pay-per-view contest between the two.
10. Drew McIntytre (Raw): Defended his tag team title with Dolph Ziggler against a surprisingly strong Revival this week, but McIntyre's highlights were the series of promos that is setting up (or merely teasing) Dean Ambrose's break with The Shield. In the opening promo, McIntyre said in his thick Scottish accent "I'm a brutally honest person," which is, he claimed, why most people don't like him. He then explained to Ambrose that his Shield partners do not appreciate him and that he does not need them. Later, McIntyre seemed confused (intrigued?) by a Seth Rollins exchange which suggested McIntyre might want to leave Braun Strowman and Dolph Ziggler (and maybe join The Shield?); McIntyre has a terrific presence both inside and outside the ring.
9. Dean Ambrose (Raw): Everyone "knows" that the Lunatic is going to double-cross The Shield after returning from a nine-month medical leave. It is just a matter of time. This week's Raw was all about setting up Ambrose's heel turn. It didn't happen -- it wasn't going to happen this week, on TV, before the Super Show-Down in Australia. Ambrose was also an integral part of their victory over Baron Corbin and Authors of Pain in the main event. Ambrose teased possibly joining Braun Strowman, Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre after the match, but after some apparent contemplation joined his brothers in the center of the ring to join fists, Shield-style. This is might be setting up Ambrose's betrayal at Super Show-Down, but it would be great if they swerved and let The Shield do their thing for a couple more months. The problem with keeping the Hounds of Justice together is that there are no other worthy opponents for them on Raw right not. Everyone is doing what they need to in order to keep interest in The Shield up for the moment. Beyond the storyline, the match was fantastic and Ambrose pulled through when Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins were on the floor after the whooping the Authors of Pain put on the three of them.
8. Otis Dozovic (NXT): One half of Heavy Machinery faced NXT Champion Tommaso Ciampa in a very good contest. Dozovic is not half the wrestler that Ciampa is, but his size makes him formidable and difficult to beat. In fact, Dozovic pushed Ciampa for all 20 minutes of the fight, had a number of two-and-half counts, and the champion tried to leave the ring but was stopped by Dozovic's tag partner, Tucker Knight. I thought the idea of this pairing was silly when it was announced but it was easily one of the two best overall fights of the week across the four shows. If this match had been booked to develop a storyline this rating would be higher, but it seems that its primary purpose was to give Ciampa a reason to fight on TV.
7. Hideo Itami (205 Live): It is conventional wisdom in wrestling circles to call NXT Champion Tommaso Ciampa "the last true heel." That's not true if you watch Itami's work in the cruiser weight division. Itami faced Mustafi Ali and he exhibited characteristic sadism. He put an array of submission holds on Ali not to get him to submit but to cause him pain. He threw Ali into a cameraman, indifferent to either's well-being. It was terrific in-ring storytelling. This fight ended in a double count-out but Itami had the upper-hand for the first three-quarters of this main event contest, one of the two best matches of the week. The inconclusive ending allows this feud to continue, which is good considering that Itami and Ali have great chemistry.
6. Dolph Ziggler (Raw): Nice mic work trying to convince Dean Ambrose he's the third wheel in The Shield during the opening promo. He and Drew McIntyre then successfully defended their tag team championships against a very strong showing by the Revival. He was involved in a pair of other promos during Raw and came out ringside with his tag partner and Braun Strowman during The Shield's contest to watch the fight from the entrance ramp. That's five total appearances Monday night, all involving great work.
5. Tommaso Ciampa (NXT): Great work as always by the NXT Champion. Ciampa is a terrific heel, combining ring smarts, fierceness, and classic heel moves like trying to leave the match when the going gets tough. Otis Dozovic really pushed the champ who looked strong when he finally beat his opponent in this non-title match. Ciampa is a great storyteller inside the ring (see above comments about being a terrific heel) and he finished off Dozovic with a pair of DDTs, including one onto the ring apron. Ciampa's combination of wrestling ability and storytelling capabilities is unmatched in the WWE universe today, and it's not even close.
3. (tie) Authors of Pain (Raw): For the last few weeks, 205 Live General Manager Drake Maverick has managed AOP and done nothing with his new tag team other than have them squash a few local jobbers. It isn't helping AOP, because those matches last three minutes instead of two, the big, powerful tag team was looking weak merely beating nobodies, despite the fact the WWE was trying to make them look strong. At some point, a good tag team has to beat non-jobbers. This week, Stephanie McMahon made acting general manager Baron Corbin find two people to join him for the main event against The Shield. The Corbin picked Authors of Pain. Akam and Rezar were part of the losing side, but they not only held their own against the dominant faction in the WWE, they put a beating on them thus illustrating that they are themselves legitimate top contenders. It's time for Authors of Pain to beat quality tag teams to establish themselves as future tag team championship contenders. This was a step in the right direction.
1. (tied) Dash Wilder and Scott Dawson (Raw): They didn't win, but the story they told inside and outside the ring with their moves was tremendous. The WWE has buried The Revival after they had a terrific run in NXT. It was nice to see them performing at the elevated level they used to before the call-up to the main roster. They looked like credible tag team championship contenders rather than the team other good teams beat with regularity. I hope we see a lot more of this incarnation and with a bit more success in the ring.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018
Occupational licensing requirements could end up punishing good-doer
National Review reports on the efforts of a North Carolina woman to save the lives of pets during Hurricane Florence:
A Wayne County, N.C., woman is facing more than a dozen criminal charges for daring to take care of some pets during Hurricane Florence.
“It was brought to my attention from some individual rescuers that were going to go out again during this disaster and save some animals,” Tammie Hedges told Reason. “They just didn’t have anywhere to put them.”
According to Reason, Hedges thought she had the perfect solution to this problem. See, Hedges runs a nonprofit called Crazy’s Claws N’ Paws — which helps take care of animals in need by giving them things like microchipping and medical care and finding them permanent homes — and the building was in an “easily accessible” area that had not been affected by the flooding. She was able to take in 17 cats and ten dogs, and she cared for them with the help of some donated supplies and devoted volunteers. She told Reason that someone even stayed with the animals at night “to make sure that the animals were not alone,” which is, quite frankly, a luxury that not even I can say I enjoy.
The problem? Although Crazy’s is currently working on “renovating a shelter site,” it is not a licensed animal shelter, which means that Hedges’s kindness is being rewarded with criminal charges.
My own preference is that all resources must be provided to the care and comfort of humans before animals, but in practice it is impossible to tell people not to save stray and distressed animals during natural disasters and it would be impractical to police pro-human preferences in times of emergencies. But it wrong that people helping save family pets would be punished for what I would argue is misplaced compassion, but compassion nonetheless. And to what end? Only to make a point. It is likely that many other licensed pet-care and pet-rescue centers were not operational during the disaster and even if they were, they would be at capacity because of the circumstances. This is yet another example of the madness of many professional licensure systems.
There are more details of this case in the Reason article.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018
Did we care what Ban Ki-moon thought when he was UN Secretary General?
The Guardian reports:
Former United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon has denounced the United States’ healthcare system as politically and morally wrong, and urged American leaders to enact publicly-financed healthcare as a “human right”.
Ban made the comments in an exclusive interview with the Guardian in New York, as part of his work with The Elders, a group founded by Nelson Mandela to work on issues of global importance, including universal health coverage.
The US health care system has serious flaws, but calling for publicly funded health care as a "human right" is a bit much. Also, the whole idea of The Elders is a bit much. A group of yesterday's men -- almost all men -- pontificating so the type of people who consider The Guardian gospel can genuflect before greatness is a bit silly. Yeah, Ban Ki-moon has the right to opinions and the right to espouse them, but we tend to give these erstwhile officials too much credence. Ex-politicians are better seen and not heard.

