Sobering Thoughts

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

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Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Greatest quote in journalism history

The Toronto Sun has a story on how ultrasound could replace condoms and vasectomies as male birth control. The story concludes with a quote from one of the researchers:

"We were pretty discouraged at first," said Dr. Catherine VandeVoort, lead researcher, from the University of California-Davis. "The monkeys didn't seem to mind the treatment a bit, but we were having a rough time of it. Thirty minutes of treatment three times a week is a lot of monkey testicular massage. We felt pretty silly, and it didn't help when the techs would come around and wonder what kind of research we were doing! We were relieved when we finally saw an effect."

Rare Blazing Cat Fur interview

BCF talks with J&G at Clay and Water on various topics. It's a few weeks old and one or two items seem dated. Still, this is a treat.

On libel, BCF says "things are improving." I didn't take him as an optimist.

Europe: the solution is part of the problem

Peter Suderman at Hit & Run:

Thanks to a new deficit treaty, 25 of 27 European leaders agree: They'll try to avoid letting their countries' public finances end up buried in debt. And this time they really mean it.

Let's talk about sex

NRO interviews Christopher West, in which he says:

John Paul II basically said to the modern world: “You wanna talk about sex? Okay, but let’s really talk about it. Let’s not stop at the surface. Let’s enter into the depths of the ‘great mystery’ of our creation as male and female.” He started a deeper conversation, but we need to keep going...

The Church tends to move slowly — that’s nothing new. But there is a movement of sorts underway, and it’s spreading, both in Catholic circles and across denominational lines. It wouldn’t surprise me at all, in fact, if evangelical Christians took it up and became a real catalyst in helping get the message out.
The conversation should include, West says earlier in the interview, how sex is a gift from God:

When we reduce sex to something merely biological, all we have is the plumbing. Christ invites us to another way of “seeing.” True sexual love is a doorway into another realm, another world — kind of like the wardrobe into Narnia. But we never see this “great mystery” when we stop at the surface.

Monday, January 30, 2012
Why license drivers?

Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe:

It's one thing to require would-be motorists to enroll in driver's-education classes and to be tested on their knowledge of safe driving practices and highway signs and signals. And of course anyone getting behind the wheel of a car should be liable for damage caused through negligence or irresponsibility. But to condition driving itself on governmental permission? To extort a chunk of money every few years to keep that permission current? By what right?
Jacoby says that Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick:

[S]hould be asking is why issuing or renewing driver's licenses needs to be a public function at all. You shouldn't need a license to drive a car any more than you need one to use a computer or ride a horse.
This is a losing cause for libertarians and conservatives, but it says a lot about modern society that it isn't even worth engaging in a discussion with the general public about whether the state should be granting permission to people to drive cars.

Sunday, January 29, 2012
Didn't Etta James deserve better?

Al Sharpton and Christina Aguilera were both on stage at the funeral.

This, Ms. Aguilera, is how you perform "At Last," as Etta James did at her Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction in 1993.

Thursday, January 26, 2012
Headline I never thought I'd see

From the Globe and Mail: "A dissatisfied Mick Jagger quits Davos economic forum event."

The Indian Act must go

So says the Ottawa Citizen. The paper editorializes:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s apparent reluctance to bid good riddance to the Indian Act is perplexing. It is universally acknowledged to be a racist, paternalistic mess.

It, and the federal bureaucracy it created to oversee every aspect of the lives of aboriginal Canadians, is one of the worst examples of big government a conservative could find. Political scientist Tom Flanagan, whom The Walrus magazine called “The Man Behind Stephen Harper,” even wrote a book titled Beyond the Indian Act: Restoring Aboriginal Property Rights.

But at this week’s summit with First Nations chiefs, Harper went out of his way to say that the Act isn’t going anywhere soon...

For most pragmatic and principled reasons, Harper should have used the summit to laud the chiefs who want to move beyond the Indian Act, and tell the country that he’s ready to do the same. The problems that face many aboriginal communities are extreme. They cannot be solved without fundamentally altering the relationship between First Nations and the federal government. This is no time for political timidity.

What America needs

James Heckman and Pedro Carneiro say in their contribution to Inequality in America: What Role for Human Capital Policies? that there is one thing that the U.S. middle class needs (and it's not a government program):

After the deep recession of 2008 and 2009, what the country needs more than anything else is a period of robust economic growth. That’s the only remedy that will truly help the American middle class.
(Via Reihan Salam)

Campaigning vs. governing

Michael Barone writes about the difference between campaigning and governing. Barone is looking mostly at the Republican primaries, but also observes that President Barack Obama is very good at campaigning but is not very good at governing:

What we see is a president who is in pure campaign mode and cavalier about the rule of law, with policies — higher taxes, environmental restrictions, more stimulus spending — poorly suited to current needs.
This is not very original or insightful; it is, in fact, a standard complaint about the president. What the Right does not seem to notice is that to get the job and govern, campaigning is a better skill set than governing. It's why in the age of spin and 24/7 news, Obama's lack of accomplishments -- and indeed his dismal performance as president -- matters much less than it would have 100, 50, or even 20 years ago.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012
Three on Newt

George F. Will in the Washington Post:

Gingrich encourages Republican voters to believe he should be nominated because he would do best in the (at most) three debates with Barack Obama. So, because Gingrich might sparkle during 4 1/2 hours of debates, he should be given four years of control of nuclear weapons? Odd.
Bret Stephens in the Wall Street Journal:

A primary ballot for Mr. Gingrich is a vote for an entertaining election, not a Republican in the White House.
Ramesh Ponnuru at Bloomberg View:

Republican voters who listen to him hear proposals they have never heard before: bold, exciting proposals, made with complete confidence in their workability. His originality is a big part of his appeal. But even his fans concede that not all of his ideas are good.

Everyone has good and bad ideas, of course. Getting them all tangled up with each other is one of the chief characteristics of Gingrich’s intellectual style.

Monday, January 23, 2012
Four and down

4. What a weekend of football. Great, close contests. No team in either game had a lead bigger than a touchdown, so the outcome was always in doubt. First time since the merger that both Championship games were decided by three or fewer points. I have no dog in either fight so I watched purely as a football fan and while I could find some things to quibble about (the lack of calls by the referees on non-line penalties in the Patriots-Ravens game), this was a fine weekend of football that would please any fan of the game.

3. Unfortunately now there will be two weeks of media over-hype about a Giants-Patriots re-match. It is already nauseating.

2. There was a fair bit of discussion on blogs, twitter, and other football websites about the Baltimore Ravens outplaying the New England Patriots and still losing. I think that is more of an open question than the one-sided debate has indicated -- and as I noted earlier, I don't have a dog in this fight. The Patriots won 23-20 and avoided overtime when Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff missed a relatively routine 32-yard field goal. (As my younger son joked, Francis Xavier could have made that kick.) The assumption seems to be if Cundiff makes the kick, the Ravens would have won in OT. Who knows. Baltimore's D did its job this game, keeping the Pats to just 23 points; New England scored at least 27 points in each of its previous nine games (all victories) so if someone (other than Cundiff) is to be blamed, it has to be the offense. But Joe Flacco was 22 for 36 (identical to Tom Brady) with two TDs and nearly 70 more yards than Brady. Baltimore had 422 yards of offense. It is hard to fault the Ravens. They came up short despite playing a good game. Sometimes that happens and it sucks if you are a Baltimore Ravens fan, but for unaffiliated football fans, what is better than two teams playing well and, as must happen, one winning and one not. The Ravens forced more turnovers, put up more yardage, and came within a field goal in the final seconds from forcing OT. That's great for football. But there is this curiosity: the Ravens became just the second playoff team (out of 103) to outgain their opponents by 50+ yards and have at least a two turnover advantage and still lose. But having watched the game, I don't feel that Baltimore vastly outplayed Bill Belichick's team. There is no injustice in having New England return to the Super Bowl.

