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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Monday, January 21, 2019
Jesus wasn't a communist. Or a democratic socialist.
Randy England, author of Free is Beautiful: Why Catholics Should be Libertarian, writes at "What did Jesus have to say to support the welfare state?" The answer? Nothing. After quoting from Scripture, England says:
It is notable that Jesus never even hinted that third parties or the state should forcibly redistribute the rich man’s wealth. On the one occasion when Jesus was presented with an opportunity to work an equal distribution of wealth, he quickly declined:
Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:13–15).
Jesus did not even suggest a distribution. Instead, he warned against greed while declining to play the busybody.

Friday, January 18, 2019
Is the UK a democracy?
Corporatist government -- one of the root causes of the Brexit backlash against the elite -- is alive and well. The Daily Telegraph reports:
Philip Hammond told business leaders that the “threat” of a no-deal Brexit could be taken “off the table” within days and potentially lead to Article 50 “rescinded”, a leaked recording of a conference call reveals.
The Chancellor set out how a backbench Bill could effectively be used to stop any prospect of no deal. He suggested that ministers may even back the plan when asked for an “assurance” by the head of Tesco that the Government would not oppose the motion.
He claimed next week’s Bill, which could force the Government to extend Article 50, was likely to win support and act as the “ultimate backstop” against a no-deal Brexit, as a “large majority in the Commons is opposed to no deal under any circumstances”.
A recording of the call, passed to The Daily Telegraph, recounts how the Chancellor, Greg Clark, the Business Secretary, and Stephen Barclay, the Brexit Secretary, spent nearly an hour talking to the leaders of 330 leading firms.
They included the heads of Siemens, Amazon, Scottish Power, Tesco and BP, all of whom warned against no deal.
The people have spoken and now they will be ignored. Philip Hammond and his pals at the companies whose boards he hopes to join in the future will now govern with only the mild inconvenience of pretending that the plebs matter.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019
Opioids causing more deaths than auto crashes
Vox reports:
For the first time in history, Americans are more likely to die from opioid overdoses than car crashes, according to a new report from the National Safety Council.
Based on 2017 data, people in the US have a 1 in 103 chance of dying in a motor vehicle crash over their lifetime, but a 1 in 96 chance of dying of an opioid overdose.
In comparison, a person has a 1 in 6 chance of dying of heart disease, a 1 in 7 chance of dying of cancer, a 1 in 285 chance of dying of a gun assault, a 1 in 1,117 chance of dying by drowning, a 1 in 188,364 chance of dying in a plane crash, and a 1 in 218,106 chance of getting killed by lightning.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the age-adjusted motor vehicle death rate hit 11.5 per 100,000 people in 2017, down from a recent peak of 15.2 in 2002.
By contrast, opioid overdose deaths — now largely driven by illicit fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid that’s spread in black markets for drugs — hit an age-adjusted rate of 14.9 per 100,000 in 2017, up from 2.9 in 1999.
It isn't quite accurate to say that opioid and motor vehicle deaths are preventable while heart disease and cancer are not (lifestyle choices contribute to the latter), but public policy could have a much larger impact on reducing fatalities from the former. The article lists some policies that have produced modest positive results:
Vermont saw its overdose death rate drop by around 6 percent in 2017 with the continued expansion of a hub and spoke system that integrates addiction treatment into the rest of health care. Rhode Island also saw a roughly 2 percent drop, as it implemented, among other changes, better access to opioid addiction medications in its prisons and jails. And Massachusetts saw a roughly 3 percent drop, along with a public health campaign that has emphasized more addiction treatment, including in emergency rooms, and fewer painkiller prescriptions.
There are copious links at the original article. Vox's German Lopez is not incorrect to point out that Washington has not provided the resources to battle opioid addiction, "And despite lavish promises, President Donald Trump has done little to change that."

