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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Thursday, August 27, 2015
 
What I'm reading
1. Strength of Conviction by Tom Mulcair. Professional responsibilities require I read such books.
2. Money and Soccer: A Soccernomics Guide: Why Chievo Verona, Unterhaching, and Scunthorpe United Will Never Win the Champions League, Why Manchester City, Roma, and Paris St. Germain Can, and Why Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, and Manchester United Cannot Be Stopped by Stefan Szymanski. Tim Harford had a good column about Szymanski's book earlier this month.
3. The September/October edition of Foreign Affairs. It features essays looking at the legacy of Barack Obama's foreign policy and international influence, and the highlight is probably Diane Coyle's review of Six Capitals.
4. "Community Benefits Agreements," by Andrew Galley and "Anchor Institutions," by Nevena Dragicevic, a pair of new papers from the Mowat Centre.


 
The stock market
I'm on the road this week, but listening to the radio and watching TV news, there is a lot of talk about the "stock market correction." Analysts and journalists should avoid the term in the first days of extreme fluctuations. Sometimes big movements (downwards) are nothing more than a sign of tumult rather than a correction. Just saying.


 
NDP vows to balanced budget despite economic downturn, lower revenues
NDP leader Thomas Mulcair says if he forms government, he will balance the budget. He doesn't say how, vowing a fully costed program before the election, but the Liberals are trying to fill in the blank for voters. Grit MP Chrystia Freeland says, "his only path to a balanced budget so quickly is massive cuts and backing away from the NDP’s spending promises." Or, one presumes, massive tax increases? Does this difference, as perceived by Freeland, put enough space between the two parties to prevent them from working together to prevent a plurality-winning Tory party from governing?


 
Syriza's break-up
The Wall Street Journal reports that 25 members of Syriza's far-left, going under the name of the Left Platform faction and led by former energy minister Panagiotis Lafazanis, that opposed the government agreeing to austerity measures to win a bailout earlier this summer, has formed a new party, Popular Unity. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras had a colourful reaction: 'What makes me sad is the attempt by the inner enemy to become the main enemy." Meanwhile, the so-called Group of 53 (within Syriza), which includes Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos, may not seek re-election. If Tsipras thought the last eight months was tough ...


 
Progress
Donald Boudreaux in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review on how comfortable -- and historically unusual -- middle class life over the past few decades:
First of all, I live during the age of anesthesiology. Just the thought of enduring even minor surgery without the blessing of anesthesia is horrifying. I have never had to suffer that thought. Also, I was tended to by a scientifically trained surgeon. I enjoy a far better chance of being cured than I would have enjoyed even if I were the world's richest man prior to the 20th century.
In my 57 years on this Earth, I've not once suffered the fear of starvation. Prior to the industrial age, not many people outside of the ruling class could have made that boast.
Also, I've always slept under a hard roof in a house with hard floors — which are far superior to the vermin-infested thatched roofs and dirt floors that the vast majority of my and your ancestors were accustomed to.
The column continues with the many blessings that the average person today enjoys that his ancestors a century or so ago did not: convenient land and air travel, literacy, low child-mortality rates, maintaining a full set of teeth, and so on.


Wednesday, August 26, 2015
 
Balanced budgets are not on the agenda after the federal election
Justin Trudeau says he will not scale back spending because the sluggish economy will need Ottawa to prime it. Who believes Justin was going to cut spending? The headline point is that Trudeau is the first (and only leader) to admit that the federal government budget will not be balanced next year. Queue Twitter snark from Tories. Economist Mike Moffat writes in Canadian Business that all leaders should answer questions about how they will deal with revenue shortfalls, and he's right. Again, Twitter-Tories will point to Moffat's role as an economic adviser to Trudeau, but the Ivey Business School professor is correct to point out that Ottawa's fiscal situation is different than when the parties rolled out policy in the Spring (the Conservative budget, the Trudeau economic plan, the NDP's various promises), so perhaps they should explain their priorities, or why they disagree with the assessment that revenues will be lower than previously estimated. Moffat writes:
Of course, we could avoid deficit if the party in power (whichever one it will be) raised taxes or slashed spending. But each of our major parties are promising to move in the opposite direction, promising a combination of tax cuts and new spending. We should demand our party leaders to tell us how far they are willing to go in order to balance the budget, what combination of tax increases and spending cuts they would be willing to make to get us there, and that they consider whether it is even economically sensible to try to balance the books in a time of economic weakness.
Trudeau has only answered the latter (that he does not consider it sensible to balance the books at this time), but won't talk about re-priortizing spending or tax plans. Thomas Mulcair and Stephen Harper have yet to provide any answers to Moffat's serious questions. Harper simply says voters should want him back at 24 Sussex because the country needs his steady hand. The Prime Minister should prove it by acknowledging the economic tumult's effects on a Conservative government's ability to deliver a balanced budget.


