Thursday, February 25, 2021

A New Relationship

A tradition has developed over the last fifty years. The first foreign visit a new American president makes is to Canada. As was the case with so many traditions, Donald Trump trashed that one. But Joe Biden restored it. In the Age Of COVID, though, the meeting was virtual. Lawrence Martin writes:

Truth be told, there was not a lot of big news from the Trudeau-Biden video conference. It was fully anticipated that they would restore goodwill to the relationship, which they did, and that they’d vow to work closely together on an array of issues, which they did.

Canadians will be pleased at the professionalism and maturity Mr. Biden brings, it being such a relief from the confrontational attitudes of Donald Trump. As for the road map of co-operation the two leaders laid out, it sounded nice – but we’ll have to see what happens when realities intrude.

Times and things have changed. Martin asks:

Do Canadians even want a new partnership with the U.S., given its crisis-ridden state? By comparison, Canada is in a position of strength on a number of fronts. Which is the country that is more equitable, more unified, less violent, less hidebound, less racist? Which is the country that has a better functioning democracy, a better health care system, a longer life expectancy, a greater social safety net?

The American relationship is still obviously of tremendous importance. But Canada’s dependence on the U.S. is not as deep as it used to be. Economically, culturally, militarily, Canada is more secure than before.

Remember the talk, post-free-trade, of moving to deeper forms of integration with the U.S., such as a customs union or a perimeter accord or a European Union-type of arrangement? You never hear that any more. Instead, the trend now is toward managed trade and more protectionist measures, which of course mitigate against any new kind of partnership. In that new dynamic, Canada is well positioned. With the modernization of the NAFTA agreement, there is a safety net.

Militarily, the end of the Cold War reduced the importance to Canada of the American defence umbrella. Mr. Biden and Mr. Trudeau talked about strengthening NORAD, the defence warning system, and that is worthwhile – but it’s hardly as important as it used to be.

Culturally, we recall that in the old days, Canada was so paranoid about U.S. domination that the Committee for an Independent Canada was all the rage. Subsequently, there was fear of brain drain, of all our country’s finest minds heading south. Now there is no more hand-wringing about a Canadian identity. Our cultural maturity is well ensconced.

On unity, Canada has already faced up to a decades-long crisis over Quebec independence. Now the unity crisis lives south of the border, where two political solitudes are fiercely colliding.

Our paths have diverged. And a new relationship is required.

Image: Where Sidewalks End

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Being Held To Account

The United States passed an ignominious milestone two days ago -- 500,000 deaths from the coronavirus. That milestone was absolutely avoidable. And, in the UK, there have also been thousands of avoidable deaths. Owen Jones writes:

A government that is able to get away with the avoidable deaths of tens of thousands of its own citizens can get away with anything. In the coming months, the days will become lighter and warmer, and a population that has been through the most severe national emergency since the second world war will be ever freer. Playgrounds will fill with laughing children, rounds will be bought in pubs and friends will hug. As the “before times” come roaring back, the relief will fuse with a desire to scrub the nightmare away from our collective consciousness, and leave it to the history books and future Netflix dramas to unpick.

We have witnessed governments that have failed to take COVID seriously -- and insisted that the economy was the first priority:

From the very start, Conservative strategy was to prioritise economic interests over human life: a calamity on its own terms, which left us simultaneously with one of the world’s worst death tolls and recessions – because it was always the virus that threatened our economy the most. Years of austerity left Britain with depleted personal protective equipment (PPE) stocks and the government failed to build up testing capacity even as the virus left China’s shores. While health experts such as Prof Anthony Costello warned that “every day of delay will kill”, the government briefed journalists that it would pursue herd immunity and allow the virus to run rampant. The government finally U-turned, but no other major European country entered lockdown with infections so high. An underfunded and under-resourced NHS with 40,000 nursing vacancies was expected to pick up the pieces, while the government was reduced to paying extortionate prices for PPE, some of which was unusable.

That immoral strategy has been on full display in Texas over the last two weeks.

When are we going to hold our leaders to account?

