Sobering Thoughts

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

XML This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?
Friday, January 30, 2015
2016 watch (Hillary edition)
Politico: "Exclusive: Hillary Clinton may delay campaign." Apparently HRC is moving her launch date from April to July. This will give them more time to plan messaging and other strategy. It also saves some money and prevents her opponents from attacking her directly. Money quote from the Politico story:
A Democrat familiar with Clinton’s thinking said: “She doesn’t feel under any pressure, and they see no primary challenge on the horizon. If you have the luxury of time, you take it.”
That should raise the ire of some people. But it also speaks to the weakness of the Democratic bench. After eight years of a Democrat in the White House, some members of the Obama cabinet should have had the stature to run, but no one other than the gaffe-prone vice president could plausibly run for the Democratic presidential nomination. Usually there are a handful of governors that could mount credible campaigns, but who other than the now potentially scandal-tainted Andrew Cuomo (who I always thought was Clinton's biggest threat for the nomination) could even dream of throwing his or her hat in the ring from any statehouse? No Congressional leader would have credibility for a national run; the senators being mentioned (Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren) are marginal lawmakers.
The delay, assuming the reports are true, is about positioning HRC for 2016, not the nomination contest. Considering how poorly HRC does on the campaign trail -- whenever the spotlight is on her -- this is probably a wise decision. The downside is that the later the campaign begins, the later the inevitable attacks are launched; getting those out of the way might be better for Clinton in her quest to become president because they are unlikely to derail her nomination, especially considering that she has no serious competition.
All that said a quick reminder: Hillary Clinton was the prohibitive favourite in 2008. The junior senator from Illinois defeated her for the Democratic nomination.

New libertarian think tank
The Wall Street Journal reports on the new Niskanen Center which is named after the late William Naskanen and it attempts to wed principled libertarianism with pragmatic politics. (Good luck with that. I'm being sincere. I would love practical libertarianism.) I think there is a zero chance of getting a swap of carbon for corporate taxes or carbon taxes replacing all existing environmental regulations. Interesting, though.

Hashtag activism is silly
Remy's parody features this nice summary of hashtag activism: "But I won't care tomorrow/and I did not care yesterday/Is there anything I can do to pretend/that I care today?"

The Daily Telegraph reports that government-funded research by the Universities of Cardiff and Nottingham has found that 84% of Britons believe in anthropomorphic climate change, but just 18% are very concerned about it. This, by the way, not only not contradictory, but is a rational view.
(HT: Tim Worstall)

Steyn (vs. Reisman)
Laura Rosen Cohen has a play-by-play of Mark Steyn's appearance with Heather "Indigo's Chief Book Lover" Reisman at Indigo Wednesday night. It wasn't a fair fight. Steyn is very good at making connections between news items and ideas; Reisman didn't know about current events, looked stupid by denying real words exist, and answered Steyn's ideas with liberal bromides that were routinely met with boos from the audience. It was a great evening.

Thursday, January 29, 2015
Adventures in headline writing
Is this more hilarious if intentional or accidental?

Departing Economist editor optimistic about classical liberalism and legacy media
John Micklethwait, the departing editor of The Economist, is optimistic about the future of liberalism (defined as the classical liberalism of free markets and individual freedom) and the future of traditional, "independent" journalism. It is worth reading. This is not an endorsement of his ideas or his conclusions, but maybe an endorsement for optimism.

Grading Bill & Melinda Gates' annual letter
Chris Blattman:
[T]o preview, my overall grade is a B.
I have three reasons:
Over-claiming: Making big steps sound like monumental leaps
Providing solutions that will work best in the countries that will probably grow anyways
Downplaying the harder barriers these breakthroughs won’t solve

Econ humour
Zach Weinersmith of Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal was more than moderately funny during the humour session at this year's American Economics Association annual meeting.

Link Byfield, RIP
My obituary for Link Byfield appears in the February Interim. A snippet:
Under his leadership, the magazine pushed back against the Culture of Death and the Sexual Revolution, one time publishing photos of sexually transmitted diseases. In 1999 it revealed that Calgary’s Foothills hospital was committing eugenic infanticide by allowing babies born with genetic problems to be left to die following an early induction procedure. The public pressure the story created forced police to investigate the matter, although ultimately there were no charges.
Alberta Report incurred huge costs fighting human rights complaints and defamation complaints as it antagonized feminists, environmentalists, and others it deemed politically correct and a threat to civilization.
Last September, the Manning Centre in Calgary held a tribute dinner for Byfield where Ted Morton, a former Alberta cabinet minister and long-time political science professor (and frequent source for quotes for Alberta Report), said: “You cannot understand where Canada is today without understanding where it was in the ’80s and ’90s.” And you cannot fully understand the ’80s and ’90s without understanding the contribution of Alberta Report.” Morton explained, Alberta Report and its offshoots were the “Internet and Twitter” of the era for Canadian conservatives. The magazine is credited with influencing the creation of the Reform Party.
For all the praise heaped upon Link last September and following his passing this past weekend, most of his admirers wouldn't be caught dead taking up the causes he espoused. Not any more.
Read also Kathy Shaidle's PJ Media article, "Here’s How One Small-Government Conservative Chose To Die," which includes something Peter Stockland noted: Link Byfield eschewed expensive chemotherapy that would do nothing to save him from cancer but would cost taxpayers $100,000.