 
Fix federal fetal tissue law
Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Scott Gottlieb, an investor and adviser to life science companies, about fetal tissue research and the need for a new law:
Those laws, passed more than two decades ago, were meant to ensure clear separation between the act of abortion and the procurement of tissue for research. The provisions originated from the 1988 “Fetal Tissue Transplantation Panel,” appointed by President Ronald Reagan and charged with deciding in the first instance whether it was appropriate to use fetal tissue for clinical research. The question gained prominence that year after the National Institutes of Health sought to fund a study to test whether implanted fetal tissue could reverse the effects of Parkinson’s disease. These clinical experiments eventually did go forward, and largely failed ...
With a few straightforward changes, the law can be toughened to achieve its original purpose, with little consequence to this research. The aim should be to achieve the objectives set out in 1988 — banning abortion providers from changing the conduct of the procedure as a way to “harvest” fetal tissue or seek reward from its procurement. Congress should also confine the use of fetal tissue to valid science that involves the study of the human body’s function or treatment of human disease.
The PP talking point is that their fetal harvesting is necessary for life-saving research to be achieved, but Gottlieb explains that fetal tissue is sub-optimal and there is little market for such stem cell sources.
Fix and enforce the law so abortionists stop altering their abortion procedures in order to maximize their ability to sell harvested tissue.


 
2016 watch (A real Democratic race is on edition)
President Barack Obama has given his Vice President his blessing to run (and challenge) Hillary Clinton. Should be fun.


 
2016 watch (New Hampshire edition)
A Public Policy Polling survey in the Granite State of GOP supporters finds that Donald Trump has as much support as the next four candidates combined: Trump 35%, John Kasich (11%), Carly Fiorina (10%), Jeb Bush (7%), and Scott Walker (7%).


Tuesday, August 25, 2015
 
What a great season of reading ahead
The first part of 2015 had few must-read books in the subjects about which I am most interested, but this is a fantastic fall for books Canadian politics/history, football, and economics. Some of them have already been released, including a few that weren't scheduled to be on bookstore shelves, or shipped from Amazon, until early September. Here is the list of books on the top of my reading list between now and early November:
Canadian history
Escape from the Staple Trap: Canadian Political Economy after Left Nationalism by Paul Kellogg
Donald Creighton: A Life in History by Donald Wright
The Big Blue Machine: How Tory Campaign Backrooms Changed Canadian Politics Forever by J. Patrick Boyer
Canadian politics
Dalton McGuinty: Making a Difference by Dalton McGuinty
Stephen Harper by John Ibbitson
What Is Government Good At?: A Canadian Answer by Donald J. Savoie
Football
Color of Sundays, The: The Secret Strategy That Built the Steelers Dynasty by Andrew Conte
Cheating Is Encouraged: A Hard-Nosed History of the 1970s Raiders by Mike Siani
Founding 49ers The Dark Days before the Dynasty by Dave Newhouse
Economics
Economics Rules: The Rights and Wrongs of the Dismal Science by Dani Rodrik
Phishing for Phools: The Economics of Manipulation and Deception by George Akerlof and Robert Shiller
Wealth, Poverty and Politics: An International Perspective by Thomas Sowell
Others
A Disgrace to the Profession: The World's Scientists - in their own words - on Michael E Mann, his Hockey Stick and their Damage to Science: Volume One edited by Mark Steyn
Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction by Philip E. Tetlock and Dan Gardner
Pacific: Silicon Chips and Surfboards, Coral Reefs and Atom Bombs, Brutal Dictators, Fading Empires, and the Coming Collision of the World’s Superpowers by Simon Winchester
Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock ‘n’ Roll by Peter Guralnick
The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World by Andrea Wulf
This list doesn't even include books that should be read, but about which I'm not terribly excited: The Changing Voice of the Anti-Abortion Movement: The Rise of "Pro-Woman" Rhetoric in Canada and the United States by Paul Saurette and What's Happened to Politics? by Bob Rae.


 
This is to the Conservatives' advantage
CTV: "Major parties locked in virtual tie." Polls are going to probably say that for a while. I've stated why I don't think the polls are incorrect (Tories still generally do well among older voters, they might not be reaching "new Canadians," and there is reason to doubt the whether the polls accurately represent the voting public). I buy into the idea that Stephen Harper wants to diminish the Liberals to irrelevancy, but the better the Liberals do (up to a ceiling of about 30%), the better the Conservatives do. According to Nanos, the numbers are: Conservatives 30.1%, Liberals 29.9%, NDP 29.1%. These numbers probably mean the Tories get at least 140 seats.


