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.

XML This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?
Friday, August 01, 2014
Coffee break/time to reload
72-hour ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. The Jerusalem Post's timeline of events reports that alarms went off warning citizens of imminent missile attacks three times after the ceasefire was announced (but before it went into effect, including one hour, 15 minutes before the ceasefire is supposedly operative).

Crossing the line: Going after Catholicism okay, Islam not so much
Damian Thompson in The Spectator (London): "Now that Richard Dawkins is attacking Muslims and feminists, the atheist Left suddenly discover he’s a bigot."

Young adults eschewing stock market
Charlie Kirk, executive director of Turning Point USA, writing in Investor's Business Daily says that student debt and young adult unemployment/underemployment combine to make young adults less likely to invest in the stock market. But there's more:
If the only stock market millennials know is one that frequently crashes and seems tilted to favor the most successful — and many young Americans are still in tens of thousands of dollars of debt — why would they invest?
My concerns are broader (although Kirk hints at it), that young adults are turning away from investing because they fundamentally lack confidence or actively oppose the stock market as an emblem of free markets in general. Kirk thinks better government policies, including having a target less volatile market, will do the trick, but that seems overly hopeful.

Thursday, July 31, 2014
On this day in Canadian history
On July 31, 1974, Robert Bourassa's Liberal government passed Bill 22, the Official Languages Act, which required French to be the language of work in both the private and public sector. It also required students to take basic instruction in the schools in French unless they passed a test to attend English schools. In 1977, the Parti Quebecois expanded the application of French in the province (including requiring advertising to be in French) with the implementation of the Charter of the French Language.

Don't believe the pretty pictures and price tag
The Canadian Press reports on a government project on the Toronto lakeshore:
The provincial government says it will start the first phase of its planned Ontario Place revitalization in the next few months.
Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport Michael Coteau says construction is expected to begin soon on the first phase of the project — a new urban park and waterfront trail expected to open in 2016.
He says the next stage will be an environmental assessment and land use plan to prepare for development of the remainder of the grounds.
The province has earmarked $100 million for the first phases of the revitalization project.
But Coteau says there are no plans to incorporate residential development — such as condos — into the site because the space is being set aside for the use of the public.
Plans for later phases include the expansion of live music performances, a “canal district” of waterfront shops and restaurants and a hub for “culture, discovery and innovation.”
I bet this project will cost more than $100 million, take longer than 2016 to complete, never have all the amenities that are highlighted while trying to sell it, and doesn't end up looking anything like the artist's rendering of the concept. But there is no caveat emptor when using taxpayer dollars.

(High) Rates aren't the only problems with taxes
Daniel Hannan in the Daily Telegraph on the benefits -- and fairness -- of flat taxes:
Flat taxes make tax avoidance both purposeless and impossible. The rich spend less time on avoidance and more on generating wealth. Their proportion of the overall tax share starts to rise substantially. (“Ah”, say some critics, “but that’s only because they’re now earning more”. Well, yes. But, if that means they’re also paying more tax, where’s the problem?)
The real benefit of the flat tax, though, is not in stopping top-end avoidance. It’s in cutting the cost of compliance for everyone else. I have yet to come across a small business in my constituency that doesn’t need an accountant. Nor have I met a single person who has read and understood the tax code in its entirety.
We may have reached the point where the sheer density of our fiscal system is more deleterious to national competitiveness than the tax level.
If you don't think the rich pay enough in taxes, don't focus on rates but on the loopholes and exemptions that Big Government gives them to shelter their earnings and investments.

'Why Delayed Social Security Reform Costs Us'
Eugene Steuerle of the Urban Institute writes about the problems with the current, unreformed Social Security:
Continues a pattern of unequal justice under the law;
Threatens the well-being of the truly old;
Increases the share of benefits paid to the middle aged;
Leads government to spend ever less on education and other investments;
Contributes to higher nonemployment, lower personal income and revenues; and
Increases the burden that is shifted to the young and to people of color.

'Cut World's Highest Tax Rate To Curb Tax Inversions'
Arthur Laffer and Stephen Moore write in Investor's Business Daily that if American policymakers aren't happy about U.S. companies relocating through inversions, lower its onerous corporate tax rates and move to a territorial system.

Ontario PCs in hiding
The Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario Twitter feed has had only one tweet since the June 12 provincial election.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014
Capitalism is where people get rich making other people better off
Capitalism is not exploitation. Donald Boudreaux in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:
Reality today, however, is poles apart from the reality of the past. Differences in material prosperity no longer are evidence of exploitation of the have-nots by the haves. In fact, for someone to get rich in a market economy requires that he or she serve the masses rather than exploit them.
Name any super-rich person, past or present, in America. Chances are you’ll name someone who started off poor or middle-class and became rich by enriching millions of other people: John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, Richard Sears, Henry Ford, Ray Kroc, Steve Jobs and Tiger Woods, to name only a few. Each of these people earned fabulous wealth by supplying millions of willing buyers with goods, services or entertainment.
The more these people improved the lives of others, the richer they became.

