Sobering Thoughts

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

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Tuesday, January 24, 2017
Seen at the Women's March
There were a lot of dumb signs and I'm not sure this one is all that unusual in its extremism and vulgarity:
(HT: Dr. Roy on Twitter)

Liberal Women's March
The Cato Institute's Emily Ekins writes in The Federalist that she would have liked to attend the Women's March in Washington, but didn't feel welcome because of the march's overarching political agenda:
The news cycle Saturday was dominated with coverage of the hundreds of thousands of women, many donning pink hats, gathering in major cities for “women’s marches” to protest Donald Trump. Anyone watching the news would have gained the distinct impression that these marches purported to speak for women across the country, with headlines like: “Women’s Marches Protest Trump Election & Agenda,” and organizers emphasizing that “we represent half of this country.”
But could we be honest about what this really is? This isn’t a “women’s march” but a liberal women’s march. Despite the organizers’ promises to the contrary, these marches were by no means inclusive and failed to represent the diverse array of priorities that many women across the country have. Some were even actively discounted.
The actively discounted were pro-life feminists.
Ekins adds: "I was initially inclined to attend the march myself, but its organizers allowed it to become politicized, divisive, and exclusive. Wasn’t the protest about protesting against exclusivity?" She also writes:
Regardless of your political ideology, position on same-sex marriage, tax rates, gun issues, college funding, corporate donations, etc. most all women can agree that Trump’s attitudes toward women are unacceptable. His words and actions are a personification of a decrepit culture that some men wrongfully embrace for which they should be held accountable and corrected in the public sphere.
But instead these women's marches became about the usual left-wing issues. The Wall Street Journal's Cori O'Connor observed that #WhyIMarch "could be followed by any reason under the progressive sun":
The marchers in Washington seemed to have a million messages. One big theme was reproductive rights. “Get your policies out of my exam room,” read one sign defending Planned Parenthood. Others read “Save ACA, live long, and prosper,” “My body my business,” and “Reproductive rights are human rights.” Many women carried signs depicting the female anatomy or wore crocheted pink cat ears—a pun on a vulgar term Mr. Trump once uttered.
There were plenty of other pet causes. “Racial justice = LGBTQ issues,” read one sign. A popular poster featured a woman in an American-flag hijab and the words “We the people are greater than fear.” Forty-year-old Pablo Rosa, who immigrated to the U.S. when he was 13, carried a sign that said “Mexico owes US nothing.” Other posters called Mr. Trump “the Kremlin candidate” and “Putin’s pawn,” pleaded to “protect our planet,” and proclaimed: “Public education is a civil right.”
As Ekins writes:
Michael Moore encouraged attendees to join Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro Choice America, or a climate change group —hardly an ideologically diverse set of groups.
Why weren’t prominent non-liberal women who were also outspoken against Trump invited to speak, such as S.E. Cupp, Ana Navarro, Condoleezza Rice, or Mindy Finn? Why was there only room for individuals of one political persuasion like Michael Moore, Elizabeth Warren, Van Jones, Gloria Steinem, Cecile Richards, and Ashley Judd?
So let’s be honest: this was a liberal women’s march. And that’s fine. But it’s not a “women’s march” protesting Trump. The organizers were not inclusive and sought to only include women who share their economic, cultural, and social policy views.
These are not women's marches. They are progressive marches. They are anti-Trump marches. But no group could represent the the diversity of 50% of the population (53% of white women voted for Donald Trump, for crying out loud), and the organizers are wrong to claim to speak for Double X Americans, and the media is irresponsible in going along with the conceit.
Everyday I am thankful I am a straight, white guy because it's the only demographic that does not have some organization claiming to speak on our behalf. I can speak for myself, thank you very much.

