Monday, August 03, 2020

A Cabinet And Other Shuffles

Justin Trudeau was working from Mackenzie King's playbook when he appeared before the Finance Committee last week. The general consensus seems to be that he emerged (relatively) unscathed. But his problems are not over. Finance Minister Bill Morneau has not come through all of this as well as Trudeau has. Susan Delacourt writes that a cabinet shuffle may be in the offing:

A cabinet shuffle is looking increasingly likely too, sooner rather than later. As my colleague Heather Scoffield has written, Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s shelf life may be limited in the wake of WE, given how his involvement with the charity has repeatedly put the government into awkward spots.
The shuffle may have been in the works for a while, but WE has turned it into a potentially disciplinary one as well. That means we are about to head into another few weeks (some say days) of Liberals sitting by their phone, waiting to get the good or bad news about cabinet. By happy coincidence for the PMO, that atmosphere tends to keep MPs in line, which may mute some of the grumbling that has been coming from caucus during the WE saga.

And there will probably be changes coming in the PMO:

There has been talk of [Katie]Telford needing to go — just as principal secretary Gerald Butts departed during the SNC-Lavalin drama of 2019 — but the chief of staff was talking very much in the future tense about her job during Thursday’s testimony, which likely means that she will remain. What may occur, though, is that the PMO will be out looking for some reinforcements to the team, to provide that “extra level of scrutiny” within the office.

There is always the possibility that more information will emerge. But, even if that doesn't happen, Justin will have to make changes. He'll have to shuffle the cards in his deck.

Image: pinterest

Sunday, August 02, 2020

That Will Not Change

Donald Trump lied about the virus. Now he's lying about the economy. Robert Reich writes:

The recovery has been very strong,” Donald Trump said on Monday. Then the commerce department reported the US economy contracted between April and June at the fastest pace in nearly three-quarters of a century, which is as long as economists have been keeping track. The drop wiped out five years of economic growth.
The comeback “won’t take very long”, he reassured Americans on Thursday. But every indicator shows that after a small uptick in June, the US economy is tanking again. Restaurant reservations are down, traffic at retail stores is dwindling, more small businesses are closing, the small rebound in air travel is reversing.
What’s Trump’s plan to revive the economy? The same one he’s been pushing for months: just “reopen” it.
He wants the public to believe the shutdown orders that began in March caused the economy to tank in the first place, so reversing them will bring the economy back.

Decades ago, one New York City official famously said, "I wouldn't believe a word he says -- even if his tongue were notarized." And, if there is one thing that remains consistent about Trump, it's that you can't believe a word he says. Reich continues:

The sequence of cause-and-effect is clear. The virus has surged most in states that were among the first to reopen, such as Florida, South Carolina, Texas and much of the rest of the sun belt.
Because of this resurgence, many states are pausing plans to reopen and some are reimposing restrictions. But these restrictions are not the reason the economy is slowing. They are the necessary consequence of allowing the pandemic to get out of control.
Even the White House’s own coronavirus taskforce concludes that 21 states have outbreaks serious enough to justify more restrictions.

And things are getting worse. Two days ago, the $600 a week payment to unemployed workers ended:

The White House argues that the extra unemployment payments have discouraged workers from seeking jobs because some are receiving more money in benefits than they would earn by working.
“We don’t want to create disincentives to work,” says Trump adviser Larry Kudlow.
More rubbish. A study by Yale economists finds “no evidence” that people who have lost their jobs are choosing to stay unemployed because of the extra federal aid. In fact, “workers facing larger [unemployment] expansions generally appear to be quicker to return to work than others, not slower.”
People can’t go back to work because there is very little work for them to do. Fourteen million more people are unemployed than there are jobs.

Trump has spent his whole life lying.  That will not change.

Image: The New York Times

Saturday, August 01, 2020

The Boss From Hell

Paul Krugman writes that Donald Trump is every worker's nightmare -- the boss from hell:

Such bosses have the reverse Midas touch — everything they handle turns to crud — but they’ll pull out every stop, violate every norm, to stay in that corner office. And they damage, sometimes destroy, the institutions they’re supposed to lead.
Donald Trump is, of course, one of those bosses. Unfortunately, he’s not just a bad business executive. He is, God help us, the president. And the institution he may destroy is the United States of America.

The evidence of Trump's failure is wide and deep:

He rejected the advice of health experts and pushed for a rapid economic reopening, hoping for a boom leading into the election. He ridiculed and belittled measures that would have helped slow the spread of the coronavirus, including wearing face masks and practicing social distancing, turning what should have been common sense into a front in the culture war.

