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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Thursday, August 25, 2016
 
Three cheers for the University of Chicago
Intellectual Takeout reprints the letter to the incoming class of students at the University of Chicago from the Office of the Dean of Students. An important and heartening excerpt:
Once here you will discover that one of the University of Chicago’s defining characteristics is our commitment to freedom of inquiry and expression ... Members of our community are encouraged to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn, without fear of censorship. Civility and mutual respect are vital to all of us, and freedom of expression does not mean the freedom to harass or threaten others. You will find that we expect members of our community to be engaged in rigorous debate, discussion, and even disagreement. At times this may challenge you and even cause discomfort.
Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so called ‘trigger warnings,’ we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.
(HT: Marginal Revolution)


 
Flanders leader calls for North Sea union
Reuters reports:
Geert Bourgeois, prime minister of the autonomous region that is home to more than half Belgium's population, said on Wednesday he will seek agreements with other littoral states and regions to promote cooperation on managing resources such as energy and fisheries, as well as research and development.
Acknowledging that similar initiatives in recent years to strengthen ties among Britain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Norway had failed to take off, Bourgeois said that was partly because all of those except Norway already shared EU status.
"The reaction was lukewarm ... as we thought there was no need for another international organization," he told Reuters.
But that, he believed, has changed with the British vote to leave the bloc, turning the western coast of the North Sea eventually into non-EU territory: "Now that Britain is also leaving it would be good to work on such a union."
There will be tremendous pressure on five of the seven countries to not set up a rival to the European Union. Not going to happen.


 
Hispanic journalist says reporters have obligation to abandon neutrality covering Donald Trump
Mediate reports:
Univision and Fusion anchor Jorge Ramos argued in an op-ed Tuesday that reporters should abandon traditional standards of objectivity when reporting on Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.
“It doesn’t matter who you are— a journalist, a politician or a voter— we’ll all be judged by how we responded to Donald Trump,” he argued in TIME Magazine. “Like it or not, this election is a plebiscite on the most divisive, polarizing and disrupting figure in American politics in decades. And neutrality is not an option.”
Ramos certainly practices what he preaches.


 
The 2016 circus presidential campaign is obstructing the Republican's plan for America
At National Review Online, Ian Tuttle writes favourably about the best plan the Republicans have put together address some of America's most intractable problems, Paul Ryan's "A Better Way":
For Paul Ryan, though, the desert of ideas in American politics is an opportunity. In early December 2015, Ryan, just weeks into his tenure as speaker of the House, gave a speech at the Library of Congress entitled, “Confident America.” “If we want to save the country,” he told an audience that included House and Senate GOP leaders, “then we need a mandate from the people. And if we want a mandate, then we need to offer ideas. And if we want to offer ideas, then we need to actually have ideas. And that’s where House Republicans come in.” “Our number-one goal for the next year,” he announced, “is to put together a complete alternative to the Left’s agenda.”
The result, rolled out over this June and July, is “A Better Way: Our Vision for a Confident America.” Comprising six different areas of focus — poverty, national security, the economy, the Constitution, health care, and tax reform — the agenda aims to articulate not what Republicans stand against, but what they stand for. In Ryan’s preferred terms, it aims to turn the GOP from an “opposition” party into a “proposition” party.
Ryan's plan is not a blueprint for governing, but it is the beginning of an important discussion for which conservatives and Republicans have long been absent. It is the beginning of a conversation and a set of guiding principles upon which a Republican Congress could act to battle stubborn poverty and some of its related pathologies.
Tuttle explains the politics of Ryan's plan -- "That the famously fractious House Republican conference has coalesced around a single agenda is an accomplishment in itself, made possible, members insist, by Ryan’s 'bottom-up' approach" -- the history, and some of the details. It is visionary and unusual for the Republicans, as the Speaker of the House focuses (although not exclusively) on how to improve the lot of the poor and lower middle class:
For Ryan, the blight of poverty — especially the way that it has been entrenched by irresponsible, even corrupt, government — is a betrayal of the American dream. “The American Dream,” the “Better Way” agenda reads, “is the idea that, no matter who you are or where you come from, if you work hard and give it your all, you will succeed. But for too many people today, that’s simply not true.” The “Better Way” agenda is intended to make that dream a reality again.
Tuttle says, "Ideally, the 'Better Way' would have been the cornerstone of a reform-oriented agenda articulated by a conservative standard-bearer," but "instead, members of Congress are using the agenda to give themselves an identity not warped by Donald Trump’s gravitational pull." And, of course, Trump's incoherent and impossible agenda is dominating the debate. Tuttle calls "The Better Way" a great GOP accomplishment: "They have put forward the Great Ignored Agenda of the 21st century. It shouldn’t be."


