Friday, September 18, 2020

Trump and Masks

Donald Trump's rejection of masks is truly puzzling. Paul Krugman writes that their benefits are obvious. Consider what has happened in New York State and in Arizona:

In New York State as a whole, the number of people dying daily from Covid-19 is only slightly higher than the number killed in traffic accidents. In New York City, only around 1 percent of tests for the coronavirus are coming up positive, compared with, for example, more than 12 percent in Florida.

At first, Arizona’s Republican governor, Doug Ducey, did everything wrong; not only did he keep the bars open, but he refused to let the (mostly Democratic) mayors of the state’s biggest cities impose local face-mask mandates. The result was a huge spike in cases: For a few weeks in July almost as many people were dying daily in Arizona, population seven million, as in the whole European Union, population 446 million.

But by then Ducey had reversed course, closing bars and gyms. He didn’t impose a statewide mask mandate, but he allowed cities to take action. And both cases and deaths plummeted, although not to New York levels.

In other words, we know what works. Which makes it both bizarre and frightening that Donald Trump has apparently decided to spend the final weeks of his re-election campaign deriding and discouraging mask-wearing and other anti-pandemic precautions.

Part of the reason is Trump's rejection of science. This week he claimed that "science doesn't know" about what is causing wildfires. But it's about much more than that:

The fairly obvious answer is that we’re looking at the efforts of an amoral politician to rescue his flailing campaign.

The economy’s partial snapback from its plunge early this year hasn’t given Trump the political dividends he hoped for. His attempts to stir up panic with claims that radical activists are going to destroy the suburbs haven’t gained traction, with voters generally seeing Joe Biden as the better candidate to maintain law and order.

And it’s probably too late to change the views of the majority of voters believing that he has given up on fighting the coronavirus.

So his latest ploy is an attempt to convince people that the Covid-19 threat is over. But widespread mask-wearing is a constant reminder that the virus is still out there. Hence Trump’s renewed push against the simplest, most sensible of public health precautions.

But anyone who sees the rising death numbers knows that's not true. Last time around, Trump rejoiced in his support among the undereducated. They continue to support him  -- and they continue to be his victims.

On the most basic level, a mask is an I.Q. test.


Thursday, September 17, 2020

Political Malpractice

There's been lots of speculation about a fall election. Susan Delacourt states definitely that there will be no election:

Trudeau surely hasn’t missed the fact that New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs turned his minority government into a majority in this week’s provincial election — something that Trudeau would certainly like to do, too.

But if “figuring it out” goes anything like the constantly evolving calculations on reopening Parliament next week, the process would be long, complicated and uncertain. Pandemics tend to take the snap out of a snap election, or even the much less complicated choreography of a throne speech.

And, recently, things have gotten even more complicated:

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole and Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet have each been hit in the past few days with positive COVID-19 tests in their immediate circles. Both are now forced to hunker down in isolation that guarantees Parliament won’t be resuming in any condition close to normal next week.

That makes the House of Commons a perfect mirror of what’s going on in the larger country this September — the strong desire for return to normalcy colliding with the harsh reality of a virus that seems to be on the upswing again.

Reasonably healthy opinion standings for the Trudeau Liberals fade sharply in comparison to the unhealthy COVID-19 numbers now coming in daily from across the country. Any Liberals dreaming of the magic 40 per cent needed to win a majority government need only glance at the increasing numbers of people lining up for COVID-19 tests in Ottawa and other hot spots this week.

It's become clear that, with this pandemic, there is no end in sight. Calling an election in these circumstances would be political malpractice.


Wednesday, September 16, 2020

The Extinction Rebellion

The battle between people and capital continues. George Monbiot writes that, for the last forty years, capital has been winning. The problem is our first-past-the-post political system:

Our system allows the victorious government a mandate to do what it likes between elections, without further reference to the people. As we have seen, this can include breaking international law, suspending parliament, curtailing the judiciary, politicising the civil service, attacking the Electoral Commission and invoking royal prerogative powers to make policy without anyone’s consent. This is not democracy, but a parody of democracy.
By contrast to our five-yearly vote, capital can respond to government policy every second, withdrawing its consent with catastrophic consequences if it doesn’t like its drift. There’s a massive imbalance of power here. The voting power of capital, with modern trading technologies, has advanced by leaps and bounds. Electoral power is trapped in the age of the quill pen.

Our political parties are trapped in the old paradigm. In moments like this, real opposition comes from outside parliament:

The democratic and environmental crises have the same roots: our exclusion, for several years at a time, from meaningful politics. In some places, particularly Ireland, Iceland, France, Taiwan, British Columbia, Ontario and several Spanish and Brazilian cities, a host of fascinating experiments with new democratic forms has been taking place: constitutional conventions, citizens’ assemblies, community development, digital deliberation and participatory budgeting. They are designed to give people a voice between elections, tempering representative democracy, allowing them to refine their choices.

There are historical analogs:

Like the suffragettes and the civil rights movement, it was excoriated for threatening “our way of life”. Almost all democratic advances, everywhere, have been secured by people who were branded “anarchists” and “criminals”.

Today's opposition generally falls under the title The Extinction Rebellion. If that rebellion generates policy changes, there is hope for the planet. If it doesn't, we do -- indeed -- face extinction.


Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Trump's Nihilism

If you're looking for a philosophy behind what Donald Trump does, you're on a fool's errand. But, Rick Salutin writes, there is a common thread that ties everything Trump does together. It's nihilism:

What Trump means by and fears in anarchism would probably be better described as nihilism. It's a complicated and historically amorphous term. (Nietzsche wasn't a nihilist but he thought it should be overcome with a new, harshly honest morality; the Russian nihilists wanted to dismantle their brutal world and replace it with the nobler qualities of peasants and the early church.)

But in Trump, the heavy metal, guitar-smashing caricature of nihilism finds a home. He may be the first pop nihilist ever among world leaders. There's something touching in him saying to John Kelly, at a battlefield cemetery, that he doesn't get it, what did they die for? What was in it for them? Kelly may've been tempted to pat him on the back and try futilely to explain it.

This is nihilism and lack of empathy, not in Bill Clinton's shabby "I feel your pain" sense; but in the sense that there are worlds, literally, to lose, and he doesn't know it. He's less irresponsible than impenetrable. This is the challenge U.S. voters face in two months and it's not about medicare-for-all any more, Toto. Will they be up to it? Personally, I'm optimistic but that's another story.

As Edith Bunker said, as she examined Archie Bunker's head, "Grass don't grow through concrete." Nothing grows inside or outside Donald Trump's head.

Image: CNN

Monday, September 14, 2020

Trudeau's Green Gamble

Michael Harris writes that Justin Trudeau is preparing to take a green gamble. The last time the Liberals placed that bet, things did not work out well for them:

In 2008, then Liberal leader Stephane Dion took on Stephen Harper and his Conservative government by pitching a Green Shift for Canada. Dion introduced the notion of a carbon tax linked to tax cuts, claiming that a host of economists and environmentalists endorsed his policy. The Liberal leader warned that Canada must either get greener or face tariff restrictions on energy exports like dirty oil from the tarsands.

Harper’s counterpunch promptly dumped Dion on his backside. Harper claimed that Dion’s plan would destroy the economy to the point where national unity itself would be at stake.

According to the scorecards of Canadian voters, Harper recorded a TKO over Dion. Although he didn’t achieve a majority government, Harper won 143 seats, 16 more than the party held in 2006 — good enough for another minority.

As for the Green Shifter, he and his party won just 77 seats, 18 less than they had won in 2006 under an Ad-Scammed Paul Martin. The party received its lowest popular votes in 100 years. Dion resigned days after his humiliating defeat. The Green Shift entered the history books as the Green Faceplant.

