Sobering Thoughts

Comments on politics, the culture, economics and religion by Paul Tuns -- in short, everything about the human endeavour from a non-hyphenated conservative perspective. I am Toronto-based writer and editor, whose articles, columns and reviews have appeared in more than 35 publications. I am editor-in-chief of The Interim, Canada's life and family newspaper, author of Jean Chretien: A Legacy of Scandal and a regular contributor to the book pages of the Halifax Herald.

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Tuesday, September 01, 2015
2016 watch (Mitt Romney edition)
Oh, shit. Writing at National Review Online, Eliana Johnson and Elaina Plott report:
Though this election cycle was supposed to feature the most impressive field of Republican presidential candidates in decades, a handful of the party’s major donors and bundlers remain underwhelmed by their options. They are longing for the bad old days, and Mitt Romney is still their man. These holdouts continue to hope that the former Massachusetts governor, who said in January he would not run for a third time, will change his mind. They believe he could dispel the chaos that has reigned over the Republican field for months.
The article quotes two donors from the previous cycles while noting that most others have already found a different horse to back in this race.
It would be difficult to mount a campaign this late in the game with donors, strategists, and activists already lined up behind others. Romney is a two-time loser -- once in the primaries (2008) and once in the general election (2012) -- but perhaps his experience of the primaries makes entering late less of a problem. Still, if the Bush name is a problem for Jeb Bush, the loser label will be a serious impediment to a third Romney run.

Undecided vs. uncommitted
The Globe and Mail: "Half of Canadian voters undecided: poll." Campbell Clark reports:
Only 44 per cent of those surveyed by Nanos Research indicated they are set on one choice for their vote. That’s up only marginally from late July, before the campaign began, when 40 per cent said they are considering only one party. By contrast, 50 per cent of voters are still willing to consider any of two, three or more parties – and another 6.6 per cent say they are unsure, or don’t like any party.
Most political reporters will look at the second choices to determine the ceiling for the various parties, their potential pool of voters. Assuming Nanos is correct, the Conservatives have a lower ceiling but a higher percentage of committed voters. This confirms previous polls and the conventional wisdom/narrative/common sense.
My issue is with the Globe headline writer who calls the uncommitted voters undecided. Undecideds, in polling terminology, are those who have not stated a preference; But in this story the "unsure" is mixed with "don't like any party" and that's just 6%, not half as the headline suggests: "Half of Canadians undecided." Describing those who say they are favouring one party but open to changing their mind to consider another choice as undecided may be technically accurate, but misleading in the way that polls are usually reported. It's sloppy journalism. (Also, the poll might not be capturing the real intentions of voters as some of those respondents might be claiming interest in a second party to look open minded, and therefore are not undecided, but cagey.) Whether undecided is literally correct, uncommitted is a more accurate description of these respondents.

Important lesson for pundits everywhere
Michael Barone on the 2016 election cycle in the United States:
History teaches two lessons pointing in opposite directions: Partisan divisions can stay the same for a long time. And they can change suddenly and without much warning.
Recent elections show remarkable stability in most states' voting patterns. Hillary Clinton is hoping to repeat Barack Obama's successes which were built on the Democratic strengths in more than two dozen states. Republicans are hoping for another 1980-style realignment. It's smart to bet on relative stability, but Barone warns "that a new partisan alignment is an impossible thing. History tells us it is — until it isn't."
My prediction of a near Conservative majority in Canada assumes that national polls matter less as ridings become reliably blue, red, or orange, like American blue and red states. With lower voter turnout, entrenched patterns are less likely to be changed by a large number of less committed partisans. This theory holds true when you look at the riding-by-riding numbers in the post-2000 elections; Conservative won more seats in each subsequent election not because they won over a lot more new voters than the fact the Liberals lost a lot of their voters. Whatever the polls say, the challenge for the Trudeau Liberals is to bring former Liberal voters back to the voting booth. But a political realignment is always possible.

Reason ends their Nanny of the Month video
Too bad. It was a great feature. Here's the last one. Fucking nanny state.

How to avert a debt crisis
Don't borrow/lend. Tyler Cowen in a post about a potential African financial crisis (all the links are worth reading): "for a while a lot of lending to Africa dried up and that limited the number of possible debt crises." Not lending is sub-optimally conservative on the part of international institutions and banks.

Recession and Election 42
Greg Lyle of Innovative Research Group found that those most engaged on the issue of whether Canada is in a recession tend to favour the Conservative Party as most capable of handling an economic downturn.

