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, December 01, 2015
2016 watch (Chris Christie edition)
The Wall Street Journal's William McGurn says that the seriousness of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and his credentials and rhetoric on national security will be an asset in the post-Paris attack political landscape as more Republicans and Americans have terrorism as a top-of-the-mind concern. We'll see. It might be too late considering how far behind he is in the polls. Offensive lineman can strip the ball, in a metaphor employed by the Journal columnist, but seldom do they pick it up and score.

Monday, November 30, 2015
Secretary Clinton and candidate Clinton
The Associated Press examined then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's calendar:
As secretary of state, Hillary Clinton opened her office to dozens of influential Democratic party fundraisers, former Clinton administration and campaign loyalists, and corporate donors to her family's global charity, according to State Department calendars obtained by The Associated Press.
The woman who would become a 2016 presidential candidate met or spoke by phone with nearly 100 corporate executives and long-time Clinton political and charity donors during her four years at the State Department between 2009 and 2013, records show. Those formally scheduled meetings involved heads of companies and organizations that pursued business or private interests with the Obama administration, including with the State Department while Clinton was in charge.
The AP found no evidence of legal or ethical conflicts in Clinton's meetings in its examination of 1,294 pages from the calendars. Her sit-downs with business leaders were not unique among recent secretaries of state, who sometimes summoned corporate executives to aid in international affairs, documents show.
But the difference with Clinton's meetings was that she was a 2008 presidential contender who was widely expected to run again in 2016. Her availability to luminaries from politics, business and charity shows the extent to which her office became a sounding board for their interests.
1. What a tangled mess. It might not matter. But it could and it should.
2. Yes, "everybody does it," but that doesn't make it right. And the Clintons seem to do it more.
3. You would think that Hillary Clinton would be more discrete, more cautious.
4. There is too much government and therefore justifiably a lot of interest on the part of private interests in currying favour with those in power.
5. There is a lot of money in politics and therefore justifiably great interest on the part of so-called public servants in currying favour with those with wealth.

Sunny ways

Steyn on 'Theme from New York, New York'
"Send in the Clowns" and "Theme from New York, New York" are my two favourite Frank Sinatra songs, the latter edging out the former because of the many memories of leaving Yankee Stadium to it, which is looped and joined in by thousands of fans (which is quite the experience). Mark Steyn looks at "one of the biggest Sinatra recordings of all time." A snippet:
I believe the very first time Frank Sinatra sang "New York, New York" was at the Waldorf-Astoria on October 13th 1978, at a benefit for the Mercy Hospital. The eleven months between that first performance and the eventual recording were spent Sinatrafying the song, until he'd got it just the way he wanted it. As Vincent Falcone recalls:
At one point he said to me 'We will never record a song again until we have done it on stage for four or five months' - because he wanted to have the opportunity to fully develop the idea of the song, until he got it to the point that he wanted it.
There are references to the interconnecting stories of the Yankees, Liza Minnelli, and the critically acclaimed but unwatched Arrested Development.

Good question

Worstall questions the math on size of Greece's prostitution industry
The number of shags doesn't quite compute, says Tim Worstall, regarding what one source estimates is a €600 million sex trade industry in Greece, while prices have declined since the financial crisis to as low as €2 a pop.

Carbon pricing and crony capitalism
The Toronto Sun's Lorrie Goldstein: "Why business loves carbon pricing: Because, as in the case with Ontario and Alberta, they’re getting billions of dollars in government subsidies to support it." About Alberta's ostensible climate change policy, Goldstein writes:
Trevor Tombe, an assistant professor of economics at the University of Calgary, tweeted that Notley’s $30-a-tonne carbon tax will raise roughly $6 billion annually in 2018 and that the money will be disbursed in the following ways.
About $2.9 billion, or 49%, will go to large industrial emitters of greenhouse gases in what Tombe described as a “huge” output subsidy program.
And about Ontario's carbon scheme:
As a government working paper puts it, the Wynne government “is proposing all industrial and institutional sectors will have an assistance factor of 100% in the first compliance system period ... of 2017 to 2020.” In the first year of cap-and-trade in 2017, the Wynne government, which estimates it will take in $1.3 billion annually to start, will set the emission cap at what it forecasts will be Ontario’s total emissions that year, without any reduction, meaning a zero decrease in emissions while consumer prices rise.
The problem with public subsidies paid to big polluters in any carbon pricing scheme is that they directly undermine its ostensible purpose, which is not to deliver undeserved, windfall profits to business, but to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Sunday, November 29, 2015
I thought this would end after Harper was defeated

