Sobering Thoughts

Comments on politics, the culture, economics and religion by Paul Tuns -- in short, everything about the human endeavour from a non-hyphenated conservative perspective. I am Toronto-based writer and editor, whose articles, columns and reviews have appeared in more than 35 publications. I am editor-in-chief of The Interim, Canada's life and family newspaper, author of Jean Chretien: A Legacy of Scandal and a regular contributor to the book pages of the Halifax Herald.

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Monday, November 24, 2014
 
Government by a thousand cuts
Reason TV: "America's 3 Most Fee-Ridden Cities" in which Walter Olson makes the provocative observation that "Government is not just a revenue source. It should be an engine of justice." That's because cities and counties will find a way get their money frm citizens. In some jurisdictions, 40 percent of municipal revenue is collected in fines and fees.


 
Steyn on Obama's New Democratic Voter Strategy immigration policy
Mark Steyn:
All western immigration systems are problematic, thanks mainly to chain migration. But, unlike Australia's or Canada's, America's now explicitly exists to favor the unskilled and ill-educated over high-value economic contributors. Or as Daniel Greenfield puts it:
Immigration requires opportunity. We still have it, but less of it than we used to. Our immigration system is not based on opportunity. It's based on a migratory flow of Democratic Party voters.
Which will have catastrophic, transformative consequences. Last Thursday Obama didn't just proclaim himself king, he proclaimed the rest of you guys peasants. That's why it was necessary to do it a few days after the election - just to rub it in.


 
Journalism!
Five Feet of Fury points to a stunningly magnificent New York Times correction.
My reaction: it sometimes seems that it is the only job of editors at major papers today to write the corrections for when their reporters file complete bullshit and its runs. It should be noted that the editors didn't catch the untrue story in the first place.
My second reaction: journalists who get fooled by satirical websites should lose their jobs.


 
'What is a conservative?'
I generally find "What is a conservative?" columns boring, but G. Tracy Mehan III's American Spectator post on what Evelyn Waugh can teach modern American conservatives is a worthwhile read. Waugh could teach modern Canadian conservatives something, too. This is also vital to remember: "A distinction must be made between conservatives and Republicans who are not always the same."


 
Cowen's best non-fiction of 2014
Isn't it too early for "best of the year" articles and posts? I think so.
Tyler Cowen's list of best non-fiction books of 2014 (non-economics) is up. There almost no overlap among his best books of the year and books I've read which is strange considering that he inspires a disproportionate share of my non-Canadian politics/history reading. Jurgen Osterhammel's The Transformation of the World: A Global History of the Nineteenth Century has moved to the top of my list of to-read books although at nearly 1200 pages I doubt I'll find the time anytime soon. This was not a great year for new books, especially in sports writing (which Cowen doesn't cover) or public policy. Cowen does list the notable economics books of the year (on which there is complete overlap) although he did not include Think Like a Freak: The Authors of Freakonomics Offer to Retrain Your Brain by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner.
Most of my reading this year was older Canadian history and political science, and the works of Stephen Leacock. Off the top of my head, I don't think I read more than maybe 15-20 new books.


 
The unread Piketty
Deirdre McCloskey has a long review of Thomas Piketty which, if you aren't tired of Piketty's Capital in the Twentieth Century yet is worth reading. But his is worth highlighting and is relevant even if you don't care about the economics of inequality:
Readers of a certain age will remember Douglas Hofstadter’s massive Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid (1979), which sat admired but unread on many a coffee table in the 1980s, and rather younger readers will remember Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time (1988). The Kindle company from Amazon keeps track of the last page of your highlighting in a downloaded book (you didn’t know that, did you?). Using the fact, the mathematician Jordan Ellenberg reckons that the average reader of the 655 pages of text and footnotes of Capital in the Twenty-First Century stops somewhere a little past page 26, where the highlighting stops, about the end of the Introduction. He proposes that the Kindle-measured percentage of a book apparently read, once called the Hawking Index (most readers of A Brief History stopped annotating it at 6.6 percent of the book), be renamed the Piketty Index (2.4 percent).3 To be fair to Piketty, a buyer of the hardback rather than the Kindle edition is probably a more serious reader, and would go further.


 
'More Redistribution, Less Income'
A Wall Street Journal editorial goes over recent economic numbers and concludes:
The main lesson in these statistics is not about dependence on government. Rather, it is a verdict on Obamanomics. Presidents who put reducing inequality above increasing prosperity end up with less growth and opportunity that benefits everyone, and thus with more inequality.


Sunday, November 23, 2014
 
McGinnis reviews Jason Reitman's Men, Women & Children
Rick McGinnis in The Interim:
To be sure, there are ways that the world of 2014 is different from that of 1994, but if we want to say that it’s worse and blame it on social media, the truth is that there’s simply more access to what has troubled us, and not that we’ve somehow invented new problems and vices.
I couldn’t help thinking about this while watching Men, Women & Children, the latest film from director Jason Reitman (Juno, Up In The Air,) a film explicitly about the “new world” created by social media and – perhaps not coincidentally – the biggest box office bomb of the season. Set in a typical American suburb, it’s the story of a quintet of families whose relationships are either strained or enabled through texting, gaming, Facebook, Tumblr, online porn or dating sites ...
There’s too much about social media to say in a single column, so I’ll be exploring it all a bit more in my next column, but there are two things Men, Women & Children put onscreen that show Hollywood making socially conservative points quite against their will. The first is the most tragic story in the film – that of Chris, emotionally crippled by a surplus of online porn before he’s old enough to vote, a condition apparently so common in Hollywood – a place where the line between porn and mainstream moviemaking has been unguarded for years – that it’s woven without question into a story about the quotidian middle class.