The NDP effect is being felt in Alberta
The Globe and Mail: "B.C. bonds trump Alberta as tides change with oil slump." The story leads with oil prices, but fiscal policy matters, too:
The yield gap between Alberta’s 2.35-per-cent bonds maturing in 2025 over similar British Columbia notes widened to about seven basis points this week from as low as one basis point in February, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Both provinces are rated AAA by Standard & Poor’s and Aaa by Moody’s Investors Service, the highest investment grades.
For 10-year debt from Ontario, Canada’s biggest provincial economy, the extra yield over British Columbia bonds is six basis points.
British Columbia’s Finance Minister Michael de Jong is forecasting a third-consecutive budget surplus in fiscal 2015-16, likely the only one among Canadian provinces. Meanwhile, bond investors are still waiting for an update on how Alberta’s recently elected New Democratic Party government plans to deal with the prospect of a deficit. The government plans to release the annual budget in October, Carolyn Gregson, a spokeswoman at Alberta’s Finance Ministry said.
“There’s less concern over financial conditions in B.C. and the government there is doing a good job, steady as she goes, and that’s being rewarded in this environment,” said Brian Calder, senior trader at Franklin Bissett Investment Management.

The 'unilateral presidency': Didn't the founders create more than one branch of government?
Lanhee J. Chen, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and director of domestic policy studies in the public policy program at Stanford University, writes in the Wall Street Journal about the need to undo President Barack Obama's most destructive legacy, "the Unilateral Presidency." Chen notes:
The scope of Mr. Obama’s actions is indeed breathtaking. He has employed such an array of tools for imposing his vision on the country—executive orders are merely the best-known—that reversing the damage to the nation’s constitutional checks and balances could take years.
On the next president’s first day in office, the president could simply issue an executive order revoking all of his predecessor’s executive actions, except those necessary for national security or the basic functioning of government. This includes Mr. Obama’s executive orders, but also a flood of presidential memorandums and directives, as well as informal guidance and orders from federal agencies, that he has used to reshape federal policy.
With a stroke of a pen, the next president could roll back efforts to expand the reach of labor unions, mandates requiring the expanded use of renewable energy by the federal government, and Mr. Obama’s foolhardy reconciliation with Iran and Cuba.
Then there is the formal rule-making process, which has produced far-reaching policy change through agency-promulgated regulations. A review of this activity could begin on day one of a new presidency but will be more time consuming and challenging to reverse.
Taken as a whole, Mr. Obama’s use of executive orders, presidential memorandums, agency directives and guidance to achieve his policy aims is without precedent in its disregard for the people’s elected representatives.
Defender of Obama point to the fact that he issued slightly fewer executive orders than George W. Bush and significantly fewer than Bill Clinton. But there are more than one way for a president to unilaterally skin a cat: memorandums.
These directives have the same legal impact as executive orders and need not be published in the Federal Register. No other American president had issued more memorandums at this point in his presidency, and the 265 memorandums Mr. Obama has issued exceeds the number of his executive orders. His memorandums have resulted in significant changes in labor, environmental and education policy.
Several Republican presidential candidate wannabes have vowed to examine or repeal most Obama executive orders, but it is a safe bet that whoever the next president is will follow the incumbent's example. Why work with Congress when the president can impose his or her will?

I'll read it tomorrow
@WSJ tweets: "To stop procrastinating, understand the emotions behind the behavior"

Journalism. Or culture.
Gay Gavriel Kay tweets: "My culture, you are messed up. Telegraph's piece on passing of great Oliver Sacks has photo of...De Niro and Williams in movie of his book."

Monday, August 31, 2015
Not The Onion
From The Forward: "Visiting Auschwitz? Enjoy a Cool 'Mist' Shower." Lior Zaltzman reports, "Meir Bulka, 48, visited Auschwitz-Birkenau this Sunday and was surprised to see these showers, spraying mist at the overheated visitors." Surprised should be an under-statement.
Zaltzman reports:
Apparently the camp’s administration has no intention of removing the misters and, when probed about the resemblance to the gas chambers, they got all technical on the critiques, saying:
“The mist sprinkles do not look like showers and the fake showers installed by Germans inside some of the gas chambers were not used to deliver gas into them.”

