Sobering Thoughts

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

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Tuesday, July 07, 2015
 
Expanding the vocabulary
Normally I'm overjoyed to learn new words. Not today. Via Salon, I discovered "clitorate."
That said, there is good advice in the article:
While you don’t need to be able to recite a detailed, bullet-pointed list of every sexual kink or desire you’ve ever had, you do need to be able to sum up your turn-ons and turn-offs, any no-fly zones or triggers, and to know yourself well enough so you can verbally or physically guide your partner to whatever gets you to cloud nine.
People, communicate.


 
WTF? Libertarians suspend candidate
Jay Currie had a post last week on the Libertarian Party of Canada suspending candidate Lauren Southern:
It turns out that Miss Southern is, or rather was, a Libertarian candidate for Parliament. She was suspended for, and I quote Breitbart which quotes the Libertarian Party leader, the deeply unknown Tim Moen as saying “According to Moen, Southern’s actions had “broken message discipline” and undermined the party’s efforts to “connect hearts and minds to the message of liberty and achieve a tipping point of 10% of the population adopting an unshakable belief in Liberty.”
Now this clown has obviously missed the key rule of politics: people who have 750,000 You-Tube views are connecting to the hearts and minds of which you speak. Miss Southern is willing to take a message to the 3rd Wave Feminists. She’s willing to stand up for the truth. If you needed to know why the Libertarian cause is an electoral disaster Tim’s genius move dumping Miss Southern is pretty much the story.
Southern's sin is telling the Vancouver slut walk there is no rape culture.
Shouldn't the Libertarian Party eschew nixing candidates for their politically incorrect view? Isn't that what libertarianism is about?
Currie concludes his post:
Mr. Moen needs to get over himself. He needs to tell his Party President that Libertarians ignore the two minutes of Twitter hate the feminist SJWs can summon. He needs to tell his Executive that he will sign Miss Southern’s nomination papers and, if he has the wit God gave a rock, he needs to apologize to Miss Southern for being such a gormless pussy.
Mis Southern is destined for great things, Mr. Moen? At the moment, not so much.


 
'Not since the war have Europeans hated each other this much'
Klaus-Peter Willsch, a member of the Bundestag and part Angela Merkel's ruling CDU party, writes in the Daily Telegraph:
The euro bailout is a continued and institutionalised violation of law. And disregarding the no bail-out clause has led to deterioration, rather than improvement, of the situation in Europe. At no time since Second World War the European peoples have been so negative in their assessments of each other as in the last five years, since the beginning of the “rescue measures”.
In the northern Member States, the image of lazy southern Europeans is increasingly pervasive. People in the countries being bailed out, meanwhile, feel as if they are being bossed around. This is completely absurd, since Greece has benefited from unprecedented solidarity from its European partner states.


 
Ontario downgraded by credit agency
The Canadian Press reports:
Standard & Poor's has lowered Ontario's financial rating to A+ from AA-, citing its heavy debt burden and budgetary "underperformance" compared with peers in other jurisdictions.
S&P said Monday that while Ontario continues to beat its fiscal targets and expects to close its operating budget gap by fiscal 2018, it will still have to contend with sizable yearly after-capital deficits given its large net capital spending plans.
This kind of big news is typically buried deep in the paper, but it's important.


 
Road trip!
Amazing Maps: "The shortest driving route through all 48 contiguous US states (Takes 113 hours)." The tweet has the map.


Monday, July 06, 2015
 
Obamacare: boon for health insurance industry
The Washington Examiner's Tim Carney reports:
Aetna and Humana, two insurance giants, announced Friday they plan to merge "in the wake of the federal Affordable Care Act and other changes in the healthcare industry."
Anthem and Cigna, two other insurance giants, renewed their merger talks, in an effort "to be more competitive in a healthcare landscape dramatically altered by the Affordable Care Act and other developments."
And insurers across America "are seeking rate increases of 20 percent to 40 percent or more, saying their new customers under the Affordable Care Act turned out to be sicker than expected," the New York Times reported.
These developments paint an unsurprising picture: more government--in the form of mandates, regulations, and subsidies--is yielding more consolidation, higher prices, and less consumer choice.