Times change
There was a time when this could have been a pretty funny joke about politics: @AutismOnTheHill.

So we can start laying off teachers, right?
The Globe and Mail reports:
Declining enrolment is taking a huge toll on Canada’s largest school board, and one in five schools now are targets for possible closing.
The Toronto District School Board released a list on Wednesday evening that compares the number of students an institution can accommodate to its enrolment numbers.
Of the 473 elementary schools, 84 are using 65 per cent or less of their capacity in the current academic year. The situation is bleaker for secondary schools, with 46 of 116 falling below the 65-per-cent threshold.
And yet most teachers unions support abortion rights.

Should it be against the law to let kids walk on their own?
Father lets 10 and 6 year old kids play at park and walk home on their own. Parents get into a heap of trouble for it. Child Protective Services invokes this law: "A person who is charged with the care of a child under the age of 8 years may not allow the child to be locked or confined in a dwelling, building, enclosure, or motor vehicle while the person charged is absent." This led Lenore Skenazy to observe: "Apparently the authorities decided to interpret 'locked or confined' as also encompassing, 'outside and completely unconfined'." What's more insane: criminalizing letting children play and walk on their own or using a law that prohibits confinement to punish parents who let their children walk an unsupervised mile outside?

Will on Selig
George Will, who once served on one of Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig's blue ribbon committees, exalts the legacy of Bud Selig's tenure leading baseball. I'm not sure how one examines the Selig legacy and not mention steroids. Organized Baseball's tolerance of performance-enhancing drugs under Selig in the late 1990s helped contribute to the rejuvenation of the sport.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015
Announcement: New book this Spring
Sometime this Spring my next book will be released. It's about Justin Trudeau. It's being published by Freedom Press, which published my first book Jean Chretien: A Legacy of Scandal a decade ago. Details and title to come soon. I'm finishing the manuscript in the next week or so, and we hope to announce a firm release date shortly. The only possible problem in our plans will be early federal election, and I think the chances of the Writ being dropped before early May is pretty close to zero.
The thesis is that Justin Trudeau is part Pierre Trudeau (left-winger who wants to refashion the country in his own ideological image), part Iggy (incredible sense of entitlement), part Stephane Dion (incompetent). Add his own temperament and refusal/inability to tell Canadians what he wants to do with power, and Justin is entirely unqualified for the job; it is a risk that Canada should not take.
I am struggling with a title. My preference is probably too esoteric for my publisher: The Dauphin: Why Justin Trudeau Shouldn't be Prime Minister. If you have a better idea, send it along to paul_tuns[AT]yahoo[DOT]com. If I use it, you'll get a free copy of the book; if I get numerous similar suggestions, I'll pick a name out of a hat. My thanks in advance.

The Coase Theorem walks into a pub
The Daily Mash:
Mother of three Nikki Hollis was given £10 by a stranger to leave her local pub and take her kids with her ...
Pub regular Wayne Hayes said: “She was just texting her mates as her little ones were arsing about putting peanuts into the fruit machine when this gent pressed a tenner into her hand and pointed at the exit.
“Manners seem a thing of the past these days so it’s good to see somebody stand up for those wanting a quiet pint without being overwhelming by the desire to commit infanticide.”
The unnamed man also gave Hollis a note, handwritten on the back of a beer mat saying, “Have a drink on me, somewhere else, far away."
Manners are highly overrated. But I applaud the man for paying the mother to get rid of her negative externalities. The lack of manners annoyed him and he solved the problem. Or attempted to. The story doesn't say whether she took the money and left. That said, paying the parents of ill-mannered children to leave obviously establishes incentives to game the system (taking badly behaving children into an establishment in order to get paid to leave).
(HT: Five Feet of Fury)

Greece's new finance minister
The new Finance Minister of Greece is Yanis Varoufakis taught last year at UT Austin, was a former economist at video game company Valve, and hopes to continue blogging despite his new responsibilities ("Finance Ministry slows blogging down but ends it not"). The Daily Telegraph reports that Varoufakis is more reasonable than the party in general ("Greece's finance minister is no extremist").
(HT: Tyler Cowen)

'If you've got health insurance, you like your doctor, you like your plan — you can keep your doctor, you can keep your plan'
In 2009, President Barack Obama said: "if you've got health insurance, you like your doctor, you like your plan — you can keep your doctor, you can keep your plan."
An Investor's Business Daily editorial in 2015:
The Congressional Budget Office now says ObamaCare will push 10 million off employer-based coverage, a tenfold increase from its initial projection ...
[T]he CBO report also shows that ObamaCare will be far more disruptive to the employer-based insurance market, while being far less effective at cutting the ranks of the uninsured, than promised.
Thanks to ObamaCare, the CBO now expects that 10 million workers will lose their employer-based coverage by 2021.

