Monday, November 30, 2020

Difficult Times

Chrystia Freeland delivers her economic update today. Chantal Hebert writes that, for Freeland, today is an inflection point:

Monday’s long-awaited federal fiscal update will be Chrystia Freeland’s first major solo performance as finance minister. She will need to make it count as it may also be her next-to-last in this Parliament.

By all indications, the update won’t bring the curtain down on Justin Trudeau’s minority government, but it will be a dress rehearsal for a spring budget that could well lead to a general election.

The conventional wisdom is that we'll have a spring election. The Conservatives, under Erin O'Toole, are already chomping at the bit. They talk about Canada being at the end of the line for vaccines. And, with protests against public health guidance growing across the country, this could very well be our winter of discontent.

Freeland's job is to help navigate the country through this winter:

Whether the next federal campaign comes over the first half of 2021 or later, the Liberals’ re-election to government will depend in no small part on Freeland’s performance as finance minister.

To secure a mandate to shepherd Canada out of the field of relative fiscal and economic ruins left behind by the pandemic, Trudeau will need his finance minister to complement rather than replicate his political branding.

To define what would constitute success on Monday is in itself a challenge.

As they struggle with the uncertainties brought about by the pandemic, most voters are not (yet?) inclined to prosecute the government for the massive and still-mounting deficit Freeland will present them with next week.

But nor are most Canadians — notwithstanding the vocal lobbies that have been looking to the pandemic for momentum to advance their agendas — craving a major experiment in social engineering.

While the fiscal update will lead to much debate as to whether Freeland has succeeded at striking a magic balance between fiscal rectitude and policy activism, the core message many voters will be looking for next week may be whether hers is a steady hand at the wheel.

These are difficult times -- for Freeland and the country.

Image: South China Morning Post

Sunday, November 29, 2020

The Final Nail

"Give me liberty or give me death!" That line was Patrick Henry's claim to fame. If you live in Jason Kenney's Alberta, those seem to be your two options. Don Lenihan and Andrew Balfour write:

Joe Biden didn’t win the US election; Donald Trump defeated himself – and he did it by denying the truth about the pandemic. Jason Kenney’s decision to become “the voice of liberty” as the virus rampages through Alberta seems to us strangely similar. Indeed, the premier’s rants are starting to sound like the caricatured Alberta conservative, “Joe Albertan.”

Albertans don't like those choices:

The latest Environics poll has Rachel Notley’s NDP leading Kenney’s Conservatives 47 to 40 per cent. A Leger survey last week found a mere 37 per cent of Albertans were satisfied with the premier’s measures to fight the pandemic. To get clearer on what Kenney is thinking and why he is talking this way, let’s roll back the tape on his response to the pandemic.

Kenney has been the most strident Conservative voice in Canada. And, as COVID numbers rose in the province, he continued to echo Patrick Henry:

A steep rise in COVID cases was under way by mid-October, and by early November, the numbers were surging. Even conservative premiers knuckled under and began imposing hard measures on their provinces – except for Kenney, who talked about defeating the virus, but failed to act.

On November 6, new measures were finally announced, but the premier stoutly resisted any use of mandatory measures. The emphasis was firmly on “personal responsibility.” Why?

A lockdown, Kenney said, “constitutes a massive invasion of the exercise of people’s fundamental rights and a massive impact on not only their personal liberties but their ability to put food on the table to sustain themselves financially.”

The premier was heading down a different path. Instead, he called on Albertans to continue “to lead the way as the freest province in the country…”

On November 12, 70 physicians from across the province sent a letter to the premier calling for “strong and decisive mandatory measures,” perhaps along the lines of a “circuit breaker” lockdown.

Kenney replied by doubling down on liberty “We’ve seen other jurisdictions implement sweeping lockdowns, indiscriminately violating people’s rights and destroying livelihoods. Nobody wants that to happen here in Alberta,” he declared.

But over the next two days, it was the virus that showed who was really in control. Each day, the province surged past 1,500 cases – overtaking even Ontario, which has more than three times the population of Alberta and was itself surging out of control.

On November 23, 341 physicians sent yet another letter to the premier, pleading for a lockdown and warning that the rise in cases would soon overload the health-care system.
Indeed, as the virus devoured medical resources and infected thousands of Albertans, Kenney not only persisted with the Cold War rhetoric but, ironically, ranted about how he was resisting “political pressure” and “ideological approaches” from those who were trying to undermine liberty and damage people’s lives and livelihoods.”

It was, frankly, bizarre.

Bizarre is too polite a word. In Ontario, we are in the same boat as Albertans. The pandemic should put the final nail in the coffin of neo-liberalism. We'll see if that happens.

Image: fcit.usf.edu



Saturday, November 28, 2020

A Different World

Joe Biden will replace the Trump Clown Show with competent professionals. But, Tony Burman writes, the world has changed a great deal since the advent of Trump -- for several reasons:

1.The United States Is Much Weaker

The damage inflicted on the United States by the Trump presidency is virtually incalculable. By the time he leaves office in January, more than 400,000 Americans will be dead from the pandemic. The economy is in shambles and the key democratic institutions — such as the legal system, news media and public service — have been savaged. The country is also horribly polarized, with the majority of Republicans believing Trump’s nonsense that the election was stolen from him. That is the America over which a new President Biden will preside.

2. It's Not the Same World

Since 2016, the American reputation in the world has declined dramatically. Rather than being seen as “the shining city on the hill” — as Ronald Reagan once described it — the U.S. is now viewed by many as a failed state. In many parts of the world, the dictators of China and Russia — Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin — are now “more trusted” than the U.S. president. Even the fabled U.S. medical system is now viewed by many with disbelief as its horrific pandemic death toll climbs.

3. Europe Is Divided

There are divisions in Europe about how close an embrace there should be to the Americans now. France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, is pushing for European “strategic autonomy” that would be more independent in military and industrial terms. Germany, in contrast, wants to resume the close relations of the past. The question is how trustworthy the United States is anymore.

4. The Problems Are Tougher to Solve

The U.S. will rejoin the Paris climate treaty, the World Health Organization and UNESCO and it will revive the nuclear agreement with Iran. But it will take considerable resolve to solve other issues. There is the need for the U.S. to end its role in the Saudi-led war in Yemen, to make sense of the farcical Trump approach to North and South Korea, and to deal with Russia. And the list goes on.

5. China Is A Force to Be Reckoned With

There is no country that has benefited more from the disastrous Trump years than China. Although the U.S. president and his acolytes were bellicose in their anti-China rhetoric, their actions accomplished nothing — except to strengthen China’s position. By weakening western alliances, abandoning America’s traditional allies in Asia and withdrawing the U.S. from any effective global engagement, Trump allowed the Chinese government to increase its power abroad and smother human rights and democracy in its own country. China, therefore, is far more of a dangerous rival to the U.S. than it was when Trump took over.

Throughout his life, Donald Trump has been a wrecking ball. During the last four years, he has set out to wreak havoc on the world. Rebuilding from the rubble he has left behind will not be easy.