1. If losing a chance at the Super Bowl because of a missed long chip shot gets your goat, what about a pair of special teams bobbles that gives one's opponents 10 points off the short field. That's what the San Francisco 49ers did in their 20-17 OT loss to the New York Giants. If Ted Ginn Jr. was healthy enough to play, the Niners could well be headed to Indy for the Super Bowl. But the real reason the Niners aren't going to the Super Bowl isn't the miscues by the second string punt returner Kyle Williams, but rather an offense that converted just one of 13 third downs. Blame the lack of receivers: there was only one catch made by a non-tight end, non-running back. Blame quarterback Alex Smith: 12 for 26 passing for 196 yards. Blame the play-calling: just terrible, as evidenced by 328 net yards in a game that went into OT and failure to convert third downs. The Niner defense did it's job, pressuring Eli Manning all game (six sacks doesn't even begin to describe how in his face they were) and limiting the G-Men to 17 regulation-time points. More often than not, a team is going to win such a game. But not San Francisco. The defense is elite (although it could be expected to regress in 2012), but the offense is not really championship calibre. There is as good a chance that the Niners miss the playoffs next season as they would return to the post-season and most of the reason is a dearth of usable recievers. During the regular season, San Fran led the league in turnover differential, but costly fumbles in the second-half and overtime gave New York a pair of short fields; except for those two gimmes on which they scored a touchdown and game-winning field goal, the Giants punted on every one of their other ten series in the second-half and overtime. So there is an element of the Niners throwing this game away, but if their offense was better able to sustain drives, they should have been in a position to win this contest and make the special teams misplays irrelevant rather than decisive.

Sunday, January 22, 2012
Weekend stuff

1. has "The True Cost of the 10 Largest CEO Severance Packages of the Past Decade." A recent report recently found that they cost shareholders more than $2.4 billion.

2. Science Daily reports that a horse fly has been named after Beyonce because it's golden yellow abdomen makes it the "all time diva of flies."

3. A pie pan for those who can't decide what kind of pie to make (via Boing Boing).

4. The M.I.T. Technology Review reports on Europe's "driverless cars" which might be more accurately described as "automated driving." The vehicle still needs a driver, but the story notes some interesting features on German luxury cars that 1) do a fair bit of driving on their own and 2) can make human control of driving much easier. Last Spring, Tyler Cowen and Ryan Calo addressed the regulation of driverless cars.

5. Business Week has a chart on soft drinks vs. energy drinks (aka "functional beverages").

6. This is Indexed charts how a cat is like a sociopath.

7. Over at Grantland, Tom Bissell writes about how the Madden football video game is made. If you are fan of the game, or football, or video games in general, this long article is a must-read. The year is young, but it is the best journalism of 2012 so far.

8. Great high school football play (about five years old, but worth revisiting).

Saturday, January 21, 2012
Four and down

4. I haven't had the time to comment on last weekend's divisional playoffs, but I had plenty to say. I'm going to restrict my observations to two games. I loved the Houston Texans-Baltimore Ravens game which every pundit said would be a game no one cared about. Perhaps not, but they should have. Houston did well, held the Ravens close after falling far behind in the first (Baltimore only scored a field goal in the final three quarters), and almost pulled off the upset (losing 20-13) despite their rookie, third-string quarterback not throwing a touchdown and three picks. I assumed Arian Foster would have a tough time with Baltimore's D and he did fine 132 rushing yards. It's why you have to love the NFL: a game that was on the bottom of everyone's card for the weekend, provided a thrilling contest.

3. And a word about the New York Giants and Green Bay Packers game. I like Green Bay -- they are my NFC team -- and they were the team I wanted to win the Super Bowl after the Steelers were eliminated. But after the atrocious call on down by contact when Grant Jennings clearly fumbled the ball, I'm glad that the erroneous decision by the referees didn't affect the outcome of the game. Green Bay kept possession, didn't score, and the G-Men went on to win. I'd have preferred to see the Packers win, but not on a blatant miscall. And they didn't deserve to win. Six official dropped balls (Fox had it at eight), a front-line that couldn't keep the pressure of Aaron Rodgers, and Rodgers' worst game of the season; the Packers didn't deserve to win.

2. Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots: Forget history (2009 wild card game in which Baltimore upset the Pats) because while it provides a nice story, a game three seasons ago does not provide any indication of what might happen this weekend. The match features interesting battles with one of the most potent offenses (Patriots) facing one of the stingiest defenses (Baltimore) on one side of the ball, and pretty mediocre offenses and defenses facing off when the Ravens have the ball. The Pats have to look out for the explosive play as QB Joe Flacco leads the league in passing attempts of 25 yards or more through the air (9.5% of all passes). If New England prevents Flacco from successfully finding the hands of receivers in such situations, the multi-target middle field offense of Wes Welker and tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski and the cleverness of coach Bill Belichick should lead to the Patriots returning to the Super Bowl since the New York Giants ruined their perfect season in 2008.

1. New York Giants at San Francisco 49ers: There is nothing terribly flashy about either team and this should be a gritty match of two teams that are very good at what they do well. The Niners have the third best punting team (Andy Lee averages nearly 51 yards per punt) and Ted Ginn Jr is one of the best at returning the ball on kicks (27.1 yard) and punts (12.3), giving San Fran the best starting field advantage (8.9 yards per drive) in the NFL. Stating the obvious, that's like beginning each one of their drives with an extra first down. Although Alex Smith doesn't send the ball deep, he is efficient and avoids making mistakes. The defense stops the run dead in its track more often than not. Carlos Rodgers is an opportunistic cornerback and the linebackers (Patrick Willis and NaVarros Bowman) are disruptive. It is difficult for opposing QBs to sustain drives. On offense, the Niners are nothing terribly special. David Akers is one of the two best kickers in football, but the reason he broke the Niners record for points in a season is that Smith isn't finding the end zone. The Giants have lately had a nice balance between its running game (Ahmad Bradshaw) and QB Eli Manning stretching the field with Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks; both receivers are very good at finding space and getting extra yardage after the catch. Neither team gets fancy on D, but both put tremendous pressure on opposing QBs and it will be interesting to see if Manning has the time to find his targets. That said, the offensive line for the G-Men have been solid, allowing just 28 sacks in the regular season. I see this is a battle in the trenches and the team that makes the fewest mistakes -- which might need to be none -- will likely be headed to the Super Bowl. If I were to bet on this game, I'd bet on the home team Niners putting my faith in San Francisco's third-ranked defense (according to Football Outsiders), but considering how well the Giants have played over the past four games -- beating each of their opponents by at least 15 points -- I wouldn't be surprised to see the "upset".

Nigel Farage welcomes the new president of the European Parliament

Sentences to ponder

"[T]he Fermi paradox raises the likelihood that we are living in a simulation." That's from Tyler Cowen. Robin Hanson disagrees.

Tarantino on Newman, Liberals

Bob Tarantino's review of Peter C. Newman's When the Gods Changed: The Death of Liberal Canada in C2C Journal is masterful, critiquing not just the book but the Liberal Party. Here is the gist of what's wrong with both Newman and his subject:

The story of what happened to the Liberals and Michael Ignatieff, their most recent leader (who summarily resigned after his 2011 federal election loss), could make for a fascinating book. Regrettably, Newman is precisely the wrong person to write that story. He seems as bewildered and offended as his interview subjects at the continuing failure of the Canadian public to genuflect at the mere mention of Liberal accomplishments or historical figures...