Why Trump has his staff, advisers lie for him
In his Bloomberg column, Tyler Cowen offers two plausible theories on why President Donald Trump gets his people to go before television cameras to offer alternative facts lie:
By requiring subordinates to speak untruths, a leader can undercut their independent standing, including their standing with the public, with the media and with other members of the administration. That makes those individuals grow more dependent on the leader and less likely to mount independent rebellions against the structure of command. Promoting such chains of lies is a classic tactic when a leader distrusts his subordinates and expects to continue to distrust them in the future.
Another reason for promoting lying is what economists sometimes call loyalty filters. If you want to ascertain if someone is truly loyal to you, ask them to do something outrageous or stupid. If they balk, then you know right away they aren’t fully with you. That too is a sign of incipient mistrust within the ruling clique, and it is part of the same worldview that leads Trump to rely so heavily on family members.
What about the kinds of lies that his subordinates -- and Trump himself -- tell:
The high-status mistruths are like those we associate with ambassadors and diplomats. The ambassador is reluctant to tell a refutable, flat-out lie of the sort that could cause embarrassment, but if all you ever heard were the proclamations of the ambassador, you wouldn’t have a good grasp of the realities of the situation. Ambassadors typically are speaking to more than one audience at once, a lot of context is required to glean the actual meaning, and if they are interpreted in a strictly literal manner (a mistake) it is easy enough to find lots of misdirection in their words ...
These higher-status lies are not Trump’s style, and thus many of his supporters, with some justification, see him as a man willing to voice important truths ...
Trump specializes in lower-status lies, typically more of the bald-faced sort, namely stating “x” when obviously “not x” is the case. They are proclamations of power, and signals that the opinions of mainstream media and political opponents will be disregarded. The lie needs to be understood as more than just the lie. For one thing, a lot of Americans, especially many Trump supporters, are more comfortable with that style than with the “fancier” lies they believe they are hearing from the establishment. For another, joining the Trump coalition has been made costlier for marginal outsiders and ignoring the Trump coalition is now less likely for committed opponents. In other words, the Trump administration is itself sending loyalty signals to its supporters by burning its bridges with other groups.
Cowen also provocatively says that Trump's actions and lies indicate he does not trust either his subordinates or his supporters, and that the lack of trust is reciprocated. I think Cowen is right about the first assertion but underestimates the depth of support among the President's large mass of ardent supporters.

White House upsets the media apple cart
There was a controvery today at the White House. Twitter went bananas when White House press secretary Sean Spicer did not call upon the Associated Press reporter to ask the first question. As the Huffington Post reported:
Spicer bucked tradition by bypassing The Associated Press ― the customary recipient of the first question at the White House’s daily briefing ― and turning instead to the New York Post, the conservative-leaning tabloid owned by Rupert Murdoch.
Spicer followed by calling on a reporter from the Christian Broadcasting Network before working his way through members of the media tucked into the far reaches of the overly cramped James S. Brady Briefing Room. For traditionalists in the press corps, it was another sign that the Trump administration won’t abide by conventions of the past.
Michael Calderone, HuffPo's senior media reporter worries:
Nor is it clear whether Spicer’s willingness to upend the questioning order will result in only the sympathetic members of the media getting called upon. The concern among reporters is that the Trump team may start turning to pro-Trump bloggers when the going gets tough. Such partisan or niche outlets could veer away from a major new story that has preoccupied the rest of the press corps.
Univision was hardly sympathetic to Donald Trump during the primary and elections, and they got the third question. As for the media's traditional big players? Ricochet's Jon Gabriel writes: "Did he blacklist journalists from CNN, the New York Times, etc? No, he got to them a few minutes later. In fact, Spicer stayed as long as the reporters wanted, answering questions for well over an hour." Gabriel adds:
What so appalled the press was that Spicer upset the media’s caste system. After calling on the New York Post, he went to CBN (Christian cable network), Univision (Spanish-language channel), Fox Business Network, and American Urban Radio Networks (African-American focused service). He also announced the creation of “Skype seats” that will allow reporters who live 50 miles or more from Washington DC to ask questions.
Opening question to journalists outside of the Acela corridor seems like a big win for the First Amendment and the freedom of the press. More diverse questions and voices are sure to result.
Perhaps AP deserved it's privileged place at one point, but does that favouritism make sense in 2017? Moving to a larger media room to accommodate more reporters was criticized and the White House relented, but it is hardly an attack on freedom of the press to let more reporters into the briefing room (which was filled to capacity yesterday). Allowing Skype seats likewise expands freedom of the press by allowing more diverse points of view into the briefing room. Allowing different reporters to get the first question is democratic. What seems to upset journalists in the White House press corps is that their vaunted position is being opened to competition and the journos don't like that. I can't see the public having a problem with these developments.

