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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Sunday, February 01, 2015
Super Bowl prediction
Bill Barnwell's "Finally, a Definitive Super Bowl Breakdown," at Grantland is incredible. I agree with his full analysis except the outcome of the game.
Aaron Schatz's "Super Bowl XLIX Preview" is comprehensive. Schatz makes a point that Brian Burke makes at Sports on Earth in about 10% of the writing: analyzing these two teams depends on whether you look at the full season or second half. Both were very good in the final eight games, but considering New England's terrible start and loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 4, limiting the data considering to a smaller sample size that might be more representative of their actual game right now, the contest gets a lot closer.
Mike Tanier has a number of Super Bowl articles at Bleacher Report.
My take: I was going to say that typically very good defenses beat very good offenses, but that axiom is not quite true with the New England Patriots under QB Tom Brady, a point made by Schatz in his FO piece. So let's dig a little deeper (but not much). Richard Sherman isn't going to be a big factor considering that the Patriots don't go deep that much. Brady's specialty is short passes and going up the middle. CB Byron Maxwell and LB Kam Chancellor will likely double-team Pats TE Rob Gronkowski and it will be up to CB Jeremy Lane to stop the Pats slot receiver. That won't stop the broadcast team from talking up how Sherman is dictating the game because Brady and Bill Belichick aren't going to risk throwing to him, but throwing deep to WR Brandon LaFell is hardly ever the Pats game plan. When Seattle has the ball, the Pats can crowd the box with safeties who will cheat toward the line in order to stop RB Marshawn Lynch, knowing that cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner should prevent the 'Hawks and QB Russell Wilson from burning them deep. That leaves stopping Wilson from running (three 100+ yard games on the ground for Seattle's QB this year). The game should come down to execution: stop Lynch and prevent Wilson from running for first downs and New England wins. If they can't stop him, especially after contact, Seattle wins. That sort of seems obvious, but it really simply is execution. Belichick and Carroll are not likely to be out-strategized on the field. If New England falls behind early, Brady will need to go to his long passing game which isn't that great any more and invites picks by Sherman. In recent years, New England has avoided turnovers and Seattle's D has been dependent on stealing the ball. If New England can avoid the situations that are more likely to risk turnovers, they should be fine.
New England 20, Seattle 17.

Andrew Sullivan, most influential intellectual
At Vox Tyler Cowen makes the case that Andrew Sullivan has influenced the world, not just minds, more than any other intellectual. Two big shifts in which he played a major role: the acceptance in the U.S. of same-sex marriage and the blogginess of news.
I agree with Five Feet of Fury who doubts that Sullivan, who she calls a "legendary uterus detective, is really quitting blogging. My guess is that retiring is a publicity stunt; has he got as much buzz in the past two years after going behind the paywall as he has in the past week by quitting?

The rich get richer ... and so does nearly everyone else, too
The CBC reports that some economists looking at Stats Can data finds that those who can easily be classified as middle class saw their income increase:
Out of Statistics Canada's five income groupings, the highest-earning 20 per cent of tax filers made an average of $87,800 in after-tax income in 2011, up 2.4 per cent from $85,700 in 2007 ...
In the same period, earners in the third quintile — a segment that could be slotted within the middle class — took in $39,900 in 2011, up 3.9 per cent. Collectively, the three arguably middle class subgroups increased their earnings by an average 3.6 per cent in that four-year period.

Saturday, January 31, 2015
Quotes of the day
Thomas Sowell in The Housing Boom and Bust (via Cafe Hayek): "Few things blind human beings to the actual consequences of what they are doing like a heady feeling of self-righteousness during a crusade to smite the wicked and rescue the downtrodden."
Donald Boudreaux in his review of Jeff Madrick’s Seven Bad Ideas: "Government officials spend other people’s money. So they are less driven than are consumers, entrepreneurs, and investors to spend money prudently."

Norm Macdonald
Blogging will be light for the rest of the weekend. Daughter's birthday, taking #2 son to see Norm Macdonald in Hamilton tonight, and Super Bowl tomorrow. Plus some editing on the Justin Trudeau book. Here's Norm Macdonald on Janice, who disappeared.

Geopolitical quote of the day
Tyler Cowen: "Greece needs some Very Serious People in charge! Right now it doesn’t have them." That's from a post on the new government being against all-inclusive resorts (although it is unlikely to act against them).

