Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Three In One

In the middle of a pandemic -- where the United States is the epicentre of the disease -- the Trump administration has once again petitioned the Supreme Court to kill Obamacare. Paul Krugman writes:

The legal argument behind the case is beyond flimsy: The lawsuit claims that the 2017 tax cut effectively invalidated the act, even though that was no part of Congress’s intention. But with a conservative majority on the Supreme Court, nobody knows what will happen. And Trump’s support for the suit makes it clear that if re-elected he will do all he can to destroy Obamacare.
Not to worry, says the president. In tweets over the weekend he insisted that he would come up with an alternative to Obamacare that would be “FAR BETTER AND MUCH LESS EXPENSIVE” while protecting Americans with pre-existing conditions.
But he’s been claiming to have a much better alternative to Obamacare since he took office. Republicans in Congress, who voted to repeal Obamacare 70 times during the Obama years, have been making the same claim for more than a decade.

The Republicans claim there is a better alternative to the present healthcare system. And there is -- single-payer. But nobody wants to go there. There is, however, one other option:

We could go back to being a country in which people with pre-existing conditions and/or low incomes can’t get health insurance, where for a large fraction of the population illness either goes untreated or leads to bankruptcy. That would, in part, mean becoming a country in which Americans who caught Covid-19 during the pandemic would be uninsurable for the rest of their lives.

And that is the destination Trump and the Republicans have set for their country. Trump is Larry, Curley and Moe all rolled up in one person. And the Republican Party is a fools parade.

Image: IMDb

Monday, June 29, 2020

Reclaiming And Redefining

In the wake of COVID 19, Glen Pearson writes, we are reconsidering the notion of social capital:

What is social capital?  It is actually something quite real, practiced, and built upon.  It is about reciprocity between people and groups.  It is about a trust learned in hardship, a network of practical needs and ideals, and a rediscovery of civil society as something more powerful than government, more enriching than finances, and more social than anything social media can attempt.  It is only actualized by doing, not by preaching, or soapboxing, or manufacturing press releases.   It takes the word “capital” and recaptures it back to its original sense of a place where people gather to make decisions instead of leaving it as some kind of financial resource.
Social capital has little to do with people holding money in common.  The capital we are talking about here is cooperation, collaboration, the putting aside of differences, the use of the political to locate common ground instead of mud to throw.  It includes those historic and shared virtues like truth-telling, the importance of personal stories, the following through on promises, forgiveness, collective and individual, restitution, the essence of faith, and the transformation of collective action.
The core of social capital, its ultimate reason for existence, is for the public good, not private enrichment.  This is perhaps too much to ask on a regular basis, since all of us need a measure of selfishness and a certain preoccupation with our own activities.  But in a crisis – war, economic depression, natural disasters, and, yes, a pandemic – the ability to put one’s personal pursuits aside in an effort to achieve the security of the greater good is not only possible, but historically quite prevalent and doable.

At this moment it's essential that we think seriously about social capital:

If we don’t capture the spirit of our unique possibilities of rediscovering social capital during this time of not only national, but global crisis, then the post-COVID-19 future will proceed without us – devoid of our input, stripped of our ideals, and ultimately uncaring of our tomorrows or our children’s tomorrows.

We have spent the last fifty years fixated on economic growth:

We all recognized one another at a distance on our way to materialistic bliss in recent decades, but we were too busy buying to be building.  In the process, our citizenship power got away from us as our purchasing power became our fixation.  But now, in this pandemic, we are suddenly noticing one another again, respecting the health of others, donating like never before to our most vulnerable, and even showing remarkable restraint from pounding one another to death on social media.  Something is going on that’s quite beautiful in its own way, as communities recover their sense of collective need and collective action.

This is the time to reclaim our rights as citizens and to redefine our purposes. Otherwise, all of this pain will have been wasted.

Image: LinkedIn

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Safety -- Present and Future

Justin Trudeau is getting advice from Liberals of the Past. But he refuses to intervene in the Meng Wanzhow extradition case. Susan Delacourt writes:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is getting a remarkable degree of cross-partisan support for his firm decision to not intervene in Meng’s extradition case, despite a letter from 19 prominent Canadians urging that he do just that.
But the letter has highlighted one political schism that is a recurring theme in Trudeau’s career — the one between this current regime and Liberals who governed before him.
Jean Chrétien’s signature was not on the letter signed by 19 of some of Canada’s most serious legal and foreign-policy thinkers, including former Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour and former justice minister Allan Rock.