Minimum wage makes part-time workers susceptible to worse scheduling
Virginia Postrel in Bloomberg Views describes how minimum-wage laws make life more miserable for part-time workers:
Regardless of economic conditions, the deal between employers and workers has two components: money, including any benefits, and working conditions, including how well hours match worker preferences. The weak job market affects the total value of that package, not the mix between the two parts.
When an employer demands unpredictable work hours, it’s making the deal worse. It can get away with a worse deal because of the bad economy, but what about the mix? If unreliable schedules are so burdensome, why don’t workers switch to jobs with better schedules but lower pay? Why don’t competitors offer such options?
One possibility is that, despite the burdens, workers actually prefer more money to predictable hours. Some surely do. But others clearly don’t. For people who want a second job, not knowing their working hours isn’t just inconvenient. It’s costly.
The alternative explanation is that employers can’t offer, and workers can’t take, lower wages in exchange for better hours. The minimum wage sets a legal floor.
In other words, minimum-wage laws reduce the flexibility required to make employee-employer relationships more worker friendly. It is best for everyone if employee and employer are able to negotiate their own terms of the relationship rather than having the state take away what is effectively a bargaining chip for employees (lower wages) who want a different set of hours.

Fluke: Can't afford birth control, but can afford to pay for her own Congressional campaign
Bill Zeiser in The American Spectator: "Sandra Fluke is her own biggest campaign donor." Zeiser reports:
Sandra Fluke rose to fame after advocating for Obamacare before members of Congress on the grounds that she couldn't afford her own birth control. But just a few years later, she can afford a generous donation to her California State Senate campaign. That's the scoop from a great piece written by Ashe Schow of the Washington Examiner. Per Schow, Fluke donated $12,000 to her campaign and made $4,826.27 in non-monetary contributions. In addition, Fluke loaned her campaign $100,000.
Looking at the raw numbers, Fluke has outraised her opponent, Ben Allen. However, Fluke's own contributions, along with donations from her wealthy in-laws, total 33 percent of her fundraising. Allen's family and personal contributions, on the other hand, only make up 15 percent of his total donations. Schow breaks it down: "[i]f you remove family donations and loans, Allen has raised $330,141. Removing the same from Fluke and she’s only raised $278,859.01."

Crony capitalism: the Obama-Insurance Company complex
Jeffrey H. Anderson in The Weekly Standard:
Publicly, President Obama loves to demonize insurance companies. But behind the scenes, Big Government and Big Insurance maintain a cozy alliance that the Obama administration actively nourishes, often at taxpayer expense. Indeed, as emails recently obtained by the House Oversight Committee show, Big Government and Big Insurance have worked together to promote Obamacare. They’ve also worked together to make sure taxpayers will help bail out insurance companies who lose money selling insurance under Obamacare — that is, unless Republicans stop this from happening. Moreover, Obama senior advisor Valerie Jarrett is among the prominent White House officials who’ve been in the middle of this collaboration between insurers and the administration — between those driven by the profit motive and those driven by the power motive.
As is detailed in the Oversight Committee’s report, shortly after the disastrous Obamacare rollout began, White House communications director Tara McGuiness and Chris Jennings, Obama’s deputy assistant for health policy, “traded talking points with numerous insurance company CEOs.” According to the report, “Ms. McGuiness and Mr. Jennings collaborated closely with Florida Blue Cross and Blue Shield CEO Patrick Geraghty. After a CBS Evening News appearance on October 11, 2013, Ms. McGuiness emailed Mr. Geraghty, ‘You were great! I watched. Thanks for the help.’”

On this day in Canadian history
On July 30, 1929, William Davis, the 18th premier of Ontario, was born in Toronto. A Progressive Conservative, Davis would serve nearly 14 years as premier from 1971 through 1985, with two majority and two minority governments.
I have a column in the Ottawa Citizen today looking at his very progressive legacy.