Things I never thought I'd write
Kudos to Michelle Obama.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015
Justin Trudeau's commitment to open nominations
Alberta Aardvark reports that Varinder Bhullar, a candidate who already was given the Green Light for the Liberal Party of Canada in the riding of Edmonton Mill Woods, said on Facebook that he was pressured to drop out the race and eventually revoked his Green Light:
I received my Green Light from the party in March 2014 and I was promised that there would be a nomination prior to Edmonton’s Sikh Parade in May 2014 so that I could campaign as a candidate there. In April 2014, however, I found out that Councillor Sohi came into the picture, and since then everything has stalled on the nomination front. Various party officials met with me in May, June and August 2014, pressuring me to withdraw my name in favour of Councillor Sohi so he wouldn’t need to contest a nomination. They tried to bribe me, threaten me and ultimately expired all my memberships by delaying the nomination beyond December 31, 2014 in the hope that our team would not renew their memberships. Once they noticed that a large number of members had started renewing their memberships, the party used their last weapon to revoke my Green Light by accusing me of membership infractions. This is only the second case in all of Canada where the Liberal Party has gone out and cancelled a candidate’s Green Light. Coincidentally, the other one was also in a riding where their preferred candidate (General Andrew Leslie) was at risk of losing in a nomination.
(HT: Small Dead Animals)

Middle class
The Canadian Press: "Does a family making $120K per year qualify as ‘middle-class’? The feds think so." For a family, $125K seems about the upper limit for middle class, but certainly within the realm of debate. Justin Trudeau has been repeatedly asked what constitutes middle class and he has no idea despite droning on and on about these highly coveted voters.

The North Pole
Remember when Justin Trudeau said he would let science settle whether the North Pole belonged to Canada or Russia? That was, like, 573 stupid utterances ago for the Liberal leader. Minute Physics helps -- or doesn't -- considering there are three different North Poles:

Steyn song of the week
"The One I Love (Belongs To Somebody Else)."

2016 watch (the 'who-the-hell' edition)
Hot Air's Noah Rothman on former one-term Maryland Governor Bob Ehrlich:
Ehrlich plans to run for president in 2016. Not because of his name recognition, record as governor, or pedigree, of course, but because every Republican who ever held elected office is apparently running for president in 2016.
The National Journal reports:
Ehrlich plans to make his fourth visit to New Hampshire on Feb. 24, after meeting last week with more than 100 top donors in New York to discuss financing a potential campaign. At those meetings, he discussed setting up a leadership PAC, as a bunch of other probable candidates have done in recent weeks.
Rothman points to a USA Today poll that finds the GOP field is wide-open, thereby attracting candidates who should have no reason to run. Sure, but a lackluster, one-term governor from Maryland with no accomplishments to his name that has been out of elected politics for about a decade? C'mon.
And of course the field is wide open. There are no declared candidates. It's a year until the first caucus and primary. Nobody is thinking about the GOP presidential nominating contest unless it's their job to think about it (strategists, journalists). But who among those who think about these things 12 months before it matters was thinking about Ehrlich?

(How to stop) The spreading menace of Boko Haram
Emad Mostaque, a London-based strategist specializing in the Middle East and Africa at Ecstrat, an emerging-markets consultancy, writes in the Wall Street Journal: "The jihadist group in Nigeria killed 11,245 people last year. Now their rampage seems ready to escalate in 2015." Mostaque on how to prevent that:
If Boko Haram is to be stopped from entrenching itself across the Sahel, Nigerian security forces and the existing French counterterror operations in the region urgently need significant multinational support—while preserving the rule of law. Nigeria must also admit to the scale of the problem and agree to accept more external aid. Unless greater attention is paid in the region to the jihadist cancer that feeds on violence, corruption and poverty, it may become inoperable.

Politics and insanity
Thomas Sowell: "In politics, never assume that because something is insane, it will not be done." Indeed, my advice is bet on the insane happening.

Forget Ballghazi, Bill Belichick is a genius
Grantland's Bill Barnwell has an excellent article on how Bill Belichick makes the New England Patriots much better by accruing extra draft picks; because the NFL is largely a crap-shoot, quantity ensures more quality. Barnwell examines in some depth the ten trades for draft picks that most worked out for the Pats. Put aside your Belichick-hate to understand the consistent greatness of the Patriots.

Monday, January 26, 2015
African farming fact of the day
Bill Gates tweets: "7 of 10 people in Sub-Saharan Africa are farmers, yet Africa has to import food to survive."
This is not necessarily all bad. At least they can trade to get the food they need. Trade is another name for cooperation.