It's a difficult decision. Trudeau is following the law -- which, in this case, does the bidding of a lawless president. Past Liberals would have thumbed their noses at Trump. But Trudeau is not of their ilk:

One thing should be clear to anyone who has been watching Trudeau’s life in the politics — this is not a prime minister likely to be persuaded by arguments from former Liberals. From the moment he ejected Liberal senators from his caucus as a newly elected leader in 2014, Trudeau has shown a near-complete lack of deference to Liberals who came before him, including those who worked with his father. His clear “no” to the letter this week very much echoed the tone of the senators’ ejection.

Perhaps Justin's position has been influenced by his recent experience with Jody Wilson-Rayboult. Or, perhaps, he has read Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons. When Thomas More's son-in-law suggests that he not give the devil the benefit of the law and, instead, save himself, More replies:

And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned around on you--where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast--man's laws, not God's--and if you cut them down...d'you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake.”

This is a matter of safety -- present and future.

Image: MEME

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Harris's Ghost

Mike Harris's ghost continues to stalk the province of Ontario. Martin Regg Cohn writes:

It is impossible to follow provincial politics today without fathoming the ghost of Ontario’s 22nd premier, still looming over Ontario — from devastating death tolls to controversial road tolls.
Nursing homes rules were watered down. Water inspections were diluted, setting the stage for Walkerton. Highway 407 was sold for a song to private owners, who promptly reaped windfall profits from blindsided motorists. A fetish for law and order led to a deadly police confrontation with Indigenous protestors at Ipperwash.

You would think that the damage Harris wrought would have fueled a radical redirection of government. Instead, his idealogy took hold and future premiers genuflected to Harris:

Even as Harris faded from public life in 2002 to make big money in big business — chairing the board of the Magna auto parts giant and also Chartwell Retirement Residences (which runs the nursing homes he reconfigured while in power) — he reshaped the business of politics. Borrowing bits of Reaganism and importing elements of Thatcherism, he cobbled together his famous blueprint for power, the Common Sense Revolution.
You don’t have to reread the document to understand its underlying ethos. Never mind the rhetoric about cutting red tape, slashing taxes, unplugging photo radar, downsizing government and downloading welfare, its underpinning is simply this:
Politics shall henceforth be transactional. Not transformational.
This new antediluvian, anti-tax ideology soon infected Liberal opposition leader Dalton McGuinty, who signed a public pledge for the right-wing Canadian Taxpayers Federation foreswearing future increases. When he won power in 2003 — and took stock of a hidden $5-billion deficit concealed by the Tories in that year’s election — McGuinty had to reverse himself by increasing OHIP premiums (a tax by another name).
During his decade in power, McGuinty dreaded any increases and found ways to lower taxes — setting the stage for confrontation with unions when he imposed wage restraints. When Kathleen Wynne took over as premier, she too eschewed tax hikes and pushed for a balanced budget, mindful of the anti-tax legacy bequeathed to her by predecessors both Liberal and PC.

The COVID crisis exposed Harris and The Common Sense Revolution for what they were -- fraud and hoopla. Doug Ford has finally reversed what Harris did:

Only now, in mid-pandemic, has Ford’s government undertaken a course correction. Today’s Tories are spending their way out of an economic emergency. They have ditched any talk of eliminating the deficit or paying down the debt. After first reducing regulations — and regular annual inspections — Ford has vowed to step up comprehensive assessments of nursing homes.

We will wait to see if the course correction is permanent.


Friday, June 26, 2020

Who's Banning Whom?

Donald Trump began his presidency by instituting travel bans on those who weren't Americans. He ends his presidency with the rest of the world banning Americans from entering their countries. Why? Because Americans have become super-spreaders. American columnist Francine Prose writes in The Guardian:

It’s a strange feeling: in just a few months, we’ve become a pariah nation. We’ve gone from being admired for our spirit, our culture, our stalwart devotion to freedom despite our government’s persistent attempts to curtail those freedoms – and are now being viewed as a nation of super-spreaders, a danger to our own health and that of the hotel reception clerk, the waiter at the café, the two innocent grandmas with the bad luck to sit at a table too near the Americans sipping their morning cappuccini.

