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.
Sunday, March 09, 2014
Kevin Williamson destroys Jon Stewart
Kevin Williamson does a great job describing Jon Stewart, news purveyor to dimwits:
Mr. Stewart is among the lowest forms of intellectual parasite in the political universe, with no particular insights or interesting ideas of his own, reliant upon the very broadest and least clever sort of humor, using ancient editing techniques to make clumsy or silly political statements sound worse than they are and then pantomiming outrage at the results, the lowbrow version of James Joyce giving the hero of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man the unlikely name of Stephen Dedalus and then having other characters in the novel muse upon the unlikelihood of that name. His shtick is a fundamentally cowardly one, playing the sanctimonious vox populi when it suits him, and then beating retreat into “Hey, I’m just a comedian!” when he faces a serious challenge. It is the sort of thing that you can see appealing to bright, politically engaged 17-year-olds.His audience is not made up of bright, politically engaged 17-year-olds. But Mr. Stewart has pulled off a pretty neat trick: He has, as the half-million or so headlines mentioned above indicate, made fake news into real news, and it is not an accident that the verb “destroys” so often follows his name. Mr. Stewart is the leading voice of the half-bright Left because he is a master practitioner of the art of half-bright vitriolic denunciation. His intellectual biography is that of a consummate lightweight — a William and Mary frat boy who majored in psychology, which must have been a disappointment to his father, a professor of physics — and his comedy career has been strictly by-the-numbers, from the early days on the New York City comedy-club scene ...
Putin and the uselessness of the United Nations
Tom Rogan at NRO:
First, Putin invades. He does so by flouting the most basic premise of international law — the inviolability of sovereignty absent threat. He does so with arrogant glee. Then, the U.N. reacts.With condemnation? Nope.With sanctions? Not a chance.With an “appeal” for calm? Bingo!Of course, it’s far from funny. Actually, it’s catastrophic. Because what we’ve witnessed over the last week is a metaphor for what international law has become: something that is revered at dinner parties in the West, roasted at dinner parties in Russia, and referred to subjectively at dinner parties everywhere else. Today, international law isn’t simply ignored by the bad actors around the globe; it’s perverted to their ends.
Saturday, March 08, 2014
1. The Daily Caller: "Patriotism gone wild at CPAC: 8 people who couldn’t control themselves with the red, white and blue."
2. Sports on Earth on camel wrestling.
3. From the Wall Street Journal: "Vodka Goes to Extremes: Neutral no more, vodka is finally expressing itself. A few industry innovators are pushing the boundaries, with surprising (and flavorful) results."
4. Popular Mechanics has a pictorial "A Brief History of Firefighting."
5. Th Mother Nature Network has "7 of the coldest places in the world to live." And from Business Insider: "23 Ridiculously Small Houses For Sale Right Now."
7. From the animal kingdom. There are more fish (by biomass and species) than we thought. National Geographic has photos of a river otter taking on an alligator. Science Daily reports on nature vs. nature: "Deer proliferation disrupts a forest's natural growth."