Trudeau and populism
The CBC reported on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's response at a St. Catharine's town hall:
Asked about rising xenophobia in Canada, Trudeau talked about the lack of job security many people feel and their concern the Canadian dream of the post-Second World War will elude them permanently.
"A lot of people are wondering if the promise of progress no longer really holds," he said. "These are real anxieties."
At the same time, he said, there are those who would "amplify those fears" for short-term political gain and play to people's insecurities.
He cited the 2015 election in which he said he aimed to stay away from attack ads and strike a positive tone. It's the same game plan he plans to pursue in October, he said.
"Sometimes, packaging really simple easy-sounding solutions can be very compelling," Trudeau told the appreciative crowd. "What I'm trying to make sure we do in this coming year of an election year in Canada is come together to have real conversations, make sure there's room for us to disagree on a certain issue."
Some thoughts.
1. There is no demagoguery like accusing others of demagoguery while claiming to eschew the practice oneself.
2. The first part of Trudeau's answer suggests that xenophobia and populism are merely reactions to economic factors, ignoring that there are also cultural factors.
3. The second part of Trudeau's answer suggests that the Prime Minister understands that there are cultural factors and that he thinks he can charm people into buying into his worldview.
4. My semi-regular reminder: liberalism is the cause of populism. Many people don't like the progressive left but they can live with some of it; however their ability to tolerate it gives way when they are themselves forced to genuflect at every liberal totem. Trudeau's "conversation" may backfire if Canadians find that talking about the endless good of immigration chafes them the wrong way.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019
Trump's tariffs are a form of national sales tax
Bruce Yandle, distinguished adjunct fellow with the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, writes about President Donald Trump's tariffs on foreign imports at Investor's Business Daily:
The move to tariffs has occurred without any congressional debate or vote and without the White House ever mentioning a new reality: We now have a growing tariff-based national sales tax.
In fact, Mr. Trump often makes it sound as though tariffs aren't really paid by consumers. They just somehow get collected ...
In some cases, the new tariff-based sales tax falls directly on consumer goods through higher prices. Or, tariffs paid on inputs by, say, producers of machinery or houses may be shifted, partly or totally, onto consumers. We now collect tariffs on Canadian timber products, Chinese solar panels, on some $200 billion of other Chinese goods that range from bicycles to baseball gloves, and on aluminum and steel imports from countries worldwide, with exemptions for the European Union and a handful of other favorites.
The most recent data on federal government current receipts and expenditures tell us how this is playing out:
In 2018's third quarter, personal tax revenue fell to $1.622 trillion. That's down from $1.625 trillion a year prior — a reduction of just $3 billion. Not much change. But 43% of Americans pay no income taxes. Corporate income taxes were another story. Those taxes fell from $296 billion to $162 billion, a drop of $134 billion.
Meanwhile, our government collected $51 billion in tariffs (or what are termed custom duties) in 2018's third quarter, compared with $38 billion in the third quarter of 2017, for a gain of $13 billion — and we can be sure that someone paid it.
In all, then, tariff payments increased by $13 billion while corporate and personal income taxes were down by $137 billion. At the margin, the nation moved from taxing income to taxing consumption.
In other words: American consumers pay the tariff (tax), which is a form of national sales tax, which is not passed through the proper means (taxes should be passed by lawmakers, not imposed by executive branch fiat). Yandle strongly suggests there is a non-transparent, hardly acknowledged move from income and corporate taxes to tariff taxes. This might be over-stating the case considering how little revenue tariffs generate for the federal government compared to income and corporate taxation, but that does not mean these are not significant taxes that should not be punishing American consumers.

Planned Parenthood gets British taxpayer money despite sex scandal
The (London) Times reports:
Ministers have awarded £132 million of aid money to an international charity amid an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct and corruption at the organisation.
After the Oxfam sex scandal in Haiti, Penny Mordaunt, the international development secretary, promised to withhold funds from charities that did not act to stamp out exploitation.
The Times has learnt, however, that her department handed millions of pounds to the London-based International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) while one of its most senior officials was under investigation after allegations of harassment and misconduct.
Internal documents refer to claims of sexual harassment, bullying, abusive conduct and intimidation of whistleblowers at one of the charity’s largest overseas offices. A female executive was allegedly sent a pornographic video in an attempt to intimidate her.
The Department for International Development (Dfid) has known of the allegations at IPPF, a global sexual-health charity, since August yet pressed ahead with funding for a two-year programme that began in September.
My colleagues in the pro-life movement has passed this story amongst themselves today, remarking on the double standard that being pro-abortion allows a free pass on sexual harassment. I think that's a helpful analytical observation only up to a point. I think the controversy here is better understood through the lens of bureaucratic inertia. Organizations (both governmental and private) will continue to work with the groups they have traditionally worked with.

