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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Sunday, August 20, 2017
 
Like all other political operatives, Bannon is over-rated
Matthew Continetti, editor in chief of the Washington Free Beacon, writes in the New York Times about Steve Bannon's departure as senior advisor to President Donald Trump:
Mr. Trump’s supporters are wrong to worry. Mr. Bannon is the latest in a long line of political advisers whose reputations are inflated after an election victory. Mr. Bannon may have given much thought to traditionalism and populism, may have publicized its themes as chairman of Breitbart.com, may be able to name drop René Guénon, Julius Evola, Jean Raspail, Neil Howe and William Strauss. But President Trump’s inflammatory response to the clashes and killing last week in Charlottesville, Va., made it clear that it is he, and not Mr. Bannon, who maintains a gut connection with his most die-hard supporters. The most important culture warrior in this administration sits at the Resolute Desk.
Mr. Bannon’s reputation is overrated. Yes, he transformed Breitbart from an irreverent blog into the iconoclastic tribune of nation-state populism, the anti-elitist ideology of border walls, travel bans and political incorrectness.
But his career as a political consultant has been short and checkered ...
[H]e is a terrible colleague. His unprompted interview last week with the editor of a liberal magazine not only demonstrated a naïve willingness to forge alliances with the economic left on trade and infrastructure. It also confirmed everything that has been said about Mr. Bannon: He disparages his co-workers behind their backs; he postures as the force behind personnel decisions; and he pretends to know more about national security than James Mattis, John Kelly, H. R. McMaster and Joseph Dunford (not to mention Donald Trump).
Strategists and advisors are important but over-rated. All of them (unless they are anonymous). My theory is that pundits can't imagine themselves as political leaders but easily see themselves advising on political strategy. They romanticize strategists and exaggerate their influence and importance.


 
NAACP takes a stand for mediocrity
CBS Sports: "NAACP's Atlanta chapter calls for boycott of NFL until Colin Kaepernick gets signed." CBS Sports reports:
Gerald Griggs, the vice president of the NAACP's Atlanta chapter, said this week that his group is planning a boycott of all things NFL and will continue to boycott the league as long as Kaepernick remains a free agent.
"There will be no football in the state of Georgia if Colin Kaepernick is not on a training camp roster and given an opportunity to pursue his career," Griggs recently told Fox 5 in Atlanta. "This is not a simple request. This is a statement. This is a demand."
Colin Kaepernick is simply not that good: 186.8 ypg, a completion percentage under 60%, and a Total Quarterback Rating of 55.2 -- the player closest to him was Brock Osweiler, whom the Houston Texans sent along with a top draft pick to the Cleveland Browns to take. Considering what he's made before, Kaepernick's salary demands are probably in the realm of unrealistic without the controversy, but pricey, below average, and controversial is a mix teams understandably avoid. It's not racism or concern over controversy that's keeping Kaep out of the NFL; it's that he's not good enough to take that risk for.
Meanwhile, former cop Frank Serpico was among the only whites to join a mostly visible minority group of police officers that said #imwithkap.


 
Why we want the Chinese and Indians to get rich
Alex Tabarrok writes about medical advances or lack thereof in the United States and notes possible spillover effects of China and India becoming wealthier:
In my [2009] TED talk I argued that the richer China and India are the better it will be for US cancer patients because the bigger the market the greater the incentive to research and develop new drugs. US patients may also get a second benefit. China is big enough to move world R&D which previously was true only for the US and to a lesser extent (because of price controls) the EU. Since the US haa by far the largest pharmaceutical market the FDA is a regulatory hegemon. With China we may get to see for the first time a serious alternative to the FDA. And according to some observers, China’s approval process is less-risk averse.


 
Brexit: out is out
The Independent on Sunday reports:
Theresa May is to unveil five new Brexit negotiating position papers in the coming days amid reports that cabinet ministers privately fear a decision on progressing on to trade talks with the European Union could be delayed until Christmas.
In her first full week back in Downing Street following her three-week holiday, the Prime Minister will release formal papers on key elements of the talks, including the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ), data protection, and goods and services after Brexit.
Brexit Minister David Davis said the papers are part of the government's "imaginative and creative solutions to build a deep and special partnership with our closest neighbours and allies." They are intended to demonstrate the workability of post-withdrawal Britain and to avoid renegotiating aspects of Brexit.
I'm torn between the necessity to make the May government's position clear and settling The City's concerns on one hand and the need to avoid negotiating in public. A good case could be made for these papers or against, but I lean toward the good they can do as long as they aren't dismissed as a pure PR exercise.
Meanwhile The Guardian reports that Davis is pushing back against the EU's insistence that there be no trade talks until withdrawal talks are complete. Davis says it is difficult to negotiate the terms of leaving before understanding what the future relationship might look like. That seems like common-sense, which means Brussels will resist it. The Guardian also has an analysis about the European Court of Justice and how the UK will need a compatible system of justice if it wants a close relationship with the continent.
Peter Hitchens says in the Mail on Sunday it might be time to consider the Norway Option:
So to David Davis and Liam Fox and Philip Hammond, may I suggest what is known as the Norway Option? You are all blundering around as if you've never even heard of it. Yet it answers all major questions.
It does not require long years of detailed negotiation. We can lift it off the shelf, take it out of the box, and switch it on. It will work straight away.
It doesn't get us completely out of the clutches of the EU. We'd still have to pay some money every year (nothing like as much as now) and accept their regulations when we traded with them, which is reasonable. But we can, if we wish, govern ourselves in all other matters.
I'm not sold. The vote in June 2016 was for out of the European Union, or as Tim Montgomerie says in The Sun, Brits voted to "take back control." Out meant out. I don't think it will ultimately mean completely out, but the Norway Option is still too in. The difficulty for London is that Brussels doesn't want other countries to have the British Option when Brexit is over, whatever that might look like.


Saturday, August 19, 2017
 
Arthur Finkelstein, RIP
Conservative political strategist Arthur Finkelstein passed away yesterday at the age of 72 after losing a long battle with cancer. In January, Craig Shirley wrote a wonderful appreciation of Finkelstein for National Review when his condition worsened; too often these appreciations appear after a person dies. Shirley wrote:
Long before anyone else in the modern age, Arthur taught Republicans how to win. At one point in the early 1980s, maybe half of the GOP senators were Finkelstein clients and even more in the House. He was a modern Prometheus, bringing fire to Republicankind.
Without Finkelstein, the Reagan Revolution -- tax cuts and the military buildup -- might not have been possible. Finkelstein ensured there were Reagan coattails. Mostly famously, he helped an obscure local politician, Alfonse D'Amato, topple left-wing GOP Senator Jacob Javits in the Republican primary. Often Finkelstein clients simply attacked their opponents as liberal. One academic said he had five lines of attack: "ultraliberal, superliberal, embarrassingly liberal, foolishly liberal and unbelievably liberal.”
To many, he was the "merchant of venom," famous for his attack ads. Michael Harris writes in his awful anti-Stephen Harper screed Party of One, about the gay Jewish conservative strategist: "Finkelstein's modus operandi was always the same: Pinpoint polling aimed at exposing a weakness in an opponent; then use a trenchant, repetitive advertisement to exploit the candidate's Achilles heel." This is hardly new -- Lynton Crosby does it, too -- but he was the first to perfect it. The Washington Post obituary quoted a political scientist who said, "He uses a sledgehammer in every race." He worked on several successful Jesse Helms campaigns in which the crotchety old southern senator came out on top when pundits had predicted his demise after Helms and his team hit his political opponents particular hard. Going negative worked. Finkelstein -- a gay libertarian (one early mentor was Ayn Rand) -- worked with several favourite candidates of the Religious Right, including Helms, Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, and Oklahoma Senator Don Nickles. He was strongly anti-communist and he backed Cold War hawks.
Attack doesn't mean untruthful. One of my favourite Finkelstein campaigns was the 1996 Israeli election in which Benjamin Netanyahu attacked the Labour prime minister with "Peres will divide Jerusalem." Despite the Canadian punditocracy's hysterical speculations, Finkelstein's advice in recent years was mostly in the ears of eastern European and Israeli politicians. Ha'aretz describes his advice to Likud politicians over the past two decades.
Also, read Barney Keller's tribute, who concludes:
Arthur liked his coffee black, his shoes off, his shirts blue, his steak medium rare (preferably at his beloved Peter Luger in Brooklyn) and his Gimlets strong. His greeting to all was “Good Morning” as it was always morning some place in the world. Arthur was one of kind. He made a difference. He changed politics. He sought to make the world a better place, and to spread the power of freedom. He will be missed but never forgotten.