8. Mental Floss has "10 People Banned from Saturday Night Live."
9. Smithsonian Magazine has photos of Iceland's volcanic rivers.
11. The Atlantic reports that Wikipedia is the number one source of medical information for ... doctors.
12. Even though it will star Joseph Gordon-Levitt, I can't wait for the next Sin City.
The reform that wasn't
The Wall Street Journal reports that Congress passed a farm bill last month with a reform designed to prevent the so-called "heat and eat" loophole where states automatically enroll any beneficiary of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program for food stamps. Some states subsidize individuals for $1 in order to get them the qualify for food stamps. A total of 15 states and Washington D.C., leverage the system this way. The WSJ notes that the minimum energy subsidy had to be increased to $20 to qualify for "heat and eat" and this was trumpeted as reform. The paper reports: "The Congressional Budget Office predicted this change would affect 850,000 households—about 4% of food-stamp beneficiaries—and save $8.6 billion over 10 years." But many states simply increased their token subsidy:
Governor Dannel Malloy last week announced that Connecticut would "expend $1.4 million in available federal energy assistance funding" to raise minimum Liheap payments for 50,000 beneficiaries, or about a quarter of its food-stamp rolls. The increase to a nice round $20.01 from $1 will "preserve approximately $66.6 million" a year in food-stamp benefits. So Connecticut will leverage $1 in additional federal Liheap funds to reap $48 more from Washington for food stamps.Mr. Malloy's neighbor Andrew Cuomo jumped for the free lunch the next day by declaring that New York would "dedicate approximately $6 million in additional federal" heating assistance to maintain $457 million in food-stamp payments.
And Democratic politicians in DC helped facilitate this swindle by increasing funding for heating-assistance programs to states after this particularly cold winter.
Three lessons come from this:
1) Politicians will find ways to continue doling out money.
2) Don't believe a word politicians say.
3) Republicans are also liars, because if they're not, they're incredibly stupid and naive.
Infrastructure over budget and over schedule
Rick McGinnis has an excellent column in Tonight on how and why infrastructure projects inevitably cost more and take longer than originally promised. I say that projects that go over budget and take too long should remain unfinished with the names of bureaucrats, politicians, and the companies responsible erected on billboards so everyone knows who is responsible for them.
Friday, March 07, 2014
Business Insider reports that the U.S. economy added 175,000 mostly private-sector jobs and the unemployment rate still rose from 6.6% to 6.7%.
Steyn on CanCon rules and porn channels
Mark Steyn comments on the CRTC taking three Canadian pornography channels to task not having enough Canadian content:
With Viagra and Cialis, if it lasts more than six hours, you should see your doctor. But, on Canadian TV, if it lasts under eight hours, you'll be seeing the CRTC. Other than that, I don't know how the points system works. Possibly you get points if two of the participants in a three-way are Canadian, or the sex act in question was developed in Canada, perhaps through a grant from the Canada Arts Council. At any rate, the three channels will face disciplinary action for their shortcomings.
'Ezra Levant’s trial echoes a time when Canada’s radical Muslim activists were taken seriously'
If you consider Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant too toxic and right-wing, Jonathan Kay's National Post column on the lawfare/libel suit against Levant is worth reading.
2016 watch (CPAC edition)
Byron York in the Washington Examiner: "Chris Christie avoids hard truths at CPAC."
Guess who has the better chance of winning the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.
Personally, I like Senator Mike Lee: "New generation of ideas from a new generation of leaders."
Get rid of state/local income tax deductions
Jeremy Horpedahl and Harrison Searles of the Mercatus Center argue for eliminating the deduction for state and local incomes taxes and local property taxes from federal income tax. By doing so, it could encourage high-tax jurisdictions to lower spending/cut taxes and would enable Washington to lower tax rates due to the savings from closing this tax expenditure. I've always viewed the deduction as a subsidy for high-tax states like New York and California. Bruce Bartlett agrees:
Economist Bruce Bartlett took a contrary position to Billman and Cunningham, arguing that this deduction is a subsidy to high-tax states from low-tax states, and high-tax states tend to have higher per capita incomes. He also found that, in general, the deduction is associated with higher state and local taxes because the federal government is paying a portion of these taxes, with most estimates suggesting state and local taxes are about 13 to 14 percent higher.
'Obama’s priorities: population control and endangered species'
Me at Soconvivium.
Open labour markets have made European soccer better
Stefan Szymanski in the current IMF journal, Finance & Development, on how EU labour rules made soccer on the continent better:
The World Cup will also create several new millionaire players—players currently working for small clubs in places like Costa Rica, Croatia, Greece, or Japan will earn lucrative contracts with mega clubs such as Bayern Munich and Manchester United on the back of star performances in Brazil. Almost every player’s ambition will be to play at the highest level in Europe.Thanks to fundamental changes in the regulatory regime and other factors, international mobility in Europe’s soccer labor market has increased markedly in the past two decades. Today, the size of the expatriate labor force in European soccer (at more than one-third of the total) far exceeds that in the wider European labor market, where foreigners comprise only 7 percent of the labor force (Besson, Poli, and Ravenel, 2008; European Commission, 2012). This internationalization is a key factor in Europe’s soccer success ...