Monday, January 23, 2017
Is this a good deal or a bad bargain?
The Washington Post reports that President Donald Trump is vowing to slash regulations:
In the opening hours of his first formal day in the White House on Monday, President Trump welcomed leaders from several of the country's largest corporations and promised to wipe out at least 75 percent of government regulations that hinder their businesses, fast-track their plans to open factories and cut taxes “massively.” ...
“We're going to be cutting regulation massively,” Trump told a large group of business chief executives over breakfast, which was briefly open to the news media. “Now, we're going to have regulation, and it'll be just as strong and just as good and just as protective of the people as the regulation we have right now. The problem with the regulation that we have right now is that you can't do anything. ... I have people that tell me that they have more people working on regulations than they have doing product.” ...
His message to them and other CEOs on Monday: Keep your production within the United States, and you will be rewarded. For those looking to grow or start new factories, Trump promised to expedite their requests and provide incentives to build.
Companies that move abroad will face punitive tariffs for their business decisions. This puts free market advocates in an interesting position. Cutting regulations (and taxes) are good things that should spur enterprise in America. But the administration is coupling this appetizing carrot with the stick of an import tax. Ideally this is not an either/or proposition: fewer regulations and freer trade is a possibility, although, apparently, not for this administration. So are deep cuts to needless regulations and significantly lower tax rates a good trade for the limits on trade and the infringements on businesses to decide where to locate operations? I could see the case for it, even if I'm not happy about it.

America the free. But it could be freer
Cafe Hayek's Donald Boudreaux:
According to the Fraser Institute’s (and Cato Institute’s) Economic Freedom of the World 2016 Annual Report, the United States is today the world’s 16th freest country economically. That’s not great; it’s a shame that American economic freedom has been eroded in recent years. But comparatively speaking – especially considering that economic freedom globally has increased substantially over the past few decades – being ranked the 16th freest county economically does indeed mean that it is wrong to assume that businesses in the United States all operate under the burden of uniquely oppressive taxation and heavy regulations.
Do I believe that this taxation is too high? Absolutely and without a doubt. Do I believe that government-imposed regulations in the U.S. are too many and too burdensome? Absolutely and without a doubt. Do I support efforts to cut taxes and reduce regulations? Absolutely and without question and across the board. But do I believe that Americans are, in comparison with most other people in the world today, uniquely burdened with high taxes and heavy regulations? Absolutely not. We simply aren’t so burdened in comparison with most other people in the world today.
Many conservatives today often make two inconsistent claims. First, they assert that Americans are indeed uniquely burdened with high taxes and restrictive economic regulations. Second, they complain about the U.S. trade deficit, even offering this deficit as evidence of the unique economic totalitarianism under which Americans today are allegedly crushed. Yet the U.S. trade deficit means that foreigners are investing more of their resources in the American economy than Americans are investing in non-American economies.
Why would such large amounts of investment funds continue to flow into the American economy, rather than into other economies, if the American economy were such a uniquely impossible place to do business profitably?
Likewise, the most free countries could still probably afford less taxation and less regulation of their business. Rankings don't say much about the level of the thing being measured, only how a country does compared to others. Still, Boudreaux is correct to admonish the inconsistencies on the Right and celebrate the relative freedom that America has compared to the most of the world. I would add Canada, which is fifth according to the Cato/Fraser report on economic freedom. By the way, New Zealand is third and Australia and the United Kingdom are tied for tenth, so the Anglosphere does pretty well even if the US is a (comparable) laggard.