Three strikes
1. The best baseball news this week will be that Vin Scully is returning to broadcast Los Angeles Dodgers games for a 66th season. The announcement was made in the second inning of Tuesday's game on the scoreboard at Dodger Stadium. The Los Angeles Times and both have stories on this marvelous piece of news.
2. With the Boston Red Sox announcing that Jon Lester won't start Wednesday's game against the Baltimore Orioles, speculation is rampant that the BoSox starter is being dealt before Thursday's non-waiver trade deadline. Well, even more rampant than it was before.
3. Grantland's Jonah Keri looks at four teams and the possible moves (or non-moves) they could make that would have a major impact on this season and future seasons, and perhaps this is most true of what the Philadelphia Phillies might or might not do. I can't see them trading benched 1B Ryan Howard and his massively unmovable contract and their two best trading chips are 10 and 5 veterans who can veto a trade and say they will (2B Chase Utley and SS Jimmy Rollins). LH starter Cole Hamels is young enough and affordable enough to keep. Yet they have four or five other decent trade chips including starting pitchers A.J. Burnett and Cliff Lee, closer Jon Papelbon, catcher Carlos Ruiz, and OF Marlon Byrd. Philly has a subpar farm system and unloading three or four of those players could refurbish their minor leagues. However, as Keri notes, ownership doesn't want to destroy the brand they've created (which Keri doesn't directly note, includes several recent mediocre seasons). But as Keri does note, every team has seen what the Houston Astros rebuild has done for their revenue stream, including attendance, and that might scare off teams like the Phillies that need to rebuild by tearing down. Keri offers a compromise between what is needed in terms of restocking the team with talent for a future winning team in Philly and the need of ownership not to alienate fans: "The Phillies probably won’t initiate a full-scale rebuild, but if ownership and management can meet halfway between fire sales and inertia, it’ll be a productive start." Sustained 75-win seasons won't bring fans back to the ballpark, but winning will, and unloading more over-priced talent today means getting back to being competitive in the NL East sooner.

The Left wants edgy comedy, but not too edgy
At Samizdata Natalie Solent has a good post about the uproar over Jeremy Clarkson's use of the term slope and how the Left (at least at the BBC and The Guardian) used to like edgy comedy but now finds genuinely edgy humour too political incorrect and therefore not only unfunny but unspeakable. Edgy and politically correct do not go together.

State vs. parents: criminalizing perfectly normal and safe parenting
Lenore Skenazy found another case of misuse of child neglect laws to punish parents for letting children play outside in a public park without adult supervision:
A Port St. Lucie, Forida, mom has been arrested and charged with child neglect for daring to let her son, 7, play in the park half a mile from home. He was happily walking there when a busybody noticed him and asked where his mommy was. Then the busybody called the cops, since apparently no child should ever be outside without a private security detail.
The police descended upon the scene of the crime and later arresting the mom for the usual charge of child neglect ...
As the mom, Nicole Gainey, told ABC Action News:
"My own bondsman said my parents would have been in jail every day," says Gainey who paid nearly $4,000 to bond out.
The officer wrote in the report that Dominic was unsupervised at the park and that "numerous sex offenders reside in the vicinity".
"He just basically kept going over that there's pedophiles and this and that and basically the park wasn't safe and he shouldn't be there alone," says Gainey.
Never mind that research has shown living on the same block as a registered sex offender does not make kids less safe.
Noting that these cases are still unusual (and therefore make the news), Skenazy warns if parents give in to fears about children playing outside unsupervised, or fears that they will be arrested for doing so, we'll soon "be living under a de facto policy of No Child Left Outside."

Canada's richest neighbourhoods
Canadian Business has a list of the five richest neighbhourhoods in each province. No surprise that all five of Ontario's are in Toronto and all of British Columbia's are in Vancouver. Figures for each neighbourhood include average household net worth, average annual household income, and average house cost.

The Bush-Obamaconomy
Peter Morici, an economist and business professor at the University of Maryland, in Investor's Business Daily: "Real Unemployment Rate Isn't 6.1%; It's At Least 18%."
The economy has created only about 6 million new jobs during the Bush-Obama years, whereas the comparable figure during the Reagan-Clinton period was about 40 million.
A recent study by the Center for Immigration Studies indicates that virtually all the new jobs created since 2000 went to immigrants, whereas none were created for native-born Americans.
Adding in discouraged adults who say that they would look for work if conditions were better, those working part-time but say that they want full-time work, and the effects of immigration, the unemployment rate becomes about 15% — and that is a lower-bound estimate.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014
Me on Bill Davis
I have a column in the Ottawa Citizen on former Ontario premier Bill Davis. I point out that he really put the progressive in Progressive Conservative and note:
In his biography of Davis, journalist Claire Hoy charged the premier with presenting himself to rural voters as a conservative who talked up private enterprise and traditional values while governing as a centrist or liberal who expanded the state. Historian Ed Whitcomb says Davis positioned the Tories between the Liberals to the right and the NDP to the left ...
When critics of recent leaders say the Tories should emulate Bill Davis, do they have in mind his leadership style, the political machine, or his political philosophy? If it is his philosophy, will the Tories be able to distinguish themselves from the Liberals and NDP?
From rent control to endless budget deficits to the human rights code, Davis was anything but a conservative.