Trump is one reason for this reversal:

It’s a clear rebuke to the way that Donald Trump has handled the Covid-19 crisis: refusing to take it seriously, promising that the virus will “fade away”, advocating unproven cures, and (perhaps most unbelievably of all) suggesting that wearing a mask is a political gesture: a sign that we don’t like him. 

But he alone is not responsible for the situation Americans now face:

Blame must also be laid at the feet of the governors who ignored the CDC warnings and rushed to re-open their states, and on a system that lacks a safety net to help us through crises like this, so that people are forced to choose between going to work and possibly getting sick – or letting their families go hungry and lose their homes.

Ultimately, however, it's Americans themselves who are to blame. They have been brought up spouting Patrick Henry -- "Give me liberty or give me death!" Now, countries around the world are quite prepared to let them exercise that second option --  just as long as it isn't on their soil.

Image: DeviantArt

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Barr's Justice Department

What is going on at the American Department of Justice is deeply troubling. Ruth Marcus writes:

It is becoming alarmingly difficult to keep track of all the reasons to worry about what’s happening at Justice under Barr — and increasingly clear that what we know that is worrisome may be the tip of the iceberg. And it is becoming absolutely imperative that Barr and other senior department officials testify about their activities.
Last Friday saw the botched massacre of Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. The episode was telling for those, myself included, who once had higher hopes for Barr’s second stewardship of the department.
Jay Clayton, the intended nominee, might be a fine chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission and an excellent corporate lawyer. He has no business overseeing the Southern District. Clayton’s “management experience and expertise in financial regulation give him an ideal background . . . and he will be a worthy successor to the many historic figures who have held that post,” Barr proclaimed in his Friday night announcement. This is dangerous hackery, insulting to those who have served in that post and, more important, to the department.

Barr, who calls himself a conservative, was touted as a guardrail against Trump's wild impulses. However,

for those who thought Barr would be competent, consider: He ousted Berman, a registered Republican and Trump donor, and wound up with Audrey Strauss, a registered Democrat who has contributed to Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and Joe Biden in the job. Well played.

It's abundantly clear that, in Trumpworld, there is one law for the rich and well connected. There is another law for everyone else. And the well connected are incompetent.

Image: sltrib.com

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

A Future Of No Growth?

People are talking about getting back to "normal." But, perhaps, normal isn't such a good idea. Glen Pearson writes:

The prosperous nations of the world have spent their entire existence upholding the rationale that progress is impossible without growth.  It has found welcoming audiences in universities, various levels of government, mass media, and Chambers of Commerce.  It has been the driving force of graduates, small business entrepreneurs, tech gurus, houses of faith, sports franchises, and urban planners.
We have a lot to show for it: technological miracles, vast suburbs, affluence, a collection of material riches historical average families would never have known, and a sense of “can-do” that infuses everything.  But there was a cost to that rampant pursuit of growth that now threatens to undo us: a degrading planet, vast swaths of poverty, racism, renewed nationalism, and yes, unpreparedness for a pandemic.

Governments have been devoted to the notion of growth. But the future may be one of "no growth:"

For the first time in perhaps centuries, the concept of growth is becoming the subject of criticism and exploration.  A growing list of academic voices is wondering if anacronyms like GDP or GNP are actually proper or accurate measures of true prosperity.  There was so much these abbreviations didn’t account for: people without jobs and jobs without people, environmental ruin, broken communities, homelessness, bankruptcies, the decline of infrastructure and human productivity.  These are the things that are awry in our world and they reached record levels during the same time as wealth exploded.
We have come to the point where governments view their main reason for existence as the management of growth rather than the expansion of prosperity.  The former is about creating winners and losers; the latter involves bettering the human possibilities for families, businesses, the environment, and, indeed, civilization itself.  Politics is at its best when it accepts differences, and politicians are the most effective when measuring progress through the advancement of all sectors of modern society.  When this is not the case, citizens fall prey to acquiring cheaper goods at the expense of meaningful labour, and we don’t think twice about it.  Governments have, as a result, learned to appease voters through the flow of trinkets instead of equity.