And the result has been a disaster -- both epidemiological and economic.

Over the past week the U.S. death toll from Covid-19 averaged more than 1,000 people a day, compared with just four — four! — per day in Germany. Vice President Mike Pence’s mid-June declaration that “There isn’t a coronavirus ‘second wave’” felt like whistling in the dark even at the time; now it feels like a sick joke.

And that evidence is put into stark contrast when the United States is compared to Germany:

America’s economic contraction in the first half of 2020 was almost identical to the contraction in Germany, despite our far higher death toll. And while life in Germany has in many ways returned to normal, a variety of indicators suggest that after two months of rapid job growth, the U.S. recovery is stalling in the face of a resurgent pandemic.

Still, things keep getting worse:

Because the Trump team insisted that a roaring recovery was coming, and refused to notice that it wasn’t happening, we’ve now stumbled into a completely gratuitous economic crisis.
Thanks to Republican inaction, millions of unemployed workers have seen their last checks from the Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program, which was meant to sustain them through a coronavirus-ravaged economy; the virus is still raging, but their life support has been cut off.
So Trump has completely botched his job, bringing unnecessary pain to millions of Americans and unnecessary death to thousands. 

Donald Trump claimed he was a businessman. But he never had to face a board of directors. It's long past time that The Board -- the citizens of the United States -- fired him.

Image: Productivity Hub

Friday, July 31, 2020

More Like Mackenzie King?

Michael Harris believes that Justin Trudeau has -- in Joni Mitchell's words -- "skated away" down the river:

Rather than skewering the PM with these serious accusations, the finance committee merely gave him a chance to stick pins in the flotation devices bouying this political brouhaha. And stick pins he did.
First, and most important, Trudeau testified that he never spoke to representatives of WE, and only learned of the charity’s involvement in the massive volunteer grant program on May 8. That was the date cabinet received the recommendation from the public service that WE was the only organization able to administer the volunteer grant program.
Trudeau also flatly denied being friends of the charity’s founders, Craig and Marc Kielburger. Trudeau said he never had dinner with them, never socialized with them, and didn’t consider them friends. Just people he knew.
When it came to members of Trudeau’s family, that not-so-grand inquisitor, Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre, tried repeatedly to get the PM to state how much money his mother, brother and wife had been paid by WE.
Trudeau refused, claiming that he did not know the numbers. It was his weakest moment of the day. It is already on the public record that his mother Margaret, his brother Alexandre and his wife Sophie had received more than half a million dollars from WE.
In the case of his mother and brother, the PM noted that both of them were “professionals” in their own right, with a history of being paid for delivering speeches. He didn’t monitor their earnings. In his mother’s case, she had been a champion of removing the stigma from mental illness for years — and written two books about the subject.
So it was natural that she would be sought out by groups like WE to give public speeches on that and other subjects. Besides, the conflict of interest legislation defines “family” as spouse and immediate family — a point even the prickly Poilievre admitted.
But it was Trudeau’s explanation of his wife’s involvement with WE that let the air out of the charge that benefits to his family had affected the government’s choice to select WE to administer the volunteer grant program. When pressed on how much money his wife had received from WE, Trudeau instead pointed out two crucially important things.
The first was that Sophie’s work for WE was unpaid, although she had been reimbursed for expenses. And before that happened, Trudeau testified that his wife’s pro bono work for WE was approved by no less a person than Canada’s ethics commissioner.

Justin claims that Wilfred Laurier is his "second favourite" prime minister. He never mentions William Lyon Mackenzie King. But it appears that he has studied King's career closely.


Thursday, July 30, 2020

Lewis' Last Words

In an earlier post, I expressed my admiration for John Lewis. Today, The New York Times published his last address to his nation, written a couple of days before he died. It will be read and re-read in future decades. Lewis wrote:

While my time here has now come to an end, I want you to know that in the last days and hours of my life you inspired me. You filled me with hope about the next chapter of the great American story when you used your power to make a difference in our society. Millions of people motivated simply by human compassion laid down the burdens of division. Around the country and the world you set aside race, class, age, language and nationality to demand respect for human dignity.

Lewis reminded his readers that he was familiar with state-sanctioned violence:

Though I was surrounded by two loving parents, plenty of brothers, sisters and cousins, their love could not protect me from the unholy oppression waiting just outside that family circle. Unchecked, unrestrained violence and government-sanctioned terror had the power to turn a simple stroll to the store for some Skittles or an innocent morning jog down a lonesome country road into a nightmare.