Senators and their alma maters
The Washington Examiner has a neat graphic, "Where the Senate went to college, in one fascinating map." The Examiner reports:
Harvard University is the most represented college in the Senate, with eight members. Yale University, Dartmouth University and Brigham Young University all sent four to the Senate. Stanford University, Georgetown University and University of Missouri all sent three, rounding out the most represented colleges list.
67 percent of Republicans went to college in-state, compared to 51 percent of Democrats.
And Rand Paul of Kentucky and John Boozman of Arkansas, both Republicans, are the only two senators without a bachelor’s degree, but hold advanced degrees.
The geographic distribution of Harvard alumni is much greater than that of Brigham Young and Stanford grads.

The Obamaconomy: celebrating under-performance
Investor's Business Daily:
On Friday, the Bureau of Economic Research reported that the last quarter of the year produced another round of mediocre growth — just 2.6%.
That undercut the average economist's forecast by about six basis points and continued a pattern of weak quarters typically following periods of decent growth.
But it didn't stop White House economic adviser Jason Furman from claiming that "today's report affirms the underlying pattern of resurgence in the economy."
And it hasn't dissuaded Obama from extolling the benefits of what he's now calling "middle class economics" ...
If only the Middle Class could pay the bills with the White House's lies, everything would be fine.
How does the Obamaconomy perform compared to Reaganomics?
In the first five years of the Reagan recovery, the economy grew 4.6% a year on average. Under Obama, it's been a paltry 2.2%.
Employment had climbed more than 18% by this point in Reagan's recovery. Under Obama, it's a mere 7.2%.
Looked at another way, the growth gap between Obama's economic policies and Reagan's is now $2.4 trillion in lost GDP and a stunning 14.4 million in lost jobs.
Obama hasn't just underperformed Reagan, he's underperformed every president since the Great Depression.

Magna Carta project
The Magna Carta turns 800 this year. John Robson and Brigitte Pellerin are creating a documentary about it. Please support their Kickstarter campaign to fund it if you cherish our ancient liberties.

Friday, January 30, 2015
A short history of political correctness
Reason's Jesse Walker has a brief history of political correctness which is highly recommended and includes a good working definition of PC as "political posture ... that treats identity politics not just as an ideology but as a trump card, that maintains a rigid orthodoxy while regarding itself as subversive, that uses a series of contrived outrages to feed a bureaucratic machine." In 2006, Walker said there is PC on the Right, but it is not nearly as persuasive (or powerful) as on the Left the difference being (although he doesn't get into this) is that right-wing political correctness is a standard imposed by conservatives on the Right itself while the Left wants to impose its PC on everyone.

Tort reform faster, please
Standish M. Fleming, co-founder and managing member of Forward Ventures, a life-science venture-capital firm in San Diego, writes in the Wall Street Journal: "Too Bad Biotechs Can’t Cure Tort Abuse." Fleming explains:
[S]mall-cap biotech companies, with operating budgets of a few tens of millions, still face on average more than $3 million in legal and accounting costs for an IPO and $2 million or more in annual compliance costs after they go public. On top of this, lawsuits drive legal and insurance costs and rob management time. Every dollar spent on accountants and lawyers is one not spent on research and development and, ultimately, on helping patients.
Executives should be raising capital to fund research, not spending their time on administrative and legal wrangling.

Being offended shouldn't be a thing that anyone cares about
Robby Soave at Hit & Run:
[Vox's Amanda] Taub's definition of political correctness implies that the perpetually offended are "often" correct to feel that way. Fine. Are they justified in having their sensitivity codified and enforced as well? Because that's what has happened on college campuses across the country, where students and professors are not merely chastised for saying the wrong thing, but formally sanctioned. Professors have been fired and students have been suspended for thought-crime and word-crime—for saying something that didn't quite clear the unreasonably high offendedness bar of the modern leftist. This has created a culture of feelings-protection on campuses under which students increasingly feel entitled to emotional comfort; in response, administrators keep introducing rules to give them more of it.
If you say something I don't like, that's my problem not yours. Making a literal case out of it reinforces the juvenile idea that the world universe revolves you as an individual. It doesn't.
We used to use the word self-centered, and as a criticism. People who are perpetually offended are self-centered. They should be labeled as such. And if it offends them, too bad.

FiveThirtyEight: "The Consequences Of No One Picking Up Their Dog’s Poop Are Horrifying." The estimated 600,000 dogs would produce approximately 96 tons of dog crap daily or about a pound for every 350 feet of sidewalk. The problem with the article is the assumption that all dogs shit on pedestrian walkways, but many dogs do their business in parks. Of course people should pick up after their pooches, although studies show that about 4 in 10 dog-owners do not.

2016 watch ((Final) Romney edition)
Mitt Romney has announced he will not run for the GOP presidential nomination. Ross Douthat tweets: "Now I'm almost disappointed."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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