Image: slate.com

Friday, November 27, 2020

No Easy Task

David Brooks has an interesting column in this morning's New York Times. Brooks seeks to explain why so many people are open to believing conspiracy theories:

We live in a country in epistemological crisis, in which much of the Republican Party has become detached from reality. Moreover, this is not just an American problem. All around the world, rising right-wing populist parties are floating on oceans of misinformation and falsehood. What is going on?

My analysis begins with a remarkable essay that Jonathan Rauch wrote for National Affairs in 2018 called “The Constitution of Knowledge.” Rauch pointed out that every society has an epistemic regime, a marketplace of ideas where people collectively hammer out what’s real. In democratic, nontheocratic societies, this regime is a decentralized ecosystem of academics, clergy members, teachers, journalists and others who disagree about a lot but agree on a shared system of rules for weighing evidence and building knowledge.

Over the past decades the information age has created a lot more people who make their living working with ideas, who are professional members of this epistemic process. The information economy has increasingly rewarded them with money and status. It has increasingly concentrated them in ever more prosperous metro areas.

While these cities have been prospering, places where fewer people have college degrees have been spiraling down: flatter incomes, decimated families, dissolved communities. In 1972, people without college degrees were nearly as happy as those with college degrees. Now those without a degree are far more unhappy about their lives.

And it's those without a degree who are easy prey for conspiracy theorists:

People in this precarious state are going to demand stories that will both explain their distrust back to them and also enclose them within a safe community of believers. The evangelists of distrust, from Donald Trump to Alex Jones to the followers of QAnon, rose up to give them those stories and provide that community. Paradoxically, conspiracy theories have become the most effective community bonding mechanisms of the 21st century.

For those awash in anxiety and alienation, who feel that everything is spinning out of control, conspiracy theories are extremely effective emotional tools. For those in low status groups, they provide a sense of superiority: I possess important information most people do not have. For those who feel powerless, they provide agency: I have the power to reject “experts” and expose hidden cabals. As Cass Sunstein of Harvard Law School points out, they provide liberation: If I imagine my foes are completely malevolent, then I can use any tactic I want.

It's that divide that haunts our politics these days. And bridging that divide will be no easy task.

Image: the conversation.com


Thursday, November 26, 2020

A Criminal Then And Now

Yesterday, Donald Trump pardoned Mike Flynn. During Robert Mueller's inquiry and Trump's impeachment, Trump signaled to his associates that, if they refused to cooperate, he'd take care of them. Trump got William Barr to take care of Roger Stone. Now Trump has taken care of Mike Flynn.

Flynn's pardon is only the first of several pardons which Trump will issue before he leaves office. His last act may be to pardon himself -- which would be a violation of the core legal principle that a man cannot be a judge in his own case.

But principle has never guided Trump's decisions. He has always made decisions based upon self-interest -- his own self-interest.

Mr. Biden's attorney general will have his hands full. And Trump will leave office as he entered it -- a criminal.

Image: You Tube


Wednesday, November 25, 2020

A Myth Buster

For nearly fifty years now, we have been buying the myth that the private sector can do anything better than the government. The pandemic has exposed that myth for the lie it is. What has been happening in our long term care homes is the most painful example of that lie. Linda McQuaig writes:

Privatization has become a kind of economic dogma in recent years, with business commentators and politicians routinely asserting that the private sector is more efficient and always does things better -- an assertion that is rarely accompanied by any evidence.

In fact, the crucial difference separating the private and public sectors is that the private sector is focused on profit-making. Indeed, this is the only real purpose of a business enterprise.

So, regardless of what industry spokespeople say, a private company in the nursing home business is focused on maximizing profits, as its board of directors demands.

What has happened in Ontario starkly illustrates the primacy of profit over care:

Certainly, Ontario's three big private nursing home chains, which receive government funding under the same formula as not-for-profit homes, have been good at maximizing profits.

Over the past decade, the three chains paid out $1.5 billion in dividends to shareholders and $138 million in executive pay, according to the Star investigation.

The chains insist these payouts come out of profits they earn selling private services to residents in these and other retirement homes, which are not funded by government.

In fact, it's hard to know exactly what's going on, since the government is notoriously lax in its regulations and oversight of the industry -- as the pandemic vividly illustrates.

This laxness appears to be traceable back to Mike Harris, the former Conservative premier whose government removed minimum staffing levels for nursing homes in the late 1990s and encouraged the involvement of private businesses.

Long term care homes have been kind to Harris:

After retiring from politics in 2002, Harris has profited handsomely from the lucrative private nursing home industry he helped create, serving as chairman of Chartwell Retirement Residences, one of the three big chains. (His annual salary for this part-time position is $229,500, and he has $4.4 million in Chartwell holdings.)

Over the past decade, Chartwell paid its executives $47.3 million and distributed $798 million to shareholders.

Meanwhile, in the 28 nursing homes Chartwell owns or operates in Ontario, the COVID-19 infection rate has been 47 per cent higher and the fatality rate 68 per cent higher than the provincial average, according to the Star investigation.

COVID has been a myth buster. After the pandemic, the old myths won't sell.

Image: torontocitynews.ca


Tuesday, November 24, 2020

If He Can't Live In the House

The Biden transition has now officially begun. Still, last night, Donald Trump tweeted that he would "never concede." What he will do, Paul Krugman writes, is trash the nation on his way out the back door. That is clearly evident in Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin's decision to take back money in government aid programs which has not yet been spent:

For a few weeks in March and April, as investors panicked over the pandemic, America teetered on the edge of a major financial crisis. But the Fed, backstopped by the Treasury, stepped up with new programs offering to buy assets like corporate bonds and municipal debt. In the end, not much of the money was used — but the assurance that the money was there if needed stabilized the markets, and the crisis faded away.

Maybe the new coronavirus surge won’t provoke a second financial crisis — after all, we now know that a vaccine is on the way. But the risk of crisis hasn’t gone away, and it’s just foolish to take away the tools we might need to fight such a crisis.

Mnuchin’s claim that the money is no longer needed makes no sense, and it’s not clear whether his successor will be easily able to undo his actions. Given everything else that’s happening, it’s hard to see Mnuchin’s move as anything but an act of vandalism, an attempt to increase the odds of disaster under Trump’s successor.

Trump's motivation is clear. He intends to punish the clear majority of voters who didn't cast their votes for him. If he can't live in the house, he intends to burn it down -- and Steve Mnuchin is setting the fire.

Image: the trentonline.com


Monday, November 23, 2020

Leadership And The Common Good

In the midst of a pandemic, Robin Sears writes, we are losing trust in our governments. There are ominous signs on the horizon which we must change:

The transgressions of the pandemic flouters’ partying, mask refusal and resentment at any forced changes in their private lives stems from one place: their declared mistrust of government.

Trust is breached when mistakes are ignored or denied by those accountable. So, how many apologies have we heard from the owners of some appalling long-term care facilities? Not an apology from a hapless LTC home manager — real apologies from the chairs and CEOs of the big chains. Perhaps starting with Mike Harris, the chair of Chartwell Retirement Residences, a firm who put out a stunningly insensitive self-congratulatory news release in May, with no hint of apology, and apparently none since.