 
Rove: 'Shut Down the Clinton Foundation Already'
Karl Rove writes in the Wall Street Journal about the Clinton Foundation:
The foundation received many millions of dollars from foreign governments and nationals while Mrs. Clinton was secretary of state, including via a Canadian front group set up to shield donors’ identities. This despite Mrs. Clinton’s promise at her January 2009 confirmation to provide “the transparency and disclosure that is needed” and “address even the appearance of conflict.”
Newly released emails show foundation staff intervened with the State Department on behalf of donors, foreign and domestic. On Tuesday the Associated Press released an analysis of official calendars for the first half of Mrs. Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state. At least 85 of the 154 private persons with whom she had scheduled meetings or phone calls were also Clinton Foundation donors, having contributed as much as $156 million. The AP had to sue to obtain this information, yet Mrs. Clinton’s campaign responded by complaining that the report looked at only half of her tenure.
The Clinton Foundation has long been criticized for spending too little on programs and too much on overhead—including flying the Clintons around in private planes and employing lackeys like Sidney Blumenthal. The Clintons justified their practices by saying that the foundation performed good work ...
[T]his newspaper reports that if Mrs. Clinton wins in November the foundation plans to “scale back” and ban foreign contributions. Is there no potential for abuse if only Americans donate? Mrs. Clinton should pledge to shut down the Clinton Foundation if elected.
Even that wouldn’t end the potential for pay to play. One of Mrs. Clinton’s major economic proposals is an infrastructure bank. As she explained to Fox News’s Chris Wallace, she would “seed it with federal dollars, but bring in private investors.”
Such a quasigovernment entity, staffed by loyalists, would lead to an explosion of crony capitalism, taking taxes from ordinary Americans and transferring them to the Clintons’ allies. It would be Solyndra on steroids.
Last summer, Walter Russell Mead wrote about how the Clinton Political Machine uses the Foundation to skirt election finance rules, including providing a means for foreigners to contribute to the U.S. presidential campaign. The Foundation almost certainly paid exuberant fees and salaries to individuals who would later work for the Hillary Clinton campaign. And, as has been the focus of the past month of much reporting, the Foundation has put the presumptive president-to-be in a series of conflicts-of-interest when it comes to policy decisions she will have to make that could benefit many of the Foundation's funders. Rove is correct: it is time to shut down the Clinton Foundation.


Wednesday, August 24, 2016
 
What I'm reading
1. I'm re-reading The Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in the Age of Individualism by Yuval Levin. It is one of the best three books of the year, and easily the best politics book of the year. (The best political book I've read this year was released last December.)
2. Fail U.: The False Promise of Higher Education by Charles J. Sykes
3. The links (papers, reviews, etc) on libertarianism at BookForum.
4. "The Gender Wage Gap," a Institute for Fiscal Studies paper by Monica Costa Dias, William Elming, and Robert Joyce. There is coverage of the paper in The Independent, the gist of which is that the wage gap between men and women grows after women have their first child.
5. "Sexuality and Gender: Findings from the Biological, Psychological, and Social Sciences," special report from The National Interest by Lawrence S. Mayer and Paul R. McHugh. The Daily Caller has news coverage of the report.


 
Did they get their money's worth?
Cost of Melania Trump's RNC speech was about half of what the campaign spent on three visits to Domino's pizza the same month.


 
Antony Jay, RIP
Writer Antony Jay, co-creator of "Yes, Minister" and "Yes, Prime Minister," has passed away. Both shows are essential viewing for people who want to understand politics because Jay (and co-writer Jonathan Lynn) understood public choice theory. From the Daily Telegraph obituary:
It was Jay’s growing interest in public choice theory that helped to shape Yes, Minister, an interest that after he became a partner with John Cleese and two others in Video Arts, a company that makes comedy training films for business managers and campaigners.
In economics public choice theory assumes that all economic actors – businessmen, consumers, politicians and bureaucrats – are motivated primarily by individual gain. Thus, politicians pursue re-election and bureaucrats pursue budget-maximisation, while voters and interest groups chase free lunches. The trick is to know your enemy and exploit his self-interest to your own advantage.
A perfect example of public choice and the bureaucracy:
Jay and Lynn also skewered the absurdities of politics (especially buck-passing) and abuse of language:


 
A 'study'
BBC: "Ramen noodles 'are most valuable US prison commodity', study suggests." Before you make too much of this finding, the BBC reports, "the research is based on anecdotal evidence from fewer than 60 inmates and staff from one male state prison," so there might be a sample size problem.


 
Watching for wasteful spending
The Globe and Mail editorializes about the few thousand dollars the Health Minister spent on being chauffeured around town and a few thousand more that the Environment Minister spent on a photographer during her delegations trip to the Paris climate change conference last year. The paper rightly notes that these are pittances compared to large government programs:
But anyone truly worried about government spending needs to set their sights higher. That $1.5-billion in Ontario transit spending announced on Tuesday? It’s just one small piece of a Liberal plan to spend $125-billion on infrastructure over the next 10 years. One-hundred-and-twenty-five. Billion.
That’s where the real money is, and where the real waste can happen. The nickel-and-dime stuff has its place, but it is more theatre than real fiscal accountability.
And yet, the spending by the federal cabinet ministers is not nothing, either. It isn't the dollar amounts, though, but the sense of entitlement that government officials -- not just Liberals, but members of the governing class -- too often display. I don't begrudge cabinet ministers drivers while they are outside Ottawa, but as the paper says, Jane Philpott should have the sense to avoid the obvious conflict of overpaying for a car from a company owned by a former campaign volunteer. The media and the opposition parties are very good at holding the government to account for these minor indiscretions. As citizens and taxpayers we must hope they are as diligent in holding the government to account when they spend billions of dollars for mega projects.


 
Not going to happen
The Washington Post has three possible "break-up" scenarios between the Republicans and Donald Trump. Sorry, but they're stuck with each other.