2016 watch (Ben Carson WTF? edition)
It's just one poll -- and we shouldn't pay much attention to single polls -- but this is, unexpected: a Monmouth University poll in Iowa says Ben Carson and Donald Trump are tied in the state at 23%, followed by Carly Fiorina (10%), Ted Cruz (9%), Scott Walker (7%), Jeb Bush (5%), John Kasich (4%), Marco Rubio (4%), and Rand Paul (3%). As the MU press release noted, "The last two Iowa caucus victors, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, each garner 2% of the vote."
If there is a takeaway, it is that two people who have never been elected to public office before are combining for nearly half the vote in Iowa.

Illinois can't pay lottery winners
The Associated Press reports:
Without a state budget agreement two months into the new fiscal year, there’s no authority for the state comptroller to cut checks over $25,000. That means smaller winnings can be paid out, but not the larger lottery wins.
Susan Rick, who is putting off renovations because of delays in receiving her $250,000 winnings, told the Chicago Tribune, the state would "come take it, and they don’t care whether we have a roof over our head," if the situation were reversed.

Food Stamp Nation
Ed Feulner at The Signal: "In 2008, Fewer Than 30 Million Used Food Stamps. Now 46 Million Do." There are actually one million fewer Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program users in America compared to 2013, but the fact is when SNAP was made easier to qualify for, usage increased. Feulner explains:
Before the 2008 recession, 55 percent of SNAP households consisted of children and the elderly. Now, however, a slight majority of recipients are non-elderly, able-bodied adults. There has also been an uptick in the number of working-age, able-bodied adults on SNAP who are not working.
Why? What explains the climbing numbers of non-working, non-elderly, working-age SNAP recipients?
At least part of the reason can be traced to the waiving of work requirements for childless, able-bodied, working-age adults during the recession. Simply put, we’re not requiring those who are able to work to do so.

Tech Insider's Gus Lubin provides highlights of economist Bradford DeLong's recent interview (multiple videos) with Trekonomics author Manu Saadia about "living in a post-scarcity world." Today there is an abundance of food and clothing, efficiently produced by many fewer laborers, so that even poor people live better than nobility two centuries ago. DeLong says that people in the future may behave more like the supposedly too-perfect characters in later iterations of Star Trek:
"What's so funny is, very often people criticize 'The Next Generation' and 'Deep Space Nine' because all the characters — they're not relatable. They're too perfect. They're too nice. They're too goody two shoes? They're intergalactic boy scouts. But, in fact, those traits are very consistent within a society where gift exchange — that type of cooperative behavior — is probably more rewarded than being a Ferengi."
We'll see. Still, it is progress that real-life human beings in the 21st century, like the characters in Star Trek with their replicator machine, "have solved scarcity."

Political nerd signs that summer is over
Don Peat tweets that committee meetings are taking place at Toronto city hall again.

(Dis)honorary degrees
Priceonomics looks at the practice of universities giving honorary degrees, mostly doctorates, to the likes of Pitbull, Ben Affleck, and Mike Tyson. These fake degrees are "an opportunity for colleges to build relationships with the rich, famous, and well-connected, in hopes of securing financial donations and cheap publicity." Oxford University began the practice of sucking up to the rich and powerful -- literally power, a bishop who was related to the king -- in 1478. Not surprisingly, Harvard leads the honorary degree parade. Priceonomics notes:
[T]hese specially-categorized degrees — which are technically classified as honoris causa, Latin for “for the sake of the honor” — are not “real” degrees, and as such, come with limitations. Most importantly, recipients are generally discouraged from referring to themselves as “doctor,” and awarding universities will often make this clear on their websites with some variation of the following phrase: "Honorary graduates may use the approved post-nominal letters. It is not customary, however, for recipients of an honorary doctorate to adopt the prefix 'Dr.'”
Benjamin Franklin, Maya Angelou, and software freedom activist Richard Stallman, all addressed (or address) themselves as Dr. or insist others do.

