Saturday, November 26, 2022

Dealing With The Crazies

The Red Wave never materialized. Nonetheless, the Republicans -- with a very slim majority -- will soon take over the House of Representatives. Paul Krugman writes:

The modern G.O.P., in case you haven’t noticed, isn’t a normal political party. It barely has policy goals, other than an almost reflexive desire to cut taxes on the rich and deny aid to those in need. It certainly doesn’t have policy ideas.

Republicans spent much of the election talking about inflation. But in a news conference just after securing a narrow majority in the House, top Republicans declared that their top priority would be … investigating the Biden family.

So the G.O.P. won’t help govern America. It will, in fact, almost surely do what it can to undermine governance. And Democrats, in turn, need to do whatever they can both to thwart political sabotage and to make the would-be saboteurs pay a price.

What should the Democrats do?

Two issues in particular stand out: the debt limit and aid to Ukraine.

For historical reasons, U.S. law in effect requires that Congress vote on the budget twice. First, it authorizes spending and sets tax rates; then, if that legislation leads to budget deficits, it must separately vote to authorize borrowing to cover those deficits.

It’s not clear why this ever made sense. In the current environment, it allows politicians who don’t have the votes to change policy through normal procedure to hold the economy for ransom, as Republicans did during the Obama years, or simply blow it up out of sheer spite — because failing to raise the debt limit would probably cause a global financial crisis. Does anyone expect the incoming G.O.P. House to behave responsibly?

As for Ukraine, while the Ukrainians have been incredibly brave and remarkably successful in turning back Russian invasion, they need a continuing inflow of Western aid, both military and economic, to continue the fight against their much larger neighbor.

The Democrats must pass legislation dealing with the debt ceiling to keep the government going. The Republicans will surely try to shut the government down. They've tried that gambit before. And the Democrats must also pass legislation to continue financial support for Ukraine. The Republicans have also threatened to shut that funding off.

After that, the Republicans will start their investigations -- and nothing will get done.

Image: The American Prospect

Friday, November 25, 2022

Too Much Plenty?

George F. Will has an interesting thesis: Our politics are toxic because we live in an age of plenty. I'm not sure I buy it. But I place it before you:

In 1930, the beginning of the Great Depression and of a decade that would end with the beginning of the worst of wars, a great economist wrote an essay (“Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren”) of ambivalent cheerfulness. John Maynard Keynes said the economic problem, “the struggle for subsistence,” was approaching solution. Another century of growth — by around now — would mean that “for the first time since his creation man will be faced with his real, his permanent problem — how to use his freedom from pressing economic cares … to live wisely and agreeably and well.”

So, material plenty deprives humanity of what had been its unavoidable preoccupation. This would be a problem, Keynes wrote, that could plunge society into something akin to a “nervous breakdown.” Brink Lindsey says that Americans who think Keynes was mistaken should look around.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, indulging in progressive utopianism, insisted that “necessitous men are not free.” If so, freedom is the absence of necessity. But living beyond necessities is not enticing: Surmounting necessities is a source of life’s meaning and satisfaction.

Will speculates that, with so many Americans living above the poverty line, America is experiencing a nervous breakdown. He cites Lindsey:

“Reported unhappiness is on the rise, and mental health problems are surging. Morbid obesity is becoming normal … IQ scores have begun falling. Marriage and childbearing and personal friendships and community involvement are all becoming less common … We now have all the world’s knowledge at our fingertips, but the social authority of that knowledge has fallen into embattled retreat while conspiracy theories and mass delusions fill the vacuum … Where once workplace solidarity and tight-knit social relationships were compensations for lower economic standing, now the new class divide leaves those outside the elite increasingly atomized and adrift … In the industrial era, workers had it much tougher physically, but the status of the working class in social estimation was incomparably higher than today.”

Lindsey’s list of social ills does not include the one that is the most debilitating because it impedes addressing the others: the poisonous politics of rivalrous grievances. A politics of distributional conflict — who gets what from whom — is banal, but it is better than today’s politics of cultural contempt and score-settling: who gets even with whom. Today’s political conversation is dominated by tone-setting minority factions who would be improved by banality.

The politics of grasping is unlovely, but not as ugly as politics treated as a mode of cultural bullying and disparagement. As memories of subsistence struggles recede, people who are no longer necessitous are indeed free — free to use politics for unpleasant self-expression. Their default mentality is anger, which reminds them that they are alive.