 
Progress
The Japanese have created ice cream that doesn't melt for hours. As often occurs, the impetus was disaster:
According to the Asahi Shimbun, a Japanese daily newspaper, scientists at Biotherapy Development Research Center Co. in Kanazawa stumbled upon the miracle-working method by accident earlier this year. Researchers had reportedly asked a pastry chef to create a dessert using polyphenol liquid, extracted from strawberries, in an effort to help out strawberry farmers whose crops were suffering after the earthquake and tsunami in eastern Japan in 2011. The frustrated chef told scientists that "dairy cream solidified instantly when strawberry polyphenol was added," and although he believed there was "something suspicious" about the polyphenol, one researcher at the center immediately realized the natural compound's potential for greatness.
(HT: Marginal Revolution)


Friday, August 18, 2017
 
Celebrate August 20
August 20 is World Mosquito Day. As the New York Times daily newsletter explains: "It commemorates the 1897 discovery of the role that the insects play in transmitting malaria, a disease that has long bedeviled humanity, killing an estimated 429,000 people in 2015, according to the World Health Organization." Ronald Ross won a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the discovery, which would eventually lead to public policy that combatted the spread of the often deadly disease including preventive measures taken during the construction of the Panama Canal. There has been tremendous success over the past twenty years, with a nearly 60% decrease in malaria fatalities from 2000 to 2015. There is still much work to be done and no doubt campaigners will use the day to urge more spending for this or that program (many of them worthwhile). But we should also acknowledge progress and much has been made.


 
Opioid crisis reaction has led to sub-standard pain management for some patients
Physicians Stefan Kertesz and Sally Satel write in Slate about the opioid crisis and the (welcome) educational response to it leading to a misunderstanding or over-cautiousness from doctors which has resulted in some patients not being properly treated for their pain:
In the face of an ever-worsening opioid crisis, physicians concerned about fueling the epidemic are increasingly heeding warnings and feeling pressured to constrain prescribing in the name of public health. As they do so, abruptly ending treatment regimens on which many chronic pain patients have come to rely, they end up leaving some patients in agonizing pain or worse ...
It is no secret that one contributing factor to the current opioid crisis is the overreliance on and, at least in retrospect, irresponsible use of opioid-based pain medication. Promiscuous prescribing by physicians gained momentum in the early 1990s and continued for much of the next decade. Aggressive marketing by makers of long-acting painkillers, along with unfounded reassurances that they were safe, played a role in the explosion of prescribing—as did the culture of medical practice which rewarded hospitals based on patient satisfaction ratings, hurried visits, and a dearth of ready insurance-covered alternatives.
It should be noted that the chief risk of liberal prescribing—that is, giving a month’s worth of pills when two days were needed; prescribing opioids when extra-strength aspirin and a heating pad would do—was not so much that the patient for whom painkillers would become addicted or overdose. That can happen, particularly when the patient is also depressed, chronically anxious, or has a history of substance abuse, but it is not especially common ...
As the pill problem has grown, physicians, medical centers, and state health authorities sought to bring prescribing under better control with education, new norms, and prescription registries that pharmacists and doctors could use to detect patients who “doctor shopped” for painkillers and even forged prescriptions. To a welcome degree, this worked ...
The pendulum has swung back in the other direction. We are now experiencing the painful backlash to overzealous prescribing of opioid painkillers (that was itself a backlash to the undertreatment of unremitting noncancer pain). The bad news is that many patients treated with high opioid regimens have been caught in the crossfire. Amid regulations, pharmacy payment restrictions, and intimations that doctors are the major culprits in this epidemic, doctors are increasingly sensing pressure to reduce doses, even among patients who are benefiting from the medication and using it responsibly.
Kertesz and Satel report tragic cases of patients who were not properly treated taking their own lives because they couldn't stand the pain they were being forced to endure.


 
NIH grant to watch gay people drink
The Free Beacon: "Feds Spend $438,699 Studying If ‘Gender Norms’ Make LGBTQ People Get Drunk." Why not?


 
Because we need good stories
The Winnipeg Free Press: "After years of IS captivity, Yazidi boy reunited with family in Winnipeg." The paper reports:
After three years apart and more than 9,700 kilometres of travel, a Yazidi mother and son locked eyes again for the first time in Winnipeg Thursday morning.
Emad Mishko Tamo was held by his mother early Thursday morning at Winnipeg's James Armstrong Richardson International airport, a month after a photo of the 12-year-old boy circulated on social media following his liberation from Islamic State by Iraqi soldiers.
Until that point, his mother and four siblings — government-sponsored refugees living in Winnipeg — did not know whether he was alive.
I can't imagine what Nofa Mihlo Rafo and her family went through these past few years wondering about their son. I can't imagine what Emad Mishko Tamo went through as both a ISIS victim and a young child refugee alone. We should all be very happy for them.


Thursday, August 17, 2017
 
Today Robert E. Lee. Tomorrow George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
Once you give in to liberal vandals there is no end. Hot Air reports:
“Are we going to take down statues to George Washignton? How about Thomas Jefferson?” Trump asked during his press conference Tuesday. Two days later a number of progressives have embraced the idea, i.e. maybe statues of Washington and Jefferson should go too.
The Washington Free Beacon highlighted this clip of CNN political commentator Angela Rye making Trump’s case. “I don’t care if it’s a George Washington statue or a Thomas Jefferson statue or a Robert E. Lee statue. They all need to come down,” Rye said. Another member of the panel, the Daily Beast’s John Avlon, cut Rye off and warned she was “feeding into Steve Bannon and Trump’s talking points,” but Rye didn’t back down.
And if it's not Washington or Jefferson, it's Abraham Lincoln. Will the progressive Left demand demolishing Mount Rushmore?
Meanwhile the Boston Red Sox ownership says it might be time to get rid of Yawkey Way. Why not erect a plaque that tells the whole story so that future generations of Boston baseball fans will know the former Red Sox owners tardiness to the sports integration?


 
Against tearing down Confederate statues
National Review's Kyle Smith had an excellent essay a few days ago at NRO against getting rid of supposedly or truly offensive monuments. I recommend reading the whole thing but this is the important takeaway:
If a statue that has been standing in your city for years suddenly sends you into paroxysms of destructive rage, you are really determined to create a problem for yourself, and you’ll create another problem when it’s gone.
Smith makes two other arguments worth noting: there will be no end to demands to excise anything and everything that offends the mob and that even if these monuments do deserve to be removed, it is best to do so following sober debate and not the heat of mob reaction to them.


Wednesday, August 16, 2017
 
Conservatives without the conservatism
Unherd's Peter Franklin briefly examines the call from liberal Jeff Jarvis for a new, conservative media outlet that would report facts without the sensationalism and divisive culture war stuff. Franklin says there are plenty of serious, sober-minded conservative publications such as First Things and New Criterion (that definitely enter the culture wars fray), but I think what Jarvis is calling for isn't commentary but reporting. Fair enough. The issue here is not so much what we talk about when discussing journalism but what do we mean when talking about conservatism. Jarvis says: "For the purposes of this venture, what does it mean to be conservative? I would return to basics: a belief in fiscal conservatism, smaller government, support for business, support for trade, and a strong military. Leave the culture wars aside as an invention of the divisive edge." Franklin rejects such an empty conservatism:
This is the weakest point in Jarvis’s argument. There’s a lot more to the basics of conservatism than economic liberalism with aircraft carriers. Serious conservative arguments on social policy need to be heard every bit as much as they do on economic or defence policy. To characterise conservative views on the family, immigration or education as “an invention of the divisive edge” is to forget how the divisions opened up in the first place. If liberals want an end to culture wars then they should be willing to enter into a respectful dialogue instead of demanding the silent surrender of the other side.
According to Jarvis' definition of conservative, Tony Blair qualifies. To a lesser degree, so might 1990s Bill Clinton. The essence of conservatism is maintaining the best of the old order. When liberals want to vandalize the culture, it is the job of conservatives to defend the permanent things. Conservatism under Jarvis would be unilateral surrender on most political fronts.