America First will hurt America
The Globe and Mail editorializes:
So that’s the agenda facing NATO, the European Union, Japan, the rest of the democratic world – and Canada. The United States has provided global leadership for 75 years. It has always looked out for its interests, and then some. But its leaders generally understood that international affairs, including trade, did not have to be a zero-sum game. For America to win, it did not mean that others had to lose. In economic theory, trade is capable of being a win-win arrangement. In Trumpian theory, apparently not.
The Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the U.S. was not an American plan to strip Canada’s economy. NAFTA was not a plot to crush America’s neighbours. The World Trade Organization was not a scheme to benefit American exporters at the rest of the world’s expense. And that’s Mr. Trump’s chief complaint about America’s trade agreements: They failed to put America First.
After the Second World War, the United States briefly considered keeping the peace by turning Germany and Japan into enfeebled, agricultural societies. Instead, it rebuilt Western Europe with the generosity of the Marshall Plan, and transformed Japan into a model democracy. It saw the prosperity and success of its former enemies as the best guarantor of America’s own peace, prosperity and leadership.
It was one of history’s greatest acts of enlightened self-interest. Europe and Japan boomed. So did trade. So did the United States. America was the free world’s leader because it did more than just put America First.
George Friedman, chairman of Geopolitical Futures, writes at RealClearWorld about Trump's foreign policy views:
Trump’s core strategic argument is that the United States is overextended. The core reason for this overextension is that the United States has substituted a system of multilateral relationships for a careful analysis of the national interest. In this reading, Washington is entangled in complex relationships that place risks and burdens on the United States to come to the aid of some countries. However, its commitments are not matched by those countries in capability, nor in intent.
Sure. But there's the bathwater and then there's the baby. Trump talks in absolutes. Perhaps he will bring nuance to governing that he didn't in campaigning. Maybe his advisers and cabinet can curtail the worst of Trump's foreign policy inclinations. But until he proves otherwise, we should be look askance at Trump's trade and foreign policy views. There is room for improvement in America's trade agreements and alliances, but fixing them isn't always about getting a better deal for the United States, not when such deals are viewed through the distorting zero-sum lens.
The American economy grows when its allies -- its primary trade partners -- exchange goods and services with it. America is safer when the country is engaged with the world. There are trade-offs, of course, but Fortress America is a smaller, poorer, less safe America.

And free will
I agree that there is a problem with the binary of nature vs. nurture, that it can be both. And epigentics. And free will. Everyone forgets free will.

Sunday, January 22, 2017
NFL Championship Weekend
Green Bay Packers (10-6) at Atlanta Falcons (11-5) 3:05 pm: These are first (Atlanta 33.9 ppg) and third (Green Bay 28 ppg) scoring offenses in the NFL. Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers are probably going to finish first and third in MVP voting. A lot of commentary leans toward believing that Aaron Rodgers has magical powers and that Green Bay is unbeatable. ESPN's Bill Barnwell notes that as good as Rodgers has been during his eight-game winning streak, Matt Ryan has actually been better. (Scroll down to the first chart in this article.) Two of Rodgers' top three receiving targets, Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams, could play but are coming off injuries. Furthermore, these two potent offenses are facing below-average defenses. Green Bay was 19th in points allowed (24 ppg) while Atlanta was 26th (25.1 ppg) and are tied for 26th in total defense (367.5 ypg). In week eight, the Falcons beat the Packers in Green Bay 33-32, but that was before Rodgers got hot and the Packers defense were without their top two cornerbacks and linebacker Clay Matthews (and the offense was without Randall Cobb and Jared Cook and the running game was in complete shambles rather than hardly existent). Vegas has the over/under at 61, which seems low. The biggest difference-maker on defense on either side is Falcons outside linebacker Vic Beasley who had 15.5 sacks to lead the NFL during the regular season; he'll try to put pressure on Rodgers. The problem for Green Bay is that Ryan has just too many weapons. Julio Jones is a top three WR in the NFL but if a D manages to take him out of the game, Atlanta has a great dual-threat running back tandem (Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman) who combined for nearly 2,500 yards from scrimmage and 24 TDs; Coleman averages 13.6 receiving yards per catch. I'd love to see Rodgers and the Pack go on, but I can't imagine their defense can do enough to stop Ryan's historically great offense (7th most regular season points in NFL history). Atlanta wins the final NFL game at the Georgia Dome to make their second Super Bowl and first since 1999 when Green Bay settles for field goals while Atlanta finishes their drives.
Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5) at New England Patriots (14-2) 6:40 pm: Either team is capable of putting up a pile of points on the scoreboard, but there are reasons to favour the Pats. There is the troubling (for Steelers fans) issue of Ben Roethlisberger's home/road splits: 70.8 completion percentage at home, 59.4% on the road; 20:5 TD to interception ratio at home, 9:8 on the road; 116.7 QB rating at home compared to 78.4 on the road. Big Ben had a poor game last week in Kansas City, not getting the ball into the end zone once, and the Steelers only won because Chris Boswell kicked a playoff record six field goals and a penalty negated a Chiefs two-point conversion that would have tied the game. If Pittsburgh plays like that again, the Patriots will win handily. Will they? Probably not that poorly. The Pats win by taking out the most dangerous offensive weapon but who does New England neutralize, Antonio Brown or Le'Veon Bell? Bell is the best running back in the NFL but will face a strong run defense: eighth in yards per attempts at 3.9 and fourth in rush defense according to Football Outsiders more advanced metrics. Roethlisberger will either need to step up or Brown will turn short passes into big plays like he did in the wild card contest against the Miami Dolphins in which he translated a slant pass and screen pass in the middle of the field into 50+ yard touchdown catches. That makes Roethlisberger's stat sheet look better than he really performed. New England's 15.6 ppg allowed was the best in the NFL by three points, a ridiculous margin. It has been well-documented that the Pats faced a weak schedule, facing only three of the top 15 QBs in the NFL and none in the top 10. The Steelers are capable of scoring 40 points but they are more likely to put 20-24 on the scoreboard. So the question is whether Pittsburgh can keep New England from scoring. The Steelers were eighth in points allowed (19.7 ppg) and were slightly stingier on the road (19.2 ppg). By Football Outsiders weighted DVOA (which gives more weight to recent games), the Pats have the third best offense and Pittsburgh the fourth best defense, and according to FO the Pats are eighth in red zone offense and Pittsburgh fourth in defense within their own 20. This should be a tremendous battle. The Steelers kept the week seven loss to New England (sans Roethlisberger) close for most of the game, but they hardly pressured Tom Brady. Since week eight, the Steelers are fourth on pressuring opposing QBs and they'll likely get to Brady more often. Ben Volin of the Boston Globe has a tremendous article explaining how the Houston Texans showed opponents how to beat the Patriots by bringing pressure up the middle with their outside linebackers: "Attacking the interior and forcing Brady to hold onto the football got Brady flustered." And he made mistakes. Because Pittsburgh's secondary is its defensive weakness, and at times an outright liability, having Bud Dupree move inside to go after the quarterback might be the only way to neutralize WR Julian Edelman. These formulations might also limit the damage done by New England's running backs. I don't think it will be enough, but at least it's a viable game plan. New England wins by more than a score and Tom Brady and Bill Belichick return to their seventh Super Bowl.