But the times have changed. Big Oil is leaving the building:

ExxonMobil was just dropped from the Dow Jones Industrial Average after 92 years of preeminence. The world’s most valuable publicly-traded company, estimated to be worth $500 billion in 2008, has lost nearly two-thirds of its value. ExxonMobil was also dropped from the top 10 on Standard and Poor’s 500 Index. There are now no oil companies in S&P’s top 10.

Last December, just before the pandemic hit, Saudi Arabia sold off 1.5 per cent of state-owned oil giant Saudi Aramco, raising $25.6 billion in the world’s biggest share sale. It was part of a plan to create a massive sovereign wealth fund. According to Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as reported in Bloomberg News back in 2016, the goal is to make investments in non-petroleum assets. That way, the main source of the kingdom’s revenue will be investments, rather than oil.

Shell Oil dumped most of its investment in the Alberta tarsands in 2017.

Several financial institutions, including Deutsche Bank, will no longer invest in new fossil fuel developments, including those in the tarsands or coal projects.

Bond rating agency Moody’s coolly concludes that “modest enduring changes due to behavioural change combined with government policies and technological advantages designed to reduce carbon emissions could make it unlikely that oil demand will return to its pre-COVID levels.”

Nonetheless, we should expect Erin O'Toole -- who won the leadership of the Conservatives with Jason Kenney's help -- to follow the Harper playbook.  The NDP and Green response is yet to come.

Whatever happens, it's wise to remember that Kermit the Frog opined that it's not easy being Green.

Image: You Tube

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Boundless Mendacity

Andrew Rawnsley asks, "What kind of Tory government jeopardises the union and tears up the rules of law?"

For people who present themselves as super-patriots, Boris Johnson and his coterie at Number 10 have a craze for despoiling everything that the world once regarded as the best of British. The independence of the judiciary, the success of the BBC, the impartiality of the civil service and the authority of parliament - all have been bricked and bottled by the blue anarchists. When the Tory leader tried his prorogation stunt last autumn, he was even prepared to taint the position of the Queen by giving her illegal advice. Now their delinquency has escalated to explicitly tearing up the rule of law. That foundation stone of British democracy and lodestar of our country’s international reputation, the principle that once had no more passionate champion than the Conservative party, is no longer safe from them.

We live in a world that has been turned upside down. Nowhere is this truer than in Britain:

It was an extraordinary moment when a member of the cabinet stood before parliament to declare that the government plans to intentionally break international law by unilaterally rewriting sections of the withdrawal agreement with the EU. Number 10 then confirmed that Mr Johnson was ready to violate a treaty that he negotiated less than a year ago, made the centrepiece of his pitch to the British people at the election last December, and then had the Commons rapidly ratify in January. The agreement he once flourished as a “wonderful” triumph for his personal diplomacy is now described by Number 10 as a rushed botch that the prime minister never liked. Breaching of a treaty that he himself signed and advocated sets a fresh standard of brazenness.

BoJo believes he can break treaties at will -- even the ones he has just negotiated. But the damage he has done to Britain's international reputation is horrific:

Theresa May and Sir John Major are among the senior Tories shocked to find that an allegedly Conservative government wants to turn Britain into a treaty-breaking renegade state. Sir John warns: “If we lose our reputation for honouring the promises we make, we will have lost something without price.” Grave reprimands from two of his predecessors would have troubled previous prime ministers, but not this one. My word is my bond is not a motto by which Boris Johnson has ever lived his life.

No one has excoriated him as fiercely as Michael Howard, a veteran Eurosceptic. That former Tory leader makes the excellent point that the “severe damage” done to Britain’s moral authority will make it harder to criticise international law-breaking by the likes of China, Russia and Iran. Norman Lamont, the former Tory chancellor and one of the first prophets of Brexit, weighed in to say that the government had got itself into a “terrible mess”. Even the zealots at Number 10 may have a tremor of self-doubt when they are losing Tory elders as Brexity as Lords Howard and Lamont.

Brexit was always going to be difficult -- not a "piece of cake" as its boosters predicted:

The trigger for this simultaneous descent towards rogue nation status and lurch to the brink of a crash-out Brexit was the deadlock in the talks with the EU. It is no surprise that they have proved much more difficult than the Brexiters sought to pretend during the referendum campaign, when the negotiation was going be a “piece of cake”, and again in the run up to the December election, when Mr Johnson promised that his “oven-ready deal” would secure “a fantastic new trade agreement with the EU”. As some of us remarked at the time, “Get Brexit Done” was both the most effective slogan of the Tories’ election campaign and the most mendacious.

Mendacious is the right word. We seem to be cursed by a class of world leaders whose mendacity knows no bounds.


Saturday, September 12, 2020

Doing A Woodward


Roger Cohen  -- who is recovering from COVID -- catalogues all the things "you know" about Donald Trump:

You know that ego could not resist 18 interviews with Bob Woodward, just as you know that he spent some of those interviews detailing his lies to the American people about the virus (he preferred “to always play it down”), just as you know that he said in 2018 that the Aisne-Marne American cemetery in France he declined to visit was “filled with losers,” just as you know that in 2017 he said Haitians “all have AIDS” and Nigerian immigrants wouldn’t ever “go back to their huts.”

You know he doesn’t believe climate change is a threat, that he has done his best to eviscerate the Environmental Protection Agency, that he does not believe in science, that he thought “disinfectant” might knock out the virus “in a minute,” that he has hobbled the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that he couldn’t care less about transgender people, that he loathes immigrants he has described as “animals,” and that he authorized the separation of thousands of immigrant children from their parents at the border. You know that in textbook totalitarian fashion, he calls a free press “the enemy of the American people.”

You know Trump thought there were “very fine people on both sides” at the 2017 neo-Nazi Charlottesville rally, and that he thinks any Jew who votes for a Democrat shows “great disloyalty,” and that he winks daily at millions of Americans who believe he is their savior from a takeover by Black and brown people, Jewish finance, cosmopolitans, and leftist radicals. You know Trump is “very much behind” President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt because he has yet to meet a dictator he does not dream of emulating. You know Trump must be compromised with President Vladimir Putin to the point of ignoring Russian bounties on American troops in Afghanistan.

You know all of this, Cohen writes, and Trump wants you to know, convinced that you will give up -- overwhelmed and defeated. But it's not enough just to know. You must also remember:

It’s important not just to know, to be aware, but to remember. It’s hard to remember. It’s like looking for the way out of a labyrinth in the mist.

It’s important to remember that Trump believes he has done more for Black Americans than any president since Abraham Lincoln and that he claims he will preserve coverage for pre-existing conditions even as he is asking the Supreme Court to destroy Obamacare.  Because Trump is delusional and a world already on the brink of an armed Chinese-American confrontation may not survive a second Trump term without disaster. Nor will the oldest democracy on earth.

Trump expects to get his way. He expected to get his way with Bob Woodward. But he didn't. In less than two months, American voters can do a Woodward on Trump -- if they so choose.

Image: The New York Times

Friday, September 11, 2020

Collective Malevolence

Michelle Goldberg writes that Bob Woodward's tapes of Donald Trump reveal something we didn't know about him:

The president doesn’t sound ignorant or deluded. Rather, he sounds uncommonly lucid. On Feb. 7, Trump described the virus as airborne and “more deadly than even your strenuous flus,” adding, “this is 5 percent versus 1 percent, or less than 1 percent.” It’s not clear whether Trump thought that Covid-19 had a 5 percent case fatality rate — a number that seemed plausible in February — but he clearly knew that compared with the flu, it was several times more likely to kill.