Chief Justice McLachlin: sod off
Maclean's reports:
Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin expressed grave concerns last fall about the short-listed designs for an imposing Memorial to the Victims of Communism, which the Conservative government plans to install next to her beloved Supreme Court of Canada building. In a letter obtained by Maclean’s, McLachlin complained that designs in contention were too grim for the prominent site. “Regrettably, some of the proposed designs for the memorial could send the wrong message within the Judicial Precinct, unintentionally conveying a sense of bleakness and brutalism that is inconsistent with a space dedicated to the administration of justice,” she said ...
“I do not comment of the decision to erect a memorial to the victims of communism or on the placement of the memorial; that is for the government to decide,” McLachlin wrote, but added: “However, because the proposed ground of the memorial will be within the Judicial Precinct, I would ask your department and the selection committee to ensure that the final design is consistent with, and enhances, the public’s respect for justice and the rule of law.”
Her comments should diminish respect for justice and the rule of law much more than the (frigging ugly) design of the Memorial to the Victims of Communism.

Trudeau's strategy
In a column for National News Watch, Gerry Nicholls describes the Justin Trudeau strategy to get elected: look good, say nothing. Nicholls explains:
In case you haven’t noticed, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau’s entire strategy can be summed up in two simple words: photo op.
OK, that’s more like one and a half words, but you get my point.
Rather than focusing on hard to explain stuff like policies and platforms, Trudeau is using charming photo ops to convince Canadians that he has what it takes to lead our country ...
At any rate, Trudeau is a master at this particular public relations tactic...
But is totally ignoring policy and relying completely on Trudeau’s photogenic cuteness really a good political strategy for electoral victory?
You bet it is ...
What I mean is, our subconscious mind tells us that if Trudeau can balance a baby on one hand, then he must also be capable of balancing the budget. (Our subconscious minds aren’t all necessarily all that bright.)
For the past few months I've been researching Justin Trudeau's positions on all sorts of topics. Wait and see has been his standard line. That's the luxury of opposition: opposing without proposing. Marc Garneau, the space guy who ran against Trudeau the Younger for the Liberal leadership before cashing out early afraid of the drubbing he'd get at the hands of the Boy Wonder, repeatedly said that Liberals deserved to know what Justin would do if he were leader before coronating him their leader. Likewise, Canadians deserve to know what Justin Trudeau would do if he were prime minister before he gets the job, and despite his assurances that he'll let everyone know during the election, there is every reason to think he'll continue offering platitudes. And nice photo ops.
The media deserves some of the blame. It is hard to resist the photos of Trudeau balancing babies in his hands, but media outlets should demand substance over style. They won't. Most political journalists are lazy and many are stupid. Assuming the public likes fluff absolves them of doing their job honestly or thoroughly. They'll say that the public loves the photo ops, but perhaps it is they, reporters and broadcasters, who prefer the pictures of the Liberal leader doing neat things rather than a serious examination of the pressing issues of the day.

Alberta Liberals
Colby Cosh tweets: "Raj Sherman will surely be remembered with other truly immortal Alberta Liberal leaders such as W.R. Howson, David Hunter, and Bob Russell!"

American health care is expensive because the free market isn't working properly
Economist Austin Frakt: "Hospital charges (which are not the same as prices actually paid) do not necessarily reflect costs, by design." According to Frakt, a decade-old report finds that few hospitals tie what they charge to what it costs to deliver health services (and goods). Some of the "factors that inform establishment of charges include hospitals’ missions, competitive forces, influence of specific payers, community perception, managed care contract terms, and indirect cost allocation." I've seen American hospital administrators admit they do not even know if it is possible to calculate the costs of delivering specific health services. I thought part of that reason is that some hospitals need to subsidize teaching med students (although "teaching hospitals," according to the report, say they tie charges to costs more often than non-teaching hospitals). Part of the problem might be that hospitals are doing too much and the division of labour is being subsidized by the direct provision of health care because there is no other way to recoup expenses. Not sure how to fix this or even if it needs fixing. Some problems must be endured rather than solved.

As Small Dead Animals says: 'it might be nothing'
The Independent reports: "Almost 500 cases of female genital mutilation identified in one month in English hospitals."

The lesson of Greece's election
The Wall Street Journal editorializes: "Radical parties rise when mainstream parties tolerate stagnation." And worse, citizens -- or as politicians call them, voters -- don't like being told what to do by faraway foreigners at the International Monetary Fund or the European Commission. The WSJ explains:
The larger lesson for Europe is the volatility of politics without economic growth. Radical parties rise when mainstream parties lack solutions, especially when they see economic pain imposed from far-away capitals. Portugal, Italy and even France could see similar political uprisings if they don’t do more to break their unsustainable welfare-state models and adopt supply-side economic reforms.