 
Why The View doesn't work
PJ Media's Ed Driscoll on problems at The View and the show's tanking ratings:
The formula for a successful TV talk show isn’t that much different than the formula for a successful TV sitcom or drama, and has been the same since the medium took off in the 1950s. (That’s why they call it a formula.) A network talk show casts an appealing straight-shooting everyman and surrounds him with wacky, offbeat sidekicks for leavening. In the 1960s, the boyish Johnny Carson was flanked by big drinking heavyset Ed McMahon and the psychedelically-attired Doc Severinsen. In the 1980s, long before he became churlish and partisan in his dotage, David Letterman was a fratboy variation on the same theme, another Midwestern everyman, this time with postmodern zaniness swirling around him. Fictional TV has long used the same formula, with Star Trek’s JFK-esque Captain Kirk surrounded by the pointy-eared Spock and Mencken-esque Dr. McCoy. Happy Days had clean-cut WASP Richie Cunningham, surrounded by Fonzie the Italian greaser and Ralph Malph the class cut-up. And M*A*S*H ran for a million years with Alan Alda’s Hawkeye character surrounded by oddball characters such as Radar, Klinger, Frank Burns, etc.
The View was a distaff variation on the same formula, with Barbara Walters the veteran journalist and everywoman surrounded by zany offbeat showbiz types such as the caustic Joy Behar, loony conspiracy theorist Rosie O’Donnell, and the far left Whoopi Goldberg. With Walters now retired, there’s no center of gravity to the show, no one to reign in the lunatics inside the asylum.


 
I'm surprised it's taken this long
The College Fix reports, "Elon University has dropped the term “freshman” from its vocabulary and replaced it with 'first-year,' a move made official this fall and implemented in everything from its website to orientation workshops." You would have thought that rampant political correctness on campus would have addressed this serious injustice two decades ago.


 
Rent-seeking bastards at Unilever
Reason's Baylen Linnekin: "Hellman's Sues to Protect Its Mayo-Monopoly." Why does the Food and Drug Administration define what can be legally called mayonnaise?


 
Will on Rockefeller
George Will says be glad that Barry Goldwater beat Nelson Rockefeller in 1964's GOP presidential primaries, and more importantly, that Goldwater's ideas won in the Republican Party:
Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman — Rockefeller served both in significant offices — urged him to become a Democrat. A longtime aide said, “He wasn’t a liberal. He was a problem solver.” But Rockefeller insisted, “There is no problem that cannot be solved.” So he was a liberal, with a progressive’s reverence for “experts.” He gave the impression, his sympathetic but clear-eyed biographer says, of having “more ideas than convictions.”


Saturday, November 22, 2014
 
'In any area where judgment was required, Cosby chose very poorly'
That is Tyler Cowen's comment on The Bill Cosby Collection that is on display at the National Museum of African Art. Overall this is Cowen's judgement:
The works by lesser-known creators are mostly sentimental junk with lots of gloppy paint and hackneyed historical themes, or perhaps a maudlin portrait of some kind.
My hypothesis is simple: in any collecting area where price is a sufficient statistic for quality, Cosby did well by paying top dollar, or at least by letting himself be “mined” by his buyer agent, who probably had a financial incentive to pay top dollar. In any area where judgment was required, Cosby chose very poorly.


 
Jonah Goldberg on Obama's incredible stupidity
Jonah Goldberg:
[M]y jaw dropped when I heard Obama’s reaction to the beheading of Peter Kassig.
“ISIL’s actions represent no faith,” Obama said, “least of all the Muslim faith which Abdul-Rahman adopted as his own.”
Abdul-Rahman was Kassig’s Muslim name, which he adopted only while being held captive by Islamists. Perhaps the conversion was sincere, though I suspect Kassig did it to stay alive and certainly under duress and I can begrudge him it. Either way, there’s something disgusting about using Kassig’s Muslim name in order to score a propaganda point.
It’s even worse when that propaganda point is so incandescently stupid.
As Mona notes (and as I argued here), no one except Barack Obama thinks it’s a revelation that the Islamic State kills Muslims. No Kurd, no Shia, no moderate Sunni stays in his home when the Islamic State is at the gates, and says “Hey, we’re Muslim and Muslims don’t kill Muslims. We’ve got nothing to worry about.”
But it’s the phrase “least of all the Muslim faith” that is truly infuriating. Least of all? Really? So other faiths are more implicated in this atrocity than Islam? Which ones? Does he really mean to be suggesting that while the Islamic State’s actions “represent no faith,” if we have to assign blame, Islam is the least culpable? Could a team of rhetoricians, theologians and logicians working around the clock in some Andromeda Strain bunker beneath the Nevada desert come up with an argument that puts even a scintilla more blame at the feet of, say, the Lutherans or Quakers? On the one hand we have a bunch of dudes who shout “Allāhu Akbar!”, memorize the Koran, and rape and murder in the name of the Islamic State. On the other hand, we have a grab bag of Buddhists, Jews, Seventh Day Adventists, and Southern Baptists. And the one faith least implicated here is Islam? Really.


 
Time for another green revolution
Norman Borlaug, one of the greatest human beings to ever serve his fellow man, led the first green revolution, in the late 1960s and '70s, when green referred to agriculture and the advances in (especially wheat) farming helped feed the growing global population. As I noted when Borlaug died, he proved Malthus wrong.
The Wall Street Journal talks to the person who is trying to engineer the next great agricultural step forward:
Robert Zeigler is an environmentalist, but he is also a plant scientist. And that has led him to question the motives of an environmental movement that opposes genetically modified crops despite overwhelming evidence that they are safe.
As director general of the International Rice Research Institute, Mr. Zeigler is pushing the development of “golden rice,” a genetically modified variety that began in the lab about two decades ago. Geneticists inserted a gene into the rice plant that allows it to produce beta carotene, which makes its grains yellow.
Because the human body converts beta carotene to vitamin A, golden rice has the potential to dramatically improve the lives of millions of people around the world, particularly in Africa and Southeast Asia, where vitamin A deficiency is an especially common malady that can cause blindness and increases the risk of death from disease. Children are particularly vulnerable ...
It if not particularly baffling that the modern green (environmental) movement is anti-genetically modified food if their real motivations are not really protecting the environment but opposing human flourishing (freedom, free markets, private property) and even human itself.


