Sunday, May 31, 2020

The China Crisis

Justin Trudeau is facing a COVID Crisis. But just around the corner is a China Crisis. Robin Sears writes:

It’s essential when dealing with authoritarian governments to analyze carefully what really worries them, and what they will ignore. Any economic measures we might take they could care less about, as China could easily hurt us more.
Secondly, it is important to sort the must-haves: from the nice-to-haves. It would be a huge victory if Canada could help prevent Chinese spies from repressing foreign organizations and corporations in Hong Kong. We can’t.
We have two musts: the two Michaels and Beijing agents’ threats on Canadian soil against Chinese Canadians. Kovrig and Spavor must be allowed consular visits again, and then be released. Those Communist Party of China United Front workers who are dispatched to apply pressure on Canadians critical of the CCP should be arrested, named and shamed, criminally charged if not diplomats, sent home if they are.
These are Canada’s policy musts today, and the prime minister should cite them publicly and often. We have tried private diplomacy for more than 18 months now. It is time to go public. Will this provoke a CCP backlash? Perhaps, but the risks of not doing so are rising for Chinese Canadians and the two Michaels.

It's also vitally important to understand China's end game:

It is Taiwan that is President Xi Jinping’s endgame. He has pledged he will achieve unification while he is in office. He will fail, but he can make life much harder for Taiwan. A strong cross-pressure of regular public condemnations from as many of the OECD nations who are willing would be profoundly humiliating.

Getting there, however, will not be easy:

Xi faces his own dilemmas, he is engaged in a game of chicken with Trump. The CCP does not want to lose control in Hong Kong, but almost as badly it does not want to see Hong Kong’s status as an Asian financial capital destroyed. The city’s stock exchange is dominated by more than 200 listed mainland corporations, for whom access to global capital markets through Hong Kong remains key. If the property market were also to crash, in the wake of a collapse of the Hang Seng index, the cost would be in tens of billions of dollars for Chinese citizens and SOEs.
The Hang Seng has already sunk to a valuation of only 10 times underlying earnings, less than half that of the NYSE. If the Americans do pull Hong Kong’s special status, they would be signally to the 1,300 American corporations there, “Time to leave!” That would really be the beginning of the end for one of the most beautiful multicultural cities in the world. What seemed unthinkable only months ago — that the giant American banks, technology, and professional service firms would leave — now seems possible.

And, finally, working things through will take a long time:

In the Cold War, it took decades for the West to develop an effective set of political and economic levers to restrain the Soviet Union. But economic pressure, public humiliation over the treatment of dissidents and a visible and unmatchable military commitment on all of the Warsaw Pact’s borders led to the Soviets’ collapse.
The struggle to force China to accept the costs, obligations and responsibilities of a superpower requires different tactics. But two things have not changed since that earlier global battle: such a campaign can work only with the closest unity of strategy and tactics by the greatest number of nations; and by carefully choosing a short list of vulnerable targets of pressure wisely.

Trump's America First mentality won't work. But a global alliance of like-minded countries could.

Image: Canadian Business

Saturday, May 30, 2020

From Alabama To Washington

Fifty years ago, American cities were burning. Today, history is rhyming and Donald Trump is tweeting, "When the looting starts the shooting starts." Max Boot writes:

Consciously or not, Trump was quoting Miami police chief Walter Headley in 1967. Headley also said, “We don’t mind being accused of police brutality,” and he charged that, while most “Negroes” were “law abiding,” “10 per cent are young hoodlums who have taken advantage of the civil rights campaign.” Headley’s brutal rhetoric and tactics were later blamed for inciting a three-day riot in Miami in 1968.

Trump's presidency is the presidency George Wallace sought but never achieved:

As governor of Alabama, Wallace had vowed in 1963: “segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” But during his third-party campaign for president in 1968, following the passage of the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act, Wallace didn’t run on an explicitly segregationist platform. Instead, he focused on a “law and order” message that drew on white voters’ concerns about rising crime, urban riots, antiwar protests, liberal court rulings, busing and other hot-button issues. His slogan was “Stand up for America.”
Wallace was not subtle about his threats of violence. At Madison Square Garden in New York on Oct. 24, 1968, he expressed disgust at demonstrators trying to block President Lyndon B. Johnson’s limousine: “I tell you when November comes, the first time they lie down in front of my limousine, it’ll be the last one they ever lay down in front of; their day is over!”
A few minutes later, shedding his jacket and clenching his fist, Wallace shouted: “We don’t have riots in Alabama. They start a riot down there, first one of ‘em to pick up a brick gets a bullet in the brain, that’s all. And then you walk over to the next one and say, ‘All right, pick up a brick. We just want to see you pick up one of them bricks, now!’ ”
As historian Dan T. Carter notes in his history of the modern conservative movement, “The crowd went berserk.” It was obvious to both supporters and detractors what Wallace was saying. An African American protester held up a poster proclaiming “Law and Order — Wallace Style.” “Underneath the slogan,” Carter writes, “was the outline of a Ku Klux Klansman holding a noose.”

The ghost of the man who stood in front of the schoolhouse door at the Univesity of Alabama now walks out into the Rose Garden.


Friday, May 29, 2020

Biden Will Win

Tony Burman is getting more and more certain that Joe Biden will be the next American president. He writes:

With more than 100,000 Americans dead and 40 million others out of work as a result of the pandemic and the U.S. government’s disastrous handling of it, Donald J. Trump will likely be remembered decades from now as the most incompetent, morally corrupt president in modern U.S. history.

It's hard to argue with that conclusion. But, Burman argues, there are several reasons why Trump will be a one-term president:

1. You can see a landslide in the making: Since March, Joe Biden has respected the “stay at home” instructions in his home state of Delaware, and he is doing just fine. In contrast, Donald Trump has hogged the spotlight and it has damaged him. At least two polls this week indicate that Biden is leading by 11 points. Trump’s approval rating has been sinking by the week. Remember that Trump’s margin in 2016 was razor thin — a total of 77,744 votes cast in three states (Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania) out of 120 million votes overall.
2. Trump's base is collapsing: Trump and the Republicans appear to be losing older voters who have always turned out to support them. Trump’s poor handling of the pandemic, his constant insults of Biden’s age and his persistent efforts to undermine Medicare have turned these voters against him. And unlike Hillary Clinton, Biden is seen as one of them. More broadly, recent polling in 13 swing states indicates a consistent lead for Biden in all of them, and at a level much higher than Hillary Clinton ever achieved.
3. Biden has learned from Hilary's failures: His campaign staff has placed more emphasis on their digital operation and created genuine bridges to the African American, Latino and progressive communities that felt neglected four years ago. Since it is assumed Biden will last only one term, a crucial decision is the choice of his running mate. Two strong front runners are Senators Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren, who would both be welcomed by Democratic activists.
4. The worst is still to come for Trump: the U.S. will still be flirting with depression-level economic damage and a “second wave” of the pandemic will begin to surface in the autumn. There is also the certainty that Trump — on the brink of defeat — will try to sabotage the process and claim that the voting is rigged. So, strap in.
5. Facing that immense damage, Biden has been inspired by Franklin Roosevelt: The landscape will be even worse than what Barack Obama and he, as vice-president, inherited in January 2009 in the wake of the 2008 recession. Instead of promising that “nothing would fundamentally change” as he once did as a candidate, there is increasing talk that Biden will be prepared to embrace the radicalism of president Franklin D. Roosevelt who took over from an unpopular Republican opponent during The Great Depression.