There a common perception that Trump is a bumbling fool. And, while it may be true that he was a fool to talk with Bob Woodward, the fact remains that throughout the pandemic Trump has known what he was doing:

Publicly, Trump kept insisting that the virus would disappear. Privately, he told Woodward: “I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”

Trump lied to the country about the calamity that would soon overtake it. His administration didn’t ramp up a national testing or contact-tracing program. He and his supporters pressured states to open up prematurely. A July Pew poll found that only 46 percent of Republicans and those who lean toward the Republican Party considered the coronavirus a major threat to public health, compared with 85 percent of Democrats and Democratic leaners. Trump could have made Republicans take the virus seriously. He chose not to.

It’s now clear that just because Trump is lying to us, that doesn’t mean he’s lying to himself.

So what does that tell us? Put bluntly, it tells us that Trump is truly a malevolent force. Woodward's book comes on the heels of Mary Trump's book. Former FBI agent Peter Stzrok has just published a book. And there will be more books published before the election. Americans can't claim that they didn't know who the man was. If they refuse to send Trump and his enablers into the dustbin of history, they will stand convicted of collective malevolence.

Image: You Tube

Thursday, September 10, 2020

A Fascist Project

Henry Giroux does not pull his punches. Donald Trump, he writes, is fanning white wing violence in an effort to establish a fascist state:

Nobody should justify assaults that lead to needless human suffering and the destruction of neighborhood property, especially in impoverished cities. Nor should violence be used as a rhetorical device to include property damage. Violence is a term that should be limited to assaults, injuries and harm waged against human beings, not property. When talking about violence, it is crucial to make a distinction between the destruction of property and violence against persons.

Trump makes no such distinction. For him, demonstrators are terrorists who threaten the foundation of the nation. And, he claims, he has the solution to that problem -- state violence:

State violence comes in many forms and extends from the criminalization of social problems and the horrors of the carceral state to the militarization of the police and the increasing violence waged against undocumented immigrants, poor youth of color, and anyone who is not white and viewed as expendable, if not disposable.

The examples are everywhere:

Consider agents of the state suffocating, with impunity, a Black man, Eric Garner, on the streets of New York in full view of bystanders. Consider police officers shooting 12-year-old Tamir Rice while he was holding a toy gun; consider the police kicking in the door and killing Breonna Taylor while she slept in her bed; consider a cop putting his knee on George Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes until the last breath passed from his body. Consider a government that separates children from their parents and puts them in cages. Consider that waging violence against Black men and women did not end with slavery and Jim Crow, but continues into the present era, especially under Trump, whose call for “law and order” functions as “an enabling tool for providing an open season on killing Black men.” Moreover, “law and order” as a defining principle of Trump’s mode of governance is best defined by the White House’s ties to criminals, such as the eight associates of Trump arrested or convicted of crimes, including Steve Bannon, Roger Stone and Michael Cohen.

Trump is setting the foundations for a fascist state. And he might well succeed.


Wednesday, September 09, 2020

An Old Lesson

Tom Friedman has an interesting column in today's New York Times.  It's about the politics of humiliation. And it goes a long way to explaining Donald Trump's supporters -- and people in general:

Humiliation, in my view, is the most underestimated force in politics and international relations. The poverty of dignity explains so much more behavior than the poverty of money.

People will absorb hardship, hunger and pain. They will be grateful for jobs, cars and benefits. But if you make people feel humiliated, they will respond with a ferocity unlike any other emotion, or just refuse to lift a finger for you. As Nelson Mandela once observed, “There is nobody more dangerous than one who has been humiliated.”

By contrast, if you show people respect, if you affirm their dignity, it is amazing what they will let you say to them or ask of them. Sometimes it just takes listening to them, but deep listening — not just waiting for them to stop talking. Because listening is the ultimate sign of respect. What you say when you listen speaks more than any words.

Harvard professor Michael Sandel understands this crucial dynamic:

In a much talked-about new book, “The Tyranny of Merit: What’s Become of the Common Good?” Harvard political philosopher Michael Sandel (disclosure: he is a close friend) says “the politics of humiliation” is also at the heart of Trump’s appeal.

Trump was elected by tapping a wellspring of anxieties, frustrations and legitimate grievances to which the mainstream parties had no compelling answer,” Sandel notes. These grievances “are not only economic but also moral and cultural; they are not only about wages and jobs but also about social esteem.”

How should Biden counter Trump's argument?

Sandel and I put our heads together and thought, well, maybe Biden should go on a tour of Trump country, focusing on rural counties and towns in the Midwest, and just listen to Trump’s base, both to learn and as a sign of respect.

Then, at the first presidential debate, Biden should ignore Trump and his buffoonery and speak about what he had learned by talking to likely Trump voters.

Biden could talk about where he agrees with them and where he disagrees with them and why — the ultimate sign of respect. That is how Biden can get at least some Trump devotees to see that “working-class Joe from Scranton” — not “Billionaire Don, born with a silver spoon in his mouth”— is the one who really hails from their side of the tracks and can be trusted (a very important word) to look out for them.

And Friedman's final point is really important:

When it comes to politics, a lot of people don’t listen through their ears. They listen through their gut, and Biden, more than any other Democratic leader today, has the ability to connect there.

The lesson here is an old one. But it is crucially important when it comes to dealing with people.


Tuesday, September 08, 2020

Chess Behind The Scenes

Justin Trudeau is talking about adding another $100 billion to the deficit. Don Lenihan and Andrew Balfour wonder if he's bluffing:

In politics, expectations are everything and Justin Trudeau’s team has been working overtime to ratchet them up – way up. So, what if Budget Day comes and this much-discussed figure of $100 billion is, say, ‘only’ $50 billion?

We think a lot of people – many of them Liberals – will breathe a sigh of relief. Conservatives, on the other hand, could be in a panic. Erin O’Toole appears to have hitched his wagon to the big number. In an interview with the Globe and Mail last week, O’Toole announced that, while he would balance the budget, he would take the next decade to do it.

O'Toole has planned to run against Liberal overspending. But he's in a bit of a box:

He is on record supporting the idea of a recovery plan but insisting that his approach will be different from Trudeau’s. For example, he singles out the impact of the pandemic on immigrants, many of whom own small businesses that have been damaged or destroyed by the shut-down.

Whatever the differences, it’s a safe bet that a Conservative plan will include a lot of the same things as the Liberal plan, such as funds for the provinces to improve long-term care for seniors. And, of course, O’Toole agrees on the need for a credible climate change plan.

The real difference seems to be in the scale. A hundred billion dollars will buy the Liberals a lot of stuff. But it also gives the Conservatives the fiscal space to design a plan that is substantive but far less costly.

They could spend $30 or even $40 billion and still be $60 or $70 billion lower than the Liberals. That’s a lot of money – more than enough to drive their narrative of Trudeau as a reckless spender.

However, as that $100 billion deficit shrinks, so does O’Toole’s fiscal space. If on Budget Day the deficit number is “only” $50 billion, this puts him in the same ballpark as the Liberals. Any clear contrast will be gone, and O’Toole will need to tell a different story.

Now he must convince people that his plan is better, and that will take lots of explaining. But as they say in politics, if you’re explaining, you’re losing.

It's a reminder that, with everything else going on, our political leaders -- behind the scenes -- are playing chess.

Image: Vancouver Sun

Monday, September 07, 2020

Don't Share A Foxhole With Him

At the beginning of his administration, Donald Trump referred to the leaders in the Pentagon as "his generals." But it didn't take long for that relationship to sour. Consider the saga of General James Mattis. David Ignatius writes:

Trump initially saw Mattis as a man in his own image — awarding him the Trumpian nickname “Mad Dog,” even though the ascetic Mattis was closer to a monk than a mongrel. Over the two years Mattis ran the Pentagon, his relationship with Trump grew poisonous. The more Mattis tried to educate Trump, as in his widely reported July 2017 seminar in the “tank” at Pentagon, the more Trump became resentful.