 
Is this a parody?
The Karl Marx credit card.


 
Thought provoking
In a Deadspin article about ESPN write Keith Law's Twitter exchange about evolution with former baseball pitcher Curt Schilling, someone commented: "I would be very interested to see what a crowd-sourced bible would look like." I would love to see a gifted writer who was not anti-religion write a parody crowd-sourced bible.


Friday, November 21, 2014
 
Advances in teleportation
Alas not teleportation of any larger than photons, but still significant. Popular Mechanics reports:
NASA scientists have traveled a new record distance in a strange frontier: quantum teleportation. They used this weird phenomenon to transmit information 15.5 miles via fiber optic cables and with a dash of quantum entanglement ...
The new record shatters the previous record of just under four miles via optical cable.
This will have massive implications for encryption.
It is a longshot that it could lead to discoveries that might end up advancing teleportation of something larger than elementary particles.


 
Cost of Thanksgiving dinner
Mark J. Perry of the American Enterprise Institute notes that according to the American Farm Bureau Federation the inflation-adjusted "cost of a Thanksgiving dinner is 1.3% cheaper than last year, 21% cheaper than 1986." The amount of time the average person must work to earn the money to pay for the dinner has held steady for some time. The average turkey dinner will cost just under $50, but just over $30 if you shop at Walmart. Perry concludes:
The fact that a family in American can celebrate Thanksgiving with a classic turkey feast for less than $50 and at a “time cost” of only 2.39 hours of work for one person (and only $32.64 or 1.58 hours of work for Walmart shoppers) means that we really have a lot to be thankful for on Thanksgiving: an abundance of cheap, affordable food. Compared to 1986, the inflation-adjusted cost of a turkey dinner today is 21% cheaper, and 26% cheaper measured in the “time cost” for the average worker.


 
Same-sex marriage and segregation are not comparable
Gay libertarian Scott Shackford in Hit & Run on Gary Johnson, former New Mexico governor and 2012 Libertarian Party presidential candidate:
Johnson responds that he doesn't believe there should be workplace discrimination against gays, referencing racial segregation and civil rights laws from the 1960s. Jeff specifically asks if there should be laws preventing employers and businesses from discriminating against gay workers or customers. Johnson says the discrimination should be legally prohibited: "There has to be an awareness, and there has to be consequences to discrimination. And there should not be discrimination. This is America."
Unpacking this as a gay libertarian: The first and most obvious observation is that Johnson, like many people who make this comparison, ignores the fact that segregation wasn't entirely voluntary. Much of it was mandated by government. Segregation was law. This is not to downplay that there were certainly many businesses and powerful forces in the private sector that supported, wanted, encouraged, fought to maintain segregation, and instituted it well beyond what the laws demanded. The laws wouldn't have existed if rich and powerful white people didn't want it in the first place. But it's important to note that segregation laws restricted freedom of association by prohibiting it.
The refusal of states to recognize same-sex marriage is again a government-ordered mandate. It has nothing to do with whether individuals or churches or businesses acknowledge the legitimacy of gay marriage. No business serving wedding needs has been forbidden from providing goods and services for gay couples, regardless of whether the state recognizes the marriage. But making private businesses provide these services by government order restricts the right of freedom of association by demanding it ...
I hate the concept of ranking victimization, but the level of private discrimination against engaged gay couples absolutely pales to the culture created by racial segregation. Being denied a wedding cake by one shop out of several choices is not the same as being shut out of entire neighborhoods and centers of commerce. There are many private solutions to the issue of gay couples being denied services, and businesses who engage in discrimination get significant negative attention and publicity. In fact, the relatively small number of cases of consumer discrimination shows how much has society changed primarily from cultural evolution. Undoubtedly a gay couple looking for a bakery to make them a wedding cake in the 1990s would have faced many more rejections ...
We have to have more than the indignity of being rejected by a baker of photographer in order to justify legally forcing these businesses to give up their freedom of association.
I highlighted this to counter the oft-heard argument that the gay rights movement is like the civil rights movement of the 1960s. It isn't.
Shackford's larger point is that libertarians need to defend many liberties (freedom of speech, conscience, association, private property) and not just same-sex marriage. It is odd that a supposed libertarian standard-bearer like Johnson would abandon these other principles so easily to uphold same-sex marriage. It isn't very libertarian; but it very political.


 
Do you really want these people teaching your kids?
Hit & Run: "Little Boy Suspended for Pointing Finger Like a Laser Gun." First, a finger cannot be confused with a real gun. But even if the 10-year-old had a real laser gun ... oh never mind. Remember this isn't an isolated incident; schools routinely suspend elementary school children for weaponizing items like hands or pop tarts. Also remember that this isn't a lone teacher acting; a teacher usually brings the student to the principal for discipline, thus indicating at least two (so-called) adults thought it was a good idea to suspend the student. As Hit & Run's Robby Soave says, "How paranoid of gun violence do you have to be to consider an imaginary ray gun some kind of threat against other students?"