Capital punishment to make us comfortable
Jacob Sullum writes in the August/September Reason magazine:
It matters because lethal injection, first adopted by Oklahoma in 1977, is supposed to be "the most humane form" of capital punishment, as New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean called it when he signed a bill reinstating the death penalty in 1982. But in this context, "humane" really means "acceptable." The point is not to make condemned murderers comfortable; the point is to make us comfortable.
There are ways to make headline-grabbing fiascos like Lockett's prolonged death less likely. Better training of the technicians who carry out lethal injections would help, and so would simplification of Oklahoma's needlessly complicated protocol, which calls for three drugs when one large dose of a barbiturate such as sodium thiopental would do.
But if preventing unnecessary pain is the goal, it is hard to improve on the firing squad or the guillotine. Such old-fashioned methods were abandoned not because they were too painful but because they were too bloody.
I have increasingly mixed feelings about capital punishment, but I'm no fan of sanitizing death. If society is going to permit the killing of its worst criminals, we should know full well what we are doing.
And as a reminder of why (some) societies have capital punishment, which includes the need to civilize the collective desire for revenge, yesterday was the 37th anniversary of the kidnapping, sexual torture, and murder of 12-year-old Emmanuel Jacques, an incident that put to rest the notion that TO is Toronto the Good.

McGinnis shoots Chris Buck
Chris Buck, a freelance photographer in Washington D.C., was friends with Rick McGinnis. McGinnis took some photos of him years ago and writes about their unlikely friendship. Buck is probably most famous for his unflattering photo of Michelle Bachmann for the cover of Newsweek. Recently Buck took pictures of former Louisiana governor and felon Edwin Edwards.

Stratfor on Israel
Stratfor Global Intelligence on the conflict between Israel and its enemies:
We have long argued that the Arab-Israeli conflict is inherently insoluble. Now, for the third time in recent years, a war is being fought in Gaza ...
Israel’s major problem is that circumstances always change. Predicting the military capabilities of the Arab and Islamic worlds in 50 years is difficult. Most likely, they will not be weaker than they are today, and a strong argument can be made that at least several of their constituents will be stronger. If in 50 years some or all assume a hostile posture against Israel, Israel will be in trouble.
Time is not on Israel’s side. At some point, something will likely happen to weaken its position, while it is unlikely that anything will happen to strengthen its position. That normally would be an argument for entering negotiations, but the Palestinians will not negotiate a deal that would leave them weak and divided, and any deal that Israel could live with would do just that.
What we are seeing in Gaza is merely housekeeping, that is, each side trying to maintain its position. The Palestinians need to maintain solidarity for the long haul. The Israelis need to hold their strategic superiority as long as they can. But nothing lasts forever, and over time, the relative strength of Israel will decline.
George Friedman, chairman of Stratfor, says "The Palestinian position meanwhile must be to maintain its political cohesion and wait, using its position to try to drive wedges between Israel and its foreign patrons, particularly the United States." (I'm a bit confused about who, precisely, Friedman is talking about when he refers to "the Palestinian" because there is no effective government and a multitude of (often terrorist) groups that seem to represent the Palestinian population, but earlier he suggests that if there was no Hamas, there would be another Hamas-like group, so we should assume it is Hamas.) Friedman also says that the only thing that will change the calculus is something outside the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which seems likely.

Social Security: disability funds run out in two years, retirement funds within 20
The Washington Examiner reports:
The Social Security disability trust fund is only two years away from exhaustion, Social Security's Board of Trustees announced Monday, while saying that Medicare's finances appear to have strengthened, thanks to slowing growth in the cost of health care.
The trustees, tasked by Congress with overseeing the trust funds of the nation's retirement programs, estimated that the combined trust for Social Security's retirement and disability programs would be depleted by 2033, the same year as in last year's projections. After that point, beneficiaries will face a 25 percent cut in benefits, as all payments must be financed by incoming tax revenue.
Social Security has been spending more than it has been taking in since 2010, and that imbalance is expected to worsen.
In the past, Congress has played accounting tricks to avoid cutting benefits, a tactic the administration once again favours.