Trump berated his generals at that gathering — with language that’s eerily similar to what was reported in the Atlantic this week. According to Philip Rucker and Carol D. Leonnig in their book, “A Very Stable Genius,” Trump said: “You’re all losers. You don’t know how to win anymore.”

Trump thinks American soldiers who went into battle and died were suckers and losers. He would prefer they be props in a military parade -- part of the cast of the Trump Show. Retired military men took to berating Trump after they last served as props for him -- in front of a church:

Retired Adm. Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, denounced Trump for “politicizing the men and women of our armed forces.” Retired Gen. Jim Mattis, the former defense secretary, called Trump “the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people.” Retired Gen. John F. Kelly, a former Trump White House chief of staff, said he agreed with Mattis.

The generals have learned what New York businessmen learned long ago: "For all Trump’s talk of patriotism, he truly is transactional. Throughout his career, he has always believed that loyalty was for chumps."

You don't share a foxhole with him.


Sunday, September 06, 2020

The Recovery


Kevin Page writes that we need to do some hard thinking about our economic future:

The political and economic stakes are high. With the prorogation of Parliament, triggered in part by the resignation of a finance minister, the government will table a Speech from the Throne in late September. 

While I’ve been reading spy novels, [civil servants] are looking over the shoulders of colleagues in the European Union and possibly US presidential candidate Joe Biden to see what they are planning for recovery. They are assessing recently announced provincial (e.g., Ontario and Alberta) and municipal recovery plans. They are reading geeky disquisitions on possible economic scenarios for the world economy—with and without a vaccine—and trying to find a governing philosophy for fiscal policy in a world awash in debt.

If we rely on past (stimulus-type) policies to guide economic recovery plans they will likely be misguided and fall dangerously short. We cannot collapse present policy thinking into the past.

Plans are required for multiple scenarios. Uncertainty cannot be an excuse for no plans. As the saying goes, “No plan, no action leads to no results”.

For 40 years, deficits have been the bogeymen of our politics. But, Page writes:

The economics of deficits have changed. With next-to-zero interest rates and no inflation in near sight, there are virtually no bottom-line balance sheet impacts of running larger deficits. All the risks are punted to the future. Debt creates instability risks. If years down the road, inflation makes a comeback, interest rates will rise. The carrying cost of debt will skyrocket. Higher debt interest costs will crowd out spending on key policy priorities. 

It's critical to think about what those deficits can accomplish:

Targeted policies are essential. The process has started with the evolution of programs like the wage subsidy and employment insurance. With high but declining unemployment rates and no vaccine in sight, expect this to continue but with increased focus on people and businesses locked out of the recovery.

They must be targeted to clear objectives. In Europe and the United States, that process has begun:

The European Union has already launched its recovery policy path to the future. They have recently agreed to a trillion dollar plus (Canadian) recovery fund. The policy framework is composed of five big missions—cancer, climate change, oceans, cities, and food. The missions are designed to bring evidence, resources and policy experimentation to long-term issues. Targets will be set—along the lines of President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 vow to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade.

US Presidential candidate Joe Biden will campaign on a long-term recovery policy “Build Back Better”. The high-level plan focuses on four long-term challenges—manufacturing, infrastructure, children, racial equality. While financing the challenges will depend on a presidential victory and congressional backing, the Democratic candidate is proposing government support well in excess of a trillion dollars.

In Canada, policies to address long-term issues such as climate change, income disparity, economic and health resiliency (i.e., our capacity to address the next policy shock, whether a pandemic or financial or geopolitical crisis), and competitiveness are urgently needed. Governments need to lay out a vision (a north star) and plans to build confidence and partnerships (investment). Why not pro-actively shape and drive our future—more sustainable, more equitable, more resilient, more digital?

There is a way out of this calamity. But now -- more than ever -- we need to think critically and clearly about our future.

Image: The Toronto Star

Saturday, September 05, 2020


Doug Ford claims that he has done everything to make Ontario's schools safe -- everything except reducing class sizes. Bruce Arthur writes:

It is a little odd, though, that Doug has been saying this for a few weeks, during which time the back-to-school plan has changed approximately 37 times. And strangely, those changes have not included provincially mandated class-size reductions.

“You wanted ventilation, we got ventilation,” said Ford, still talking to the teachers unions. “You wanted more money for the teachers, we got more money for the teachers; we went out and got the reserves. We went and got the cleaning. We’ve basically covered every single list. And I’m just asking, just once, for your co-operation.”

Well, the HVAC improvement money came a few weeks before school starts, which is almost certainly too late, and probably insufficient. And the much-ballyhooed announcement of $500 million of reserves didn’t really reduce class sizes in any across-the-board way, because even when school boards are creative, tapping what are often already-committed reserves isn’t the same as new money. Even the new federal money hasn’t resulted in mandated lower class sizes.

We know that the number of people who gather in groups effects transmission:

According to modelling from the universities of Waterloo and Guelph, the difference between 15 kids per class in school full time and 30 would be 14 expected COVID-19 cases in the former, versus 53 in the latter, and over four times as many lost student days. And, presumably, more secondary infections.

But reducing class sizes has never been in the Ford playbook. In fact, when he took office, Doug wanted to go in the opposite direction:

As NDP education critic Marit Stiles notes, this is the government that was interested in cutting public education at the start of its term, and has thought about pushing public money to private charter and voucher schools. And it’s the same government that tried to push class sizes from 22.5 to 28 last fall so it could fire teachers. This appears to be an ideological line.

It's strange how some people ignore what is painfully obvious. Hello?

Image: iHeartRadio

Friday, September 04, 2020

Lurid Fantasies

Donald Trump can't claim that he defeated the coronavirus. He can't claim that he built a gung-ho economy. So what's left to run on? Paul Krugman writes that all he's got left are lurid fantasies:

It’s not just the fact that premature reopening led to a huge second wave of infections and deaths. Equally important, from a political point of view, has been Covid-19’s geographical spread.

Early in the pandemic it was possible to portray Covid-19 as a big-city, blue-state problem; voters in rural areas and red states found it easier to dismiss the threat in part because they were relatively unlikely to know people who had gotten sick. But the second surge of infections and deaths was concentrated in the Sunbelt.

And while the Sunbelt surge appears to be slowly subsiding now that state and local governments have done what Trump didn’t want them to do — close bars, ban large gatherings and require masks — there now appears to be a surge in the Midwest.

And, as for Trump's claim that the economy would come roaring back,

all indications are that the rapid snapback of May and June has leveled off, with unemployment still very high. Friday’s employment report is likely to show an economy still adding jobs, but nothing like the “super V” recovery Trump is still claiming. And there will be only one more labor market report before the election.

Furthermore, the politics of the economy depend less on what official numbers say than on how people are feeling. Consumer confidence remains low. Assessments by businesses surveyed by the Federal Reserve range from unenthusiastic to glum. And there just isn’t enough time for this to change much: Trump isn’t going to be able to ride an economic boom into the election.

So Donald is threatening the nation with invisible anarchists:

There has been some looting, property damage and violence associated with Black Lives Matter demonstrations. But the property damage has been minor compared with urban riots of the past — no, Portland is not “ablaze all the time” — and much of the violence is coming not from the left but from right-wing extremists.

It’s also true that there has been a recent rise in homicides, and nobody is sure why. But murders were very low last year, and even if the rate so far this year continues, New York City will have substantially fewer homicides in 2020 than it did when Rudy Giuliani was mayor.

In short, there isn’t a wave of anarchy and violence other than that unleashed by Trump himself.

