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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Friday, February 23, 2018
Trudeau is a 'pedestrian' dancer
How bad was Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's trip to India? He was criticized for his dancing bad. CTV reports:
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau added another cringe-worthy moment to an India trip already fraught with controversy, by attempting to show off his pedestrian bhangra dance moves in front of an Indian crowd at a public event.
Apparently Trudeau had decent bhangra skills nine years ago. Today, there are pedestrian.

What I'm reading
1. Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress by Steven Pinker
2. It's Better Than It Looks: Reasons for Optimism in an Age of Fear by Gregg Easterbrook
3. The Age of Voter Rage: Trump, Trudeau, Farage, Corbyn & Macron -- The Tyranny of Small Numbers by Nik Nanos
4. Be the Parent, Please: Stop Banning Seesaws and Start Banning Snapchat: Strategies for Solving the Real Parenting Problems by Naomi Schaefer Riley
Some of these will be reviewed in forthcoming editions of The Interim.

The green energy failure
Rupert Darwall writes about Australia's move to renewable energy, which has increased costs without much benefit:
The twentieth century’s bequest of cheap, reliable electrical energy is now being undone. For the past decade or so, Australia and other industrialised countries have been conducting a vast experiment on their electrical grids. Tried, tested and refined technologies — predominantly based on coal-fired generation — are being replaced by weather-dependent wind and solar farms. Western societies are moving from industrial means of generating their electricity, with the precision, reliability and economies of scale that implies, to intermittent sources that, like agriculture, depend on the weather, with all that implies for cost and reliability.
The green energy revolution – counter-revolution would be more accurate – did not come about because wind and solar are superior generating technologies. If they were, they wouldn’t have needed the plethora of costly political interventions. These have turned the electricity market into an Aladdin’s cave for rent-seekers while destroying the market’s function to allocate capital sensibly and serve customers efficiently. Instead, the origins of the renewable experiment lie in a deeply ideological reaction against the Industrial Revolution, which, in one of the most important developments of our age, almost imperceptibly became the boilerplate of elite opinion.
Now the results of that experiment are in and they’re not looking good. Australians formerly enjoyed one of the world’s lowest-cost energy markets. Not anymore. In nine years, retail prices in the National Electricity Market (NEM) are up 80-90 per cent. In just two years, business electricity costs doubled, even tripled, resulting in staff lay-offs, relocations and industry closures. ‘The requirement is for efficient prices and affordability for “a healthy NEM,” the Energy Security Board states in its first annual report.
And the energy supply is unreliable. What does Australia get for all this inconvenience and cost?
Although the ransom Australia paid is steep, the carbon savings are puny. Carbon dioxide emitted by the NEM fell by 20 million tonnes over the last decade, all of it in the five years from 2009. At the same time, China’s carbon dioxide emissions rose by 2,293 million tonnes, an average increase of 38 million tonnes a month. In other words, the painful savings made by the NEM are equivalent to less than 16 days of the increase in China’s carbon dioxide emissions – with more pain to come as more wind and solar is put on the grid and if AGL gets its way and closes more coal-fired power stations.

If you want continued Ontario PC infighting, vote Brown
In a story about how the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party's nominating committee didn't thoroughly review the candidacy of Patrick Brown, the Globe and Mail reports:
Mr. Brown pledged in an interview on TVO's The Agenda on Thursday that he will be "turning over every stone" to find the political adversaries whose allegations are responsible for his resignation.
That is effectively an admission that there will be more recriminations in store for people in the party if Brown is elected leader. Tory supporters who are enjoying the backroom shenanigans, public airing of dirty laundry, and continued leaking of the sordid details of both elected officials and senior aides should definitely vote for Brown so this kind of stuff can continue.
The Globe also reports that MPP Lisa Thompson said Ken Zeise, a fellow member of the nomination committee (and former party president) did not participate in the proceedings after he left the room for a 15-minute conversation with Brown's lawyer. Knowing how the disorganized crime organization of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario operates, it is not unreasonable to assume that Zeise was threatened. Was he blackmailed? Did Brown's lawyer suggest the party would be sued if his client wasn't approved? Zeise admits the conversation happened and that he was present but hardly participated in the deliberations.
The party is a mess, and defeating Brown in the leadership probably doesn't address the problems although it is certainly a start.