'Cease the ceasefires'
Thomas Sowell:
Calls for a ceasefire are ringing out from the United Nations and from Washington, as well as from ordinary people in many places around the world.
According to the New York Times, Secretary of State John Kerry is hoping for a ceasefire to “open the door to Israeli and Palestinian negotiations for a long-term solution.” President Obama has urged Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to have an “immediate, unconditional humanitarian ceasefire” — again, with the idea of pursuing some long-lasting agreement.
If this were the first outbreak of violence between the Palestinians and the Israelis, such hopes might make sense. But where have the U.N., Kerry, and Obama been during all these decades of endlessly repeated Middle East carnage?
The Middle East must lead the world in ceasefires. If ceasefires were the road to peace, the Middle East would easily be the most peaceful place on the planet. “Ceasefire” and “negotiations” are magic words to “the international community.” But just what do ceasefires actually accomplish? In the short run, they save some lives. But in the long run they cost far more lives by lowering the cost of aggression.
Me: Ceasefire is diplomatic speak for coffee break in the killings. They are meaningless gestures by western leaders and organizations to make themselves look good but do no actual good where the conflict is actually occurring. Hamas will only agree to a ceasefire when they need to reload.

Do words matter?
Kathy Shaidle at Taki magazine:
I’ve always admired John McWhorter’s willingness, as a self-described “liberal Democrat,” to squirt Febreze on some of that tribe’s smellier orthodoxies.
Yet I was rattled when, in his new book, The Language Hoax, McWhorter challenged one of the sturdiest baseline beliefs on both left and right: that words matter ...
Leftists, of course, deny being engaged in a multigenerational, real-time production of “Gaslight Meets 1984,” and will likely wave unread copies of The Language Hoax in the air as proof. These are the same people who, for generations, have shushed, “Sheesh, it’s only a movie,” and “If you don’t like it, change the channel,” all while shoving trillions of dollars into subversive “entertainment” propaganda.
And who—conveniently exempt from their own advice, as usual—carry out bloodthirsty battles to hasten showbiz firings and cancellations in the wake of real or perceived “ungood duckspeak” violations.
Shaidle quotes Steve Sailer: "Orwell’s Newspeak is less about grammar than about controlling what vocabulary is politically correct, and thus narrowing the limits of what it is convenient to think. (…) Who gets called what depends upon who has the power."

Fox News Sunday bests Meet the Press in Washington D.C. viewership for first time in seven years -- and it's not even close
The Daily Caller reports:
The Sunday cable news shows are a weekend staple among Washington D.C.’s movers and shakers, an audience that is jealously guarded by the top networks and coveted by those scrambling to catch up.
“Fox News Sunday’s” big D.C. win over NBC’s “Meet The Press” last Sunday is a big deal — and a possible sign that the Sunday news hierarchy is shifting.
Nielsen Media Research reports that Fox’s flagship Sunday program, headed by Chris Wallace, beat out “Meet The Press” in every Washington ratings category for the first time in nearly seven years.
107,000 people tuned in to watch Wallace, including 41,000 in the all-important 25 to 54 demographic. NBC’s David Gregory could only muster 73,000 viewers, with just 33,000 in the 25 to 54 age group.
Not only did Fox beat NBC in his important Sunday talk-show market, it did so by almost 50%.

Modern parenting
Tyler Cowen points to a story about a Chinese father who hired in-game assassins to kill his son's online characters so the 23-year-old would find computer games boring and find a job.

Monday, July 28, 2014
TTC doesn't like zoned payment system because the people who would travel the farthest would pay the most
Yes, and that's a feature not a bug. The Toronto Star reports that Chris Upfold, the TTC’s chief customer service officer, sees problems with the zoned payment system, including introducing new levels of complexity (paying when going on and off the system), but the criticism that those who travel the farthest will pay higher fees seems to ignore that is precisely the point: traveling farther on TTC buses and subways should cost more, according to proponents of the zone system. Toronto is a big city and traveling from the far ends of the subway lines to the downtown shouldn't cost the same as jumping on and off the streetcars for those who are already there.
My concern with zoned payments, as Upfold notes, is that some people who have to travel far live in some of the poorest neighbourhoods (although we don't really know how many; many probably work near where they live). It is easy to see the city of Toronto inaugurating some sort of subsidy for low-income families if the TTC ever moves to a zone system.
My other concern is that some downtown city councilors might like the idea of fleecing suburban voters in parts of North York and Etobicoke.

McGinnis shoots Mickey Rooney
Corrected edition: this post previously erroneously referred to Mickey Rooney as Mickey Rourke. My apologies.
Rick McGinnis talks about three things in his Some Old Pictures I Took blog: those he photographed, the business of shooting (the venues in which he took the pictures, how these shoots came about), and technical details of him taking the pictures (camera equipment, finding the right shot, film). In his latest entry on actor Mickey Rooney, McGinnis focuses on his subject who was apparently accurately portrayed by Dana Carvey and who Rick considered a lonely person:
As the afternoon wore on, the huge glowing TV in the other room providing a soundtrack of soaps, it occurred to me that Mickey really didn't want us to leave.
He was once the biggest star in the world, and a man who'd blown through nearly $80 million dollars by the time his career cratered after the war. He'd been married eight times, made over 160 feature films and almost as many shorts, in a career that began in the silent era and saw him at his peak the prized player at the biggest studio in Hollywood. And he seemed to me terribly, terribly lonely.