 
2016 watch (George Pataki edition)
The question when it comes to George Pataki's run for the GOP presidential nomination is: why? Gods of the Copybook Headings answers:
Pataki's 1994 upset victory over liberal lion Mario Cuomo had less to do with his own stellar virtues than with a remarkable series of well timed endorsements. US Senator Al D'Amato, recently elected New York mayor Rudy Giuliani and shock-jock Howard Stern all plunked for Pataki. It seems likely that an animosity toward Cuomo - rather than an admiration for the former mayor of Peekskill - was the deciding factor.
Once in power Pataki earned a modest record as a fiscal conservative. Otherwise he drifted steadily to the Left. The New York Times praised his health care reforms. Bloomberg heralded his staunched environmentalism. He is also openly pro-choice. It's not a bad record really. The odd thing is that George Pataki insists on running as a Republican.
Did we mention he was governor during 9/11? I think we did.
In short Pataki is the answer to a question that no one is asking in 2016. Between his leaden humour - the GOP “only has 147 candidates, so I decided to run.” - and his negative charisma field the campaign has encountered a mixture of bewilderment and low grade mirth. Like hearing about the farewell tour of a band you vaguely remember the same thought repeats itself: Why bother?
The official rationale is that the former governor is "electable". This assumes that the electorate of America in 2016 resembles the electorate of New York state in the 1990s.


 
2016 watch (Ted Cruz edition)
Ben Domenech and Allah Pundit think that Ted Cruz is now the GOP front-runner. Allah Pundit explains:
So the three “electable” guys in the race seem unelectable while Trump’s candidacy, which started off looking like a stunt, turns increasingly serious. The expected “Bush vs. Not Bush” campaign appears, for the moment, to be a “Trump vs. Not Trump” contest instead. If you’re in the “Not Trump” camp, who’s left realistically except Ted Cruz? His right-wing competition, i.e. Rick Perry and Bobby Jindal, seems to be going nowhere. He’s raised far more money than anyone expected he would, so he’s likely to be competitive deep into next spring at least. He’s well positioned in Iowa, South Carolina, and the “SEC primary” thanks to his evangelical cred. And as the staunchest conservative in the top tier, he’s a natural draw for righties who dislike Trump because they believe (correctly) that he’s a phony conservative.
Seems plausible, and yet I'm still dubious. Donald Trump may have awakened the silent plurality. But his shtick could be stale by early 2016 when votes get cast. The GOP is still the next-in-line party so Jeb Bush, for all his problems (mostly his surname, but also the distrust of many self-consciously conservative Republican voters), will be in good shape as the race enters the caucus and primary season. And if Trump stumbles, the anti-Bush alternative is Scott Walker.


 
Salad: it's not that good for you
Tamar Haspel in the Washington Post: "Why salad is so overrated." Why? Water. It's not that nutritious:
[O]rganic consultant Charles Benbrook ... and colleague Donald Davis developed a nutrient quality index — a way to rate foods based on how much of 27 nutrients they contain per 100 calories. Four of the five lowest-ranking foods (by serving size) are salad ingredients: cucumbers, radishes, lettuce and celery. (The fifth is eggplant.) ...
Salad fools dieters into making bad choices. Lots of what passes for salad in restaurants is just the same as the rest of the calorie-dense diabolically palatable food that’s making us fat, but with a few lettuce leaves tossed in. Next time you order a salad, engage in a little thought experiment: Picture the salad without the lettuce, cucumber and radish, which are nutritionally and calorically irrelevant. Is it a little pile of croutons and cheese, with a few carrot shavings and lots of ranch dressing?
Call something “salad,” and it immediately acquires what Pierre Chandon calls a “health halo.” Chandon, professor of marketing at INSEAD, an international business school in Fontainebleau, France, says that once people have the idea it’s good for them, they stop paying attention “to its actual nutritional content or, even worse, to its portion size.”
Lettuce is also wasted more than other food and (as part of the general category of "leafy veggie") a leading cause of foodborne illness.
So there is good reason you don't win friends with salad.


 
Wish I still watched wrestling
To see Jon Stewart get body slammed.