Monday, September 24, 2018
We throw the word 'socialism' around much too easily, but Corbyn's Labour Party is promoting socialism
Borrowing heavily from a Daily Mail story, Reuters reports:
John McDonnell said Labour would set up Public Ownership Unit in the finance ministry “immediately” on entering government, and that in some cases investors might not be compensated.
“We’re going to bring back into public ownership rail, water, energy and mail. We will get this legislation through in the first (policy programme) Queen’s Speech - we want to hit the deck running,” he told the Daily Mirror ahead of the conference taking place in Liverpool this weekend.
Under socialist leader Jeremy Corbyn, a parliamentary veteran, and his would-be finance minister McDonnell, Labour has shifted from the centrist pro-business platform of former prime minister Tony Blair to a more interventionist left-wing pitch.
Philip Hammond, the current Chancellor of the Exchequer, said of McDonnell's nationalization idea: "Ideological renationalisation would lead to less choice and poorer services." Not quite Thatcheresque, but better than most of the pablum Hammond usually offers. As for McDonnell, earlier this year he said he wanted to overthrow capitalism. But nationalization is not socialism because of McDonnell's reflexive anti-capitalist beliefs. The reason this policy is socialist is that it meets the clearest definition of socialism: state control of the means of production.
Separate from the renationalization scheme -- and perhaps in contradiction -- McDonnell also plans to create a "Inclusive Ownership Fund" under which large companies (250 or more staff) will transfer 10% of the company to the employees over the next decade. Employees will not be able to sell their stake in the company, but would receive dividends of up to £500 per worker when companies make a profit. Unfortunately for these workers, under socialism profit is often illusory or absent. What happens if profits would provide a larger dividend? In those cases, the extra money would be paid to the state; that's a tax, but McDonnell and Labour are calling it a "social dividend." Sam Dumitriu, head of research at the Adam Smith Institute, has a good critique of this scheme at CapX.

Globe and Mail's political newsletter headline made me laugh
The Globe and Mail sends a politics briefing newsletter by email every morning. Today's headline:
Government workers told to stay home after Ottawa tornado - Also: Trudeau in New York