 
North Korean missile tests
The Wall Street Journal reports:
North Korea fired a submarine-launched missile that traveled much further than previous similar tests, a fresh sign of progress in Pyongyang’s program to develop nuclear-tipped missiles that are difficult to detect before launch.
As they say at Small Dead Animals, "it's probably nothing."


Tuesday, August 23, 2016
 
Working shows off privilege
National Review's Katherine Timpf:
According to an article on Slate, the #FirstSevenJobs hashtag is offensive because “it’s just a way to disguise your privilege.”
“What really bothers me about #firstsevenjobs is the ideology it reflects,” a Slate associate editor, L.V. Anderson, writes. “#Firstsevenjobs promotes the ideal, as old as America, of the self-made man who creates his own destiny through hard work.”


 
Space waste
Kathy Shaidle at Taki's Magazine:
Bores insist that the space program has spun off a host of indispensable inventions, but these they can rarely name, and besides, such wonders, if truly crucial, would have been developed anyhow—perhaps even faster, and more cheaply, had the government left trillions in stolen cash in the hands of private enterprise.
Perhaps some readers will find my opinions more palatable if phrased this way: “Federally funded spaceflight is the quintessential neoconservative project: a giant, wasteful crusade designed to fill Americans’ supposedly empty lives with meaning.”
Shaidle also calls the space-station "the Olympics in the sky, and just as pointless."
I am in favour of private-sector mining of resources in space. The high-risk, high-reward venture, however, should not involve taxpayer money. Companies making moonshots should do so on their own dime.


 
The state of the US presidential race
FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver:
Since then, Trump has gotten some slightly better results, with national polls suggesting a race more in line with a 5- or 6-percentage-point lead for Clinton instead of the 7- or 8-point lead she had earlier in August. But state polls haven’t really followed suit and continue to show Clinton with some of her largest leads of the campaign. Trump received some decent numbers in Iowa and Nevada, but his polls in other swing states have been bad.
Overall, Trump has gained slightly in our forecasts: He’s up to a 15 percent chance of winning the Electoral College in our polls-only model, up from a low of 11 percent a week ago. And he’s at 25 percent in polls-plus, up from a low of 21 percent. But the evidence is conflicting enough that I don’t think we can rule out a larger swing toward Trump or, alternatively, that his position hasn’t improved at all.
Silver has a two charts showing the shift from one poll compared to the previous one. Nationally, they indicate no shift or Donald Trump reducing the gap from one to seven percentage points. On the state-level, however, Hillary Clinton has improved her advantage, cut into Trump's lead, or gained the lead in six of 16 states; there was no change in the other ten. It's odd to have Texas included among the states (where Trump leads by a mere six points) so Silver could be guilty of cherry-picking here. But if you go by the polls, the nation-wide indication that Trump has arrested his dip in the polls is not replicated at the state level, which matters much more.
You are certainly welcome, maybe even justified, to argue the campaign will matter and it is possible that there is a silent plurality for Trump that the polls aren't capturing. But it is still troubling for Republicans that the momentum seems to favour Clinton and that Trump's lead in places like Missouri is down to three percentage points and that Iowa and Georgia are ties right now.


 
What I'm reading
1. The Lougheed Legacy by David G. Wood, a 1985 book on Alberta's first Progressive Conservative premier.
2. "How NATO Must Adapt in a Changing World," a Macdonald-Laurier Institute Commentary by Shuvaloy Majumdar and Marcus Kolga
3. "Social Capital, Trust, and Well-being in the Evaluation of Wealth," a World Bank research paper by Kirk Hamilton, John Helliwell, and Michael Woolcock
4. "The Effect of Population Aging on Economic Growth," a Rand Corp paper by Nicole Maestas, Kathleen J. Mullen, and David Powell, and its updated NEBR version
5. "Poverty after Welfare Reform," a Manhattan Institute paper by Scott Winship


 
Trump is pure ego
Michael Brendan Dougherty in The Week: "Donald Trump has made this election all about himself. That was stupid." Dougherty notes that in 2013 Trump predicted he would "suck all the oxygen out of the room" and he has. Pointing out that just recently there have been four negative stories about Hillary Clinton, Dougherty says, "The Trump show ... is distracting from all the bad news that could be hurting Hillary Clinton." Defeating Clinton would be so much easier if the election were about her and not Trump. But Trump can't do that. His ego won't allow him to.


 
Aging and economic growth
Washington Post columnist Robert J. Samuelson looks at a new Rand Corp. study that finds aging contributes to a decline in economic growth, to the tune of 1.2 percentage points in recent years. Samuelson says the study's results have yet to be confirmed or duplicated, but even if partially true, they are significant:
On the whole, the study reveals bad news. One way that advanced societies can handle aging populations is through faster economic growth, which enables younger generations to pay the elderly’s benefits without sacrificing too much of their own incomes. But if aging is a cause of slower economic growth — even if the impact is less than the study suggests — then this avenue is of limited help.
1.2 percentage is not insignificant:
Although this seems small, it’s enormous. Consider the numbers. From the 1950s to 2007, the economy (gross domestic product) grew about 3 percent a year, sometimes a little more, sometimes a little less. By contrast, annual growth since 2010 has averaged about 2 percent. But add in the 1.2 percent annual growth lost to aging, and we’re roughly at 3 percent growth again.
There are several theories as to why aging populations lead to depressed economic growth. The obvious is that older workers aren't as productive, but that's not an explanation Samuelson or the study's authors really explore. Another possibility that holds water in my view is this:
Or it may be that as societies age, they become more cautious. Their members value stability and security over ambition and adventure. They’re more restrained and realistic and less experimental and optimistic. If these values strengthen as people age, they may impose a stand-pat and conservative bias on businesses and households.
Regardless of the reason, there are policy implications. Samuelson says "a better balance of obligation between older and younger generations" is necessary. He ignores the benefits of increasing birth rates to spur long-term population -- and economic -- growth.