However, it might work:

For whatever reason, there’s a long history of disconnect between the realities of crime and public perceptions. As Pew has pointed out, between 1993 and 2018 violent crime in America plunged; murders in New York fell more than 80 percent. Yet over that period Americans consistently told pollsters that crime was rising.

It worked for Richard Nixon fifty years ago. But Nixon was the challenger. Trump is the president. It all depends on how many Americans are as demented -- and vile -- as Trump himself is.


Thursday, September 03, 2020

The Rage Against Statues

This summer, protestors have been defacing and tearing down statues. In a democracy, we all have the right to protest. But one has the right to ask: Is this the most effective way to communicate your message? Marton Regg Cohn writes:

The tug of war over public statues keeps exposing our blind spots — not just our blinkered view of history, but of democracy in all its complexity.

Unpopular statues, like unpopular governments, ought not to be toppled in a democracy — just put in their place, placed in context, or put in storage.

The latest statue to come down was in Montreal. But, in our small town, there is a statue of Macdonald, outside the public library. The statue has historical significance. Macdonald practiced law in our town pre-Confederation. It has been covered with paint twice this summer and protestors have stood on the sidewalk, demanding that the statue be removed. Cohn writes that:

The controversy over Macdonald is complicated — and in many ways intertwined with the debate over Egerton Ryerson, whose statue at Ryerson University was covered in pink paint by the same protestors this summer. As one scholar looking into Ryerson’s relationship with residential schools noted, his name is “incorrectly linked to the ‘architect’ label;” instead, wrote Sean Carleton, “Macdonald must be understood as its architect.”

And he asks:

Shall we remove the monument to Mahatma Gandhi at Carleton University, given latter-day criticisms of the Indian independence leader for harbouring anti-Black views? What about the monument in Toronto’s Riverdale Park to Sun Yat-sen, the revered leader who brought China into the modern era?

 As a high school student, I was taught that Macdonald's role in Confederation was no mean feat. But I was also taught that some of his best speeches were delivered after he had been thoroughly lubricated. There was no halo around his head.

There are many reasons to protest. But decapitating John A.'s head in Montreal accomplishes nothing. One of my favourite anecdotes about Macdonald is about his meeting an opponent on the street. "I will not yield the sidewalk to a liar and a drunk!" said the man.

"But I will!" was Macdonald's response. And he stepped aside. 

We would do well to consider that response.


Wednesday, September 02, 2020

White Hot Crazy


A couple of weeks ago, the former Republican strategist Rick Wilson -- now with the Lincoln Project -- predicted there would be a lot of "white-hot crazy" coming from the Trump campaign.  On Monday, things really did get white-hot. Jennifer Rubin writes:

During an interview on Monday with Fox News’s Laura Ingraham, a spin artist for the president and a purveyor of anti-immigrant sentiment, [Trump] claimed that Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is controlled by mysterious people. 

In concocting his tale, Trump fantasized of “people that you’ve never heard of, people that are in the dark shadows.” Ingraham, as though trying her best to stop his self-immolation, responded, “That sounds like conspiracy theory.” No luck. Trump continued: “They are people that are on the streets, they’re people that are controlling the streets. We had somebody get on a plane from a certain city this weekend. And in the plane, it was almost completely loaded with thugs, wearing these dark uniforms, black uniforms, with gear and this and that.” This is simply bonkers.

Ingraham tried to stop Trump before he went completely off the rails. But, these days, Trump thinks he's winning when he's spouting madness. He continued, suggesting that police who kill people are like a golfer missing a three-foot putt:

But they choke, just like in a golf tournament, they miss a three-foot [putt],” Trump said. Ingraham leaped in: “You’re not comparing it to golf, because that’s what the media [would say].” In other words, actual reporters would recognize what he was saying was morally offensive and so lacking in self-awareness as to suggest Trump cannot even fake normal behavior.

It's painfully obvious that the president is seriously sick. These should be grounds for exercising the 25th Amendment. Unfortunately, the Republican Party is as sick as Trump is:

In a normal time, with a functioning Republican Party and a patriotic vice president, this might be the end of Trump’s campaign and an invitation to invoke the 25th Amendment. We, unfortunately, have spineless sycophants in the GOP and a zombie-like vice president who feels compelled to show allegiance to a president plainly unfit to hold office. Likewise, in most families, there would be a family meeting to stop him from embarrassing himself. (Perhaps not in families where its members stand to inherit millions of dollars.) No chance of that, but the thesis from the president’s niece, Mary Trump, that there is something seriously wrong with him looks pretty unassailable.

And, so, madness marches on.


Tuesday, September 01, 2020

Change Is In the Air

The Liberals are proposing sweeping changes to the way Canada works. If you're looking for historical analogues, David Olive suggests that you look at John A. Macdonald's National Policy or the rollout of medicare in the last century:

Having promised a thoroughly overhauled post-pandemic economy, especially in strengthening the social safety net, the Liberals have gone all in. They can’t back down from it.

An early sign of the government’s resolve is the $37-billion package of new income supports it unveiled Aug. 20. Those measures extend pandemic-related emergency payments far beyond those of a U.S. counterpart program, which ran dry weeks ago and show no sign of resumption, though millions of Americans remain out of work.

In that same announcement, made jointly by newly appointed Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland and Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough, Ottawa also introduced increased sick-leave, caregiver, and maternity benefits.

The backdrop for those enhanced protections is a Liberal plan, signalled by the government for several weeks, to effectively replace the antiquated Employment Insurance program with the more streamlined and user-friendly Canada Emergency Response Benefit, which will still go under the name EI.

The Liberals seem intent on asking Canadians to consent to a sweeping economic renewal that tackles income inequality, climate crisis, immigration, economic sovereignty, industrial self-sufficiency, the gender-pay gap, Canada’s undernourished R&D sector and considerably more.

“The restart of our economy needs to be green,” Freeland said Aug. 20. “It also needs to be equitable, it needs to be inclusive, and we need to focus very much on jobs and growth.”

The Grits, in other words, are giving themselves an open-ended mandate for change, the ambition of which the country has seldom seen.

The only question is whether or not Justin Trudeau can negotiate these changes through a minority parliament or whether it will take an election to implement them.

And, most importantly -- if there is an election -- whether Canadians will support them.

Change is in the air.

Image: Thomas Neel

Monday, August 31, 2020

Don't Blame Me

Andrew Rawnsley writes that Boris Johnson's government is guided by the "novel doctrine of total power with absolutely no responsibility." Consider what has happened to the principle of ministerial responsibility on Johnson's watch: 

One of the rules that they have been shredding most aggressively is the concept of ministerial responsibility. Under previous governments of many different complexions, this idea has been central to how democratic politics is supposed to work. When things go wrong, the minister is accountable to parliament and must answer to the public for his department’s failings. When things go badly wrong, the minister resigns. Ministerial responsibility is at the core of the compact between government, parliament and public. Bronwen Maddox, the director of the Institute for Government, has it right when she says: “Unless there are consequences for ministers of the decisions that are their responsibility, the UK’s principles of democratic accountability will become meaningless.”

Privately, BoJo's crew boasts that they are tearing up the rule book on governing:

When searching for somewhere else to throw the blame, their first choice is civil servants, who make convenient targets because they are not supposed to answer back. So out goes Sally Collier, chief executive of Ofqual, the regulator, over the grading fiasco. Following her overboard goes Jonathan Slater, the permanent secretary at the Department for Education, who was sacked in a fashion brutal even by the standards of the current regime. Mr Williamson, meantime, stumbles on towards his next appointment with calamity in an apparent determination to make Chris Grayling feel a bit better about his time in government.
In an even darker part of the forest, there is a manifest effort to manipulate inquiries into the handling of the coronavirus crisis by shifting culpability from the prime minister and his lieutenants. Sir Mark Sedwill was effectively fired as cabinet secretary in June after anonymous briefings to Number 10-friendly media designed to depict him as bearing prime responsibility for the numerous failures to get a grip on the emergency. Public Health England, which is to be scrapped before there is any full accounting of who was responsible for which errors, is also being cast as a scapegoat.