Friday, September 21, 2018
Some voters want fighters
The Washington Post reports that Senator Mazie Hirono (Hawaii) is becoming a favourite of liberals because she's been particularly blunt when taking on the Republicans:
Hirono is quickly becoming a hero on the left. Her sudden appeal to broad swaths of the Democratic Party reflects her ability to channel the anger of the party’s base like few other elected officials, at a moment when many of these voters are itching for a fight against Trump and Republicans, with the midterm elections less than two months away.
“She speaks for a large contingent of people out there that want to see the Democrats show a little bit more fire in the belly,” said Brian Fallon, who heads the liberal group Demand Justice ...
Being unapologetic and blunt lets voters know that a politician is clearly on their side. That is, sometimes voters are not just looking for someone with which they agree, but a champion to take up their cause. The blunt talk is a sharp knife in a political battle. Hillary Clinton held many of the same views as Bernie Sanders but he appeared willing to fight for his supporters and did surprisingly well in the primaries. Donald Trump was able to convince some voters to back him who might not like his lifestyle or agree with all his policies because he appeared willing to fight on their behalf (against terrorists, against secular liberalism, against invasive immigration, against unfair trade deals). This helps explain Doug Ford's popularity in Ontario: fighting on behalf of normal people against bureaucracies and crony capitalists. Sometimes this fighting stance appears intemperate and pundits think that the tone hurts their electoral chances. While it doesn't work for every candidate and in all political environments, sometimes having a politician willing to take the fight to the political opponent or some other enemy is what attracts outsized support and even devotion. This dynamic can help candidates on both the Left and the Right. There is the risk that at some point the fighting tone tips over the edge to bellicosity, at which point it becomes an electoral albatross.
This post may appear to contradict the Andrew Coyne thesis that I also think is true, namely that so-called immoderate positions are less of a concern to voters than an immoderate tone. To a swathe of centrist, swing voters, moderate tone is important and so-called fringe views will be at least tolerated if presented in a respectable way. But clearly there are also times at which some segment of voters appreciated having political leadership not merely on their side, but fighting for their side. These views may be reconciled by admitting that the fighting, intemperate candidate is winning more votes by becoming a champion to some voters while turning off another, smaller segment of voters worried about the immoderate tone of the candidate. As I often note here, election outcomes are the result of a complex interplay of thousands of factors. The point is that sometimes politicians can find advantage in taking the fight to a political opponent using blunt language.
One last point. Theresa May could help herself considerably with her party and British voters if she was seen to be fighting for Britain in her Brexit negotiations. Perhaps she could get as good a deal. Perhaps she would force the EU to take the UK more seriously during negotiations. But politically, there would almost definitely be a payoff for the Prime Minister if she was seen to be fighting Brussels.

Algorithms and evidence-based
First rule of politics: people pay attention to the evidence that supports their priors and ignore evidence that contradicts them. This is true of politicians, pundits, and the public.
Madeleine Carlisle writes in The Atlantic about how bail-reform activists are worried that algorithms used to determine an offender's flight risk might perpetuate racial discrimination. These activists are confusing disparate impact with unjust discrimination. A more important point is about evidence-based policy and programs. Smart algorithms -- that is algorithms that take into account what has happened in similar cases or with similar factors -- are evidence-based. But some activists don't like what the evidence says because it counters or challenges some of their values (race-blindness). Algorithms are not completely neutral tools, but unless they are static they are evidence-based.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018
Economic confidence and potential trouble for Trudeau
Voters will tolerate one of these phenomenon being true: a decline in one's standard of living, believing that one's children will be worse off, and feeling that one's values or way of life is under attack. My thesis about populist politics is that while voters can tolerate any one of these being true and politics will remain relatively normal (there is minimal interest in disturbing the status quo), if two of them are true it becomes a problem for incumbents, and if all three are true it leads to serious political tumult, and sometimes not just for the party in power.
Last week, Finance Canada issued a report, "Real Progress for the Middle Class," trumpeting select economic indicators to suggest the Canadian economy is doing just swell. It had charts highlighting growing consumer and business confidence in the Canadian economy. Based on unemployment figures and (modest) wage growth, people are feeling good about the state of the Canadian economy and probably feeling pretty good about their own financial situation. This confidence is buttressed by a new Pew Research Center survey of 28 countries and economic confidence ten years after the financial crisis. It finds that 63% of Canadians believe the current economic situation is good. That is in line with American and Australian confidence (65% and 67% respectively) and well ahead of the UK (46%) and France (43%), but about 15 percentage points behind Netherlands and Sweden. That looks good for the government, but there is also some economic anxiety. The problem for the Liberal government is that Canadians are among the most pessimistic when it comes to whether they believe their children will be better off financially. Just one quarter of Canadians believe their kids will be better off, compared to a third of Americans and 35% or more of Dutch, Swedes, and Germans. We are more in line with Britons (23%), who are dealing with the Brexit uncertainty, and Spain (24%), a country with a youth unemployment rate above 30%. Pew has only being doing these types of polls for four years, so we don't have a lot of data to know whether this is a long-term trend or, more importantly, the political consequences in past elections. But if my thesis about populist politics is true, when two-thirds of Canadians believe their kids will be worse off, we have an important ingredient being mixed into our politics that could lead to the sort of tumult we've seen in other countries. That isn't good for Justin Trudeau, but it might not be so good for the main opposition parties, either.
Elections are too often reduced to simple narratives. The decisions of voters are based on dozens of reasons. And I'd still bet on Justin Trudeau winning the 2019 federal election. But concerns about the economic well-being of our youngest Canadians might have under-appreciated political ramifications.

Thank God for copy editors
The Observer reports on a correction by the New York Times:
Tuesday’s print edition of The New York Times incorrectly identifies a picture of actress Angela Bassett—the Golden Globe winner and Academy Award nominee who has played Tina Turner and Betty Shabazz—as Omarosa Manigault Newman, a former Trump employee who has played herself on both network television and in real life.
The mistake was pointed out on Twitter by Buzzfeed journalist Julia Reinstein, and acknowledged as a genuine error by the New York Times communications Twitter account. “We regret running an incorrect caption from a photo wire service in some early print editions,” the Times tweet reads. “We will issue a correction in tomorrow’s paper.” ...
It’s unclear how the caption made it all the way to the approved print edition, even if the mistake was indeed the fault of journalists at a wire service such as the Associated Press. Omarosa was not even in attendance at last night’s Emmy awards ...
Last year, the Times eliminated the copy editor position at the paper and folded the copy editor’s traditional duties into a catchall editorial position.
That might not be working, but at least the struggling Times saved a few dollars.
Instapundit's Stephen Green observed of the Times mistake, "Pretty sure that’s racism when a right-leaning publication does it."