9/11 cross can stay
Ed Morrissey at Hot Air:
Score another victory for common sense. An appeals court affirmed a lower court decision to toss out a lawsuit against the National September 11 Memorial and Museum that sought to bar the display of the “9/11 cross,” the artifact that emerged from the wreckage of the World Trade Center attacks. The group American Atheists tried to argue that the display violated the separation of church and state, while its defenders noted that this was a historical artifact and not an endorsement of religion.

What Israel is facing
The Tazpit News Agency reports:
Hamas had been planning a surprise attack where 200 fighters would have been dispatched through the dozens of tunnels dug by Hamas under the border from Gaza to Israel. The terror organization aimed to seize kibbutzim and other communities while killing and kidnapping Israeli civilians.
In total, thousands of Hamas terrorists would have been swarming across Israel, wearing IDF uniforms, which would have further complicated an Israeli response. Reports further indicate that Hezbollah may have planned to join the attack as well, opening another front in the north.

There is no international community
Toronto Sun columnist John Robson says there is no international community, but rather a West that has been both strong and free (but whose power is waning) and the rest of the world that envies us* but also hates us. The result is a divided world -- no community. If the "international community" were really a thing, there wouldn't be these little proxy battles between Russia and Ukraine (with the West), and Israel (with or without the West) and Hamas (with Iran). And even the relatively similar West is often divided: see the history of France with NATO or much of NATO with the U.S.
* Robson makes the point that the rest of the world does not envy America and the West's way of life, but rather "they envy its results, the prosperity, military prowess, and cultural confidence," and that this envy is often "negative and destructive."

Liberals vs. the rule of law
NRO's Kevin Williamson has a very good piece on the larger issues raised by the reaction to the Halbig decision:
There will always be occasions for discretion and interpretation on legal questions, but it is not the case that such discretion should presumptively empower the IRS to do things that the IRS is not legally entitled to do simply because Barack Obama wishes it to be so. If history teaches us anything, it is that a system of law that presumptively sides with political power soon ceases to be any sort of system of law at all. Rather, it becomes a post facto justification for the will to power, an intellectual window dressing on might-makes-right rule.
The matter addressed in Halbig is hardly the Obama administration’s first attempt to circumvent the law as written — see Hobby Lobby, etc. — nor is it the progressives’ only attempt to impose what they imagine to be enlightened ad-hocracy on the American people. The disdain for the letter of the law is complexly intertwined with the progressive managerial imagination: The law, in their view, is not something that limits the ambitions of princes, but something that empowers them to do what they see fit.

Journalistic priorities
Zero Hedge has front pages from various newspapers from July 28, 1914. Two (presumably typical) front pages have headlines screaming about war in central Europe but not one Chicago daily which focused on a Canadian farmer, "Big Bill Kelly," who was serving time in an Atlanta jail. World War I would see 37 million casualties (17 million deaths, 20 million wounded); Kelly would be pardoned five years later.

Indexation is socialist
At Zero Hedge, Charles Gave of Evergreen Gavekal notes the problem of indexation when allocating capital:
The role of financial markets is to evaluate in real time the marginal return on capital of different assets. This is done through a ‘price discovery mechanism’, with the ‘right price’ found out through a system of constant trial and error. To discover this price calls for a community of active money managers, each doing his or her due diligence before buying and selling. This price is a function of the return on capital and of the expected growth rate of this return. It has nothing at all to do with the size of the investment under consideration. What’s more, if the price of an asset has been going down for the ‘wrong’ reasons, then active money managers should buy more of it. Over time this process will help to stabilize the system.
Active money management is essentially a ‘mean reversion’ strategy. That’s not so for indexation. In the indexation process, there is no attempt at price discovery. The only thing that matters is the relative size of the asset: the bigger the market capitalization, the more an investor should own. This means if the price of a large asset goes up more than the market as a whole, indexers have to buy even more of it.
Thus indexation is a momentum-based strategy. Worse, it is a form of socialism, since new money is allocated not according to the expected return on capital but rather according to the current price of an asset relative to other assets. The bigger an asset, the more one should own …
In a true capitalist system, the rule is the higher the price, the lower the demand. With indexation, the higher the price, the higher the demand. This is insane.