Blame government for average hourly wage stagnation
The average hourly wage decreased in the United States by about five cents from November to December, which doesn't sound like much but if it happened every month, it would result in a 60 cent decline in average hourly wage over the course of a year. The November to December decrease wiped out most of the previous month's gain. Edward Lazear, a former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers (2006-09) and a professor at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, writes in the Wall Street Journal that government policies are responsible for the long-term stagnation (since 2010) of average hourly wages, which is being driven by decreases in wages for those working in the health and finance sectors:
So what accounts for the relative decline in jobs in high-wage hospitals and finance? One obvious possibility is increased regulation. The Affordable Care Act for hospitals and Dodd-Frank for finance both passed in 2010, the year real wages began to decline. It might be a coincidence that the industries most affected by these two laws suffered the most damage. But the following facts lend some credence to regulation as a causal factor.
First, the decline in the share of workers in financial activities from 2006-10 was about one-fifth as rapid as that between 2010 and 2014. Given that the financial crisis peaked in autumn 2008, one would have expected the earlier period to see the most rapid declines, not the reverse.
Second, the share of workers in hospitals increased rapidly from 2006 to 2010, placing it among the top 10% of industries in labor growth. That trend was reversed in the past four years. Nursing and residential care’s share of employment also grew in the early period and declined in the latter one. Ambulatory health-care services, whose share did continue to grow from 2010 to 2014, slowed to one-fourth the pace of growth that prevailed from 2006 to 2010.
Third, industries with educationally similar workforces to those in finance and hospitals, like professional and technical services, enjoyed continued growth in their share of the workforce during the latter period. Even the construction industry, which was at the center of the recession and saw substantial declines between 2006 and 2010, experienced slight increases in share between 2010 and 2014.
Still, wage declines did not occur merely or even mostly because of movements out of hospitals and finance to lower-paying jobs. Even without the changes, the economy would have witnessed about three-fourths of a percentage point decline in wages from 2010 to 2014. Wages tend to move with productivity—and tax hikes on capital, threatened or actual, were not helpful to business investment, which spurs growth in labor productivity. Higher taxation of dividends and capital gains, as has occurred under President Obama, reduces incentive to invest and makes it more difficult to attract capital to the U.S.

2016 watch (Sarah Palin edition)
Politico reports of Sarah Palin's speech in Iowa this weekend (via Hot Air): "She’s definitely interested in people thinking she’s interested. Even if she’s not really that interested."
Hot Air's Jazz Shaw is skeptical that she would run, but says (correctly) that "If she was in the race it would upset the apple cart like a literal elephant dropping on it."
Palin could represent John McCain in the 2016 Republican Rumble of the Retreads: a Bush, Romney 3.0, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Rick Perry. Are we missing any other former losers?

Headline writing
Tyler Cowen has a column at the New York Times in which he argues the evidence suggests that economic freedom leads to more tolerance with a few caveats. The headline at the Times says: "Economic freedom does not necessarily lead to greater tolerance." That is technically true but misses the much larger point of Cowen's column. The problem is not merely that the headline is misleading but that it can frame how the reader digests the column; the headline cues an apprehension that the author is not necessarily highlighting.

Sunday, January 25, 2015
Harper's speech rallying Conservative faithful
I'll summarize Prime Minister Stephen Harper's speech: the NDP and Liberals are going to tax Canadians. First they'll come for families. Then they'll come for pensioners. And they'll hand over your money to special interests. Ready for an election everyone.
Please note I don't intend this post as a criticism of Harper or the Tories. Rather it perfectly illustrates the point made in the pre-strike debate between Principal Skinner and Edna Krabappel in "The PTA Disbands" (Season 6 of The Simpsons) where full full sentences are replaced by a few words which in turn are reduced to hand gestures, capturing the essence of political debate today.

'Why Labor Force Participation Is Still so Low'
Business Week suggests that perhaps we should chill a bit about lower labour force participation, concluding its explanatory story on the exodus from paid employment may not be entirely a bad thing:
What does it all mean? The fact that a majority of labor force opt-outs are students or retirees from high-income households suggests that the recession wrought less damage to the U.S. workforce than was initially feared. Those people will either go back to work or would have left the labor force anyway. Still, the growing number of disabled workers indicates that the recession did inflict some permanent damage to the American labor force, and this could take years to repair.
There are reasons to be dubious of this lack of concern. It might understate the problem of "disabled workers" -- certainly not all of whom are disabled. Nicholas Eberstadt has been warning for the last few years that disability welfare has been rising and with disastrous results.
Still an interesting perspective that might temper apocalyptic warnings of the end of any desire to work.