Growth -- with its winners and losers -- isn't a dead idea. Donald Trump is the incarnation of the idea. But it's abundantly clear that the world can no longer afford people like Donald Trump:

Suddenly all those things we had acquired – knowledge, technology, ease of travel, wide-open possibilities –  have been held ransom, contained by something that can only be found through a microscope.  All that wealth and growth couldn’t keep us from having to socially distance or face the threat of a diminished future.  An effective prosperity would have invested much more than it took away.  It would have poured funds into healthcare, more secure food chains, a politics of meaning rather than madness, and societies built on empowered citizenries instead of spoiled voters.    An unseen virus has stripped us of our security and left us highly suspicious of the idea of economic growth as an end in itself.

Facing that reality is difficult. But facing it squarely could be our salvation.

Image: economicshelp.org

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Justin And Donnie

John Bolton writes that Donald Trump doesn't like Justin Trudeau. That comes as no surprize. Susan Delacourt writes:

Bolton has given readers a peek behind the scenes of the now-famous G7 meeting in Quebec in 2018, which resulted in a stream of Trump invective toward Trudeau in the immediate aftermath.
The book describes Trump’s reaction after watching Trudeau’s closing news conference, during which the prime minister spoke out about the U.S. tariff war against Canadian steel, levied just days before the G7 gathering.
“He was throwing a fit about Trudeau’s using his closing press conference to score points against him,” Bolton writes in the book, a copy of which was discreetly supplied to me on Monday. “Trump had been gracious to Trudeau in his press event, and he was infuriated Trudeau had not reciprocated.”
Bolton then goes on to say how Trump ordered members of his inner circle, specifically his economic adviser Larry Kudlow, to publicly shame Canada’s prime minister on TV.

Trump arrived at the G7 Conference looking like a tired old man. Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron looked young and vigourous:

As Bolton reports about the G7 meeting itself, “Trump himself seemed very tired; in fairness, so were many others, but not Macron and Trudeau, and certainly not their aides, who were pushing policy agendas contrary to ours.”
Trump seemed oblivious to those policy differences. “I tried to judge whether Trump really wanted a G7 communiqué and would therefore make more concessions, or whether he was indifferent. I couldn’t tell, but Trump (who had not troubled to prepare himself) didn’t really have much of an idea what was at stake.”

As has been the case from the beginning, Trump didn't -- and still doesn't -- give a damn about policy. What matters to him is Image. Justin seems to understand that. And he has refused to retaliate in kind. When asked about Trump's attack on him, he told Delacourt:

“As satisfying as it might be to sort of let it rip in public or respond to personal attacks or personal comments with personal comments, does that help me do my job? Does that help Canadians? No. So I put that aside,”

It seems that Justin has taken a lesson from his father. When the White House tapes revealed Richard Nixon calling Trudeau the Elder "a son of a bitch," Pierre's response was acerbic and on point. "I've been called worse things by better people," he said.

Image: MEME

Monday, June 22, 2020

No Renewal?

Donald Trump's campaign manager, Brad Parscale, is in hot water. Tom Lutz reports:

Donald Trump’s campaign manager, Brad Parscale, was under pressure on Sunday after claiming hundreds of thousands of people had applied for tickets to the president’s return to the campaign trail in Tulsa, only for the rally to attract a sparse crowd.
The Tulsa fire department said 6,200 people attended. The Trump campaign claimed 12,000. The arena holds 19,000.
The campaign had built an “overflow” stage outside the BOK Center, to host brief remarks by Trump and Mike Pence. Those speeches were cancelled.
Trump’s demeanour on returning to Washington was widely scrutinised. He was initially quiet on Twitter on Sunday but the president was reported to be “furious” at the “underwhelming” event, which followed a week of controversy about whether it should even be held. According to NBC, Trump was “particularly angry that before he even left DC, aides made public that six members of team in Tulsa tested positive for Covid-19”.
Rick Wilson, a bestselling author, former Republican consultant and co-founder of the Lincoln Project, an anti-Trump super pac, was critical of Parscale’s approach.
“Brad broke the first rule of American politics: under promise and over deliver,” he told the Guardian. “Brad’s survival now depends on the good offices of his patrons inside the Trump camp, and [Ivanka and Kushner] are already signaling their displeasure to the media.