Monday, August 24, 2015
 
The Obama revolution
Former senator Phil Gramm in the Wall Street Journal on how President Barack Obama used vague laws to advance his agenda:
Having learned from previous progressive failures, President Obama embarked on a strategy of minimizing controversial details that could doom his legislative efforts. But no factor was more decisive than his unshakable determination not to let Congress, the courts, the Constitution or a failed presidency—as America has traditionally defined it—stand in his way.
Americans have always found progressivism appealing in the abstract, but they have revolted when they saw the details ...
In its major legislative successes, the Obama administration routinely proposed not program details but simply the structure that would be used to determine program details in the future. Unlike the Clinton administration’s ill-fated HillaryCare, which contained a detailed plan to control costs through Regional Healthcare Purchasing Cooperatives and strictly enforced penalties, ObamaCare established an independent payment advisory board to deal with rising costs. The 2009 stimulus package was unencumbered by a projects list like the one provided by the Clinton administration, which doomed the 1993 Clinton stimulus with ice-skating warming huts in Connecticut and alpine slides in Puerto Rico.
The Obama stimulus offered “transparency” in reporting on the projects funded but only after the money had been spent. Similarly the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial law defined almost nothing, including the basis for designating “systemically important financial institutions” that would be subject to onerous regulation, what bank “stress tests” tested, what an acceptable “living will” for a financial institution looked like or what the “Volcker rule” required ...
The Obama transformation was achieved by laws granting unparalleled discretionary power to the executive branch—but where the law gave no discretion Mr. Obama refused to abide by the law. Whether the law mandated action, such as income verification for ObamaCare, or inaction, such as immigration reform without congressional support, Mr. Obama willfully overrode the law.
I don't share Gramm's optimism that because Americans have "yet to buy into the Obama transformation," so they are eager to undo the policies enacted without real debate.


 
Obamacare is leading to the regulation of personal trainers
Most important excerpts from the Washington Post story are at Marginal Revolution. It begins with registration. But the Affordable Care Act will result in much more:
A variety of workplace wellness programs and preventive health-care initiatives called for in the law could soon translate into rivers of billable hours for those with credentials to keep American waistlines in check.
And that means the race is on to be eligible for those credentials.


 
Gunning for Trudeau's seat and the Liberal leader's future
The Globe and Mail reports:
The NDP is putting up a fight to oust Justin Trudeau in his riding of Papineau, buoyed by recent polls showing the party on a strong footing to keep a majority of its seats in Quebec and even make gains elsewhere in the province.
The party has called on self-styled “lefty commentator” Anne Lagacé Dowson to go up against Mr. Trudeau, hoping she can use her media profile to take down the Liberal Leader on his home turf in Montreal.
Mr. Trudeau won his seat by 4,000 votes in 2011, but the New Democrats are hoping that a weakened Bloc Québécois and the Liberal Party’s struggles in appealing to francophone voters in Quebec can lead to a breakthrough.
It was, in fact, closer than that when you take the redistributed results into account (about 3400). Trudeau wasn't leader in 2001 and Michael Ignatieff was a huge drag on the party, so perhaps the Liberals could do better. Before the election was called, I had the NDP at about a 20% chance of winning Papineau, and the NDP have been gaining in the province according to recent polls. It seems unlikely that Trudeau would lose his seat, though. While it would be fun to see Trudeau lose his own riding, won't it be more fun to watch what he does if the Liberals remain the distant third-place party (30-60 seats)? I return to the question I ask here regularly: how many seats do the Liberals have to win for Trudeau to stay? Of course, what the other parties do also matter. (A 140-seat NDP supported by a 50-seat Liberal caucus radically changes the calculations for leadership change -- or does it?) And most important, does the Dauphin want to serve another four years as leader of the irrelevant third-place party. If the NDP get their way, the choice will be made for Justin.


 
Excellent advice which will be ignored
David Frum to Justin Trudeau adviser Gerald Butts: "@gmbutts Kindly intentioned advice: you shouldn’t be on Twitter during an election. Self-indulgent and pointlessly risky. Thank me later." Butt replies: "Thanks for the advice, sir. Delivered in characteristically modest fashion."


 
Former Liberal candidate rightly mocks Harper's mania for tax credits
Adam Stirling tweeted, "There's really no point to getting out of bed in the morning unless government gives you a tax credit for it. Why bother otherwise?" And: "Today, our Government is proud to introduce the You Are Statistically More Likely To Be a Swing Voter We Need Tax Credit." In case you missed the story, if re-elected a Harper government "would make membership fees for [service] groups like the Kiwanis Club and the Royal Canadian Legion eligible for tax credits." Conservatives understand perverse incentives so here are two: this policy could encourage clubs to raise membership fees or for other clubs to change their missions to qualify for the tax credit.


 
'Delicious' food from around the world
Vox has the bullshitty titled "21 snacks that explain our delicious world." Some food sounds interesting or tasty. Other's have interesting stories (which is a totally different thing). And McDonald's banana pies in Brasil sound disgusting, but that's because I loathe bananas.