 
Japan wants Canada to eliminate B.C. log exports -- and Ottawa should oblige
The Canadian Press: "Canada, Japan at odds over B.C. timber in TPP trade talks, documents show." CP reports on negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership:
Japan is pushing Canada to eliminate or modify the controls it imposes on B.C. log exports — a practice that is heavily restricted by the federal and provincial governments, and which drives up their cost to foreign buyers.
Details of the forestry impasse with Japan are contained in documents from Canada's Foreign Affairs department that are marked "secret" and that have been obtained by The Canadian Press.
Jack Mintz, who retired from the School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary last week, wrote in the Financial Post recently against trade distorting policies such as log export restrictions, noting "The current system has federal and BC governments in cahoots with each other to restrict log exports so that logs are sold to BC wood producers at a discounted price." Mintz explains:
Log exports are restricted by a “surplus test,” which applies in British Columbia and not other provinces (the federal government has a memorandum of understanding with BC). An exporter advertises logs on a bi-weekly notification to give opportunities for log processors to offer a domestic price for the logs. If no offer is made, the logs are determined to be surplus and could be sold to the international market. BC further restricts exports from its land by applying an export tax that is 12 to 16 per cent of the domestic selling price.
Logs are not auctioned off to processors. Instead, a government-appointed committee determines whether an offer is “fair.” This Soviet-type approach to price determination is largely based on historical prices and is advantageous to the processors.
For some forest companies, domestic sales are below cost today – they make money only on exported logs. Chinese landed prices in Vancouver have been twice domestic prices in the past three years. Both federal and BC export restrictions have therefore imposed a large “tax” on value-added that would accrue to workers and owners of BC forestlands.
An argument in favour of restricting log exports is that it subsidizes the forest processing industries and employment. However, Peter Pearse, who headed a Royal Commission on forest industry, argued in 2006 testimony that log export restrictions do not improve economic performance. As he states, “in a predominantly market economy, you cannot get more value out of something by restricting the market for it.”
Mintz notes that a School of Public Policy study by Trevor Tombe found that Wood and paper products have less value-added than the forest and logging industry, thereby harming the Canadian -- and British Columbian -- economy. Mintz is rightfully a fan of using the TPP to rid Canada of log trade restrictions.


 
'Angela Merkel is seriously overrated'
Cap X's Iain Martin descents from the conventional wisdom about the German chancellor:
While I can certainly admire her electoral dexterity and guile, I’m afraid I must dissent from the accepted view, considering the mess that she has made of handling Greece.
More than that, Angela Merkel is a seriously overrated leader and after all those years in power it is extremely difficult to think of anything she has done that explains her exalted reputation. On Greece, she has failed. On the need for European Union reform, she has been all but useless. Her major achievements on the European stage are hard to discern. She has been good at watching Germany win at football, and that is about it.
Later Martin observes, per a recent Der Spiegel profile, "What matters to Merkel, it seems, is that no-one blames Merkel."


 
Next Big Day for Greece
The Financial Times, via Twitter: "The next key date in Greece's crisis is now July 20, when it needs to repay €3.5bn on a bond held by the ECB http://on.ft.com/1NHLQuc "
The thing about every next big deadline is that there are almost always more impending big deadlines, until all-of-a-sudden they disappear.


 
How the NDP wins government
Eric Grenier in the Hill Times on the NDP path to government, which includes 50 seats in Quebec, 20 seats in BC (halfway there), urban seats in Atlantic Canada and Ontario, and growth potential in the west:
But it is in the West where this coalition starts to get more interesting for the New Democrats. The unpopularity of Greg Selinger’s provincial government limits the party’s potential in Manitoba, but new boundaries in Saskatchewan could deliver several seats in Regina and Saskatoon. Rachel Notley’s stunning victory in Alberta opens up a large number of ridings to the NDP in that province, particularly in Edmonton and Lethbridge.
I'm still skeptical.
Winnipeg will be interesting. The NDP and Liberals could battle for the anti-Harper vote and pickups seem likely, but the Selinger-drag and federal Liberal decline make it tough to predict. (That said, will the Liberals do worse under Justin Trudeau than they did under Michael Ignatieff, whose leadership almost certainly kept many Liberals at home?) The NDP might pickup 2-3 seats in the city if they look likely to displace the Tories as government because it could get some former Liberals back in the voting booth. But if the NDP backslides a bit in the polls, Trudeau's shtick might work there and the Liberals win a few more seats in the Manitoba capital. Joyce Bateman won Winnipeg South Centre by less than a 1000 votes over the Liberals (defeating incumbent MP Anita Neville) which probably means a Grit pickup. But Bateman has the advantage of incumbency. Lawrence Toet picked up Elmwood—Transcona from the NDP last time (won by 300 votes) in what is always a close riding. But a Liberal uptick in the city could help Toet keep his seat. Most of the Conservative victories in the city in 2011 were by rather comfortable majorities. That said, Kevin Lamoureux won Winnipeg North over the NDP by a few dozen votes. The most probable NDP pickup in the city is from the Liberals.
In rural Manitoba, Niki Ashton will keep Churchill, but the Tories won the other ridings by at least 15,000 votes except Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette which Robert Sopuck won by almost 11,000. If the NDP win Sopuck's seat, there is probably a national wave that boots out an additional 50 Tories that no one saw losing.
The redrawn map should help the NDP pick up seats but predictions of four new NDP MPs in urban Saskatchewan seem far-fetched -- pen in the NDPers for two (one each in Regina and Saskatoon). Liberals should remember that Ralph Goodale's margin of victory (about 1600) was the second closest in the province. The Tories could actually lose seats in Saskatchewan to the NDP and slightly make up for it by gaining a Liberal seat in Regina. Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River is the rural riding most likely to flip from Conservative to NDP in the entire country (and it'll look impressive on the map because it cover the entire northern half of the province). Rob Clarke won by about 800 votes and the redistributed 2011 votes in the new riding have it closer. It is one of the few ridings where First Nation votes (and turnout) are likely to affect the outcome.
Grenier and others think the NDP is picking up seats in Edmonton and perhaps Lethbridge. Don't see it. In Lethbridge and all but two Edmonton ridings the federal Tory vote comfortably exceeded the combined NDP and Liberal vote; it was equal to the opposition vote in Edmonton Centre and the NDP won Edmonton—Strathcona. Maybe the NDP picks up Edmonton Centre with redistribution, but it seems a longshot.
When you look at the vote totals in the previous election, it is very difficult to find the growth necessary for the NDP to win many new seats between the British Columbia and Ontario borders. With big gains in B.C. and Ontario (at the expense of the Tories), a half dozen seats might make the difference of who forms government ... but will the election actually be that close?