“The effect of liberty to individuals,” said Edmund Burke, “is that they may do what they please; we ought to see what it will please them to do, before we risk congratulations.” The fundamental economic problem of attaining subsistence having been banished by plenty, many hyper-politicized Americans have filled the void in their lives with the grim fun of venting their animosities. This would not have surprised Peter De Vries, the wittiest American writer since Mark Twain: “Human nature is shabby stuff, as you may know from introspection.”

As I see it, the way the plenty is distributed has a lot to do with the anger. But I admit that there's more to it than that.

Image: Roll Call

Thursday, November 24, 2022

An Angry Little Man

Pierre Poilievre is an angry little man. Bob Hepburn writes:

To Pierre Poilievre, everything is broken in Canada — and it’s all the fault of Justin Trudeau and the Liberals.

As the Conservative leader sees it, this country is a wreck, with inflation at a 40-year high, 35-year-olds living in their parents’ basements, food and gas prices soaring and crime and homelessness on the rise. His list of miseries list goes on.

Never mind that the clear evidence shows that in these troubled times Canada is faring much better on the economic front than almost every other major industrialized nation. Poilievre, however, is still demanding answers from Trudeau to why the nation is in the state it’s in and what he’s going to do to fix it.

Poilievre keeps demanding answers from Justin Trudeau while he dodges questions of his own:

Indeed, as Poilievre uses slick videos to portray himself as a voice of reason and hope, he actually has done nothing to erase, or even moderate, his image as a cynical politician who shamelessly champions crazy ideas and wacky people in his bid to become Canada’s next prime minister.

Worse, as he nears the three-month mark as Tory leader, Poilievre doesn’t even bother now to try to defend his most controversial proposals, which keep mounting with each passing week. This was evidenced by his refusal to answer questions from Ottawa-based reporters or even from business leaders after one of his Trudeau-bashing speeches.

Here’s a sample of Poilievre’s latest troubling positions:

Last Sunday, Poilievre released a video titled, “Everything feels broken,” in which he calls for the defunding of safe drug consumptions programs supported by NDP and Liberal governments, especially in B.C., because they lead to “massive” increases in overdoses and crimes. Narcotics policy expert have denounced Poilivere’s position as misguided and outright dangerous.

Also last week, cryptocurrency cheerleader Poilievre was noticeably silent as cryptocurrency prices collapsed and FTX, one of the world’s largest crypto exchanges, fell into bankruptcy. The collapse has cost many Canadians a small fortune, yet not a peep from the one-time crypto-king.

In addition, as the public inquiry into February’s so-called “freedom convoy” protests winds down, Poilievre still defends his support for the demonstrators. But he now claims he didn’t support “anyone who behaved badly.” Oh, really?

And where does Poilievre stand on Alberta Premier Danielle Smith’s ridiculous proposals to ignore any federal law she doesn’t like, or to keep the fees charged visitors to enter the national parks in Alberta? Again, not a word.

Or why won’t he criticize Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s move to use the notwithstanding clause to trample on the right to strike for low-paid educational support workers — the very type of worker Poilivere claims to support.

And then there’s Ontario MP Leslyn Lewis, who suggests the Liberals are using assisted suicide policies to kill off people. In a Nov. 15 tweet, she said that Medically Assistance in Dying (MAID “is being used by the gov’t as social policy to save $ and rid society of people who the Liberals see as costly/undesirables.” Does he support this crazy view?

The truth is that Poilievre is an empty barrel. Empty barrels make the most noise.

Image: YouTube

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

No Mask Mandate

We need another mask mandate. But, Andre Picard writes, we're not going to get one:

Given the devastating impacts of the triple-headed monster – respiratory syncytial virus, influenza and SARS-CoV-2 – on children and pediatric hospitals, is it justifiable to have mandatory masking in public spaces again?

Almost certainly, yes.

Is it going to happen? Almost certainly, no.

Welcome to the frustrating incongruity of (post-?) pandemic life.

A mask mandate makes sense scientifically. But it’s pretty well a non-starter for political and social reasons.

At the beginning of the pandemic, we bought into masks:

Masking was widely embraced earlier in the pandemic – before vaccines, and before most people were infected with COVID-19 during one of the eight or so waves that have washed over the country.

But now the conventional wisdom is everyone for themselves:

People are largely sick and tired of pandemic rules and restrictions, even largely effortless gestures such as donning face coverings in public spaces.