Ignoring history, Canadian Press tells us to watch what happens in Nova Scotia
Mike McDonald of Canadian Press "reports speculates:
Of the 11 federal ridings in Nova Scotia, pundits say the one to watch on election night will be Central Nova, the Conservative stronghold that is being relinquished by high-profile Justice Minister Peter MacKay.
The riding’s electoral fate will be under close scrutiny as the polls close across the Maritimes because it will offer an early glimpse of how voters have judged Stephen Harper’s nine years in power.
As goes Central Nova, so goes Canada?
It's true that we don't know if the riding is a Conservative riding or a MacKay riding (Peter or Elmer MacKay have won every general election in the riding since 1971 except in 1993).
But one riding seldom tells the tale of an election or foretells what will happen elsewhere.
That may be more true of Nova Scotia than elsewhere. In 1993 the Liberals won all 11 ridings in the province, but after budget cuts in the mid-1990s, they were wiped out in Nova Scotia with the NDP winning six seats and the Conservatives five (including Peter MacKay winning Central Nova). The Liberals also lost seats lost nine seats combined in Newfoundland and New Brunswick, as the Chretien-led Grits fell from 177 seats nation-wide in '93 to a bare majority of 155 four years later. Atlantic Canada represented almost the entirety of the Liberal loss of seats. Is that an "early glimpse"? No, it probably showed that one part of the country more than the rest of the country liked federal spending and, at the very least, was reacting to the government's Unemployment Insurance reforms. It was a glimpse into a region not an indication of a national trend.
In 1997, the Liberals gained in Quebec, making up for significant losses in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta (12 combined). In 2015, the federal Tories are looking for small gains in Quebec to potentially make up for some losses in Atlantic Canada.
Politics in each of the regions in Canada is unique, and Nova Scotia can no more tell us what will happen elsewhere on October 19 than, say, some random ridings in Edmonton or the Greater Toronto Area.

Is the coalition serious about battling the Islamic State
Bill Geertz at The Free Beacon reports:
Air Force Col. Patrick Ryder, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, said the coalition has conducted 19 airstrikes against training areas, the most recent on Aug. 5. The Central Command’s news release for that day, however, makes no reference to a training camp being struck in airstrikes. A July 30 release states that training areas were hit.
According to the Command’s website, a total of 6,419 airstrikes have been carried out over the past year, 3,991 in Iraq, and 2,428 Syria, indicating .3 percent of the airstrikes were carried out against training areas.
There are as many as 60 training camps and they produce thousands of new IS fighters each month. Why isn't more being done to disrupt this training?

2020 watch (Kanye West edition)
Apparently rapper Kanye West announced at the MTV Video Music Awards that he will run for president in 2020. Probably nothing more than a publicity stunt because Kanye's talent can't keep him relevant anymore in 2015.

Bloomberg: "An Icelandic Company Is Building Mind-Controlled Bionic Limbs." Bloomberg reports:
The device is based a combination of mechanics and electronics - known as ‘mechatronics’. Very small sensors, which detect electrical impulses from the brain, are surgically placed in an amputee’s residual muscle tissue. These impulses are then picked up by a receiver in one of Össur's prosthetic limbs, such as the Symbionic Leg, allowing for an "instantaneous physical movement of the prosthesis."

Sunday, August 30, 2015
2016 watch (Vice President Hulk Hogan edition)
The New York Daily News reports that former WWE heavyweight champion Hulk Hogan told TMZ Sports he would like to be Donald Trump's running mate. I doubt that Trump would choose someone like Hogan, not because of the racial comments he has made but because The Donald's ego wouldn't allow him to share the stage with someone as famous as Hogan.

Anti-drug PSAs that didn't quite work has two videos of the "10 Drug PSAs That Tried to Scare the Sh*t Out of Us (But Didn't)." Mr. T to Ninja Turtles to the Brain-on-Drugs egg, there is a lot of ineffective government propaganda.

Walls and tracking: how not to tackle terrorism
A pair of Republican presidential candidates are proposing to combat terrorism in America by fighting illegal immigration. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker says he is open to building a wall between the United States and Canada. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie says he wants to track illegal immigrants like FedEx tracks packages. It sounds tough on terrorism, but most terrorist activities in the United States (and Canada) are committed by citizens (born or legal immigrants). Walls and tracking sound tough, but they are not effective. They are expensive and inefficient big government projects. It is sad but predictable that Republicans are pandering to conservative voters with such unnecessary policies.

The lesson of Katrina
The Mercatus Center examined the post-Katrina rebuilding of New Orleans (video with Pete Boettke below) and it concludes there is a general need for "permissionless innovation" in society but especially in disaster zones.
Another Mercatus video featuring Steven Horwitz looks at the private sector's response to Hurricane Katrina (Walmart good, federal and state government bad). The skills of the private sector is what disaster areas need; as Horowtiz said "Walmart's great skill is inventory management." Walmart does supply management daily, FEMA does not manage disaster relief very often: which one is likely to be better prepared.