 
Grexit
The Wall Street Journal has an editorial on the Greek referendum, about which the Journal says, " the Greeks were given two bad choices, but they still chose the worst." They editorialize:
It’s true the Greeks were given two bad choices, but they still chose the worst. Europe was offering more money to forestall a crisis in return for pension cuts and other reforms. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras claimed a “no” vote would help him extract better terms—by which he means even higher growth-killing taxes in return for fewer pension cuts. The Greeks chose the Tsipras ultimatum strategy, so they can’t blame the Germans for what comes next.
The big question now is whether German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other Europeans will flinch. Mrs. Merkel has not wanted to be seen as driving Greece from the eurozone, and the referendum means that the Greeks will have driven themselves out, if that’s what happens in the coming weeks.
Tyler Cowen says the choice will be painful with more immediate spending cuts, although Tsipras has hinted he wants more revenues (i.e. higher taxes) to do the heavy lifting of reducing Greece's deficit. His very brief post seems apocalyptic, but Ricardo Hausmann shares Cowen's pessimism: "The Greeks may be as euphoric with this “victory” as Europeans were in the summer of 1914." Hausmann takes on several "progressive" economists (Jeffrey Sachs and Paul Krugman), for their advice, as doe the WSJ:
The world’s leading progressive economists— Joseph Stiglitz, among others—have been cheerleading a “no” vote and claiming that an exit from the eurozone would allow the magic elixir of devaluation to let Greece recover. It’s gracious of them to volunteer the Greeks for this experiment, and they should now accept responsibility for the suffering that poor Greeks in particular will endure on the road to this promised land of the new drachma.
Many of us on the Right will be happy with the political problems facing a spend-happy socialist Greek government and an undemocratic European Union, but there will many people in Greece will see a decline in their standard of living in the near-future, and the economic uncertainty will lead to some losing their savings and while others will be forced to emigrate. Politics aside, there will be human suffering even if the reckoning is warranted.