Studying a foreign language at school
Bryan Caplan, author of recently released and excellent The Case Against Education, says that most Americans "never use their knowledge of foreign languages (unless they speak it in the home)," and that they "almost never learn to speak a foreign language very well in school," even though it is mandatory. Caplan says the arguments in favour of learning a foreign language suggest it is a decent elective but not an effective requirement, especially in jurisdictions that mandate two or three years of learning a second language. (These arguments are doubly true for Canada where it appears the vast majority of English children who are taught French are barely functional in the language despite sometimes six or eight years of being taught the subject.
Tyler Cowen offers eight counter-arguments, although he admits that most of the benefits of learning a foreign language accrue to the elite. Cowen also says that despite America's failure to effectively teach foreign languages to high school students is not a reason to give up on doing so considering that many European countries teach their students several languages. (This might be a reflection on the quality of American education but also cultural values.) About the benefits of learning a foreign language to the elite, Cowen says:
It helps them see different points of view, and prepares a small number for careers in the foreign service or in other international capacities. It makes intellectuals deeper and improves their scholarship. This is a sliver of the population, but the global rate of return to having it is very high. And I suspect a significant portion of this population received its first exposure to a foreign language in high school (or even junior high), which in turn may have helped them do “study abroad.” ...
If we could target foreign language acquisition to this future elite, I would gladly let the vast majority of the student population off the hook. One move toward this end would be to use foreign language “tiebreakers” for those wishing to finish in the top quarter of their high school class. I would like to see a study of whether this would produce sufficiently accurate targeting.
So Cowen is not necessarily arguing that learning a second language should be mandatory, but encouraged, because it has numerous benefits (including signaling).

Thursday, February 22, 2018
Turning corn into cars
Bryan Caplan has a short parable about how trade turns corn into cars:
Imagine that a visionary scientist announces he’s discovered a way to turn corn into cars. Everyone laughs at him. His fellow scientists call him a crank, but he builds a factory in an abandoned port, and lo and behold, corn goes in and cars come out.
A bunch of dock workers are unloading cars from a Japanese ship and filling it with corn to take back to Japan.
The competition hurts existing auto workers, but Americans are clearly far richer as a result of the scientist’s amazing discovery. Cars that only the rich could drive before are now affordable for all.
One day, though, a journalist sneaks into the factory and discovers the scientist’s secret. A bunch of dock workers are unloading cars from a Japanese ship and filling it with corn to take back to Japan. He snaps some pictures and frantically writes an exposé. The next day’s headline reads, “Corn-Made Cars a Fraud.”
The government shuts down the company and sends the founder to jail for breaking every foreign-trade law on the books.
The point of the story is the visionary scientist did have a way to make corn into cars. What difference does it make what’s inside the factory?
Caplan blames our public and political opposition to this magic car-making factory on "anti-foreign bias," which he defines as "human beings’ tendency to underestimate the economic benefits of dealing with people from other countries." This isn't bigotry, it's just economic illiteracy. Of course, calling people economic illiterates doesn't persuade them, but that's what it is.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Email from Patrick Brown to PC members
This is part of the text from former Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown to members of the PC Party as he seeks to win back his old job:
The People's Guarantee is the only option we have to beat the Liberals. Patrick is the only Leader standing behind it.
Want 22.5% lower taxes for the middle class? Vote Patrick.
Want a cut on hydro? Vote Patrick.
Want a 75% refund on daycare? Vote Patrick.
Want dental care for seniors? Vote Patrick.
Patrick forgot this one:
Want a carbon tax? Vote Patrick.
Want to pay more for gas? Want to pay more for energy to heat your home? Want to pay more for groceries? Vote for Patrick.

The Wall Street Journal (via Marginal Revolution) reports:
When Norwegian athletes take to the ice and snow at the Olympics, they don’t mess around: the Scandinavian nation of just 5 million has won the most medals of any country in the history of the Winter Games.
Since 1960, only once (Calgary in 1988) did Norway not have the best or second best per capita performance at the Winter Olympics.
The Ringer's Michael Baumann says Norway succeeds in winter sports because they invest in training and infrastructure.