Deregulation has done much to diversify the European soccer labor market. Sports organizations are private associations and, as such, have considerable latitude to set their rules and regulations free from government interference. However, restrictive employment agreements can fall foul of the legal system, as happened in the landmark “Bosman ruling.”Jean-Marc Bosman was a Belgian player with the Belgian club Liège whose contract had expired; the French team Dunkerque wanted to hire him and he wanted to move. Dunkerque offered to pay a transfer fee for his registration, which, under the rules at the time, still belonged to Liège. Liège considered the offer inadequate, and so Bosman could not move. Bosman sued, and the case went to the European Court of Justice. In 1995 the court ruled that the rules of the transfer system contravened EU laws on the free movement of labor and that rules restricting the number of foreign players also breached the law (European Court of Justice, 1995). This ruling was widely seen as facilitating a big increase in cross-border migration of players.As a result, the transfer regulations were significantly recast in negotiation with the European Commission. Since then, transfer fees are applicable only to players whose contracts have not expired, except for those under the age of 23, to compensate for training. Clubs participating in UEFA competition must field a minimum of eight “homegrown” players—at least four trained by the club itself and another four from the national association. At the time, many experts argued that the Bosman ruling would destroy the transfer market, and with it the economic viability of smaller clubs. Neither forecast proved correct.
Szymanski goes on to say that while soccer is better and the labour market is more efficient, it is still an open question whether the outcome is economically efficient for teams and the sport as a whole and that UEFA's Financial Fair Play regulations on spending (assuming teams don't figure out how to get around them) could hurt the ability of players to play where they want and to reap the rewards due to their labour.
Obama misspells most over-used song in TV & film
ABC News reports:
President Obama has nothing but “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” for the women of soul, even if he accidentally misspelled the title of Aretha Franklin’s signature anthem.In an “oops” moment tonight, the president dropped a letter when paying tribute to the one and only Franklin at the White House concert series event, “In Performance at the White House: Women of Soul.”“When Aretha first told us what R-S-P-E-C-T meant to her, she had no idea it would become a rallying cry for African Americans, and women, and then everyone who felt marginalized because of what they looked like or who they loved. They wanted some respect,” the president said.
If George W. Bush, Dan Quayle, or Ronald Reagan did that, it wouldn't be an "oops moment" but a sign of their idiocy or age.
On this day in Canadian history
On March 7, 1963, members of the FLQ (Front de libération du Québec), a separatist and Marxist terror group operating in Quebec, committed the group's first violent acts, attacking three Canadian Army armories with Molotov cocktails. The FLQ would commit more than 160 terrorist acts from this date through 1970. The eight-year terror campaign resulted in eight deaths, the most famous being British Trade Commissioner James Cross was kidnapped and Quebec Labour Minister Pierre Laporte in 1970 (the so-called October crisis).
Good policy, but politics will prevent it
An Investor's Business Daily editorial says that eliminating the more than 70 welfare programs that exist would easily pay for an increased Earned Income Tax Credit, which should increase the incentives to work (unlike welfare). It is good policy because "the best antidote to poverty is work, not welfare," but it is a radical idea that politicians aren't going to want to touch.
Thursday, March 06, 2014
Liberalism, tolerance and social friction
The Cato Institute's Doug Bandow:
Leaving people largely left alone to manage their own lives should be what a free society is all about. Of course, those who are on the receiving end of social disapproval understandably don’t like the result. But no one has a “right” to be served by any particular person. Forcing someone into servitude is infinitely worse than simply finding someone else to do the job ...