Sunday, July 05, 2015
 
While everyone is paying attention to Greece ...
The big global economic story might be happening in China. Reuters: "China rolls out emergency measures to prevent stock market crash." Reuters reports:
The government is anxiously awaiting the market opening on Monday to see if the new measures will halt a 30 percent plunge in the last three weeks, or if panicky investors who borrowed heavily to speculate on stocks will continue to sell.
In an extraordinary weekend of policy moves, brokerages and fund managers vowed to buy massive amounts of stocks, helped by China's state-backed margin finance company which in turn would be aided by a direct line of liquidity from the central bank.
China has also orchestrated a halt to new share issues, with dozens of firms scrapping their IPO plans in separate but similarly worded statements over the weekend, in a tactic authorities have used before to support markets.
"After the 28 companies suspended their IPOs, there will be no new IPOs in the near term," the China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC) said in a statement on Sunday night.
Last week's restrictions did nothing to halt China's stock market slide. Reuters reports:
A surprise interest-rate cut by the central bank last week, relaxations in margin trading and other "stability measures" did little to calm investors, who sent shares down another 12% in the last week alone.
Quartz's Matt Phillips says that China's markets are normally volatile, although 2015 is more volatile than usual:
Since June 12, China’s Shanghai Composite and Shenzhen index are down 29% and 33% respectively. That decline comes after a remarkable surge that put those very same indices up more than 60% and 120% at their highest points this year. And despite the sell-off, the Shanghai index remains up 79% over the last year. The Shenzhen is up 89% over the same period.
The Financial Times story on the new measures to rebuild confidence in the market has two noteworthy quotes. Fraser Howie, an expert on China’s capital markets, who is skeptical of the new limits, said: "Almost every one of these measures reeks of panic and is very short-sighted. It’s going to be another crazy week." And, Zhang Ming, an economist at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said there are larger implications than the stock market and IPOs: "If the market doesn’t climb after all these measures, it means investors have lost confidence in the government." Of course, these two quotes could be both correct, with the former (new regulations based on panic) contributing to the latter (lack of confidence in the government).
Meanwhile, according to the South China Morning Post the Hong Kong stock market could get a boost from the mainland's limits on initial public offering.


 
Greece says no
It appears that about six in ten Greeks said no to the bailout conditions. The conventional wisdom is that this means Greece will leave the euro zone, but that is still some way down the road and it will be a difficult (and not straight) road to Grexit. More immediately, the euro is going to decline in value slightly, expect stock markets in Europe to decline, and the European Central Bank will try to quell fears, although what it can do is far from certain. In fact, the ECB is probably the most important player right now. Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, is calling for an emergency summit as soon as Tuesday. As the Wall Street Journal reported, no one in Europe seems to know what to do in the fallout of the no vote.
For most observers, it is difficult to separate one's view of Europe as a political project and the economic consequences. Remember that the euro and European Union are not the same thing, although both will take a reputational hit this week based on the political reaction. Whatever happens not what Tyler Cowen said: "things can go badly under either a yes or no vote." Scott Sumner has eight insta-reactions, the most important being that minor tweaks to the bailout are no longer on the table (presumably because of the size of the vote against) and Grexit is not a foregone conclusion: "Greece may join it’s neighbor to the north Montenegro in being a de facto euro member, but not a de jure member."


 
Fixed election dates
The Canadian Press reports:
The first fixed-date election in Canadian history is just around the corner, but some observers are raising concerns about overspending because of a law they say is flawed.
When the Conservatives introduced a fixed election date nine years ago, political financing rules were not adjusted accordingly, says Elections Canada boss Marc Mayrand.
"We must not be blind," said Mayrand. "As much as it is easier for Elections Canada to plan for the election, it's just as easy for political parties and third parties" to plan their spending before the election.
Those expenses generally go "beyond the rules outlined in the electoral law," he added.
Three points.
1. Whatever the rules are governing elections and campaigns, political parties will try to game them.
2. If political financing outside the writ period is not against the rules, perhaps Maynard should shut the fuck up about it.
3. Does anyone outside the Queensway care about this?


 
Your penis shouldn't have a name
Writing in The Guardian Robert Myers urges men not to name their penis:
Seven out of 10 men, this survey claims, name their penis. We are unreliably informed that 72% of men go for a masculine name for their penis, such as Hercules or Troy, while the remainder opt for a wacky identity such as “Russell the Muscle”. The bravado of any man prepared to risk a joke name for his penis has to be fleetingly admired, but the desperate awfulness of naming it after an ancient warrior has all the predictability of a used-car showroom. Just as Mitsubishi aren’t really selling a hereditary military commander from the days of Japanese feudalism, so your pants don’t contain a divine hero capable of slaying a nine-headed hydra or cleaning out the Augean stables in a limited timeframe.


 
Why is this the UN's business?
CBC: "Canada Without Poverty charity challenges Harper govt. audits at UN in Geneva." The state broadcaster further reports: "Ottawa anti-poverty charity in Geneva this week arguing before UN that political-activity audits are an abuse." This is an issue worth debating but not in front of an international organization. Harriett McLachlan, president of Canada Without Poverty, said the 10% rule limiting charities to spend no more one in ten dollars on political activities has groups such as hers fearful they are stepping over the bounds when they organize protests or petitions in what they call attempts to hold the government accountable. But under Canadian law holding the government to account is not a charitable purpose. If Canada without Poverty wants to take part in those activities they can forego the charitable tax status. There is no human rights abuse in preventing charities from taking part in politics; the group and individuals involved with it can still exercise their political rights, they just can't issue tax receipts if they do.