 
Generation snowflake: Scripps U intern pic with Pence triggers schoolmates
The Daily Caller reports that McKenzie Deutsch, a junior at Scripps University in California, upset her fellow students when she posted a picture of herself with Vice President Mike Pence on Facebook. Students said Pence was an existentialist threat to people like themselves. One commented: "I don’t know if you understand that Pence want me and the people I love to be erased by any means possible. I don’t know how to express to you how it feels to see a fellow Scrippsie in this photo with someone who has shown himself so willing to commit institutional violence." Another posted a comment saying she felt unsafe because of the FB post. As the Daily Caller reported, the picture occurred 2,636 miles away. Scary. The best part of this "controversy" -- and proof that some people seek out being offended -- is this: "A few people even added Deutsch as Facebook friends precisely so they could send her nasty messages, she said."
Deutsch went to the Claremont Independent, the student newspaper, to explain her ordeal: “It is as if every student must follow an understood uniform code of conduct and speech — as if I must share the liberal politics of my peers in order to be treated with respect or considered a decent person. Their lecturing about diversity apparently does not extend to diversity of thought.”


 
Brexit won't get in the way of maintaining peace in Northern Ireland
The first UK government Brexit future partnership paper was released yesterday: "Future customs arrangements." It's brief but wide-ranging and clear, and sets out a clear line about where there should be no line: the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. The paper states:
The border between Northern Ireland and Ireland is the UK’s only land border. We must avoid a return to a hard border, and trade and everyday movements across the land border must be protected as part of the UK-EU deal. The Government welcomes the clear commitment made in the European Council’s negotiating guidelines and the European Commission’s directives to work with us on “flexible and imaginative” solutions to achieve this. Ahead of those discussions, this paper includes proposals that are first steps to meet our objective of trade across that land border being as seamless and frictionless as possible, but further steps will be necessary. The Government will publish a paper relating to Northern Ireland shortly.
The Sun reports an unnamed government source saying, "Top of our list is to agree upfront no physical border infrastructure — that would mean a return to the border posts of the past and is completely unacceptable to the UK." It would be foolish for the EU27 to insist on measures that would risk peace in Ulster.
The Guardian reports that few people are satisfied with the customs proposal, especially Brussels. And domestic critics suggest its a "cake and eat it" proposal with London wanting the same rights as being in the current customs union without formally being within that structure. That seems like a non-starter. That said, this is the start of negotiations and both sides will have to give up some of their wish list.


Tuesday, August 15, 2017
 
Eliminating Down syndrome children
CBS reports:
With the rise of prenatal screening tests across Europe and the United States, the number of babies born with Down syndrome has significantly decreased, but few countries have come as close to eradicating Down syndrome births as Iceland.
Since prenatal screening tests were introduced in Iceland in the early 2000s, the vast majority of women -- close to 100 percent -- who received a positive test for Down syndrome terminated their pregnancy.
While the tests are optional, the government states that all expectant mothers must be informed about availability of screening tests, which reveal the likelihood of a child being born with Down syndrome. Around 80 to 85 percent of pregnant women choose to take the prenatal screening test, according to Landspitali University Hospital in Reykjavik ...
The law in Iceland permits abortion after 16 weeks if the fetus has a deformity -- and Down syndrome is included in this category.
The story focuses on eliminating Down syndrome, but Iceland -- nor any other country -- is doing any such thing. Doctors are eliminating preborn children with Down syndrome. In Iceland, CBS reports, one or two children are born with Down syndrome each year. Other countries also have "termination" rates of children identified with Down syndrome through prenatal testing (France has a 77% rate, in the United States it's 67%, Denmark 98%). Paradoxically, Dr. Anthony Lejeune, who discovered the chromosomal anomaly that causes the syndrome was opposed to abortion. In a 2002 Interim editorial we warned that abortion is not a cure. I am also worried that as fewer people are born with the genetic anomaly there will be less impetus for Down syndrome research -- why study an increasingly irrelevant "problem."
Of course, Down syndrome need not be viewed as a problem. Two months ago, Krista Ewert, author of This is Ella, was interviewed by Convivium, in which the author describes the dignity and humanity of her Down syndrome daughter:
What I did not know, however, was how full, beautiful and, quite frankly, normal Ella’s life would be. I did not realize that despite her challenges, Ella would have the potential to achieve many of the milestones her peers eventually would such as being surrounded by wonderful friends, graduating from high school or college, playing soccer, living on her own or having a job.
Ewert says that recognizing the humanity of so-called flawed children expands the bounds of our tolerance and diversity:
One shade of blue on a canvas is lovely in and of itself, but how much more beautiful is a canvas filled with vibrant reds, serene greens, cool blues and vivacious purple. To each canvas in life, whether it be our families, our workplace, classroom, or church, we bring the colours of our personality, our abilities, and our talents. As I have worked to ensure Ella’s contributions are not only recognized, but welcomed in her community, I have also become acutely aware of how I judge other’s contributions in my own life.
Our editorial noted that "Malcolm Muggeridge commented on this trend more than two decades ago when he said we are entering an age when abortion will be used to eliminate the less than 'perfect blooms' – people who are not beautiful, intelligent, skilled." That sounds like eugenics and the abdication of love. Eliminating Down syndrome children is not an accomplishment and Iceland should be not celebrated for their achievement of near zero Down syndrome children.


 
Unappreciated Trump victory
Austin Bay at Instapundit: "WHY PYONGYANG’S FAT KID STOOD DOWN: Trump’s pressure diplomacy is working." At The Observer, he explains:
The Trump administration’s “pressure strategy” is disrupting the North Korean regime ...
The great Chinese strategist Sun Tzu said that the best strategy is to attack the enemy’s plans. With a soldier-scholar like Jim Mattis in the Trump administration, a stroke or two of Sun Tzu should surprise no one ...
We aren’t engaged in a game. This is the latest phase of the Korean War. Though war is not a sport, some sports analogies are instructive. Basketball’s full-court press is a defensive attack on the offense’s “plan” to score—which would be a sportscaster’s description of the Trump administration’s North Korea policy. In basketball, teams employ a relentless full-court press to degrade an opponent’s ability to move the ball, deny easy shot attempts, and disrupt shots the opponent takes. “Pressing” teams try to force their opponents to make mistakes that lead to turnovers. A sustained press that forces mistakes dispirits an opponent.


 
Reynolds on Silicon Valley's future influence over our lives and our politics
Glenn Harlan Reynolds in USA Today: "When a gigantic corporation that controls our data and knows us intimately takes a controversial political stance, it ought to make us worry." He explains:
Since its 1990s heyday, Silicon Valley has transformed from an unruly collection of aggressive upstarts disrupting existing industries to a flabby collection of near-monopolies, now busy enforcing gentry-liberal norms on their employees and customers. Whether it’s censoring right-leaning political figures, or firing employees who dare say something truthful but politically incorrect, there’s not much of the old startup spirit there. These are flabby overstaffed Big Business corporations, run by their HR departments. You might find more dynamism at General Motors, these days.
But worse yet, they exercise tremendous power and require tremendous trust. When you use Facebook or Google (or Twitter, or Amazon, or Netflix) you’re sharing a lot of data with a company that you have to trust won’t abuse that. It’s much harder to trust a company that has decided to aggressively pursue thoughtcrime. And it doesn’t matter where you are on the political spectrum – Damore describes himself as a centrist. But it only takes one politically incorrect utterance, as so many in academia have learned, to achieve Enemy Of The People status. And then, apparently, you’re fair game.
Can you trust a self-driving car from Google, if some new company policy might reprogram it to avoid events Google doesn’t approve? Can you trust Google to prevent its (apparently many) “social-justice warrior” employees from trawling through your personal data looking for dirt, and then leaking it?
It sounds conspiracy theoryish, but the alarm should be sounded over these concerns. Especially if one of their founders (Mark Zuckerberg) is considering running for political office.