But, then, that's been the story of Trump's presidency -- to overpromise and underperform. It's too soon to write Trump's obituary. But it could be that the Trump Show won't be renewed for another season.

Image: The Guardian

Sunday, June 21, 2020

What We Have Learned

Robin Sears writes that COVID has taught us several lessons. Here are a few:

First, it’s time to begin preparing for the next pandemic, now. We have had a virus attack emerge more than twice a decade since the turn of the century. Let’s never again enter the next one as shambolically as we did this. Better public health funding, regularly inspected and replaced PPE stockpiles, and public health classes for every elementary school student are a minimum.
We have learned how scandalously we allowed our parents to be treated by some in the elder care industry. We treat cattle better than some of the miscreants in this crisis were doing secretly. Every long-term care facility must have legislated requirements about staffing levels, medical support, and no more than two clients to a room. Government oversight was often stunningly careless. Regular inspections and stiff penalties, and timely public reporting on findings, are required. We should all give our heads a shake for allowing these appalling abuses to have taken place under our noses.
We learned that massive and fast injections of cash and credit work. One small example: the U.S. Fed injected 700 per cent more liquidity into their economy in three months than it did in the three years after the 2008 crash. What we don’t know is what the fiscal legacy will be. There appear to be two schools of thought.

There is the usual debate among economists about how long this level of public debt can be maintained:

One group of mostly younger economists say that the global economy can absorb far higher debt levels for longer than we ever thought possible. That high levels of public sector debt are manageable without being inflationary or currency crushing. The United Kingdom, slower than many to respond — but still a provider of massive levels of assistance — has just reported their inflation sits at one half of one per cent. This is not what mainstream economists, let alone right-wing monetarists, said would happen.
The second school, still believers in the traditional fiscal and monetary orthodoxies, say we have bequeathed an alarming unfair burden to our grandchildren. No one knows, today, who will be proven right.

But, as an old man, I'm placing my bet with the younger economists. Finally, we've learned something about ourselves:

Perhaps most impressively, we learned how deep is our shared commitment to each other. From the tens of thousands of essential workers who daily put their lives at risk, to the myriad of small kindnesses that neighbours and friends supported each other with. The predictions of some gloomy pundits that people behave badly, when wracked with terror in a pandemic, were simply wrong.

Massive challenges are ahead of us. And there is no guarantee that we will meet them. But we can meet them -- if we choose to do so.

Image: Quotefancy

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Stuck In The Past

Chantal Hebert writes that Peter Mackay may lead in the Conservative leadership race. But the party is still stuck in the past:

The party may be about to change its head cook but, if the debates suggested anything, it is that it is not in the process of rewriting its last election menu.
Take climate change. In the last campaign, the Conservatives lost votes over the perception that they were not serious about the issue.
But if an election were held tomorrow, the plan the party would put forward would be built on the same premises as Scheer’s.
As prime minister, Erin O’Toole and Peter MacKay would similarly dismantle the climate-change framework put in place by the Liberals, including, of course, the carbon tax.
Both talk a bigger game on pipeline building than on transitioning to a carbon-free economy.

But the Conservatives are reaching back further than the recent climate change debate:

In fact, with two social conservatives — Ontario MP Derek Sloan and Toronto lawyer Leslyn Lewis — rounding out the leadership lineup, this week’s debates featured more talk of turning back the clock on abortion and LGBTQ rights than of moving the country decisively forward on climate change.

For decades now, the Conservative Party of Canada has looked to the past for inspiration. That's why it keeps being run over by The Train From The Future.

Image: CBC.ca

Friday, June 19, 2020

Ugliness All Around

Michelle Goldberg managed to get a pre-publication copy of John Bolton's new book. And, having read it, she writes that the book

describes a conversation Trump had with Xi at the opening dinner of the Group of 20 meeting in Osaka, Japan, with only their interpreters present: “Xi explained to Trump why he was basically building concentration camps in Xinjiang. According to our interpreter, Trump said that Xi should go ahead with building the camps, which he thought was exactly the right thing to do.”
It is impossible, at this late date, to be shocked by the behavior of our depraved president. Nor is it surprising, given Trump’s treatment of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, that he is pro-concentration camp.
But Americans should know that China’s detention of over a million people largely on religious grounds — a project that reports say includes torture, sterilization and forcing Uighur women to sleep with members of China’s Han majority to promote “ethnic unity” — is happening with our president’s behind-the-scenes approval. (In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Trump denied the account in Bolton’s book.)