Image: SmartCompany

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Racism In The American Psyche

Yesterday, Merrick Garland appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The contrast between Garland and William Barr -- his immediate predecessor -- was profound. Jennifer Rubin writes:

President Biden’s nominee for attorney general, Merrick Garland, sailed through his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday, providing Republicans nary a reason to oppose him (although some will). Along the way, he provided a seminar on race while implicitly revealing the utter cluelessness and intellectual shallowness of Republicans. 
The Republican Senator from Louisiana -- who, unfortunately, is named John Kennedy  -- was particularly embarrassing:

The simple example of disparities in sentencing and incarceration for nonviolent marijuana charges opened an informed discussion of the myriad ramifications for Black Americans (e.g., access to college education, jobs, credit, business licenses).
That, in turn, made the faux outrage from Republican Sen. John Neely Kennedy (La.) over being accused of implicit bias all the more ridiculous. Garland patiently explained that it is not an insult or accusation but a description of the human condition.

Garland is a Jew. He knows something about bias. And it was interesting to note what happened while he was testifying: 
the right-wing confab of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), which is holding a conference on the “cancel culture” later this week, was forced to cancel the appearance of a notorious antisemite. A more self-aware group might recognize that the “cancel culture” has nothing to do with politics, governance or America’s challenges; it is merely an invective thrown around when whining right-wingers are held responsible for racism and other bad behavior.
The Republican Party has been revealed as a crucible for hate:
It was easy to see which party is simply encouraging White grievance (Republican senators would have their base believe, “They think you’re all racists!”) and which is addressing a serious and pervasive issue in American society.

Clearly, racism has deep roots in some American psyches.


Monday, February 22, 2021

Don't Panic

Canada's deficit hawks are worried about the increasing costs of fighting the pandemic. Andrew Jackson writes:

Last week, the Globe and Mail and the National Post gave prominent coverage to a report from the C.D. Howe Institute’s Fiscal and Tax Working Group. The report sounded the alarm over high and mounting government deficits even as the pandemic and high unemployment remain very much with us.

The Working Group is chaired by John Manley, former federal minister of finance and former head of the Canadian Business Council representing Canada’s top CEOs and Janice MacKinnon, a former minister of finance in Saskatchewan. It includes several former federal government senior officials.

The report called for restricting deficits to urgent and temporary measures such as mass vaccination, and support for business investment. It deplored the somewhat ambitious spending promises made by the Trudeau government in the recent Economic and Fiscal Update.

But not all of the economic gurus agree:

Rather inconveniently for our fiscal hawks, last week also saw the publication of an article by Gita Gopinath, the head of the research department of the Washington-based International Monetary Fund.

Ms. Gopinath states baldly that inflation is “nothing to be concerned about.”  Inflation at low, well below target rates “is expected to allow for continued low interest rates and government spending to support growth, especially in advanced  economies.”

The article judges that newly elected President Biden’s huge stimulus package will not push up inflation in the US significantly. It could be added that fast rising government debt in the European Union and Japan is equally unlikely to lead to higher inflation.

Ms. Gopinath reasons that inflation and interest rates will remain low since there is a lot of global over-capacity, ongoing automation and technological change is pushing down prices, and many large companies have very high profits which means that they can absorb higher costs without raising prices.

We've been here before. And experience should teach us that, at this point, there's no reason to panic.

Image: Social Europe

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Keeping Democracy Alive

The current chaos in the Republican Party provides a teachable moment for all democracies. Robin Sears writes:

No sustainable democracy is possible with one dominant party and one crippled or divided opponent. That is the prospect facing American democracy after five years of Trump devastation. It is a perilous moment. The GOP faces a fork in the road: do they pursue a Trumpian strategy in the 2022 mid-terms, or do they risk Trump’s wrath and his threat to create a new political party by openly rejecting him? One choice is unpleasant, the other is unacceptable. There are no others.

How did things get to this point?

Susan Delacourt’s book “Shopping for Votes,” a penetrating analysis of the takeover of parties by marketers and fundraising pros, is part of the answer. Allowing the local party organization to wither — creating shells ripe for seizure — is another.

Delacourt’s thesis was an accurate description of the core reality of modern political party management: your activists are a network of ATMs that you need to kick regularly to make them spew the dollars required for the party’s further fundraising and marketing. Why would any intelligent voter volunteer to be one of these battered ATMs?