Perhaps the best index of Canadians’ mistrust is this: the large number who say they will not take any vaccines. Although the number is coming down, it is still nearly one in three among us. This is seriously dangerous territory. If vaccines are forcibly mandated or restrictions are imposed on the freedoms of those who refuse, we risk serious civil unrest. If vaccination is not required, we will hit wave after COVID wave.

We should ensure that trusted senior physicians, faith leaders and academics also have effective platforms as vaccination advocates, not just politicians or public health officials.

This was never going to be easy. Our attention spans and our patience has, over the years gotten shorter. On the other hand, we're better than the naysayers claim. And trust works both ways:

Our leaders need to trust Canadians to be willing to endure tougher and tighter restrictions now. There appears to be a division developing between those provinces moving quickly with tough measures, such as B.C., Manitoba and Nunavut, and those that are not. Premier Ford appears to have returned to his early pandemic form — serious, empathetic, and persuasive — in announcing tough new measures on Friday.

Nearly every other government is either hesitating to impose broad and painful restrictions, or proposing completely unrealistic measures, such as Quebec’s complete quarantine one week before and one week after Christmas. It seems certain to fail. New Democrats and Greens have wisely demanded Ottawa and the provinces offer financial assistance to families in near lockdown.

We can get through this -- with the right leadership -- and with a commitment to the common good.

Image: health.sunnybrook.ca

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Trump And His Bootlickers

Donald Trump refuses to admit that he lost the election. His refusal shows itself every day in so many ways. Richard Wolffe suggests that we count the ways:

1. The Founding Myth Of Election Night

"This is a fraud on the American public," he said. “This is an embarrassment to our country. We were getting ready to win this election. Frankly, we did win this election. We did win this election. So our goal now is to ensure the integrity for the good of this nation. This is a very big moment. This is a major fraud in our nation. We want the law to be used in a proper manner. So we’ll be going to the US supreme court. We want all voting to stop.” 

2. Spineless Senators

Marco Rubio could see this coming. He warned us to be prepared. Sadly he couldn’t warn himself to do anything about it.

But that’s the Florida senator – and Trump’s Republican party – for you.

The Oklahoma senator James Lankford likes to think of himself as a smart, independent conservative with a deep concern for the nation’s security.

So when he appeared on Oklahoma radio a couple of weeks ago, it seemed pretty safe to insist that the president-elect, Joe Biden, should get intelligence briefings by the end of the week – some 10 days after the election. Otherwise, the mighty Lankford would intervene to protect America.

But Trump stood firm:

Faced with this insurmountable opponent, Lankford collapsed. He said he was in “no hurry” to help the transition, but also insisted that he did intervene – to no discernible effect.

3. Everything Rudi Guiliani does:

There are times when this former US attorney is astonishingly incompetent. There are other times when he is just bizarrely incoherent. As the Biden team’s Bob Bauer likes to point out, Giuliani and company are not just losing cases, they are losing lawyers.

At the landscaping joint last week, Giuliani was arguing about poll watching. So what if his leading witness was a sex offender and perennial candidate in a different state?

This week, he was arguing about a global conspiracy involving a couple of dead socialists, a live philanthropist and some voting software. The effort caused his hair dye, or possibly mascara, to dribble down his cheeks. It was pretty emotional.

Beyond the cosmetics, the challenge comes in the place they call the courts, where things like facts and details matter. Including whether you know the difference between Michigan and Minnesota, when you file affidavits that purport to prove voter fraud.

4. Everything Lindsey Graham does:

This much we know: Lindsey Graham of South Carolina called Georgia’s secretary of state to talk about throwing out ballots in the closely-contested state that he has nothing to do with. The state official – a Republican, who has received death threats for defending democracy – said he was stunned by the effort to throw out legally cast votes.

Lindsey Graham is a former military lawyer who currently chairs the Senate judiciary committee. He is also the Olympic gold medalist in the 100-meter walk of shame.

There's more -- but you get the idea. Clearly, it's time to haul Trump off to the funny farm -- along with the bootlickers who do his bidding.

Image: facebook.com

Saturday, November 21, 2020

For Quite Awhile

Yesterday, Doug Ford imposed lockdowns in Toronto and Peel -- the suburbs west of Toronto. It took him a long time to get there. Bruce Arthur writes:

This has been a goldfish government, swimming from day to day, changing strategies on the fly while trying to keep businesses open and preserve votes in 2022. Four days ago, chief medical officer Dr. David Williams said almost every region in Ontario could be in the least restrictive green zone by Christmas. A week ago Ford changed the province’s framework but didn’t include defining a lockdown, and a week before that the same breathtakingly unscientific framework upended the entire strategy that Ontario had purported to employ.

This time, the government took and delivered medicine. It’s one step toward controlling the virus.

In Ontario, we're still caught between a rock and a hard place:

The lockdowns “probably will have some meaningful effect,” says Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases specialist at the University of Toronto. “I don’t think we should expect miracles. Maybe it’ll slow the rates down, maybe we’ll start to plateau.

“But we’re at the point now where we need rates to slow down, we need to plateau, because our health-care system’s getting pinched. So as much as this stinks, it is the right move, purely because Scarborough’s (hospitals) are getting hit, Brampton’s getting hit, Mississauga’s filling up, Humber’s filling up. They had to do something.”

It isn't easy. Until the virus is under control, the economy will suffer -- which means that workers will need more government support:

Indeed, without paid sick leave, Peel, home to so many essential workers, won’t be helped enough. The federal government has just passed stronger business supports, but federal paid sick leave isn’t enough. Fix that, and offer isolation facilities for those in congregate living situations, and you fix a lot.

“If we don’t address those factors, while this will bring things down in the short term, it will not necessarily address the risk and the outcomes that the most vulnerable in our community have been facing,” said Dr. Lawrence Loh, Peel’s medical officer of health.

Indeed. And if we don’t truly try to tackle the virus, what are we sacrificing in lockdown life for?

“For me the biggest question is what’s the end game here?” says epidemiologist and modeller Dr. Ashleigh Tuite of the University of Toronto, who sits on the province’s volunteer science table. “It was pretty clear that stronger measures were needed, and the current approach isn’t working. I don’t think that there were a lot of other options in terms of what you do next.

No, this isn't easy. And it's going to be like this for quite awhile.

Image: wisdomquotes.com

Friday, November 20, 2020

Our Own Morons

Erin O'Toole is trying to put a softer face on the Conservative Party, assuming that strategy will build a big tent party. But, Bob Hepburn writes, he's casting himself as Canada's Donald Trump:

Some analysts suggest O’Toole is shifting the party so far to the left that at times he sounds like U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders or that he’s trying to steal traditional NDP voters.

In truth, though, what O’Toole is doing is fashioning himself as Canada’s Donald Trump — but without the bombast, lies, bigotry and polarization that mark Trump’s presidency.

Indeed, O’Toole is openly stealing pages straight from Trump’s 2020 election strategy playbook.

Like Trump, O'Toole seeks to divide Canadians:

In doing so he is trying to duplicate Trump’s successful strategy of building a polarizing populist coalition of traditional Republicans and disaffected voters, reaching out to people who were furious with “cancel culture” and “the radical left,” revved up by “grievance politics” and fed up with “elites” who they believe don’t give a damn about them, their families, their jobs or their very existence.