 
Victimhood
Natalie Solent at Samizdata: "Victim status is a lousy substitute for real status." She says:
What is it like to be the object of this code?
– Lonely. You will feel surrounded by enemies. And all outside your exact caste must be enemies: it is impossible for friendship to develop across the divides of privilege when every mundane interaction that might in other circumstances have led to friendship is fraught with tension. Thus one one of the main benefits claimed to accrue from diversity on campus is lost.
– Exhausting. You will be continually on the defensive, and for all your obligation to be constantly angry, passive and unable to control your own destiny. How could it be otherwise? You have chosen to centre your life on how your enemies perceive you. If black, your constant concern is what whites think of you; if female, what males think of you; whatever category you belong to defines you.
The full post is worth reading.


 
Will finds a kernel of goodness in Roberts Obamacare decision
George Will says that critics, "including this columnist, may have missed a wrinkle in Roberts’s ACA opinion that will serve conservatives’ long-term interests." Will examines Roberts' language in both his dissent in an Arizona redistricting case and the majority opinion of the Affordable Care Act, concluding:
Construing the Constitution in the Arizona case, Roberts said the Framers’ language was as clear as their purpose, to which deference is due. Interpreting the health-care statute, Roberts said Congress’s language was “inartful” but, read in the context of the ACA’s structure, was not ambiguous and should not defeat Congress’s purpose, to which the court owes deference.
Roberts’s ruling advanced a crucial conservative objective, that of clawing back power from the executive branch and independent agencies that increasingly operate essentially free from congressional control and generally obedient to presidents. If conservatives cannot achieve their objectives, including ACA repeal, through the legislative branch, conservatism’s future is too bleak to be much diminished by anything courts do. If, however, conservatives can advance their agenda through Congress, they will benefit from Roberts’s ACA opinion, which buttresses legislative supremacy.


Saturday, July 04, 2015
 
Rauch on Greece
Jonathan Rauch tweets: "Germany (of all countries!) repeats the errors of Versailles."


 
Summer reading
National Review Online has various contributors recommend some books to read this summer.
I recommend Canadians read -- or at least buy -- The Dauphin: The Truth about Justin Trudeau. And tell their friends about it. You can get The Truth about Liberals, a package consisting of The Dauphin, my 2004 book Jean Chretien: A Legacy of Scandal, and Daniel Dickin's Liars: The McGuinty-Wynne Record, for $50.95 including shipping. The Dauphin is also available for Kindle.
And for something completely non-political, two good baseball books: Big Data Baseball: Math, Miracles, and the End of a 20-Year Losing Streak by Travis Sawchik and Strangers in the Bronx: DiMaggio, Mantle, and the Changing of the Yankee Guard by Andrew O'Toole. I hope my summer reading will include Split Season: 1981: Fernandomania, the Bronx Zoo, and the Strike that Saved Baseball by Jeff Katz.
The book I'm most looking forward to reading this summer is Donald Creighton: A Life in History by Donald Wright, my old University of Waterloo history professor. Wright will probably focus on Creighton's political views (decidedly Tory by the end of his life) but Creighton should be remembered for more than his late-life crankiness; he was a beautiful writer and influential political historian.


 
Greece and Puerto Rico
Scott Sumner looks at the similarities between Greece and Puerto Rico, and some important differences (German policy may not hurt Greece as much American policy harms Puerto Rico). Sumner might be under-estimating the harm done to the Greek economy by the austerity imposed upon it from foreign powers, including Germany, but it is nonetheless an interesting post with a provocative title, "Does Germany 'care' about Greece more than America 'cares' about Puerto Rico?" The U.S. federal minimum wage is probably doing serious harm to employment in the island territory than does not compare to any of the deleterious effects of German policy and Greece.


 
Gay marriage vs. religious freedom
William Galston in the Wall Street Journal:
Nor does the court’s decision restrict the right of faith communities to establish their own criteria for membership and leadership, or to discipline and even expel individuals who no longer meet those criteria. Each denomination is free to decide whether those who enter into same-sex marriages are fit to serve as its leaders or to remain as members.
For now. Eventually rights bump up against one another -- the rights of gays versus the rights of religious organizations -- and the courts will decide who wins and who loses? Does anyone really believe that courts will uphold the right of churches to discriminate against homosexual individuals? Not a chance.


 
'The Left makes you show ID for everything -- except voting'
In this Rebel Media video Brian Lilley says the Left loves ID laws on smoking or to buy alcohol, but not to prove one is qualified to vote. Lilley wonders is the double standard due to the fact the Left wants to cheat?