Stimulate this
Canadian Finance Minister Joe Oliver said on TV today, "We’re not going to engage in a stimulus program at this point. We’re comfortable that the Canadian economy is in good space, in spite of this shock." The shock is the precipitous decline in oil prices, from more than $100 a barrel last June to about $50 a barrel today. Oliver said Canada is a large country with a diversified economy so a decline in oil prices shouldn't hurt that much. He is arguing against government stimulus of the economy. That's fair enough, but he should go further.
One of my problems with economic commentary (including from politicians) is the focus on the bottom line of government, companies, and workers (as labour). No one looks at the economy from the standpoint of consumers. Here is the argument for stimulus: it will happen when consumers, who are collectively saving billions of dollars at the pump, decide to use that money to buy other stuff. I would love to hear Oliver, or any other politician say that. The problem is that this stimulus is through the market. It isn't planned. It isn't easily captured by looking at a few big political decisions or a few thousand corporate or union decisions. It is the complex web of decisions made by literally tens of millions of people (and billions globally).

Trudeau is wrong. Again.
Justin Trudeau's line since 2012 when he first threw his hat into the Liberal leadership ring, has been that if only Canada has a price on carbon, the Obama administration would have okayed Keystone XL. The Toronto Sun's Lorrie Goldstein does a great job debunking this nonsense, starting with the fact that the Obama administration itself has done nothing to put a price on carbon. Goldstein says its politics, not the environment that is dictating Obama's decision, concluding his column:
Trudeau can rest assured of one thing.
Whenever Obama, who has been acting like Hamlet when it comes to approving Keystone finally makes his decision, it will be entirely about U.S. domestic politics and about nothing Harper has or hasn’t done.

2016 watch (Sanders edition)
Bernie Sanders is the (technically) independent senator from Vermont, but as a self-declared socialist he caucuses and votes with the Democrats. George Will considers the curiosities of a possible Sanders presidential run, which would include, curiously for an independent, even one that caucuses with the Democrats, contesting the Democratic presidential nomination:
Sanders thinks that mounting a third-party campaign might face insuperable barriers to ballot access. If so, the nation is not nearly as unhappy as Sanders thinks it should be ...
Sanders, however, insists that he is no Norman Thomas, who ran not to win but to leaven the nation’s political conversation with new ideas [in every election from 1928 to 1948]. Sanders says he will not run in Democratic primaries unless he thinks he can win. But how can he win the nomination if he cannot rally followers sufficient in numbers and intensity to get him on state ballots as a third-party candidate?
Still, Sanders would enliven the Democratic primary as a true believer in the good that government can do, which (of course) all Democrats believe, but few are willing to articulate anymore. There is a certain delicious irony that Sanders being a true believer in limiting political donations might be prevented from mounting a real challenge to the frontrunner Hillary Clinton, thus giving voice to his "socialist" ideals, because he doesn't have the money for a genuine campaign. Principles can be costly things.

Pushback against the nanny state
ABC reports:
A fed-up Missouri father posted a photo of the letter he received from his daughter’s substitute teacher who criticized the girl’s lunch.
One problem: the teacher didn’t see her whole lunch.
Dr. Justin Puckett was asked to sign a note sent home with his daughter Alia after the teacher saw her eating marshmallows and chocolate at lunch earlier this week.
He refused to do so, and posted it online instead, saying that it was just the latest in what he sees as a growing trend of overreaching by authorities.
Even if the teacher did see the whole lunch and it was made up entirely of marshmallows and chocolate, the state has no business in the lunchboxes of the nation.

Honour Ernie Banks with annual double-header
Maury Brown at
But, the quote that is synonymous with Banks’ deep love of baseball should be honored.
“It’s a beautiful day — let’s play two.”
Banks was, of course, talking about how he loved the game so much, that one game a day was not enough. Give him (and the fans) an annual doubleheader, and that would be just fine.
Brown says that at least the Chicago Cubs should do it, and perhaps even all of Major League Baseball. Modern sports economics being what it is, Brown is not holding his breath waiting for an annual Ernie Banks (double-header) Day, but it's a nice idea.

Good ideas people will not follow
Tyler Cowen suggests "play two" -- eat at two different restaurants when you go out (splitting what you normally eat between two venues) or see two movies back-to-back. (Double-features used to be the norm.) Theoretically it may make sense, especially regarding fixed costs, but few people will appreciate the benefits or be willing to alter established patterns of behaviour.

Best insight into Toronto Mayor John Tory
Rosalind Robertson tweeted earlier this week: "Tory is a very nice guy. And a complete micromanager who needs everyone to be happy and agreeing with him. which is a lousy governance model."