 
'Free speech is so last century. Today’s students want the "right to be comfortable"'
Brendan O'Neill in the (London) Spectator: "Student unions’ ‘no platform’ policy is expanding to cover pretty much anyone whose views don’t fit prevailing groupthink." Of the Stepford Students he met at Oxford, he writes:
Their eyes glazed with moral certainty, they explained to me at length that culture warps minds and shapes behaviour and that is why it is right for students to strive to keep such wicked, misogynistic stuff as the Sun newspaper and sexist pop music off campus. ‘We have the right to feel comfortable,’ they all said, like a mantra. One — a bloke — said that the compulsory sexual consent classes recently introduced for freshers at Cambridge, to teach what is and what isn’t rape, were a great idea because they might weed out ‘pre-rapists’: men who haven’t raped anyone but might. The others nodded. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Pre-rapists! Had any of them read Philip K. Dick’s dystopian novella about a wicked world that hunts down and punishes pre-criminals, I asked? None had.
Of course, it isn't just the universities. Earlier this week, Mark Steyn wrote about "A World Stripped of Contraries."


 
It's Friday!
Stephen Colbert sings "Friday" with Jimmy Fallon and The Roots. I like this more than I should.


 
Not The Onion
Via Blazing Cat Fur, Salon is worried about "carbon paw prints."


Thursday, November 20, 2014
 
Buffalo snow storm in pictures
The Washington Post has a gallery of 62 photos. My favourite is #38.


 
A liberal dissents on Obama immigration EO
Damon Linker in The Week: "On immigration, Obama is flirting with tyranny." Linker writes:
Now let me be completely clear: I'm all in favor of immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for immigrants already living in the United States. I think the refusal of the House Republican majority to pass an immigration reform bill — or, really, to do much of anything at all — over the past two years is a disgrace. I fear that with the GOP now in control of the Senate as well, Washington may well grind to a standstill — and that this heightened level of dysfunction in the nation's capital may well redound to the benefit of Republicans, who use disgust at Washington as fuel for their anti-government furies.
That's bad.
But what Obama is proposing is worse. Much worse.
The rule of law is far more about how things are done than about what is done. If Obama does what he appears poised to do, I won't be the least bit troubled about the government breaking up fewer families and deporting fewer immigrants. But I will be deeply troubled about how the president went about achieving this goal — by violating the letter and the spirit of federal law.
To grasp precisely what's so galling about Obama's proposed actions, it's necessary to reflect on the nature of executive power and its permanent potential to become despotic.
I assume that the potential to become despotic, or at least bypass Congress on important issues, is why Republicans, who will probably win back the White House some time, care little to press President Barack Obama on the blatant misuse of the Executive Order.


 
(The beginning of) 21st century relationships
Craig Calcaterra tweets: "At a bar. Patron hitting on attractive bartender by offering to let her have his Netflix password. This is really happening."


 
#torontostreetcarsex
That actually a thing on Twitter right now.


 
Obama's immigration Executive Order makes him The Boss
John Kass in the Chicago Tribune: "Obama Plays Boss of America on Immigration." Kass writes:
Some critics call Obama a monarch. Others say he acts more like an emperor. Still others prefer the old-fashioned term king.
As President Barack Obama prepares to lay out what he can do within his "lawful authority" to improve the immigration system, Congressional Republican leaders brace for a showdown. (Nov. 20) All these are royal positions and involve flowing purple robes and bejeweled crowns of the sort worn by that creepy Burger King in TV commercials. But for years Obama has gone out of his way to inform supporters and critics alike that under our system of divided government — a system developed by our founders to protect the liberty of all Americans — the president can't very well use his executive powers to make up laws just because he feels like it.
Couldn't do whatever he wanted until he does.


 
Professional cuddling is not prostitution
The Independent reports on a Portland, Oregon woman who charges $60 per hour for cuddling, which includes "hair strokes, hand-holding, and a plethora of different cuddle positions." It isn't adult-oriented in any way says "professional cuddler" Samantha Hess. The headline says she had 10,000 customers the first week, but the story says she received 10,000 emails in one week. To service 10,000 customers in a week, she would have to cuddle each person for one minute, without sleep, and then she'd have an hour and 20 minutes for herself.


 
Executive orders by president
FiveThirtyEight has the complete list of presidents and the number of Executive Orders per year in office. Not surprisingly, Franklin D. Roosevelt tops the list, and they were most commonly employed from Teddy Roosevelt through Harry S Truman. But not all EOs are equal; some expand congressional intent, others defy it.


 
The opportunity cost of fighting climate change
Bjorn Lomborg does not doubt anthropormorphic climate change. But he does doubt the benefits of spending large sums of money fighting it. Writing in the New York Post, Lomborg points out that the $3 billion President Barack Obama is committing to combatting global climate change could be used to save 30 million children from dying of malnutrition or 3 million people from malaria. For $3 billion, however, there is only a miniscule delay in global warming. And that assumes global warming is 1) happening, 2) man-made and thus preventable, and 3) harmful. But spending $3 billion on nutrition or anti-malaria programs will definitely save people.


 
Stupid rules/changing culture
Lenore Skenazy at Free Range Kids discusses trying to pick up her niece after an emergency evacuation. Skenazy is the emergency contact for her niece who happened to be substitute-teaching at the school that day:
I went to sign her out (evacuation is considered early release and requires sign out) and I was refused — by my coworkers and friends who have known me a decade. I was informed that they could not release my niece to me, despite her mother’s written consent in the form of emergency contact release, because they hadn’t spoken to her mother.
What is the point of an emergency contact if it isn’t “someone to call when you can’t reach the parent/guardian”? What if the emergency were that her parents were in a serious car accident?
This is an extension of the bizarre cell phone culture that we live in that assumes all people are reachable at all times.
Skenazy's broader point is that many institutions, especially schools, are so rules-based that common sense and plain human decency are scuttled to abide by the regulations. It's dumb. And inhumane and unhuman.
But the point of how our expectations about always being able to reach others is also important (says the guy who gave up his cell phone in 2001).


 
Warren Kinsella might run in the 2015 federal election
Kathy Shaidle has the must-read post. Will he nursing-home-cat his own nomination?