The Right has its own dumb memes/talking points

2016 watch (Trump edition)
The Atlantic reports:
“I have got my mind made up, pretty much so,” says Michael Barnhill, a 67-year-old factory supervisor with a leathery complexion and yellow teeth. “The fact is, politicians have not done anything for our country in a lot of years.” ...
Barnhill is wearing a button he just bought from a vender outside the convention center. It says “TRUMP 2016: FINALLY SOMEONE WITH BALLS.”
I hope he runs with that as his official slogan ... as someone who thinks The Donald is joke but the slogan isn't.

Media slobbering over Maurice Strong
Misses key story in obits.

Value gap in politics
Patrick Ruffini's explicit argument in a series of tweets is that American candidates and parties spend less than what they should on winning.

The administrative state
A few weeks ago I noted Charles J. Cooper's article in National Affairs on the unconstitutional growth of the administrative state, in which the bureaucracy establishes rules without legislative oversight or approval, and increasingly (until recently) little judicial oversight. Justice Clarence Thomas is pushing back against the administrative state. George Will provides the 750-word precis of the article and the issue today. Will, Cooper, and Thomas argue that Congress (nor the presidency) should delegate powers to unelected bureaucrats:
Particularly, it should prevent Congress from delegating to executive agencies the essentially legislative power of formulating “generally applicable rules of private conduct.” Such delegation, Thomas says, erases the distinction between “the making of law, and putting it into effect.” This occurs when Congress — hyperactive, overextended, and too busy for specificity — delegates “policy determinations” that “effectively permit the president to define some or all of the content” of a rule of conduct.
Today, if Congress provides “a minimal degree of specificity” in the instructions it gives to the executive, the Court, Thomas says, abandons “all pretense of enforcing a qualitative distinction between legislative and executive power.” As a result, the Court has “overseen and sanctioned the growth of an administrative system that concentrates the power to make laws and the power to enforce them in the hands of a vast and unaccountable administrative apparatus that finds no comfortable home in our constitutional structure.”

Trudeau summed up by foreign journalist without the fawning
The Hill in a story on Canada's Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau: "Trudeau, the center-left son of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, is a former actor, teacher and model who won a resounding majority win despite limited political experience."
(HT: J.J. McCullough)

Saturday, November 28, 2015
2016 watch (HRC edition)
Michael Walsh, author of The Devil’s Pleasure Palace: The Cult of Critical Theory and the Subversion of the West, writes in the New York Post about Hillary Clinton being a congenital liar, from claiming she was named after Sir Edmund Hillary to renewed claims about trying to sign up for the U.S. marines before becoming First Lady of Arkansas. My problem with this criticism is that everyone in America knows that Hillary Clinton is a liar, and they don't care. She's been lying for nearly a quarter century on the national stage. Some are white lies, others are whoopers, but it never matters. Clinton might be vulnerable on criminality (email scandal) and incompetence (name it), but she seems immune to any harm that her dishonesty might cause most other presidential contenders.

Ridding campus of 'racist' statues
Slate reports that some students at some universities are unhappy that Thomas Jefferson is honored with statues and are putting yellow sticky notes labeling him a racist and rapist.
The Ryersonian reports that the Black on Campus Coalition at Ryerson University in Toronto is calling for, among other demands, removal of an Egerton Ryerson statue from Gould Street "because of his ties to the residential school system." Never mind that Ryerson was an early advocate for public education in Upper Canada (Ontario). How long until the BCC (or others) call for changing the name of the school?