Newman appears to suffer from the same deficiency that hobbles the Liberals: their political adversaries (particularly Stephen Harper) are viewed as illegitimate usurpers and interlopers. Both the author and his sources appear almost incapable of comprehending that any serious individual might exist out there who does not want the same things they do in the political sphere, not just in terms of marginal differences, but in terms of fundamental ways of relating to other individuals, the state, the economy and the world.

Thursday, January 19, 2012
What's the difference?

This was a serious question posed to Tyler Cowen (and others):

What are the significant differences that you think we could actually see come to pass from a Romney Presidency versus an Obama Presidency?

I am generally a better-the-devil-you-know kind of guy, but I am pretty open here. So, let me here it.

Cowen's answers seem right (partial repeal of Obamacare, conservative judges, lower corporate taxes)* and my question for conservatives would be "is that enough?" I am inclined to lean toward "just barely" -- is that enough equivocation? -- but I'm open to being persuaded. In other words, I'd like to see the Republican nominee win, but if I were American there is no way I'd waste my time heading to a voting booth and I would certainly be happy enough waking up the day after the election with Congress in the hands of one party and the White House under control of the other.

As I've noted before, I don't think Republicans can be trusted with governing again any time soon. Not that the Democrats deserve the White House and/or Congress, but I don't have any expectation of decency, honesty, and competence for them. I'd like to see the Republicans beat the "better than Democrats" threshold by something more than a razor-thin margin.

* Cowen makes no mention of foreign policy which would probably produce more significant differences. A Romney administration would likely have an unfocused and reckless foreign policy while the Obama administration would continue its unfocused and fucked-up foreign policy.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012
Ezra Levant on sex-selection abortion and choice

Excellent, three-minute commentary by Ezra Levant on sex-selection abortion: gendercide is "violent sexism." He makes several very good observations about the abortion status quo in Canada of allowing abortion for "any reason or no reason."

(Via Blazing Cat Fur)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012
Ron Paul vs. the counterfeit conservatives

Great, hard-hitting against Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Mitt Romney. It's a bit dishonest about Santorum, but it's still a great ad.

Monday, January 16, 2012
Bilingualism costs taxpayers $2.4 billion

According to a new Fraser Institute report, "Official Language Policies of the Canadian Provinces: Costs and Benefits in 2006," the federal and provincial governments spends $2.4 billion "above and beyond that of providing education and other services in the majority language." Most of those costs are for French-language training for English-speakers. The feds spend $1.5 billion while the provinces cough up $900 million. Of course, it is all the same taxpayer.

Sunday, January 15, 2012
Weekend Stuff

1. The Toronto Star on "Why violins cost more than other instruments."

2. Slate's The Explainer's question of the year: "Why are smart people usually ugly?"

3. Last June, The Week had a story with statistics related to "America's pizza obsession" and some are astonishing: 17% of American restaurants are pizzerias (and 94% of them are Pizza Hut, Domino's, or Papa John's franchises) and that the average American eats 46 slices of pizza each year or 23 pounds of the stuff. In other pizza news, BuzzFeed found this video of the best way to reheat pizza.

4. Paragraph-length reviews by Alex Tabarrok of six recent movies.

5. A life-sized edible Stormtrooper cake.

6. A long piece from Scientific American: "Sick People Smell Bad: Why dogs sniff dogs, humans sniff humans, and dogs sometimes sniff humans."

7. Very cool Rube Goldberg machine featuring a blow torch, steam and a live animal:

Saturday, January 14, 2012
Four and down (divisional round predictions)

4. Houston Texans (11-6) at Baltimore Ravens (12-4): This contest features two of the top four defenses in the NFL (ranked third and fourth in points allowed) and two iffy offenses. I actually like the Texans offense better, but probably not against the Ravens. RB Arian Foster is unlikely to find holes and break tackles against the Baltimore frontline and linebackers. Ignore the over-rated Ravens QB Joe Flacco but watch Ray Rice -- who led in combined passing and rushing yards -- run the ball and break out after short catches. This game should be close and the game in which I most expect an upset, but the safe bet is the Ravens. A Texans team using its third string quarterback (T.J Yates) might get past a suspect Bengals team in the wild card but making the AFC Championship game seems a long shot. The Texans first trip to the post-season in franchise history is a one-and-done.

3. Denver Broncos (9-8) at New England Patriots (13-3): Tebow vs. Brady. Bet on Tom Brady because at some point the fairy tale has to end. Bill Belichick is the ultimate reality wash and the Patriots proved in Week 15 that they know how to beat Tebow when the defeated the Broncs in Denver 41-23 score. I doubt Denver stays within single digits against a team that finished the season with an eight game winning streak and an extra week to prepare. Then again, no one gave the Broncos a chance against the Steelers.

2. New Orleans Saints (14-3) at San Francisco 49ers (13-3): The narrative on this game is simple: can Drew Brees and his second-ranked scoring offense play outdoors and beat the second-ranked scoring defense. I hate to put facts in the way of a good storyline but here are two things for your consideration. The Saints scored at least 20 points in every road game and scored more than 30 in three of their eight road games. It is therefore no surprise that the Saints were 5-3 on the road this season. One of those losses came indoors (against the Rams of all teams). The Niners defense allowed the equivalent of just over two touchdowns per game, but they played the Arizona Cardinals, St. Louis Rams, and Seattle Seahawks twice each and the Cincinnati Bengals once, which might explain San Fran's defensive numbers. The Niners had the second best scoring defense. It could be argued that the Saints, not the Packers, have the best offense in the NFL (scoring at least 30 points in five of their last six games, with at least 42 points in four of those contests). The Saints didn't give up the ball much this season -- a record-low six fumbles, a league-leading five lost fumbles, fewer picks than previous seasons -- but the Niners were the best team in forcing turnovers (+28). This simply means that the Saints need to be careful (they gave up the ball two more times than they took it, in part because they were the second worst team in forcing turnovers). But who would you take: Sean Peyton and Drew Brees or Jim Harbaugh and Alex Smith? You could argue the rookie coach and often written-off quarterback are hungry, but the Saints are just so darn good with so darn many offensive weapons (last week against Detroit, seven receivers were targeted at least twice) and can both pass and rush. Saints edge past a Niners team that keeps it very close, but San Fran doesn't have the offensive weapons to keep up with New Orleans.

1. New York Giants (9-8) at Green Bay Packers (15-1): The narrative in this contest is The Rematch. In 2008, the Giants surged late in the season, defeated the Packers at Lambeau in the conference final in Brett Favre's last game, and went on to beat the undefeated Patriots in the Super Bowl. This Giants' team is probably better than the Super Bowl winner: Eli Manning was one of the top five quarterbacks in the league this year, the running game has been solid in recent weeks, the blocking on the O-line stellar over the past month, and Victor Cruz beats anyone who was on the receiving end of Manning's throws four years ago. So it is entirely possible that the G-Men could return to the NFC Championship. But this Packers team is also better than it was four years ago. Aaron Rodgers is one of the two best QBs in the NFL today (45 touchdowns, 6 picks, record high passer rating). He has no shortage of targets. The Pack give up a lot of yards, but they also force a lot of turnovers. Coach Mike McCarthy is an under-rated football mind. The weather isn't supposed to be bad, which means Rodgers can put on an air show. If playing outside in Lambeau in January forces the running game to be a big factor, the G-Men will have the advantage, but McCarthy is likely to keep the ball in Rodgers' hands unless its a snow storm. Pack by at least a touchdown, but it would not be a surprise to see Green Bay win comfortably.

