Sobering Thoughts

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

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Friday, July 01, 2016
 
Autonomous vehicle fatality
The Guardian reports: "The first known death caused by a self-driving car was disclosed by Tesla Motors on Thursday evening, a development that is sure to cause consumers to second-guess the trust they put in the booming autonomous vehicle industry." Fatalities in traditional cars don't dissuade consumers from buying regular cars. Self-driving cars are still certainly safer than human-driven cars.


 
Mental illness and police confrontation
National Post column Christie Blatchford has praise for Ontario ombudsman Paul Dubé's new report on "A Matter of Life and Death" which examines police confrontations and how to de-escalate them. Dubé recognizes the problem that too many confrontations that end disastrously involve people with mental health issues. But, Blatchford says:
The ombudsman looked at only half the problem. He ignored the other half, which is to say, the failures of the mental health care system (it isn’t a system, but a patchwork of feeble services and archaic laws) and its role in all of the individual tragedies, including Sammy Yatim’s, he examined and the collective story.
And he knew he was doing just that.
The report directed not a single recommendation to the provincial health ministry and devoted all of five of its 300 paragraphs to what is called “Health care: A factor, not an excuse.” ...
There was and is nothing stopping the ombudsman from having a look at the disgraceful state of mental health care in this province (it applies to the whole country).
But it’s much more politically and publicly popular — convenient, really — to shift the burden and the whole responsibility to cops.


 
To those who see the Brexit vote as Britain turning inward
Conservative MP and leadership aspirant Liam Fox says that the United Kingdom is a global leader and player:
[W]e are a hugely connected country with a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, we have the world’s fifth biggest economy, with membership of the G7 and G20, seats on the IMF and the World Bank, the world’s fifth biggest defence budget at the heart of NATO, we are at the centre of the Commonwealth, have a special relationship with United States.


Thursday, June 30, 2016
 
2016 watch (Ridiculously meaningless polls edition)
The Washington Examiner reports:
The SurveyMonkey Election Tracking survey found that Clinton holds a massive 23-point lead, 59 percent-36 percent, among people who used to watch "The Apprentice," a reality show where Trump judged contestants' business skills.
Didn't The Apprentice debut back when The Donald was donating to Hillary Clinton? Maybe there is a reason Democrats like Trump. Or maybe this is meaningless.


 
2016 watch (Why-not? headlines only possible in 2016 edition)
The Washington Examiner: "Nude dude shuts down Times Square in search of Trump." Story provides details, but why bother.


Wednesday, June 29, 2016
 
The question qualification for leadership aspirants in Britain
The Daily Telegraph editorializes:
[T]he crucial issue for the candidates to show leadership on is tariff-free access to the EU’s single market. Is it essential for our national prosperity, and if so, what price is worth paying for it in terms of European immigration?
Britain needs a leader who can answer that question convincingly, then deliver that answer.


 
The intersection of public service & self-interest
The Hill Times reports:
House committee chairs asked for a 65 per cent increase earlier this month to their budget to help them travel to meet Canadians on their home turf — a move one Conservative chair said is a waste of taxpayers’ money.
There is nothing inherently wrong with holding consultations across the country on various issues. But self-interest can be dressed up in high-sounding ideals like citizen input.


 
Goldberg on Mencken & Nock
Jonah Goldberg has a phenomenal column today, "The Wisdom of Mencken and Nock Seems Fresh Today," that needs to be read in full rather than excerpted. H.L. Mencken and Albert Jay Nock called out the bullshit of their era and a similar cynicism is warranted today.
I would love to see what Mencken would do with a candidate/president Trump as his subject.