O'Toole's Trumpist strategy is evident in several ways:

First, O’Toole’s leadership campaign slogan of “Take Back Canada” is an echo of Trump’s slogan of “Make America Great Again.” Catchy? For sure! But one can easily ask, “Take back from what — or whom?”

Second, O’Toole is pushing a “Canada First” economic strategy, with hints of trade tariffs on imports and action against companies that move jobs out of the country. Asked recently how this differs from Trump’s “America First” strategy, the Tory leader replied: “It’s not different at all.”

Third, Trump made huge headway in reaching disaffected voters by demonizing elites. That’s exactly what O’Toole has started to do with attacks on “elites” in business, politics and the media, although the truth is the Conservatives are the party of business “elites” and many media “elites.”

Fourth, like Trump, O’Toole has openly courted social conservatives with such moves as signalling a willingness to allow his MPs to reopen moral issues, such as abortion. Some pundits dismiss the political influence of social conservatives, but they remain a powerful force, well organized and well financed.

Fifth, O’Toole has adopted Trump’s get-tough approach to China, bashing it for cybertheft, human rights violations and aggressive trade stands. O’Toole doesn’t refer to COVID-19 as the “China virus” as Trump does, but he does echo the U.S. president when he alleges there is “no greater threat to Canada’s interest than the rise of China.”

Sixth, again like Trump, O’Toole is vigorously courting union workers, saying in a recent speech there is “too much power in the hands of corporate and financial elites who have been only too happy to outsources jobs abroad.” He’s also reaching out to suburban voters, saying in the same speech that “middle class Canada has been betrayed by the elites, on every level: political elites, financial elites, cultural elites.”

You'd think that after four years of Trumpian chaos, Canadian Conservatives would be wise enough to not repeat The Moron-in-Chief's mistakes. Apparently, we have our own morons.

Image: financialpost.com

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Republicans and Trump

Most Republicans are sticking with Donald Trump. That's bad news. But, E.J. Dionne writes, you can see the reason they have made that choice by looking at the election results:

In 2020, Trump voters came out in droves and thus boosted down-ballot Republicans. Trump won over 10 million more votes in 2020 than in 2016 — exit polls suggest that 6.5 million of his ballots came from first-time voters — which means he brought new supporters into the electorate who were important to this year’s House GOP victories.

As one Democratic strategist noted, “2018 was a wave year because our people showed up and theirs didn’t. 2020 was like a reversion to the mean because both sides showed up and right now we’re feeling the whiplash because no public or private data saw it coming.”

And, behind Trump's increased voter turnout, there is a disturbing undercurrent:

Given Trump’s intemperate and often wild ranting in the campaign’s final weeks and the growing public role in GOP politics of QAnon conspiracists, the Proud Boys and other previously marginal extremist groups, these voters may well be more radical than the party as a whole. This means that Republicans looking to the future may be more focused on keeping such Trump loyalists in the electorate than on backing away from his abuses.

If Dionne is right, the United States is in for a lot of trouble:

Trump’s bitterest harvest could thus be a Republican Party with absolutely no interest in a more moderate course and every reason to keep its supporters angry and on edge. Ignoring reality and denying Trump’s defeat are part of that effort.

The Republican Party is now the party of Trump and of Fantasy. And it's beginning to look like it will stay that way.

Image: theorion.com


Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Create A Diversion

A recent study provides a stark picture of what Neo-liberalism has cost Americans. Robert Reich writes:

According to a recent Rand study, if America's distribution of income had remained the same as it was in the three decades following World War II, the bottom 90 percent would now be $47 trillion richer.

A low-income American earning $35,000 this year would be earning $61,000. A college-educated worker now earning $72,000 would be earning $120,000. Overall, the grotesque surge in inequality that began 40 years ago is costing the median American worker $42,000 per year.

The upward redistribution of $47 trillion wasn't due to natural forces. It was contrived. As wealth accumulated at the top, so did political power to siphon off even more wealth and shaft everyone else.

Monopolies expanded because antitrust laws were neutered. Labor unions shriveled because corporations were allowed to bust unions. Wall Street was permitted to gamble with other peoples' money and was bailed out when its bets soured even as millions lost their homes and savings. Taxes on the top were cut, tax loopholes widened.

When COVID-19 hit, Big Tech cornered the market, the rich traded on inside information and the Treasury and the Fed bailed out big corporations but let small businesses go under. Since March, billionaire wealth has soared, while most Americans have become poorer.

How could the oligarchy get away with this in a democracy where the bottom 90 percent have the votes? Because the bottom 90 percent are bitterly divided.

That in, a nutshell, is what these last forty years have been about. Set the vast majority at each other's throats, then rob the bank. If you want to rob a bank, you have to create a diversion.

Image: pymnts.com


Tuesday, November 17, 2020

A Dark Future

Paul Krugman writes that the American response to the coronavirus does not bode well for the future. If Americans can't deal with COVID, how will they deal with climate change?

Awful as the pandemic outlook is, however, what worries me more is what our failed response says about prospects for dealing with a much bigger issue, one that poses an existential threat to civilization: climate change.

As many people have noted, climate change is an inherently difficult problem to tackle — not economically, but politically.

Right-wingers always claim that taking climate seriously would doom the economy, but the truth is that at this point the economics of climate action look remarkably benign. Spectacular progress in renewable energy technology makes it fairly easy to see how the economy can wean itself from fossil fuels. A recent analysis by the International Monetary Fund suggests that a “green infrastructure push” would, if anything, lead to faster economic growth over the next few decades.

But climate action remains very difficult politically given (a) the power of special interests and (b) the indirect link between costs and benefits.

The cost and the benefit of wearing a mask should be a no brainer. But millions of people still don't get it. What do we do when the costs and benefits aren't immediately apparent? The concept of pay now or pay more later seems to have disappeared:

Consider, for example, the problem posed by methane leaks from fracking wells. Better enforcement to limit these leaks would have huge benefits — but the benefits would be widely distributed across time and space. How do you get people in Texas to accept even a small rise in costs now when the payoff includes, say, a reduced probability of destructive storms a decade from now and half the world away?

After all, the consequences of irresponsible behavior during a pandemic are vastly more obvious and immediate than the costs of climate inaction. Gather a bunch of unmasked people indoors — say, in the Trump White House — and you’re likely to see a spike in infections just a few weeks later. This spike will take place in your own neighborhood, quite possibly affecting people you know.

Still, millions of people simply refuse to connect the dots. We face a very dark winter. But we face a much darker future.

Image: grist.org


Monday, November 16, 2020

Rowing In The Same Direction

COVID numbers are surging across Canada. But some countries have beaten COVID. Andrew Nikiforuk writes:

Taiwan, a nation of 24 million, moved quickly with testing, tracing, masks and other interventions to quash the virus. Because it acted rapidly, it didn’t require lockdowns.