That's the future Burman sees. Let's hope he's right.

Image: The Toronto Star

Thursday, May 28, 2020

We Should Be Grateful

Stephen Harper, Andrew Cohen writes, hasn't changed. Even though he

has been out of office for four-and-a-half years, but he can still draw a crowd of conservatives and a chorus of critics. And nurse a hell of a grudge.
No one says former Canadian prime ministers must gently fade away, once the way of American presidents. What we do expect, though, is a measure of honesty, generosity and self-reflection.
Harper offers none of that. He is elder but no statesman; he has second thoughts without sobriety. He cannot help himself.

An interview Harper did with the American conservative talk show host Dennis Prager has surfaced after two years. And it reveals that Harper is as mean and nasty as ever:

Blaming the liberal media conspiring to defeat him in 2015 – his big allegation – is so silly that even Andrew MacDougall, Harper’s former head of communication, calls it “crap.”
No right-wing media in Canada? Has he checked the Globe and Mail, which endorsed his party, or the editorial pages of Postmedia News? Has he read John Ibbitson’s sympathetic biography? Didn’t Mike Duffy, as a broadcaster, destroy Stéphane Dion in a television interview in 2008?
Collusion? I must have missed the midnight conclaves of the College of Columnists, scheming “to bring down” the Conservatives (as Val Sears of the Toronto Star famously declared boarding John Diefenbaker’s campaign plane in 1962).
Who needed collusion when Harper was destroying himself in 2015 with his “snitch lines” and anti-immigration tropes? Which party had the most money and the advantage of government and then foolishly set an election date two-and-a-half months away, certain that a long campaign would undo the callow Justin Trudeau?

Perhaps it all goes back to his relationship with his mother:

He reveals, for example, that his mother never said anything to him “remotely praiseworthy”. After he became prime minister, she allowed: “Well, you’ve done well for yourself.”
That may explain his gnarled, flinty and vindictive public persona in 10 years in office. By 2015, Canadians had enough of his distemper, so acute that he shocked a visiting foreign leader with his burning contempt for the opposition.
In the Prager interview, Harper notes that no Canadian university had given him an honorary degree, even though “I was one of the best-educated prime ministers the country ever had.”

Does that sound like sour grapes? You bet. We should all be grateful that he's not in office now.

Image: The Rayfield

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Steaming Piles

From the very beginning -- starting with Barack Obama's "phony" birth certificate -- Donald Trump has peddled conspiracy theories. His latest is particularly vile. Peter Wehner writes:

When Lori Klausutis died, she worked for then–Republican Representative Joe Scarborough. Today, Scarborough is a fierce critic of the president from his perch at MSNBC, where he co-hosts Morning Joe. That is why the president has been peddling a cruel and baseless conspiracy theory that Scarborough had Klausutis murdered.
This is a topic most journalists are inherently reluctant to cover, given the danger that it will draw more attention to a vile lie. But with the president and his son Don Jr., who between them have more than 85 million Twitter followers, sending out lunatic tweets and calling for “the opening of a Cold Case against Psycho Joe Scarborough,” human decency requires a response.

Two days ago, the dead woman's husband asked Jack Dorsey -- the president of Twitter -- to remove the president's tweets about his wife from the platform. Then he wrote:

I have mourned my wife every day since her passing. I have tried to honor her memory and our marriage. As her husband, I feel that one of my marital obligations is to protect her memory as I would have protected her in life. There has been a constant barrage of falsehoods, half-truths, innuendo and conspiracy theories since the day she died. I realize that may sound like an exaggeration, unfortunately it is the verifiable truth. Because of this, I have struggled to move forward with my life.
The frequency, intensity, ugliness, and promulgation of these horrifying lies ever increases on the internet. These conspiracy theorists, including most recently the President of the United States, continue to spread their bile and misinformation on your platform disparaging the memory of my wife and our marriage.
I would also ask that you consider Lori’s niece and two nephews who will eventually come across this filth in the future. They have never met their Aunt and it pains me to think they would ever have to “learn” about her this way.
My wife deserves better.

The official autopsy found that Mrs. Klausutis had an undiagnosed heart condition. Nowhere does Trump or Junior mention that fact.

There are laws against libel. But, as Trump has proved time and time again, the law means nothing to him. And the damage keeps piling up. Wehner writes:

There is a wickedness in our president that long ago corrupted him. It’s corrupted his party. And it’s in the process of corrupting our country, too.
He is a crimson stain on American decency. He needs to go.

Everywhere Trump goes, he leaves steaming piles of excrement behind him.

Image: Reddit

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Making The World Safe For Hypocrisy

Huge crowds gathered over the weekend in Toronto's Trinity-Bellwoods Park. Our political leaders were horrified -- with reason. On the other hand, they have not been leading by example. Susan Delacout writes:

While their disappointment was understandable, it was also a bit rich. When it comes to leadership by example during this pandemic, some notable Canadian politicians have amassed an array of examples of what not to do. Why does this keep happening?
Mayor John Tory is the latest public figure to sheepishly acknowledge he had strayed from his own advice when he played fast and loose with mask-wearing in that same crowded park over the weekend.
And he’s not alone in the pack of leaders who have failed to walk their own talk during this crisis.
Justin Trudeau crossed the Ontario-Quebec border to spend Easter with his family at Harrington Lake, even though that option was not open to other families with property in Quebec.
Premier Doug Ford visited his own cottage that same long weekend — to check the plumbing, he said — and then on Mother’s Day, held a gathering at his own house that was larger than public-health-prescribed limits.
Meanwhile, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer piled his family into a not-physically distant plane ride from Saskatchewan to Ottawa in April.

Thomas Wolfe wryly observed that some people had a talent for, "making the world safe for hypocrisy, " But hypocrisy won't get us out of this crisis.

Image: Dreamstime

Monday, May 25, 2020

No Going Back

There's a rush these days to get back to the way things used to be. But we're not going back there. Bruce Anderson writes that the new world order is disorder:

This struck me as I was going through our latest Abacus Data polling, which highlights that Canadians don’t much like today’s leadership in China, Russia or the U.S. — the biggest economies and most militarized countries in the world. And they’re not so keen on the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson, either.
Russia might be economically weak today, but still seems to be malevolent. The modern focus is on sowing division around the world, rather than building an empire, and hackers are the weapon of choice, rather than nukes. But it’s hard to imagine a Russian leader in decades as unpopular in Canada as President Vladimir Putin is today. Only seven per cent like Putin; 57 per cent don’t.
After the election of U.S. President Donald Trump and his “America First” agenda became dramatically clear, Canadians started to take a second look at China for a more globalist point of view about trade and climate and development issues. Briefly, Canadians felt China was a better example of global leadership and more committed to peace around the world compared to Trump’s America.
But today, China’s leadership is broadly mistrusted, with 10 times as many people registering a negative view of President Xi Jinping (52 per cent) as those registering a positive one (five per cent).