The messaging around masks has also been confusing at best.

At the outset of the pandemic, we were told masking was to be avoided, that research shows masks make you touch your face and increase the risk of infection. Masks were for health professionals, trained in donning and doffing. Then came mask shortages, and the do-it-yourself era of cloth masks. (Who doesn’t have a box of those in the cupboard?)

Scientific consensus shifted rather quickly and soon masks were mandated in all public spaces. Except in schools, where we argued about the impact on learning, and whether kids actually get sick. (That question has been answered in spades.) Then we bickered about the relative merits of various sorts of masks, and where they should be used. Gradually, restrictions were lifted everywhere.

We can forgive the public for being a bit confused, or skeptical about masking and mask mandates. The messaging has been and continues to be all over the map.

Recently, politicians and public health officials have been doing a lot of “urging” about mask-wearing, but are backing it up with some contradictory role modelling.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford encouraged everyone to mask up in indoor public spaces, but he and most of his colleagues remained unmasked in the legislature. Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, “strongly recommended” masking, especially at indoor gatherings. Then he was photographed unmasked at a Toronto Life party.

Neither of those is a good look. But the reality is that masking is a personal choice, whether we like it or not. Public shaming is not an effective tool.

The new conventional wisdom makes it virtually impossible to solve the existential problems we face today. It's been almost a century since T.S. Eliot published his poem, The Hollow Men. If he published the poem today, the last three lines of the poem would read:

This is the way the world ends,

This is the way the world ends,

It's everyone for themselves.

Image: YouTube

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

The Trump Problem

Canada's Conservatives have a Trump problem. Jake Enright writes:

In Canada, he is downright detestable to the vast majority of voters. Trump unites Canada’s left and divides the right. Some polls suggested that Trump had as little as 16 per cent support among Canadians when he was defeated by Joe Biden. Given the events of January 6, Trump presumably has only become more detestable among Canadians.

But Trump has his admirers in Pierre Poilievre's caucus:

While most of these MPs know that it’s not politically advantageous to show outward support for the former President (remember what happened to Candice Bergan when she wore the MAGA hat), a small number will inevitably give their unfiltered opinion when they think it’s safe to do so. The result will be a slow trickle of pro-Trump content that the Liberals will use to showcase support and sympathy for Donald Trump by Team Poilievre.

These MPs will keep Poilievre busy:

This situation will result in the Opposition Leader’s Office (OLO) constantly trying to dissuade Conservative MPs from speaking publicly about Trump, but in such a way that those same MPs don’t complain anonymously to the media that Poilievre’s office has become the gatekeeper. This is a tough set of circumstances that rarely end well.

But there will be other problems for Poilievre:

Trump will challenge Poilievre’s ability to maintain message discipline. Donald Trump’s Canadian support is entirely comprised of traditional conservatives and a new voter coalition Mr. Poilievre is hoping to attract to the Conservative movement, the “Left Behinds.” Left Behinds feel they are falling further and further behind financially, do not trust the government, and are becoming suspicious of institutions. Trump has significant influence over both American and Canadian Left Behinds, and these voters will expect federal Conservatives to voice public support for Donald Trump, as well as Trump’s politically damaging policies that repel centrist voters.

Can Poilievre speak to the Left Behinds without alienating more moderate voters? Speaking to multiple audiences with perfect message synergy and zero contradictions is one of the most difficult tasks in politics. It requires message discipline, attention to detail, and mastery of digital media.

Most importantly, Trump provides the Liberals with a political opportunity:

The Liberal Party of Canada and Justin Trudeau excel at downloading U.S. issues into the Canadian political discourse, especially when it comes to policy issues that reflect voter values. Think, for example, abortion, firearms control, and political extremism. The Liberals will be quick to draw comparisons between Pierre Poilievre and Donald Trump on policy, tone, and values.

On the issue of abortion, Donald Trump is widely viewed as being responsible for the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade due to his judicial appointments to the upper court. The Democrats were then able to capitalize on the issue of abortion to defeat Trump-backed candidates during the U.S. midterm elections. Expect the Liberals to create a similar conflict point ahead of the next federal election by passing a law that will guarantee access to abortion. The Liberals will then warn voters that if the Conservatives form government, Poilievre will be forced by his caucus to infringe on a woman’s right to choose by rescinding this newly created law. This is a daunting prospect for Poilievre and his team, because typically when elections are fought over values and not issues, Conservatives tend to lose.