 
Ezra Levant on the alt-right
Ezra Levant explains how he and others at The Rebel view the alt-right:
That’s really what the alt-right is, in my mind — the mirror image of Black Lives Matter, or perhaps more accurately Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam black separatists.
Until this weekend, I would have said that the alt-right doesn’t tend towards violence — they walked through Charlottesville with torches, but didn’t torch anything, unlike many BLM riots. But of course the murder of a leftist by an alt-right activist changes that.
So let me sum up our position:
1. We are not alt-right. That term now effectively means racism, anti-Semitism and tolerance of neo-Nazism.
2. We are conservatives (as opposed to socialists); we are nationalists (as opposed to globalists); we believe in having borders (as opposed to Merkel- and Trudeau-style migration); we are opposed to identity politics inherent in state multiculturalism and affirmative action (and we do not support countervailing white nationalism as a response). So we are different from the alt-right in many ways.
3. Finally, we are aware that the alt-right, as it it now constituted and led, is an obscure, small, ineffective movement. Their Charlottesville march, that had national media coverage for weeks in advance, mustered fewer than 500 people altogether. They hold no elected office, hold no prominent positions in academia, media, or any other institution. Their chief political utility is to the left: to prove the leftist narrative that the “true threat” in America is actually from “right wing white guys”, as opposed to, say, Muslim extremism or Latin American drug gangs. And to the Soros-funded street gangs of the left, the alt-right is a justification of violence — it’s an excuse for more chaos and fear that are Antifa’s signature.
The alt-right is not effective at promoting conservative ideas; it doesn’t even claim to be. But after this weekend, the media certainly sees the alt-right as effective at discrediting conservative ideas.
There are six takeaways from the past few days and Levant touches upon most of them:
1. The alt-right is not conservative.
2. The media will opportunistically link the alt-right and conservatism to delegitimize the latter.
3. Republican politicians will condemn both alt-right ideology and violence in a way that Democrats never do for Black Lives Matter.
4. Identity politics is gross. It debases politics worse than normal politician venality because it corrupts not only political leaders but all democratic participants.
5. If you want to call the alt-right "right-wing" identity politics infects both Left and Right. However, alt-right politics embraces interventionist economic policies and is essentially a collectivist view because it assigns value to individuals based on their race, so it looks pretty left-wing to me.
6. The alt-right is small and insignificant. Their tiny protest received disproportionate coverage. This is unquestionably linked to the goal of delegitimizing mainstream conservatism and the current Republican administration.
See also Ben Shapiro's tweet storm about the alt-right.


Monday, August 14, 2017
 
Macron is France's Donald Trump
Vox reports that Emmanuel Macron's 35% approval rating is about where American President Donald Trump's poll numbers are. It's easy to say that governing is more difficult than campaigning or that many politicians would look good running against the villainized Marine Le Pen, but Vox's Sarah Wildman also notes that Macron has been viewed by critics as "too authoritarian in his instincts, and too elitist in his approach." The problem for Macron and his European progressive fans is that there are many more critics than was supposed there would be for their liberal champion. Many of Macron's wounds are self-inflicted: he eschews the media, breaks promises, fights with military leaders, cavorts with celebrities, flirts with paying his wife an official salary, and takes positions at odds with his center-left image (tax cuts for the rich and housing benefit cuts for the poor). As the New York Times reported last week, Macron has managed to tick off French voters across the political spectrum:
The “Jupiterian president,” as aides fondly describe him, has alienated left-leaning voters with his promise to loosen France’s labor code and trim the country’s generous social safety net. He angered civil servants with his vow to freeze their salaries. And he upset voters on the right with his fight with the head of the country’s armed forces, Gen. Pierre de Villiers, who resigned as a result.
But he campaigned on liberalizing France's labour laws and hasn't yet introduced them or faced (anticipated) organized protests against his proposals. Vox explains that the decline in popularity is unprecedented in recent French political history and while its too early to tell if it will affect his re-election efforts in seven years or derail his agenda, a 30 percentage point drop in approval -- if, in fact, all his voters this past spring approved of Macron, which is not necessarily a safe assumption -- over a few months is something most politicians would like to avoid. It's especially troubling for one whose political persona is based on his personal celebrity: what's left once the adoring fans are gone?


 
Advice for journalists
Columbia Journalism Review asked a few journalists about the best reporting advice they ever received. Fact-checking is important. Not enough reporters and media outlets check and double-check facts. Gay Talese said he is thankful for the advice to stay off the phone and show up in person. This is harder to do today with immediate deadlines and the decline of beats/rise of generalist reporters. But this, from New Yorker writer Steve Coll, is great (and true):
“When I was starting out at The Washington Post, I once asked Bob Woodward how to ask government officials to share confidential or possibly classified documents or written materials. I thought that he must have some carefully sequenced strategy, arriving at a subtle request. ‘Just ask them,’ he said. ‘Don’t hesitate.’ Oh. That turned out to be very helpful as the years went by.”
This works best when reporters 1) have relationships with sources and 2) have demonstrated they can reliably report facts and not expose their sources, and it occurs more frequently that you might imagine because many government insiders want to share information. Many of them have agendas and leaking helps further their ideological or personal agendas or helps score points in personal grudges. If a particular requested leak is not agenda-driven, leaking to a reporter can strengthen source-journalist relationships for future agenda-driven leaking.


 
What I'm reading
1. Simply Electrifying: The Technology that Transformed the World, from Benjamin Franklin to Elon Musk by Craig R. Roach. Definitely a candidate for top-ten book of 2017.
2. The First Serious Optimist: A. C. Pigou and the Birth of Welfare Economics by Ian Kumekawa. More about Pigou and his milieu than his economics. That's equal part complacent observation and observational complaint.
3. Conscience of a Conservative: A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to Principle by Jeff Flake
4. The Right People: The Social Establishment in America by Stephen Birmingham. I found this 1958 book about the American elite in a used bookstore last week.


 
Brexit update
The Sun reports that Prime Minister Theresa May will soon deliver a Brexit speech (although the Financial Times reports it is planned for September), Brexit Minister David Davis will release 12 papers laying the groundwork for future talks with the EU, and that Davis will hold the £36 billion divorce bill hostage to "bigger issue" talks with the EU to ensure the UK gets more favourable agreements. The Mail on Sunday reports that London wants a "virtual border" between Northern Ireland and Ireland. Meanwhile, Philip Hammond, Chancellor of Exchequer and hero to the Remoaners who has signaled London should pursue the softest of Brexits, penned a column with pro-Brexit Trade Minister Liam Fox in the Sunday Times saying the UK will not only leave the EU in March 2019 but the customs union.
In a very rambling column in The Observer, former Labour politician David Miliband is calling for a vote in Parliament to ratify the final deal -- a vote that the government has already committed to undertaking. Miliband has numerous theses for one column: politics is broken, the June 2016 referendum should not be an excuse to run roughshod over demoracy (has it been?), and the EU is the champion of liberal ideals from which the United Kingdom should not recoil.


 
Jacob Rees-Mogg's leadership ambitions
The Sunday Times reports:
The news comes days after the father of six was revealed as the second-most popular choice to become the next Tory leader in a poll of party members by the ConservativeHome website.
In an interview with The Sunday Times, Rees-Mogg, 48, sidestepped questions about his ambition, saying: “I think if I threw my hat into the ring, my hat would be thrown back at me pretty quickly.”
He has resolutely supported May, who lost her party’s majority in June’s general election.
However, the American-born and pro-Trump professor Ted Malloch of Henley Business School of the University of Reading tells the Mail on Sunday that Rees-Mogg has told him he's interested in running for the Conservative leadership.
Meanwhile, Home Secretary Amber Rudd says she'll run for the leadership if Theresa May steps aside.


 
Six weeks is a long time in politics
Politico Europe reports that Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union leads Martin Schulz Social Democratic Party by 14%-17% in recent polls. German voters head to the polls September 24. Politico reports Schulz is not conceding defeat, but The Observer suggests Schulz is resigned to settling for the opposition benches.