Bonus down. Fact of the week: The four host teams -- Green Bay, San Francisco, New England, and Baltimore -- are a combined 30-2 at home this year. All five of the road teams -- New York, New Orleans, Houston, and Denver -- were 5-3 on the road this season.

Thursday, January 12, 2012
Cut it like Chretien

Tim Knox of the British Center for Policy Studies writes in Wall Street Journal Europe that Canada in the 1990s under Liberal prime minister Jean Chretien is a good example for the United Kingdom in how to cut spending. Knox says:

Ottawa responded with deep cuts in government spending: 10% in nominal terms in just two years. The economy reacted quickly, and within five years the economy had been transformed. Between 1997 and 2007, Canadian GDP grew an average of 3.3% a year, outpacing the other G-7 economies. Business investment grew by 5.4% a year, and employment grew by 2.1% a year. The number of welfare recipients halved. The national debt fell to 29% of GDP in 2008-09 from 68% in 1995-96.

This approach was far more radical than the U.K. Coalition's current plans. Despite all the rhetoric of savage cuts, nominal spending is actually rising in the U.K. Yes, there are some departments that are seeing their spending totals fall. But the Coalition will continue to run a substantial deficit for the rest of this Parliament. Net public-sector debt is forecast to increase to 78% of GDP in 2015-16 from 61% in 2010-11.

What can U.K. Treasury ministers learn from the Canadian experience? While global economic conditions were clearly far more favorable 15 years ago, there are three important lessons to be drawn.

First, it is better to cut individual programs than to trim departmental spending totals. It can be tempting for the government to grab at any opportunity for short-term relief, such as by deferring payments or shaving a bit off next year's budgets. But it is far better and longer-lasting to cut whole programs.
I wrote about this last month in the Ottawa Citizen. I noted:

According to the 1995 Finance Department Budget Briefing, most departments outside justice and health were cut by more than 10 per cent: veterans' affairs was cut by 11 per cent, environment 32 per cent, human resource development 35 per cent, agriculture 40 per cent, natural resources 49 per cent, regional agencies 49 per cent, and transport 51 per cent.

Chrétien resisted the cries from the opposition Reform Party for a 10-per-cent across-the-board cut in spending and instead eliminated superfluous programs and made others more efficient. Transport Canada got out of the business of operating or subsidizing transportation systems and focused on regulating the industry. Business subsidies were replaced by loans. Unemployment Insurance was renamed and eligibility rules were changed.
The slogan for governments that must practice austerity (read: all of them) should be "gut, don't cut."

The 0.00017%
Or, Occupy Congress

Last month, Investor's Business Daily editorialized about the 0.00017% who have unreal economic power compared to the rest of the country:

In 2010, a tiny cabal of 535 individuals — just 0.00017% of the population — spent $3.5 trillion, or about 23% of the $14.5 trillion U.S. economy. That leaves 77% for the other 99.99983% of us.

The group is the U.S. Congress — whose members have enormous powers to tax and spend. And they've used them to grab economic power well beyond anything found in the private sector.

If we look at the richest 535 private citizens, measured by the Forbes 400 list combined with estimates for the nation's next 135 wealthiest people, we estimate these rich people probably have about $166 billion in spendable income each year.
And as IBD suggests, Congress has power that no businessman could possibly attain:

Rich people can't force anybody to stop buying 100-watt incandescent light bulbs but Congress sure can.
(HT: Arnold Kling)

Romney scores some points with me

As readers of this blog know, I've been criticizing the notion of income inequality as a legitimate political issue for a very long time, noting that it turns the Deadly Sin of envy into a sainted political motivation that fuels the class warfare of the Left. These envy peddlers are doing a disservice to their country and the poor by de-legitimizing striving to make a better lot for oneself. Nice to see Mitt Romney call a spade a spade. The Washington Post reports he has attacked Barack Obama on this issue in an interview with NBC:

QUESTIONER: Are there no fair questions about the distribution of wealth without it being seen as envy, though?

ROMNEY: I think it’s fine to talk about those things in quiet rooms and discussions about tax policy and the like. But the president has made it part of his campaign rally. Everywhere he goes we hear him talking about millionaires and billionaires and executives and Wall Street. It’s a very envy-oriented, attack-oriented approach and I think it will fail.
Say what you might about Mitt Romney -- and I'll have to plenty to say before the November elections -- but he definitely did not pander in his answer this morning.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012
After-New Hampshire thoughts

I like but don't like this summary by Grover Norquist, which was part of the NRO symposium on the primary results last night:

Mitt Romney now has three decisions to make: One, who is his vice-presidential candidate? Two, who will be his chief of staff? Three, how will he convince Ron Paul to speak from the main stage at the GOP national convention?
Three thoughts about Norquist's comments.

1. Vice president: South Carolina and Florida might decide the vice presidential nomination, but unless something drastic happens in the next ten days, Mitt Romney will win both those states and the primaries will be over before February. Romney gets to decide who his running mate will be and only two of his rivals will be considered. Rick Santorum and perhaps Rick Perry might convince the former Bay State governor to pick Rick if one of them finishes a strong second twice and is deemed necessary to bring over socially conservative voters. If that doesn't happen, Romney will probably find someone who complements him rather than addresses a perceived weakness.

2. Chief of Staff: Premature. While the GOP chances of winning the White House are probably better than 50-50, they are not now much better than a coin flip. My analysis is simple: Gallup has found that while most people are worse off than they were in 2008, most people are happier. The post-financial crisis economy has forced voters to recalibrate their political and economic expectations, which has benefited President Barack Obama. Also, Obama hasn't really begun to campaign against the GOP. The race is not only far from over, it hasn't really began.

3. Ron Paul: I can't imagine the gutless, lying Republicans giving Ron Paul a prime time speaking spot. And while I'm a Ron Paul supporter, giving Paul a platform will almost certainly result in a quarter-million fewer votes for the GOP in November. Voters want government to cut spending, but they don't want to hear about cutting programs. Economic truth is extreme and Paul will be off message. That said, the challenge for Republicans is to bring Paul's libertarian independents into the GOP tent. They are no where near accomplishing that goal because there is no sign that they understand they need to do this.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

There is no more pernicious issue than inequality. Those who peddle income gap as a significant social or political fact are doing great evil in our society. Cato's Michael Tanner has a column at NRO in which he tackles not only the facts about whether there is economic inequality -- and how much of it there is -- but whether it should even be an issue (with some F.A. Hayek and Gary Becker quotes to suggest inequality isn't that bad of a thing after all). Tanner says:

Why do we care about inequality at all?

Poverty, of course, is a bad thing. But is inequality? After all, if we doubled everyone’s income tomorrow, we would eliminate an enormous amount of economic hardship. Yet, inequality would actually increase. As Margaret Thatcher said about those who obsess over inequality, “So long as the [income] gap is smaller, they would rather have the poor poorer.”

In what way does someone else’s success harm me? Such a viewpoint stems from the misguided notion that the economy is a pie of fixed size.
The entire column is worth reading and Tanner is 99% correct, but he's mistaken in finding the bad economics (economy as a fixed-size pie) as the root of the issue; the problem is philosophical and moral. The inequality worriers elevate a Deadly Sin, envy, to a political virtue. They think keeping up with the Joneses should be a mandated result rather than an aspirational goal because to them Person A is worse off because of hurt feelings if Person B is materially much more comfortable. Indeed, Person A might be, but there is absolutely no reason to validate their envy.