Government incompetence
The Toronto Sun reports that the Ontario government's E-car charging stations program has been a mess. Most of the new stations are in the Greater Toronto Area which doesn't need them while there is a shortage of the machines along highways and in rural areas. Those that are up aren't running properly with payments issues and capacity problems ("50 kW unites barely put out 20").
The Toronto Sun's Sue-Ann Levy reports on the on-going problems with renovations of Toronto's Union Station that is now several years late and nearly $200 million over-budget. There is a litany of excuses, but private sector projects usually are not so late or so much more expensive than initial estimates because companies lose their own money when projects are not completed on time and won't tolerate systemic delay and add-ons. For government, it is the usual practice.
The conservative criticism of government is not (always) based on the ideological point that the private sector should do X and the government should do Y than generally speaking the private sector is better at delivering X than the government is. The state is inefficient and often incompetent, as the two Toronto Sun stories indicate. Putting aside political considerations (the Kathleen Wynne Liberals might have chosen to put E-car chargers where they'd be seen by a certain type of voter rather than where they'd be used), government just isn't very good at doing most things. Many times the argument against government programs is pragmatic rather than philosophical.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Jeremy Corbyn, communist sympathizer
Rod Liddle in the (London) Times yesterday:
I had not fully understood just how callous, or catastrophically ignorant, Corbyn is about the victims of state communism until I watched the Labour leader’s interview on the Andrew Marr show three weeks ago. When Marr taxed this opponent of the market economy with the fact that the Chinese economy and people had prospered so much more since the People’s Republic allowed individuals to get rich through private business, Corbyn countered that its economy had “grown massively . . . since 1949 and . . . the Great Leap Forward”. He then gave that little sniff and satisfied smile that we have grown accustomed to seeing from Corbyn in interviews when he thinks he’s made a good point.
Reader, the Great Leap Forward was Mao Tse-tung’s propagandistic term for the policy of forced collectivisation of agriculture from 1958-62. It caused the deaths of an estimated 45m Chinese (or seven-and-a-half times the number of Jews exterminated over a similar number of years in the Holocaust).
As the most respected historian of that period in Chinese history, Frank Dikötter, wrote: “Between 2m-3m of these victims were tortured to death or summarily executed, often for the slightest infraction. People accused of not working hard enough were hanged and beaten; sometimes they were bound and thrown into ponds. Punishments for the least violations included mutilation and forcing people to eat excrement . . . The term ‘famine’ tends to support the widespread view that the deaths were largely the result of half-baked and poorly executed economic programmes. But the archives show that coercion, terror and violence were the foundation of the Great Leap Forward.” And this is what Jeremy Corbyn offers us as an example of successful economic management under communism.
Every time UK conservatives seem to go too far on how the socialist Jeremy Corbyn is unfit for office (of MP, not merely PM), he reminds us that through either ignorance about communism's victims or callousness toward them, Corbyn must be kept as far away from 10 Downing, indeed, Westminster, as possible.

Nathalie was dumped by Justin Trudeau in favour of well-to-do cronies
Stephen Gordon has a good column in the National Post about how the Liberals exploited middle class anxiety for electoral gain before governing for the benefit of the upper-middle class:
This raises the question of how and why the Liberals could have developed a plausible story about the need to address middle-class anxieties and then decided that reducing taxes for those at the 90th percentile of the income distribution would help alleviate those middle-class anxieties. Did the Liberals simply aim their tax cut at the middle class and … miss somehow? Was it a game of bait-and switch for the benefit of the upper-middle class? (As I’ve written earlier, a good working definition for the upper-middle class is those between the 80th and 99th percentiles of the income distribution, earning between $70,000 and $225,000 a year; the maximum benefit from the Liberals’ tax cut is for those earning $90,000 a year.) I’ve been wrestling with this question for almost three years now.
But no more: the Liberals have clearly moved on with last week’s “supercluster” announcement: a billion dollars thrown at the usual gang of well-connected consultants and professional sitters-on-boards-of-directors. Perhaps the most startling aspect of the Liberals’ supercluster messaging is what it did not say: the announcement was not accompanied with the usual boilerplate verbiage about how this spending would help the middle class. It would seem that even the Liberals have recognized that there are limits past which that particular talking point cannot be pushed.
Read Gordon's column if you don't remember who Nathalie is.