Monday, August 22, 2016
 
100% of the power with less than majority support
J.J. McCullough responds to the "no party with 40% of the vote should exercise 100% of the power" mantra employed by the advocates of electoral reform:
The paradox of imposing any allegedly “fairer” voting system on Canada — ranked ballot or otherwise — is that it will do absolutely nothing to kill the “40% of the vote with 100% of the power” menace. If anything, it will make that menace much, much worse ...
But let’s take a look at what percentage of the popular vote the “winning” party — that is, the political party whose leader got to become prime minister — won in a few of those places.
Germany is ruled by Christian Democrat leader Angela Merkel. Her party won 41.6% in the most recent German election. In Sweden, Social Democrat leader Stefan Löfven is in charge. His party won 31% of the vote. In Holland, the People’s Party of Prime Minister Mark Rutte won 26%. In Belgium, the party of PM Charles Michel won a measly 9%.
This sort of thing is allowed to happen because more “proportional” electoral systems make it easier for small political parties to win seats in parliament, which in turn makes it difficult for any one party to win a majority of the popular vote — or seats in parliament.
Advocates of proportional representation might reply that the governing coalition has majority support. McCullough anticipates the argument, noting:
If 48% of the country votes right and 47% votes left, then in a perfectly proportionate system the balance of power will be held by whatever nonsense party gets the remaining 5% — the Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party, etc.
As usual, it is worth reading McCullough's entire piece for bring up points that few mainstream journalists bother exploring.
The 100% power with 40% of the vote is also ridiculous for other reasons. Briefly a few:
1) Prime ministers don't really have 100% of the power, nor does his government. Formally, there are the courts, bureaucracy, and Parliament. Informally, there is public opinion (voters), the opposition parties, and the press.
2) If 100% of the power with 40% is wrong, why is 100% of the power with 50% plus one okay? If it is simply about math and not institutions and their history, to wield 100% of the power should require 100% of the vote, shouldn't it?
3) For argument sake, let's say prime ministers have 100% of the power. Isn't the problem, as McCullough suggests, giving that power to the PM in the first place.
3b) What would proportionately distributed power look like?
4) The electoral reform crowd frames the alleged disproportionality of election results incorrectly and treats Canada as having one election when, in fact, we have 338 separate elections. Parliament reflects which party won the most individual elections. Electoral reform advocates might not like the system, but their talking points misrepresent the system they claim to be critiquing. (Are they confused or are they misleading the public?) Canadians need a civics lesson to undo the misinformation of electoral reform advocates.


 
Zika renews late-term abortion debate in southern U.S.
When the Zika virus made headlines earlier this year, abortion advocates used the issue to push their agenda in Latin America, a phenomenon we wrote about in The Interim:
Abortion advocates are using the Zika virus to pressure Latin American governments to expand access to abortion. The Zika virus is transmitted to humans bitten by infected Aedes aegypti mosquitoes residing in tropical areas. About one in five infected individuals experience mild symptoms of fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes for up to a week.
The most serious suspected complications of Zika include microcephaly in babies of infected mothers as well as Guillain-Barré syndrome (a disorder where a person’s own immune system damages nerve cells, leading to paralysis). On Feb. 1, the World Health Organization declared the infection to be a public health emergency due to these findings.
Now that there are 529 pregnant women in the United States possibly infected with Zika, abortion advocates are calling for a loosening of abortion restrictions in the third trimester. The Wall Street Journal reports:
Antiabortion groups expressed support for his stance. “Disease must be confronted with life-affirming solutions,” said Clarke Forsythe, acting president of Americans United for Life, a legal and advocacy group. “When faced with the challenge of a child with reduced abilities, the best approach is to equip the parents with skills, resources and support.”
The debate echoes arguments in the 1960s over an epidemic of rubella, or German measles, which can cause birth defects if a mother is infected during pregnancy. Though abortion was still mostly illegal, more than 11,000 women sought the procedure, or had miscarriages, during the outbreak, according to the CDC.
A STAT-Harvard poll earlier this month found that only 23% of U.S. adults believe women should have access to abortion after 24 weeks of pregnancy. But when asked about women infected with Zika whose babies could have microcephaly, that figure jumped to 59%.
I understand the emotional reaction to Zika that leads people to support late-term abortion in such cases -- roughly twice as many as typically support abortions after 24 weeks -- but the health of the child does not change the fact of its humanity or its value and dignity. The emotional blackmail that abortion advocate resort to using tragic circumstances to undermine the law cannot be countenanced. Women facing the difficult trials in these cases need support and resources, not access to the abortionist.