Tuesday, September 18, 2018
Systemic racism in American legal system
Libertarian Radley Balko, who used to write for Reason magazine but now bangs out pieces for the Washington Post, has a thorough article on the problem of systemic racism. He begins with explaining why conservatives and others on the Right shouldn't recoil from talk about systemic racism considering its roots and how it leads to a violation of the rights of individuals:
Of particular concern to some on the right is the term “systemic racism,” often wrongly interpreted as an accusation that everyone in the system is racist. In fact, systemic racism means almost the opposite. It means that we have systems and institutions that produce racially disparate outcomes, regardless of the intentions of the people who work within them. When you consider that much of the criminal-justice system was built, honed and firmly established during the Jim Crow era — an era almost everyone, conservatives concluded, will concede rife with racism — this is pretty intuitive. The modern criminal-justice system helped preserve racial order — it kept black people in their place. For much of the early 20th century, in some parts of the country, that was its primary function. That it might retain some of those proclivities today shouldn’t be all that surprising.
In any case, after more than a decade covering these issues, it’s pretty clear to me that the evidence of racial bias in our criminal-justice system isn’t just convincing — it’s overwhelming. But because there still seems to be some skepticism, I’ve attempted below to catalog the evidence. The list below isn’t remotely comprehensive.
On the war on drugs, Balko writes:
Black people are consistently arrested, charged and convicted of drug crimes including possession, distribution and conspiracy at far higher rates than white people. This, despite research showing that both races use and sell drugs at about the same rate.
Also, jury selection remains tainted by racial bias:
Though the Supreme Court made it illegal for prosecutors to exclude prospective jurors because of race in the 1986 case Batson v. Kentucky, that ruling has largely gone unenforced. The New Yorker reported in 2015 that in the approximately 30 years since the ruling, courts have accepted the flimsiest excuses for striking black jurors and that prosecutors have in turn trained subordinates how to strike black jurors without a judicial rebuke. A 2010 report by the Equal Justice Initiative documented cases in which courts upheld prosecutors’ dismissal of jurors because of allegedly race-neutral factors such as affiliation with a historically black college, a son in an interracial marriage, living in a black-majority neighborhood or that a juror “shucked and jived.”
Balko provides summaries of and links to multiple studies and stories to buttress his points. His article is a long, challenging piece of journalism that deserves to be read and taken seriously.
One possible angle that might rebut some of the findings is that it can be difficult to separate race and class. Getting ensnarled in the American legal system is not an inexpensive proposition and I don't just mean the cost of lawyers: time off from part-time or precarious work (or finding childcare), paying bail, and finding a job after minor youthful infractions. There is no shortage of ways in which the poor are at a huge disadvantage once they get caught up on the legal system, and that might affect some segment of the black population disproportionately.

Monday, September 17, 2018
Boudreaux on 'retaliatory tariffs'
Donald Boudreaux at CafeHayek: "Mutual Self-Impoverishment is Foolish." Boudreaux explains the harm done by tariffs and counter-tariffs:
My first objection is based on ethics. It is unethical for Uncle Sam, in an effort to drum up additional sales for some Americans, to obstruct other Americans’ freedom to spend their incomes as they choose and in ways that everyone agrees to be otherwise acceptable. Even if the result of such “retaliation” would be a net gain to Americans collectively – measured in money or utility or both – I know of no principle of ethics that, in the ordinary course of affairs, excuses holding Smith economically hostage for the benefit of Jones.
My second objection is grounded in economics. Contrary to your (and Pres. Trump’s) assumption, foreign-government protectionism weakens rather than strengthens foreign economies that practice it. Why should we “retaliate” by weakening our own economy?
The economic literature comes out overwhelmingly on the side that tariffs harm the collective even when they benefit particular sectors (although Rajit Biswas of the Indian Statistical Institute suggests it harms the protected sector, too). But Boudreaux's point is well-taken.

Leaders' debates are over-rated
SkyNews is leading a campaign to #MakeDebatesHappen, to ensure that (televised) debates among the political leaders is a permanent and guaranteed feature of future British election campaigns. James Snell writes at CapX about the problem with leaders' debate during election campaigns:
But even well-organised debates with little surrounding froth about process are hardly a great advert for democracy. Indeed, they are often not really “debates” at all, but a chance for senior politicians to trot out carefully prepared soundbites and gags at their opponents’ expense.
Certainly, the most arresting moments can stick in voters’ mind. Ronald Reagan’s folksy quips and Donald Trump’s outrageous comments (“because you’d be in jail”, for instance) both show how a candidate can seize the initiative. Although those moments can live long in the memory, they also underline that debates can easily substitute affability and ‘being good value’ for seriousness and political skill.
Voters learn little about policy, or about how candidates would perform in office.
My guess is that there would be tremendous overlap in a Venn diagram of people who complain about the reliance on soundbites amongst leadership contenders in political debates and those decrying these same leadership contenders avoiding leadership debates. That is not to say leaders' debate should never occur. Some leaders want them and others don't. That in itself -- or more accurately, the reasons they give for participating or eschewing debates -- is something by which to judge potential future prime ministers. But the idea that they are necessary to informed decision-making by voters seems to overestimate ... well, almost everything: the honesty of politicians, the depth of policy discussion in debate (or alternatively, the importance of platitudes), the intelligence of viewers, the open-mindedness of viewers, among much else. Probably at their best, leaders' debates are about signaling of shared values between leaders and their base and some very small percentage of swing voters that might be won over by such messages. But the idea that democracy depends on leadership debates is myopic, at best.