 
Demolishing an old house
Rick McGinnis has charming pictures and a nice essay on tearing down a tiny house in his neighbourhood. One can feel nostalgic for the old homes and the people who lived there and still welcome the (often necessary) change that requires demolishing these relics. From the McGinnis essay:
Cities always change. If you don't enjoy this essential fact about urban life, you probably shouldn't live in one. They might get better or they might get worse - and your definition of "better" or "worse" might not be the same as mine, of course - but life in a city is never static. And more often than not each wave of change is heralded by heavy construction equipment ...
Watching an excavator at work demolishing a house is truly remarkable, no matter what you might feel about the work at hand. The man at the controls began by taking tiny bites out of the roof, like a kid eating the white from the middle of a crusty roll. With the teeth of the bucket, he'd delicately pull off bits of siding and nudge roof beams away from the neighbour's wall, then with the enormous weight of the steel jaws, he began pulverizing the contents of the house, punching them into the basement.
The fourth and fifth pictures are likely to elicit very different feelings about tearing down the "quaint" house between two new, larger houses. One is charming, a home where someone lives, the other is derelict, waiting for the excavator.


 
2016 watch (Karl Rove on the field)
In the Wall Street Journal Karl Rove looks very briefly at 23 potential candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, a list that curiously does not include Mitt Romney. Isn't Romney a more credible candidate than Allen West or George Pataki?
The list of nearly two dozen candidates brought this thought to my mind: what is the over/under for formally declared candidates in 2016 for the Republicans? And for Democrats? I'm going with seven and three respectively.


 
Thinking about inequality
John H. Cochrane, professor of finance at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, has an excellent column about inequality in the Wall Street Journal. It covers a lot of issues surrounding inequality. A snippet:
Americans stuck in a cycle of terrible early-child experiences, substance abuse, broken families, unemployment and criminality represent a different source of inequality. Their problems have proven immune to floods of government money. And government programs and drug laws are arguably part of the problem.
These problems, and many like them, have nothing to do with a rise in top 1% incomes and wealth.
Cochrane's main point is that inequality fuels demands for redistributionist programs which politicians like because it increases their power. Public choice theory tells us that politicians do not put the public interest before their own self-interest, whether it be votes or prestige or the exercise of power.
Power begets more power:
Cronyism results when power determines wealth. Government power inevitably invites the trade of regulatory favors for political support. We limit rent-seeking by limiting the government’s ability to hand out goodies.
So when all is said and done, the inequality warriors want the government to confiscate wealth and control incomes so that wealthy individuals cannot influence politics in directions they don’t like. Koch brothers, no. Public-employee unions, yes. This goal, at least, makes perfect logical sense. And it is truly scary.
Tongue-in-cheek, but perceptively, Cochrane says that instead of taxes and the redistribution of wealth, there are alternative policies:
Is eliminating the rich, to eliminate envy of their lifestyle, really the best way to stimulate savings? ... If lifestyle envy really is the mechanism, would it not be more effective to ban “Keeping Up With the Kardashians”?
Anyway, Cochrane's wide-ranging column is provocative and a handy primer on the inequality issue.


 
States face fiscal crisis
Investor's Business Daily editorializes "States In Danger As Pension Underfunding Of $4.7 Trillion Threatens Their Fiscal Health." According to a report from State Budget Solutions, the per person liability across the U.S. is more than $15,000. IBD says:
But not all states are equal: Three big, heavily unionized, mostly Democratic states account for 30%, or $1.4 trillion, of the pension underfunding — California, Illinois and New York. Because of chronic mismanagement and the power of public sector unions in these and other states, millions of citizens face a grave financial risk they might not even know about.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014
 
'From civil asset forfeiture to eminent domain ...'
"How the Government Steals from Citizens," by A. Barton Hinkle at Reason. Hinkle says:
“Government,” as Barney Frank and other progressives are fond of saying, “is just another word for things we choose to do together.” Like rob people blind.
If you follow politics at all, then you’ve run across the term “gangster government.” For the past few years, it’s been used by conservatives as an epithet to describe the current administration in Washington and its abuses of power generally. But the term is more aptly applied to cases in which agencies shake down ordinary, law-abiding citizens through extortionate policies.
Asset forfeiture provides one example. Sandbagging property owners is another. It’s high time both kinds of highway robbery were brought to a screeching halt.


 
Keystone XL
Paul C. Knappenberger at the Cato Institute blog:
Enough already!
Why is Congress, the President, or anyone else, still talking about the Keystone XL pipeline?
This project is so small in the grand scheme of anything it boggles the mind anyone outside of those directly involved in building and operating it gives it a second thought.
That a discussion of the pipeline is still consuming government resources some six years after it was originally proposed epitomizes the grand waste of time and money that characterizes the current Administration when it comes to anything it thinks causes dreaded global warming.
In this case, the fault lies squarely with President Obama.
Obama killed have killed KXL six years ago or approved it. Instead, he let it drag on. Knappenberger is right in one way: the economic benefits are miniscule to the U.S. in terms of the larger American economy. But as a symbol, this battle is worth having -- for both sides. Pretending to do something about pretend climate change is an animating feature of the Left; giving lip service to economic growth is what the Right is all about.
Approve Keystone XL because there is no legitimate reason for continuing to hold it up or for nixing it. Approve and move on.


 
US teachers unions upset with banks lending money to school boards
The Daily Caller reports:
A heavily union-funded organization called The Alliance to Reform Our Schools has mounted a campaign to vilify financial institutions that have lent money to public school districts and local governments around the country.
The American Federation of Teachers is using the term “toxic deals” to describe transactions involving school districts that received huge sums of money in exchange for promises to repay that money with interest and fees.
“These deals are robbing schools and kids of desperately needed resources at a time when budgets have been cut to the bone and our schools are already being asked to do more with less,” AFT president Randi Weingarten proclaimed in a press release the union sent to The Daily Caller.
Possibly unaware that creditors and debtors have a vested interest in painstakingly recording the terms of large financial arrangements, Weingarten demanded “basic transparency and accountability” from creditors and from school officials ...
The AFT is blaming unnamed financial institutions for the truly terrible bets made by school district officials in a host of cities including Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit and Philadelphia (which faces a $161 million loss).
Various teachers union honchos are also tossing around phrases such as “predatory lending schemes” and accusing “Wall Street banks” of “rigging the game in their favor.”
So the ATF is upset with normal banking practices and with their own employers conducting normal business. If ther terms were unfavourable to the school boards, the ATF's beef is with the boards not the banks.