Sunday, August 23, 2015
 
Justin Trudeau's plan to decrease female employment
Justin Trudeau is proposing a more flexible parental leave:
An option that allows parents to receive their benefits in smaller blocks of time over a period of up to 18 months. For example, a single mother could receive benefits for six months, then return to work for six months while a relative provides child care, then go back on parental leave and receive benefits for another six months.
An option of taking a longer leave – up to 18 months when combined with maternity benefits – at a lower benefit level. This flexibility would also apply for families where two parents split the use of parental benefits.
This plans sounds good -- who doesn't like flexibility? -- but it would sounds like it could increase disruptions in the workplace: six months away, six months backs, six months away or 18 months away. Parental benefits sound great in theory but they are brutal for smaller firms.
Most parental leaves are by mothers, so this plan makes hiring women less attractive. Indeed, it makes hiring young adults who might have children less attractive.
Furthermore, for women on career tracks, repeated disruptions from the workforce are one cause of the wage gap between men and women, because they hurt their place on the seniority ladder and therefore promotions.


 
Top 10 Conservative novels
The Guardian's Kate Macdonald has a list of the "Top 10 conservative novels." The obvious choices are Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited and novels by Dorothy L Sayers and John Buchan. The most "recent" novel is Ian Fleming's Dr. No (1958). Tyler Cowen says, "A strange list, even as such lists go," and "an excessively English selection." But where is the Anthony Trollope? The realism of his Chronicles of Barsetshire make it essentially conservative. My list would consider something by Americans John Dos Passos (Midcentury) is his only good work of fiction after his political conversion, but there is a conservative reading of the U.S.A. Trilogy), Walker Percy (The Thanatos Syndrome or The Moviegoer), Allen Drury (Advise and Consent is an anti-communist masterpiece), Saul Bellow (Mr. Sammler’s Planet is the best of his most political books), and Peter DeVries (pick any satire). There are the southern lady writers Eudora Welty, Willa Cather, and Flannery O'Connor (although their best works are short stories). I haven't read James Gould Cozzens but many of the early National Review authors liked him. You could make the complaint that Tom Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities is relentlessly political, but there are few novels as conservative as Wolfe's 1987 book. Taking a longer view, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Stephen Crane could make the list. Going beyond non-English speaking authors, Fyodor Dostoyevsky is an obvious pick, and Milan Kundera a less obvious one. An English novel (or cycle of novels) that should definitely be on the list is Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time (the greatest work of fiction, period); likewise G.K. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday. These exclusions seem especially odd because Macdonald's parameters seem to be the Tory resistance to change in the first half of the 20th century. That qualification means that Ayn Rand and Robert Heinlein novels wouldn't qualify (they are fiercely libertarian, rather than conservative). Other lists have included George Orwell's 1984 or Animal Farm, or Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, but they weren't conservatives, either.
So my list of top 10 conservative novels by conservative writers in English, by tier:
Top tier: A Dance to the Music of Time (Powell), Brideshead Revisited (Waugh), The Man Who Was Thursday (Chesterton).
Second tier: Mr. Sammler’s Planet (Bellow), The Moviegoer (Percy), almost anything from the Wimsey and Vane canon from Sayers.
Third tier: The Mackerel Plaza (DeVries), The Bonfire of the Vanities (Wolfe), The Optimist's Daughter (Welty), Lindor and Adelaide, a moral tale (Edward Sayer, a 1791 anti-Jacobin novel by Edmund Burke's disciple).
But I could change my mind next week about what is included in the bottom tier other than DeVries or switch out Percy's The Thanatos Syndrome for The Moviegoer.
John Buchan wrote most of his fiction before he was Governor General of Canada. Stephen Leacock wrote short stories and essays, but not novels. Sadly, Canada is not represented on this list.


 
The maple syrup version of OPEC
At Marginal Revolution, Alex Tabarrok points to a New York Times story on the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers cartel, which reports:
When the federation suspects farmers are producing and selling outside the system, it posts guards on their properties. It seeks fines from producers and buyers who do not follow the rule. In the most extreme situations, it seizes production.
According to the Times, Quebec produces 70% of the world's maple syrup.


 
Legalizing pot and public opinion
The media loves to report on how public opinion is against the pot status quo, but they incorrectly lump the pro-legalization and pro-decriminalization crowds together. (I"m not sure how much the average person knows the difference between the two, but that's another matter.) A couple days ago, J.J. McCullough tweeted a important critique of this error:
Press often lumps those who favor legalizing and decriminalizing pot together to make a fake majority. Real majority? Opposes legalization.
And:
Here are the numbers: 35% want legalized, 33% want decriminalized, 15% want status quo, 12% want harsher. That’s 60% *against* legalizing.