Gas taxes
Michael Bargo Jr. writes in American Thinker that in Illinois there are eight different taxes on a gallon of gas, from state sales to environmental taxes. And it's illegal for gas stations to provide a listing of them all.

The trend line reflects ...
1. People like a winner.
2. People want to give their new leader a chance.
3. Justin Trudeau hasn't screwed up massively.
4. Justin Trudeau has a large pool of Liberal, NDP, and Green voters from which to draw support until the next election.
5. The Conservatives are effectively leaderless.
6. The blowjob coverage of the Trudeau government/Trudeau family over the past month.
7. All of the above.

Friday, November 27, 2015
Politics and economics is about property and relationships, but economics is better at it
I don't like the style of this piece, but Michael J. McKay writes for Mises Daily about a point few people understand or truly appreciate:
[I] f you look at politics as simply an argument of how we should organize ourselves, then it becomes obvious that it really boils down to how we know, or don’t know, what property is and how we should deal with it as we relate to each other in life and living.
This is what I was referring to when I said that economics is also about relationships. The connection between economics and politics is how we organize our relationships and whether our ‘shared values’ assume we can have (and want to have) a society based more on peaceful cooperation — or not.
Despite the similarities, economics precedes politics, and politics always too easily invites coercion, including through democratic means.

Evidence that Philadelphia sucks

Red tape closes New Zealand prediction market
Andrew Gelman points out a story from Stuff that illustrates the cumbersomeness of government regulations:
According to the iPredict statement, Associate Justice Minister Simon Bridges refused to grant it an exemption from the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism Act, declaring that it was a “legitimate money laundering risk” because of the lack of customer due diligence. . . .
Geoff Todd, managing director of VicLink, said the website had been caught in a legal loophole which had caused problems globally.
“Predictions markets aren’t financial markets, and they’re not gambling, but the legislation is very binary. You’re either gambling or you’re a financial market.”
In 2014 InTrade closed after suspending American trading in 2012 because it ran afoul of anti-online gambling regulations.

Foreign policy is hard. Especially for the Dauphin
Michael Petrou of Maclean's comments on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's "vacuous" stance on Syria:
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, at a press conference [Wednesday] in London, was asked whether Russia’s involvement in Syria is helping or hindering the situation there ...
Trudeau began his response, as is sometimes his wont, with a faint and partially suppressed chuckle, as if what he’s about to reveal should be obvious to right-thinking people: “Well, I think one of the most important things that we need to do is establish a level of coherence and cohesiveness even amongst very different actors to ensure that we are moving toward what all of us want, which is greater peace and stability in the region.”
How anyone other than a first-year student at a second-rate university trying to disguise the fact that he hasn’t done the class’s required reading gets away with saying something so utterly vacuous is a mystery one suspects will deepen as Trudeau’s premiership progresses ...
[T]he possible outcomes of the Syrian civil war envisioned by Putin and by opponents of Assad such as Turkey and Canada are fundamentally different. There is no “coherence and cohesiveness,” however much Trudeau might wish it were so.
But there's more:
Trudeau was then asked if he agreed with American President Barack Obama, who after the attack said Turkey has a right to defend its territory, and with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who said NATO members “stand in solidarity with Turkey.”
“I don’t think we’re entirely clear on everything that’s happened right now, and I certainly don’t think that it’s helpful to start off by me choosing to point fingers at one side or the other,” Trudeau said.
He added Canada “absolutely” supports its NATO partner Turkey. But the damage was done. Here was Trudeau seeming to forget that the “one side or the other” in this dispute includes Canada. When the head of NATO says the alliance stands in solidarity with Turkey, we’ve picked a side. Trudeau doesn’t get to stand above the fray and refuse to point fingers.
Justin Trudeau demonstrated his ignorance regarding NATO in 2014, and despite some well-deserved mocking at the time, he hasn't learned from his mistakes. Roland Paris has a lot of work to do, unless Trudeau's foreign policy adviser is part of the problem.
In my book The Dauphin: The Truth about Justin Trudeau, I argue that it is on international issues, in particular, that Trudeau the Younger demonstrates his lack of judgment.