Here's Margaret Thatcher on income inequality, referenced by Tanner in his column:

Thoughts on the New Hampshire primary

I find it odd that tonight's top three finishers are likely to be Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, and Jon Huntsman. In other words, the winner is the candidate with whom few Republicans are happy and two people with no discernible path to the nomination because one (Paul) is unfairly considered a kook while the other (Huntsman) is unfairly considered too moderate.

Recent polls in New Hampshire indicate that although the GOP primary results tonight are not likely to change what we currently know about the race for the GOP presidential nomination, it could very well be decisive. How voters in South Carolina and Florida react to today's results will likely determine how long this race continues. If Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich -- or Jon Huntsman, although he's a longshot -- doesn't get a bump out of NH, Romney could force his opponents (other than Ron Paul) out of the race by the end of the month. Gingrich or Santorum should have been saying that anything less than 40% is a colossal loss for the Romney campaign, setting expectations unrealistically high and creating the impression that a possible 15-20-point victory is a disappointment.

New Hampshire fact of the day

From Gerry Nicholls and his post on winning in the Granite State:

[T]he New Hampshire state legislature boasts 424 members making it the fourth-largest English-speaking legislative body in the world, behind only India’s Parliament, the United Kingdom’s Parliament and the US Congress.

Not bad for a state with a population of only 1.3 million.

Monday, January 09, 2012
Quote of the day

"Network TV blows b/c, in the face of channels like HBO & Showtime, it has to convince you shows like 2½ Men and House are subversive & edgy."
-- Brian S. Wise, on Twitter

This is why no one is going to reduce the size of government

The CBC's Neil Macdonald has a typically (for Macdonald and the MSM) grumpy column about American democracy, specifically that they have too much of it. One of his complaints is that it turns the public into beastly and unappreciative voters hellbent on punishing elected representatives and is thus unfair to politicians. It is a silly column, but this episode (assuming it really happened) is instructive, and hints at why no administration, Republican or Democrat, will rein in spending:

The best examples of such bullheadedness are the people who attend rallies demanding an immediate and drastic reduction in government and taxation, with the added warning to "keep your government hands off my Medicare."

"For your information, sir," one elderly woman told me at a rally once in Richmond, Va., "Social Security is not a government program."

I smiled back politely, as reporters are supposed to do, wondering how any serious person in a position of leadership is supposed to deal with that sort of aggressive stupidity.

Saturday, January 07, 2012
Perhaps government could redistribute preferences

Greg Mankiw notes:

In other words, one reason that people differ in their incomes is that some people care more about having a high income than others. To put it in geekspeak, preferences over pecuniary goods (say, consumption) and nonpecuniary goods (say, leisure) are heterogeneous. Bryan [Caplan] goes on to suggest that to the extent this is true, it weakens the case for income redistribution.

Quote of the day

Don Boudreaux:

Middle-class Americans today would suffer a great deal of noticeable material hardship were they forced to live as America’s richest man of a century ago lived.

Frum Forum closes, Frum heads to Newsweek

Does anyone read the Frum Forum anymore? Does anyone read Newsweek?

Kathy Shaidle collects her Frum-related blog posts. She also notes David Frum takes credit for some imaginary achievements: Sarah Palin not being a GOP presidential candidate, Glenn Beck not being on cable TV anymore. Get real.

David Frum in inevitably identified as a conservative commentator, but as I've asked of two conservatives this week: In what sense is Frum a conservative today? I know what he opposes in the Democrat agenda, I know what he opposes in the Republican agenda, but I'm not sure what conservative ideas, principles and policies he supports. I'd like to know what he believes today that qualifies as legitimately conservative (or libertarian).

Four and down (wild card weekend predictions)

4. Cincinnati Bengals (9-7) at Houston Texans (10-6): Some interesting facts. This is the first time two rookie QBs will face start a game in the playoffs. The Texans are making the playoffs for the first time as an organization and the previous Houston Team (the Oilers) last won in 1991; the Bengals last won in the post-season in 1990. And what kind of contest should it be? Probably close. Bengals defense is good, Texans defense is great. Cincy quarterback Andy Dalton combines bombs to rookie receiver A.J. Green and handing the ball off to the backs to score just enough to beat bad teams, but not enough to beat good ones. The absence of defensive coordinator Wade Phillips may have cost the Texans their final three games. He returns from surgery but will be in the control booth not the sidelines; don't know if that makes a difference. Last time Houston and Cincinnati met on December 11, the Texans chugged out a 20-19 victory. I expect the first team to break 15 points wins a low-scoring affair. An injured T.J. Yates gets the ball to a healthy Andre Johnson just enough for the Houston victory.

3. Detroit Lions (10-6) at New Orleans Saints (13-3): Only four quarterbacks in NFL history have thrown for 5000 yards and two of them meet tonight: Drew Brees and Matthew Stafford. Expect a shoot-out and lots of passing yards. Also, expect the Saints to win. They were a perfect 8-0 at home this year. Brees has more offensive weapons, the Saints supplement the aerial game with a quad of rushers that combined for more than 2000 yards, and the Lions gift opponents by taking lets of penalties. Saints win.

2. Atlanta Falcons (10-6) at New York Giants (9-7): Lots of reasons to go with the Falcons. They have a diverse offense with four extremely good skill players (WRs Roddy White and Julio Jones, TE Tony Gonzalez and RB Michael Turner) and a good quarterback in Matt Ryan who got better as the season went on. The defense is good if unspectacular, although more skill and depth at linebacker could make it a great D. The Giants are just 4-4 at home and were outscored on the season, but still won the NFC East. There are reasons, too, to like the G-Men. They have Pro Bowl defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, who was one of the most disruptive defenders in the second half of the season. Eli Manning had a great season and is clearly the superior quarterback in this contest. Victor Cruz was the hottest receiver in football in December and is explosive after short passes and can't easily be covered because corners need to defend Mario Manningham and Hakeem Nicks. On paper the Falcons are better, but the Giants are playing better lately and have home field advantage. I'm not sure that the strong Falcons aerial attack can be depended on outdoors in New Jersey in January. But if Atlanta does pass the ball up and down the field, New York has demonstrated it is capable of keeping up in a high-scoring contest. Giants have a very slight edge and they'll earn the right to visit Green Bay in the divisional playoffs next weekend.

1. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) at Denver Broncos (8-8): This is the annual game that makes the case for seeding in the playoffs and not giving home-field advantage to division winners. Pittsburgh won 50% more games, is third in the conference in victories, and Denver was outscored by opponents by 81 points. The Steelers are 10-point favourites, but so were the New Orleans Saints when they travelled to Seattle last year and we all remember what happened then. Still, I like the Steelers in a low-scoring affair. Pittsburgh's top-ranked scoring defense should be good enough to keep the Broncos from scoring much but a handful of long field goals. Opponents have learned how to neutralize Tim Tebow: keep him in the pocket and force him to throw. Because Tebow can't, the Steeler D might not miss safety Ryan Clark as much as it would seem; his sickle cell anemia leads to complications when he exerts himself at high altitude, so it's better that he not play in a stadium once known as Mile High Stadium. Pittsburgh won't be putting many points on the board themselves with a gimpy Ben Roethlisberger and a running game missing its top RB, Rashard Mendenhall, facing a defense that can play extremely tough. As a Steelers fan, I have two concerns: due to injuries, Pittsburgh doesn't have much depth on the O-line, defensive corps, and running back position, and Denver is an extremely good blocking team. These concerns turn a mismatch into a close game in which the better team should still win. Expect the Steelers to eke out a victory in a game that would be lucky to see 30 points put on the scoreboard.