Monday, January 14, 2019
The Louisville, Kentucky, Courier-Journal reports that libertarian-leaning GOP Senator Rand Paul is going to Canada for surgery:
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, one of the fiercest political critics of socialized medicine, will travel to Canada later this month to get hernia surgery.
Paul, an ophthalmologist, said the operation is related to an injury in 2017 when his neighbor, Rene Boucher, attacked him while Paul was mowing his lawn. The incident left Kentucky's junior senator with six broken ribs and a bruised lung.
He is scheduled to have the outpatient operation at the privately adminstered Shouldice Hernia Hospital in Thornhill, Ontario during the week of Jan. 21, according to documents from Paul's civil lawsuit against Boucher filed in Warren Circuit Court ...
Shouldice Hernia Hospital markets itself as "the global leader in non-mesh hernia repair," according to the clinic's website. The hospital's website outlines payments it accepts, including cash, check or credit card for those patients, like Paul, who are not covered by Ontario's insurance plan for its residents or a provincial health insurance plan.
The lead paragraph suggests that Rand Paul is a hypocrite for coming to Canada for surgery considering his ideological opposition to socialized medicine. The rest of the story is about how the Shouldice clinic, where Paul is going for surgery, is a private facility north of Toronto where many patients pay out of pocket for their care. Not sure how this qualifies as news, and it certainly isn't a gotcha moment.
Of course, NationalNewsWatch, a Canadian news aggregator links to the Courier-Journal article.

Thursday, January 10, 2019
Liberal government's extreme anti-impaired driving law
Global News reports:
It may sound unbelievable, but Canada’s revised laws on impaired driving could see police demand breath samples from people in bars, restaurants, or even at home. And if you say no, you could be arrested, face a criminal record, ordered to pay a fine, and subjected to a driving suspension.
You could be in violation of the impaired driving laws even two hours after you’ve been driving. Now, the onus is on drivers to prove they weren’t impaired when they were on the road ...
Changes to Section 253 of the Criminal Code of Canada took effect in December giving police greater powers to seek breath samples from drivers who might be driving while impaired.
Under the new law, police officers no longer need to have a “reasonable suspicion” the driver had consumed alcohol. Now, an officer can demand a sample from drivers for any reason at any time.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau likes to say the Liberals are the party of the Charter. Under legal rights, the Charter enumerates three important rights: Right to be secure against unreasonable search and seizure, Protection against unreasonable laws, Protection against arrest without good reason.

Wednesday, January 09, 2019
Project Fear: No Deal edition
The Washington Post reports that Brits are practicing traffic jams at the border:
On Monday, Britain’s transport ministry had 87 trucks drive from Manston Airport to Dover, home to one of Europe’s busiest ports. The idea was to see how to handle traffic in the event of backup because of a border closure.
Critics said the exercise was an unrealistic simulation and a colossal waste of taxpayer money. “Less than a hundred lorries is a drop in the ocean compared to the more than 10,000 that go to the channel ports every day,” Charlie Elphicke, a Conservative lawmaker from Dover, told Reuters.
And the government is navigating the fine line between preparedness and scare-mongering, almost certainly falling over to side of needlessly ramping up fear of shortages, in this case medicine:
In December, Victoria Macdonald, Channel 4′s health correspondent, reported that Britain’s National Health Service had ordered 5,000 new fridges as part of its no-deal contingency planning. “The concerns are that so many drugs come in from Europe, the last thing they want to see happening is for them to be stuck at Dover, because they often have short shelf life,” she said.
“I’ve become the largest buyer of fridges in the world,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock acknowledged on BBC “Newsnight.” “I didn’t expect that.”
I don't think cynicism is out of order here. The fear-mongering of the government is almost certainly 90% theatre to convince a few MPs to vote along with the(ir) government.