 
What about separation of church and state
The Washington Post reports that Prince George's County (Maryland) churches are reducing their state "rain tax" by having pastors provide sermons advancing environmentalism. The Post reports:
After months of negotiation with county environmental director Adam Ortiz, the pastors emerged with a rebate deal that will significantly cut the ["stormwater remediation fees"] if churches adopt programs and equipment that will curb runoff, lessen pollution and help bolster the environment.
So far, about 30 churches have applied. Forestville Redeemer was the first. They are planning to install rain barrels, build rain gardens, plant trees and, perhaps, replace their blacktop with permeable pavement. The government will cover most of the cost. In return, a fee that was estimated at $744 a year will be reduced to “virtually nothing,” Ortiz said.
[Rev. Nathaniel B.] Thomas and other pastors also have agreed to start “green” ministries to maintain the improvements at their churches, and to preach environmentally focused sermons to educate their congregations.
Terrible, frightening precedent. The pastors shouldn't have agreed (or, more likely, proposed) to become a government propagandist. Preaching the government's fashionable causes in exchange for savings of less than $800 is surrender on the cheap. What else might governments pressure churches on in the future?
What is also frightening is how secularly topical these churches are. Numerous sources tell the Post that typically their sermons deal with jobs and poverty and that adding environmentalism ("good stewardship") is just a piece of that larger social justice puzzle. Fine. But aren't churches supposed to help people with their souls? What about preaching about morality? When the time comes for the state to spread a little propaganda about same-sex marriage or sex ed or transgender rights, will the government be ready to shake down the churches again? And will pastors once again cave?
(HT: Paul D. Ellington)


 
Stanton's $325 million-contract
On Monday Grantland's Ben Lindbergh had a long analysis of why the Miami Marlins signed All Star outfielder Giancarolo Stanton to a 13-year, $325 million contract extension and why Stanton signed it. The underlying reasons are many and complex, including the Marlins track record of not even attempting to be competitive by selling young talent the moment they become pricey and Stanton's injury (beaned in the face) at the end of the 2014 season. Lindbergh doesn't think Stanton will be a Marlin for those 13 years with it being highly likely the superstar opts out of his contract in 2019. If you are interested in baseball or sports finances, this is a must-read article. My single criticism of the article is that there could have been more info about the Marlins' current, disadvantageous television contract and how Stanton's long-term deal might affect renegotiating it for better terms for the baseball team.


 
Paul Ryan gets a promotion
The Daily Caller says that Rep. Paul Ryan being named chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee is a promotion from the job of chairing House Budget Committee meetings. Patrick Howley explains:
Ryan has wanted the Ways and Means chairmanship for a long time. The economic policy wonk distinguished himself by turning the House Budget Committee, traditionally an afterthought, into one of the more effective forces of Capitol Hill opposition to President Obama’s spending priorities. With expanded power now on Ways and Means, and coming off a Republican midterm win, Ryan will have a better opportunity to put up resistance to Obama on budget battles that the president has traditionally won over the past six years.
Howley is correct to infer that by taking this position, Ryan probably isn't running for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination.


 
The math doesn't add up
Tim Worstall doubts some recent claims about prostitution. He doesn't think there is as much paid-for sex as some experts claim, probably because many hookers are part-time.


 
'The menace of civil forfeiture'
Andrew C. McCarthy in the Washington Times:
Like many government initiatives that grow harmful owing to inevitable mission creep, forfeiture seemed like a fine idea at the start. That was the early 1970s, when the nation faced a record crime wave driven by organized crime and narcotics-trafficking gangs. These enterprises can be very difficult to prosecute: Key leaders are insulated, witnesses are afraid to come forward and lavish profits enable mobsters and kingpins to hire top-flight lawyers and corrupt judicial processes.
Civil forfeiture was one clever way of attacking the problem. Rather than targeting the thugs through criminal prosecution, the civil approach targeted the instrumentalities that facilitated crime and the assets that were its proceeds — either cash or the things that money can buy. Although government prosecutors brought the cases, they were civil in nature, not criminal ...
Civil forfeiture thus became a powerful staple of the government’s arsenal against predatory criminal enterprises. In the ensuing decades, however, Congress vastly expanded it. Nearly half a century later, it has so metastasized that asset forfeiture is now available for virtually every offense of the federal criminal law.
It was understandable that the dismantling of criminal syndicates that were tough to prosecute was a high priority in an era of high crime. But the dragnet that civil forfeiture has become has had the unintended consequence of depriving ordinary citizens of due-process rights. In effect, though their property is targeted because of suspected criminal activity, they are compelled either to abandon the property without challenge or litigate government seizures without such protections as the presumption of innocence, the right to counsel and the right to have the government prove every element of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Perhaps just as worrisome, asset forfeiture now warps government incentives. It is one thing if assets that investigators seize in civil litigation are simply turned over to the public treasury for general public purposes — such as, say, paying down government debt (stop snickering). Yet, with no small prompting from the Justice Department, asset forfeiture has become something of a bounty for investigative agencies, used as prosecutors and agencies see fit to buy equipment, pay sources, underwrite investigative initiatives, and generally make more cases.


 
2016 watch (Iowa debates)
Hot Air brings news that candidates for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination will be invited to a debate "chat" on January 24 at the "inaugural" Iowa Freedom Summit. Already booked are Senator Ted Cruz, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, and former senator Rick Santorum.