Two columns in one
John Robson has a column in the National Post on how he will vote Libertarian in the coming federal election. Robson favours "voting clean" in order to remain as close to his principles as possible and to possibly signal to the mainstream parties that he does not countenance their cynical and dishonest politics. Robson says:
Instead of holding your nose and picking a bad party to keep a wretched one out, refuse to be seduced or bullied into doing wrong on purpose. Support a hopeless fringe candidate in protest. Not because they can win, or should. But to declare loudly that you will neither be driven from the voting booth in disgust nor co-opted into voting for an option you know stinks.
You can also pointedly refuse your ballot. But don’t spoil it; they just chalk that up to incompetence.
I usually spoil my ballot, usually in imaginative ways that cannot be misconstrued as incompetence.
But the column also explains how one can be a libertarian on policy and conservative on metaphysics, which is fairly close to my own position. Robson says:
I’m metaphysically conservative because I believe man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward and there is no remedy for the human condition on this side of the grave. So those libertarians who think dramatically reducing government will usher in a new and radiant form of human existence strike me as the mirror image of socialists who think dramatically expanding it will do the same.
I also have significant differences with many libertarians on national security. Mind you, they couldn’t possibly run defence spending down further than Prime Minister Stephen Harper has. But I’m libertarian on most policy issues because conservatives who consider governments (both provincial and federal) that are as bloated and arrogant as ours to be compatible with anything they hold dear are out of their minds. And if they know, and don’t want to act, they’re in even worse condition.
Those who espouse a conservatism of prudence too often and too easily sink into timid immobility, even smug complacency, in the face of looming disaster. Now is never a good time, and then never comes. But is it genuine prudence to set an aging population on a collision course with Soviet-style health care? Starve defence in an increasingly disorderly world, while aspiring to a major global role? Praise families in every other press release while watching that institution disintegrate?

Vote Compass
I took CBC's Vote Compass quiz. Despite being libertarian on drugs, somehow being aligned with the Liberals on foreign policy, and agnostic on prisons and optimal rate number of immigrants, I'm just to the right of the federal Conservatives on both social and economic issues. One might quibble with how the parties are positioned on various positions, especially as it assumes that the party leaders are being honest (one should assume that Tom Mulcair and Justin Trudeau will probably govern slightly more on the left, that the Tories won't do anything to protect vulnerable people from euthanasia, but will likely run a deficit in the next year or so). Also, Elizabeth May gets a higher rating through the quiz than I would give her because I rate her as trustworthy (honest) and can't give a negative score on competence.

Fan falls to death at Braves-Yankees game
The Associated press reports that a man fell from the fourth level of Turner Field into the first level of seating in yesterday's game. He was transported to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead. He was the third person to fall to his death at Atlanta's Turner Field in the last eight years. There has been talk about erecting netting to protect fans from foul balls, and this latest tragedy in Atlanta will heighten this discussion, but there is little Organized Baseball or teams can do to prevent fans from falling from the top tiers of stadia.

Not The Onion
The Ottawa Citizen: "Ottawa South Tory candidate invites media, refuses interviews." That candidate is Conservative Dev Balkissoon. He deserves to be mocked. Ruthlessly.

The state and the undead don't mix
The Toronto Star reports that there was a mock funeral for the final Zombie Walk in Toronto. The annual event is no more, due, in part, to losing its $10,000 subsidy from provincial tourism agencies. That would be one good thing the Kathleen Wynne government has done.

2016 watch (Scott Walker edition)
John McCormack writes in the current Weekly Standard that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has had a terrible month and that while a case can be made that "when the dust settles he’ll be the candidate left standing who can unite a fractious party," there are also "signs of deeper trouble for Walker." McCormack says Walker's assumed appeal -- he works hard but isn't showy, suggesting he's a serious adult -- may not be working with voters, and that playing me-too following Donald Trump's lead isn't winning over anyone. McCormack also says Walker has been inconsistent and easily taken off message, especially on pro-life issues. McCormack has an impressive record of accomplishment, but, the author says, he needs to do a better job of explaining his agenda for America. It's not clear that Republican primary voters care about the specifics of policy or that Walker's vision for the country is significantly different than most of his Republican leadership opponents. It's still early, but with the super-crowded field Walker presumably needs to connect sooner rather than later.

2016 watch (deja vu edition)
Five months ahead of the Iowa caucus, a Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics poll has Hillary Clinton with a meager 37%-30% lead over Bernie Sanders among likely Democratic caucus-goers. The Wall Street Journal reports:
In the 2008 campaign, Mrs. Clinton was the frontrunner in Iowa for much of the contest, only to see her lead evaporate as then-Sen. Barack Obama stormed to a first-place finish.
The Des Moines Register story about the survey quoted J. Ann Selzer, pollster for the Iowa Poll, saying: “This feels like 2008 all over again.”