Math is hard
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Indian companies would invest one billion dollars in Canada. That's not correct. In fact, there is one billion dollars in bilateral private investments but three-quarters of that is Canadian business in India, while Indian companies plan to spend $250 million in Canada. The PM claims he misspoke.

Monday, February 19, 2018
The Trudeau family's taxpayer-funded family vacation
Brian Lilley writes:
So far we have been treated to photos of the Trudeau family yucking it up at the Taj Mahal, an elephant sanctuary, one of the homes of the late Mahatma Ghandi, the Swaminarayan Akshardham Temple and soon a whole pile of other cultural and religious sites that have little to do with official government business.
No doubt these are great sites to visit and doubly no doubt these sites can all be played up for targeted politicking back home to get the vote out in 2019. But that isn’t what Canadian taxpayers should be footing the bill for on a week long trip to India.
Sure, Trudeau is not the first Canadian politician, provincial or federal, to go to India and use these sites for political gain back home. Stephen Harper, Christy Clark, Patrick Brown, Kathleen Wynne, Jean Chretien, the list is long.
But all of those politicians fit the cultural visits into a busy round of meetings with business and political leaders. Trudeau is doing the opposite, he is squeezing in some time for India’s leaders in between his family vacation photos.
Not that India’s leaders are lining up to meet with PM Trudeau, as columnist and author Candice Malcolm pointed out, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has personally greeted many world leaders but did not greet Trudeau.
It's not just Lilley. The Hindustan Times reports:
As Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau continues his eight-day visit to India, the fact that his schedule includes just half-a-day of official engagements in New Delhi is being described as “unusual” by veteran diplomats and criticised by a Canadian watchdog.
A veteran Indian diplomat said in his long experience with bilateral visits, he had never experienced a trip of this nature, where the visiting dignitary spent so little time in official engagements with counterparts in the Indian government.
The Times also reports that with the exception of the Foreign Minister, "it was equally surprising that six cabinet ministers accompanying Trudeau had scant official engagements." The Canadian Taxpayer Federation said of the Trudeau trip: "While it is understood that a Prime Minister will have to travel frequently, the proportion of time being spent actually meeting foreign counterparts on this trip does not suggest a good use of public money." Indeed.
Not that it was completely devoid of official-like business. Trudeau traveled halfway around the globe to reiterate a long-held Canadian position:

Sunday, February 18, 2018
The state has no business in the bathrooms of the country
Huffington Post reports:
The resolution urged the party to immediately recommended the creation of a health subsidy to make menstrual products and contraceptives available to Canadians at no cost.
"Tampon and pads should be treated just like toilet paper," said Tiffany Balducci, a party delegate from the Durham Labour Council. "They serve a similar purpose — items that tend to our everyday, normal bodily functions."
Balducci is correct: Tampons should be treated just like toilet paper, which I remind the NDP is not free.

2020 watch (Joe Biden watch)
The AP reports that former vice president has talking to his former inner circle and several of them to talked to the media about the meeting. According to one source:
“I’m focused on one thing: electing a Democratic Congress to stop this erosion of the core of who we are,” Biden said. “I’ll look at that a year from now. I have plenty of time to consider whether or not to run.”
If Biden runs and wins, he would be the oldest person ever elected president (78 on inauguration day 20210.
He would probably be the frontrunner now. But even if he isn't in running, Biden needs to pretend he is; once he says he is not interested in running for the nomination, the press and the public will lose interest in him. Pretending to be interested in running in 2020 is about trying to remain relevant.