 
Courts step in -- and step up -- to limit solitary confinement
The Globe and Mail editorializes in defense of courts taking action to protect inmates from the excessive use of solitary confinement:
Prisons can be dangerous places, and the people inside them are there because they committed crimes. Some inmates are violent; some fight gang battles behind bars. But to reduce those dangers, and protect guards and other prisoners, the widespread application of solitary is not the answer. It has been proven to be extremely harmful to the mental health of those subjected to it.
The Trudeau government promised to reduce the use of solitary, though as yet it has done nothing. Nor have provincial governments. At this point, the inmates’ best allies are the courts that sentenced them to prison in the first place. Bizarre, that.
Long-term and repeated use of solitary confinement is cruel, dangerous, and counter-productive. It is defended as a necessity to make prisons safer, but it is effectively a punishment on top of a punishment. Reacting to the growing literature on the harm it causes inmates, the federal and provincial governments have vowed to circumscribe its use, but they continue to drag their feet to implement stricter rules and limits on solitary confinement. The courts, as the Globe says, are to be applauded for protecting the rights and health of prisoners, but they shouldn't have to.


 
Joyless Hillary is a greater political liability than Crooked Hillary
Kellyanne Conway, a former pollster who is now campaign manager for the Donald Trump campaign, told “This Week” host George Stephanopoulos "we’re certainly running against the least accountable, least transparent, I think joyless candidate in presidential political history." Hillary Clinton's joylessness might be a bigger problem for her this fall than her ethics. Happy warriors do well in politics. HRC is anything but a happy warrior.
There is a certain type of feminist who will complain that joyless is code for bitch. That might be true. Either way, Clinton will turn off voters as they pay more attention to her campaign in the final months.


 
Mike Rowe on encouraging people to vote
We've all heard professors, public service announcements, co-workers ... whoever, encourage people to get out and vote, usually saying something like: "it doesn't matter who you vote for as long as you exercise your right to vote. This is silly advice. Certainly, the choices people make in the voting booth, and why, is not irrelevant to whether they should be encouraged to exercise their franchise. We don't really believe that, do we? The recipient of the advice may not be ready for the responsibility of marking the ballot. Mike Rowe, host of "Dirty Jobs," rebuffed a request from a supporter to encourage his fans to vote in the November election. The Daily Caller reports:
“I share your concern for our country, and agree wholeheartedly that every vote counts,” Rowe responded in a lengthy Facebook post. “However, I’m afraid I can’t encourage millions of people whom I’ve never met to just run out and cast a ballot, simply because they have the right to vote. That would be like encouraging everyone to buy an AR-15, simply because they have the right to bear arms.”
“I would need to know a few things about them before offering that kind of encouragement. For instance, do they know how to care for a weapon? Can they afford the cost of the weapon? Do they have a history of violence? Are they mentally stable? In short, are they responsible citizens?”
“Casting a ballot is not so different,” he continued. “It’s an important right that we all share, and one that impacts our society in dramatic fashion. But it’s one thing to respect and acknowledge our collective rights, and quite another thing to affirmatively encourage people I’ve never met to exercise them.
Rowe says many celebrities encourage the masses to vote because they believe it helps elect liberal Democrats.


 
Red China's assault on civil society
Reuters reports:
China has issued new rules demanding the establishment of Communist Party panels in non-government bodies, aiming to beef up the ruling party's role in such social groups, amid a broad crackdown on civil society.
Western governments and rights groups have already lambasted a law passed in April, saying it treats foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as a criminal threat and would effectively force many out of the country.
The new guidelines, released late on Sunday by the general office of the party's central committee and the State Council, or cabinet, say party committees must be set up to ensure "effective cover" in all NGOs.
"Strengthen political thought education for responsible people at social groups, and guide them to actively support party building," the guidelines said. "Promote the place of party building in the social group's charters."
Supervision of the groups must also be placed high among the daily tasks of local party committees, whose performance will be judged on how well they manage the groups, the guidelines added.
There has been no comment on this development by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, or the U.S. State Department.
Remember back in the 1990s when advocates of trade with Red China said it would lead to democratization of the communist system? Hasn't happened.


 
German government to tell people to stockpile food and water
Reuters reports:
For the first time since the end of the Cold War, the German government plans to tell citizens to stockpile food and water in case of an attack or catastrophe, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung newspaper reported on Sunday ...
"The population will be obliged to hold an individual supply of food for ten days," the newspaper quoted the government's "Concept for Civil Defence" - which has been prepared by the Interior Ministry - as saying.
The paper said a parliamentary committee had originally commissioned the civil defense strategy in 2012.
A spokesman for the Interior Ministry said the plan would be discussed by the cabinet on Wednesday and presented by the minister that afternoon. He declined to give any details on the content.
People will be required to stockpile enough drinking water to last for five days, according to the plan, the paper said.
The report also calls for improved emergency infrastructure (upgraded alarm system) and improved popular support for the military. Reuters suggests heightened concerns about terrorism is the impetus for acting on the report.
As they say at Small Dead Animals, "it's probably nothing."


 
The children aren't our future
Ann Althouse drew attention to the NPR story on climate change and a new angle on doing things "for the children," like not having them. Travis Rieder, a philosopher with the Berman Institute of Bioethics at Johns Hopkins University, said "Here's a provocative thought: Maybe we should protect our kids by not having them." And that goes for grandchildren, too. At the New Hampshire meeting of Conceivable Future:
67-year-old Nancy Nolan tells two younger women that people didn't know about climate change in the 1980s when she had her kids. Once her children were grown, "I said to them, 'I hope you never have children,' which is an awful thing to say," Nolan says, her voice wavering. "It can bring me to tears easily."
It is worth reading the full article, to see the mindset that is so pessimistic that it denies progeny. The hand-wringing of climate alarmists would be amusing if it weren't quite so pathetic. In the glass-is-half-full view of things, natural selection reduces stupidity within the species.