Saturday, January 21, 2017
Why people who care about freedom should worry about President Trump
At Hit & Run, Peter Suderman has "9 Reasons Why Libertarians Should Be Worried By Donald Trump." Nothing new here, but Republicans seems to need reminding. Among Trump's most troubling positions: support for building "a massive, expensive wall," a"more aggressive stance on trade," "authoritarian leanings" on national security," taking a "dim view of constitutional free speech protections," past use of eminent domain as a businessman, and the lack of "interest in meaningful budget reforms" he had shown as candidate.

Will on Trump's Inauguration speech
George Will wasn't a fan of Donald Trump's first speech as President. Will says:
Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s White House counselor, had promised that the speech would be “elegant.” This is not the adjective that came to mind as he described “American carnage.” That was a phrase the likes of which has never hitherto been spoken at an inauguration.
Oblivious to the moment and the setting, the always remarkable Trump proved that something dystopian can be strangely exhilarating: In what should have been a civic liturgy serving national unity and confidence, he vindicated his severest critics by serving up reheated campaign rhetoric about “rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape” and an education system producing students “deprived of all knowledge.” Yes, all.
But cheer up, because the carnage will vanish if we “follow two simple rules: Buy American and hire American.” “Simple” is the right word.
Katherine Mangu-Ward, editor of Reason, said there are similarities between the new President and the one that preceded him: "When you set aside Obama's customary poetry and Trump's habitual bluntness, both men are circling around the same idea: that loyalty to the state will lead Americans on a path to personal goodness."

How to visit a new city
Tyler Cowen:
Then I try to walk through at least two neighborhoods, to get a general sense of the city. More importantly, I can then later take some time over lunch without feeling I haven’t seen anything yet. These neighborhoods should be connected to the main drag in some way but not the main drag itself. The main drag is often boring, though essential, and it is more likely to get a fuller treatment on day two, with only a quick peek on day one.
The best art museum will come after lunch, and then be followed by more neighborhood walking, perhaps in a more distant part of the city. A major food market will come on day two, a vista or city lookout will come on day three. It means less if I go to either right away, because I have less information about what I should be noticing and looking for.