Friday, January 06, 2012
'Why the Arabic World Turned Away from Science'

I'm pretty sure I've linked to this New Atlantic article by Hillel Ofek before, but in case you missed it, here it is again. The long essay looks at the growth of Arab and Islamic science and it's decline. Key portion on the decline:

As the Middle Ages progressed, Arabic civilization began to run out of steam. After the twelfth century, Europe had more significant scientific scholars than the Arabic world, as Harvard historian George Sarton noted in his Introduction to the History of Science (1927-48). After the fourteenth century, the Arab world saw very few innovations in fields that it had previously dominated, such as optics and medicine; henceforth, its innovations were for the most part not in the realm of metaphysics or science, but were more narrowly practical inventions like vaccines. “The Renaissance, the Reformation, even the scientific revolution and the Enlightenment, passed unnoticed in the Muslim world,” Bernard Lewis remarks in Islam and the West (1993).

There was a modest rebirth of science in the Arabic world in the nineteenth century due largely to Napoleon’s 1798 expedition to Egypt, but it was soon followed by decline. Lewis notes in What Went Wrong? that “The relationship between Christendom and Islam in the sciences was now reversed. Those who had been disciples now became teachers; those who had been masters became pupils, often reluctant and resentful pupils.” The civilization that had produced cities, libraries, and observatories and opened itself to the world had now regressed and become closed, resentful, violent, and hostile to discourse and innovation.

What happened? To repeat an important point, scientific decline is hardly peculiar to Arabic-Islamic civilization. Such decline is the norm of history; only in the West did something very different happen. Still, it may be possible to discern some specific causes of decline — and attempting to do so can deepen our understanding of Arabic-Islamic civilization and its tensions with modernity. As Sayyid Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, an influential figure in contemporary pan-Islamism, said in the late nineteenth century, “It is permissible ... to ask oneself why Arab civilization, after having thrown such a live light on the world, suddenly became extinguished; why this torch has not been relit since; and why the Arab world still remains buried in profound darkness.”

Just as there is no simple explanation for the success of Arabic science, there is no simple explanation for its gradual — not sudden, as al-Afghani claims — demise. The most significant factor was physical and geopolitical. As early as the tenth or eleventh century, the Abbasid empire began to factionalize and fragment due to increased provincial autonomy and frequent uprisings. By 1258, the little that was left of the Abbasid state was swept away by the Mongol invasion. And in Spain, Christians reconquered Córdoba in 1236 and Seville in 1248. But the Islamic turn away from scholarship actually preceded the civilization’s geopolitical decline — it can be traced back to the rise of the anti-philosophical Ash’arism school among Sunni Muslims, who comprise the vast majority of the Muslim world.

To understand this anti-rationalist movement, we once again turn our gaze back to the time of the Abbasid caliph al-Mamun. Al-Mamun picked up the pro-science torch lit by the second caliph, al-Mansur, and ran with it. He responded to a crisis of legitimacy by attempting to undermine traditionalist religious scholars while actively sponsoring a doctrine called Mu’tazilism that was deeply influenced by Greek rationalism, particularly Aristotelianism. To this end, he imposed an inquisition, under which those who refused to profess their allegiance to Mu’tazilism were punished by flogging, imprisonment, or beheading. But the caliphs who followed al-Mamun upheld the doctrine with less fervor, and within a few decades, adherence to it became a punishable offense. The backlash against Mu’tazilism was tremendously successful: by 885, a half century after al-Mamun’s death, it even became a crime to copy books of philosophy. The beginning of the de-Hellenization of Arabic high culture was underway. By the twelfth or thirteenth century, the influence of Mu’tazilism was nearly completely marginalized.

In its place arose the anti-rationalist Ash’ari school whose increasing dominance is linked to the decline of Arabic science. With the rise of the Ash’arites, the ethos in the Islamic world was increasingly opposed to original scholarship and any scientific inquiry that did not directly aid in religious regulation of private and public life. While the Mu’tazilites had contended that the Koran was created and so God’s purpose for man must be interpreted through reason, the Ash’arites believed the Koran to be coeval with God — and therefore unchallengeable. At the heart of Ash’ari metaphysics is the idea of occasionalism, a doctrine that denies natural causality. Put simply, it suggests natural necessity cannot exist because God’s will is completely free. Ash’arites believed that God is the only cause, so that the world is a series of discrete physical events each willed by God.

Thursday, January 05, 2012
Week 17 Power Rankings

(Last week's power ranking, season record, and this week's result in parenthesis)

1. New Orleans Saints (2, 13-3, W, Carolina Panthers 45-17): Undefeated in November and December.

2. Green Bay Packers (1, 15-1, W, Detroit Lions 45-41): Packers finish with 560 points on the season, second most in NFL history (behind the 589 the New England Patriots scored in 2007).

3. New England Patriots (3, 13-3, W, Buffalo Bills 49-21): Down 21-0 against Buffalo at home, the Pats responded with 49 unanswered points. Never say die with Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.

4. San Francisco 49ers (4, 13-3, W, St. Louis Rams 34-27): Their 14.3 ppg allowed is more than a full touchdown less than they allowed the previous season.

5. Baltimore Ravens (6, 12-4, W, Cincinnati Bengals 24-16): Ray Rice led the league in combined passing and rushing yardage: 2068. He is the potent weapon on a team that stops scoring and scores consistently enough to come on top.

6. Pittsburgh Steelers (5, 12-4, W, Cleveland Browns 13-9): For the second season in a row, the Steelers lead the league in fewest points allowed: 16.1 ppg in 2010 and 14.2 ppg in 2011.

7. Atlanta Falcons (8, 10-6, W, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 45-24): Finished the season 8-3 after a slow start. Their 0.8 fumbles per game is the second lowest in the NFL.

8. Detroit Lions (7, 10-6, L, Green Bay Packers 45-41): Detroit makes the playoffs for the first time since 1999. Lost a shoot-out against Green Bay in the final week of the season which could set up a similar result for their first playoff game against New Orleans. QB Matthew Stafford threw for 520 yards (with five TDs) against the the Packers to bring his season total to 5038 yards, becoming the fourth quarterback to reach the 5k mark in passing.

9. New York Giants (9, 9-7, W, Dallas Cowboys 31-14): The Giants won the NFC East despite surrendering more points (400) than they scored (394).

10. Philadelphia Eagles (11, 8-8, W, Washington Redskins 34-10): Finished strong -- four straight wins while allowing 11.5 ppg -- to reach 500 on a disappointing season.

11. San Diego Chargers (14, 8-8, W, Oakland Raiders 38-26): Won four of their final five games, scoring at least 34 points in those victories.

12. Houston Texans (12, 9-7, L, Tennessee Titans 23-22): Changes to the defense, especially the addition of defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, made the Texans AFC South champs. Their second ranked yards allowed per game (285.7) is almost 90 yards better than 2010 and their fourth-ranked scoring defense (17.4 ppg) is 9.3 points per game better than last season.

13. Cincinnati Bengals (13, 9-7, L, Baltimore Ravens 24-16): Cincy was 9-0 against teams that didn't make the playoffs and 0-7 against teams that did.

14. Dallas Cowboys (10, 8-8, L, New York Giants 31-14): Getting rid of defensive genius Wade Phillips as coach helped the Boys D. They allowed 21.7 ppg in 2011, five better than 2010. Wasn't good enough, though.