 
2016 watch (Iowa odds edition)
In the Washington Times, Steve Deace provides "odds" of each Republican winning Iowa, from former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee (2-1) to Senator Rand Paul (15-1) to Senator Marco Rubio (30-1) to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (500-1). Jeb Bush is "off the board" right now. I think Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (5-1), Dr. Ben Carson (10-1) and Donald Trump (100-1) are all way too high at this point.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014
 
Modern slavery
Scott Shackford at Hit & Run: "Why Is California Fighting the Release of Non-Violent Inmates? Cheap Labor." Shackford says:
California has had a prison overcrowding problem for years and has been ordered, repeatedly, to reduce the problem, so bad it has been determined to be cruel and unusual punishment ...
The Los Angeles Times reported ... this rather interesting explainer of why the state was resisting letting prisoners out early:
Most of those prisoners now work as groundskeepers, janitors and in prison kitchens, with wages that range from 8 cents to 37 cents per hour. Lawyers for Attorney General Kamala Harris had argued in court that if forced to release these inmates early, prisons would lose an important labor pool.
Prisoners' lawyers countered that the corrections department could hire public employees to do the work.
So, yeah, that's a pretty horrifying argument for keeping people in overcrowded prisons.
The Times reports: "The state has been meeting periodic benchmarks set by the judges, but was also supposed to be making other changes that would produce a long-term, 'durable' population reduction." They don't really seem to have an incentive to do this with all that cheap labour available to them. Although once you include the cost of running (over-crowded) prisons, the cost of the "cheap" labour rises. So perhaps it isn't all about dollars and cents, but control. The state loves controlling people.


 
2016 watch (de Blasio edition)
The National Journal reports -- and this gets complicated -- the New York Post reporting that Ed Cox, son-in-law of former president Richard Nixon and New York state GOP chairman, saying a "Democratic lobbyist" claiming first-term New York Mayor Bill de Blasio will be the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee. The rationale is apparently that there will be a progressive champion for the Dems to win the party's presidential nod from Hillary Clinton. But as NJ reports, there is no shortage of potential progressive champions within the party (Senator Elizabeth Warren and independent Senator Bernie Sanders to name just two from New England). Also, as NJ explains, de Blasio will only be in the third year of his first term when the nominating convention is held and the mayor is close to HRC (having been her 2000 Senate campaign manager).


 
I wish this were true
ReasonTV interviews Martin Masse on "Canada's Emergent Libertarian Movement." Canada having a slightly freer economy than the United States hardly makes for an emergent libertarian movement. Canadians are still mostly statist in their worldview.


 
Ebola in India
Time: "India’s First Ebola Patient Has Been Quarantined." From the story it seems like a good precaution. While the story does talk about avoiding oral sex if one can after testing positive for Ebola, it doesn't talk about that the country's population density and cultural aversion to toilets make Ebola and India a lethally risky mix.


 
Polls closer to election day should be more accurate
Threehundredeight.com's Eric Grenier on the by-election results and pre-E Day polling:
In terms of the polls, Forum [Research] should have quit when it was ahead. The polls of November 11 that I wrote about below were quite close, but their election eve polling of November 16 was worse. And in the case of Yellowhead, much worse.
Of course, not Brandon-Souris worse.
Can't we all admit that Forum Research polls are the least reliable. Forum Research gets blowjob media coverage because Lorne Bozinoff releases municipal and other local polls (like by-elections) and polls on party leadership campaigns more often than anyone else. But while frequency makes for regular copy, with Forum Research practice does not make perfect. Or even close.
Part of the problem with polls that are as inaccurate as Forum Research's is not merely that they set up false expectations, but that those expectations become central to the pre- and post-election analysis and thus the political narrative. As Pundit's Guide explains:
By the time all the ballots were counted Monday night, former Whitby mayor Pat Perkins held Whitby-Oshawa for the Conservative Party with nearly 50% of the vote.
You could be forgiven for thinking this result was unlikely, given the extent to which Liberal talking points penetrated the media's pre-game analysis, egged on by some torqued analysis from the only pollster willing to give away his work for free anymore.


 
Toyota's 'car of the future' will still depend on good ole government to attract buyers
Reuters reports:
Toyota Motor Corp on Monday said it will introduce its first mass-market fuel cell car in the United States next year, hoping to replicate the success of its Prius hybrid with a vehicle that runs on hydrogen instead of gasoline.
The four-person sedan named Mirai, the Japanese word for "future", will be at California dealerships in the fourth quarter of 2015. Only 200 will be available in the United States next year, with volumes increasing to 3,000 by 2017, executives said at a press conference in Newport Beach, California.
The Mirai will cost $57,500, which could drop to $45,000 after federal and state incentives.
So the future might be near ...
Wait, not so fast. At Forbes.com, Mark Rogowsky says: "Toyota's Quixotic Plan To Sell Hydrogen Cars Feels Almost Real." He explains:
U.S. electric car sales are finally beginning to tally something noticeable ... Suddenly, the notion of several hundred thousand primarily or fully electric cars being sold by 2020 seems close to certain.
The prospects for hydrogen are less so. Fuel-cell vehicles offer some clear advantages over battery-powered models: They can be fueled quickly, in just a matter of minutes and they offer “up to” 300-mile range. The larger battery Tesla is a 265-mile range vehicle today unless you opt for the more expensive and more efficient all-wheel-drive model. It can be charged at over of the 129 Supercharger stations in North America where it can recover 170 miles of range in 30 minutes.
But those speedy refills for the Mirai, and for Hyundai’s fuel-cell based Tucson, are based on finding somewhere to get hydrogen. Today, that’s absurdly challenging with just 3 stations open to the public, according to Toyota. It says the number in California will increase to 20 next year and 48 the year after. In 2016, it also expects to see 12 stations opened in the northeast. With such a light density of stations, a new kind of range anxiety – where can I actually get hydrogen? — will occur.
So the problem with electric cars is range; the problem in the foreseeable future for hydrogen cars is finding a place to get refueled. That is no small problem. It is an infrastructure problem and the more alternatives to regular old gasoline there are, the more expensive it will be to service them all. (There is also the environmental costs of creating multiple infrastuctures, but that's a whole other issue.)
The lesson is this: it is very, very difficult to replace an existing system of anything. Convincing hundreds of millions of people to change cars, driving habits, and refueling expectations will take more than government bribes in the form of purchase subsidies. But for the dreamers of a utopian future, that's the beginning.
I'm all for people using technological fixes to save money on gas. But they shouldn't get a government handout to do that. And if the determining factor is environmental reasons, it's probably entirely unnecessary.