Saturday, February 17, 2018
The Toronto Star reports:
Last year, there were only 22 reported new cases of polio, which has been confined now to just a pair of nations: Pakistan and Afghanistan.
But 60 years ago, it held this country and much of the world in terror, with images of children in iron lungs plastered in newspapers everywhere — and no vaccine or cure in sight.
In the Canada of the 1950s, hundreds died and thousands — mostly youngsters — were paralyzed by the disease. In 1953 alone, some 9,000 Canadians contracted polio, which left 500 dead that year.
“Eradication of a disease does not happen often,” says Oliver Rosenbauer, a spokesperson for the World Health Organization in Geneva.
“In fact it’s only ever happened once before, with the eradication of smallpox. So that’s what we’re after.” ...
“The aim is certainly that this year is the year where we finally interrupt the person-to-person transmission of the virus so that we’re not going to see any more cases in the future,” he says.

Venezuela and the socialist dream
Even the New York Review of Books recognizes how terrible Venezuela is, even if it was praising Chavez's heaven on earth ten years ago. Enrique Krauze writes (this week) that a decade ago:
Caracas was seen as the new Mecca for the European, Latin American, and American left. Progressive news organizations, magazines, and newspapers including The Guardian, The New Yorker, and the BBC reported favorably on Hugo Chávez, whose presidency lasted from 1999 until 2013. They mentioned the dangers of his cult of personality but yielded to it all the same. Chávez, as the writer Alma Guillermoprieto succinctly noted in these pages, was “indisputably fascinating, and often even endearing.”
Guillermoprieto wrote that in 2005. His essay, which looks at the rise of Hugo Chavez, concludes: "He can smile and go forward, singing. Joyful. Solving problems. Looking to the future." And that future? It created more problems than it solved. As Krauze writes today:
In the spring of 2017, and all through the year, social media feeds in Venezuela were filled with images of deprivation and despair: long lines of people hoping to purchase food; women fighting over a stick of butter; mothers who could not find milk to buy; children picking through garbage in search of something to eat; empty shelves in pharmacies and stores; hospitals without stretchers, drugs, or minimum levels of hygiene; doctors operating on a patient by the light of a cell phone; women giving birth outside of hospitals. Venezuela’s economy, the economist Ricardo Hausmann wrote in a recent study, is suffering a collapse that is “unprecedented” in the Western world. Between 2013 and 2017 the country’s national and per capita GDPs contracted more severely than those of the US did during the Great Depression and more than those of Russia, Cuba, and Albania did after the fall of communism.
This is a humanitarian crisis of immense proportions. By May 2017, Venezuela’s minimum monthly wage wasn’t enough to meet even 12 percent of a single person’s basic food needs. A survey of 6,500 households by three prestigious universities showed that 74 percent of the population had lost on average nineteen pounds in 2016. Infant mortality in hospitals has risen by 100 percent. Diseases nearly eradicated in many countries, like malaria and diphtheria, have flourished; illnesses largely new to the area, like Chikungunya, Zika, and dengue, have spread. Caracas is now the most dangerous city on the planet. All this is happening in a country that has one of the largest oil reserves in the world.
Better than the essays lamenting how socialism didn't work this time, is the Remy song about the Venezuelan diet released last year.

The NDP leader
From the Toronto Life profile of NDP leader Jagmeet Singh:
Jagmeet has a taste for dandy luxuries that don’t comport with the monkish minimalism of his party. He wears bespoke suits in the slim British style—his favourite is a brown tweed with cobalt-blue stripes, designed by a tailor in New Delhi, which he often pairs with a millennial-pink turban. He owns two Rolex watches, an Oyster Perpetual Datejust and a ­Submariner (both were gifts); a crimson BMW coupe; and six designer bicycles. “I have just an absurd number of bikes,” he says. “More than one person should have.” His kirpan, the ceremonial Sikh dagger he wears under his jacket, is a steel design by a metal­worker outside Boston. Since joining Queen’s Park in 2011, Singh has become one of the city’s most devoted partygoers, a regular at King West nightspots and gala fund­raisers, at fashion shows and ­Raptors games.
Two Rolex watches, a BMW, and six designer bikes. Real man of the people.
The profile is a tad blowjobby, beginning thusly: "[Singh's] natural charisma makes even the dashing Justin Trudeau look stiff by comparison." With all those watches and the luxury German car, I'd say he makes Justin Trudeau look modest by comparison.