What I'm reading
1. Making a Difference by Dalton McGuinty. Just getting started. It's had lots of media coverage over the past week and will review it for the January Interim. First impression is about the physical book: it is heavy and stately looking. It seems like an impressive and substantial book. Of course, most political memoirs aren't.
2. The Christmas Virtues: A Treasury of Conservative Tales for the Holidays edited by Jonathan V. Last. I should have a review online in a week or so.
3. "Modernizing Regulation in the Canadian Taxi Industry," a Competition Bureau white paper, and its accompanying material. The Toronto Star reported on the white paper and John Pecman, Canada’s Commissioner of Competition, had a column in the Globe and Mail about permitting disruptive technologies in the taxi market.

Ontario economic update
The Toronto Star is painting yesterday's Ontario economic update in rosy terms with Liberal Finance Minister Charles Sousa announcing the province's deficit to come in around $7.5 billion instead of the $8.5 billion estimated in the spring budget. That better-than-expected deficit is a result of the sell-off of 15% of Hydro One, which the Liberal government originally said would go to pay for transit and other infrastructure to reduce gridlock and which brought in about a billion dollars more than estimated when Sousa delivered his budget earlier this year. Now, as the opposition parties have charged, it appears that the Hydro One sale proceeds are going into general revenues to pay for program spending and increasing interest payments (the result of ever-growing debt). The Globe and Mail reports, the Hydro One boost, "is only temporary ... and does not get the province closer to its promise to balance the books in two years."
The media coverage is ignoring the role of low interest rates in the province's ostensibly improving fiscal situation. If interest rates increase -- and they almost certainly have to over the next year or so -- Ontario's declining deficits will turn around quickly. TD Economics in their analysis of the update noted: "A lower-than-expected interest rate environment is expected to save the government roughly $0.6 billion over the next three fiscal years combined." End of story. But low interest rates are also a driver in the inflated housing market, especially in Toronto, which is helping Ontario reap a land transfer windfall. If the housing market cools, that revenue will fall.
The analysis from BMO Nesbitt Burns observes that "program spending is running $400 million higher than the budget plan at $120.9 billion, mainly reflecting new spending in the Green Investment Fund," suggesting the unsustainable and unexpected revenue growth will not be enough for the government to meet its 2017/2018 balanced budget target. Critics on the right will note that the Liberals are not doing enough to control spending. They are doing better than the "recent" average, but probably not enough to meet their 2017 deadline. TD Economics concludes their analysis:
Expenditures in Ontario have grown by an average annual rate of 5.2% since the late 1980’s and by about 2% over the last five years. In light of this, keeping spending growth contained at around 1.3% between FY2015-16 and FY2017-18 – a rate below that of projected inflation – while the economy is growing may be a tall order. As such, getting back to balance by 2017-18 is going to require some hard work on the government’s part.
The Finance Ministry's "2015 Ontario Economic Outlook and Fiscal Review" has Sousa's statement, a press release, the numbers, and other data (and propaganda). RBC Economics also has an analysis which parrots most of what the other banks said.

Thursday, November 26, 2015
Against certainty
Tyler Cowen reminds us of the Haitian proverb, "if you’re not confused, you don’t know what’s going on." That's true in most cases, but if you think you know when it isn't applicable, you're probably wrong.