Sunday, August 13, 2017
 
Should kids be in R-rated movies?
Bloomberg View columnist Virginia Postrel says that having 6-8 year olds in the theater during R-rated movies like Atomic Blonde is a distraction and she enjoyed the movie less for having a young child ask questions of his parents loud enough to bother other customers. This seems to be a case not of an inappropriately young customer, but a rude one. Adults talk during movies, too. Unless the psychic harm of having children nearby is an issue -- Postrel writes, "the mere presence of children too young to understand a movie disturbs other audience members," which indicates that it isn't curious questions that is the problem -- but that's the annoyed customer's problem, not the child's, family's, or movie theater's.
That said, I'm not sure how others are affected by other customers is the proper frame for the question of whether young people belong in the theatre of R-rated movies. Postrel suggests as much herself suggests when she asks that between the violence and the sex scene, "What’s worse, I wondered: the movie gives the kids nightmares or they take it in stride?" The movie industry and movie theaters need to make a buck and I'm leery of calls for self-policing and rules to protect minors from mature material, but clearly some parents are making bad decisions. Who takes a young child to Atomic Blonde?
I don't see Postrel's solution of charging children more for admission to R-rated movies as addressing either problem: kids are still going bother other patrons with their noise or presence* and they are still going to be exposed to morally questionable content.
* Unless there is a Coasian solution in paying other customers for their inconvenience or having other customers pay families to keep their children at home.


 
Modern life in a sentence
I'm still catching up on a week's worth of commentary and news. I read Katherine Timpf's August 11 NRO article on the latest "microaggression" -- chairs that insultingly too small for larger people. Timpf begins her article thusly: "Too many people, particularly on college campuses, use their emotions in a tyrannical way." That seems to sum up not just the modern academy but social media. As a friend of mine says, we live in the Age of Feelings. And there is no debating feelings. There is no consistency or internal logic in feelings. Thus wielding them in fights is only an exercise in power -- not persuasion but coercion. Taking offense is a trump card.


 
Buy local is a scam
Anthony Gill on buying "local" in Washington state:
So imagine my surprise when I encountered a sign promoting a “local” food product in the bakery aisle of our town’s Safeway (a corporate grocery chain). Was the delicious item a blueberry tart from the local “U-Pick” farm down the road? No! It was a single-serving chocolate cream pie topped with coconut shavings.
How fantastic! My neighbors must now be setting up cocoa bean farms and planting palm trees.
I quickly inquired on the town’s social media discussion board regarding the whereabouts of these cocoa and coconut farms, only to be told that I was being silly; those foodstuffs do not grow well in the cool, damp climate of western Washington. “So why is this luscious pie labeled local?” I retorted quizzically. Well, the answer was simple: It was baked locally.
Well, then! My next task became to discover the whereabouts of this superb bakery. I figured I could walk over to the establishment and compliment the owners for successfully satisfying my taste buds. Upon investigating the label, however, I was surprised to find out that it was made in Airway Heights, Washington. I had never heard of Airway Heights. Further research indicated that it was near Spokane, WA, just a short 275 miles east of my town.
Wait a minute?! How can something that is roughly a five-hour drive away be “local?" How could we be “keeping money in the local community” if the likelihood of anybody from Airway Heights shopping in Duvall on any given day is close to zero?
How can something that is roughly a five-hour drive away be “local?"
Further queries led me to discover that Safeway labels any product made and sold in Washington as “local.” A pie baked just 25 miles further east in Idaho, a mere addition of 30 minutes on a five-hour drive, would not get the “local” label.
But what about Vancouver, British Columbia? That Canadian city is less than half the distance away (at 130 miles) even though it is in some far-flung “foreign” country. A slab of back bacon from Vancouver purchased in our town’s Safeway would not get the “local” seal of approval, whereas the farther-flung Airway Heights pie would. None of this makes any sense!
If you are as confounded as I was, then you might be suffering from the geographic confusion that comes naturally (and often gluten-free) with the “locavore” movement.
Gill then makes several arguments about the fallacy of buy local and why localism doesn't matter (including using Leonard Reed's famous essay I, Pencil, to make the case that nothing can be truly local). More importantly, why can't we be neighbourly purchasing goods and services from laborers in other countries? Why does your local baker (however defined) deserve your consumer dollars while the Chilean farmer does not? This, as I've noted many times before, reeks of bigotry. Buy local is feel-good discrimination for a certain set, and it should be called out for what it is.


 
Why does the Left oppose 'neoliberalism'?
At EconLog, Scott Sumner points to a chart that shows between-country inequality is declining (while within-country inequality is increasing), suggesting that poorer countries are becoming richer. He says: "It seems likely that much of the reduction in between country inequality is caused by market reforms in places like China, India, and the ASEAN group." That's good, yet many on the Left oppose the free market and trade despite its obvious benefits to many of the world's more vulnerable. Sumner says, "Neoliberalism might just be the best thing that ever happened."


 
AMA with Seema Jayachandran
Seema Jayachandran, an economics professor at Northwestern University, did a Reddit AMA that is reproduced in a more readable version at The Winnower. Jayachandran argues for paying poor farmers in the developing world not to cut down forests (as an inexpensive way to combat climate change), although there are other reasons to resist deforestation (that she briefly touches upon). Jayachandran found a fair bit of resistance to the idea of paying individuals not to do something (as opposed to traditional programs that pay individuals to do something, for example enroll children in school or receive an inoculation). The penultimate question was: "Will this principle of "feeding carrots if you do no harm" apply to other human affairs such as crime, business competition, gender equality, nuclear nonproliferation? Why or why not?" Her answer:
Great question, and a broad one, so there's of course no simple yes or no answer. The idea is applicable if a few key pieces are in place. First, (most) people would have been engaging in the harmful behavior, absent the carrots. Otherwise, the policy will be paying people for something they wouldn’t have been doing anyway, so it’s not cost-effective. In Uganda, most forest owners were degrading their forest, absent PES. Even then, this idea of “inframarginality” in econ-speak, or additionality as its known in PES circles, was a big part of what we set out to assess in our study, because maybe the only enrollees would be the ones who would have conserved. The program attracted and changed the behavior of a lot of people who would otherwise have done harm, and that’s why the benefits>costs. You also have to be able to measure whether the harm took place, and the cost to society of that harm has to be more than the private benefits to convince them to refrain (otherwise, it's not worth it to pay them to stop.
There are programs that have applied it to gender equality, e.g., paid families not to marry off their daughters at a young age (http://www.poverty-action.org/study/empowering-girls-rural-bangladesh). Some hospitals/clinics have programs that pay those addicted to drugs to stay sober. Like anything, the idea is not universally applicable and every application has nuances, but if compensating people gets people to stop doing harm, and that is beneficial not just them but to others in society, it can be a good use of money.
Paying people to not do harmful things is an under-rated, under-studied, under-utilized tool of public policy. That said, are we more likely to not pay people in the developing world than in wealthy countries? Is that a function that such public policy experiments are cheaper there than here? Or is it a form of colonialism? Or does resistance to paying people to not do something make such policies more difficult in a democracy?


Friday, August 11, 2017
 
Five books to understand economics
Over at Learn Liberty, Anne Bradley of the Institute for Humane Studies challenges students to read five economics books. Four of five would be on everyone's introductory econ list; the fifth is not the Ayn Rand novel most people would chose.


Wednesday, August 09, 2017
 
Family vacation
I'm in Detroit with the family. Shopping yesterday, Henry Ford Museum and Pentatonix concert today, Pirates-Tigers game tomorrow, back-to-school shopping on Friday. Blogging has been and will continue to be light.


Tuesday, August 08, 2017
 
One way to end gerrymandering: end geographic voting districts
The Washington Post reports that the Supreme Court will hear a congressional districting case this fall which could scale back the practice of gerrymandering electoral boundaries. The Post looks at how other countries draw voting districts to minimize political inputs. I doubt that even "independent" commissions are free of political considerations. In Steven Landsburg's brilliant More Sex is Safer Sex, the economist suggests dividing constituencies alphabetically: a congressman or senator for everyone whose last name begins AA through AB, AC through AD, and so on. Theoretically this should disincentivize funding pork barrel projects and encourage politicians to think of the common good. As Landsburg said, it is more difficult to find projects that would predominantly benefit people whose name began with Z than a geographical location with particular industries or workers. I admit that this model has a decided political goal in proposing it.