Saturday, August 22, 2015
 
Important issues in the Canadian election
Margaret Atwood brings up the issue of Stephen Harper's hair. It is an awful column; she's an awful writer. The big story here is that her column appeared, disappeared, and then reappeared at the National Post website, apparently because someone had to edit it after it was posted. But as Rondi Adamson tweeted: "Fairly certain she is not in a position to mock anyone's hair."


 
2016 watch (Donald Trump edition)
The Cato Institute's David Boaz in the Guardian: "Donald Trump’s Eminent Domain Love Nearly Cost a Widow Her House." Boaz writes:
For more than 30 years Vera Coking lived in a three-story house just off the Boardwalk in Atlantic City. Donald Trump built his 22-story Trump Plaza next door. In the mid-1990s Trump wanted to build a limousine parking lot for the hotel, so he bought several nearby properties. But three owners, including the by then elderly and widowed Ms Coking, refused to sell ...
Trump turned to a government agency — the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA) — to take Coking’s property. CRDA offeredher $250,000 for the property — one-fourth of what another hotel builder had offered her a decade earlier. When she turned that down, the agency went into court to claim her property under eminent domain so that Trump could pave it and put up a parking lot.
Using the power of the state, through eminent doman, to further the business interests of the rich at the expense of regular folks is unconscionable.
Voters need to be told/reminded of this eminent domain story. Often.


 
Housing First
In his Reading this week, David Gratzer summarizes and comments on a new study on Housing First in Toronto, noting:
This is the second Reading in 2015 about Housing First – and no wonder. It’s exciting to watch this important public-policy experiment evolve. It’s also nice to see that so much important work is being done right here in Canada.
Housing First, for the uninitiated, is a program that postulates that people with addiction or mental health problems problems are better served by securing stable housing and then treatment for their addiction or mental health issues, turning on its head the conventional wisdom about solving addiction problems before addressing a patient's housing issues. As Gratzer says, "The main idea? Many problems of the homeless actually stem from the instability of their housing."
Gratzer notes:
At Home/Chez Soi is a Canadian initiative. Funded by the federal government and overseen by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, the project has studied Housing First efforts in five Canadian cities. The original budget was roughly $110 million ...
Is it money well spent? It seems so. The authors of the study state that Housing First-Intensive Case Management in Toronto:
[R]esulted in significant improvements in housing stability, probability of hospitalization, community functioning, and a reduction in number of days experiencing problems due to and money spent on alcohol use in an ethnically diverse sample of homeless individuals with mental illness living in a large urban metropolis.
Gratzer concludes:
It’s difficult not to feel enthusiastic. It seems that Housing First doesn’t just achieve stable housing for people – which is obviously great – but also helps address core issues, like alcohol misuse.
Gratzer wrote about Housing First in March, also. The Globe and Mail had a long story on Housing First in May.
For the first few years, most of the evidence on Housing First's successes in the United States barely rose above anecdotal, with local success stories gaining national fame. There is still scant research, but as Gratzer's reading this week shows, it is growing. I do worry about whether the program can be scaled successfully and am always cautious when any public policy becomes "fashionable," but the early evidence suggests that more communities should be experimenting with Housing First to begin addressing their homelessness, addiction, and mental health issues.