 
More Facebook censorship
Red State reports that Facebook has deleted two Libertarian pages, Being Libertarian (nearly 120,000 likes) and Occupy Democrats Logic (over 130,000 likes), the former without explanation and the latter for posting a fairly benign graphic noting that both Islam and Christianity oppose homosexuality but apparently one religion gets a pass.


Sunday, August 21, 2016
 
I, sandwich
MEP Daniel Hannan has a column on how the humble chicken sandwich "dramatises, in a way that everyone can understand, the breath-taking splendour of the capitalist system." Last year one person made a sandwich on his own and documented it -- from milking the cow to getting salt from seawater. The total enterprise cost $1500 and took six months. Capitalism, in which people exchange goods and services, is more efficient. I like to say another name for capitalism is cooperation. That cooperation allows civilization to flourish. Hannan says:
Truly the market is a thing of beauty. The next time you buy a chicken sandwich in Boots or Tesco, consider what has gone into it. Think, not just of the effort of producing the bread and the lettuce and the mayonnaise; think, too, of the lumberjack who felled the tree that made the cardboard wrapper; think of the lorry-driver who brought the sandwich from the depot to your street; think of the woman who keeps the accounts for that haulage company. And then contemplate the almost miraculous fact that that sandwich, instead of taking you six months to assemble, can be purchased for the equivalent of 19 minutes’ work on the minimum wage.
In that shrinkage – six months to 19 minutes – lies human civilisation. That freeing up of time is what has given us symphonies and space travel and smallpox vaccines and Snapchat. And here’s the best part. As the nexus expands, and more people are drawn into the production of sandwiches (and everything else), goods and services become cheaper, freeing up yet more time to invent further marvels.
If you don't get the reference in the headline, read Leonard E. Read's classic essay, "I, Pencil." There is also the Toaster Project. We want people to have sandwiches, pencils, and toasters, and that is best achieved through exchange, not having every individual make his own.


 
The future is here
TechRepublic reports that one district of Helsinki, Finland will be served by driverless mini-buses, at least on a test-case basis:
Finnish law does not require vehicles on the road to have a driver, making it the perfect place to get permission to test the Easymile EZ-10 electric mini-buses.
The article quotes Harri Santamala, project manager at Metropolia University of Applied Sciences and the test project lead, who said the buses could revolutionize public transit, at least incrementally:
The robotic buses could be used in addition to existing public transportation options in the future, Santamala said. "Their purpose is to supplement but not to replace it," he added. "For example, the goal could be to use them as a feeder service for high-volume bus or metro traffic... In other words, the mini-bus would know when the connecting service is coming and it would get you there on time."
(HT: Marginal Revolution)


 
LSN interview with Michael Hart
LifeSiteNews interviewed Michael Hart, author of Hubris: The Troubling Science, Economics, and Politics of Climate Change, one of the best books of 2015. Hart talks about his motivation for writing Hubris:
The more I looked into it, however, the more I learned the extent to which it fit with one of my research interests: the extent to which modern health, safety, and environmental regulatory activity relies on poor science advanced by activists to push an agenda. I learned that both domestic and international actors had succeeded in using the poorly understood science of climate change to advance an ambitious environmental agenda focused on increasing centralized control over people’s daily lives.
Each question and answer is a variation of the theme that ideologues abuse science to advance their agenda. Hart says:
Putting aside those who cynically exploit the issue for their own gain – from scientists and politicians to UN leaders and green businesses – most activists are deeply committed to a secular, statist, anti-human, earth-centric set of beliefs which drives their claims of a planet in imminent danger from human activity. To them, a planet with fewer people is the ultimate goal, achievable only through centralized direction and control.


 
Policy by picture
Peter Hitchens in the Sunday Mail (scroll down to the second item):
The picture of the shocked Aleppo survivor, Omran Daqneesh, like that of the drowned child Alan Kurdi last year, should not be allowed to enforce a conformist opinion on the world.
The death of Alan Kurdi did not mean that it was wise to fling wide the borders of Europe (as Germany’s Angela Merkel now well knows).
The rescue of Omran Daqneesh should not make us side with the bloody and merciless Syrian rebels.
Hitchens warns that our understandable emotional responses to depictions of such tragedy shouldn't lead us to rush to ill-considered policy responses.


 
Against state-funding of sports
Sunday Mail columnist Peter Hitchens is not a fan of the Olympics and even less of a fan of subsidizing its athletes:
You may remember the superb figure skater Katarina Witt, who won Winter Olympic gold medals in 1984 and 1988, and a pile of other awards for her ghastly country in the years just before it collapsed in a cloud of rust.
What did her triumphs prove? Nothing much, except that state power can achieve sporting success. In which case, what is so joyous about it?
If sport is about anything, surely it is about individual achievement, not plans, budgets and political prestige.
Hitchens says such subsidies are less defensible in Britain -- and one could add Canada or Australia or wherever in the West -- "because, as a free society, we had the power to question it and we didn’t." Indeed, we demand it.