Saturday, August 29, 2015
David Miller takes jab at Justin Trudeau
Former Toronto mayor David Miller reviews Bob Rae's What’s Happened to Politics? in the pages of the Globe and Mail. Claiming Rae has a "deep knowledge of the major public-policy challenges of our time and a coherent philosophical approach," Miller writes, "It is hard not to see how much of a mistake the Liberal Party made by not electing him leader – intellectually, he would be a tough opponent for Harper, indeed." Miller is saying, at the very least, that Justin Trudeau isn't up to the job of challenging Stephen Harper on the campaign trail or presenting a sensible, credible progressive alternative to the governing Conservatives.

2016 watch (sour grapes edition)
The Wall Street Journal reports that former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley is complaining that the Democrat debates are "rigged" to Hillary Clinton's favour. He asked the Democratic National Committee: "Whose decree is this actually? Where did it come from? To what end and what purpose? What national or party interest does this decree serve?" His problem seems to be there are only four debates before the February 1 Iowa caucus. Some observers might say that considering the field -- O'Malley, Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and maybe Joe Biden -- four is too many. They could get interesting if Elizabeth Warren joins them, which appears very unlikely.

'How Many Federal Agencies Exist?'
Clyde Wayne Crews, vice president of policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, points out that various government sources give different numbers for the number of federal agencies:
Unified Agenda: 60
Administrative Conference of the United States: 115 (at Department of Justice): 252
United States Government Manual: 316
Federal Register Index: 257 89
As the Administrative Conference says, "there is no authoritative list of government agencies."
And, as Crews explains, this matters:
If nobody knows how many agencies exist whose decrees we must abide, that means we don’t know how many people work for the government (let alone contractors making a living from taxpayers) nor know how many rules there are. But even when we isolate a given, knowable agency, the rise of “regulatory dark matter” may make it hard to tell exactly what is and is not a rule.
(HT: Kerry Jackson of Investor's Business Daily)

CBC updates fixes a headline
Luc Lewandoski curtly comments on a Stephen Taylor tweet.
Quiz: The original CBC headline demonstrates A) economic illiteracy, B) anti-Conservative government bias, or C) gross incompetence?

An indication of why many of us question government's ability to do much competently
J.J. McCullough tweets: "You can always tell when a chart comes from the Canadian federal government because it will look like it was drawn with MS Paint '97." Being two decades behind the times on graphic design suggests that outcomes for larger projects might be sub-optimal.

Friday, August 28, 2015
Addition by subtraction (Ontario Progressive Conservative Party edition)
Christine Elliott resigned as MPP today. The two-time leadership contender and two-time loser hasn't been at Queen's Park since her defeat in May. It appears that the Widow Flaherty was only interested in electoral politics if she was leader of the party, indicating she isn't much of a team player. However, she was a leading Red Tory, so this is a welcome development for those who want a blue PC Party.

Who is Tom Mulcair
The CBC answers the top five Google search questions regarding the NDP leader Thomas Mulcair. Three observations.
First, Mulcair should never have been photographed dressed as an angry bird, complete with a beak in an inopportune spot, last Halloween. His wife probably shouldn't have dressed a witch. Perhaps we should congratulate the NDP leader for not being so political as to notice the potentially harmful effects of costume choice. But I'm surprised that this wasn't mocked more on social media.
Second, to the question of "what religion is Thomas Mulcair," the answer, it seems as with Justin Trudeau, is none at all. Both talk about being raised Catholic (especially Justin), but there is no indication they practice today. Mulcair claims attending Mass is optional, illustrating that he is indeed not Catholic. That is not a judgement (at least from me), just an observation.
Lastly, the question "Why is Harper not attacking Mulcair?" is less a question about Mulcair than Stephen Harper. It is not biographical, but strategic.
Anyway, after reading Strength of Conviction, Mulcair's autobiography/massive-campaign-lit-piece, I have a better of idea of how Mulcair wants to present himself and a handful of biographical tidbits, but I do not feel that I know Mulcair that much better than I did before opening its pages.