 
Four anniversary of Jack Layton's death
Here's what I wrote four years ago, two days following his death amongst the Laytongasm in the media.
How to think about Jack Layton
Jack Layton would have loved the media orgy going on in the wake of his death. He was a media whore. When journalists go on TV and call him Jack, that's a closeness born of hours chatting it up at every given opportunity, whether in the corridors of City Hall and foyer at Parliament or over drinks after work or at social functions were the paths of journalists and a certain type of politician cross. You cannot imagine a reporter talking about Stephen and probably not even about Bob, but to anyone with a camera or microphone, Jack was Jack. To his credit, Layton's love of the spotlight led to agree to be interviewed by unfriendly media. I was at Our Toronto Free Press in the late 1990s and I interviewed him about some youth who were squatting on private property and whose actions he was defending. I asked him about the condoms that were strewn on the floor of their trailers and tents and which some of the youth were sleeping on. He said it was very important for young people to have access to condoms, just as important as food. I sarcastically asked if the poor, dirty, malnourished teens who were illegally on other people's property could eat condoms or clean up with condoms and he huffed that "condoms are a human right." Such were Layton's priorities just 13 or 14 years ago. It takes a certain worldview to believe that condoms are as important to street youth as food and that they are, in fact, a human right.
The slobbering over Layton by the media was unseemly but not unexpected. The media loves him, as I noted above, because he has taken out the time to spend with them. But they also love his causes: fadish big government, social liberalism, environmentalism, and the host of left-liberal issues that animate the NDP and the left-wing of the Liberal Party. Long before gay rights were popular, Jack Layton was trying to convince the city of Toronto to offer full spousal benefits for gay employees. That was in 1986. And, he said, if the city wasn't going to do it, it should stop offering any spousal benefits. His proposal didn't succeed at first, but he tried again and again and eventually the city was at the vanguard of gay rights.
Campaign Life Coalition has video from the tumultuous days of pro-life rescues in front of the Morgentaler Clinic in Toronto in the 1980s. The footage shows Layton, then a city of Toronto alderman, directing police to make arrests (and the police doing so). At the time, freestanding abortion facilities like Morgentaler's were in contravention of criminal law. A city politician should not be ordering police to make politically motivated arrests and a city politician definitely should not be working with police to defend an outfit like Morgentaler's that was clearly violating the law. The fact that the Supreme Court would later throw out the Criminal Code provisions on abortions does not exonerate Layton's interference in a police matter.
It is mandatory that the obituaries acknowledge Layton's passion and persistence and indeed he had these traits in spades. But it must be noted to what use he put these qualities, namely policies that advanced a left-wing agenda: diminished freedom, the promotion of social envy through progressive taxation and he redistribution of wealth, radical environmentalism that disguises opposition to private enterprise as concern for the planet, support for abortion and other assaults on traditional values. Based on his actions and policies, he hated other people enjoying freedom. As city councilor, there was never a cause he didn't back that didn't diminish the liberty of Torontians, from recycling programs to indoor smoking bans. All that seems perfectly sensible today because Layton and his ilk won the argument but it is folly for us to forget that we, mere citizens, homeowners and entrepreneurs, are less free today because of his actions at City Hall. If the NDP won power in May, all Canadians would be poorer and have less freedom tomorrow. The popular word for Layton's policy preferences is "progressive" but that's just socialism in a nice dress and lipstick -- kinda like Jack's Asian masseuse.
Missing from the obits are any tidbits of criticism. The fact that he and his wife were making city councilor salaries and living in subsidized municipal housing while there were tens of thousands of poor people on waiting lists. The whole Asian massage parlour incident has been buried, even though reporters in Toronto suspect that the events reported by by Sun News in May ("soiled" towel and all) is just the tip of the iceberg of his sexual follies. Christie Blatchord mentioned it, but few others have: Layton was obsessed with politics. Even good stories about him -- how he met his wife and they spent their first Christmas making political signs -- focus on his obsession with politics. It is so damn unseemly. Those who continually seek political office, which is all he did in his adult life, are power-hungry. But you can't say that because he has the "common good" in mind. It is funny how socialist policies are always equated with the common good.
I guess I have to offer the usual lines about Layton's death being a tragedy. Of course it is. As a faithful Catholic I pray for the dead and that their families find some consolation. But just because Layton's death is a personal tragedy for those close to him does not mean we need to paint him as a saint without flaws and we shouldn't flinch from the truth about his political agenda. I guess I should say something nice about Layton so I'll acknowledge this: he did grow up in his time in federal politics, but as a 61-year-old, he certainly should have. But despite his emergence as a credible left-wing leader, we cannot deny his past.
Canadian politics was more lively because of Layton, but his policies were atrocious. Where he successfully implemented them, they do harm. Where he pushed for them, he has changed the political landscape for the worst. Our country is worse off because of politicians like Jack Layton and those traits that are so admirable were put to work for ends that shouldn't be celebrated.
May God have mercy on his soul and may humility and honesty rain upon future discussions of Jack Layton's legacy. Charity is great at times like this, but not at the expense of truth.


 
2016 watch (Bernie Sanders edition)
The Wall Street Journal reports that Bernie Sanders has learned how to deal with pop-star popularity (for politics) with large crowds and fans requesting selfies with Vermont's Socialist senator. He can no longer travel in anonymity. At a time when voters and media are apparently infatuated with Donald Trump's "authentic" approach to politics, Sanders offers the real thing:
A Sanders rally, like the candidate, is atypical. There’s no patriotic or booming rock music to warm up the crowd, no motorcade, and no entourage. He arrives in a single car, and he takes the stage with little fanfare and “thank yous” for local elected officials.
It is difficult for an old man to run for president. His Occupy Wall Street message is both silly and dangerous. And, relatedly, he probably won't get the money to sustain the sort of campaign that he needs to win the Democratic nomination. But he is resonating with a large portion of the Democrat base, and he might pull the party leftward.