Friday, January 20, 2017
Caplan on 2016 waking people up
2016 was just like other years, only more so. Bryan Caplan:
Since I think that most news is overblown fluff, I have little sympathy for the endless pieces about "What we've learned about the world in 2016." Against the background of all of human history, 2016 taught us next to nothing. If you just discovered that horrible people often gain vast political power with widespread popular support, you're in dire need of remedial history. If you've just discovered that politicians' personalities matter at least as much as their policy views, you're in dire need of remedial political science. If you've just discovered that demagogic appeals to national identity work, you're in dire need of remedial psychology.
Lots of links at the original post explaining many of these assertions. Also, Caplan describes what he did learn from 2016, which is mostly how his previous pessimistic beliefs may have been too sanguine.

Remembering Obama
Does it already seem dated to talk about Barack Obama?
The Economy? Bloomberg's Matthew A. Winkler looked at 14 economic factors (from hourly wages to GDP to car sales to productivity) and found that among the last six president (going back to Carter), the economy did better under only Bill Clinton. Annual improvement in "disposable income per capita" is half that experienced during the Clinton administration and is ranked fifth. Likewise "productivity" is ranked fifth. This suggests that the benefits of the economy are not being felt by workers (Trump voters) and that there could be long-term challenges arising from the low productivity Obama years. It's not true as Donald Trump campaigned that the economy is a disaster but Obama and his partisans shouldn't be bragging, either.
The Cato Institute's Ilya Shapiro has a list of the "Top 10 Ways Obama Violated the Constitution during His Presidency." Shapiro charges Obama with expanding the imperial presidency and ignoring checks and balances. There is a giant sub-list under Obamacare's implementation. The professional corruption might be Obama's great legacy, because it provides cover/inspiration for future presidents to ignore constitutional checks and balances.
The Washington Post's Glenn Kessler looks at the former candidate's and president's "10 biggest whoppers" -- the lies so blatant and obvious that even a paper that leans toward giving Democrats the benefit of the doubt couldn't ignore them. What would be the worst? "If you like your health-care plan, you can keep it" or "I didn’t call the Islamic State a ‘JV’ team." Obama lies about Republicans a lot. And maybe he doesn't lie about the economy as much as he just doesn't get economics.

Thursday, January 19, 2017
Addiction is not a crime
David Gratzer's weekly reading this week looks at a longish Wall Street Journal article about how some American states are tackling the opioid crisis by experimenting with addiction treatment for individuals who abuse drugs rather than treating them as criminals. The war on drugs hasn't worked and the drug crisis gets worse (there are now more heroin deaths than gun deaths in America). Gratzer says, "These experiments in treatment (instead of jail time) are important." Indeed. He notes that in Canada there is some experimentation in directing individuals with drug addictions to treatment rather than sending them to jail. Gratzer also notes a Globe and Mail article on the federal government's response to the opioid crisis in Canada, in which federal Health Minister, Jane Philpott, says, "Addiction is not a crime. Addiction is not a mark of moral failure. It is a health issue." It is also a cultural issue so there are non-policy needs (such as changing attitudes to addiction); however, changing the federal response -- from policing and penal, to health -- will help lead that cultural change. This week's readings are important and I hope that Dr. Gratzer's audience goes well beyond his usual one of his medical colleagues, and is read and carefully considered by policy makers.

What I'm reading
1. Audacity: How Barack Obama Defied His Critics and Created a Legacy That Will Prevail by Jonathan Chait
2. A Consequential President: The Legacy of Barack Obama by Michael D'Antonio. Carlos Lazada's Washington Post review of D'Antonio's and Chait's books is very good.
3. We Are the Change We Seek: The Speeches of Barack Obama edited by E.J. Dionne Jr. and Joy-Ann Reid

Donald Trump: Making Journalism Great Again
The New York Times announces:
The Trump White House will be an extraordinary, evolving story, and Times journalists will be covering it in practically every section of our daily report. But one desk in particular will be exceptionally busy over the next four years — that of our Washington bureau. So, to ensure that we continue to deliver the in-depth journalism our readers deserve, we’re expanding, including the addition of a new Washington investigations team to our existing teams covering the White House, Capitol Hill and the Pentagon.
There is certainly a partisan or ideological slant to this decision, but shouldn't the paper of record have an extensive investigations team in the nation's capital?
Dig, baby, dig.