By the time the next election rolls around,  Justin Trudeau will be near the traditional shelf life of most Canadian prime ministers. But he could defeat Poilievre by resurrecting the ghost of Donald Trump.

Image: Amazon

Monday, November 21, 2022

Destabilizing The Planet

We've known for quite a while about the dangers of fracking. Andrew Nikiforuk writes:

In the past ten days, North America’s oil and gas industry rattled key geological formations with earthquakes in British Columbia and Texas.

Damage from the U.S. quake, the third largest in Texas’s history, closed a major building in San Antonio and demonstrated that frack-triggered tremors can threaten structures even hundreds of kilometres away from the epicentre.

Starting on Nov. 11, Canada’s Montney Formation, a key source of methane and natural gas liquids straddling B.C. and Alberta, experienced three earthquakes measuring over four on the Richter magnitude scale.

Tremors greater than a magnitude of three can be felt while those greater than four can knock items off shelves and in rare cases cause damage to structures.

On Nov. 11 a quake registering 4.7 struck 140 km north of Fort St John in northeastern B.C. The province’s fracking regulator, the BC Oil and Gas Commission, told the Tyee that drilling by Malaysian-owned Petronas triggered the tremor and a cluster of others. As more earthquakes ensued, the Petronas operation was ordered to shut down but then restarted before again stopping when another quake topping four in magnitude struck on Nov. 15.

Meanwhile the U.S. fracking industry most likely triggered a 5.4 earthquake on Nov. 16 in the prolific oil bearing Permian Basin in west Texas. The largest quake in Texas since 1995, it rumbled the Mexican city of Ciudad Ju├írez 320 kilometres away. In San Antonio, 560 kilometres from the quake’s epicentre, the structural damage inflicted on an historic, five-storey complex on the city’s University Health campus caused officials to close it down.

Since 2018 industry’s fracking and wastewater operations in the Permian Basin have caused thousands of earthquakes greater than a magnitude of 2.5.

In the last 15 years, fracking in the Montney Formation has changed the seismic patterns in the region and now accounts for 70 per cent of earthquakes. The industry initiated thousands of small tremors and then progressively triggered tremors of greater magnitude such as the 4.6 quake by Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. that shook the Site C dam under construction in 2018.

Our continued use of oil warms the planet, while our search for more oil destabilizes it.

Image: CTV News Calgary

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Here They Come!

The big takeaway from the American midterm elections is that generational change is underway. John Della Volpe writes:

Stressed and sickened by thoughts of their rights and democracy slipping away, young Americans across gender, racial, geographic and education lines banded together last week to help save the Democrats from what many foresaw as a sizable midterm defeat. If the elections had been decided by voters 45 and older, Republicans would have won the House by an even greater margin and likely taken the Senate. But thanks to young voters (especially the 18-to-29 age group, which had the second-highest turnout in midterm elections in almost 30 years, according to early estimates from Tufts University), Democrats retained the Senate, showing that an alliance of Gen Z and millennial voters answered history’s call to defend democracy. The majority of them rejected the big lie. They possess the turbulent, kinetic energy that withstands red waves. They will propel Democrats’ progressive agenda forward if the party seizes the moment.

The change has actually been underway for a while:

In 2018, young voters were key to Nancy Pelosi regaining the speaker’s gavel. In 2020, millennials and members of Gen Z were instrumental in moving Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin into Joe Biden’s column, thus relegating Donald Trump to a one-term presidency. Winning one election might be an accident. Two, an anomaly. Three in a row proves that earning the support of the Gen Z-millennial alliance is essential to winning elections in our current era.

Smart politicians should be paying attention:

This union of Gen Z and millennial voters will account for nearly 40 percent of votes in the next presidential election, according to estimates from the Center for American Progress. Republicans ignore this voting bloc at their peril. Even among white voters — the traditional Republican base — the youngest are slipping away to support Democrats. While midterm estimates show that the majority of whites over 30 years old voted Republican, 58 percent of whites under 30 voted for Democratic House candidates.

Democrats in the House have noted the change. They are handing over the reins to the next generation. Republican continue to believe that their future belongs to a seventy-six-year-old man.

We'll have to see if that trend holds for us as well.

Image: Quinn Glabicki/Reuters