Sunday, September 16, 2018
An email from the Ontario NDP says:
New supporters have been flooding in through our online petitions against Ford’s agenda. The fundraising numbers are also encouraging: with hours left before the deadline we are closing in on our fundraising goal.
Doug Ford may prove to be one of the best volunteer recruiters to our movement, but we’re going to need to raise the money to organize these new supporters into an effective opposition.
There is nothing wrong with using petitions to build a data base. Indeed, that is what petitions are for, if we are brutally honest. Many people think petitions are about sending a message to elected officials asking them to do or not do something. That is what they are ostensibly for and when it does send a message (or, more accurately, when the message is received and acted upon), that's a bonus. But few governments are moved by petitions. But petitions are an effective organizing tool for political parties or third parties. People who sign petitions should be aware of that.

Saturday, September 15, 2018
Social capital and populism
Ross Douthat has a very good column on religious voters based on research from the excellent Voters Study Group. The whole column is worth reading because it explains how the GOP has changed in recent years and might continue to change in the near future. Donald Trump is not alone in being responsible for the divisions and direction of the Republican Party; there are some pretty deep sociological roots that nourished the mood for Trump's message. Douthat writes:
But in general, churchgoing Republicans look more like the party many elite conservatives wanted to believe existed before Trump came along — more racially-tolerant, more accepting of multiculturalism and globalization, and also more consistently libertarian on economics. Secularized Trump voters look more like the party as Trump has tried to remake it, blending an inchoate economic populism with strong racial resentments.
Interestingly in the survey the different groups make about the same amount of money, which cuts against strict economic-anxiety explanations for Trumpism. But the churchgoers and nonchurchgoers differ more in social capital: The irreligious are less likely to have college degrees, less likely to be married and more likely to be divorced; they’re also less civically engaged, less satisfied with their neighborhoods and communities, and less trusting and optimistic in general.
This seems to support the argument, advanced by Tim Carney of the Washington Examiner among others, that support for populism correlates with a kind of communal breakdown, in which secularization is one variable among many leaving people feeling isolated and angry, and drawing them to the ersatz solidarity of white identity politics.
The whole column is worth reading, but this sentence is worth re-reading: "support for populism correlates with a kind of communal breakdown, in which secularization is one variable among many leaving people feeling isolated and angry, and drawing them to the ersatz solidarity of white identity politics." Relationships are generally a good thing and those who have more of them are less prone to messages of despair. On a purely practical level, a church broadens and deepens the pool of people to which a person can be connected, never mind the social capital one gains from living virtuously.

Friday, September 14, 2018
Chelsea Clinton ties her religiosity and abortion advocacy
The Daily Caller reports:
Former first daughter Chelsea Clinton said that overturning Roe V. Wade would be “unchristian” and that doing so is totally unthinkable in a SiriusXM interviews Thursday.
“We can’t go back to that [pre-Roe V. Wade]. That’s unconscionable to me,” Clinton said.
“As a deeply religious person, it’s also unchristian to me,” she continued.
Two quick observations:
1) Chelsea Clinton's comments lack Christian humility when she describes herself as "a deeply religious person." Indeed, I've never heard anybody I would describe as holy or religious describe his- or herself as "a deeply religious person."
2) The only time people like Chelsea Clinton describe themselves as Christian, it seems, is when they are promoting socially liberal position at odds with the traditional moral teachings of Christian churches.
Also, in a classically Clintonian way of boosting themselves, Bill and Hillary's kid compares her abortion advocacy online and in interviews to the work of Supreme Court justices: "I’ve had the temerity to, as the Supreme Court did in 1992 in Planned Parenthood V. Casey, to point out that our ability to participate fully in our society, including economically, hinges on our ability to be able to make choices for our bodies."