When you can market your message by automated dialing, then fax, and then multiple digital tentacles, why would you bother with the time and resource-consuming management of a deep and broad network of local party organizations? So what if the Regina Centre NDP riding association had helped to win municipal support for a new community centre? How will that help the party leader’s popularity?

What has happened to the Republican Party happened to the Progressive Conservative Party twenty-five years ago:

When our own conservatives split over similar populist, culture war issues, they enabled nearly 15 years of often arrogant decision-making by unchallenged Liberal prime ministers. The Conservative majority ended in disaster in 1993, and it was only in 2008 that a reunited Conservative party won a majority. History demonstrates that one enfeebled opponent and one dominant governing party are never good for a democracy. At least in Canada, the NDP, the Bloc and the Greens offered some voter choice during those years.

The unvarnished truth is this: Unless democracy is alive and well on the ground, it isn't alive at all.

Image: Wikipedia

Saturday, February 20, 2021

A Little Easier


Yesterday, the G7 nations held a virtual summit. Susan Delacourt writes:

It was only 14 or so months ago that Justin Trudeau, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron were caught on camera at a NATO summit reception, appearing to have some fun at Trump’s expense.

Joe Biden, Trump’s successor, enjoyed that moment so much that he put it in one of his campaign videos. “We need a leader the world respects,” proclaimed the ad. He promised to be that leader.

The world changed during the Trump years -- something Biden stressed in his remarks at the summit:

“The challenges we face today are different. We’re at an inflection point,” the new president said. “We are in the midst of a fundamental debate about the future and direction of our world. We’re at an inflection point between those who argue that, given all the challenges we face — from the fourth Industrial Revolution to a global pandemic — that autocracy is the best way forward, they argue, and those who understand that democracy is essential — essential to meeting those challenges.”

The problems we face are not any easier to solve than they were during Trump's tenure. But, with Trump sulking in Mar-a-Lago instead of the White House, it may be a little easier to craft solutions to them.

Image: The Toronto Star

Friday, February 19, 2021

The Big Lie Migrates

Texans are freezing and in the dark -- because the state's power grid has failed catastrophically. Paul Krugman writes:

The underlying story of what happened in Texas appears to be fairly clear. Like many states, Texas has a partly deregulated electricity market, but deregulation has gone further there than elsewhere. In particular, unlike other states, Texas chose not to provide power companies with incentives to install reserve capacity to deal with possible emergencies. This made power cheaper in normal times, but left the system vulnerable when things went wrong.
Texas authorities also ignored warnings about the risks associated with extreme cold. After a 2011 cold snap left millions of Texans in the dark, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission urged the state to winterize its power plants with insulation, heat pipes and other measures. But Texas, which has deliberately cut its power grid off from the rest of the country precisely to exempt itself from federal regulation, only partially implemented the recommendations.

Texans aren't used to living through a deep freeze. But climate change is having its way:

The biggest problems appear to have come in the delivery of natural gas, which normally supplies most of the state’s winter electricity, as wellheads and pipelines froze. Nor was this merely a matter of the lights going out; people are freezing too, because many Texas homes have electric heat. Many of the homes without electrical heat rely on, yes, natural gas. We’re looking at enormous suffering and, probably, a significant death toll.
Instead of accepting responsibility, however, officials from Gov. Greg Abbott on down, backed by virtually the entire right-wing media complex, have chosen to lay the blame on green energy, especially wind power.
Now, it’s true that the state generates a lot of electricity from wind, although it’s a small fraction of the total. But that’s not because Texas — Texas! — is run by environmental crazies. It’s because these days wind turbines are a cost-effective energy source wherever there’s a lot of wind, and one thing Texas has is a lot of wind.
It’s also true that extreme cold forced some of the state’s insufficiently winterized wind turbines to shut down, but as I said, this was happening to Texas energy sources across the board, with the worst problems involving natural gas.

The Big Lie worked well for Republicans in Washington. Now The Lie has migrated south to Texas. Republicans there are hoping it will accomplish for them what it accomplished for the federal cousins.

Image: Dallas Morning News