 
Is Alberta in play?
The Canadian Press reports:
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the Alberta NDP win over the Progressive Conservatives could be a sign the New Democrats and the Liberals are poised to challenge Stephen Harper in his home province.
"It may well be that this city is in play for the first time in my lifetime," Nenshi said Friday.
"It doesn't necessarily mean Thomas Mulcair is going to find super fertile ground here, but I think it means Calgarians and Albertans have said we can do different things.
"I think in a number of ridings in Calgary and Edmonton where you've got very strong Liberal or New Democrat candidates there may well be a breakthrough here so we'll see what happens in the fall."
The vote for the NDP is taken as a proof that Albertans will vote for someone other than the Tories. That's one narrative from the provincial election and perhaps not the correct one, but even if it is true provincially it might not be true federally. Another narrative is that the voters punished the provincial Tories because they were arrogant or abandoned their principles (raising taxes, for example) or began to cut spending (holding the line below population growth and inflation). The Harper Conservatives are hardly a forty-year dynasty waiting to be upended, they haven't raises taxes, and they aren't threatening beloved social programs.
The problem with very recent political history is that some people learn the wrong lessons.
I will be surprised if the total number of NDP and Liberals seats in Alberta after the October 19 election is more than three, or either opposition party wins seats in Calgary.


 
Most underrated presidents
The National Interest has the "5 Most Underrated U.S. Presidents of All Time." Robert W. Merry's list is not a bad one. William McKinley is definitely underrated with a case for being in the top ten presidents, and Calvin Coolidge is a favourite of mine. That said, Ulysses S. Grant is probably overrated when he's rated as high as average.


 
Great nerdy joke
On a license plate.


Friday, July 03, 2015
 
Canada might be in recession: who does that help politically?
It's a little crass to reduce a recession and the difficulty it causes for ordinary Canadians to its political consequences, but if Canada is in recession as one economist says -- although others believe we're headed there -- it will be part of the federal campaign headed to October; an economist at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch even predicts the Canadian dollar will fall to 70 cents U.S. by the end of 2015. Pundits will assume that a recession hurts the incumbent Conservatives. I'm not so sure. A little economic anxiety might benefit the Tories because Justin Trudeau doesn't look like a serious adult who can be trusted to manage the economy -- as Abacus Data found earlier this year, Canadians prefer Stephen Harper for economic advice and other money matters even if they prefer Justin Trudeau to pick out a good movie or watch their dog. At the same time voters might not entrust an economy already slowing down to the NDP. If people are hurting -- losing jobs, experiencing declining wages, and, yes, paying more to visit the United States -- the Conservatives will face a political backlash, but (mere) economic anxiety might be to their benefit. But if many voters are feeling the recession personally rather than reading headlines about it, then who benefits? My guess is that the NDP does because Thomas Mulcair is the serious adult with a plan that doesn't look too threatening, especially when compared to the radical Trudeau who has been busy buttressing his left-wing credentials in what he expected to be a campaign for the progressive vote.


 
How to spend the July 4 weekend talking to your family about Obamacare
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has provided talking points about the Affordable Care Act so you can correct the "misinformation" loved ones might have when they are not properly obliging to Obamacare this holiday weekend
Here is the first scenario the HHS imagines:
Situation: Uncle Ted claims Obamacare is a train wreck and has cost jobs.
You say: Uncle Ted, you’ve gotten ahold of some old talking points. With greater access to affordable, quality health insurance, the Affordable Care Act is helping individuals and strengthening our economy!
Since the main components of the law went into effect, we’ve reduced the number of uninsured by 16.4 million, the largest increase in the insured in decades. Before the ACA, the U.S. economy faced rapidly growing health costs that put enormous pressure on businesses and consumers. We paid more than any country without better health results, and millions of Americans were one illness away from bankruptcy. Today, we’ve seen the slowest growth in health costs in half a century, improved patient safety has saved an estimated 50,000 lives and $12 billion, and employer premiums for family coverage grew just 3 percent in 2014, tied with 2010 for the lowest on record back to 1999.
Meanwhile, since the ACA was signed, the private sector has added 12.8 million jobs over 64 straight months of job growth, extending the longest streak on record. The increase in employment over that period is due almost entirely to higher full-time employment. The number of people working part-time who would prefer to be full-time has fallen by 2.6 million from March 2010 through May 2015, including a decline of 1.1 million since December 2013.
Now, would you like more corn?
But might have job-growth been more robust without the ACA? I also find it amusing that anyone would be expected to remember that talking point (including the line accusing Uncle Ted of using "old talking points").
And then there's this:
Situation: Your brother has a great idea for a start-up, but he’s afraid to lose benefits when he leaves his current job.
You say: The Affordable Care Act can help! (Note: The exclamation point denotes enthusiasm about the ACA, not an instruction to scream at your family.)
The "Tips for Talking to Your Family about the Affordable Care Act this Fourth of July" is ludicrous. Would anyone check out the HHS website for Independence Day conversation? Do they need the instruction about the exclamation point. It's all so cheesy. This is American tax dollars at work. It was someone's job to come up with this.
(HT: Hit & Run)