Thursday, September 13, 2018
Project Fear: No Deal
The (London) Times reports:
House prices would fall by 35 per cent over three years following a chaotic no-deal Brexit, according to a briefing given by Mark Carney to the cabinet today.
The governor of the Bank of England told senior ministers that spiralling mortgage rates would crash the housing market in a stark presentation. He was briefing them on the Bank’s preparations to cope with the aftermath of leaving the European Union without a full withdrawal deal next March.
He outlined Bank of England modelling on the consequences of the EU agreeing a skeleton deal, one in which a few ad hoc arrangements are struck and a worst case chaotic exit.
In the last case, he said that sterling would plunge, driving up inflation and interest rates while mortgage companies would also pass on higher risk premiums to customers.
A few of observations.
1. Models can be wrong.
1b. Might the BoE deliberately choose or be susceptible to biased models. If they start with catastrophic assumptions, the end results will be dire.
2. Mark Carney was wrong about the consequences of merely voting to Leave. The UK economy has been sluggish, but has hardly suffered the way Carney and others predicted if Brits were so bold to vote to leave the EU. He's cried wolf before.
3. If Mark Carney insists on doing politics, he should resign as head of the Bank of England and run for MP in either Canada or the UK.
4. I hope this is not cavalier because home-owners will take a big hit, but if housing prices decline by a third it will be a boon to young home-buyers. There is widespread agreement that British housing prices are too high, putting homes out of reach of first-time buyers. Those who could afford higher interest rates might be able to afford a house.
5. A decline in the sterling and housing prices might make the UK a more attractive destination for highly skilled, highly educated immigrants.
6. The (rejected) Establishment should stop scaring Britons.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018
Deconstructing the administrative state
The New York Times reports on the Environmental Protection Agency's relaxation of methane regulations:
The Trump administration, taking its third major step this year to roll back federal efforts to fight climate change, is preparing to make it significantly easier for energy companies to release methane into the atmosphere.
Methane, which is among the most powerful greenhouse gases, routinely leaks from oil and gas wells, and energy companies have long said that the rules requiring them to test for emissions were costly and burdensome.
The Environmental Protection Agency, perhaps as soon as this week, plans to make public a proposal to weaken an Obama-era requirement that companies monitor and repair methane leaks, according to documents reviewed by The New York Times. In a related move, the Interior Department is also expected in coming days to release its final version of a draft rule, proposed in February, that essentially repeals a restriction on the intentional venting and “flaring,” or burning, of methane from drilling operations.
The new rules follow two regulatory rollbacks this year that, taken together, represent the foundation of the United States’ effort to rein in global warming. In July, the E.P.A. proposed weakening a rule on carbon dioxide pollution from vehicle tailpipes. And in August, the agency proposed replacing the rule on carbon dioxide pollution from coal-fired power plants with a weaker one that would allow far more global-warming emissions to flow unchecked from the nation’s smokestacks.
The Times headline on this story on reversing or scaling back various environmental regulations is: "Trump Administration Wants to Make It Easier to Release Methane Into Air." That's one way to put it, and one that suggests the paper magically knows the intentions of the Trump administration. I doubt that President Donald Trump and Andrew Wheeler, Acting Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, want to make it easier to release methane into the air. They probably want to make it easier and cheaper to do business in America, presumably with some of the savings and other benefits (increased capacity?) being passed on to consumers. Anyway, this scaling back of regulations is what Trump was elected to do, promising on the campaign trail to loosen regulations that were unduly hindering businesses.
One way to deconstruct the administrative state is reduce the collection of regulations and enforcement mechanisms made by bureaucratic fiat: cut, reverse, scale-back. Another is to reduce the size of the bureaucracy. On the weekend, the Washington Post reported on the "shrinking" EPA:
During the first 18 months of the Trump administration, records show, nearly 1,600 workers left the EPA, while fewer than 400 were hired. The exodus has shrunk the agency’s workforce by 8 percent, to levels not seen since the Reagan administration. The trend has continued even after a major round of buyouts last year and despite the fact that the EPA’s budget has remained stable.
Those who have resigned or retired include some of the agency’s most experienced veterans, as well as young environmental experts who traditionally would have replaced them — stirring fears about brain drain at the EPA. The sheer number of departures also has prompted concerns over what sort of work is falling by the wayside, from enforcement investigations to environmental research.
According to the Post, many are leaving because they don't like Trump's policies. Good. Even better is not replacing them.

Friday, September 07, 2018
Governor Andrew Cuomo, jet-setter
The New York Times reports:
Taxpayer-paid flights are commonplace for Mr. Cuomo, who took 195 trips in state planes and helicopters in 2017, according to an examination of state records. His travels reflect an active governor in a big state who has used aircraft liberally — as many as four flights a day, for distances long and short — and who is entitled, like previous governors, to fly the fleet by law.
The New York Times examined travel records and policies in the nation’s 10 most populous states for comparison. Mr. Cuomo flew taxpayer-funded aircraft more frequently than any other governor of the states that provided records. (One state, North Carolina, did not respond in time for publication.)
In California, the governor flies commercial, except during emergencies. In Texas, the governor pays for private charters, even to government events. All told, Mr. Cuomo flew roughly 50 percent more taxpayer-funded private flights than the next closest governor on the list. His office called any comparison between states “absurd” and “irrelevant.”
I don't begrudge top elected officials, like governors, who are busy and in large states, the use of a fleet of planes or helicopters for official business. I do think this common-sense "perk" can be abused. I'd bet more often than not, it is abused. Cuomo definitely seems like the sort of politician who would abuse it. To be fair, it is hard to imagine any New York politicians not named Daniel Patrick Moynihan or James Lane Buckley who wouldn't push the limits of any privilege provided by their office.

