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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Friday, February 12, 2016
 
Top 50 NBA players of all-time
Jack McCallum has compiled (updated) his list of the NBA's 50 best players of all-time. I would have rated Wilt Chamberlain #2 and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar #3 (or #4 behind Bill Russell), but McCallum convinces me there is a strong case for KA-J as the second best player in NBA history. I would have rated John Stockton higher than Isiah Thomas. George Mikan should be in the top 20 (not 24) and there is a case for Jerry Lucas (33) to be in the top 20. Scottie Pippen (23) and David Robinson (28) were both better than Charles Barkley (20). Bill Russell is criminally under-rated at #8, and Magic Johnson is highly over-rated at #4; you could easily switch their places. Is Elgin Baylor being punished (11) for not winning a championship? Shaquille O’Neal is vastly over-rated at 15. How does Dominique Wilkins not make the list? It seems strange that Steve Nash isn't on the list, and I want to make the case for James Worthy and Reggie Miller being top-50 material, but when I rate either of them beside anyone on the actual list, there is no one they are obviously better than. Ditto Pete Maravich, but mostly because his NBA career was too brief. The list seems to skew heavily in favour of players from the last 25 years.


 
Rand Paul and the Republicans
Reason's Jacob Sullum on what Senator Rand Paul brought to the Republican race:
The unifying thread in Paul's differences with his fellow Republicans is his insistence that the party's avowed skepticism of big government be extended to areas where conservatives tend to let Leviathan run free: national security, foreign policy, and criminal justice. Now that Paul has ended his presidential campaign, there is no other Republican candidate to take on that role, so this dangerous tendency is apt to go unchecked.
Unfortunately, not many Republicans in either the House or the Senate seem willing to join Paul in pursuing a more consistently skeptical view of government. His pro-liberty and pro-constitution leadership is desperately needed in the Senate.


 
2016 watch (Rush Limbaugh endorsement edition)
Rush Limbaugh effectively endorsed Senator Ted Cruz yesterday:
If conservatism is your bag, if conservatism is the dominating factor in how you vote, there is no other choice for you in this campaign than Ted Cruz, because you are exactly right: This is the closest in our lifetimes we have ever been to Ronald Reagan.
That seemed pretty obvious all along, but especially since governors Bobby Jindal and Scott Walker dropped out of the race. One notable difference is tone; Cruz is less the happy warrior.
(Via Hot Air)


Thursday, February 11, 2016
 
Trudeau government unlikely to balance budget in 2019/2020. Not that it's really news.
Despite campaign promises to run modest deficits of no more than $10 billion annually for a few years before returning to a balanced budget in 2019/2020 just in time for the next federal election, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told La Presse that with the economy as it is, balancing the budget in four years "will be difficult." That's because the government must spend-spend-spend invest-invest-invest to grow the economy. Did anyone really believe Trudeau when he said last August that he would have modest budget deficits before a return to balance that the deficits wouldn't be larger than $10 billion or that it would take longer than four years to get back to a balanced budget? Today's Liberals believe in Big Government. They believe that spending makes society fairer. They believe that spending is investing in human capital. There was never any way they weren't going to blow past the $10 billion deficit limits or balance the budget in four years. Wasn't going to happen. This isn't the Jean Chretien Liberal Party; it is the Pearson-Trudeau(-Trudeau) Liberal Party. Justin Trudeau talks about economic growth, but the real growth will be in the size of government.


 
When Sanders launched
Back in April 2015, most media coverage of Senator Bernie Sanders announced he was running for the Democratic presidential nomination sounded a lot like Yahoo!'s report, which concluded:
His bid could be viewed as an exercise in futility or vanity by the time the primary is over, but Sanders thinks he can make his voice heard, which is actually the core of his political ethos — that everyone should get that chance.
Considering he won two states with demographics that skew most favourable to Sanders, it's too early to say that the initial reports were fundamentally wrong about the Vermont Socialist's chances, but clearly his candidacy was more serious than many political journalists gave him credit for at the time. The same exercise could be done for Donald Trump.
Lesson #1: campaigns matter. Lesson #2: media should report what is happening, avoid what will/might happen.


 
Why we cheer when communist regimes fall
Who gives a fig about "communism in theory" when the "communism in reality" is so damn brutal.