The book contains other revelations:

Bolton provides, albeit belatedly, firsthand confirmation that Trump did exactly what he was impeached for — leveraging American military aid in exchange for Ukraine’s help in smearing Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden: “Aug. 20, I took Trump’s temperature on the Ukraine security assistance, and he said he wasn’t in favor of sending them anything until the Russia-investigation materials related to Clinton and Biden had been turned over,” Bolton writes.
Earlier Bolton describes him “pleading with Xi” for help in the 2020 election by making agricultural purchases from farm states. Though Bolton writes that the government’s pre-publication reviewers prevented him from using Trump’s exact words, Vanity Fair saw an unredacted version of the passage: “Make sure I win. I will probably win anyway, so don’t hurt my farms. … Buy a lot of soybeans and wheat and make sure we win.”

While all of this is meant to paint Trump in the darkest of hues, it does nothing to enhance Bolton's reputation. He had the opportunity to testify to all of this but chose not to. He deserves no red badge of courage. But he does confirm that, in Trump World, it's ugliness all around.

Image: Pinterest

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Ford's Road To Damascus?

COVID 19 has changed a lot of things. Martin Regg Cohn wonders if it has changed Doug Ford. When he was elected, Ford posed as The Great Disrupter:

Basking in his election night triumph, the Progressive Conservative leader acted as if his own irresistible brand of personal populism had swept the province. Not that he’d won by default thanks to a protest vote against a tired Liberal government and voter distrust of the NDP.
“My friends, the party with the taxpayer’s dollars is over — it’s done,” Ford boasted back then.
Weeks later, his new PC government unveiled an unprecedented throne speech setting out an agenda of disruption and demolition of government operations.

Ford's mission was to upend just about everything:

Within months, Ford’s Tories had unilaterally dialed back promised health funding to municipalities, stoking outrage. They had arbitrarily revamped autism programs, sparking protests. And they had done nothing on nursing-home beds apart from reduce comprehensive annual inspections, setting the stage for disaster.
On police accountability, now in the news but back then a partisan talking point, the Tories staked out an unapologetically uncritical stance: “You can count on your government to respect the men and women of Ontario’s police services — by freeing them from onerous restrictions that treat those in uniform as subjects of suspicion and scorn.”

But when he began being booed at public events, Ford's tone changed. And, when the pandemic hit, so did his policies. However, the change may only be temporary. There are clues hanging in the air:

A good clue to Ford’s true thinking comes from his stubborn refusal — against all evidence and advice — to restore the paid sick days he eliminated before the pandemic. Or consider the disturbing findings revealed in the Star this week by Tribunal Watch, which detailed the stealth purge of Ontario’s quasi-judicial tribunals that hold landlords to account, hold a light to racism and help the disadvantaged maintain dignity — a reminder of the patronage stench that has long pervaded Ford’s government (despite his pre-election claim that “the party” is over).
Never mind the serene rhetoric on the surface, it is Ford’s underlying actions that count. They are a reminder of his early and ongoing agenda to change the province in his own image and ideology, rather than enact the change the province so desperately needs and wants.

We should soon know if Ford has had an epiphany on his road to Damascus.

Image: readingacts.com

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Irrelevant Conservatives

The Conservative leadership debates begin this week. Tonight the contenders will debate in French. Tomorrow they will debate in English. But, Susan Delacourt writes, the contenders have much more to worry about than their debating skills:

Languishing in opposition is always tough on parties, but being the chief critic of the government during a pandemic is a special kind of political purgatory. For at least the first couple of months of the COVID-19 lockdown, Canadians weren’t in a mood for the kind of partisanship that usually prevails in Ottawa.
Worse, how do you criticize a government that is churning out money and aid to frightened Canadians?

Worse still, COVID has exposed the shaky foundations of the world the Conservatives have had a considerable hand in building:

Where the Conservative party will stand in a post-pandemic Canada should be the question of the summer. The old reliable party positions — smaller government and lower taxes — don’t entirely fit with how the pandemic created the need for lots of government and lots of debt, which may require higher taxes to fix.
The pandemic has also exposed tension between international and domestic forces, the haves and have-nots in a world of income inequality, not to mention health-care spending and the social safety net. Oh, and climate change hasn’t gone away as an issue, either.