 
Brooks the revolt of the masses as symptom of cultural divide
Yesterday David Brooks had a good column in the New York Times looking at the "revolt of the masses" in which he talked about honor among tribes (especially the family). He observed:
But the honor code has also been decimated by the culture of the modern meritocracy, which awards status to the individual who works with his mind, and devalues the class of people who work with their hands.
Let me translate: Richard Florida's celebrated Creative Class is divisive. And yet the economic progress that leads to a culture in which most people don't need to work with their hands presents an existential threat to free market societies:
The sociologist Daniel Bell once argued that capitalism would undermine itself because it encouraged hedonistic short-term values for consumers while requiring self-disciplined long-term values in its workers. At least in one segment of society, Bell was absolutely correct.
There’s now a rift within the working class between mostly older people who are self disciplined, respectable and, often, bigoted, and parts of a younger cohort that are more disordered, less industrious, more celebrity-obsessed, but also more tolerant and open to the world.
The drivers of culture are at odds with large swathes of the population. My guess is that the future of politics is going to be even grumpier and less pretty than it is today -- and I hold contemporary politics in low regard already.
I'm not sure that Brooks' calls for "better form of nationalism, a vision of patriotism that gives dignity to those who have been disrespected, emphasizes that we are one nation and is confident and open to the world," is sufficient to bridge the divide, or what it really means. I am sure that the future has a lot more Donald Trumps (and worse) if we don't address the deep cultural divisions and the resentment (both ways) they cause.


Tuesday, June 28, 2016
 
The most Jeremy Corbyn headline ever
The Daily Telegraph: "Labour crisis: Jeremy Corbyn refuses to resign after losing confidence of 172 MPs as Angela Eagle eyes up leadership challenge." Yeah, 172 of 229 Labour MPs vote non-confidence in his leadership and Corbyn insists on sticking around (only 40 supported him). To depose Corbyn as leader probably means that the rebels need to back just one candidate going forward, so egos will need to be set aside if the Labour malcontents' complaint that the party can't win a snap election with Corbyn at the helm is to be taken seriously.


 
Trump's charitable giving
The Washington Post reports that despite pledging millions of dollars to charities since 2007, there is precious little evidence he has given money to the causes he is connected to or says he supports publicly. A total of 167 charities were contacted by the Post "for evidence of personal gifts from Trump" between 2008 and May 2016, and they found a single donation of under $10,000 to the Police Athletic Association of New York City. He also gave a million dollars to a veterans' group earlier this year following public pressure during the primaries. Trump has given directly or through his Donald J. Trump foundation a meagre $3.8 million in total since 2001, a pittance for a billionaire. The paper reports, "What has set Trump apart from other wealthy philanthropists is not how much he gives — it is how often he promises that he is going to give." Trump supporters should recognize a habit of over-promising and under-delivering. The Post also reminds readers that Trump won't release his tax returns, leading to speculation that it would expose his lies about the amount of money he gives to charity.


 
Loser MLA doesn't want Jason Kenney running for Alberta PC leadership
Despite saying there are several reasons to rescind former federal cabinet minister Jason Kenney's provincial Progressive Conservative Party membership, former deputy premier and MLA Thomas Lukaszuk does not offer any. Lukaszuk is perhaps most famous for being called an asshole by Kenney, and apparently with good reason. Lukaszuk, who finished third in the party's leadership race in 2014 and who is not considered a candidate this time around, implies differences on social policy and a possible merger with the Wildrose Party should disqualify Kenney from running for the PC leadership. But aren't those matters for the grassroots to determine, not a person who has lost the last two races he competed in (2014 leadership, 2015 re-election).


 
The Olympics as an investment
Tim Harford: "hosting the games is not unlike building a church for one single, glorious wedding celebration."


 
Linker on Brexit: smashing the illusions of progressives
Damon Linker writes in The Week about how the Brexit vote shatters the illusions of progressives:
[P]rogressivism holds out a very specific moral vision of the future. It will be a world beyond particular attachments, beyond ethnic or linguistic or racial or religious or national forms of solidarity. In their place will be the only acceptable form of solidarity: humanitarian universalism.
And this means that the progressive future will even result in the end of politics itself — at least if politics is understood as encompassing more than the jostling of interest groups, bureaucratic administration, and the management of government benefits. Politics in that narrow sense will remain. But politics in Aristotle's sense — this particular community in this place with this history and heritage, determining its own character for itself, deciding who is and who is not a citizen, who will rule, and in the name of which vision of the good life — that existential form of politics will cease to exist in the progressive future ...
It would be one thing if progressives understood their universalistic moral and political convictions to constitute one legitimate partisan position among many. But they don't understand them in this way. They believe not only that their views deserve to prevail in the fullness of time, but also that they are bound to prevail.
Progressives have encountered their fiercest resistance to their leveling, dismal, anti-democratic philosophy. The over-the-top reaction to the Brexit vote not merely from Europeans, but the American and Canadian Left is most easily understood as having the core of their belief system challenged.