Unfortunately, throughout history newly empowered minorities often learn the wrong lesson. Rather than create barriers to new state injustices, some people use law for their own advantage. Hence state persecution of the New Mexico wedding photographer who felt she could not promote gay ceremonies which she believed to be wrong.
Bandow also says:
Any large, diverse society will find people at frequent odds, believing and behaving differently. In the main, government should leave them alone to find their own way. Especially when most basic freedom of conscience is involved. Tolerance is a cardinal virtue.Indeed, liberty of conscience undergirds all human freedom. Such liberty is inherent to the human person, not a privilege granted by the state. Americans who believe in freedom should respect even unpopular religious beliefs, as in this case.
I'm mostly for live-and-let-live, but I also have no problem with a little social friction, which many progressives and supposed "liberals" seem incapable of tolerating. For them, disagreements must be stamped out, by government coercion of necessary. True tolerance requires not that we eliminate differences, but countenance them and learn to live wit difference of opinions, even judgmental ones.
Minority outreach panel at CPAC is poorly attended
The Brookings Institute's John Hudak reports:
About ten minutes into the panel, I snapped a photo (shown above) of a largely empty ballroom. The lack of attendance for the panel is a huge loss and missed opportunity for participants. CPAC brings together some of the Republican Party’s most passionate, engaged, and eager members. The people who attend the meetings run campaigns, volunteer for issue-based efforts and candidates’ campaigns. They are leadership in an army of grassroots conservatism. The panel of Gillespie, Roe, Sailor and Woodson was there to address a basic question: how do we grow our ranks in areas where we traditionally underperform?
Where are all the people who bleat endlessly about making the GOP a big tent by reaching out to groups that do not vote Republican?
Investor's Business Daily editorializes about the long-term economic goal of environmentalists:
They call it "de-growth," but it would be better described as "insanity." The advocates of this plan want to literally "de-grow" the economy back to what they believe is a "sustainable" level."There's no such thing as sustainable growth, not in a country like the U.S.," Worldwatch senior fellow Erik Assadourian told Sierra Magazine. "We have to de-grow our economy, which is obviously not a popular stance to take in a culture that celebrates growth in all forms."Someone should tell Mr. Assadourian there's a good reason why his stance is not a popular: People don't want to be poor and live shorter, unhealthier lives.
'Women's work opportunities declining in GTA'
Maybe. The Toronto Star reports:
The report, called “Working Women, Working Poor,” was produced by several unions including Unifor and the Canadian Union of Public Employees. Forty-four diverse women were interviewed about their experiences with lay-offs, unemployment or precarious work.“I think the study raises the larger picture of what is happening to Toronto and Ontario’s economy,” said lead author Prabha Khosla.“I see us becoming a low-wage economy. Is that the kind of society we want?”
I don't know if you can come to many meaningful conclusions based on a study of a mere 44 women.
Also, the Star says of the union report: "Women have also been pushed into 'job ghettoes' such as personal support work, which typically pays low wages while offering only part-time or on-call employment." That betrays quite the view of women who enter the care professions such as personal support work.
Furthermore, many of the challenges women are facing according to this report are also being faced by men as the job market changes.
Wednesday, March 05, 2014
Pandering to the middle class is expensive and unsustainable
William Watson in the Ottawa Citizen:
That everybody is middle class is a big problem for policy: To help the whole middle class we’d need foreign aid. Our poor people can lend moral support but not much else. Our rich people simply aren’t numerous or rich enough. According to the latest Statistic Canada data, in 2011 there were 258,465 tax-filers in the infamous top one per cent. To qualify, you needed an income of $207,900. Average income in this group was $441,400. If you taxed the one per cent at 100 per cent — if you simply seized their incomes — that would give you $3,232 for every man, woman and child in the country. For the used-to-be-typical family of four, that’s $13,000, a tidy sum most middle-class families could certainly make use of.
In other words, most of government's redistribution is not robbing from Peter to pay Paul, but robbing from Peter to pay himself. That's idiotic.