'Mulcair, Trudeau don't know what it takes to defeat terrorists'
Susan Martinuk in the Calgary Herald:
This past Monday, a military spokesman advised us that Canadian troops had come under fire from ISIS terrorists and were forced to defend themselves ...
Canadians are proud that our soldiers bested the enemy and responded with obvious expertise in the midst of an unplanned attack. But the federal NDP and Liberal parties directed their media response along a different and rather ignoble path.
Thomas Mulcair and Justin Trudeau ignored the opportunity to acknowledge/congratulate our military for a job well done. They pushed aside the words “fired in self-defence” and gave all their attention to the words “on the ground.”
That is, they used an attack on Canadian troops in the Middle East for their own political gain at home.
The NDP complained about "mission creep." Trudeau complained that Harper "owes" Canadians an apology for not being "forthright" with them. Actually, says Martinuk, Canadians "get it" even if Thomas Mulcair and Justin Trudeau do not: Canadians are in a dangerous part of the world and if they are fired upon, they will fire back in self-defense. It is easy to understand. The real complaint of the NDP and Liberal leaders is that Canadian troops are fighting the Islamic State in the Middle East, not that Harper hasn't been honest with the country. They are playing cheap politics.
There are reasons one might not want to see our troops overseas fighting an inchoate enemy, but then say so. Don't hide behind not liking how the Prime Minister is communicating his position.
If Trudeau and Mulcair really don't understand that when Canadian military personnel are fired upon they might fire back, neither deserves to be considered for the job of PM. It shows a complete lack of understanding of what happens when political authority puts military lives in harm's way.

I hope management at the Toronto Star takes this seriously
The Toronto Star's Rosie DiManno writes about moonlighting journalists -- a practice I don't have a huge problem with as long its disclosed -- reveals something that is a serious problem, and not merely a theoretical one: "Like the reporters I’ve known, over the decades, who moonlighted as part-time speech writers for politicians, the same pols they covered in their day jobs." This is such a conflict-of-interest that it should be obvious to both sides they dare not engage in it, but it happens.
Not that it's anything new; George Brown's Globe would write speeches for Liberal politicians in the 1860s and '70s and have the article written about it at the same time. Then again, Brown was running his paper and most of the Liberal Party (in Ontario and the Ontario wing of the federal party) at the time, the difference being that everyone knew he was wearing his political and journalist hats at the same time.

Saturday, January 24, 2015
Link Byfield, RIP
Link Byfield, the long-time editor of Alberta Report has passed away (via various journalistic sources on Twitter). I don't know what to add to what wasn't said when he was alive last Fall and the Manning Center for Building Democracy hosted an event to honour Byfield. Peter Stockland of Cardus gave a nice tribute to him, the main point being that for a long-time the major conservative infrastructure in this country was Alberta Report and its offshoots. That is not much of an exaggeration. What is notable today is the number of journalists (not all conservatives) or conservative activists tweeting about the passing of their old boss/editor. There'd be more if some in Toronto and Ottawa weren't so embarrassed to acknowledge their roots in Alberta journalism. Let me add my voice to the chorus of those Link touched personally. I wrote a number of pieces for the National Report (after Alberta Report/Western Report (mistakenly) attempted to become a national magazine), including articles on the militarization of the police and looking askance at the Mike Harris government forcibly amalgamating cities and school boards. I didn't usually deal directly with Link, but had a number of dealings with him over the phone, by email, and a few lucky times in person. He was exceedingly generous with his time for people like me just getting started in journalism or the conservative movement. Later he would become a source for a number of stories, and he again was generous with this time and insights. He later suggested my name to another editor looking for freelance writers. To say that I could never repay the debt of gratitude is understatement. He died of cancer and I stupidly didn't contact him like I was going to.
I'm going to try to write something for the February Interim, which is a few days late going out. If I get it done, I'll post it there on Monday or Tuesday. It will focus (I hope) on his legacy as a leader in the conservative movement, focusing on his social conservatism. His wife Joanne is a pro-life leader in Alberta.
You can also read the Licia Corbella column about Link from last September in the Calgary Herald. He was 62 and fighting an incurable cancer of the esophagus and liver; last June he was given two years to live and as Corbella said, he intended to prove them wrong and beat it. He didn't. Link Byfield, requiescat in pace.

Trudeau doesn't commit
The CBC: "Trudeau won't commit to auto strategy." Trudeau doesn't say much about policy at all, so it isn't a surprise he won't say anything specific about what the government should do or what he would do if in power to help (or not help) the auto sector. The Toronto Star's Tim Harper explained the strategy yesterday, noting it is a gamble for Trudeau to hold back but notes its possible upside: "There is also the reality that Trudeau, whom opponents maintain is not ready for the job, would face more scrutiny and heat over any economic announcements than Mulcair."
There is also the chance that Trudeau doesn't have specifics because he doesn't get policy. He has some core principles, but they are easily expressed as platitudes and don't come with dollar figures. He believes in the Charter and Science and Listening to Experts. He believes in Equality and Diversity. He wants to fight for the Middle Class even if he can't define it. And what policies will help the Middle Class? Crickets. Nothing. Can't answer that.
As Tim Harper says, it is easier to oppose than propose. Trudeau is at the opposition stage. He opposes Stephen Harper. Period. He supports Canada. Whatever the hell that means. To some degree this is true of all politicians, but it seems more true of Trudeau.
But beyond policy, Trudeau seems allergic to commitment. He started his Bachelor of Education at McGill but finished it out west, closer to the mountains where he preferred to snowboard. He began studying engineering at the Université de Montréal before heading to McGill for a Masters in Environmental Geography that he never finished. He was very briefly a teacher, teaching at two different schools over three years before deciding teaching wasn't for him. He hit the road for a lucrative speaking career despite not having any credential beyond his famous last name. At the same time he was supporting this or that cause: the environment, avalanche safety, anti-mining activities, youth engagement. He got in a little bit of acting. He lived the type of life that gave him the flexibility to do a lot of different things. Good for him, and the kind of life many trust fund kids live, albeit (perhaps) one with more purpose. Trudeau would say the diversity of experience makes him a better leader. Or it displays an inability to commit. Maybe he's just flighty.
Trudeau ran for elected office in 2008 and when he announced he was running for Liberal leader in 2012 at the age of 40, being an MP for a little less than four years was the job he had held the longest.
Maybe, just maybe, Justin Trudeau has a commitment problem.