The (carless) culture that is New York
At the Cato Institute's Downsizing Government website, Randal O'Toole discusses mass transit and "who is it for" (not the poor who lack automobiles, he says) and he has this stunning fact:
After all, more than 20 percent of no-vehicle households are in New York, a state that has only 6 percent of the nation’s population.
Many households, O'Toole says, make the choice to not have a vehicle.

Obama's foreign policy failures
The Washington Examiner: "For White House, even small victories prove elusive in Gaza, Ukraine." I'm not so sure that Vladimir Putin, Benjamin Netanyahu, or Hamas leaders would care what any president said, but President Barack Obama has no credibility with world leaders that he is guaranteed to be ignored when he speaks.

Modern Western democracies are like Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries
Michael Barone sees similarities between today's crony capitalist societies and those described by historian H. R. Trevor-Roper. Read Barone's column to see if Trevor-Roper's essay is worth your time.

On this day in Canadian history
On July 28, 1930, R.B. Bennett's Conservatives defeated William Lyon Mackenzie King's Liberals, winning 134 seats compared to 91 for the Liberals, nine for the United Farmers, and 12 others. The Conservatives had 47.79% of the vote, compared to 45.5% for the Liberals. Rising unemployment hurt the governing Grits, who lost 26 seats. But Bennett would only serve one term as the Tories could do little to help Canadians during the first half of the Great Depression.

Buyer's remorse
Hot Air notes a new CNN/ORC poll finds that if American voters could have a do-over for the 2012 election, Mitt Romney would beat Barack Obama 53%-44%. This is the definition of a useless poll but as Hot Air's Noah Rothman says, "this question is an instructive measurement of voter satisfaction with the president" three months in advance of the midterm elections.

Hamas used child labour to build tunnels; 160 kids killed
Breitbart reports:
Hamas killed hundreds of children in the construction of its extensive tunnel network, built partly to carry out attacks on children across the Gaza border in Israel. That report--confirmed by Hamas itself--emerged in 2012, not from the Israeli government, but the sympathetic Journal of Palestine Studies, in an article that otherwise celebrated the secret tunnel system as a symbol of Palestinian resistance to the Israeli "siege" of the Gaza Strip.
The article, "Gaza's Tunnel Phenomenon: The Unintended Dynamics of Israel's Siege," was published in the Summer 2012 edition of the Journal by Nicholas Pelham, who writes for the Economist and the New York Review of Books, according to his bio. It is receiving new attention thanks to Myer Freimann of Tablet, an online journal of Jewish affairs, whose post about Hamas's use of child labor has gone viral in social media.
Pelham wrote that despite the economic success of the tunnels underneath the Egyptian border, which enriched Hamas through a thriving black market as well as arming it with new weapons, there were a few drawbacks. One of these was a "cavalier approach to child labor and tunnel fatalities," he noted. "During a police patrol that the author was permitted to accompany in December 2011, nothing was done to impede the use of children in the tunnels, where, much as in Victorian coal mines, they are prized for their nimble bodies. At least 160 children have been killed in the tunnels, according to Hamas officials."

Olivia Chow is worse than you can imagine
Eye on a Crazy Planet has highlights/lowlights from the Toronto Sun interview with Toronto mayor wannabe Olivia Chow. My favourite is her touting of her private sector experience.

Sunday, July 27, 2014
People like this must be kept away from political office
Dylan Ross.
(HT: Jonah Goldberg)

Weekend list
1. Screen Crush: "Comic-Con 2014: Epic Cosplay Photo Gallery."
2. Grantland has a short 10-minute documentary on the history of the high-five.
3. Business Insider has a map of the "Happiest And Unhappiest Regions In The US."
4. Graphjam on how we view drivers on the road.
5. Mental Floss explains "How Do Royalties Work for 'Weird Al' Songs?" And the one artist that won't let Weird Al parody his songs.
6. Conservation says that insects are the future of fast food.
7. Priceonomics on golfers buying hole-in-one insurance.
8. From the animal kingdom. National Geographic answers the question, "Are Crows Smarter Than Children?" tells you "What Happens To Snakes In Microgravity." The Daily Telegraph report "Adorable minuscule monkey welcomed to London Zoo" comes with video. Boing Boing has a great photo: an otter cuddle pile.
9. "5 Recent Blockbusters That Prove Movies Hate Science."
10. Neatorama on rabbit poop flamethrowers.
11. Trailer for Season Five of The Walking Dead:

George Will is wrong on what the Senate needs
Washington Post columnist George Will says the Senate needs Monica Wehby, a pediatric surgeon running to defeat Oregon's incumbent Democratic Senator, Jeff Merkley. My concern is not Wehby's moderation, which is probably the only reason she has any chance to win as a Republican in Oregon, a trendy Left Coast state; no my concern is that there is no shortage of politicians but American needs pediatric surgeons. Will makes the case that health care is an important sector of the economy that is inadequately represented in the legislatures that govern so much of the industry. Another thing that Will likes about Wehby is that she is a novice politician -- only eight senators do not have previous political experience -- and while typically that endears a candidate to me, I'm of the view that the good that comes from Wehby doing her current job is much greater than anything she can do in the one she is seeking.