 
I guess this is from those days of non-negative campaigning in 1943
Via David Artemiw on Twitter:


Thursday, July 02, 2015
 
Buyer's remorse
The Calgary Herald reports on a Mainstreet poll which finds, "the Wildrose in the lead with 40 per cent support, ahead of the NDP with 31 per cent, the PC Party with 24 per cent, the Liberals with 3 per cent and the Alberta Party with 2 per cent." However, Premier Rachel Notley's personal popularity is still ahead of the other leaders.


 
American states and cities could be the next Greece
The Daily Caller reports that the city of Chicago is laying off current workers to pay for former workers:
About 1,400 Chicago public school teachers and staff are expected to lose their jobs in order to finance a pension debt of $634 million, the city announced Wednesday.
The layoffs are part of an aggressive $200 million budget cut to help finance the pension payment, which is required of Chicago Public Schools by Illinois law. The rest of the pension payment is coming from heavy borrowing, as the district already has a massive $1.1 billion budget deficit.
Market Watch reports that Moody’s Investors Service has downgraded the Windy City's credit rating to junk status because of Chicago's pension problems (borrowing about a billion dollars to make its June 30 pension payment). The fear, Market Watch reports, is that pension costs "might push these public entities into insolvency, wiping out much of the holdings of municipal-bond investors." Market Watch reports:
Once a sleepy corner of the municipal bond market — often not even properly reflected on cities’ balance sheets — public pensions have recently turned into the biggest headache for taxpayers and municipal-bond investors, threatening to bring down the finances of U.S. cities and states.
In some places, like Puerto Rico, Illinois, New Jersey and Chicago, entire balance sheets of cities or states hang in the balance.
Detroit, as well as three Californian cities — Vallejo, Stockton and San Bernardino — had to declare bankruptcy because of their overwhelming pension costs.
In those cases, the courtroom turned into a brutal battlefield pitting bond investors trying to save the money they invested in those cities’ municipal bonds on one side. And on the other side have been public employees trying to save the dwindling pensions that were promised to them.
Recent cases have shown that bond investors are clearly losing this battle.
Pensions are remaining intact (82%-100%) as bondholders have faced losses of 40%-99%. Many states have laws against significantly reducing pension benefits. It all adds up to a likely financial crisis, probably sooner than later.


 
The cure for a politicized court is not further politicizing the court
George Will writes about the role of the courts and the reaction by some Republicans to the same-sex marriage decision. He especially criticizes Ted Cruz who favours what he calls "judicial retention elections" which he describes as:
Every justice, beginning with the second national election after his or her appointment, will answer to the American people and the states in a retention election every eight years. Those justices deemed unfit for retention by both a majority of the American people as a whole and by majorities of the electorates in at least half of the 50 states will be removed from office and disqualified from future service on the court.
Will says:
It is, therefore, especially disheartening that Cruz, who clerked for Chief Justice William Rehnquist and who is better equipped by education and experience to think clearly about courts, proposes curing what he considers this court’s political behavior by turning the court into a third political branch. Imagine campaigns conducted by justices. What would remain of the court’s prestige and hence its power to stand athwart rampant executives and overbearing congressional majorities?


 
Hollywood Walk of Fame
It's bullshit, of course, and I say that for two reasons. The first is that the celebrities both campaign and have to pay for "installation." Also, the standards seem pretty low; among the two dozen additions this year include Allison Janney, Tracy Morgan, Debra Messing, and Kevin Hart, all of whom seem pretty C-list celebrity. Cyndi Lauper and Itzhak Perlman are just receiving theirs but they'll be joined by Bruno Mars.


 
Candidate for headline of the year
New York Post: "Hulk Hogan can wear his bandana in court for sex-tape trial."