 
Israel to shut down Al Jazeera
The Jerusalem Post reports that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has instructed Communications Minister Ayoub Kara to shut down the Qatari cable network Al Jazeera. Kara instructed the Government Press Office to revoke Al Jazeera reporters’ press cards and has asked satellite carriers to drop the network. Kara told reporters, "I want to make clear: Our citizens’ security and welfare overcomes freedom of expression in times of terror, period. Freedom of expression is not freedom to incite." The network regularly celebrates terrorist attacks against Israel and vilifies Israeli cabinet members, most notably Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, as Nazis.
The announcement comes as an investigation into corruption allegations heat up and an indictment against his wife seems imminent. Some conspiracy mongers suggest the action against Al Jazeera is a diversion, but this government has little toleration for media that permits incitement against the Jewish state. In recent years the Likud government has pressed Facebook to remove objectionable material. The government is no friend of civil liberties when it faces an existential threat from terrorists within its borders in Judea and Samaria and has a long list of mortal enemies in the Middle East.
Meanwhile a poll finds that Likud would do better under another leader -- but polls had Netanyahu losing the 2015 election. The same poll found that while Gideon Sa'ar is ahead of other contenders for the Likud leadership among the general public, but he is the first choice of less than a quarter of respondents. It's still early and there is no guarantee Netanyahu steps down if indicted. Other Likud leaders have held onto power after facing criminal charges. There need not be another election until 2019 so this is all very premature.


Monday, August 07, 2017
 
The benefits of trade
Donald Boudreaux at Cafe Hayek:
Trade and commerce civilize. Trade and commerce unite people. Trade and commerce break down superstitions by exposing people who hold them to other ideas. Trade and commerce teach and enlighten. Trade and commerce enrich, both materially and ethically. Trade and commerce promote peace. Trade and commerce create society.
Trade is better than "brute strength."


Sunday, August 06, 2017
 
London's Brexit divorce bill counter-offer
The Sunday Telegraph reported:
Britain is prepared to pay up to €40 billion to the EU to settle the so-called Brexit divorce bill, the Sunday Telegraph can reveal Senior Whitehall officials have concluded that such an offer – the first time a precise figure has been proposed – is the only way to break the current deadlock in negotiations.
However, the UK will only agree to pay the €40 billion sum if the EU agrees to negotiate the financial settlement as part of a deal on future relations, including a trade deal. There separate sources in Whitehall and government with knowledge of the UK’s negotiating strategy confirmed the figure, dismissing previous reports that Theresa May would agree to a £50bn bill as “too high”.
The payments would be €10 billion over each of the next three years to cover its obligations for the remainder of the current budget. In June, there was speculation that the EU would demand €100 billion. The Telegraph quotes a Whitehall source who said: "we know [the EU's] position is €60bn, but the actual bottom line is €50bn. Ours is closer to €30bn, but the landing zone is €40bn even if the public and politicians are not all there yet." The Sunday Times reports the payment is contingent on a favourable trade deal. There is no reason that the Brexit bill exceed €40 billion -- its legal obligation -- but I'd bet the final number is something between €45-€48 billion to help pay for some of the infrastructure and program costs associated with trade.


 
Excellent metaphor about media
PJ Media's Michael Walsh in the New York Post:
On one side: the perpetually aggrieved White House press corps, whose members sit atop journalism’s pinnacle and yet are herded like cattle, made to stand behind rope lines and are generally treated with disdain by those they report on. Like fantasy-league baseball players, they’re convinced they can run the country better than the officials they so resentfully cover.
I'm not sure they think they can run the country better as much as their ideas should triumph. But for American journos in general, many want to run government. Canadian journalists want to run campaigns. Thinking about journalists as the political equivalent of fantasy league players is apt.


 
Don't economists have priors?
Donald Boudreaux says "A basic understanding of economics – including of public choice – goes a long way toward preventing someone from committing the common error of mistaking his or her moral fervor for reasoned analysis." For a half dozen examples of how economics should immunize us such confusion, read his Cafe Hayek post.


 
2020 watch (GOP edition)
The New York Times reports:
Senators Tom Cotton and Ben Sasse have already been to Iowa this year, Gov. John Kasich is eyeing a return visit to New Hampshire, and Mike Pence’s schedule is so full of political events that Republicans joke that he is acting more like a second-term vice president hoping to clear the field than a No. 2 sworn in a little over six months ago.
President Trump’s first term is ostensibly just warming up, but luminaries in his own party have begun what amounts to a shadow campaign for 2020 — as if the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue weren’t involved.
The would-be candidates are cultivating some of the party’s most prominent donors, courting conservative interest groups and carefully enhancing their profiles. Mr. Trump has given no indication that he will decline to seek a second term ...
But in interviews with more than 75 Republicans at every level of the party, elected officials, donors and strategists expressed widespread uncertainty about whether Mr. Trump would be on the ballot in 2020 and little doubt that others in the party are engaged in barely veiled contingency planning.
The Times reports that Kasich has hinted he might challenge the President for the nomination if Trump decided to run again.
Ross Douthat tweets:


 
New GOP governor
On Friday West Virginia Governor Jim Justice switched party affiliation from Democrat to Republican. The Charleston Gazette-Mail reported that state Democrats are unhappy the party's establishment let the lifelong Republican run under their party's banner last November. But as the Gazette-Mail's Phil Kabler says, Justice ran on a typically Democratic platform and has feuded with Republicans over the state's budget. It remains to be seen whether Justice becomes a conventional Republican now that he has the R behind his name.
The switch gives the GOP the highest number of governorships it has ever had, and further solidifies the party's state-level advantage. The Los Angeles Times reported:
With Justice’s flip, Republicans now hold 34 governorships, matching the party’s all-time high in 1922. Moreover, Republicans control both the state legislatures and the governors’ mansions in 26 states, compared with total Democratic control in six states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In the other 18 states, power is divided among Republicans and Democrats.
“Having control at the state level is vitally important,” said Nathan L. Gonzales, editor of Inside Elections, a nonpartisan group that handicaps congressional and gubernatorial races nationwide. “Governors and state legislatures have a strong hand in things like redistricting, which have consequences.”
Typically, the party not in the White House picks up governorships and state legislatures in midterms elections and the Times reports that some Republican strategists think President Donald Trump and his high 30s, low 40s approval ratings will be a big drag on Republican governors. The Washington Post's Dan Balz says the midterm gubernatorial races could be an important component of the Democratic rebound:
Democrats plan to make an issue of Trump in the state races. They also hope to see more intraparty turmoil over allegiance to the president in Republican gubernatorial primaries. That was a feature of the Virginia GOP primary earlier this year.
Even if there are favorable conditions for the Democrats, it is difficult to overstate the significance of these 2018 contests for their longer-term implications for the party. Winning more governorships offers at least two potential dividends. First, it could bring new faces to a party desperately in need of a reinvigoration through fresh, younger talent. Second, it could give Democrats more power in the redistricting battles that will take place after the 2020 Census and that will affect the shape of the House for a decade.
“The future of the Democratic Party really is at stake in these gubernatorial elections,” said Elisabeth Pearson, executive director of the Democratic Governors Association.


Saturday, August 05, 2017
 
The PC stamp of approval
PJ Media reported this week:
In June, the film rating non-profit Common Sense Media (CSM) announced it would develop a system to rate films on the basis of whether or not they "defy gender stereotypes" and offer "progressive depictions of gender roles."
"In theory, the system is quite simple: a film will be awarded the organisation's seal of approval if it presents characters that defy gender stereotypes," The Economist reported.
Chelsea Clinton, daughter of former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, thought this was a marvelous idea. "Thank you Common Sense for your work helping parents choose films for our kids with positive gender representations," Clinton tweeted.
Our family often checks a number of websites for warnings about violence, sexual content, and language. Whatever parents can use to determine whether movies are appropriate is fine with me. I just can't help but think the type of parent who really cares about gender stereotypes wouldn't have already seen the online complaints from the permanently aggrieved. Slate, Salon, and increasingly their mainstream media echo chambers are full of stories about how this or that show has some slight, no matter how minor, against this group or that. And this won't stop at progressive depictions of gender.