Watson also notes that middle class incomes are generally up and that the Tories could "legitimately run on a program of 'you've never had it so good'," although the figures he quotes are total income which includes transfer payments but excludes taxes, so "if most middle-class Canadians don't really think they've never had it so good, maybe taxes are the reason."
So: tax cuts, please.
'Culture and politics'
Riffing on what ProWomanProLife's Andrea Mrozek said after attending the Manning Networking Conference, I very briefly note at Soconvivium that culture and politics are different but not entirely separate spheres.
Thank God for those budget caps Republicans agreed to three months ago
Stephen Moore in Investor's Business Daily:
Barack Obama keeps saying there isn't a government program for every problem in America, but you wouldn't know it from reading his new 2015 federal budget.This nearly $4 trillion document would spend more federal dollars on everything from climate change to green energy to transit systems to welfare state expansion to federal land purchases to day-care subsidies.The spending blueprint is a back-door scheme to bust the budget caps that already were raised just last December.It calls for spending $56 billion above those caps ...
You could make a fair argument that $56 billion in government spending hardly amounts to real money (which in itself could be a problem), but the point is not the spending but the meaningless of the spending caps and agreements between Congress and the White House.
More anti-gun hysteria at schools
Hot Air: "10-year-old who pointed his fingers like a gun suspended from school for three days." Threats of longer suspension or expulsion if he does it again.
Thoughtful article on legalizing marijuana
Jonathan Rauch has a good piece in the Washington Monthly on legalizing cannabis (WM runs a number of articles on the theme this month). Libertarians view legalizing pot as a victory for liberty, but Rauch contends that support for permitting marijuana stems from the public's understanding that the war on drugs has failed and that the tolerance to license for marijuana is limited. He contends that the regulatory regime will be important and that if reckless pot use is shown to increase that support for legalization will probably decline. He also compares legalization to Obamacare, saying there is a right and wrong way to proceed, and the handling of implementation hiccups perhaps being vital to long-term success. Overall, it is a fair examination of the issue.
Tuesday, March 04, 2014
1. I do not necessarily have a problem with the playoff odds put out by Fangraphs, but I have a major problem with their win distribution. For example, I doubt that the Tampa Bay Rays, New York Yankees, and Toronto Blue Jays are so close: 82.9 to 84 wins, and with between 32%-38.4% chance of making the playoffs. I get these are win averages, but if you take the win-loss record of these averages, only one team will win more than 89 games in all of MLB (LA Dodgers with 90.1), and only one team wins less than 71 (Houston Astros with 68.5), and there are some unbelievably close races. By average number of wins, second through fourth in the AL East is separated by 1.1 wins and the AL West's top four teams are separated by three wins. It just isn't going to be that close.
2. Fangraphs illustrates playoff odds as a map with the chances of making the playoffs expressed as the distance from ancient Rome. As Baseball Think Factory said: "Which, admit it, is the mental map most of us conjure up when asked to figure the chances of anything."
3. Sports on Earth's Matthew Kory has an enjoyable column called the "Golden Year," examining the best season to be a fan for each team based on an admittedly arbitrary point system: recent World Series, 100-win season, Hall of Fame players, award winners, playoff appearance, leading in runs and run prevention, among others. You can quibble with the criteria, but it is a fun exercise. There were a lot of good years to be a New York Yankees fan, but can you guess which team had the second best season? Also, there is no way the 1912 Boston Red Sox season was better than the 2004 season (for Sox fans), but there are no points for ending miserably long World Series waits or coming from behind to win a playoff series against a hated rival.
Happy anniversary Online Library of Liberty
Donald Boudreaux: "The indispensable Online Library of Liberty was launched by Liberty Fund ten years ago today." Among the great economists and philosophers you can read for free: Frédéric Bastiat, Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Ludwig von Mises, James M. Buchanan, and Anthony de Jasay, among many, many others. Thank you Liberty Fund for making this incredible resource possible.