 
Exit is contagious
Zero Hedge has a post on the growing number of countries in which support for a referendum exceeds 40% and support for leaving the European Union is above 25% (eight of them). This is an important snarky comment: "they worry the pound might crash? Pay attention to the euro." Polish politicians are openly saying the EU should wake up to the meaning of the Brexit vote: it's time for reform in Brussels.


 
Will of the voters vs. the opinion of a billionaire


Monday, June 27, 2016
 
Beware 'data journalists' with stories based on Google Trends results
Danny Page has an excellent essay and graphs on the problem with Google Trends as a source for news stories saying it provides no context. There are several problems, in fact.
1) We don't know who is doing the searching, so connecting searches to vote results doesn't tell you about voter regret or ignorance.
2) A chart with a peak tells you about growing popularity of a particular search, but not the total numbers. Both Game of Thrones and Euro 2016 searches were much more popular in recent weeks, even compared to the (nearly imperceptible) peak of those asking "What is the EU?" It ends up that the story is based on about 1000 people searching "What is the EU" at its peak. Page says: "It’s ludicrous that so few people get turned into a massive story, but it underscores the need for context."
3. "What is the EU?" was much less popular than searches for the European Union sans the question. Who searches with questions anymore?


 
The Labour Party crisis
The Daily Telegraph headline says it all: "Labour crisis: Jeremy Corbyn sees 32 shadow ministers quit as new MP is told 'keep your phone on, you might be in the shadow cabinet by end of day'." The Telegraph reports:
The rebels have criticised his performance in the EU referendum and he faces further resignations from the junior frontbench ranks amid fresh calls for him to stand down as leader.
Things are moving so fast, the number of shadow ministers and MPs quitting is hard to track. Policing shadow minister Jack Dromey saying in his resignation letter: "I believe we may now be on the brink of a catastrophic defeat from which Labour may never recover ... You are a decent and honourable man. But we cannot fight back and win with you as leader."
The paper also has a running clock: "How long has Labour’s ‘leadership coup’ lasted?"


 
Meaning of Brexit vote
Tyler Cowen says the Brexit vote was about keeping England English, or at least parts of it. Cowen offers a very clever and fair commentary and one need not agree with it to find it thought-provoking. Two points stand out, however.
1) There has been plenty of commentary suggesting racial motives or questioning the intelligence/sophistication/decency of the pro-Leave voter. Cowen warns: "At some point we have to limit our moralizing about the vote and start treating it more like data." Cowen says viewing the vote as data is important to undo the supposed damage of the vote, but regardless understanding is better than moralizing.
2) A key to understanding is not assuming the worst about the "other" voter (Remain pundits demeaning Leave voters in a multitude of ways, and Leave supporters generally distrustful of those who want to Remain). Cowen says: "Much has been made of the supposed paradox that opposition to immigration is highest where the number of immigrants is lowest. Yes, some of that is the racism and xenophobia of less cosmopolitan areas, but it would be a big mistake to dismiss it as such or even to mainly frame it as such. Most of all it is an endowment effect. Those are the regions which best remember — and indeed still live — some earlier notion of what England was like." It is probably inaccurate to dismiss anti-immigration sentiment as racist; it might not even be really anti-immigration as much as pro-English. According to Cowen's frame, culture not economics is the most important driver of the Leave sentiment, and culture need not be a code for white and English.


 
Politics and neighbours
The Pew Research Center asked Republicans and Democrats if certain attributes would make it easier or harder to get along with new neighbours. Those attributes included ideology, party affiliation, church attendance, sexual orientation, and others. Democrats and Republicans were equal in being more welcoming of like-minded people and less welcoming of people from the opposition party or end of the ideological spectrum. Democrats and Republicans had about equal scores for new neighbours that had children, liked sports, or volunteered in the community. The big divides were gun ownership and attending church/believing in God, in which case Republicans were much more likely to say it would be easier to get along with new neighbours and Democrats said they were less likely. What was interesting is that both Republicans and Democrats treated gays/lesbians and those who liked hip hop about equally.
If you read Bill Bishop's 2009 The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded American is Tearing Us Apart, the numbers in this new Pew study could be surprising for how open-minded people think they are.