It is axiomatic that a government takes on the personality of the person in charge:

The character of government is shaped by the personality of the person at the top. When he was US president, Harry Truman had a sign on his Oval Office desk that was inscribed: “The buck stops here.” If Boris Johnson had a sign, it would read: “Not me, guv.” Anyone familiar with his biography knows that he does not feel constrained by conventional norms of behaviour and nor will he willingly shoulder responsibility for his bad choices. His career is potholed with scandals, mendacities and betrayals of trust. Having got to the pinnacle of the greasy pole all the same, he has concluded that, providing your skin is thick enough and your reserves of shamelessness are deep enough, there is no scandal so enormous or blunder so titanic that it cannot be brazened out. 

Does that remind you of anyone else who is in the news daily?


Sunday, August 30, 2020


Donald Trump claims he represents law and order in the United States. That claim, of course, is as bogus as his claim that he founded and ran a university. Trump revels in breaking the law. The latest example of that is his campaign's use of Leonard Cohen's song "Hallelujah" at the Republican convention. David Friend reports that:

Michelle Rice, a lawyer for Cohen's estate, says the Republican party made a "rather brazen attempt to politicize and exploit" the Montreal poet laureate's iconic song after being explicitly told they didn't have the blessing of the rights holders.

"We are surprised and dismayed that the RNC would proceed knowing that the Cohen Estate had specifically declined the RNC's use request," Rice said on behalf of the estate.

"We are exploring our legal options."

A representative for Cohen's publishing company, Sony/TV Music Publishing, issued a statement saying it too had declined permission to use the song at the RNC.

A recording of the track, performed by singer Tori Kelly, played over the fireworks display after U.S. President Donald Trump's acceptance speech for the Republican nomination. American tenor Christopher Macchio sang an operatic version live from the White House shortly afterward.

Trump appears to have an affinity for the work of Canadian musicians. But they have no affinity for him:

Neil Young sued Trump's campaign earlier this month after numerous requests to stop playing his songs at rallies were ignored, while The Rolling Stones and Tom Petty's estate are among others who have filed cease and desist orders for unauthorized use of their music.

However, Cohen's estate suggested that they might allow Trump to use another of Cohen's songs: "You Want It Darker." I suspect, even if that happened -- and you listened carefully -- you would hear a gravelly wail from Cohen's grave on the northern slope of Mount Royal.

Image: National Newswatch

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Will it Work?

The Republican convention is over. And it was a Trumpian freak show from start to finish. Trump as usual used public resources for his own benefit. Ruth Marcus writes:

The gross misuse of public resources — more than that, of public symbols and presidential authority — was beyond imagining. Trump turned core executive powers into made-for-television, partisan spectacles. He commandeered newly minted citizens in a naturalization ceremony that belied the anti-immigrant fever central to his presidency.

Having spent his tenure debasing the power of clemency to reward political allies, he turned it into reality TV, once again helping himself rather than dispensing justice. By the time the fireworks ignited over the Washington Monument, spelling out “Trump” and “2020,” the death of outrage was complete.

And the chest-thumping must have produced a lot of migraines:

“The greatest economy in history”; “I say very modestly I have done more for the African American community than any president since Abraham Lincoln” — and his allies’ smears against the Democratic nominee. Those whizzed by too fast to digest, which was also by design. (One remark by one surrogate stands out for its calumny: former Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz, slandering Joe Biden as a “Catholic in name only,” a slur so outrageous that Notre Dame’s president was moved to rebuke Holtz.)

Trump will go down as the greatest liar to occupy the office. And his convention kept pounding on two blatant lies:

Concentrate, instead, on two areas of core misdirection: that Trump has handled the coronavirus pandemic brilliantly, and that Biden is a scary socialist. For all the convention’s flagrant disregard of public health guidelines, its speakers were even more flagrant in ignoring the extent and damage of the pandemic (economic adviser Larry Kudlow spoke of it in the past tense, on a day when 1,152 additional deaths were reported) and in praising the president’s supposedly effective handling of a virus whose danger he diminished and whose spread he permitted to flourish.

Trump, of course, outdoes all the rest. “To save as many lives as possible, we are focusing on the science, the facts and the data,” he proclaimed Thursday night — this on a day when his administration was forced to backtrack on its advice against testing for those exposed to covid-19 and not showing symptoms.

And then there was the sliming of Biden. “The hard truth is, you won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America,” Vice President Pence warned on Wednesday — and then Trump took it up a notch.

The typical approach, especially for an incumbent president, is to rise above, to speak blandly of “my opponent” without deigning to name names. In acceptance speeches dating back to Richard Nixon, the eight incumbent presidents combined to mention their opponents by name only a dozen or so times, often with a measure of graciousness. Biden didn’t utter Trump’s name once during his speech; Trump named-checked him 40 times, as a weak-willed, job-destroying, tax-hiking, China-cosseting, police-hating radical.

“Biden is a Trojan horse for socialism,” Trump warned.

That this bears no resemblance to the actual Biden, to his lengthy record or his current platform, is of no import to Trump or his supporters.

Trump has made a fortune selling horse manure. I'm being polite. The question remains: Will it work?

Image: twitter

Friday, August 28, 2020

Try As He Might

Erin O'Toole has won the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada. But, to achieve that victory, he tied his fortunes to the party's social conservatives. Alan Freeman writes:

In the 2017 Tory leadership race, O’Toole ran as a moderate against a pretty right-wing roster of candidates. He came in third. Scheer won by hoovering up social conservative votes and capturing support in Quebec by promising to defend supply management for dairy farmers. Realizing that being a moderate wasn’t going to work in 2020 against the equally moderate MacKay, O’Toole took on a harsher, more belligerent tone to appeal to the party’s right.

So the one-time moderate became a right-wing attack dog pledging to fight the “liberal left” and “cancel culture,” language he seems to have learned after watching a bit too much Fox News. And O’Toole vowed to “Take back Canada,” unsubtly borrowing from Boris Johnson’s successful and xenophobic-tinged “Take Back Control” slogan in the 2016 Brexit referendum.

Though O’Toole comes from Ontario, he decided to go after the Alberta vote big time, and succeeded in landing Premier Jason Kenney’s endorsement. To do so, he went all out for the oilsands by promising to: get rid of carbon taxes, overturn the federal B.C. north coast tanker ban, make it easier to build pipelines, and give Alberta billions in equalization payments.

At a time when Alberta’s economy is in free fall and the need for massive diversification away from fossil fuels is imperative, O’Toole came up with the extraordinary statement that “My province needs to understand that Alberta’s issues are national issues.” How about a national politician who speaks the truth to Alberta about its need to prepare for a post-carbon world?

O’Toole also won because he understood the Conservatives’ weird voting system, which gave major weight to Quebec ridings where Conservatives are about as plentiful as unilingual anglophone monarchists. Allying himself with Quebec gun-rights activists, the O’Toole campaign swept many of these constituencies, helping to secure his victory.

There has never been anything moderate about The Harper Party. Despite their name, they are still Stephen Harper's Party. Like any good politician, O'Toole realized that presenting himself as a moderate in The Harper Party was a losing proposition. So he veered strongly to the right.

The downside of that strategy is that, try as he might, he won't be able to put lipstick on this pig.