Gone are the days when Canadians thought that God was in heaven and all was right with the world:

Because of our cultural tendencies, Canada may be more deeply affected by the seemingly chronic disruption in the geopolitical landscape. Our democratic compass is set on “peace, order and good government,” and it’s no accident — it’s a reflection of what we prize. But from Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro to Johnson, Trump to Putin, Xi to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the world seems hell-bent on disorder, or sometimes just hell-bound.
The pressures building up in the pandemic-afflicted world, coupled with the growing climate crisis, might offer the best and most urgent argument for a collective approach the likes of which we’ve never seen.
But the leaders in many of the countries that are vital to such an approach are running in the opposite direction.

Navigating this disorder will not be easy. But there will be no going back to the way things used to be.

Image: The New Statesman

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Another Test

During the Great Depression, power flowed from the provinces to the federal government in Ottawa. In the 1990's, Canada decentralized and power flowed back to the provinces. Robin Sears writes that, as a result of the pandemic, the flow of power is once again being reversed:

In the next three to five years, as we clean up from the massive bloodshed — human and financial — of the pandemic, the new centre of power in Canada will be the federal government. Conservative pundits, blinded by their hatred of the breathy theatrical style of our prime minister, promote mayors and premiers as Canada’s new leaders. They do not understand where power concentrates as a crisis moves to recovery.
The old military cliché that God is on the side of those with the biggest guns, has a fiscal corollary. She is also on the side of those with the biggest financial guns. When everyone is a beggar and a borrower, who has the untrumpable advantage? The one who can create vast sums of new financial ammunition for their guns. Improbably, in the 21st century, this is not cities, nor multilateral institutions, nor even global banking giants. It is still nation states.
They alone have the right to create new credit, to print new money, without limitation. The right of seigniorage — the exclusive prerogative to print money — becomes the most powerful weapon when everyone is a borrower. Yes, big banks can create millions in new lending, but governments can create billions with a key stroke. Another time-honoured cliché — if you owe the bank a million dollars and cannot pay, you have a big problem; but if you owe the bank a billion dollars, they have the problem — will further enhance Ottawa’s power to declare winners and losers.
This may dramatically change the power dynamics in the Canadian federation. Canadian governments from big cities to small provinces will spend more than they can tax for some years to come. They cannot raise taxes meaningfully, nor can they cut expenditures by any useful amount. They must borrow. Cities are forbidden to go into operating debt. Bond buyers always have the provinces by the short hairs — issue too much debt, and your credit rating plummets and your servicing costs explode.

The shift is going to drive conservatives crazy:

“Premier Kenney, you need five billion recovery dollars? You got it, but not to revive zombie oil and gas companies. Spend it on reducing emissions and a transition to a low carbon economy or we will give it to someone who will.”
“John Tory, you need two billion to get your transit projects up and running? OK, not a single dollar will be spent on dirty diesel buses.”

They will not be happy. On the other hand, any attempt to humiliate them would be a mistake. It's absolutely essential that the federal government be seen as an honest broker:

Ottawa will need to be very careful not to be seen to be bigfooting every other government because they have the only big chequebook.
Provinces and cities, in the borrowers’ queue for years to come, will need to ensure that their case is better than those in line behind them. That will mean listening to and negotiating with Ottawa on its policy goals.

Once again, our federation will be tested.


Saturday, May 23, 2020

It Can't Be Swept Under The Rug

What is happening in Hong Kong is appalling. Martin Regg Cohn writes:

This week, under cover of COVID-19, Beijing crossed a line it had long promised to respect. Exploiting the worst pandemic in 100 years, mainland authorities are now doing what they vowed never to do for 50 years after the handover from British rule in 1997 — right up until 2047:
Beijing will now legislate from afar what cannot be stage-managed locally. Hong Kong will henceforth be a vassal city-state.
In defiance of the Basic Law — the miniconstitution conferred upon the former colony in 1997 — the People’s Republic of China has now declared it will overrule the self-rule that is the legal right of the 7 million people living in the so-called Hong Kong Special Autonomous Region. Special status recognized Hong Kong’s special history, codified its unique rule of law, solidified its separate trading relationships with the world.
Hence the promise to preserve (and profit from) the rubric of “One country, two systems” — Chinese sovereignty amid autonomy — without hegemony. That historic vow is yet another casualty of the present pandemic.

Yet Canadians are hamstrung -- caught between two lawless strong men:

Just as Hong Kongers are being held hostage, so too Canadians are being ransomed — not just Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor (the two citizens unlawfully confined in China as bargaining chips over the Huawei affair), but also farmers whose crops and livestock are spuriously barred entry to the mainland. The suggestion that Canada unilaterally cut off Hong Kong from its special trading relationship, or snub China in other ways, is divorced from the brutal realpolitik of international relations.

The response has to be an alliance -- but it's hard for Canada to lead that alliance:

Canada can and should stitch together a broad coalition of Western countries with clout that can call China to account, if such an alliance can ever find the courage to speak up. But Canada cannot command others to follow, and is all too easily ignored if it gets out in front of the fledgling international parade.
Canadians know better than to demand that Justin Trudeau publicly lecture U.S. President Donald Trump for a transgression. Why then ask our prime minister to pointlessly hector Chinese President Xi Jinping for his aggression?

It's a difficult situation. But it can't be swept under the rug.


Friday, May 22, 2020

Dying For The Dow

Donald Trump and his party are morons. They never -- indeed, it seems they can't -- learn anything. Paul Krugman writes:

For a little while it seemed as if we were finally settling on a strategy for containing the virus while also limiting the economic hardship caused by the lockdown.
Yet Trump and his party have come out against further aid to the unemployed and against helping beleaguered state and local governments. Instead, the party is increasingly putting all its hopes on a rapid reopening of the economy, even though that prospect terrifies health experts, who warn that it could lead to a second wave of infections and many more deaths.

So how does one explain the rapid reversal of what was a pretty sloppy strategy in the first place?

The answer, surely, is that they’re reverting to type. In the early stages of this pandemic, Trump and the right in general downplayed the threat because they didn’t want to hurt stock prices. Now they’re pushing for a premature end to containment because they imagine that it will boost stocks again.
It didn’t have to go this way. Another leader might have told Americans that they’re in a tough fight but will win in the end. Governors like Andrew Cuomo who have taken that stance have seen their approval soar.
But Trump can’t get beyond boosterism, insisting that everything is great on his watch. And he’s clearly still obsessed with the stock market as the measure of his presidency.

In the end, Krugman writes, Americans are going to have to die for the Dow -- and be heroic about it. It's tunnel vision and selfishness combined. It's also a clear sign of moral bankruptcy.


Thursday, May 21, 2020

Scheer's Long Goodbye

Andrew Scheer should have left his job on the night he lost the last election. Instead, he has insisted on hanging around. His long goodbye has been excruciating. Bob Hepburn writes:

Since losing last October’s federal election, Scheer has been at the centre of a series of self-inflicted controversies that shine light on why former prime minister Stephen Harper never considered him for a senior cabinet post.
Scheer’s latest mess surfaced this week when he revealed in a CTV interview that he no longer is seeking to renounce his U.S. citizenship. “Given the fact that I won’t be prime minister, I discontinued the process,” he subsequently told reporters. During the election Scheer ran into a storm of controversy when it was discovered he had dual citizenship, but had not told anyone.