Aboriginal women and homicide
The new Statistics Canada homicide numbers (2014) were released yesterday and a focus of it is the stats on aboriginal homicides. The media has covered the disproportionately high number of aboriginal women who are victims of homicide. One quarter of homicide victims are aboriginal, despite being just 5% of the population. Yet the murder rate for aboriginal males is three times higher than among females (10.86 per 100,000 men compared to 3.64 per 100,000 women). What is also notable is that the percentage of cases solved was higher for aboriginals (81%) than non-aboriginal (71%). As with non-aboriginal, more than eight in ten aboriginal victims knew their assailant. Every murder is a serious crime and it appears that the criminal justice system takes aboriginal murders as seriously as they do other murders.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015
Progressive goals advanced by markets, limited state
Aniruddha Ravisankar,a student at the Paris School of International Affairs, writes a letter in The Freeman to progressives:
There is something incredibly inspiring about caring for others. I share your contempt for the inequities we find within and between countries. It hurts me each time I think about the unnecessary loss of life in the world due to poverty and economic stagnation. I am a classical liberal not because I don’t care for others but because I do. I share your concern for the plight of the poor, I appreciate your desire for change, and I respect your disdain for narrow nationalism and feudalism. It is out of this appreciation that I ask you to come back to your political roots ...
You are right to demand that we be sympathetic to the sufferings of other people and hold up altruism as a virtue. But what is more altruistic than capitalism, which cares not for the color of your skin or your hair but for you as a person? How can you, with such concern for the world’s poor, rally against the international trade that will make their lives better? Isn’t there something incredibly regressive about wanting to slow down capitalist progress?

Liberal calls out Wynne for abusing 'racist' label
The Vancouver Sun reports that former NDP B.C. premier and federal cabinet minister Ujjal Dosanjh has replied to current Ontario Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne:
In response to Wynne being quoted saying “what we can’t give into, I think, is allowing security to mask racism,” Dosanjh responded that “in one fell swoop” she was labelling as racist the 67 percent of Canadians who disagree with the government’s “artificial” timeline to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada in the next five or six weeks.
Of course, this is the standard Liberal/liberal MO. During the federal election the Dauphin implied the majority of Canadians who were skeptical of the niqab's place in Canadian society were bigots.

Childhood reading
The Millions has "Six Authors on Their Childhood Reading." There are the standards: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Robinson Crusoe, Moby Dick. I didn't read any of these until university. Excluding The Hobbit and the The Chronicles of Narnia, I didn't read much fiction unless it was assigned by the English teacher and even then I usually got by without reading the assigned books (with the exception of Shakespeare, which I did read). My introduction to Ayn Rand came after I turned 16, and I completed her works before I graduated high school. Until I was 16, I read encyclopedias, comic books, Mad, our regional newspaper The London Free Press, The Economist from the public library, whichever weekly newsmagazines my parents were subscribing to (Newsweek, Time or Maclean's), various hockey and baseball magazines to which I subscribed, and beginning when I was 16 National Review and The Spectator, which my conservative English and Religion teacher introduced to several of us right-leaning students. At some point in high school I read a bunch of Marx, Trotsky, Lenin, and Marcuse and thought I understood it. No fiction stands out as influential (even Rand -- I preferred her essays, and still do). I was reading the paper, newsweeklies, Baseball Digest, The Hockey News, and Hockey Digest before I was ten, but have no recollection of reading books. I do recall my parents, both teachers, reading to me every night as a young child, but nothing that would count as literature.
I don't feel like a missed much because I "caught" up quickly in university, yet an appreciation of literature at a young age is something worth inculcating in kids, and we do with our children. My four oldest, which span Grade 5 to 25 years old, are all voracious readers of both fiction and non-fiction, and some of those books have been influential, dare say formative, to who they are. I don't regret not having this experience, but I do regret not having a story about such an experience.

Stupid polls
Public Policy Polling asked which candidate seeking the GOP or Democratic presidential nomination would ruin Thanksgiving. No prize for guessing who won. Hillary Clinton finished second and Bernie Sanders third, but together they still wouldn't "win." Clinton finished first for the candidate respondents would most like to have over for dinner, followed by Ben Carson and Donald Trump.