After imposing a severe lockdown, New Zealand decided to take advantage of plummeting case rates and aimed for elimination. When the virus reappeared in August due to a mysterious family cluster, the country quickly restored zero transmission with a targeted lockdown and mandatory masks. Within three weeks, New Zealanders were again living with fewer restrictions than most Canadians.

Inspired by New Zealand’s success, Australia went for zero transmission too. When a major outbreak erupted in the state of Victoria in August — 700 cases a day mostly in Melbourne — the nation kept the virus contained. Within 110 days, it achieved zero transmission with a disciplined lockdown that included a night curfew. (Yes, suicides and mental health issues did go up during that lockdown.)

And, in Canada, the Maritimes have done much better than other parts of the country in the fight against the virus. Why? Because all of these jurisdictions adopted a "Go For Zero" strategy:

Starting with a national commitment, it would apply the measures that work. Tight border controls and effective quarantines; rigorous test, trace and isolate protocols with quarantine hotels; schools with proper risk measures including fewer students in a room; mandatory masking; engaged citizens.

The key is that it has to be a national strategy -- and, in Canada, health is a provincial responsibility. Despite that, we almost applied such a strategy:

For a brief window of time, much of Canada stood well poised to get to zero. Last summer the provinces of B.C., Manitoba and Saskatchewan, representing 23 per cent of Canada’s territory and 20 per cent of its population, nearly achieved no COVID spread.

But these provinces didn’t go the extra distance. And because Canada lacks a national policy mandating Go for Zero measures, each province — except for Atlantic Canada and the North, felt pressure to emulate others who were coasting. Now we are reaping the results.

But it would be a mistake to ignore how close those three provinces came to proving Go for Zero could work.

Vancouver Island, for instance, has so low a transmission rate it could have become another New Zealand had it seized the moment.

As is always the case, it's really difficult to get all of us to row in the same direction.

Image: brockvillerowingclub.com


Sunday, November 15, 2020

Whither Trumpism?

Donald Trump is headed for the exit. But the movement he spawned isn't, Robin Sears writes -- unless Trump refuses to leave the stage:

Political movements and their parties rarely die; they merely go into hibernation for a while.

This rebound is eminently possible for Trumpism, if the GOP codifies its policies and prejudices into a socially acceptable discourse. Americans in every generation have struggled with immigration. Anger at free trade and globalization has a broad and deep resonance in the American electorate. Contempt for all governments has often been widespread in American history. America First isolationism also has deep roots, with the GOP almost successfully blocking American participation in both world wars, the Marshall Plan, the United Nations and the Bretton Woods agreements that created the global economic infrastructure of the post-war years. Trump is merely a cruder version of a long line of conservative champions of these views.

Those positions have defined The Ugly American around the world. Trump was the Ugly American personified. 

And television magnified that personification. That's why there's talk of Trump starting his own TV network. It would renew his potency and keep him in the public eye. However, if Trump TV was the only network to cover his outrages, the man and his lunacy would fade. 

But Trumpism without Trump would garner lots of supporters:

A Trumpist GOP, without Trump, has another enormous advantage. They have access to hundreds of millions of dollars of support from rich right-wing American PACs, foundations and billionaires. The Koch brothers created and funded the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute, think tanks that provided the policy underpinnings to the Reagan revolution. A new generation of politically engaged billionaires from both Wall Street and Silicon Valley will back a new America First GOP agenda with generous support.

So much depends on what Trump does when he's out of office. But whichever path he chooses, his curse will not go away.

Image: pinterest


Saturday, November 14, 2020

Restaurants Have Clout



Restaurants have been lobbying hard to stay open during the pandemic. Alan Freeman writes:

Could the inability to order pizza in an indoor restaurant be the most dire result of a pandemic that has infected 52.4 million people worldwide and killed more than 10,750 Canadians?

Airlines are on the brink. Hotels are near empty. Cinemas and theatres are shuttered. Convention halls abandoned. Yet nobody seems to have much sympathy for the airlines, and nobody appears to care that it may be many months until they can see a blockbuster movie in a theatre.

Yet politicians of all stripes have been bending over backward to please the restaurant industry. Last month, before shutting down restaurants in the face of surging cases, Ontario Premier Doug Ford was clearly pained by the idea. “These are people who have put their lives in these small restaurants,” he said. “I have to see evidence before I take someone’s livelihood away from them and shut their lives down.”

Restaurant work isn't easy. I spent a summer earning my tuition in an A + W in Montreal. The people who work in the industry have a tough row to hoe. But the restaurant lobby wants to open its doors rather than ask for government assistance -- despite clear evidence that restaurants are central to community spread of the virus:

Restaurants are perfect homes for the coronavirus. Dr. Theresa Tam warns us all to avoid the three Cs: closed spaces, crowded spaces and close contact. Bingo. Restaurants are champions on every score. Furthermore, you can’t wear a mask when eating, even though it’s the most effective barrier to the virus around.

We’re all being told to stay home and reduce our interactions with people outside our immediate household, which has forced authorities to provide the most absurd advice in order to justify the continued opening of restaurants.

Dr. Bonnie Henry, the head of public health in British Columbia, has reacted to a spike in cases in the Vancouver area by telling people to avoid social gatherings with “anyone outside their immediate households, inside or outside.” But in the next breath, she says that visiting your local restaurant is perfectly okay, provided you bring only members of your immediate family and a maximum of six people sit at each table.

Increasingly, the dangers of restaurants in the middle of a galloping pandemic are apparent. Research published this week in the science journal Nature found that restaurants, caf├ęs, gyms, and other crowded indoor venues accounted for eight in 10 new coronavirus infections in the first months of the U.S. pandemic.

"Restaurants were by far the riskiest places, about four times riskier than gyms and coffee shops, followed by hotels," Jure Leskovec, a computer scientist at Stanford University and one of the study’s authors, told the New York Times.

This is do or die time for restaurants. They need direct government support. And there is still take out. But opening restaurant doors will only make matters worse.

Image: irvingoil.com


Friday, November 13, 2020

No Half Measures

When it comes to COVID, Tom Walkom writes, half measures won't work:

Either we are fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, or we are not.

There can be no half measures.

Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s medical officer of health, made essentially the same point Tuesday when she ordered the city’s restaurants and bars to continue banning indoor dining for another 28 days.

Yes, the ban was hard on Toronto’s eateries, she said. But evidence showed it was having an effect on the spread of the virus. Why give it up now?

That's the hard lesson behind this ugly situation:

Too often, politicians ignore this. Take, for instance, Toronto’s misguided effort to encourage winter patio dining.

This is based on the fact that the virus is less likely to spread out-of-doors. That in turn leads to the reasonable conclusion that in the warmer seasons patio dining can be safer than in-house dining.

And if it is safe to eat outside in warm weather, shouldn’t it be equally safe when temperatures are cool — particularly if the patios are enclosed and heated?

The short answer is no. If patios are enclosed and heated, they are no longer outside. Put simply, outdoor patios can work in winter only if they are, to all intents and purposes, indoors.

More to the point, an emphasis on encouraging Torontonians to engage in more patio dining contradicts one of de Villa’s central recommendations: to reduce as much as possible all contact with those outside one’s immediate household. As de Villa writes: “That means limiting in-person activities outside the home to essential activities only.”