 
2016 watch (Donald Trump doesn't need no damn professional spokesman edition)
This past weekend, the New York Times had a profile of Donald Trump's 27-year-old spokesman, Hope Hicks. Hicks quite rightly refused to be interviewed for the story because she's there to help with Trump's image, not hers. I love this part of the Times article (via Ann Althouse) on so many levels:
Did he have qualms about hiring a campaign spokeswoman with no political background? “Well, I have a lot of political experience, so I wasn’t really concerned about it,” Mr. Trump said.
At least she played lacrosse for four years at SMU.


 
JO'S on Brexit
John O'Sullivan writes in the Globe and Mail about how British and international political and opinion leaders were on the wrong side of the Brexit debate and will likely be proven wrong in their apocalyptic visions of a post-Brexit Britain. As for those who wonder about the credibility of the referendum vote, O'Sullivan notes: "This 52-48 victory for Brexit on a turnout of 72 per cent has more democratic authority than any election in Britain since 1945." And to those hoping for a redo: "The political reality is that it can’t be reversed."


 
The shrinking middle class -- and growing upper middle class and rich
I've already mentioned the Stephen Rose study for the Urban Institute on how the middle class is shrinking because there is a growing number of people in the upper middle class. Robert J. Samuelson has a good column on the study in the Washington Post, noting that nearly one-third of households are making $100,000 or more. Just more than 29% of people live in households making $100,000 to $350,000, the thresholds for upper middle income. In 1979, only one in eight people were in the upper middle class. The rich (over $350 K) grew from 0.1% of households in 1979 to 1.8% in 2014. All other income quintiles declined:
Meanwhile, the poorer segments of the population declined. The poor and near-poor (less than $29,999 of income) dropped from 24.3 percent of the population in 1979 to 19.8 percent in 2014. The lower middle class ($30,000 to $49,999) fell from 23.9 percent to 17.1 percent, and the middle class ($50,000 to $99,999) decreased from 38.8 percent to 32 percent.
It is possible that $100,000 doesn't buy what it used to (the study compares adjusted incomes but not purchasing power), but the scope of the shift is significant and challenges the narrative of the shrinking middle class.


Sunday, June 26, 2016
 
Labour Party post-Brexit
Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn sacked shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn. Then 11 members of the shadow cabinet resigned in protest and could face a non-confidence vote in caucus. The Guardian's Paul Mason wonders whether some of the rebels are seeking to start a new centrist party. (Mason says that Corbyn delivered Labour's share to the Remain vote, a point that is both disputable and irrelevant to the socialist anti-Semite's worthiness as leader of the Labour Party.) The Wall Street Journal editorial takes a slightly different tact: "One happy result of Britain’s historic vote to leave the European Union is some belated signs of seriousness from grown-ups in the Labour Party." Jumping the gun a bit, the Telegraph gives odds on Corbyn's likely replacements, with former justice minister Dan Jarvis and deputy leader Tom Watson being the named the co-frontrunners (5:1). All this is in the context of speculation that an early national election could be called within the year, if for no other reason than the (constitutionally irrelevant) consideration that the new Tory Prime Minister decided by the party this fall will not have a "mandate" from the voters; he or she won't but the party still does. Whenever the election is held, Mason's point that the Labour Party must find a way to connect to voters not merely upset with the current leader but susceptible to shifting their vote to UKIP (as has been occurring over the past few elections), is one that squabbling about left and centrist politics will not answer. Labour must provide answers, other than an ever-larger welfare state, to those who are left behind by economic growth, within or outside the EU. It is not evident who might provide those answers but it seems that Corbyn is not it. As the Journal concluded its editorial: "If the Labour Party now ousts Mr. Corbyn, it will be a sign that voters have realized that a return of sovereignty to London from Brussels will require more than nostalgic, anti-Western socialism."


 
George Will quits the Republican Party
Frequent (justified) critic of the GOP, George F. Will, quit the Republican Party and officially became an "unaffiliated" voter in Maryland. The last straw was not Donald Trump winning the nomination, but Paul Ryan's endorsement of the party's presidential candidate. According to a PJ Meida report, Will told a Federalist Society meeting this weekend:
A “President Trump” with “no opposition” from a Republican-led Congress would be worse than a Hillary Clinton presidency with a Republican-led Congress.
I agree. A Republican Congress would oppose Hillary Clinton's agenda and actions but would probably remain silent on Trump's abuses of the constitution.