Kevin O'Leary's chances
The Globe and Mail's Konrad Yakabuski examines the Conservative Party of Canada leadership field and finds 13 candidates lacking. But he thinks there are game-changing possibilities in reality show and business television personality Kevin O'Leary. Yakabuski says that O'Leary may speak to more Canadians than his opponents or the pundits realize: "If you think his mad-as-hell shtick will never fly in polite and progressive Canada, you probably haven’t been listening to your neighbours lately." I'm not sure that Canadians are interested in shaking up the political establishment in the same way that British and American voters have in the last year, but I wouldn't bet against it, either. And if they are, Kevin O'Leary will be electable. The first step to answering that question -- can the self-described Mr. Wonderful lead the Conservatives back to government -- is the Tory leadership race and it will be answered if a critical mass of Conservative Party members are willing to take a chance. The issue in many leadership races is "who can beat the incumbent next time." Other candidates are making not very compelling cases based on various issues, their biography/resume, or the tone they bring to politics. We'll see if Tory voters think their fellow Canadians are ready for the issues, biography/resume, and tone that Kevin O'Leary brings to the table.

HRC vs. De Blasio
According to a Quinnipiac poll, Hillary Clinton leads among every demographic except Republicans if she ran as an independent against New York City mayor Bill De Blasio, and would win 49%-29% in a two-way race (with no Republican -- although there are already declared GOP candidates and Donald Trump Jr. is sometimes rumoured to be interested in running). This poll is silly: Clinton gets a post-presidential run bump, she probably wouldn't run as an independent, and if there was a Clinton-De Blasio race, the GOP would certainly run their own credible candidate to try to "come up the middle" and win. The more interesting question would be how she'd do in a Democratic primary against De Blasio? The mayoral election is this year so HRC would have to get to work soon. As the 2016 presidential campaign illustrated, she probably doesn't have the energy to run another grueling campaign. I don't expect Clinton to run, but it's fun to speculate. It should also be noted that Hillary Clinton is to the right of De Blasio.

Maybe it's because 'alt-right' is an imprecise, catch-all term
Forward: "The ‘Alt-Right’ Hates the Jews. But It Also Loves Them — and Israel." Crappy article. It doesn't so much cherry-pick facts as throw a bunch of them together even if they aren't related. A "movement" that attracts anti-Semites and Zionists might be too broad to be a real movement.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017
Obama approval rating grows as term ends
CNN: "Obama approval hits 60% as end of term approaches." It is the highest it's been since 2009 although it still ranks behind Bill Clinton (66%) and Ronald Reagan (64%) among recent presidents as they left office. But his approval should be increasing considering all fellatio journalists ... fawning coverage he's been getting the last few weeks. It also helps that he looks pretty good (to independents) by comparison to the man replacing him.