Businesses need direct government support to stay afloat. In Ontario's budget, there are sweeping plans for tax cuts -- the usual conservative strategy for economic health. But that strategy gets things backward. Non-existent businesses cannot take advantage of government tax cuts.

Projections suggest that there will be 6.000  new cases a day in Ontario by mid-December. We're getting it wrong.

The virus comes first. The economy comes second. We can't split the difference.


Thursday, November 12, 2020

A Crisis Of Relevancy

Now that Donald Trump has been served his eviction notice, Brexit Britain finds itself in a lonely place. Afua Hirsch writes:

After the election of Donald Trump in 2016, an American friend compared the nativist populism of the United States with the state of Brexit Britain. “You think it’s bad that Britain voted to leave the EU,” he told me. “America has voted to leave itself.”

Following the American example, Boris Johnson's government took a similarly outrageous turn:

Under cover of the past four years of regression, the British government has been running riot. However badly our leaders behaved, though, they knew there was a larger, more powerful democracy behaving even worse. Conservative attacks on the independence of the judiciary, for example, may represent an unprecedented assault on our constitution. But for Trump, lashing out personally at individual judges on Twitter became routine.

The British government’s relaxed attitude about violating international law has prompted the condemnation of nearly all living former prime ministers. But Trump led the way in tearing up international agreements and withdrawing from multilateral organisations.

And, just as Trump stoked long-simmering racial divisions, Johnson did the same:

In Britain we have had to endure an equalities minister who suggests anti-racism reading materials are illegal in school, a foreign minister who derided Black Lives Matter as a Game of Thrones spoof, and Boris Johnson himself, as ready to insult black children in Africa as he was the black president in the White House. Vice-president-elect Kamala Harris is said to “hate” Johnson for claiming Obama held a grudge against Britain because of his “part-Kenyan” heritage. The prime minister’s comments have not aged well.

The Kenya reference was not accidental. Much of Johnson’s political strategy rests on foundations of imperial pride and colonial nostalgia. That was compatible with the “special relationship” when the American president was, like him, similarly smitten by an imagined great white past. Lamenting the decline of this relationship has become a national pastime in Britain – traditionally at just such moments as this, when a change of guard in the White House threatens the status quo. What is clear is that, insofar as the special relationship does exist, it’s rooted in “shared cultural values”. This phrase, whenever deployed by Britain, is almost always code for: “We colonised you once, and how well you’ve done from it.”

Tories pumped with pride from this same history – gloriously bragging in song that “Britons never shall be slaves” – are unlikely to find its seductive power holds much sway within the incoming US administration. The government ignored British ethnic minorities when we offered the truth of our own lineages to counter this propaganda. Ignoring the president and vice-president of America is slightly harder to pull off.

That leaves Johnson looking particularly fragile and exposed. This week one of his predecessors, John Major – no stranger to strained relations with America when he was in office – warned that “complacency and nostalgia are the route to national decline”. Britain needed a reality check, Major cautioned. “We are no longer an irreplaceable bridge between Europe and America. We are now less relevant to them both.”

Both the United States and Britain now face a crisis of relevancy. Mr. Johnson would be wise to rethink his whole project.

Image: businessinsider.com


Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Remembrance Day 2020

Today's ceremony at the cenotaph in our town will be different. It'll be scaled back. There will be fewer people -- all wearing masks. And it will be shorter than usual. COVID has changed everything.

Nonetheless, we need to remember, in a world with far too many demagogues, that we should never repeat the folly which this day finally brought to an end.

Image: Bay Ward Bulletin


Tuesday, November 10, 2020

The Reasons Why Trump Lost

Brett Stephens -- a conservative commentator -- has an interesting piece in this morning's New York Times. There are two reasons, he writes, why Donald Trump lost the election:

The first is that he’s immoral — manifestly, comprehensively and unrepentantly.

The immorality didn’t just repel his political opponents. It enraged them, inspired them, drove them to the polls and gave Biden exactly the opening he needed to run on a winning message of unity and decency.

Trump’s immorality also blinded him to his opportunities. He could have mended fences with his opponents. Instead, he consistently sought to humiliate them in ways that proved self-defeating: Think of John McCain and the Obamacare repeal vote. He could have spent the past eight months as the nation’s consoler in chief, a role nearly every past president has gracefully played. Instead, he went from denier in chief, to quack doctor in chief, to false promise maker in chief — everything, that is, except the steady and compassionate figure the country desperately needed in the White House.

The second reason Trump lost is that conservatives never tried to check his immorality. They rationalized, excused, enabled and ultimately celebrated it. For Trump’s presidency to have had even a faint chance of succeeding, he needed his allies and fellow travelers to provide reality checks and expressions of disapproval, including occasions of outright revolt. What he mainly got was an echo chamber.

No one in his circle had the courage to speak truth to power:

In Trump’s conservative universe, nearly everyone became a lickspittle. Among his fervent supporters, or those who drew better ratings or poll numbers from his presidency, this was at least understandable. They had TV careers to preserve, political jobs to fill, a cult leader to worship.

And they continue to lick Trump's boots. All this points to a coming conservative reackoning:

Just as ignorance was strength in George Orwell’s “1984,” shamelessness became virtue in Trump’s G.O.P. The strategy of moral inversion appeared to be vindicated four years ago, since none of Trump’s successive scandals prevented his victory.

Unfortunately, it appears that there is no Orwell in Trumpworld.

Image: esquire.com

Monday, November 09, 2020

Could It Happen Here?



Donald Trump finds himself, in the comedian Bill Mahar's words, "on the other end of an eviction notice." But that doesn't mean he's going away. Susan Delacourt writes:

The fact that Trump gained more votes in 2020 than he did four years ago — roughly seven million more, so far — should serve as bracing evidence that Trumpism is more than a blip on the political landscape.

Which raises the question, "Could Trumpism -- like Covid -- drift north of the border?" Frank Graves thinks so:

Frank Graves, the EKOS pollster who has been doing an intense study of populism and its potential to surface in Canada, was not feeling complacent at all as the results rolled in from the Nov. 3 vote. Graves and Michael Valpy wrote a piece in the Star on the eve of the vote last week, and the conclusion of that article was a warning and a prediction wrapped up in four words: “Trump is still competitive.”

Quietly, methodically, Graves has been analyzing the component pieces of Trump’s appeal and what feeds the political culture of grievance that the president championed. Much of Graves’ findings were published earlier this year in a paper for the University of Calgary’s public-policy school — a paper that should be required reading for any Canadians of the “it can’t happen here” way of thinking.

Graves has coined the phrase “ordered populism” to describe the Trump phenomenon and the paper’s summary describes it this way:

“Ordered populism rests on the belief in a corrupt elite, and the idea that power needs to be wrested from this elite and returned to the people. Oriented toward authoritarianism, ordered populism emphasizes obedience, hostility toward outgroups, a desire to turn back the clock to a time of greater order in society, and a search for a strongman type to lead the return to a better time.”

Does that type of politics exist in Canada? It sure does, Graves says, and it’s been on the rise for the past few years. His research says that view is shared by as much as a third of the population and its ascent is accompanied by increases in polarization, inequality and a decline in the middle class.