Saturday, June 25, 2016
 
Brexit
The EU, it appears, doesn't want Britain to stick around. The Guardian reports:
Martin Schulz, the president of the European parliament, told the Guardian that EU lawyers were studying whether it was possible to speed up the triggering of article 50 of the Lisbon treaty – the untested procedure for leaving the union.
As the EU’s institutions scrambled to respond to the bodyblow of Britain’s exit, Schulz said uncertainty was “the opposite of what we need”, adding that it was difficult to accept that “a whole continent is taken hostage because of an internal fight in the Tory party”.
This is not unreasonable, although it also comes across as Eurocrats having a hissy-fit. Which they are. Yet Bloomberg reports that anti-Cameron/anti-British sentiment is high among many European leaders, not just those at the EU. This is probably unfair. I see Europe making an example of Britain to keep the malcontents in other countries from demanding exit referenda in their countries.
Another election, yet again a familiar narrative. The Guardian: "How the pollsters got it wrong on the EU referendum." I'm not sure this is correct. In the closing days of the campaign, it seemed neck-and-neck, with the last four polls being split, two predicting a close Remain win, two predicting a close Leave win.
I can see both arguments for David Cameron resigning as prime minister. MP Liam Fox said Cameron started the process of Britain leaving and he should see it through. True enough. Ali Wambold writes in the New York Sun that Cameron was the right person to negotiate Brexit. True, too. There is also the argument that he was on the wrong side of the most important issue facing England in a generation, he bet his political career on Remain winning, and now he must pay the price of failure. That might be too harsh. The real reason he has to leave is that he led some of the ridiculous claims in Project Fear, including claiming that leaving the EU could trigger a Great Depression-like economic crisis or even continental war; this scare-mongering was bad enough and beneath a prime minister like Cameron, but if these were truly outcomes he envisioned if Britain he left, he made a catastrophic mistake in even letting Leave be a possibility. For that failure in judgement -- or his making scary claims that bore no resemblance to reality -- means Cameron surrendered any right to continue leading the island nation.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne and Bank of England Governor Mark Carney must go. Now. They have zero credibility.
I'll have more about the post-Brexit British political consequences sometime soon, I hope. For now suffice it to say that I totally support either Boris Johnson or Michael Gove becoming the next leader of the British Tories and thus prime minister. I doubt BoJo will win and think that someone like Theresa May, a low-key Remain senior member of government should be considered the the early favourite to replace Cameron.
For all the talk about division within the Tories, Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn also faces a backlash within his party. In The Spectator, Brendan O'Neill says the Left more generally must figure out its post-EU future. And FT on Twitter: "Regions with the biggest votes for Leave are also the most economically dependent on the EU." Or as someone quoted in this Guardian story said: "If you've got money, you vote in ... if you haven't got money, you vote out." So blame unequal distribution of the benefits of economic growth, not racism or anti-immigration sentiment.
I mostly agree with Alex Morton's mostly positive assessment of David Cameron's prime ministership, although Morton is a formerly Cameron adviser. I thought he was an exemplary leader for a conservative party and very good prime minister until the referendum campaign (although I have no issue with his calling the EU referendum).
Andrew Lilico, chairman of Economists for Britain, writes in CapX that Britain must become engaged and open to the world, suggesting a alliance/free trade market with Australia and Canada.
Reuters reports that "Global stock markets lost about $2 trillion in value on Friday" although markets in Germany, France, Italy, and Spain suffered losses two to three times as larger as London's stock market hit (3.2% decline on the day); the major North American markets fell roughly in line with what was happening in London and not the continental stock exchanges. I expect a quick correction over the next few weeks as investors realize this is not the end of the world or even Britain's access to the European market. The New Yorker's James Surowiecki examines whether the markets over-reacted.
In an editorial in The Spectator praising Cameron -- and The Speccie supported Brexit -- the magazine makes the most important observation, at least regarding the EU:
The fault with Cameron’s strategy is that it was based on a false premise: that the EU is open to reform.
That is important to remember that going forward. My guess is the EU changes by doubling down, becoming more of what Brexit supporters disliked about the European Union.