Cowen's Product Hunt chat
Tyler Cowen took part in a Product Hunt chat moderated by Ben Casnocha. Unsurprisingly, it begins profoundly: "People these days have lost the sense of information being scarce, and counterintuitively that makes it harder for them to develop profound thoughts." Cowen specializes in the profoundly pithy. Asked about people working longer hours, Cowen responds, "A lot of the alternative ways of spending time are overrated." If not profound, at least thought-provoking.
To long-time fans of Cowen, his hidden talent is no surprise: "my visual acuity is extreme, I can spot items in a collection very, very well, like finding a book on a shelf."
Cowen clarifies his statement on travel being a better way to learn than reading:
[W]ell, you have to go somewhere good and go with an open mind. But most places are good if you visit them in the right manner. Reading has strongly diminishing returns once you have, say, read half of Bloom's list in *The Western Canon* and achieved a reasonable understanding of some of the social sciences.
So reading is still better up to a point.
Cowen should explain that family vacations are not travelling. That said, we just returned from Detroit and I highly recommend Greenfield Village, which requires a full day of 9:30 am - 5 pm; enjoyable and instructive for all ages.
Cowen also answers typical questions about which four people he'd like to meet, which time in history he'd like to visit. He answers with provisos: assuming linguistic proficiency, assuming immunity from diseases. There are a few comments about how he has changed his thinking (probably wouldn't enter the overly bureaucratic academia today, no longer interested in retiring to Manhattan). Cowen describes himself as an outlier on taking public transit into account when assessing a city.
As Cowen would say, the chat is self-recommending.

Negative words are most associated with the Democratic, Republican front-runner
A Quinnipiac University Poll asked an open-ended question about the leading presidential contenders inquiring which is the "first word that comes to mind." Unprompted the three most common responses for Hillary Clinton are liar, dishonest, and untrustworthy. Also among the 12 most common responses: crook, untruthful, criminal, deceitful. The GOP front-runner, Donald Trump, doesn't fare much better with the top three responses being arrogant, blowhard, and idiot. The fifth most common response was clown. Amongst the top 15 responses were also crazy, asshole, and joke.
Despite these negative affiliations among most voters, Clinton and Trump lead their respective parties. Clinton is still the favoured candidate of 45% of Democrats, which is more than Bernie Sanders (22%) and Joe Biden (18%) combined. Trump polls at 28%, which is more than his next four challengers combined: Ben Carson (12%) and Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio who are all tied with 7%.
Dishonest and arrogant should describe 99% of all politicians, so perhaps these traits are harming Clinton and Trump all that much.
The poll should be disconcerting for Republicans. In various head-to-head match-ups, both Clinton and Biden lead their Republican opponents (Trump, Bush or Rubio). Interestingly, Biden does better in the general election scenarios than does Clinton.

Thursday, August 27, 2015
What I'm reading
1. Strength of Conviction by Tom Mulcair. Professional responsibilities require I read such books.
2. Money and Soccer: A Soccernomics Guide: Why Chievo Verona, Unterhaching, and Scunthorpe United Will Never Win the Champions League, Why Manchester City, Roma, and Paris St. Germain Can, and Why Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, and Manchester United Cannot Be Stopped by Stefan Szymanski. Tim Harford had a good column about Szymanski's book earlier this month.
3. The September/October edition of Foreign Affairs. It features essays looking at the legacy of Barack Obama's foreign policy and international influence, and the highlight is probably Diane Coyle's review of Six Capitals.
4. "Community Benefits Agreements," by Andrew Galley and "Anchor Institutions," by Nevena Dragicevic, a pair of new papers from the Mowat Centre.

The stock market
I'm on the road this week, but listening to the radio and watching TV news, there is a lot of talk about the "stock market correction." Analysts and journalists should avoid the term in the first days of extreme fluctuations. Sometimes big movements (downwards) are nothing more than a sign of tumult rather than a correction. Just saying.

NDP vows to balanced budget despite economic downturn, lower revenues
NDP leader Thomas Mulcair says if he forms government, he will balance the budget. He doesn't say how, vowing a fully costed program before the election, but the Liberals are trying to fill in the blank for voters. Grit MP Chrystia Freeland says, "his only path to a balanced budget so quickly is massive cuts and backing away from the NDP’s spending promises." Or, one presumes, massive tax increases? Does this difference, as perceived by Freeland, put enough space between the two parties to prevent them from working together to prevent a plurality-winning Tory party from governing?

Syriza's break-up
The Wall Street Journal reports that 25 members of Syriza's far-left, going under the name of the Left Platform faction and led by former energy minister Panagiotis Lafazanis, that opposed the government agreeing to austerity measures to win a bailout earlier this summer, has formed a new party, Popular Unity. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras had a colourful reaction: 'What makes me sad is the attempt by the inner enemy to become the main enemy." Meanwhile, the so-called Group of 53 (within Syriza), which includes Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos, may not seek re-election. If Tsipras thought the last eight months was tough ...