Wednesday, July 01, 2015
 
Police seek to divvy up proceeds of (probably) bogus drug bust: the continuing problem of civil asset forfeiture
The Washington Post reports:
In February 2014, Drug Enforcement Administration task force officers at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport seized $11,000 in cash from 24-year-old college student Charles Clarke. They didn't find any guns, drugs or contraband on him. But, according to an affidavit filled out by one of the agents, the task force officers reasoned that the cash was the proceeds of drug trafficking, because Clarke was traveling on a recently-purchased one-way ticket, he was unable to provide documentation for where the money came from, and his checked baggage had an odor of marijuana. (He was a marijuana smoker.)
Clarke's cash, which says he he spent five years saving up, was seized under civil asset forfeiture, where cops are able to take cash and property from people who are never convicted of -- and in some cases, never even charged with -- a crime. The DEA maintains that asset forfeiture is an important crime-fighting tool: "By attacking the financial infrastructure of drug trafficking organizations world-wide, DEA has disrupted and dismantled major drug trafficking organizations and their supply chains, thereby improving national security and increasing the quality of life for the American public."
The police too often treat drug users as drug dealers, an obvious attempt to inflate charges.
The Post also reports:
Two local agencies were involved in the seizure of Clarke's cash: the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport Police, and the Covington Police Department, which is the home office of the DEA task force officer who detained and spoke with Clarke. But according to the Institute for Justice, a nonprofit civil liberties group now representing Clarke in court, 11 additional law enforcement agencies -- who were not involved in Clarke's case at all -- have also requested a share of Clarke's cash under the federal asset forfeiture program. They include the Kentucky State Police, the Ohio Highway Patrol, and even the Bureau of Criminal Investigations within the Ohio Attorney General's office.
Civil asset forfeiture, critics say, leads to policing for profit. The larger problem is taking away private property without a guilty verdict, or even charge. It has no place in a free society.


 
What I'm reading
1. State, Class, and Bureaucracy: Canadian Unemployment Insurance and Public Policy by Leslie A. Pal. A good book from 1988 on the role of the public service in the development of policy.
2. The Dadly Virtues: Adventures from the Worst Job You'll Ever Love edited by Jonathan V. Last. A review will probably appear in the August edition of The Interim.
3. Scandinavian Unexceptionalism: Culture, Markets, and the Failure of Third-Way Socialism by Dr. Nima Sanandaji and published by the Institute of Economic Affairs and available free online. There is a good summary at CapX.
4. "Fiscal Policy Lessons for Alberta’s New Government from other NDP Governments," a Fraser Institute study.
5. The Summer 2015 edition of the Cato Institute's journal, Regulation.
6. The July/August edition of Foreign Affairs. It's focus is robots.


 
2016 watch (issues edition)
Dan McLaughlin tweets: "I'd give maybe 1 in 4 odds that the #1 issue in the 2016 election will be a foreign policy event that hasn't happened yet." That, and economic anxiety and "change."


 
Primer on Greek crisis
Anil Kashyap, an economist at the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago, has a good primer on the Greek crisis. And Tim Worstall clarifies the issue(s) by correcting an egregiously wrong Heidi Moore's explainer on Grexit.
People should chill a bit with the over-the-top predictions and reactions. Few people know what is happening because the range of possibilities -- actions and reactions -- is very large.


 
Let's keep the state out of the circus troupes of the nation
The Toronto Star: "Canadian government approves Cirque du soleil sale to group headed by U.S. private equity firm." It was okayed because the Industry Ministry deemed the deal an overall economic benefit for Canada. Why the fuck is this government's business?


 
Gay athletes in the pro sports locker room
People who have never played pro sports are always saying homosexual players would never be accepted in the locker room, that it would be a distraction. Scott Baker, a former Major League Baseball catcher, says that a gay pro baseball player would cause initial awkwardness in the clubhouse but would eventually be welcomed. Baker says:
The locker room is a great homogenizer. Players come from all over the globe, united by their ability to throw, catch or hit a ball. Multiple languages are spoken and learned, international friendships are cultivated and perspectives are shifted. For the better part of eight months, we spend most of our waking hours in close quarters.
We make fun of each other. A LOT. We also make fun of things we can’t control: baldness, height, nose size, et cetera ... nothing is off limits because nothing is taken seriously. We say awful things to each other that if said by anyone else would likely result in a fight. You can’t call him that; only we can. Faulty logic? Probably. We don’t care ...
[I]t’s easy to predict how a baseball team would treat a gay teammate: It wouldn’t be perfect, but he would be welcomed.
And eventually the locker room would find humor in the situation. Sexual orientation would finally take its place alongside the other things we have no control over, like nose size or height. The kind of things a team jokes about with each other. You can’t call him that. Only we can.
Full acceptance, though? Ah, yes. That would finally be achieved during a road game, when some dummy in the stands has one too many beers and screams out a homophobic slur. The collective defense mechanism built on the field and in the locker room would engage. Someone other than the player would respond to that idiot.
The long season forces camaraderie.