But there have been lots of other gaffes and guffaws:

They include his Trump-like criticism of the World Health Organization’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
His failure to denounce Tory MP Derek Sloan for accusing Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, of being disloyal to Canada and of working for China.
The revelation that even party executives didn’t know he’d arranged a deal for the party to pay for his children to go to a private school.
His unfounded charges that Justin Trudeau is letting “fraudsters” and “criminals” abuse federal aid programs for people out of work because of the pandemic.

In short, Scheer gives the impression that his opposition to Trudeau is deeply personal -- period. And the longer Scheer hangs around, the more Trudeau and the Liberals will benefit.


Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Insanity Itself

Bruce Arthur writes that the pandemic has exposed our world as it is. We can no longer look at it through rose coloured glasses:

The pandemic is a mirror, and we suddenly see ourselves for what we are: a world that runs on the grind of low-paid workers while Jeff Bezos aims to become a trillionaire; a country whose government must be the most important safety net; a province that would like to send our kids to school, but also not kill anybody while doing so. Yeah, Ontario made the right call on the schools.

And into the midst of all the ugliness strides the Ugliest American:

The pandemic provides a grimmer clarity: it is showing that Trump is exactly what he is, and always was: an unshakably dumb septuagenarian con man, completely unable to grasp even basic concepts, able only to stride through life through bulls---, yet absolutely confident that he is correct.
It’s not that he is merely a bad person. He is, of course. He is a human Twinkie, unnaturally toasted and filled to the brim with all-white racism and venal resentment. He is definitely that.

Now he insists that hydroxychloroquine is the cure the world has been looking for:

Hydroxychloroquine cuts to the core of Trump, even if there is no proof he is actually taking the drug, other than his word. This drug doesn’t even work as a snake-oil miracle cure anymore except with the absolute rubes, and reality is coming.

How did Trump become fixated on the drug?

The most likely explanation is hydroxychloroquine planted itself in Trump’s mashed potato brain, and it can’t be uprooted. His doctor might be giving him a placebo, but some things stick in there. As journalist Joshua Green reported in his book “Devil’s Bargain,” Trump’s advisers used a border wall with Mexico as a metaphorical trick to make him remember to talk about immigration in campaign speeches. Four years later, he’s still trying to get a real one built.
So the unreality isn’t new, but then you realize the difference. Before this, Trump’s lunacy and incompetence endangered other people. But he’s so dumb he can put himself at risk, too. Yes, this is the president who stared at a solar eclipse without protective glasses, who has refused to wear a mask, who ignored physical distancing even as members of the White House tested positive for the coronavirus all around him.
None of the stupidity is an act, even as political reporters still work to make him a normal president. He might be a few weeks from drinking bleach to prove a point.

Insanity itself sits in the White house.


Tuesday, May 19, 2020

A Complete Waste

Donald Trump has threatened to withdraw all American funding for the World Health Organization and to leave the WHO altogether. The New York Times reports:

President Trump threatened to permanently cut off all funds to the World Health Organization Monday night, a dramatic escalation of his repeated attempts to deflect blame for his handling of the pandemic that has killed more than 90,000 people in the United States during the past several months.
In a late-night, four-page letter to the director-general of the W.H.O., Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Mr. Trump accused the global health group of failing to act quickly and aggressively enough against the virus in its early days, in effect denouncing the organization for the very missteps and failures that have been leveled at him and his administration.

It's a clear case of projection -- the sign of a diseased mind:

The president has railed against the W.H.O. for weeks as his own political and public health crisis at home has intensified, saying the group is in the thrall of China, where the virus originated. In the letter, he said the group was responsible for many deaths because it failed to challenge the version of events from Xi Jinping, the president of China, regarding the origin of the virus and its initial spread.
“On January 28, after meeting with President Xi in Beijing, you praised the Chinese government for its ‘transparency’ with respect to the coronavirus, announcing that China had set ‘a new standard for outbreak control’ and ‘bought the world time,’” Mr. Trump wrote in his letter, accusing the W.H.O. of failing to criticize China for cracking down on its own scientists and doctors.
But that criticism from Mr. Trump was particularly ironic given his own very similar comments about China early in the pandemic. On Jan. 24, four days before the W.H.O. comments, Mr. Trump tweeted his own praise of the Chinese leader.

The WHO has its flaws. All organizations do. But it is absolutely essential to protecting global public health. When it comes to public health, Mr. Trump is clearly a weapon of mass destruction. We've known for some time that he doesn't possess a conscience. His latest decision only proves that he is a complete waste of human tissue.


Monday, May 18, 2020

What Happens To Post Secondary Education?

Universities and colleges are facing an existential crisis. Martin Regg Cohn writes:

This week, McGill University and UBC announced classes will be held online this fall. Ontario campuses have so far hedged their bets, keen to avoid deterring students or revealing just how fragile their finances may be.

Will online education be the wave of the future? If it is, it will change the cost structures of post-secondary education:

If classes shift to long-distance learning, what’s a fair short-term tuition discount for a virtual experience? If athletic facilities are closed and extracurricular activities cancelled, will student fees be reimbursed? (Universities are still smarting after being blindsided by a government-imposed tuition cut of 10 per cent last year, and the dismantling of mandatory student fees.)
Will international students keep coming? What if they can’t find flights, or secure student visas — or get their money’s worth? Will they still pay far higher foreign tuition fees to learn from far away? If they stay away, how will colleges and universities that depend heavily on foreign revenues make up massive shortfalls?
Online learning may well be the future, but today’s tuition is based on a rigid cost structure built of bricks and mortar, erected on a foundation of tenured professors and fancy gyms. Students don’t need a PhD in economics to understand price points, and may yet rebel over a bait and switch approach to in-class versus online learning.

There is much more to a university or college education than its cost. But, as with everything else, the pandemic is turning the world on its head.

Image: Macleans

Sunday, May 17, 2020

The Folks We've Been Waiting For

In last night's virtual graduation, Barack Obama took on Donald Trump and his administration. He did so directly and with polish, but without mentioning Trump's name:

“More than anything, this pandemic has fully finally torn back the curtain on the idea that so many of the folks in charge know what they’re doing. A lot of them aren’t even pretending to be in charge.”
“Let’s be honest, a disease like this just spotlights the underlying inequalities and extra burdens that black communities have historically had to deal with in this country,” he said. “We see it in the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on our communities, just as we see it when a black man goes for a jog and some folks feel like they can stop and question and shoot him if he doesn’t submit to their questioning.”

And, like any good commencement speaker, he challenged the young to go out and bravely face the future:

“No generation has been better positioned to be warriors for justice and remake the world,” he said.
“So rather than say, ‘What’s in it for me?’ or ‘What’s in it for my community and to heck with everyone else,’ stand up for and join up with everyone who’s struggling — whether immigrants, refugees, the rural poor, the LGBTQ community, low-income workers of every background, women who so often are subject to their own discrimination and burdens and not getting equal pay for equal work,” Obama said. “Look out for folks whether they are white or black or Asian or Latino or Native American. As Fannie Lou Hamer once said, ‘Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.’”
"You're the folks we've been waiting for."