Thursday, August 27, 2020

They'll Huff and They'll Puff

It was a rough night in Louisiana -- or as they say down there -- "Looziana." Hurricane Laura rolled in in the wee small hours of the morning. The National Hurricane Centre warned that Laura was "unsurvivable" and "castastrophic." But Donald Trump's party went on. And once again, Dana Milbank writes, he is a man without a plan:

He didn’t create the coronavirus, but he made its impact on the United States worse than in any other country because he had no plan to combat it. More than six months after the virus surfaced, he said his administration was “in the process of developing a strategy” to fight it.

He didn’t cause the economic collapse, but he worsened it because he didn’t have a long-term plan to soften the blow. Congressional Democrats offered him an election-year gift of a multitrillion-dollar stimulus package, but he walked away because Republicans thought it too generous. Now millions of unemployed Americans are seeing government help evaporate.

He didn’t invent police brutality, but he worsened tensions because he didn’t have a plan (or a desire) to fix racism in policing. Instead he demonized racial-justice demonstrators, sent in federal police who inflamed violence and, at this week’s convention, glorified gunmen who confronted demonstrators. The deadly scene this week in Kenosha, Wis., is the latest byproduct of the escalation.

Trump didn’t cause Hurricane Laura, but the storm highlights his lack of a plan to lessen climate change, to diversify the nation’s energy supply (major oil and gas facilities are in Laura’s crosshairs) or to prepare a muscular government response.

The evidence of what Trump called "American Carnage" is everywhere. And he is its cause. The only way to remedy the situation is for American voters to become the Big Bad Wolf of the children's fable.

They may not blow his house down. But they must blow him out of the White House.


Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Missing The Boat

Our movers and shakers are panicked about population growth. George Monbiot writes that they don't understand the real problem:

When a major study was published last month, showing that the global population is likely to peak then crash much sooner than most scientists had assumed, I naively imagined that people in rich nations would at last stop blaming all the world’s environmental problems on population growth. I was wrong. If anything, it appears to have got worse.

Overpopulation is concentrated in the poorest parts of the world:

Population growth is overwhelmingly concentrated among the world’s poorest people . . . . The extra resource use and greenhouse gas emissions caused by a rising human population are a tiny fraction of the impact of consumption growth.

Overconsumption is the real problem.  And, historically, scolding the poor for overpopulation has led to racism:

The excessive emphasis on population growth has a grim history. Since the clergymen Joseph Townsend and Thomas Malthus wrote their tracts in the 18th century, poverty and hunger have been blamed not on starvation wages, war, misrule and wealth extraction by the rich, but on the reproduction rates of the poor. Winston Churchill blamed the Bengal famine of 1943, that he helped to cause through the mass export of India’s rice, on the Indians “breeding like rabbits”. In 2013 Sir David Attenborough, also a patron of Population Matters, wrongly blamed famines in Ethiopia on “too many people for too little land”, and suggested that sending food aid was counter-productive.

Most of the world’s population growth is happening in the poorest countries, where most people are black or brown. The colonial powers justified their atrocities by fomenting a moral panic about “barbaric”, “degenerate” people “outbreeding” the “superior races”. These claims have been revived today by the far right, who promote conspiracy theories about “white replacement” and “white genocide”. When affluent white people wrongly transfer the blame for their environmental impacts on to the birthrate of much poorer brown and black people, their finger-pointing reinforces these narratives. It is inherently racist.

That narrative continues today in the worldwide backlash against immigrants. If we truly want to solve the overpopulation problem, Monbiot writes, we should focus on the emancipation of women:

We know that the strongest determinant of falling birth rates is female emancipation and education. The major obstacle to female empowerment is extreme poverty. Its effect is felt disproportionately by women.

And, as poverty decreases around the world, so will population:

A good way of deciding whether someone’s population concerns are genuine is to look at their record of campaigning against structural poverty. Have they contested the impossible debts poor nations are required to pay? Have they argued against corporate tax avoidance, or extractive industries that drain wealth from poorer countries, leaving almost nothing behind, or the financial sector in Britain’s processing of money stolen abroad? Or have they simply sat and watched as people remain locked in poverty, then complained about their fertility?

If we blame the poor, we miss the boat. We should be blaming ourselves.


Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Simple and Crass

The Republicans have decided that they don't need a platform. What they will run on, Dana Milbank writes, was on full display last night -- fear:

The Republican National Convention on its opening day was as uplifting as the apocalypse, as positive as perdition.

The woke-topians,” Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) warned, “will disarm you, empty the prisons, lock you in your home and invite MS-13 to live next door, and the police aren’t coming when you call.”

Kimberly Guilfoyle, the former Fox News personality and current girlfriend of Donald Trump Jr., informed the convention that Democrats “want to destroy this country and everything that we have fought for and hold dear. They want to steal your liberty, your freedom. They want to control what you see and think and believe so that they can control how you live. They want to enslave you to the weak, dependent, liberal victim ideology, to the point that you will not recognize this country or yourself.”

Midway through this rage-fest, the convention went to news footage of violence and destruction in the streets and bleeped-out obscenities — then cut to the wood-paneled interior of the mansion of Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the St. Louis couple who were charged with firearms violations after they threatened racial-justice demonstrators with a pistol and military-style weapon.

The pair, personal injury lawyers both, spoke about the “out-of-control mob” and the “Marxist liberal activist” and “radicals” who menaced them by walking past their house — which “could just as easily happen to any of you who are watching from quiet neighborhoods around our country.”

“They’re not satisfied with spreading the chaos and violence into our communities. They want to abolish the suburbs altogether,” the McCloskeys declared. “Make no mistake, no matter where you live, your family will not be safe in the radical Democrats’ America.”

That's the message: Your family won't be safe if you elect the Democrats. Simple and utterly crass -- like the man who is currently president.


Monday, August 24, 2020

Fires In His Own House

So it's Erin O'Toole. The pundits are surprised -- and so is Peter Mackay. Now that analysts are beginning to sort through the votes, it appears that the party's social conseratives put O'Toole over the top. Katy O'Malley reports that:

In the end, very little about the last few hours of the Conservative leadership race turned out as expected, from the unforeseen mechanical glitches in the vote-counting process that pushed the promised reveal of the results until just before midnight to the grand finale, which gave veteran Ontario MP Erin O’Toole a decisive victory over presumptive favourite Peter MacKay after successfully securing the second and third-choice support from the other two candidates on the ranked ballot, rookie MP Derek Sloan, who was eliminated after the opening round, and Toronto-area lawyer Leslyn Lewis.

It’s worth noting that, despite coming in third on the official party scoreboard, Lewis actually won more votes than either of her two competitors in the second round, but was dropped from the ballot due to the point system, which assigns 100 points to each riding.

Judging from the final tally, it would appear that a critical mass of her supporters ultimately wound up backing O’Toole over MacKay on the third — and last — go-round.

So while the party has moved to the geographical centre of the country -- Peter Mackay has been practising law in Toronto for the last five years -- policy-wise, the party is moving to the right. 

Rather than moving to the centre, conservative parties around the world are moving further right. Canadian conservatives have hopped on that bandwagon. It's an open question whether or not Canadians themselves are moving in that direction.

And O'Toole faces another problem. Stephen Harper's party has been a western-based party. It's no accident that the Wexit folks have risen in rebellion. O'Toole would dearly love to take down Justin Trudeau. But, for the present, he'll have to put out some fires in his own house.


Sunday, August 23, 2020

Maryanne's Tale


CNN  and The Washington Post have obtained copies of conversations Mary Trump had with her aunt, retired judge Maryanne Trump Barry. The judge appears to know her brother well:

Maryanne Trump Barry bitterly criticized her brother, President Donald Trump, saying, "Donald's out for Donald," and appeared to confirm her niece Mary Trump's previous allegations that he had a friend take his SATs to get into college, according to audio excerpts obtained by CNN.