15. Arizona Cardinals (19, 8-8, W, Seattle Seahawks 23-20 (OT)): After starting 1-6, they finished 7-2.

16. New York Jets (15, 8-8, L, Miami Dolphins 19-17): Jets allowed 126 points off turnovers this year, most in NFL.

17. Seattle Seahawks (18, 7-9, L, Arizona Cardinals 23-20 (OT)): The 'Hawks were the seventh best team in preventing opponents from scoring (19.7 ppg). They ended the season 3-2, with three wins before losing a pair of games by two and three points respectively.

18. Tennessee Titans (21, 9-7, W, Houston Texans 23-22): Allowed just under 20 points per game and scored just over 20, and despite the fact they missed the playoffs with a record identical to the Bengals who will play at least one more game, the Titans never quite seemed like a 500 team, let alone a team that had a wild card chance on the final day of the season.

19. Denver Broncos (17, 8-8, L, Kansas City Chiefs 7-3): Backed into the playoffs despite losing three straight games. Opponents figured out how to stop Tim Tebow: don't let him out of the pocket and force him to try to make a pass. In the final 180 minutes of the Denver season, we found out he can't do that.

20. Oakland Raiders (16, 8-8, L, San Diego Chargers 38-26): The Raiders broke the all-time record for penalties and penalty yards and now the organization has six of the top eight marks for most penalties in a season, which seems fitting. Oakland isn't in the playoffs because they lost to Miami and Tim Tebow's Broncos came back to defeat the Fins; record against common foes is the third tie-breaker. So close yet so far.

21. Miami Dolphins (23, 6-10, W, New York Jets 19-17): Their sixth-ranked defense (19.6 ppg allowed) helped turn around a team that began 0-7 to finish 6-3.

22. Carolina Panthers (20, 6-10, L, New Orleans Saints 45-17): Cam Newton's Panthers scored more than twice as many points per game (25.4) than they did in 2010 (12.2). Despite the losing record, Carolina is on the right track.

23. Chicago Bears (22, 8-8, W, Minnesota Vikings 17-13): They were 1-5 and didn't score more than 21 points after Jay Cutler got hurt in November with Da Bears in a wild card position.

24. Kansas City Chiefs (24, 7-9, W, Denver Broncos 7-3): Their 21.1 ppg allowed was good enough for twelfth, but their non-existent offense (13.2 ppg, second worst in the NFL), led to the fourth worst scoring differential per game (-7.9). It is remarkable that they had seven wins and were just a game behind the division winners.

25. Jacksonville Jaguars (27, 5-11, W, Indianapolis Colts 19-13): Like the Colts, Jax scored just 243 points this season. The difference between 2-14 and 5-11 is that Jacksonville gave up 101 fewer points (430 compared to 329), although the D got worse as the season progressed.

26. Buffalo Bills (25, 6-10, L, New England Patriots 49-21): The Bills got off to a 21-point lead against the Pats and ended up losing by four touchdowns. That's the kind of thing that happens to the third-worst scoring defense (27.1 ppg).

27. Washington Redskins (26, 5-11, L, Philadelphia Eagles 34-10): This vignette from the game summarizes the Skins: Washington was penalized for a delay of game against Philly on Sunday when their long snapper was late getting on the field for a three-point field goal attempt. Nick Sundberg has one job: snap the ball for a field goal attempt and he was late to the line to do the one thing he might be called upon to do just a couple times a game.

28. Minnesota Vikings (28, 3-13, L, Chicago Bears 17-13): They are bad in a non-descript way which makes improvement difficult, but allowing 28.1 ppg and losing by nearly a full touchdown per game indicates a fairly bad team and terrible defense.

29. Cleveland Browns (29, 4-12, L, Pittsburgh Steelers 13-9): The Browns lost their final six games and nine of their last ten. Why? They can't score. Over the final five games, the Browns averaged 10.6 ppg. The Browns scored more than 20 points only once all year, all the way back in Week 2.

30. Indianapolis Colts (30, 2-14, L, Jacksonville Jaguars 19-13): Won two in row before the season finale loss clinched Andrew Luck.

31. St. Louis Rams (32, 2-14, L, San Francisco 49ers 34-27): They allowed 25.4 ppg, about five points worse than last year, but their league worst scoring cemented their 14-loss season.

32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (31, 4-12, L, Atlanta Falcons 45-24): In 2010, the Bucs beat opponents by an average of +1.4 ppg, but this season their -12.9 scoring margin was the second worst in football. That's a whole lot of regression.

The hypocrisy of protectionism

Don Boudreaux's open letter to a pair of Republicans from Alabama, Senator Jeff Sessions and Rep. Robert Aderholt on their support for tariffs on Bangladeshi sleeping bags:

Dear Sen. Sessions and Rep. Aderholt:

Due chiefly to your efforts, Congress will raise Americans’ cost of buying sleeping bags made in Bangladesh. The rationale for this tariff is explained by Rep. Aderholt: it “affects jobs right here in North Alabama and allows for companies like Exxel to return good paying jobs back to the United States.”

If promoting jobs in American plants that produce sleeping bags justifies a policy of restricting Americans’ freedom to take advantage of alternatives to purchasing American-made sleeping bags, your policy doesn’t go far enough. Why not also slap a tariff on sleeping bags borrowed from friends? Why not also prohibit the use of sleeping bags that are more than three-months old? (You can sell this prohibition not only as a jobs-creator, but also as a means of protecting Americans’ – especially American children’s - health and safety. Only Wingnuts would object to that goal!) Indeed, why not also tax Americans for every night they sleep indoors?

Imposing punitive tariffs on borrowed sleeping bags and on indoor sleeping, along with banning the use of months-old bags, unquestionably – according to your economics – “affects jobs … in North Alabama and allows for companies like Exxel to return good paying jobs back to the United States.”

So why only a tariff on foreign-made sleeping bags?

Wednesday, January 04, 2012
Two points about the Republican primaries

Lots I could say, but I won't. Lots I could link to, but I have better things to do. There are two points I want to highlight.

From Jonah Goldberg:

The simple fact is that none of these candidates are ideal and nearly everyone not writing-in Calvin Coolidge is compromising. The problem is people don’t want to admit they’re compromising. And so they create ideological theories and narratives about tainted motives to explain why the other guys are compromising and why their own candidate is purer than pure.

They are all compromise candidates. All of them. They always are, of course. But this time around they’re a bigger compromise than usual.
Let's be clear (as Stephen Harper likes to say): conservative candidates compromise, but as Goldberg points out, so do conservative voters. A certain amount of compromise is necessary in politics (which is why I dislike politics except when observed from a safe distance), but the compromise being made by most candidates and voters in 2012 is unnecessarily excessive; I'd even say this compromise rises to the level of lying. Hence my frustration with both the Republican Party and conservative movement and my support of the only politician who is telling any truth, Ron Paul.

And then there's Ann Coulter on the absurdity of the Iowa caucus:

The reason the Iowa caucuses rarely produce the party's eventual nominee is not because Iowans are wacky white Christians, as some in the media have claimed, but because caucuses are ridiculous ways to choose a presidential candidate. It is a process that empowers the pushy and loud, much like a Manhattan co-op board meeting...
And a bonus Coulter quote, which is hardly original but is worth repeating:

Conservatives are naturally suspicious of any candidate deemed "electable" on the grounds that the mainstream media always anoint the most liberal Republican, preferably pro-choice, as the "electable" one. And then that guy goes on to lose.