 
The sky isn't falling in Britain
The Daily Mail reports that the immediate dire warnings of Project Fail -- stock market crash and an emergency budget -- have failed to materialize. It's been only eight weeks since the Brexit referendum, but the early reaction is not nearly as bad as George Osborne, David Cameron, numerous other cabinet ministers and most pundits predicted.
The Daily Express: "Britain's borrowing hits lowest level since 2008 as Brexit boom continues." When you read on, it is further evidence that Project Fear was wrong:
The public finances were in surplus by around £1billion last month, after being in the red by around £7.8bn in June, official figures revealed today.
Public sector borrowing is now at £23.7bn for financial year-to-date, down £3bn down from the same period last year and the lowest since 2008,the Office for National Statistics (ONS) data showed.
Britain is usually in the black in July because it's when a chunk of corporate tax receipts are received.
But experts said the figures were further proof the vote to leave the European Union had not impacted the economy.


 
Sadiq Khan bails on Jeremy Corbyn
London Mayor Sadiq Khan in The Observer: "We cannot win with Jeremy … so I will vote for Owen Smith." He explains:
I’ve thought hard about my role in the Labour leadership election. I considered staying neutral because, as mayor, I need to work with everyone to get the best deal for London. But I’ve been asked how I’ll vote by many of the Labour members and supporters who helped me throughout my campaign, and they deserve an answer.
And he's backing Corbyn's challenger, Owen Smith. Khan considers Corbyn a principled leader and is disturbed by the attacks on Corbyn, but it comes down to electability: "By every available measure, if Jeremy remains as leader, Labour is extremely unlikely to win the next general election." Khan cites poor poll numbers and Corbyn's inept Brexit leadership.
Times columnist Tim Montgomerie sums up Khan's actions quite nicely:


Saturday, August 20, 2016
 
Donald Trump to black America
Donald Trump makes a pitch for the black vote in Dimondale, Michigan -- a city that is 90 minutes outside Detroit and 93% white -- by pleading with African-Americans: "You live in your poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58 percent of your youth is unemployed. What the hell do you have to lose?" Does Trump think all blacks live in the projects? The black poverty rate was 26.2% in 2014 (more than twice the rate of whites), which is too high. But with just a quarter of blacks living in poverty, perhaps Trump is missing the mark talking to black voters by promising to alleviate poverty and fix dysfunctional schools.
Trump is encouraging poor blacks and (presumably) the stagnating black middle class to abandon the Democrats: "Look how much African-American communities have suffered under Democratic rule. To those I say the following: What do you have to lose by trying something new like Trump? What do you have to lose?" The Republican presidential candidate vows to win 95% of the black vote in 2020 if elected this November because he's going to "produce for the inner cities." A Republican winning 75% of the black vote would be impressive enough, but winning at better than the level Barack Obama had in his re-election campaign in 2012 would be phenomenal, if a tad unrealistic.


 
Corrugated and paperboard box facts
The Washington Post reports:
This is the best of times for boxes. For decades, a stagnating economy and shift away from manufacturing flattened sales of corrugated and paperboard boxes. But in 2013, sales rebounded and have kept climbing, thanks to an improving economy and, analysts say, a fundamental shift in shopping habits.
Box sales are growing about 3 percent a year and will rise to nearly $40 billion in 2018, according to Katie Wieser, an analyst with the Freedonia Group, a market research firm. But boxes for e-commerce are growing even faster, at 4 percent. Amazon is thought to be the biggest customer, shipping nearly 5 billion packages a year.
That's part of a story on decorated boxes so companies and customers can signal their tastes and affluence.


 
New York cabdrivers no longer required to speak English
The New York Times reports (via NewsAlert):
[On Friday] rules went into effect eliminating the requirement that taxi drivers take an English proficiency exam. Now, the test for a taxi license is available in several languages, to accommodate non-English speakers.
The sponsors of a City Council bill to remove the English test argued that the requirement was a barrier for would-be drivers from immigrant communities who were looking for work. But the shift has prompted concerns over whether communication between taxi drivers and passengers could become even more difficult.
(HT: Instapundit)


 
Venezuelan socialism
As Powerline's John Hinderaker says, "In socialist Venezuela, it has come to this": People are breaking into the Caracas zoo in Venezuela and killing animals for food. The animals are barely fairing any better, with at least 50 creatures dying of starvation due to food shortages in the country.


 
Dilbert creator on Trump
The Wall Street Journal's weekend interview is with Scott Adams, the creator of the Dilbert cartoon. The Journal's James Taranto writes:
Can Donald Trump possibly win the presidency? For months Scott Adams was asking if Mr. Trump could possibly lose. Mr. Adams now believes the answer to the latter question is yes—although, unlike most professional pundits, he hasn’t written off the Republican nominee. And while he speculates Mr. Trump may have a tendency toward “self-sabotage,” he attributes Hillary Clinton’s strong performance in recent polls mostly to her campaign’s improvements rather than to Mr. Trump’s missteps.
Adams says that what most pundits consider a sign that Trump is unfit for office, is key to his success (so far):
What seemed like madness to others, Mr. Adams recognized as method. Those cruel but seemingly random nicknames Mr. Trump gives his rivals? Mr. Adams calls them “linguistic kill shots” and says their purpose is not just to display dominance but to change the way voters think.
Adams points to how Trump has effectively framed how we think of Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, or Hillary Clinton as lying, low-energy, or a crook. Adams believes the recent polling gap is mostly due to improvements in the Clinton campaign, not necessarily major missteps by Trump. (That's debatable, but the punditocracy assumes it is all voters getting fed up with Trump.) Adams says that with a little magnanimity and some minimal mastery of policy Trump can beat Clinton in the debates because of the ridiculously low expectations for the Republican presidential candidate.
Adams was one of the first to notice that Trump has effective persuasion skills and therefore could be a potent political force. Perhaps he is stubbornly sticking to his predictions, but his analysis deserves to be taken seriously.