This will all get under Trump's skin -- as it should. But it also speaks to America's better angels -- something Trump never does.

Image: You Tube

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Still King

Stephen Harper's ghost still haunts the Conservative Party. In fact, Michael Harris writes, it's still driving the Tory Bus:

The CPC is supposed to be doing some soul-searching in the process of its 2020 leadership race. In 2017, the last time the party went searching for its soul, it came back with Andrew Scheer. The karaoke Stephen Harper.
Again in 2020, they have headed straight back to the vacant parking lot of Harper’s political vision — the CPC as archly socially conservative, northern Republican, anti-environment, pro-oil and meaner than ever.

The word is that, after the Conservatives' defeat in the last election, Harper moved quickly to dump Andrew Scheer:

Andrew Scheer was pushed out, thanks to the strategic leak of closely held information about the Opposition leader allegedly using party funds for his children’s private school education. When CPC executive director, Dustin van Vugt, vouched for the leader’s expenses, he was summarily fired by the board of the Conservative Fund.
A lot of Conservatives who spoke to The Tyee on background, including former national candidates, hold the opinion that Stephen Harper was the source of the leak. Here’s how one of them put it:
“Scheer knows that he got screwed over by everyone from Bernier to Harper, basically everybody. When Conservative party activists got paperwork on the private school thing, anyone who knows anything knows that stuff like that is not widely available. Somebody on the fund decided to do that.”

Next, Harper let it be known that Jean Charest would not be an acceptable leader:

Then Harper blocked former Progressive Conservative leader Jean Charest, from even running for the job by withholding his endorsement. Although the former PM has not publicly endorsed any candidate, the signs are there that front-runner Peter MacKay may not be his man — co-founder of the party or not.

It's beginning to look like Erin O'Toole is Harper's man:

The first sign that there could be some truth in that assessment was Premier Jason Kenney’s endorsement of Ontario MP Erin O’Toole for leader.
Kenney didn’t just endorse O’Toole, he took Peter MacKay to the woodshed. He publicly trashed the former Harper cabinet minister for talking about the “stinking albatross” of the party’s socially conservative values during the last election.
“No one will have their deeply held beliefs dismissed as stinking albatrosses under Erin O’Toole’s leadership,” Kenney bristled. “Erin O’Toole respects the breadth of our big tent coalition.”
In assessing Kenney’s endorsement of O’Toole, it can’t be overstated that Harper and Kenney have always been a team, the two most powerful Conservatives in the country. That may have been why Opposition leader Andrew Scheer consulted Harper and Kenney before making any major decisions. He knew who the real Big Dogs were.

Harper may have moved from the front bench to the back room. But he's still king.

Image Archemdis's Blog

Friday, May 15, 2020


As evidence of Donald Trump's utter incompetence continues to pile up, he screams one word: Obamagate. Michelle Goldberg writes:

Recently people on the right have started pushing a ludicrous pseudo-scandal they’re calling Obamagate. It holds that investigations by Barack Obama’s administration into Russia’s attack on the 2016 U.S. presidential election were a form of illicit sabotage of Donald Trump and his team. The story doesn’t really make sense, which is why, when asked about Obamagate, President Trump couldn’t describe it. But at the heart of the conspiracy theory is “unmasking,” the routine practice by which national security officials find out the names of Americans who appear on intelligence intercepts of foreign actors. Trumpists have tried to turn this into a sinister and portentous term.
Obamagate exists to rewrite the history of Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference to make Trump the victim, rather than someone who actively sought Russia’s help and then took steps to reward the nation’s president, Vladimir Putin, for providing it. Trump often accuses others of misdeeds that he is guilty of; recall his sputtering response to Hillary Clinton calling him a Putin puppet in a 2016 debate: “No puppet! No puppet! You’re the puppet!” In Obamagate, he is accusing his opponents of politicizing intelligence because of a political vendetta, which is what his administration is currently doing.

Obamagate is Trump's attempt to rewrite his history -- and an attempt to deflect the facts that are spilling out:

Last week [Rick] Bright, the former head of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, a federal agency responsible for vaccine development, filed a whistle-blower complaint. He claimed that his attempts earlier this year to get the government to take the new coronavirus seriously were rebuffed, and that he was removed from his job after resisting pressure to fund “potentially dangerous drugs promoted by those with political connections and by the administration itself.”
On Thursday, as Trump was on Twitter asking Senator Lindsey Graham to drag Obama before Congress, Bright testified before a House subcommittee. His message was devastating. He described months of government lassitude early in the coronavirus outbreak, and an administration that has yet to even formulate — never mind execute — a plan for containing the pandemic.
Bright spoke of how dozens of federal scientists working on the coronavirus were distracted by an order to put all other work aside to focus on chloroquine, a drug typically used to treat malaria that Trump was then obsessed with. (Early studies into using chloroquine for Covid-19 patients have been disappointing.) He said that doctors and nurses are using substandard masks because the government was forced to procure them from countries without adequate quality control standards. “Some of those masks are only 30 percent effective,” he said. “Therefore, nurses are rushing in the hospitals thinking they’re protected, and they’re not.”

That evidence should be devastating. It's part of a broad pattern -- a pattern Trump has labelled "fake news:"

Since Trump took office, he has, like many authoritarians, built an alternative reality that deranges public discourse and encases his followers in a carapace of lies. As the evidence of his savage incompetence becomes harder to deny, the efforts to shore up that alternative reality will only become more desperate. The real scandal of a looted government leaving citizens prey to death and destitution will fuel ever more histrionic fake ones. It remains to be seen whether howls about Obamagate can distract from the desolation Bright warned of in January, and is warning of still.

All of this information should bring Trump down. Unfortunately, as the country "reopens," thousands of Americans are rushing into places -- shoulder to shoulder -- shouting "live free or die." That admonition has always been a false choice. But falsehood is the hallmark of the Trump administration.

Image: Rebel Nation

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Harper On The COVID Crisis

Stephen Harper has finally chimed in on our present crisis. Susan Delacourt writes:

True to his convictions, born in the time of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, Harper makes the case that government will have to shrink when this spending splurge is over. Or, in Thatcher’s immortal words, there is no such thing as society when the bills start coming in. That’s when we’ll need the markets again.
“Right now, as in wartime, we face extreme needs for physical and financial security,” Harper writes. “But as needs shift to jobs, growth and wealth creation — and those needs will be enormous — it will require more market activity and a bigger private sector, not more intervention and bigger government.”

Harper hates big government. Not so big business. And, when he was prime minister -- in 2008 -- big business got the lion's share of support:

“Too big to fail” was the signature line of the 2008 crash. Big in that case wasn’t big government, but the titans of industry, whose rescue, it was assumed, would save all those who depended on them. Not all of that worked out as planned.
Canada’s bruising lesson on this score came in the recent shutdown of GM’s Oshawa plant, 10 years after the federal and Ontario governments threw $9.5 billion (U.S.) in aid to the carmaker to keep thousands employed.