Teaching history
David Flint writes in the current edition of the Australian version of The Spectator about the teaching of history and being an unapologetic defender of Western civilization:
The path of the Marxist bacillus into the minds of the young has been greatly facilitated by Canberra’s politicians moving into areas beyond their constitutional and administrative competence, and in particular, the schools.
In this, despite the taxpayers’ billions, the politicians are destroying a school system painstakingly built up over generations, with Australian students now outperformed by Kazakhstan’s.
Canberra has inadvertently provided the answer to the dilemma that so concerned the great Sir John Glubb, that the only thing we learn from history is that men never learn from history. The political elites answer to this dilemma is simple: just stop teaching history.
Flint recounts some recent successes of Western civ, including the defeat of communism, before noting:
If the young had known these things and of the glory of Western civilisation, they would have been better prepared to withstand the cultural Marxist juggernaut and its facile dogmas which gradually replaced their Judeo-Christian beliefs. And we would not now be witnessing the serious undermining of Western civilisation.
The history curriculum is a hot topic in Australian politics today, with many on the Left seeking to downplay the highs of Western civilization or belittle them as vestiges of racism, sexism, and imperialism. Social Justice Warriors want to erase this history altogether. In the September edition of Quadrant, Salvatore Babones, a sociology professor the University of Sydney, defends a truly inclusive teaching of history that highlights Western civilization while recognizing the heights of other cultures, too. Babones explains the importance of a broad teaching of Western civ:
Independence of mind is a good thing, and what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, as for the goslings. An Australian “Western Civ” degree can’t be some kind of conservative counterpart to a Chinese Communist Party curriculum, where students are taught the virtues of the British Empire and learn quotations from the work of Edmund Burke. For good or bad, the empire isn’t coming back, and anyway Burke was a Whig. Students should read the imperialist poetry of Rudyard Kipling and Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France, but also the autobiography of Olaudah Equiano and Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man. And they should do it without being told in advance what to think. They’ll make up their own minds, and by doing so shape their own—our own—civilisation.
If you live in a house made of oak, you are more likely to study the origins and properties of oak trees than those of bamboo, however useful and versatile a material bamboo may be. Australia’s oak is Western civilisation. Along with “white Australians” (whatever that might mean), Aboriginal Australians and Arab Australians live in that same oak house. First Fleeters and the children of Vietnamese refugees share it with recent immigrants like me and my Chinese students. Western civilisation belongs to all of us and none of us, and we all share a responsibility for its upkeep. The reading of great books is the kind of home improvement that has the potential to open all of our minds.
Modern liberalism is a form of intellectual vandalism, seeking fashionable new ways of doing ... everything. Here's my working theory about the progressive Left: it wants to erase history because the sample size of generations and civilizations puts to shame their tiny social science experiments that indicate novel ways of doing things when they call for "evidence-based policy." Teaching history broadly and well makes young students -- and eventually, young voters -- less susceptible to the bullshit of so mcuh novelty. But more importantly, historical understanding undermines the Left's identity politics (see Messiah College history professor John Fea's essay on the tension between history teaching and identity politics, that leans heavily on liberal Mark Lilla's works). That is, the history wars are not only a form of identity politics, but a necessity in order promote self-aware identities upon which politics is based.
Western civilization is not just our oak house, but a sturdy wood that requires and deserves not mere defending but celebrating, as well. There is nothing mutually exclusive about teaching a broad Western civ to students alongside (a modest amount) of multiculturalism. But so-called inclusive identity politics history, based as it is on grievances and villification, does require the whitewashing of our intellectual and institutional patrimony.

Crystal Ball says GOP could make Senate gains in November
No, not quite. The Washington Examiner reports -- read: cherry-picks states -- and concludes it is possible for the Republican to make gains in the Senate in the midterm elections. The Examiner reports:
While races are tightening around the country, the Republicans could add two or more seats in the Senate, giving it a 53-47 majority, one that could help the party hold the line on a more conservative agenda should moderates like Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine continue their role as holdouts on some issues.
“At least for now, the elephant endures,” headlines the latest analysis from the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics via Larry Sabato’s “Crystal Ball.”
Despite the media buzz about Rep. Beto O'Rourke, Senator Ted Cruz looks safe in Texas, although Sabato's Crystal Ball has moved Cruz's victory from the "likely" to "leaning" column. The case for optimism among Republicans is that Democrats Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota and Bill Nelson in Florida are toss-ups and could very well land on the Republican side of the ledger. While some incumbents look vulnerable, no incumbent party is "a clear underdog." Heitkamp's seat will probably move over to leaning Republican between now and the midterms, but it is still competitive.
The Washington Examiner does not mention this part of the Crystal Ball report, but the Democrats have at least a 50-50 shot of winning Jeff Flake's Arizona Senate seat. Democrat Rep. Kyrsten Sinema faced no primary opponent while Republican Rep. Martha McSally had a bruising battle in the GOP primaries and had to spend a lot of her campaign money to win the nomination. Assuming Cruz holds on in Texas and the Republicans trade Arizona for North Dakota, GOP gains might depend on Florida where incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson is facing the incredibly well-funded term-limited Governor, Rick Scott. If Donald Trump wasn't President, Florida would certainly already be in the leaning Florida column for the Republicans, but with the campaign becoming a referendum on not only the unpopular Nelson but the unpopular President, this one is too close to call. Republicans are hoping to win "toss-up" contests in Nevada, Indiana, and Missouri. The Crystal Ball analysis suggests the power of incumbency and the usual mid-term slump for the party holding the White House should be enough to keep those toss-ups in Democratic hands. Ostensibly, Missouri looks like a potential pickup for Republicans, with incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill being too left-wing for this traditional "swing state" but when you take third-party polling into account, she is a statistically significant favourite. Crystall Ball rates this a toss-up. Interestingly, it rates Tennessee leaning Republican although the RealClearPolitics average of polls has former Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen (now 75 years old) with a 1.6 point advantage over Rep. Martha Blackburn, who has led in only one poll in 2018. That looks like a toss-up. If Republicans lose Tennessee (and Arizona), it will be tough to make gains as the Examiner suggests is quite possible. It's possible, but there are too many GOP vulnerabilities for Republicans to get excited about the possibility of winning a larger Senate majority.