 
Bananas in New York City
The New York Times has a fascinating article on the distribution of bananas in the Big Apple from boat to bodega. Annie Correal reports the container ships arrive in Brooklyn from South America and then the adventure begins:
Its arrival in Brooklyn was only the beginning for the bananas on board.
Every week, a ship like this one brings 40 container loads of bananas — or about four million — to the Red Hook terminal, a fifth of the 20 million bananas distributed around New York City each week.
When bananas arrive in New York, they begin a second journey, traveling in a large loop around the city. They may be handled by customs officials in Brooklyn, blasted with a ripening gas in New Jersey, haggled over at an enormous produce market in the Bronx and finally taken in an unmarked truck, at night, to a fruit stand near you.
“If you ever saw what it took …,” said Joe Palumbo, the owner of Top Banana, a wholesaler in the Bronx.
So begins Correal's article. Highly recommended.


Friday, August 04, 2017
 
What I'm reading
1. A Nation Changed?: The SNP and Scotland Ten Years On edited by Simon Barrow and Gerry Hassan. And Scotland, the UK and Brexit: A Guide to the Future edited by Gerry Hassan and Russell Gunson.
2. Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?: And Other Questions You Should Have Answers to When You Work in the White House by Alyssa Mastromonaco. I've had this for a couple months and regret putting off reading. Its a brief, delightful book about working at the highest level of politics -- how to get there, what it takes, what one experiences. Best part applies to everyone: having a fuck you account so one is able to suddenly leave a job.
3. Citizen Convicts: Prisoners, Politics and the Vote by Cormac Behan
4. Matters of Life and Death: Public Health Issues in Canada, a collection of columns by André Picard
5. The National Pastime: 2017 Issue: New York, New York: Baseball in the Big Apple edited by Cecilia M. Tan. SABR puts out great books.


 
Sessions in Trump administration
David Leonhardt of the New York Times:
Set aside the barbs from the White House and you realize that [Attorney General Jeff] Sessions is also an ambitious attorney general, waging a wide-ranging campaign to use the Justice Department to achieve a far-right agenda.
His Justice Department has announced that it does not believe federal law protects L.G.B.T. Americans from employment discrimination. He pushed cities to crack down on enforcement of immigration laws. He is preparing to take on affirmative action. He has moved to change federal policy to allow more states to restrict voting rights and more local police departments to operate without oversight. He is pushing for drug crimes to lead to long prison sentences.
These moves have come in a flurry over the past two weeks, the same period in which Trump has so publicly soured on Sessions for not blocking the Russia investigation. And the moves are a reminder of why Sessions is enduring the humiliation: He has a clear ideology, and he is willing to endure some nasty words from President Trump in order to enact it.
The irony, of course, is that Sessions’s ideology is also Trump’s. As Jeffrey Toobin writes in The New Yorker, “no member of the Cabinet has worked more assiduously to advance Trump’s agenda than Sessions.” A recent piece by Vox’s Dara Lind put it this way: “Sessions is the rare Trump appointee more committed to Trumpism than he is to Trump personally.”
You could make a case that Sessions is the most consistent conservative in the Trump administration. As both a former senator (he therefore a number of former colleagues) and long-time principled conservative (he has ideological allies), Sessions has more defenders in the Republican Party than many other Trump appointees. But that's also why he riles Trump's political opponents more than most other members of the administration.
There are reasons limited-government conservatives should look askance at Sessions.


 
2020 watch (Cuomo edition)
I thought Andrew Cuomo was going to run for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination. He didn't. (He was probably threatened by the Hillary Machine.) When he didn't run, I assumed he would be a frontrunner in 2020, a realistic second-tier candidate who would rise and challenge a presumptive septuagenarian frontrunner. His name is often mentioned in regards to 2020. However, he would probably be politically crippled if he lost his bid for re-election in 2018. New York Magazine reports that there are three potential primary opponents he could face:
In 2018, Andrew Cuomo will run for his third term as New York governor. Perhaps he will win or perhaps — in a highly unlikely scenario but a possibility nonetheless — he will be defeated by Miranda from Sex and the City in the Democratic primary. On Thursday, the Wall Street Journal presented three potential candidates to primary Cuomo: Syracuse mayor Stephanie Miner, former state legislator Terry Gipson, and … Cynthia Nixon.
The former “Sex & the City” star is being encouraged to run by liberal groups. Her candidacy has been floated before, but she shot it down in the past. Associates of hers said she is now considering it. She declined to comment.
There is no reason why a former Sex & the City star is any less of a legitimate candidate than a nondescript former state legislator. Earlier this year on The View, Nixon criticized Cuomo on education policy: "a little more like Betsy DeVos than we like to think he is." Them are fighting words. Are they primary fighting words? Maybe. It is difficult to imagine Cuomo losing a Democratic primary, but it means that for the next two years he will be focused on re-election and not the 2020 presidential race.


 
Pareto Principle (Airbnb edition)
I'm often amused at people's reaction to inequality in almost anything, as if the natural outcome would ever be equally distributed. The Metro has a story on draft report prepared by the McGill University School of Urban Planning about Airbnb in Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver:
While Airbnb hosts in the three cities earned $430 million last year, 10 per cent of hosts earned a majority of that revenue, the report said. The top 1 per cent of hosts earned $51.7 million — more than 12 per cent of the total, the report said.
This is predictable if one is familiar with the Pareto principle, which need not always adhere to the 80/20 rule but which does suggest that a small minority of any input will be responsible for a disproportionately large majority of output. Colin Horgan tweets the aforementioned numbers are a problem with Airbnb. It depends what he means by problem and what he is pointing to in particular as the source of that problem. He highlights some of the revenue numbers noted above. But in the paragraph before that The Metro states, "The draft report also said that while a lot of money is being made using Airbnb, the big profits are going to commercial hosts who don’t live on the properties." If Airbnb is being sold as a way for families to earn a little extra income, the report suggests considering total Airbnb revenues might be misleading. If Airbnb is a way for commercial enterprises to skirt municipal bylaws, that's obviously raises regulatory and even playing field concerns. But there is nothing inherently problematic with a small number of hosts bringing a disproportionately large share of the revenue.


 
Rick McGinnis on Jaws
Rick McGinnis writes about the 1970s summer blockbuster in our combined July/August Interim, saying Jaws is really about the humans of Amity than the shark. McGinnis writes:
The resort town of Amity, Long Island and its new chief of police – a refugee from a violently decaying New York City beautifully played by Scheider – have a relationship that’s more tense and potentially catastrophic than any threat posed by a rogue shark.
We’re introduced to Scheider’s Chief Brody when he wakes up apparently hungover – a lot of drinking seems to happen to help folks get through life in Amity – and gets called out to discover the remains of a young woman who was attacked by a shark off the beach. He orders the island’s beaches closed, but gets overridden by Mayor Larry Vaughan, who corners Brody on a car ferry accompanied by the town coroner and newspaper publisher, a triumvirate of establishment interests who want the attack covered up to protect summer business.
When the body count inevitably rises and a boy is killed on a crowded beach a few feet from shore, Brody is the scapegoat. In one of the film’s most powerful scenes, the boy’s mother slaps him and accuses him of keeping the beaches open; it’s a moment more visceral than any shock cut or mechanical shark mauling to come. It takes another bloody shark attack and the realization that their summer is over before the town is finally galvanized into acting, and while Brody forces a trembling Mayor Vaughan to sign the authorization to hire Shaw’s Quint to hunt down the maneater, the mayor shakily admits that his own kids were out in the surf that day; he was, apparently, willing to sacrifice his own family to keep the town open for business.
McGinnis concludes that the movie "encourage[d] us to fear our elected officials and their drinking buddies more than any remorseless three-ton killing machine."


Thursday, August 03, 2017
 
Leaking presidential calls
Writing in The Atlantic, David Frum says that leaking phone calls between world leaders is dangerous:
Leaking the transcript of a presidential call to a foreign leader is unprecedented, shocking, and dangerous. It is vitally important that a president be able to speak confidentially—and perhaps even more important that foreign leaders understand that they can reply in confidence.
Thursday’s leak to The Washington Post of President Trump’s calls with the president of Mexico and the prime minister of Australia will reverberate around the world. No leader will again speak candidly on the phone to Washington, D.C.—at least for the duration of this presidency, and perhaps for longer. If these calls can be leaked, any call can be leaked—and no leader dare say anything to the president of the United States that he or she would not wish to read in the news at home.
Frum says the primary concern is the potential publicizing of sensitive nation-security information. Yet, the harm goes beyond that:
But if no high national-security secret has been betrayed in these transcripts, the workings of the U.S. government have been gravely compromised, and in ways that will be very difficult to repair even after Trump leaves office. Trump’s violation of basic norms of government has driven people who would otherwise uphold those norms unto death to violate them in their turn. Contempt for Trump’s misconduct inspires counter-misconduct.
Nor is that the end. The less Trump can trust the regularly constituted government, the more justified he will feel in working irregularly. His irregular actions then justify more counter-irregularity from the rest of the government.