The Trudeau government is taking a different tack -- partly because Chrystia Freeland is Deputy Prime Minister. And she has written about the 2008 crisis:

Freeland, in her previous life as a journalist, wrote about the mistakes of the bailouts a decade ago, in a 2012 Reuters opinion piece, about a year before she made the leap into politics.
Freeland’s column appeared in the New York Times and recounted a conversation she had with Amir Sufi, a professor at the University of Chicago Business School, about how the 2008 bailouts were aimed too high up in the economic food chain.
“He believes the U.S. government made a costly mistake by focusing on bankers and not homeowners,” Freeland wrote. And then she added, prophetically. ”Mr. Sufi’s argument matters, and not just because there will, inevitably, be another financial crisis.”
Freeland probably didn’t expect to be sitting in the driver’s seat in any government the next time a financial crisis rolled around, but you can see evidence of her thinking and reporting on it throughout this pandemic.

It appears that Harper has learned nothing from 2008. Neither has his party.

Image: The Toronto Star

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Another Corporate Bailout

Canada has just engineered another corporate bailout. Andrew Jackson writes that, this time around, the circumstances are different:

Past crises such as the global financial crisis of 2008 have seen a disturbing tendency to bail out shareholders and senior corporate managers in the name of protecting jobs, with the government and ordinary citizens paying the price for poor economic decisions made by the private sector which resulted in large losses.
It is, of course, true that the current crisis was not created by reckless corporate behaviour, but by a virus. At the same time, it is also true that much of corporate Canada was carrying far too much debt before the crisis, making them vulnerable to a downturn.
Much of the debt was instead used to distribute wealth to shareholders, in the form of higher dividends, share buy backs (which reduce the number of shares, boosting stock prices) and to finance lucrative stock options packages for CEOs and senior management.
The government is quite aware of this, and promises that such practices will be severely limited for companies being granted loans from the new facility. This is commendable, and also reflects lobbying and petitions by Canadians for Tax Fairness and the Broadbent Institute.
The government has also promised, rather vaguely, to require companies receiving loans to change corporate tax arrangements which hurt Canada. This is too little, too late, but still a step forward.

There are, however, problems with the new program:

It would make much more sense to take up an equity position ie a public ownership share. This would mean that a turnaround in corporate fortunes down the road would reward taxpayers for the risk taken via an increase in share prices. Equity also means that the public would, in many cases, have board representation and with it access to information and the ability to shape corporate behaviour.

For instance, the airlines are in trouble. Germany is taking an equity position in Lufthansa.

Another problem is that all sectors are treated equally:

But some sectors are more highly indebted than others, with oil and gas and real estate leading the way, again as shown by the TD Bank report. And not all sectors make an equal contribution to our longer term economic prospects.
In the case of commercial estate, there are very few direct jobs to be saved. If highly indebted corporations go under, the office buildings and malls will still be standing.
In the case of oil and gas, many experts and observers would judge that new loans are highly likely to incur large losses and to accomplish little since resource prices are so depressed, and since much of the world is in transition to carbon free energy. Workers in the sector need massive investments to create new jobs in clean energy much more than a costly corporate bailout.

The old axiom still applies. Investments should be wise investments. It makes no sense to put your money into a dying or dead organization.

Image: The Broadbent Institute

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

COVID In Nursing Homes

In Ontario, COVID has raced through nursing homes like a wildfire. The Toronto Star has looked into the present situation. Martin Regg Cohn writes:

The results from a Toronto Star investigation published Saturday are profoundly disturbing — for residents trapped in those homes, people with parents in long-term care, any voter who may one day end up in a home, and politicians responsible for the system. Regardless of ownership model, the facilities have been hit with outbreaks of COVID-19 at roughly the same rate, but once affected, the infection outcomes are dramatically different.
Residents in profit-seeking homes are about twice as likely to catch COVID-19 and die than residents in non-profits, and about four times as likely to become infected and die as those in municipally-run homes, the Star found. We won’t know where the final numbers end up until further down the road of this pandemic, but it is impossible to ignore the early data.

It's easy to blame Mike Harris for the problem:

He furthered the for-profit sector when he presided over deregulation as premier in the mid-1990s, undoing the staffing ratios of the previous NDP government. He profits from it today from his perch as chair of Chartwell Retirement Residences, one of Canada’s biggest private operators.

But the present model existed before Harris' arrival. The simple truth is that nursing homes can't be run like Walmart:

The profit motive works in our market system. But what works for Walmart — relentless cost-cutting pressure on suppliers and minimal staffing ratios for low wage part-timers — is hardly an optimal model for nursing homes where part-time, underpaid caregivers are responsible for safeguarding people, not products.
The data may change over time, but we need to look at ownership with open minds and open eyes, recognizing that there is no panacea. As the Star’s research makes clear, there is no immunity from infection in not-for-profit nursing homes — the Salvation Army’s Meighen Manor in Toronto has reported dozens of confirmed cases and more than 34 deaths in a 168-bed facility.
We dare not demonize the ownership, for sometimes it is us: Revera Long Term Care Inc., an industry giant, is owned by the pension fund manager for federal public servants, soldiers and police. Which means that a fearful Revera resident might be a civil service pensioner whose monthly retirement income depends on the profits earned by the owner of that very home.

One thing is certain. We can no longer tolerate the present model for long term care. It will have to change -- like lots of other things.

Image: Calgary Herald

Monday, May 11, 2020

The End Of A Cycle

We've been here before. That's the lesson of Andrew Nikiforuk's latest column in The Tyee:

The coronavirus pandemic is, among other things, a tribute to human ingenuity and our relentless pursuit of globalization, an impulse thousands of years old. Previous civilizations, from the Romans to the Mongols, traded aggressively and invaded new ecosystems. They, too, connected far-flung geographies in innovative ways. None of it, however, ended particularly well.
By trading in all manner of peoples, plants, germs and animals, these empires diligently tested the limits of globalization and its growing complexity by seeding their own disintegration.
The corona pandemic, a pretty mild affair in the scheme of things, is telling us that we are now in the middle of a historic cycle where hyper-connectivity combined with hyper-complexity could rapidly lead to decline, if not collapse.
In fact, pandemics are not black swans, but predictable and natural events that often appear like clockwork in the evolution of human empires. They trigger other crises or partner up with them.

According to the Russian historian, Peter Turchin, we are at the end of a recurring three hundred years cycle:

Peter Turchin, a Russian historian, has long argued that civilizations expand and contract in distinct waves or what he calls “secular cycles” that last about 300 years.
Here’s my rough sketch of his sharp thinking: In the initial wave, a troop of united elites marshal the masses to go forth and connect parts of the world with newfangled trade and political networks.
But as wealth and populations peak, the elites turn on each other as they seek to monopolize the spoils. (Turchin calls this a case of “elite overproduction.”) And then the cycle of expansionist thinking and radical growth comes to a crashing end with a roaring pandemic and other mayhem.
The Roman stoic Seneca observed that things do not perish as slowly as they come into being. Instead, “the way to ruin is rapid.” And pandemics prove the point.
According to Turchin, every growth cycle or pulsation comes in four distinct phases. A period of population growth, good eating and consensual elites is followed by stagflation, which begets some sort of economic or biological crisis that ends in a depression. And then the cycle renews itself.
Epidemics tend to erupt during the stagflation period for several reasons. That’s when populations peak and economic misery increases. It is also a period when long-distance trade connects everything; cities get too crowded and migrants clog the highways.