Donald Boudreaux in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review on how comfortable -- and historically unusual -- middle class life over the past few decades:
First of all, I live during the age of anesthesiology. Just the thought of enduring even minor surgery without the blessing of anesthesia is horrifying. I have never had to suffer that thought. Also, I was tended to by a scientifically trained surgeon. I enjoy a far better chance of being cured than I would have enjoyed even if I were the world's richest man prior to the 20th century.
In my 57 years on this Earth, I've not once suffered the fear of starvation. Prior to the industrial age, not many people outside of the ruling class could have made that boast.
Also, I've always slept under a hard roof in a house with hard floors — which are far superior to the vermin-infested thatched roofs and dirt floors that the vast majority of my and your ancestors were accustomed to.
The column continues with the many blessings that the average person today enjoys that his ancestors a century or so ago did not: convenient land and air travel, literacy, low child-mortality rates, maintaining a full set of teeth, and so on.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015
Balanced budgets are not on the agenda after the federal election
Justin Trudeau says he will not scale back spending because the sluggish economy will need Ottawa to prime it. Who believes Justin was going to cut spending? The headline point is that Trudeau is the first (and only leader) to admit that the federal government budget will not be balanced next year. Queue Twitter snark from Tories. Economist Mike Moffat writes in Canadian Business that all leaders should answer questions about how they will deal with revenue shortfalls, and he's right. Again, Twitter-Tories will point to Moffat's role as an economic adviser to Trudeau, but the Ivey Business School professor is correct to point out that Ottawa's fiscal situation is different than when the parties rolled out policy in the Spring (the Conservative budget, the Trudeau economic plan, the NDP's various promises), so perhaps they should explain their priorities, or why they disagree with the assessment that revenues will be lower than previously estimated. Moffat writes:
Of course, we could avoid deficit if the party in power (whichever one it will be) raised taxes or slashed spending. But each of our major parties are promising to move in the opposite direction, promising a combination of tax cuts and new spending. We should demand our party leaders to tell us how far they are willing to go in order to balance the budget, what combination of tax increases and spending cuts they would be willing to make to get us there, and that they consider whether it is even economically sensible to try to balance the books in a time of economic weakness.
Trudeau has only answered the latter (that he does not consider it sensible to balance the books at this time), but won't talk about re-priortizing spending or tax plans. Thomas Mulcair and Stephen Harper have yet to provide any answers to Moffat's serious questions. Harper simply says voters should want him back at 24 Sussex because the country needs his steady hand. The Prime Minister should prove it by acknowledging the economic tumult's effects on a Conservative government's ability to deliver a balanced budget.

Fix federal fetal tissue law
Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Scott Gottlieb, an investor and adviser to life science companies, about fetal tissue research and the need for a new law:
Those laws, passed more than two decades ago, were meant to ensure clear separation between the act of abortion and the procurement of tissue for research. The provisions originated from the 1988 “Fetal Tissue Transplantation Panel,” appointed by President Ronald Reagan and charged with deciding in the first instance whether it was appropriate to use fetal tissue for clinical research. The question gained prominence that year after the National Institutes of Health sought to fund a study to test whether implanted fetal tissue could reverse the effects of Parkinson’s disease. These clinical experiments eventually did go forward, and largely failed ...
With a few straightforward changes, the law can be toughened to achieve its original purpose, with little consequence to this research. The aim should be to achieve the objectives set out in 1988 — banning abortion providers from changing the conduct of the procedure as a way to “harvest” fetal tissue or seek reward from its procurement. Congress should also confine the use of fetal tissue to valid science that involves the study of the human body’s function or treatment of human disease.
The PP talking point is that their fetal harvesting is necessary for life-saving research to be achieved, but Gottlieb explains that fetal tissue is sub-optimal and there is little market for such stem cell sources.
Fix and enforce the law so abortionists stop altering their abortion procedures in order to maximize their ability to sell harvested tissue.

2016 watch (A real Democratic race is on edition)
President Barack Obama has given his Vice President his blessing to run (and challenge) Hillary Clinton. Should be fun.

2016 watch (New Hampshire edition)
A Public Policy Polling survey in the Granite State of GOP supporters finds that Donald Trump has as much support as the next four candidates combined: Trump 35%, John Kasich (11%), Carly Fiorina (10%), Jeb Bush (7%), and Scott Walker (7%).