 
Mark Cuban on stuff
I like Mark Cuban a lot, even when he's wrong. A few thoughts about his random thoughts this week.
1. Cuban is correct to say in politics, "Social Media Influencers are more important than traditional political endorsements." But he is wrong to dismiss the ground game. The fact is most politicians still do not understand the connection between social media and political engagement, especially getting out the vote. Social media is good for soliciting donations, but less good for getting people out to events, including to vote on election day. Eventually the political strategists will know what they are doing, but we aren't there yet.
2. Cuban is correct to say, "SocioCapitalism is and has been Capitalism for Millennials." This has political ramifications but it also has bottom-line ramifications for business. Cuban says, "Today, charitable give aways, or inclusive hiring as part of a product or service purchase is more than just common place," and it is both because many young entrepreneurs want to do it but also because more consumers are expecting it.
3. Continuing wit Cuban's sociocapitalism rant, the Dallas Mavericks owner says, "Millennials EXPECT capitalism to reflect a socialist element." Conservatives like Kevin O'Leary -- a fellow shark with Cuban on Shark Tank, isn't selling capitalism to the kids when he celebrates greed.
4. Cuban says of the presidential candidates, "There has not been a single instance of leadership from any of [them]." This might be harsh, but he is not impressed by the Democratic race to give away stuff and the Republican race about who is most purely conservative. This is a gross over-simplification, but still accurate enough.
5. Cuban complains, "It’s a problem that all the candidates appear to be technologically illiterate." This is, Cuban points out, a knowledge problem, not an age problem. And it's not as much about politics (campaigning) as governing and leading into a future which is dictated to a large degree by the technological changes the candidates do not understand.
6. Cuban says the anger motif is overplayed in political coverage and that this is the real issue: "I think the real problem is the uncertainty that comes with more than half of the country having under 10k in liquid assets and about 35pct having under 1k." I don't think these are mutually exclusive, and the shortage of liquid assets is a problem that politicians are not talking about. The politician who gets this equation will begin looking for, and offering a suite of policies that speak to real people: "If Savings < (Car Insurance Deductible + Health Insurance Deductible + Expected Car Repairs + Transportation Payments + Health Insurance Payments ) = You are in deep shit."
7. Cuban is almost certainly right to say that 10-year plans in either business or politics are not real plans. He is wrong to dismiss them entirely. But politicians do talk about time horizons that ensure they are not held responsible when the inevitable failure farther out in the plan occurs.


 
The Union-Pearson Express is over-priced and under-used
The Union-Pearson Express is the government-owned rail link between downtown Toronto and its suburban airport. It is expensive and not terribly convenient, having just two stops. The private sector wouldn't have made this mistake in the first place and would have moved to correct it quickly if it had. You might be able to make a case for government involvement in mass transit, but government shouldn't be in the specialty transit business. The Globe and Mail editorializes: "Governments find it almost impossible to admit mistakes – Metrolinx is stubbornly pinning the blame on poor signage and low public awareness – but UPX is a case where it is imperative to acknowledge failure and shift to Plan B. A restaurant as empty as UPX would have closed long ago, or shifted from artisanal foie gras to burgers, instead of blaming the patrons who never showed up."


Wednesday, February 10, 2016
 
Suspending campaigns
I find the description of "suspending" a campaign annoying, but as the Washington Examiner explained in December, it takes a while to formally wind down the campaign:
Legally, "suspending" a campaign means nothing to the Federal Election Commission. But eventually a candidate has to formally terminate his campaign with the FEC. Before that, it needs to finish paying staff salaries, wind down any leases and pay off debt.


 
Ottawa's finances
The National Bank Financial Markets report predicts the Liberal government will add $90 billion in debt over its four-year mandate. Part of this is a sluggish economy which will "rob" Ottawa of approximately $50 billion in revenue. Combined with nearly $40 billion in infrastructure spending promised during the campaign and other spending increases, the Bank report expects $90 billion in new debt. One small thing going for Ottawa is that lower interest rates will save the federal government nearly $11 billion over the next four years. The problem with this prediction is that it does not take into account other spending increases the Liberal government could make (a new health accord with the provinces, aboriginal spending, etc...) or be forced to make if unemployment takes a sudden dip. I will be shocked if the Liberals average anything less than $25 billion annual deficits.