History provides specific examples:

The Black Death, for example, found Europe in a dismal state of misery in the 14th century. The pathogen travelled down the Silk Road, a highway revived by the expanding Mongol empire, a flourishing global concern if there ever was one.
The Roman Empire offers another pandemic tale. At its height Augustus established the Principate in 27 BC. The Romans were such grand globalists that 400 African and Asian perennials can still be found sprouting on the grounds of the Colosseum.
The plague exposed the fragility of the empire’s connectedness. Growing poverty and the hoarding of wealth by elites was followed by decades of civil wars and a population collapse. A new cycle began with the late Roman Empire centred in Constantinople. But that cycle ended in part due to the impact of another epidemic, the plague of Justinian.

Over the long term, it appears that we learn nothing.

Image: Evensi

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Death Of A Con Man

Maureen Dowd writes that Donald Trump has come up against something he can't con:

Now the monstrous virus has invaded the Oval Office. Both the president’s valet and a Pence staffer, Katie Miller, the wife of the racist Stephen Miller, who looks like he hasn’t seen daylight in decades, have succumbed. Yet just a few days ago Axios reported that the president and some top aides were questioning the high death toll.
Trump has always been fixated on numbers and perfectly willing to fake them — his billions, his inaugural crowd, even the number of stories in Trump Tower — and he knows the number of dead, now surpassing 77,500, could be the death knell of his campaign.
So he is despicably turning the dead into the undead, trying to figure out how to claim they weren’t lost.
His talent as an escape artist has run out because he’s up against an even more amoral, vicious enemy. Microbes don’t give a damn about Trump’s fake narrative and suppression of the facts.

Trump has gotten away with the con for so long, he refuses to see that his sales job won't succeed. Like a horror movie, the story keeps getting bleaker. And no one is buying his end to the movie:

When Mike Pompeo tried to push the 2020 re-election line demonizing China, saying there is “enormous evidence” that the virus escaped from a lab in Wuhan, even intelligence and senior officials pushed back. The man who is trusted to lead America beyond the plague, Anthony Fauci, dismissed it, reiterating with near certainty that the virus originated with a bat and jumped species.
Trump has sidelined the nonpareil Fauci and, no doubt consumed with jealousy and irritated by his honesty, would like to get rid of him. He barred the N.I.H. scientist from testifying before the House this month because the committee has “every Trump hater” who “want our situation to be unsuccessful, which means death.”

The end could be the metaphorical death of a con man. If the virus comes looking for him, his metaphorical death may become literal.


Saturday, May 09, 2020

Changing The Tide

I have been writing lately that COVID-19 provides us with an opportunity to send Ronald Reagan's aphorism -- "Government's not the solution, it's the problem" -- to the dustbin. Glen Pearson believes that the crisis may do just that:

Seriously, if wasn’t for the various stimulus efforts, nations would be on their knees, not just confined to their dwellings.  The various investments from federal, provincial and local governments have kept us from devastation and public turmoil.  Yet it was only two months ago that so many commentators and others were informing us every day that government was the problem and that less of it was the solution.  This pandemic would look totally different right now if they had won out.
And we are discovering that our communities really matter, that our neighbours are more than just people who live around us, and that bravery is sometimes the ability to do nothing in order to put fewer people in danger.  In fact, it has proved essential.  Did we know that before?  I doubt it, but we do now and in its own way it has proved liberating.  We are actually respecting one another and citizenship is now about respecting social distancing.  It’s something all of us can do and we are proving adept and capable of handling it.  It’s impressive.

The changing perspective is impressive. Our healthcare system is at the core of the shift:

We are in the process of discovering just how fragile our health is and how pivotal our health systems are to our survival.  This is no longer a theory postulated by some, but a renewed creed for any society that wishes to endure into the future.  We are now learning that we weren’t investing enough into our health systems previously and it’s likely we will wish to correct that once Covid-19 has passed.  There is nothing wrong with learning that lesson.  It’s a plus.
And we are getting new lessons in leadership.  Many of those pining for better leadership in the past are now strangely silent, while others have stepped forward in remarkably unexpected ways.  They are reaching out to the vulnerable, respecting the need for distance, listening to health authorities and political leaders, rediscovering solitude in ways that are energizing.  And they are committing themselves to public displays of respect for frontline and essential workers.
And those institutions many spent their online space denouncing have shown up with capacity just as we needed them – not just governments, but non-profits, charities, foundations, research institutes, businesses large and small, media outlets, service clubs and faith groups, education centres and civil servants.  While the critics have grown silent in their ineffectiveness, these groups have come forward in their duty and their dedication to the job.

But that shifting perspective is tenuous:

There is only [one] problem in all this: we might just toss it all away, like some empty container, once the crisis has passed.  To be guilty of such an oversight would be a tragedy of major proportions to democracy, for communities, for humanity, for our children. There are times when civilization gets to make a choice as to what path to take in order to progress.  This is one of those occasions.
We had permitted our politics to get separated from hegemony, economies to grow distance from average people, and companies to be about owning shares rather than investing in communities.  But it was worse.  We had also defamed one another online, failed to support local businesses, and practiced the kind of NIMBYism that Balkanizes communities.

Those who want to "get back to normal" want us to go back to the world which got us to where we are now. There are indications, however, that most of us don't think we'll go back there:

Recent Frank Graves polling provides a hopeful sign.  When asked by Graves whether they believe Canadian society will return to the status quo following the pandemic, 21.8% said yes but a full 77.2% maintained that society will be transformed instead.  When asked what that transformation would look like, almost 73% felt that society would become more focussed, stressing better health and well-being, while 27% thought Canada would become more authoritarian, stressing nationalism and security.

Time will tell. We can change the tide.

Image: You Tube

Friday, May 08, 2020

Republican Cruelty

The devastation the coronavirus has wrought has come home today with the lastest unemployment statistics. The New York Times reports that, in April, Americans lost 20.5 million jobs. But Republicans refuse to help the unemployed. Senator Lindsey Graham says that extending unemployment benefits would "take over our dead bodies." Paul Krugman writes:

They apparently want to return to a situation in which most unemployed workers get no benefits at all, and even those collecting unemployment insurance get only a small fraction of their previous income.
Because most working-age Americans receive health insurance through their employers, job losses will cause a huge rise in the number of uninsured. The only mitigating factor is the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, which will allow many though by no means all of the newly uninsured to find alternative coverage.
But the Trump administration is still trying to have the Affordable Care Act ruled unconstitutional; “We want to terminate health care under Obamacare,” declared Donald Trump, even though the administration has never offered a serious alternative.

How does one explain this cruelty?