The last four years offer a cautionary tale to anyone who is paying attention. Are Canadians paying attention?

Image: Al Jazeera

Sunday, November 08, 2020

What Will The Republicans Do?

In a column for Policy Magazine, Robin Sears asks this question. He points to an article in The New Yorker

A marvellous piece of analysis, by revered American political journalist, Nicholas Lemann, wrestles with the unpleasant options now facing the Republicans. In a lengthy New Yorker essay, he describes their choices as the “Remnant, Restoration and Reversal scenarios.”
The Remnant caucus would hang on only to the narrow Trump base, keep it stoked with anger and motivated to vote, through relentless attack. Then they’d take a page from the work the Heritage Foundation and its conservative think tank cousins did for Reagan, and draft a real socially conservative and economically nationalist program through the creation of new Trumpian think tanks.

The Restorationists would attempt to inject new life into the old Reagan-Bush policy agenda – internationalist, sensible on immigration reform, on economic growth, and with a focus on the importance of character in leadership. He cites figures such as Karl Rove and former UN ambassador Nicky Haley as members of this troop.

The Reversal gang, in Lemann’s lens, would essentially build out a stronger version of the demographic base that has emerged under Trump, while abandoning more affluent white shoe Republicans to the Democrats. As the party of the poor, the rural, the poorly educated and the angry white working class urban voters, they would cut the party’s ties to corporate America deliberately and be more genuinely populist, even economically interventionist, in their demands.

Sears concludes that none of the three Republican camps represent a realistic take on the post-pandemic world. He then goes on to speculate on what Biden's election means for the international order.

It's a piece that is well worth reading.

Image: texomashomepage.com

Saturday, November 07, 2020

The Right Person

It's true that the American election was not a total repudiation of the Republican Party. But it was, Jonathan Freedland writes, a victory nonetheless:

It will be hard for Joe Biden to do what so urgently needs to be done, whether that’s tackling the climate crisis, racial injustice, economic inequality, America’s parlous infrastructure or its dysfunctional and vulnerable electoral machinery. And it is glumly true that even if Trump is banished from the Oval Office, Trumpism will live on in the United States. 

And yet none of that should obscure the main event that has taken place this week. It’s a form of progressive masochism to search for the defeat contained in a victory. Because a victory is what this will be.

Biden has actually done something quite remarkable:

Donald Trump becomes only the third elected president since Herbert Hoover in 1932 to try and fail to win re-election. Trump would take his place alongside Jimmy Carter and George Bush the elder in the small club of rejected, one-term presidents. As it happens, both those men were gracious in defeat and admirable in retirement, but Trump won’t see them that way. He’ll regard them as stone-cold losers. And he’s about to be one of them, his place taken by a decent, empathic man with the first ever female vice-president at his side.

It’s worth bearing all that in mind when you hear the predictable complaints that Biden was too “centrist”, or that Bernie Sanders would have done better. It could be argued that Biden outperformed the rest of his party, pulling ahead even as Democrats lost seats in the House and failed to make great gains in the Senate. Note that Trump’s prime attack line – that “far left” Democrats were itching to impose “socialism” on America – cut through in this campaign, clearly alarming Cuban and Venezuelan voters in Florida, for example. But it was a hard label to stick on a lifelong pragmatist like Joe Biden: most Americans just didn’t buy it.

Biden is no radical. But he is the right person who will be in the right place at the right time.

Image: The Guardian

Friday, November 06, 2020

Next Stop -- The Asylum

I told my wife earlier this week that, when the votes were all counted, Donald Trump's head would blow up. The votes have not all been counted. But, last night, Trump's head exploded. David Smith writes:

The US president on Thursday returned to the White House briefing room, scene of past triumphs such as that time he proposed bleach as a cure for coronavirus and that other time he condemned QAnon with the words “They like me”.

Trump offered a downright dangerous and dishonest take on this week’s election that current vote counting trends suggest he will lose. It was possibly an attempt to intimidate and deter TV networks from declaring a winner in the next few hours.

The lies kept coming:

“If you count the legal votes, I easily win,” he said with a straight face. “If you count the illegal votes, they can try to steal the election from us. If you count the votes that came in late – we’re looking at them very strongly, a lot of votes came in late.”

“Media polling was election interference, in the truest sense of that word by powerful special interests,” he said. “These really phony polls ... were designed to keep our voters at home, create the illusion of momentum for Mr Biden and diminish Republicans’ ability to raise funds. They were what’s called suppression polls.”

Senator Chris Murphy -- from Connecticut -- characterized the situation quite accurately:

“This is just extraordinary. It’s a lie every 5 second. Not small lies either. Just nuclear grade whoppers.”

But Trump wasn't finished:

The president went on to throw in some racism for good measure, targeting Philadelphia and Detroit, both African American majority cities in the battlegrounds Pennsylvania and Michigan respectively.

“They’re trying to rig an election, and we can’t let that happen,” he said. “Detroit and Philadelphia – known as two of the most corrupt political places anywhere in our country.”

The man who, during his property developing career, perfected the dark art of “truthful hyperbole” sounded a wholly unrealistic note. “We think we will win the election very easily."

Trump has always lived in his own universe. Clearly, it's a universe that needs special care -- in an asylum.

Image: cnbc.com


Thursday, November 05, 2020

True Colours


Doug Ford has released a new colour-coded approach to COVID.  Bruce Arthur writes that he is waving a white flag:

Seven months into the pandemic Ontario praised itself for posting clear COVID-19 restriction speed limits. But they set the speed limit everywhere at 200 miles per hour, and our police force isn’t fast enough to keep up. Drive safe, everyone.

“This is throwing in the towel,” said one source familiar with the process of setting new thresholds.

Certainly, the epidemiologists are worried:

This is going to be very ugly,” said Dr. Andrew Morris, a professor of infectious diseases at the University of Toronto, and the medical director of the Antimicrobial Stewardship Program at Sinai-University Health Network. “We’re following the European approach here. The very first question that should be asked is in the presence of ongoing growth, how can you in any way justify loosening measures? That makes absolutely zero sense. The one thing you shouldn’t do when you’ve got a losing strategy is take on a worse strategy. Which is what they’re going to do.”

Under this plan, nothing changes for bars, restaurants, sports and recreational facilities, meeting and event spaces, retail, personal care services, casinos, bingo halls, gaming establishments, cinemas, or performing arts facilities until the system tips from orange to red; they continue to operate with new restrictions. And bars, restaurants, casinos and gyms still have indoor service in red.

In other words, this is designed not to intervene in the economy until it’s already too late, and even then, the province reserves wiggle room, saying “decisions about moving to new measures will require overall risk assessment by the government.” Meanwhile, Ontario’s seven-day average is rising, test positivity is rising, raw testing numbers are falling, public health communication is poor, our test-trace-isolate architecture can barely handle what’s happening now in some regions, and winter’s moving in.

Other scientists are sounding the alarm:

“It’s like public health is treading water, and the premier is pushing their heads down,’” said Dr. Michael Warner, head of critical care at Michael Garron Hospital in East York. “It’s government that makes the decisions on public health, and not public health.”