 
A campaign is not time to talk about issues
The CBC reports that Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall would like the leaders (and presumably media) to focus more on actual issues, especially the economy:
Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall wants to see federal party leaders focus more on the economy during the federal campaign than on the Mike Duffy trial.
"It's remarkable that we've heard as little as we have," Wall said in an interview airing Saturday on CBC Radio's The House.
Why talk about equalization and pipelines when there is the vital issues of stock photos in ads and Earl Cowan?


Friday, August 21, 2015
 
Because federal politics isn't crazy enough
Bloomberg reports that former Toronto mayor Rob Ford says his brother Doug Ford will run for the federal Conservative Party leadership if Stephen Harper steps down as leader following this election. Of course, Dougie said he would run for the leadership of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives, and then he didn't. Doug is a big talker, although at this point he is limiting himself to not ruling out the possibility of a jump to federal politics. If Doug brings his shit-show to Ottawa -- of which there is less than a 5% chance -- I hope Justin Trudeau does well enough to stick around. Doug Ford vs. Justin Trudeau could be fun.


 
Greece PM resigns, setting stage for political uncertainty (probably)
The Wall Street Journal reports:
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras resigned in a bid to trigger snap elections and return to power stronger, plunging his country into weeks of political paralysis just as it seemed to have scraped through a summer of fraught bailout talks and near-bankruptcy.
Mr. Tsipras’s gambit, announced in a short televised address late on Thursday, is expected to lead to his re-election in September, thanks to his popularity and the absence of strong challengers. But whether elections bolster his grip on Parliament, as he hopes, hinges on his ability to persuade Greeks that the €86 billion ($96 billion) bailout he negotiated with Europe is the only path out of the country’s long crisis.
Greece’s head of state, President Prokopis Pavlopoulos, was expected to accept Mr. Tsipras’s proposal to hold the vote on Sept. 20.
The election will effectively be a referendum on the 41-year-old Mr. Tsipras and his bailout agreement with the rest of the eurozone.
The Daily Telegraph reports:
New elections are likely to be held on September 20, so the country faces at least a month of acute uncertainty.
Under the terms of the bail-out, Athens is expected to carry out further reforms to cut its pension spending and revamp its tax laws in order to remain eligible for more cash in October.
These are hurdles that are unlikely to be met in the absence of a government, and there is a risk that the International Monetary Fund could withdraw from the rescue programme altogether.
So, as often occurs, political uncertainty will lead to further economic uncertainty.
To recap the year in Greek politics: In January Tsipras and his left-wing Syriza party won the general election on a platform of resisting austerity measures being imposed by foreign forces (the eurozone and IMF); in early July, at the urging of the Prime Minister, Greek voters rejected bailout terms that included the sort of austerity measures opposed by Tsipras; later in July the Tsipras government accepted a bailout with more severe austerity measures than he urged his Greek compatriots to oppose in the referendum weeks earlier; in August Tsipras resigns asking Greeks to pass judgement on how he's handled his seven-month ministry. The Financial Times reports that Tsipras has a 61% approval rating and that if an election were held today, his party would win 34% of the vote, which would mean another minority government. One political analyst the FT talked to, however, sees political stability in the near future:
“While the election is disruptive in the short term, the likelihood is that it will result in a coalition that is less dysfunctional than the one we have now, and better able to provide stability in implementing the reform programme,” said Nicolas Véron, senior fellow at Brussels-based think-tank Bruegel. “The current coalition has essentially collapsed anyway.”


 
2016 watch (Joe Biden edition)
The Wall Street Journal has a story titled, "A Joe Biden 2016 Bid May Draw Wayward Voters," but it is overall skeptical of Vice President Joe Biden's ability to get his candidacy off the ground:
“Joe would find that he would have pockets of support that would be enthusiastic,” said Kurt Meyer, who chairs the Democratic Party in three counties in northern Iowa. “But the organization and the fuel—largely money—has kind of already migrated elsewhere. I just think it would be very, very tough.”
David Axelrod, a former top political adviser to President Barack Obama, said Mr. Biden, who has been an “extraordinary partner” to the president, faces “a very big hill to climb. But I get why he is still looking hard at it, and I suspect, at this point, he may play it out for as long as he feels he can to see if the tectonic plates shift.”
What a Biden constituency would be if he runs is the key question, said Michael McKeon, a Chicago-based polling expert and president of McKeon & Associates. “He’s an old party guy. He’s a back slapper,” he said. “It’s a different game” now where social media and alternative forms of communication dominate. “You have to be able to communicate on all kinds of different levels.”
Of course, this only helps, also from the Journal: "Judge Pushes FBI to Look for Any Deleted Clinton Emails." I wish InTrade was still around to check what the wisdom of the crowds, rather than inside-the-beltway pundits thought.