In the face of what amounts to a vast natural disaster, you might have expected conservatives to break, at least temporarily, with their traditional opposition to helping fellow citizens in need. But no; they’re as determined as ever to punish the poor and unlucky.
One answer may be that much of America’s right has effectively decided that we should simply go back to business as usual and accept the resulting death toll. Those who want to take that route may view anything that reduces hardship, and therefore makes social distancing more tolerable, as an obstacle to their plans.
Also, conservatives may worry that if we help those in distress, even temporarily, many Americans might decide that a stronger social safety net is a good thing in general. If your political strategy depends on convincing people that government is always the problem, never the solution, you don’t want voters to see the government actually doing good, even in times of dire need.

There is a third possibility -- Harry Truman's explanation. Truman called the Republicans of his day "sons of bitches."

Thursday, May 07, 2020

The Writing On The Wall

Elizabeth May declared  this week that "Oil is dead." She makes a pretty convincing argument:

Years before the pandemic hit, major oil giants started leaving the oil sands. Many actually pointed to the fact that bitumen was the most carbon-intensive oil in their asset base. They talked about wanting to avoid being stuck with unburnable carbon; “stranded assets.” Royal Dutch Shell, Total SA, Statoil (now Equinor), Conoco Philips, Imperial Oil, Marathon Oil, Exxon Mobil and, even Koch Industries had pulled out.

With the advent of the pandemic, there is no market for Canadian bitumen:

The bitumen produced in the Alberta oil sands is both very expensive to produce and of inherently low value. To be profitable it takes two things — government subsidies and a price of $70 a barrel. Canada’s subsidies to get the oil sands in business started in earnest in the mid-1990s when oil was selling for less than $30 a barrel. Without billions of federal dollars (primarily delivered as generous Accelerated Capital Cost Allowances from the feds, and the world’s lowest royalty rates from the province) the oil sands would not have moved beyond half a million barrels a day (mbd). Today, they are approaching 3 mbd. And even at their height, oil sands contributed less than 3 percent to Canada’s GDP.
Eric Reguly wrote in the Globe and Mail on March 31: “By this week, West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark, was trading at about US$20 a barrel, down from its 12-month high of US$66. The price of some minor grades of U.S. crude, such as the thick oil used to pave roads, actually turned negative, meaning the producer was paying the buyer to cart the guck away,” adding that the strategy of the shale guys of ramping up production by record amounts until the United States surpassed Saudi Arabia and Russia to become the world’s top oil producer was bound to backfire (Canada’s rising output from the oil sands also helped to flood the market). “The triggers were the pandemic and the decision by Saudi Arabia and Russia to pump like mad to intensify the shale industry’s pain. If they hand a life jacket to the shale boys, it will be made of concrete.” As will be any life jacket for the oil sands.

This kind of thing has happened before:

More than a century ago, whale oil ceased to be the way people lit their homes, not because the industry killed all the whales but because – kerosene- wiped out demand for the product.

And, today, green energy is doing to bitumen what kerosine did to whale oil:

On Tuesday, a major study was released by the Oxford Review of Economic Policy, with lead authors, Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and former Chancellor of the Exchequer Sir Nicholas Stern, advising that in re-starting the world economy after the pandemic, investments going to renewable energy and energy efficiency were the right moves for the economy. Trying to support fossil fuels would be far less effective.

The writing is on the wall.

Image: Pinterest

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

The Third Quarter

Susan Delacourt writes that we're entering the third quarter:

Studies of people who have experienced isolation in outer space and the Arctic have apparently found that humans get testy and emotional precisely when the end moves closer in sight — as it seems we may be here in Canada with the COVID-19 crisis.
“We have begun the dreaded third quarter of isolation, when — yes — things get weird,” read the headline on an Australian TV news website this week.

The third quarter is when things get nasty and people play the blame game:

In politics, it feels a little like everyone is sick of washing their hands — metaphorically speaking — and decided to get them a bit dirty again. Politicians are sniping at each other about gun laws, about COVID-19 relief and even about whose fault it is that the virus put us all in a lockdown.
The TQP, as it is starting to play out in Canada, could also be described as the naming, shaming and blaming game.

The nastiness has already started:

Blaming, meanwhile, is the lifeblood of politics in normal times, and perhaps we should be reassured that it is struggling back into the conversation around the pandemic as we hit the third quarter. As usual, there’s plenty to go around.
Trudeau’s government is being blamed for doing too little in some areas — on Tuesday, it was not enough aid for farmers. It is also being blamed for doing too much: Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and several premiers are worried that its COVID-19 benefits are so generous that they create disincentives for Canadians to get back to work.
Blame is also starting to circle around China, thanks in part to Donald Trump’s efforts to pin the virus on where it originated, but there are also Conservatives in Canada who argue that Trudeau isn’t aggressively pursuing China and the World Health Organization enough for the spread of the virus. At his Monday briefing with reporters, Trudeau said the blame discussion is a topic for another day.
As for shame, Alberta’s public health officer, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, lamented this week how immigrant workers in the province were being singled out for discrimination because of COVID outbreaks at meat-packing plants. She didn’t say who was doing the regrettable shaming, but we can assume it’s the same kind of people who have been staging tiny, angry protests against the lockdown nationwide — a “bunch of yahoos,” as Ford memorably described them.
“Employees at these plants should not be blamed or shamed for spread of the virus. We are all in this together,” Hinshaw said.

We really should be thinking about how we can do things better. But before we get there -- if we get there -- we're going to get nasty.

Image: Shutterstock

Tuesday, May 05, 2020

Colossal Frauds

Donald Trump is being blamed -- rightly -- for the debacle that is happening in the United States. But the problem, Paul Krugman writes, goes far beyond Trump. It goes to people who have long been icons on the American Right. During the pandemic, Trump has sought advice from Kevin Hassett:

Trump was unhappy with epidemiological models suggesting a death toll over 100,000 — which, by the way, now seems highly likely. So the White House created its own team led by Kevin Hassett, whom The [Washington] Post describes as “a former chairman of Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers with no background in infectious diseases.” And this team produced an analysis Trump aides interpreted as implying a much lower death toll.
[Hassett] first attracted widespread attention as co-author of a 1999 book claiming that stocks were greatly undervalued, and that the Dow should be 36,000 (which would be around 55,000 today, adjusting for inflation). It quickly became clear that there were major conceptual errors in that book; but Hassett never admitted error.
In the mid-2000s Hassett denied that there was a housing bubble, suggesting that only liberals believed that there was.
In 2010 Hassett was part of a group of conservative economists and pundits who warned in an open letter that the Federal Reserve’s efforts to rescue the economy would lead to currency debasement and inflation. Four years later Bloomberg News tried to reach signatories to ask why that inflation never materialized; not one was willing to admit having been wrong.
Finally, Hassett promised that the 2017 Trump tax cut would lead to a big boost in business investment; it didn’t, but he insisted that it did.

You would think that, with a record like that, people would stop listening to Kevin  Hassett. But not Trump.

Then there is the case of Stephen Moore, who Trump tried to install on the Federal Reserve Board, who "as far as I know, [has] a history of simply getting basic numbers and facts wrong."

Trump promised to populate his administration with "all the best people." But, on the American Right, the "best people" -- like Trump himself -- are colossal frauds.

Image: Vox