The Washington Post first obtained the previously unreleased transcripts and audio from Mary Trump, author of a recent bombshell book about the President and one of his most outspoken critics. Mary Trump, who has said that Donald Trump is unfit to be president and has voiced support for his rival Joe Biden, revealed to the Post that she had secretly taped 15 hours of face-to-face conversations with Barry in 2018 and 2019.

Among the some of the more critical comments made by Barry was commenting on how her younger 74-year-old brother operated as president. "His goddamned tweet and lying, oh my God," she said, according to the recording. "I'm talking too freely, but you know. The change of stories. The lack of preparation. The lying. Holy shit."

Barry also said at one point to her niece, "It's the phoniness of it all. It's the phoniness and this cruelty. Donald is cruel," according to the audio scripts and recordings.

Perhaps the most revealing part of the newly released audio is a conversation Barry reportedly had with her niece on Nov. 1, 2018, that seems to be the impetus for the allegation that Trump paid someone to take his SATs, which was one of the most publicized allegations in Mary Trump's book "Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created The World's Most Dangerous Man," according to the Post.

According to the Post, the conversation went like this, Barry said to Mary: "He went to Fordham for one year [actually two years] and then he got into University of Pennsylvania because he had somebody take the exams." "No way!" Mary responded. "He had somebody take his entrance exams?"

Barry then replied, "SATs or whatever. . . . That's what I believe," before saying, "I even remember the name." That person was Joe Shapiro," Barry said.

 Should anyone be surprised ? Quelle famille!


Saturday, August 22, 2020

Tightrope Walk

Justin Trudeau has been walking a tightrope lately, Michael Harris writes. His gymnastics were triggered by the resignation of Bill Morneau:

Morneau’s demise triggered a chain of events that prompted the prime minister to take the greatest chance of his political career — the decision to prorogue Parliament with the wolf pack closing in on his alleged ethical shortcomings once again.

That move brought Parliament’s work to a grinding halt, including investigations by parliamentary committees delving into the WE charity affair. Apart from throwing a histrionic hissy fit at press conferences, as the Conservatives’ Pierre Poilievre did this week, MPs won’t get a chance to call new witnesses before their committees until after a new speech from the throne.

The Conservatives -- particularly Pierre Poilivre -- are furious. But Harris thinks that Trudeau just might get away with it:

The PM bought himself time to craft a new legislative agenda laying out how he plans to restart the economy. Judging from the massive amounts of money already spent on supporting millions of Canadians through the pandemic, it will be a dramatic agenda.

The government is hoping that hitting the reset button will make such a splash that only parliamentary nitpickers will continue to gripe about a dubious program that managed to last all of one week, and has already claimed the finance minister.

The prorogation will be short. And it will end with a Speech from the Thone. Will there be a snap election?

The PM is betting that no political party, with the exception of the Bloc Québécois, will be anxious to trigger an election. He is probably right.

The Conservatives need time to establish the fact that there is a new marshal in town. Going into an election with a leader just over a month on the job would be dicey.

Where would the policy come from? Where would the money come from? Where would the candidates come from? And how would Canadians feel about an election foisted on them during a pandemic? (We will soon see, as New Brunswick heads to the polls in September after its minority government couldn’t work a deal with the opposition.)

As for the NDP, the financial cupboard is bare. Besides, Jagmeet Singh has a chance to use the Trudeau government’s vulnerability to negotiate progressive policies as the price of his support. Things like child care, where he has already gotten $2 billion out of the government, and pharmacare.

As for the Greens, the party is in the middle of a leadership battle and might not even have a new leader if the government were to fall in September.

It's the kind of thing that Trudeau the Elder would do. And it's the kind of thing that Mackenzie King did frequently.

Image: the

Friday, August 21, 2020

Laughing All The Way To The Bank


Steve Bannon has been arrested and charged with fraud. Michelle Goldberg writes:

According to a federal indictment, Bannon, along with his associates Brian Kolfage, Andrew Badolato and Timothy Shea, ran a crowdfunding campaign, We Build the Wall, ostensibly to help fund Trump’s promised southern border barrier. The project became, said prosecutors, a source of illicit personal enrichment.

We Build the Wall was run as a nonprofit, and assured donors that “100 percent of funds raised” would go toward wall construction. Some donors, said the indictment, wrote to Kolfage that “they did not have a lot of money and were skeptical of online fund-raising campaigns,” but they were “giving what they could” because they trusted his promises.

According to the indictment, Bannon used a separate nonprofit to siphon off over $1 million, some of which was used to pay Kolfage, who also received money through a shell company set up by Shea.

Among other things, the indictment says, Kolfage used the funds to pay for “home renovations, payments towards a boat, a luxury S.U.V., a golf cart, jewelry, cosmetic surgery, personal tax payments and credit card debt.” (He seems to have used the boat, called the Warfighter, to sail in one of Trump’s beloved boat parades.)

Donald Trump Jr. lavished praise on Bannon and his associates: 

“This is private enterprise at its finest. Doing it better, faster, cheaper than anything else, and what you guys are doing is pretty amazing.”

Maybe Trump Jr. was a sucker who believed this, or maybe he just didn’t care. The truth is that We Build the Wall is what Trumpist private enterprise looks like — a gaudy scam that monetizes grievance.

That's what Trumpworld is all about -- monetizing grievance. Trump and his associates leave the poor worse off than when they found them. And they laugh all the way to the bank.

Image: Fox News

Thursday, August 20, 2020

The New Democrats' Moment

 The NDP, Linda McQuaig writes, is sitting in the catbird seat:

Trudeau’s prorogation seems to be a self-centred attempt to avoid further parliamentary scrutiny over WE. Still, the PM’s suddenly shaky fortune could be turned to good use, if the NDP uses its leverage to compel the minority Liberals to be as progressive as they like to portray themselves to an increasingly progressive Canadian public.

The NDP could follow in the footsteps of its feisty, one-time leader David Lewis, who in the 1970s successfully coerced Pierre Trudeau’s minority Liberals, pushing them to create a national, publicly owned oil company (Petro-Canada, unfortunately later privatized), more generous public pensions and election finance legislation aimed at curbing the political clout of the wealthy.

Today’s situation — with the pandemic worsening Canada’s already extreme inequality — cries out more than ever for bold, progressive action.

The usual resistance has surfaced:

The C.D. Howe Institute, representing Bay Street, has begun pushing for the reduction of Canada’s pandemic-related debt, while making clear that such debt reduction must not include higher taxes on the rich (even though that’s where all the money is).

But, in the United States, things are moving in the opposite direction:

Yet, with Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders likely to be prominent in a Joe Biden administration, wealth taxes could well be on the government agenda, moving the U.S. tax system closer to the fairer one designed by Franklin Roosevelt. It is a system Canada copied, with great results, until the 1980s.

Furthermore, even moderate Joe Biden has embraced a Green New Deal, a massive government-led effort to transition away from fossil fuels and create a national clean-energy infrastructure, creating millions of jobs in the process.

And, make no mistake, there is similar movement here:

An Abacus poll last year found that 67 per cent of Canadians supported a wealth tax — and that’s before the pandemic drastically reduced the incomes of our most vulnerable workers. Meanwhile, the stock market soars, making a mockery of the refrain “we’re all in this together.” Depends on what you mean by together.

Trudeau has read the signs. But he's going to need a kick in the pants to get him to move. That's where the NDP comes in:

If the NDP could push Trudeau to embrace a Canadian Green New Deal, it could be an inspiring counterpoint to calls for austerity from Bay Street and Conservatives. With borrowing costs near zero, Ottawa could invest massively, as it did during the war, again fighting a crucial battle, putting Canadians to work, and growing our way out of debt.

The opportunity is clearly there. Whether we will seize it or not is the open question.