 
2016 watch (Chris Christie edition)
New Joisey Governor Chris Christie has "suspended" his campaign for the GOP presidential nomination. He needed more than a participation ribbon in New Hampshire to justify continuing his campaign. Debates don't win nominations or general elections, but Christie was the best debater in combining style and substance and would have scored points against whoever the Democrat presidential candidate is this fall. Probably unmentioned in most of the commentary will be the fact that voters don't want fat candidates; his weight certainly didn't help him. The field is clearing and the moderate conservatives/Establishment choices are being winnowed down. That said, not sure how much difference his 3% national support (according to RCP average of polls) is going to make to Governor John Kasich or Marco Rubio? And that assumes it coalesces behind one leading candidate.


 
New Hampshire
Donald Trump did what he needed: win outright, and by a comfortable margin. As the voice of the angry middle, he can rack up a lot of delegate between now and the end of March with its bulk of states that allot delegates proportionately. He needed the win because winning is his brand. If voters rebuffed him there was a decent chance he would not continue, but the victory guarantees more Trump.
Ted Cruz did what he needed: he finished third and ahead of Marco Rubio. As the voice of the Christian Right and the most conservative of the Republican presidential wannabes, he has a large constituency. That probably isn't enough to win but he'll take his share of delegates in the next month's worth of primaries, and could even head into April with more delegates than Trump. It gets difficult for him after that but the campaign can change, perhaps several times, between now and then.
John Kasich did what he needed but it might not be enough: he finished a strong, decisive second and picked up three delegates. Some might say he can emerge as the Establishment candidate, Henry Olsen would describe him as the potential champion of the "somewhat conservatives" in the Republican. This group usually picks up much of the moderate support, but the moderates are divided themselves this time (see Trump). It is hard to see how Kasich replicates his million town halls approach in the rapid succession of March primaries. But Kasich was done if he did worse, so he won the right to continue campaigning.
Jeb Bush did fourth. His showing was respectable (11.3%, a half percentage point behind Cruz) but it's hard to see where he goes from here. His disapproval numbers are as high as Trump among Republican supporters, he polls poorly in his home state, and Kasich and Rubio have scored the sort of victories that should have solidified his support among a constituency. Getting two delegates with double digit support probably means he goes on, but it's hard to see why.
Marco Rubio probably hurt himself before primary day: The Florida senator finished fifth with almost 11%, just one percentage point behind Cruz who finished third, but after bumbling through the debate he has hurt his brand. It is too soon to know if finishing fifth and garnering negative headlines for the past few days is fatal. The Establishment is looking more closely at Rubio and probably not liking what they see. After unexpectedly finishing third in Iowa and looking strong, he looks weak.
Everyone else has no reason to continue.


 
'Three shocks to the political system'
William Galston of the Brookings Institute describes three shocks to the U.S. political system:
[T]hree important lessons about the condition of our politics already stand out in high relief.
First: Social conservatism is no longer enough to sustain the loyalty of the white working-class voters at the heart of the Republican base. These voters have deeply felt grievances against the economic policies they see as responsible for their declining wages and job security, and the alternatives they favor contradict the preferences of business-oriented mainstream conservatives ...
Second: No matter who ends up with the Democratic nomination, this is no longer Bill Clinton’s Democratic Party, because its center of gravity has shifted to the left ...
Third—and this is the heart of the matter—comes the economy, a subject roiling Democrats no less than Republicans. Mr. Sanders has launched a full-throated attack on Mrs. Clinton’s center-left incrementalism. Nothing less than radical economic change sustained by a political revolution will do, he insists.
I'm not sure any of these are true as much as they are things to keep an eye on.


Tuesday, February 09, 2016
 
2016 watch (Bloomberg edition)
Last night former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg announced nothing we didn't already know: he might run, he might not. He is obviously waiting to see what the Democrats and Republicans are going to do. If the GOP pick Donald Trump or Ted Cruz, Bloomberg is probably in. If the Democrats pick Bernie Sanders, Bloomberg is probably in. If the Democrats appear ready to nominate a Hillary Clinton reeling from the email scandal, Bloomberg is probably in. The New York Sun says that although it disagrees with Bloomberg on about two-thirds of issues, his voice would add to the national debate and that he should stop dithering and get in the race.