Meanwhile, the people who were going to have trouble protecting themselves now have less of a chance to protect themselves. This government failed to upgrade testing and contact tracing and long-term-care staffing in the summer, failed to intervene when case counts started to climb in early September, and has now decided to move the goalposts as far towards the horizon as they dare.

Ford started out well. But now he's showing his true colours.

Image: hoodmemorial.org



Wednesday, November 04, 2020

Insanity

We don't know who won the American election. But Donald Trump has declared victory -- just as he has declared victory over COVID. But I offer this story -- from The Washington Post -- as evidence that the country is beyond redemption:

David Andahl died of covid-19 in early October, just as the coronavirus was pummeling his home state of North Dakota. But that did not keep the 55-year-old rancher from winning his race for the state House of Representatives on Tuesday.

With an apparent victory in North Dakota’s 8th District, Andahl’s election marks an unusual overlap between two of the most consequential events in the United States this year: a pandemic that has killed at least 232,000 people in the United States and the unprecedented election season it upended in the process.

A cattle rancher and land developer, Andahl had spent 16 years serving on the zoning and planning commission in Burleigh County, including eight years as its chair, according to the Bismarck Tribune. Earlier this year, he won a heated GOP primary against longtime state Rep. Jeff Delzer, who chaired the chamber’s powerful Appropriations Committee.

The district north of Bismarck has two House seats, and Andahl teamed up with another candidate, Dave Nehring, to earn endorsements. During the campaign, he won the backing of two of the state’s most influential Republicans, Gov. Doug Burgum and Sen. Kevin Cramer.

Cramer, a noted Trump ally, put his support behind the Bismarck rancher “because we need more Trump Republicans in the State Legislature,” the Star Tribune reported.

When the coronavirus reached North Dakota, Andahl — who was already grappling with several health issues — was “very cautious,” his family wrote on Facebook. They did not elaborate on what medical challenges he was facing.

COVID won -- and so did Andahl.

Tuesday, November 03, 2020

Trump's War On Truth

Today, Paul Krugman writes, is the day Donald Trump's war on truth reaches its climax. During the campaign, Trump has told two big lies:

The first big lie is the claim that America is being menaced by hordes of “rioters, looters, arsonists, gun-grabbers, flag-burners, Marxists.”

Anyone who walks around the “anarchist jurisdictions” of New York or Seattle can see with their own eyes that nothing like this is happening. And the data bear out the obvious. One systematic study found that the summer’s Black Lives Matter protests were overwhelmingly peaceful, and that “most of the violence that did take place was, in fact, directed against the B.L.M. protesters.”

So Trump wants Americans to be terrified of a menace that exists only in his imagination. At the same time, he wants us to ignore the very real menace of Covid-19.

And that's the second big lie. Trump claims that he has defeated COVID:

Trump wants Americans to believe that the pandemic — which killed more Americans last month than are murdered in a typical year — is fake news. We’re “rounding the corner,” he insists, even as infections and hospitalizations are rising at a terrifying rate. The news media is going on about “Covid, Covid, Covid” only because it’s out to get him. Doctors are inflating the reported death toll because they want to make more money.

Both lies are immensely destructive to both civic and public health. But he now plans to unleash one last big lie:

We all know what’s likely to come next: claims that he was robbed. He’ll claim that millions of people voted illegally — after all, he did that following the 2016 election, denying that he lost the popular vote. He’ll probably claim that millions of Trump votes were somehow discarded — after all, he has already made the false claim that ballots are being “dumped in rivers.”

And he’ll find a receptive audience. Professional forecasters have considered Biden the heavy favorite for a long time, but according to a late September Gallup survey, 90 percent of Republicans expect Trump to win. If he loses, our conspiracy-minded right will react with shock and rage.

The immediate result may very well be a wave of violence and property destruction — Trump supporters engaging in the behavior they falsely attribute to Black Lives Matter demonstrators. But that’s actually the part that worries me least.

No, the really big danger is that millions of our citizens will probably buy into an American version of the “stab in the back” myth that loomed large after Germany’s defeat in World War I, claiming the military was betrayed by the civilian government. And those voters may well end up choosing the G.O.P.’s next presidential candidate.

The best result would be to send both Trump and the G.O.P into the dustbin of history. After all, that should be where all lies end up.

Image: twitter.com

Monday, November 02, 2020

Awash In Morons

 


The gloves are off between Donald Trump and Anthony Fauci. Venay Menon writes:

To be America’s top infectious disease specialist right now must be maddening. This pandemic is like an overflowing sink. But instead of trying to turn off the valves, Donald Trump insists water isn’t real as he sprays the rest of the kitchen with a firehose.

That’s the deranged part. Not only has Trump overseen the most catastrophic public health failure in American history, he’s actively made it worse. A study from Stanford University published Friday analyzed the community impact of 18 Trump rallies. Researchers concluded his Election Infection Tour has resulted in more than 30,000 cases and 700 deaths.

It’s bananas. If this election were six months away, Trump wouldn’t get a single vote because all of his supporters would be dead. I will never get how or why he thought he could shrug off a PANDEMIC. It’s as if he refuses to look up while standing in the darkening shadow of an incoming asteroid.

Fauci has stopped being diplomatic:

"We’re in for a whole lot of hurt,” he told the Washington Post, in a candid interview published on Saturday that felt like a declaration of war against the Trump administration. “It’s not a good situation. All the stars are aligned in the wrong place as you go into the fall and winter season, with people congregating at home indoors. You could not possibly be positioned more poorly.”

Yesterday, Trump told one of his rallies that he would fire Fauci after the election. The Mob cheered. The United States is awash in morons.

Image: jksl.com

Sunday, November 01, 2020

For All Of Us

The pandemic has provided us with several lessons and even -- Robin Sears writes -- at least one gift:

The first lesson of this pandemic is that we must never be caught so flat-footed again. Canada will not soon let its public health infrastructure get this weak and under-funded. Grumbling about influence and delays by competing countries notwithstanding, the success and commitment of the UN, the WHO, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and many other national entities both public and private must not end. These organizations have done an admirable job coordinating research, testing and funding.

The second lesson is more painful: some social cultures are positively dangerous in public health terms. Those obsessed with individual rights and “liberty” over solidarity have lost badly. Those graced with courageous leaders and a tradition of trust in their institutions have mostly won.

The most painful lessons of all are the inequities and injustices COVID has revealed:

The most painful cracks in our society have been revealed by COVID: how we treat our parents and grandparents; how blind we are to the cost of homelessness and racism; how many children go to bed hungry. Please let us accept this painful “gift of COVID” with a serious and unshakeable commitment to close some of these cracks. If not out of a humane ethical response, then do get it because the cracks make us all more vulnerable.

But we have also been given a gift:

We began this year on the verge of perhaps the deepest divisions the country has seen since the Quebec referendums. COVID-19 united Canadians in a common struggle. One that I hope we be will able to look back and say, ”We defeated this together as a nation.” If there’s anything positive about the virus, this is it. 

If we take the lessons and the gift to heart, we can make Canada a better place for all of us.

Image: Amazon