Thursday, September 06, 2018
The EU racket
(London) Times columnist Iain Martin writes about the "racket" running the European Union:
The EU is a benign bureaucratic organisation, we are told. We silly old Brits misunderstand the legal foundations of the grand European project. When our Brexit negotiators ask it to compromise — on trade, the Northern Ireland border or migration — we forget that the European Union and the 27 other member states simply cannot bend or break its inviolable rules.
This turns out to be hokum, as will be apparent to anyone who has read a report into Brussels chicanery published this week by the European ombudsman. The EU elite, it is clear, break the rules whenever it suits them and with impunity.
Emily O’Reilly’s report focuses on the unstoppable rise of Martin Selmayr, the German right-hand man of Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president. Selmayr is known as the “monster of the Berlaymont” after the EU headquarters in Brussels where his word is law. Earlier this year he was appointed, in shady circumstances, secretary-general of the commission which he now effectively runs. The stitch-up reeked. When MEPs found out, even the European parliament was appalled.
The improper manoeuvre will keep Selmayr, a devout federalist, at the centre of power for years to come and long after his patron Jean-Claude Juncker has retired to spend more time with his wine cellar.
How did they pull it off? The outgoing secretary-general had told Juncker, privately, that he would retire this year. Armed with Juncker’s inside knowledge, Selmayr successfully applied to be deputy. Then, at a meeting of commissioners, Juncker revealed that the secretary-general’s post was suddenly vacant and that, as luck would have it, Selmayr was ready to fill it.
The ombudsman’s conclusions on what the pair did are scathing. Four serious breaches of protocol and maladministration are listed. Selmayr did not take appropriate measures to avoid conflict of interest. The rules of procedure were broken. “A situation of urgency to fill the post of secretary-general was created artificially,” O’Reilly says. “The commissioners [are] responsible for the maladministration in this case. It is extraordinary that no commissioner seemed to question the secretary-general appointment procedure, which in the end raised valid widespread concerns.”
Extraordinary is putting it mildly. The report makes for shocking, if not surprising, reading. The rules-based Brussels order and its highly paid apparat behave like a gangster racket.
There is a saying in politics that personnel is policy. The ability to appoint close confidants to important positions of power is not merely about returning favours and rewarding friends, it about ensuring that one's vision continues to be carried out -- in this case, long after the personally repugnant and morally bankrupt Jean-Claude Juncker is replaced by an equally personally repugnant and morally bankrupt Martin Selmayr.

Why Jagmeet Singh's NDP is in trouble in two tweets

Tuesday, September 04, 2018
The media and conservatives
Ed Driscoll at Instapundit:
Every Republican president is Hitler, until he leaves office, and then he is magically rehabilitated by the media as a distinguished and wise statesman to bash the current Hitler.
What led Driscoll to make this comment? Bre Payton was called out as a Nazi on NPR by Norman Eisen of the Brookings Institute:
I am writing this to draw attention to the tone from some of Trump’s critics. To them, everything merits a comparison to Hitler, and to make the “mistake” of saying a positive thing about President Trump — even when that positive thing is sandwiched between skeptical comments about him — is labeled as tantamount to helping the Nazis construct concentration camps. That’s so detached from reality people who cannot see that should have no credibility and not be allowed to fearmonger to a broader audience.
So what is and what is not allowed to be said in public about the president without being called a Nazi? I said I wish Trump could tweet less and focus his lib-owning powers on regulatory rollbacks and taking down the administrative state. To Eisman, for some reason, that sounded like support for Nazis. One of us needs a reality check, and it’s not me.

Understanding populism
Luke Savage has a piece in The Walrus titled, "Is Populism Really Shaping Global Politics?" Savage's point is that is it not easy to define or pinpoint populism. It's a little rambling and he only looks at right-wing populism, which is part of the problem when he seeks out to define it. Savage writes:
What exactly, after all, do the various political figures and tendencies cited above actually have in common? Not much, it turns out, when we factor in their varying objectives, values, and motives. Some populists are propelled by exclusionary ethnic nationalism, and others by opposition to cuts in public spending; some target corporate oligarchy; others stoke fear about pluralism and immigration; some are simply truculent toward the media, temperamentally unpredictable, or rhetorically opposed to elites.
Which is to say, in its contemporary usage, populism seems to be more of a floating signifier than something that usefully connotes a specific ideology, tendency, or political project. True, antiestablishment posture seems a common thread in these examples. But establishment and elites are themselves quite mutable terms and refer to completely different groups and institutions depending on who you ask. Are “elites” and members of the “establishment” state bureaucrats? Academics? The media? Corporate ceos? People who prefer a glass of sherry to a pint of beer or happen to live in a major metropolitan area near the coast? The various individuals, parties, and movements cited above would likely offer very different answers.
It is probably best to think of populism not as a movement or project and especially not as an ideology (because, this seems to need constant retelling, populism is not merely a right-wing phenomenon). Rather, populism is more of a style that touches on broad themes. Savage gets close to part of that understanding when he writes, "the populist label may only be useful in a broad, aesthetic sense, and even then its value may be limited." Noting that various Establishments exist, as Savage does, ignores the fact that they are all same entity to many voters and the (sometimes opportunistic) political leaders who harness resentments and grievances (many of them legitimate). And that is the unifying style and substance of political populism, left and right: the political power of resentments and grievances. The best definition of populism is Henry Olsen's "ins and outs" and the best understanding of it as a political force is David Goodhart's "somewhere and everywheres." Any attempt to understand populism that ignores their insights will, at best, be off the mark and missing important aspects of the nature of resentments moving many voters today that goes well beyond the New York Times libel that Trump or Brexit voters are racist.