Mr. Cub, 1931-2015
The great Chicago Cubs shortstop Ernie Banks has passed away at the age of 83. He played all 19 years of his professional career with the Cubs and George Will, a Cubs fan, used to call Banks the best player to never win a World Series. The Chicago Tribune reports that the White House issued a statement, because, you know, Obama is from Chicago. By career Wins Above Replacement, he was 81st all-time. His 512 homeruns is tied for 22nd all-time, ahead of greats like Lou Gehrig and Stan Musial. He was an 11-time All Star, two-time MVP, and he is rightly in the Hall of Fame. By most accounts he was a cheerful person, liked by his peers. This is a great anecdote reported by ESPN: "Former major league outfielder Dale Murphy, in a tweet Friday night, said: 'Did a card show w Ernie Banks. He drove the promoter crazy! Spent time/talked with every person. After an hour had signed maybe 15'." The same story reports that actor Bill Murray named his son after him: Homer Banks Murray. (He named after Banks twice.) Fox News has a list of Banks quotes, including this one: "Work? I never worked a day in my life. I always loved what I was doing, had a passion for it."
One of the best baseball songs, Steve Goodman's "A Dying Cubs Fan's Last Request" -- "let's play two."

Dragon wisdom
The Globe and Mail profiles David Chilton, The Wealthy Barber and Dragon's Den investor, and if you are interested in business or the show, it is worth reading. At the end of the story are some quotes, and this one, on entrepreneurship, is worth highlighting: "A lot of the people we see on Dragons’ Den have the naive idea that the biggest challenge in business is getting their product on the shelves. It’s not – it’s getting it off the shelves."

Grad students looking for jobs
Andrew Bricker, a post-doctoral fellow at McGill, writes in the Globe and Mail about the recent meeting of the Modern Language Association in Vancouver. The online version is titled, "MLA's annual convention just one of many stops for would-be professors." In the dead tree edition, the headline is "'The world's worst vacation' for would-be professors." A friend of mine was there for job interviews and whatever other hells graduate students completing their doctorates do at such conferences, and "world's worst vacation" might be understating the experience. I'm no friend of the modern university, but the picture painted by someone both lucky enough to have a bullshit job in the system (a post-doctoral fellow) while being treated shabbily by the system as he is looking for something more gainful within it is truly terrible and perhaps even unfair. But the economist in me isolates one sentence which perfectly illustrates why this is going to continue being a problem: "The job market [for professors] has shrunk painfully since the financial crisis, and yet graduate programs have continued to churn out PhD holders." When supply exceeds demand, those doing the over-supplying will get a raw deal.

2016 watch (GOP field edition)
Byron York in the Washington Examiner: "12 keys to the GOP presidential race right now." A few of them: the previous GOP candidates are wrong to think they can get their campaign teams "back together for another race," foreign policy is as important as social issues, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is in better shape than the conventional wisdom has it, the Bush family network is not as strong as some think, Scott Walker is the most accomplished candidate, and Rand Paul has the ghost of Ron Paul over him. Excellent, thoughtful primer on the GOP race at this time.

Free markets are rational, governments are not
Cafe Hayek's Donald Boudreaux: "If Groceries Were Supplied Like K-12 Education ..." A snippet:
Anyone proposing to get government out of the grocery-supply business would, of course, be ridiculed as being totally unrealistic or being an out-of-touch ideologue, or accused of harboring a secret desire to see the the vast majority of people starve while only the top one percent of the population continues to enjoy excellent access to superb groceries. Likewise, proposals to cut (or to not increase) grocery-district funding would be widely condemned as being pro-starvation proposals. And efforts to measure the performance of grocery-store workers would be mocked as impossible as well as unfair to such workers. Efforts to restrain the pay of grocery-store workers would be portrayed as efforts to deny ordinary citizens access to the best possible supply of groceries.