Carmaker temporarily stops seeking corporate welfare
The Canadian Press reports: "Chrysler is no longer seeking $700M from the federal and Ontario governments." CP explains:
In January, Chrysler had asked both levels of government for a reported $700 million of funding, as part of a $3.6 billion upgrade to the two plants [in Windsor and Brampton].Although it still owes the province $800 million from the bailout it received during the recession in 2009, it argued that it needed an incentive package that would help it offset higher costs in Canada.But Chrysler said it notified officials this week that it was no longer seeking the money because the projects were being used as a “political football.”
Russia's got gas
The National Post describes the challenge of imposing meaningful sanctions against Russia: Europe is dependent on Russia's energy exports (oil and natural gas).
Daniel Drezner has written about how sanctions are generally not effective but the threat of sanctions can be. The problem, as the information presented by the Post implies, is that Europe's threat of sanctions is not credible.
Technology and the march of progress
Boing Boing notes there is an app to match people who need to urinate during Mardi Gras and available facilities.
2016 watch (Jeb Bush edition)
The Daily Caller reports that former Florida governor Jeb Bush could run into opposition from Tea Party voters in the Republican primary due to his support of the Common Core State Standards, a controvesial and unpopular educational reform. Maybe so, but his support for any policy (education and immigration seem to be particular weaknesses among the Republican base) isn't going to be the issue that prevents him from being the 2016 Republican presidential candidate.
It makes sense for Bush to get ready to run, but my understanding is that his campaign is predicated on most of the frontrunners either skipping the race or running into their own problems. In other words, he is positioning his campaign to be the backup plan. I don't know if that can work. On the other hand, Bushes tend to run and win eight years after the previous Bush left office, so perhaps Jeb Bush's time is now.
Monday, March 03, 2014
A century after WWI, progressives have learned nothing
That is the theme of George Will's column: "Woodrow Wilson's earnestness about improving the world was larger than his appreciation of how the world's complexities can cause improvers to make matters worse."
Politicians using social media
Consultancy Full Duplex has issued its annual report on Canadian politicians and their use of social media. The report comments on how the four party leaders use social media, saying of the Prime Minister, for example, "In the past year, Harper’s usage of social media has evolved to a less official and more relatable tone." The report has statistics on the MPs who tweet most and breakdown their tweets according to original content, retweets, and replies. The doesn't go very far, as it's just 12 pages and graphic-heavy, and mostly confirms what one would already know if one follows many politicians on Twitter. (The report is about "social media" but most of the stats are about Twitter.) What I found most disappointing was it listed four MPs who are "doing it right" but doesn't critique or name those who are not. Seems cowardly.
What year is this?
Roll Call reports, "President Barack Obama’s nomination of Debo P. Adegbile to head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division has unleashed a decades-old racial feud centered on the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal that threatens to cross partisan lines and give credence to Senate Republican worries that more controversial nominees will be confirmed since Democrats eased the process last year." The campus radicals were agitating up here in Canada about Mumia Abu-Jamal back in the early 1990s.
Steyn with Lilley for the full hour
Brian Lilley had Mark Steyn on his show Friday.
Why journalists don't cover public policy
The Hill Times: "Senior Parliament Hill reporters, speaking at the Manning Networking Conference, say it has become increasingly difficult over the last 20 years for journalists and MPs to obtain information about the federal government’s activities and that it’s hurting the public’s understanding of public policy, the perception of Parliament, and the government." So are reporters treating politics like a a game and ignoring because they can't write about public policy? Or is this an excuse because they actually prefer to cover politics as a horse race?
Donald Boudreaux makes an excellent point at Cafe Hayek:
The wise and insightful Alberto Mingardi reflects on the demise of what are widely called independent bookstores. (I actually prefer the term “small bookstores.” Barnes & Noble and Amazon aren’t small, of course, but I believe these companies to be independent in all relevant senses of the term.)