His response to that violence was inspired by Martin Luther King:

I heard the voice of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on an old radio. He was talking about the philosophy and discipline of nonviolence. He said we are all complicit when we tolerate injustice. He said it is not enough to say it will get better by and by. He said each of us has a moral obligation to stand up, speak up and speak out. When you see something that is not right, you must say something. You must do something. Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself.

King is remembered for a simple declarative sentence, "I have a dream." Years from now, Lewis will also be remembered for two straightforward assertive sentences: "Democracy is not a state. It is an act."

As I have written before: May he rest in peace.


Wednesday, July 29, 2020

The Collective Power Of Science

Jacob Berkowitz writes that, when most of us graduate from school, we have a pretty fuzzy idea of what science is:

Most of us leave high school, and any study of science, with a fundamentally skewed vision of science’s nature. We tend to think of science as a noun, as facts in textbooks, but not also as a verb, as the doing of research. This is a crucial difference.

But it's wise to consider the etymology of the word:

The word “science” comes from a Latin root for “to know.” Yet on the way to knowing, science is ultimately about the right, responsibility and challenge of living with doubt. As Albert Einstein quipped, “If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research.”
The reason we call the period in Europe around 1600 the Scientific Revolution is exactly because it was an intellectual rebellion against the primacy of received knowledge from the church or the ancient Greek and Roman philosophers such as Aristotle. The first scientists, such as Galileo, were fundamentally heretics (from the Greek, “to choose”) because they asserted that the nature of reality could be perceived by individuals in the present through careful experimentation and observation.

In recent years, there's been an effort to turn knowledge into dogma -- and effort which is fundamentally unscientific. People fear uncertainty. And they fear the notion that our knowledge is incomplete. So when scientists change their advice on wearing masks they are called untrustworthy. All they are doing is what scientists have always done -- working collectively:

What gives science its power as a way of knowing is that it’s collective knowing – it’s the facts that we can collectively agree on through repeated experimentation and observation. It’s why Britain’s Royal Society (the world’s oldest science club) has the motto Nullius in verba, Latin for “take nobody’s word for it.” This isn’t about being bull-headed and arrogant, it’s because scientists know that while the truth is out there, it is more often than not incredibly difficult to figure out.

This is not a  time for simple answers. But it is a time to pay attention to collectively gathered evidence -- and to act accordingly.

Image: Google Sites

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Scoring On His Own Goal

Justin Trudeau has a talent for shooting himself in the foot. Back in 2017, the two people who are at the centre of Trudeau's problems now were also front and centre then. Susan Delacourt writes:

The presence of [Bill] Morneau and [Julie] Payette in this summer’s political headlines speaks not just to recurring characters, but to recurring themes for Trudeau, and quite possibly some lessons unlearned from three years ago.
It’s striking, in retrospect, how two announcements within one week in July 2017 have retained the power to send ripples through this very strange year in Canadian politics.
On July 13 three years ago, the news emerged that former astronaut Payette was being named by Trudeau as the next governor-general. Five days later, on July 18, Canada’s finance minister unveiled a proposal to close tax loopholes for self-employed people working as private corporations.
Both of these decisions would come back to haunt the Trudeau government — even now, in the summer of 2020.

In 2017, Morneau and Payette were in hot water:

Within days of the Payette [appointment] announcement, journalists began to unearth incidents from her past that cast doubts on her suitability for such a high office — a dismissed assault charge and involvement in a fatal collision when she lived in the United States.
Questions, good ones, were raised about how Payette cleared the vetting process, and why the Trudeau government had not put her appointment through the selection panel that had been established for her predecessor, David Johnston, when he was appointed by Stephen Harper.
Meanwhile, the Morneau announcement was also starting to look more ill-considered with each passing day of that long hot summer. Small-business owners of all kinds were girding for all-out revolt against the tax changes, calling them an attack on entrepreneurs and hard-working Canadians.
By the time fall rolled around, Liberal MPs were feeling the political damage; Morneau would eventually soften the proposal to ease its impact on small businesses.

Obviously, there's a pattern here. And the cause behind that pattern is pretty clear:

The connecting thread between those two controversies was lack of political forethought and a certain tone-deafness among members of Team Trudeau. So convinced were they of their own correctness in the two announcements that due diligence went out the window — proper vetting in Payette’s case, potential political impact in the tax issue.
There was one more connecting theme — it wasn’t just opposition critics who were the most outraged, but Liberals themselves. The worst political wounds are always the self-inflicted ones.

This isn't the first time Justin has scored on his own goal.

Image: Pressform