Theresa May's Brexit speech
I have my biases, of course, but Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit speech at Lancaster House yesterday is a great and important speech. You can read it here and watch it here. I'd go so far as to say that this speech is more significant -- more substantial -- than anything Barack Obama has said in his eight years as president. May isn't the performer that Obama or Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are (or British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson can be). But the words matter. Only the words matter. This is the opening salvo of a negotiation, an immensely important negotiation. This speech will affect British and European public policy for decades to come.
Former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper's philosophy regarding speeches was to get to the point and eschew rhetoric. He wasn't using any occasion as a teaching moment. May is reminding Britons of their values, and they need reminding. The United Kingdom is an open, liberal, tolerant, and democratic society, and a dynamic market-economy. There is a domestic audience, but it is secondary. The key audience is the European Union. The theme was "A Global Briton" -- expressing the desire that the UK become "one of the firmest advocates for free trade anywhere in the world -- but the bottom line is that "I am equally clear that no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain." As Richard Tice of Leave Means Leave, said, that's the strapline of his organization. It is the hardest of Brexits. There is no "half-in, half-out." She wants free trade with and immigration from Europe, but on British terms, not Brussels's. This government has established that it considers it vital that London, not Brussels controls its borders. May clearly and firmly rejected single market:
But I want to be clear. What I am proposing cannot mean membership of the single market.
European leaders have said many times that membership means accepting the ‘4 freedoms’ of goods, capital, services and people. And being out of the EU but a member of the single market would mean complying with the EU’s rules and regulations that implement those freedoms, without having a vote on what those rules and regulations are. It would mean accepting a role for the European Court of Justice that would see it still having direct legal authority in our country.
It would to all intents and purposes mean not leaving the EU at all.
And that is why both sides in the referendum campaign made it clear that a vote to leave the EU would be a vote to leave the single market.
So we do not seek membership of the single market. Instead we seek the greatest possible access to it through a new, comprehensive, bold and ambitious free trade agreement.
She wants a free market deal, built on what Europe already has -- there is no need to start from scratch: "So an important part of the new strategic partnership we seek with the EU will be the pursuit of the greatest possible access to the single market, on a fully reciprocal basis, through a comprehensive free trade agreement." She will not pay for that access. No more "vast contributions" to the EU, but rather a buy-in for programs which the British Parliament chooses to participate. May also wants access to the customs union where it works, but the ability to pursue the best free trade agreements on Britain's own. This will not be easy. But it is not impossible, and Prime Minister May signals her willingness to play hardball:
I know there are some voices calling for a punitive deal that punishes Britain and discourages other countries from taking the same path.
That would be an act of calamitous self-harm for the countries of Europe. And it would not be the act of a friend. Britain would not – indeed we could not – accept such an approach. And while I am confident that this scenario need never arise – while I am sure a positive agreement can be reached – I am equally clear that no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain.
How will it be calamitous for European countries? May explains:
[W]e would have the freedom to set the competitive tax rates and embrace the policies that would attract the world’s best companies and biggest investors to Britain. And – if we were excluded from accessing the single market – we would be free to change the basis of Britain’s economic model.
Not only would European companies potentially lose access to important supply chains and financing from The City. A May government could set up Britain as a tax haven off the coast of Europe. This ... threat? ... is positively Thatcherite. May is tough. May took a conciliatory but very firm stance with her European colleagues, especially those who might be tempted to make an example of Britain or punish the nation for its decision. May backed Remain, but she has embraced her responsibility of carrying out the mandate of the Brexit referendum last June. In some ways, she's pushing a harder Brexit than some on Leave would have (including, possibly Boris Johnson and Michael Gove). And she has changed tact from her predecessor; former prime minister David Cameron accepted the European status quo as the baseline and sought incremental reforms but that left little room for negotiation. Prime Minister May has opened with the ideal, and if the result is something short of that, it could still be radically different than the UK-EU relationship today. And that's what British voters endorsed last June.
May warns the new partnership with Europe the UK seeks cannot be "an unlimited transitional" deal that becomes a "permanent purgatory." The agreement must be reached by the end of the two-year Article 50 process, which seems a little ambitious. May suggests Britain is willing to walk away from Europe without a deal; remember, no deal is better than a bad deal.
May also warns politicians and journalists to be responsible -- what she calls "disciplined":
Because this is not a game or a time for opposition for opposition’s sake. It is a crucial and sensitive negotiation that will define the interests and the success of our country for many years to come. And it is vital that we maintain our discipline.
That is why I have said before – and will continue to say – that every stray word and every hyped up media report is going to make it harder for us to get the right deal for Britain. Our opposite numbers in the European Commission know it, which is why they are keeping their discipline. And the ministers in this government know it too, which is why we will also maintain ours.
It is better to be transparent about the goals of negotiations -- and this speech does that -- but the negotiations themselves cannot be public. May said -- and I love this line -- "Because it is not my job to fill column inches with daily updates, but to get the right deal for Britain. And that is what I intend to do." So don't expect to hear much more about Brexit from Prime Minister May or senior ministers. She said that parliament will get to vote on the final deal but indicated it will not be open to negotiation. It seems she thinks (correctly in my view) that it is parliament's job to affirm the decision made by the people and the government's job to carry it out.
May asserted repeatedly she wants a prosperous Europe and a partnership with the continent, but strongly hinted that if necessary the United Kingdom is willing to go-it-alone and look elsewhere for trade partners. Her goal is not to maintain the European status quo, but to build a "better Britain" -- preferably with Europe, but not necessarily. The ball is now in the court of Brussels and the 27 European capitals. They should take May seriously and literally, even if she must move off some of her positions slightly during negotiations. This lady's not for turning, either.