Kathy Shaidle and Brian Lilley talk Canadian conservatism

You can watch the ten-minute segment from Sun News at Five Feet of Fury. The first half is Brian Lilley talking about conservatism (including Russell Kirk's Ten Conservative Principles) and the second half is Lilley and Kathy Shaidle discussing the state of Canadian conservatism. Best line from Kathy: "Social liberalism costs money." She also has a great line about professional Conservative types (at 4:30).

Yet I sort of agree with their take on libertarians and drugs even though I'm generally a decriminalization guy myself (Shaidle: "Marijuana is the abortion of libertarians'). Libertarians are weirdly obsessed with drugs. And she isn't wrong about many socons ("culturally retarded") which is why The Interim publishes Rick McGinnis: an attempt to broaden the horizons of perhaps a few readers.

Lastly, Shaidle has some notes of things that didn't make the segment, including this:

My standard of Canadian conservatism is the Juno Beach Standard: what did the men on Juno Beach die for?

Now some would say these were teenaged boys who didn’t have some kind of fully developed philosophy and that’s fair enough.

But let’s define it from the negative: I feel deeply secure in declaring the men on Juno Beach did NOT die for gay marriage or sex ed in kindergarten or a massive welfare state or an immigration policy specifically designed to literally change the face of Canada and “create a new people” who would all vote for the Liberals (and now the Conservatives).

Tuesday, January 03, 2012
I hate it when I agree with Matt Taibbi

Lefty Rolling Stone (but I repeat myself) politics writer Matt Taibbi on the Iowa caucus:

The Iowa caucus, let’s face it, marks the beginning of a long, rigidly-controlled, carefully choreographed process that is really designed to do two things: weed out dangerous minority opinions, and award power to the candidate who least offends the public while he goes about his primary job of energetically representing establishment interests.

What it costs to run in Iowa

NBC reports:

[T]he campaigns and various Super PACs spent more than $16 million in advertising in Iowa. The breakdown for the major players: Perry $4.3 million, Paul $2.8 million, Restore Our Future (pro-Romney) $2.8 million, Make Us Great Again (pro-Perry) $1.6 million, Romney $1.5 million, Gingrich $980,000, Red White and Blue Fund (pro-Santorum) $530,000, Winning Our Future (pro-Gingrich) $264,000, Bachmann $180,000, and Santorum $30,000.
I'm not sure if I trust these numbers. The Michelle Bachmann dollar amount (under $200K) seems terribly low considering how much effort she put in winning the state. Obviously, if Gingrich and/or Santorum do well, they were very efficient in buying votes and Rick Perry seems destined to be extremely inefficient. Romney and his allies have spent a lot for a state they originally didn't seem to be seriously contending until recently.

Really, $16 million is not all that much. It would seem that the real winners in Iowa are political consultants, polling firms, and television and radio stations on which candidates buy advertising.

The Iowa caucus

The stakes

I care less and less about American politics, perhaps because I care less all the time about the stakes of the Democrat-Goldman Sachs vs. Republican-Goldman Sachs bullshit battle for the White House and Congress. Democrats are thieves (rob the rich to buy the votes of the poor) and Republicans are liars (they never do anything to reduce to the size of government). If you want government made smaller and smarter, you need a Bill Clinton not a Ronald Reagan. I don't see any substantive change in America regardless of who wins the Republican nomination or the presidency because it will be the same old establishment running finance (Goldman Sachs) and either a Democrat pushing the envelope on social issues or a Republican buying four years until social changes are made/sitting around watching the courts foist social change upon the country. Newt Gingrich has co-operated with the growth of Big Government during his long lifetime in Washington. Mitt Romney screams Establishment and giving America a piece of mildish Massachusetts Republicanism is not my idea of the kind of change the country needs. Rick Santorum is a nice guy with whom I agree on many issues, but I don't see him shaking things up. We don't need better managers, we need reformers. America is pretty screwed up; they are perhaps 20 years behind Europe, but they are becoming Europe. Conservatives who believe in American Exceptionalism are either liars or deluding themselves.

Of course, there is one person who will change things: Ron Paul. I'd be willing to a little trade international insecurity that his isolationism would invite in exchange for the necessary cuts to federal spending. There is no guarantee that a Republican Congress would cut as deeply as a President Paul would want -- or that America needs. It's a horrible slogan, but I say take a chance on Paul. All the others are only marginally better than the Obamacrats, but not better enough to put the United States on the right track. Being 25 years behind Europe instead of 20 should not be the result of a Republican victory in November.

If nothing else, I hope Paul wins today just to watch the media and Republican Establishment freak out. The Republicans should put considerations of winnability aside and choose a standard-bearer for change. That person is Paul. History is full of losers whom the Establishment thought could win; Canada is now governed by a man the pundits said would never be prime minister. Campaigns change the political equation and Paul could win in November and there is no guarantee that Romney, Gingrich or some other Republican will beat Obama. But picking Romney or Gingrich or some other Republican does guarantee that beating Obama won't matter all that much. If the Republicans want to be the party of smaller government, they need Ron Paul. My guess is that Republicans -- the party and its supporters -- don't mean what they say about smaller government and the proof will be in this year's primaries.

The politics

Don't read too much into the caucus results in terms of the political fallout. As Jeffrey Anderson notes at the Weekly Standard, 70% will vote against the winner (that's not quite true because a vote for X is not necessarily a vote for Y, but you get what he's saying) and perhaps only a quarter of the caucus voters will be backing the winner. Of course, the folks at TWS have an interest in downplaying a possible Ron Paul victory, but Anderson's point is still true: Iowa usually portends very little and perhaps this year more so than usual. Anderson says: "five candidates could well receive double-digit support. That’s something that has never before happened in the Iowa caucuses — for either party," and that after today, "the GOP race will barely have gotten underway. No one will emerge from Iowa with anything approaching the clear support of the Republican electorate." My guess is that the picture will be a little clearer: Romney, a non-Romney (either Santorum or Gingrich) and Paul will have enough to keep going as serious candidates, although I expect Santorum and Gingrich to keep fighting into February. Santorum probably needs 20% of the vote and a second-place or near-second to force people to give a real look beyond today's caucus. If he finishes fourth and in the teens, I don't see him getting much of a bounce. With a poor showing, I expect Gingrich to bleed support in other states in which he currently leads (Florida and South Carolina). Gingrich could do well and still be hurt because of the perception that he's losing support from the polling highs of early December. Paul is not running a conventional campaign but rather a campaign for ideas, so he will keep running even if he cannot win as long as he has the money and attention to promote his message. Romney needs to win either Iowa or (as he almost certainly will) New Hampshire to remain the front-runner. He has winnable states (Michigan, Nevada) and the money to continue, but once he loses top-tier status, he could be a casualty. Nevertheless, we won't know that tonight. Michelle Bachmann will probably drop out after today unless something surprising happens and she leap-frogs into the top four. That is unlikely to happen and having put all her eggs into this basket, she has nothing more to run on. Rick Perry might survive until the end of the month with a double digit showing in Iowa in hopes that other candidates' support falls and he gets a second chance to become the non-Romney. The only reason I don't see him folding his tent tonight or tomorrow is that he has legal challenges in other primary states to get on the ballot and will probably want to fight for South Carolina. Jon Huntsman will probably fold his tent after New Hampshire or Nevada.

So beware the media's big pronouncements about the significance of Iowa. We'll lose a candidate, the calculus changes a little bit, but only for a week, when New Hampshire will change everything until later this month. Remember, it is the voters who decide the Republican nomination, not the talking heads on TV and newspaper columnists.