Monday, February 08, 2016
 
Immigration and income inequality
Via Marginal Revolution we learn of a forthcoming paper by Rui Xi:
This paper proposes an additional channel through which highly skilled immigrants change the underlying talent distribution and thus raise top income inequality. This channel is supported by the empirical observation that immigrants are increasingly represented among top income earners ... Based on my preliminary calculation, the change in immigration patterns can explain 10 – 15% of the observed rise in top income inequality in the U.S.
Unfortunately, the study is not yet available.


 
2016 watch (Vagina voters edition)
The New York Times reports that feminist Gloria Steinem and former secretary of state Madeleine Albright have "scolded" and "rebuked" young women who are supporting Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton. Albright said the fight for women's rights is not complete and strongly implied that young women who don't support Hillary are going to hell ("there's a special place in hell for women who don't help each other") as if the only way to advance women's rights is by voting for a woman. If it came down to Bernie Sanders versus Carly Fiorina, would Albright insist that young women help the female candidate in that race? Of course not. Steinem said last week that young women are supporting Sanders because that's "where the boys are" although the feminist icon has since apologized for her statement, claiming that her comments were "misinterpreted as implying young women aren't serious in their politics," which is what she was clearly saying. Polls show that in New Hampshire, where Sanders appears to have a huge lead, 64% of women under 45 are backing Sanders compared to 35% who are supporting Clinton. This might have something to do with HRC's foreign policy hawkishness or Sanders' strong support of an expanded state with universal "free" health care and "free" university tuition; polls consistently show women more skeptical of foreign military adventurism and supportive of Big Government. Modern liberalism has set up the state as the caring and caretaking alternative to a husband thus ensuring that the candidate that offers the most government "freebies" to voters will win over young women. Sanders, not Clinton, is that candidate.


 
Because 'why not?'
As Small Dead Animals tweets: "The world is being run by crazy people."


Sunday, February 07, 2016
 
Super Bowl 50
I didn't have the time to watch old games and read as much analysis as I would like in order to put some meaningful thoughts to paper (or keyboard) and come up with a quality Super Bowl analysis or prediction. I suggest you read the long Football Outsiders analysis and the insightful Bill Barnwell piece at ESPN (in the process of writing it, he changed his mind that Denver might win). The Carolina Panthers are 5.5 favourites last I checked and I'd take that because of a propensity to take the foot off the pedal or the fact Denver's defense is excellent which should prevent the Panthers from opening a huge lead in the first place. I'd take Denver simply because the spread is too big, but it is hard to bet against Carolina winning. Football fans are probably over-estimating how dominant the Panthers are based on their destruction of the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Championship game, but that was less about Carolina winning than Arizona losing as they turned the ball over six times (including five interceptions). I'll predict a 23-20 Carolina victory, with near zero confidence. I'm cheering for Denver but that's only because I want to see Peyton Manning go out on top.


 
Should be a good week
It begins with Super Bowl 50, ends next Sunday with the return of The Walking Dead, and has a great middle.


 
Coalition of the awful


 
Will on football
George Will jumps on bandwagon to criticize football for concussions and CTE, concluding: "Are today’s parents, who put crash helmets on tykes before they put the tykes on tricycles, going to allow these children to play football? Not likely." Gregg Easterbrook often says that pro football can afford the lawsuits, but high schools can't, nor will public schools be able to afford the insurance.


Saturday, February 06, 2016
 
The end of Twitter. Not.
Alex Tabarrok says we will soon learn to not only live with, but love the Twitter algorithm:
Think of the algorithm as an administrative assistant that sorts your letters, sending bills to your accountant, throwing out junk mail, and keeping personal letters for your perusal. The assistant also reads half a dozen newspapers before you wake to find the articles he thinks that you will most want to read that morning. Who wouldn’t want such an assistant?
Keep calm and tweet on.


 
Mosquitoes
Samizdata's Perry Metzger says it is "gravely immoral" to not exterminate all mosquitoes. Queue outrage, despite no mention of DDT (until comments) as Metzger focuses on "death trait" genetic engineering. This isn't just about Zika virus: "Few actions could reduce human misery and improve the condition of mankind so greatly as the permanent elimination of mosquitoes and the myriad of diseases they spread throughout the world."


 
2016 watch (Advice for GOP edition)
Possibilities also include Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. And independent candidate Donald Trump.
But probably not Al Gore.


 
Electoral reform
I have a Q&A format article in the February Interim on electoral reform, with a focus on why social conservatives should care about it.