 
Legacy of slavery liberalism
Thomas Sowell:
Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said there were “phrases that serve as an excuse for not thinking.” One of these phrases that substitute for thought today is one that depicts the current problems of blacks in America as “a legacy of slavery.”
New York Times writer Nicholas Kristof asserts that there is “overwhelming evidence that centuries of racial subjugation still shape inequity in the 21st century” and he mentions “the lingering effects of slavery.” ...
Kristof’s other “overwhelming” evidence of the current effects of past slavery is that blacks do not have as much income as whites. But Puerto Ricans do not have as much income as Japanese Americans. Mexican Americans do not have as much income as Cuban Americans. All sorts of people do not have as much income as all sorts of other people, not only in the United States, but in countries around the world. And most of these people were never enslaved.
If we wanted to be serious about evidence, we might compare where blacks stood a hundred years after the end of slavery with where they stood after 30 years of the liberal welfare state. In other words, we could compare hard evidence on “the legacy of slavery” with hard evidence on the legacy of liberals.
After 30 years of the welfare state, the decline in the poverty rate for blacks has slowed, the vast majority of black children are raised by single parents, and black neighbourhoods are less safe than they were before the so-called "civil rights era." Between the end of slavery in the 1880s and the growth of the welfare state in the 1960s, black neighbourhoods had intact families and a sense of community, not a sense of victimhood. Sowell concludes: "If we are to go by evidence of social retrogression, liberals have wreaked more havoc on blacks than the supposed 'legacy of slavery' they talk about." But the Al Sharptons and Jesse Jacksons of this world are race-based poverty pimps and the only remedy they can bring to any social problem or apparent injustice is a call for more government. Liberalism has failed blacks, especially poor ones.


 
Unexpected good news from Congressional Republicans
The Wall Street Journal reports that the House Republican caucus defeated an attempt by some in the party to reinstate earmarks. WSJ reports:
In introducing his repeal of the earmark ban on Friday, Alabama Rep. Mike Rogers pitched another favorite argument: That reviving these “sweeteners” will help the leadership buy votes for tough-to-pass legislation. That may sometimes be true, but to his credit Speaker John Boehner helped lead opposition to the measure, which lost 67-145. That margin will make it harder for Senate Republicans to [cave].


 
Under-reporting reported crime
The Daily Telegraph: "A million crimes reported by public left out of police figures." The Telegraph reports:
Almost a million crimes a year are disappearing from official figures as chief constables attempt to meet targets, a study by the police watchdog has disclosed.
Its report exposed “indefensible” failures by forces to record crime accurately, and said that in some areas up to a third of crimes are being struck out of official records.
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary said violent crimes and sex attacks were particularly vulnerable to being deleted under “inexcusably poor” systems ...
It means violent criminals and even rapists are not investigated, potentially allowing offenders to strike again ...
Overall, almost a fifth of crimes failed to appear in the figures for England and Wales, the inspectorate concluded, but in some forces the proportion was as high as a third. Overall, police failed to record a quarter of rapes and a third of violent crimes across England and Wales.
So it looks like crime is going down, but it isn't. You'd think that the police would have would have the incentive to increase crime to get more government money and thus bigger police budgets. But plaudits are also benefits that police may desire. If crime numbers are decreasing, the police get a pat on the back.


 
2016 watch (Clinton-Warren watch)
Investor's Business Daily's Andrew Malcolm:
Here's a Democrat ticket to ponder for 2016: Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren ...
The thinking of that faction, according to a provocative analysis by Jim Newell, is that Hillary Clinton is pretty much the inevitable Democrat nominee but is incapable of adequate progressivism.
"She is," Newell writes, "of the generation of Democratic politicians who found temporary success in turning the party into the hollow, neo-liberal vehicle that’s now running on fumes." And cites her 'marriage' to known centrist Bill Clinton as further proof of her untrustworthiness ...
Newell predicts Hillary "will pay just enough lip service to progressive causes to get through the Democratic primary, and that probably won’t require much. But her presidency will not lead to a rethinking of the ideas that have gotten Democrats into this horizonless state.


 
Gruber commentaries
Newmark's Door has six of the best Jonathan Gruber commentaries of the past week, including James Bovard and Ron Fournier.


 
Neil Young is boycotting Starbucks of their anti-anti-GMO position
Rolling Stone reports that Neil Young wrote on his website to announce his boycotting of Starbucks:
"I used to line up and get my latte everyday, but yesterday was my last one," Young wrote. "Starbucks has teamed up with Monsanto to sue Vermont, and stop accurate food labeling."
Vermont passed a law last spring that requires all food products containing GMOs to be labeled as such by July 1, 2016, with the exception of dairy products, meat, alcohol and food served in restaurants. Shortly afterward, four food industry organizations filed a lawsuit against the state that challenged the law's constitutionality. Among the plaintiffs is the Grocery Manufacturers Association, whose more than 300 members include both Starbucks and Monsanto.
(HT: Hit & Run's Robby Soave)