The demographic that decides U.S. elections
The Atlantic's Molly Ball notes that recent elections (presidential and midterms) have been decided by working class voters (those earning less than $50,000). When the gap between Republicans and Democrats favour the Dems by just ten percentage points, the GOP wins, but when the Democrats take this demographic by 20 percentage points, they are victorious. Ball's conclusion is that economic populism wins the day. One might take this analysis with a grain of salt considering the source for her insight is Mike Podhorzer, the political director of the AFL-CIO, but it makes sense. Blue collar voters were key to Reagan's victories in the 1980s when the Republicans offered tax cuts to help make life more affordable for working class voters. Taxes are much lower than they were when Reagan took office and conservatives need a new affordability agenda if the GOP wants to win over disenchanted voters making just around the national average income. Counting on anti-Obama sentiment might not -- and should not -- be enough.

Helping the world's poor
Matt Ridley has a longish but important article in the Wall Street Journal. He criticizes the United Nations for having too many Millennium Development Goals (eight) and the process for finding the next set of United Nations target to benefit the developing world (one working group has 169 targets so far). Ridley sensibly advises the UN to partner with Bjorn Lomborg's Copenhagen Consensus Center which does a great job of prioritizing the "good things" the world can do by employing vigorous cost-benefit analyses. Ridley produces his one five-item list and three seem like the sort of things that everyone can agree upon if they put their political favourites aside (especially environmental causes that are often at odds with helping the poor), namely reducing malnutrition, tackling malaria and tuberculosis, and expanding free trade. All are cost-effective ways to vastly improve the lives of the most vulnerable and desperate people in the world. Pre-primary education's benefits are far from settled social science and providing universal sexual and reproductive health is both too controversial to get widespread support and conflates rights issues for women with the health concerns of mothers and their newborn children (increasing vaccinations, improving nutrition, and providing hygienic baby-deliveries would go a long way to reducing both maternal and infant mortality). Focusing international aid (multilateral and country-to-country) in these priority areas of malnutrition and malaria/tuberculosis, and opening up trade would go a long way to reducing suffering in the developing world. The UN's approach of dozens of unfocused targets guarantees that few problems will be dealt with comprehensively, but perhaps that's the point; if aid agencies and international organizations solve problems, they undermine their reason for existence.

Saturday, July 26, 2014
Box office slumps, maybe the movies suck
Nikkie Finke: "Friday Box Office: #1 ‘Lucy’ Wkd $45.1M, #2 ‘Hercules’ $30.2M As Summer 2014 Slump Continues." Both movies look terrible. Maybe Hollywood should stop producing crap and people will watch movies again. That said, remember when $45 million was a pretty good first two weeks?

On this day in Canadian history
On July 26, 1923, U.S. President Warren Harding stops in Vancouver on way back from Alaska and in doing so becomes the first sitting president to visit Canada. He contracted pneumonia while playing golf in the city and died a week later.

Bring back firing squads?
Alex Kozinski, chief justice of Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals and a chief libertarian jurist, says that the recent botched, two-hour execution of an Arizona murderer, indicates that firing squads should replace the supposedly antiseptic lethal injection executions. The CSM reports, "Kozinski said using drugs to carry out executions is 'a misguided effort to mask the brutality of executions by making them look serene and peaceful'." That is an understandable criticism of the current regime governing capital punishment but we should also appreciate the desire by some libertarians to make the death penalty as repugnant as possible.
Also repugnant is the the double murder committed by Joseph Wood.
Anyway, I see a future alliance of capital punishment supporters and opponents advocating the firing squad: supporters because it is increasingly difficult for states to obtain the necessary concoction of lethal drugs (sodium thiopental and pentobarbital) and opponents because they think the voting public will turn against the procedure or that courts will throw out the penalty as unconstitutional because it is cruel and unusual.

Kathy Shaidle is a national treasure
Consider the range for her sardonic wit.
Exhibit A: on a Pink-related post.
Exhibit B: on a Toronto deli sponsoring the Palestine Film Festival.

'No evidence that the California cellphone ban decreased accidents'
Hot Air notes that a study published in the Transportation Journal on California's cellphone ban found no discernible benefit to banning the popular devices.