 
CPC finance critic: no need for more taxes
Lisa Raitt, the Conservative Party's finance critic, has a guest column in the Toronto Sun in which she says the Liberal government does not need to raise taxes (including, presumably introducing a carbon tax) because government already spends a lot of money:
When you add it all up, the Department of Finance reports that total revenue for all levels government in Canada was over $745 billion in 2014. (The most recent year for which there is full data available.)
Government, with all that money, does many important things. From schools and hospitals, to fighter jets, to roads and airports, there are legitimate bills to pay. But with $745 billion in government coffers already, there are no problems today that can be solved with more taxes.
If the Liberal government wants to spend more, they should prioritize spending, not increase it.


 
Aides who say 'no'? You gotta be kidding
Kelly McParland's post on Jane Philpot's "sedan" rides is today's National Post editorial on the latest Liberal entitlement scandal. It is a mostly measured piece about how attempts to deflect responsibility are often worse than the initial indiscretion, but I wonder about McParland's/The Post's suggestion that ministers have someone on their staff who should warn them that an expense is unwarranted, whether it is a limo service or upgrading from one five-star hotel to another: "within each ministerial, mayoral or other political retinue should be one figure delegated to keep an implacable eye on expenditures, and the responsibility of warning the boss when he/she is about to do something astonishingly self-destructive." I have two problems with this naïve suggstion. First, it assumes that the staff would know the difference between defensible expenses and indefensible luxuries or that they are not themselves susceptible to feeling entitled (even on behalf of their boss), and, second, it expects that these staff members are going to say no to their boss on requests for certain expenses. I doubt either of these possibilities.


Friday, August 19, 2016
 
Can GOP hold on to Congress in a Trump rout?
The Weekly Standard's Jay Cost looks at recent trends in split-ticket voting and says that Donald Trump needs to stay within 5-percentage points of Hillary Clinton for the Republicans to maintain control of the House of Representatives.


 
Hosting the Olympics
Angus Reid surveyed Canadians and found that most people do not want their home city or closest major city to host a future Olympics: 56% are opposed to hosting the Olympics nearby, while 44% support the idea. People are waking up to the fact that these games are a boondoggle for taxpayers, with negligible benefits for the local economy.


 
'Scaled back'
The Wall Street Journal: "Clinton Family Plans to Scale Back Foundation If Hillary Clinton Wins Election." The paper reports:
Former President Bill Clinton and his daughter, Chelsea, plan to stop raising money for the Clinton Foundation and turn over operations to independent parties if Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton is elected president, according to people familiar with the plans.
The Clintons also plan to discontinue after this year one of the foundation’s signature events, the Clinton Global Initiative, Mr. Clinton told the staff at the foundation’s headquarters in New York on Thursday, according to people familiar with the matter.
Next month’s annual meeting aims to draw commitments from corporations, philanthropies and others to seek to remedy global problems such as poverty and AIDS.
The Clinton Foundation also would no longer accept foreign and corporate donations if Mrs. Clinton were elected president, a foundation official said on Thursday.
A cynic might say the Foundation has already achieved its primary goal if Hillary Clinton is in the White House.


 
Self-driving Uber rides coming to Pittsburgh
The future will be here in a few weeks. Bloomberg: "Uber’s First Self-Driving Fleet Arrives in Pittsburgh This Month." Bloomberg reviews:
Starting later this month, Uber will allow customers in downtown Pittsburgh to summon self-driving cars from their phones, crossing an important milestone that no automotive or technology company has yet achieved. Google, widely regarded as the leader in the field, has been testing its fleet for several years, and Tesla Motors offers Autopilot, essentially a souped-up cruise control that drives the car on the highway. Earlier this week, Ford announced plans for an autonomous ride-sharing service. But none of these companies has yet brought a self-driving car-sharing service to market.
Uber’s Pittsburgh fleet, which will be supervised by humans in the driver’s seat for the time being, consists of specially modified Volvo XC90 sport-utility vehicles outfitted with dozens of sensors that use cameras, lasers, radar, and GPS receivers. Volvo Cars has so far delivered a handful of vehicles out of a total of 100 due by the end of the year. The two companies signed a pact earlier this year to spend $300 million to develop a fully autonomous car that will be ready for the road by 2021.
Self-driving were a big issue on talk radio over the past few days, including fully autonomous vehicles (no driver necessary). Many critics can't countenance any error, ignoring that human drivers are not error-free.


 
'Olympics and Mental Illness'
David Gratzer in his Reading this week is about American swimmer Allison Schmitt and her depression and recovery. Gratzer concludes his Reading, "To further break down stigma, we need people to talk more about their experiences – our neighbours, our friends, our Olympians."