 
Porn is not harmless
The Daily Mail has a story that borders on moral panic while pointing to a legitimate concern: pornography-addicted men re-enacting violent fantasies they saw on video resulting in the deaths of women and girls. The Mail admits there are no official statistics but reports on six confirmed cases of men who killed females aged five to 31 after viewing violent porn. Six women and girls, most of them in their teens, dying over 14 years in a country as large as the United Kingdom is not statistically significant. But it's not nothing, either. First, these are the known cases. Further, there were certainly injuries and degradations suffered by women who have not come forward to tell police what happened. Indeed, several of the convicted murderers had previous victims. It is frightening how often crime scenes resemble some of the images the pornography-obsessed possessed. This is not to say that porn causes men to commit heinous crimes, although Norman Doidge has found evidence that suggests brains change after viewing pornography and that as a psychiatrist he worked with men whose sexual tastes were altered by what they watched. Clare McGlynn, a law professor at Durham University and a porn expert, told the Mail: "Our attitudes and behaviour are shaped, though not exclusively, by our social environment. Where pornography is part of that environment, it is reasonable to expect it to be one contributing factor to these attitudes." And, it appears, six British women paid with their lives for our living in a social environment in which violent porn is readily accessible.


 
Nanny state (Distracted walking edition)
Hit & Run's Christian Britschgi writes about Honolulu's ban on texting while crossing the street:
The "distracted walking" bill, the nation's first in a major city, bans anyone from "looking in the direction of the screen of a mobile device" while crossing a street. Violators are subject to fines ranging from $15 to $99, depending on the number of offences.


 
2020 watch (Zuckerberg edition)
This might be something.


Wednesday, August 02, 2017
 
2020 watch (Quantity over quality edition)
National Review's Jim Geraghty has a good article on what he expects to be the crowded field of contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020. He pegs the number of elected officials being touted at 18, and then there's the celebrities (Zuckerberg, Winfrey & Cuban). It is unlikely that all them will run although Geraghty is right to note that "a lot of Democrats will conclude that the 2020 race will be the easiest path to the presidency in their lifetime" because a (probably still) unpopular Donald Trump could be seeking re-election. But 12 months ago, Hillary Rodham Clinton thought she was a shoe-in for the White House considering her opponent.
Geraghty lists the potential candidates including the usual septuagenarians (Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren), the newbie senator (Kamala Harris), Barack Obama 2.0 with achievements (Cory Booker), the Clinton machine (Terry McAuliffe), those who have visited Iowa (Amy Klobucher) or polled caucus-goers there (Martin O'Malley), governors who have won red states (Steve Bullock), and the highly ambitious/proper pedigree/name recognition candidate (Andrew Cuomo). There's even Jerry Brown, the 82-year-old California Governor, who is unlikely to run for the Democratic presidential nomination again (he has sought the nomination in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s -- it's too bad he didn't run in the aughts). There are even other versions of John Delaney (Seth Moulton). Being a Congressman with a thin resume doesn't hurt; Barack Obama wasn't in Washington long and had precious few legislative achievements to his name. But he was novel. He would be the first black candidate for a major party's presidential nomination and he had a flair for speaking. He also had a history with remarkably bright political operatives. Who is Delaney's or Moulton's David Axelrod?
Unlike the crowded Republican field of 2016, everyone being mentioned for the Democrats in 2020 are strikingly similar in political ideology. It will come down to resume, personality, and the ultimate question: who can beat Donald Trump? I doubt there will be 20 people who think they have what it takes. But its not difficult to imagine a dozen dipping their toe into the pool. But imagining such a scenario and having it happen are different things. The Democratic Party is much more closed than the GOP. Their superdelegates change the political equation (just ask Bernie Sanders). Their stakeholders (unions and pro-abortion feminist groups) much more influential than their Republican counterparts (the diverse Religious Right never really coalesced around one Republican in 2016). The power of party elders is stronger among Democrats. A few ambitious politicians will be convinced to put their dream on hold, to join the establishment in supporting a favourite son or daughter, and wait their turn. A few Democratic politicians will flirt with running in order to drop out in exchange for future favours; a couple will get in and learn the hard way (poor polling or party heavies putting on the pressure) that they must get out months before Iowa caucus voters gather. Our list a dozen is down to half that size now and voters will have a choice among Cuomo, Booker, maybe Warren, possibly Harris, and a few hangers-on who won't get the message to drop out until Iowa and New Hampshire.
One reason the presumptive field is so large in 2017 is that there is no clear frontrunner. If Biden or Warren were to commit today to running, speculation about others would cease. Political journalists know its probably a horse race, and three years out, its more fun to have more options than focus on two or three frontrunners. It's a long election cycle and journalists and the public would get bored of frontrunner A if he or she was the focus of political reporting for three years.
The field is crowded with possibilities. It is unlikely to be anywhere near as big as the pundits are predicting three years before candidates have decamped to the Hawkeye and Granite states.


Tuesday, August 01, 2017
 
Why conservative Republicans should support Trump
I don't think a blanket endorsement or blind support for President Donald Trump is defensible but conservatives should acknowledge the good things he does. Three are typically offered: Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, the administration's war on unnecessary regulations, and the decline in illegal border crossings from Mexico. (Last week, Cass Sunstein noted that the reversal of Obama-era regulations was overhyped, but nixing some of nascent regulatory ideas is a step in the right direction.)
A fourth reason to be happy with the Trump administration is his appointment of Nikki Haley as the American UN ambassador. Haley has been a refreshing voice at Turtle Bay condemning the Human Rights Council's anti-Israel bias, calling the Venezuelan election a "sham," and opposing more talks about North Korea's missile testing because it signals the UN and international actors' unwillingness to act. Haley has been truthful and tough, precisely what the UN needs. American interests have too often been sacrificed to get along with the status quo club at Turtle Bay, but not under this administration. The White House's refusal to prostrate the US itself to the UN along with Haley's words and deeds at UN headquarters is welcome and overdue.


 
Brexit Britain
Tory MEP Daniel Hannan wrote in the New York Times about how Project Doom has (thus far) been egregiously wrong in its predictions of economic despair:
You may think I’m prone to a confirmation bias of my own. But it’s only fair to contrast what has happened since the Brexit vote with what was predicted during the campaign. Remain campaigners told us to expect a recession in 2016; in fact, Britain grew faster in the six months after the referendum than in the six months before. They told us that the FTSE 100 index of leading companies’ share prices would collapse; in fact, British stocks performed strongly after the Brexit vote. They told us that Scotland would leave Britain; in fact, support for separatism has collapsed, and the Scottish first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has shelved her planned independence referendum.
Most people, whichever way they voted, are celebrating the good news. But a few Euro-fanatics, disproportionately prominent on the BBC and at The Financial Times, are acting like doomsday cultists, constantly postponing the date of their promised apocalypse. First, a Leave vote was supposed to wreck the economy. Then, it became “wait until we begin the disengagement.” Now it’s “wait until you see what a bad deal we get from the European Union.”
Hannan is bullish on a UK-US free trade deal:
[B]oth sides can see the prize. For decades, there have been fitful negotiations between Washington and Brussels on trade liberalization, but they have always run up against the protectionism of France and some southern European states.
Between Britain and America, there are few such problems. Each country is the other’s biggest investor: About a million Americans work for British-owned companies, and a similar number of Britons work for American-owned companies. A liberal trade deal, based on mutual recognition of standards and qualifications, will bolster both economies.
And he's confident the UK can maintain a fruitful relationship with the continent:
If you want a picture of Britain’s future relationship with the European Union, think of Canada’s with the United States. Canadians have a type of federation on their doorstep that they decline to join, but with which they enjoy the closest possible diplomatic, military and economic ties. Two years from now, in a similar vein, the European Union will have lost a bad tenant and gained a good neighbor.