Under Andrew Scheer, the Conservatives have spent their time agitating for more time in Parliament:

Last week, he and the other federal Conservatives turned that into a deal-breaker, refusing to grant quick passage to pandemic-relief legislation because the Liberals wouldn’t budge on holding more sessions in the Commons.
Here’s the fundamental problem: pandemic-preoccupied Canadians aren’t agitating for more Parliament. They’re worried about their health, their economic future and matters being raised by the surging debate over racism in Canada. More Commons sittings just aren’t currently on the agenda of the average citizen.

In short, the Conservatives are floating on a sea of old ideas. Their biggest problem is proving that what they stand for is relevant in this brave new world.

Image: Bleacher Report

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Et Tu, Mary?

There are lots of people in the streets these days trying to bring Donald Trump down. But Arwa Mahdawi writes that it may be Trump's family who drives the final nails into his coffin:

The Daily Beast reported on Monday that Mary, 55, who is the daughter of Donald’s late brother Fred Trump Jr, has written a “harrowing and salacious” book about the president. Too Much and Never Enough will be published in the US on 28 July, a month before the Republican National Convention. The timing is clearly designed to do maximum damage.
Why the bad blood? Well, for one thing, Mary reportedly blames Donald for mistreating her alcoholic father – behaviour she believes contributed to his death from a heart attack at the age of 42. Then there was the fight over Fred Trump Sr’s estate in 2000. Mary and her brother, Fred Trump III, claimed they were dealt with unfairly in their grandfather’s will as a result of “fraud and undue influence” by Donald and two of his siblings. The ill will is said to have escalated when Donald, in retaliation for the lawsuit, cut off medical insurance for Fred III’s seriously ill infant son, who required round-the-clock care. Fred III was quoted as saying: “Our family puts the ‘fun’ in dysfunctional.”

Perhaps it's only fitting. Apparently, Trump told his children that they should never trust anyone:

According to a GQ profile of Donald Trump Jr, the president used to ask his children whether they trusted him. When they replied: “Of course,” he would tell them off for not learning their lesson. Maybe he had a point: Mary’s book (which is also said to contain “damning” comments from Donald’s sister, the retired federal judge Maryanne Trump Barry) marks the first time a Trump has written a critical tell-all about the president, but I would be surprised if it were the last time one of his own undermined him. The question is: which Trump will turn on the president next?

Mahdawi doubts that Trump's children will do Daddy in. But she suggests that it would be wise to keep your eyes on Melania:

Melania may be taciturn, but she is no dummy – nor is she a pushover. According to a new unauthorised biography of Melania (which the White House has dismissed as “fiction”), an enterprising Ivanka tried to rename the First Lady’s Office the “First Family Office”, but Melania was having none of it. She also, apparently, put an end to Ivanka treating the White House as if it was her own home. In addition, it has been widely reported that she used her husband’s presidency as an opportunity to renegotiate her prenuptial agreement – staying in New York during the first few months he was in office as leverage for negotiations. “That woman! She will be the end of him,” one of Trump’s friends was reportedly overheard saying about Melania’s refusal to move to Washington. Who knows, those may be prophetic words. Perhaps Melania will end up finishing what Mary has started.

There would be more than poetic justice if Trump's dysfunctional presidency was finally brought down by his dysfunctional family.

Image: Disinherited

Monday, June 15, 2020

Cerberus for The 21st Century

There is a gulf -- a growing gulf -- between Trump World and the real world.  Francine Prose writes:

Given how busy most Americans are these days – home-schooling their kids, dealing with unemployment, waiting on line at food banks, protesting systemic racism, worrying about our economy and our educational system – few of us have the time, the energy or inclination to wonder what it’s like to be Donald Trump, to imagine how his mind works, what he really thinks and believes. But over the past few weeks, the increasingly strange, intentionally provocative, inappropriate and frankly delusional tweets and pronouncements issuing from the Oval Office have once again caused us to reflect on the president’s inner life. We’ve grown accustomed to his shortcomings, the regular failures of decency, common sense, and good taste. Yet the gap between what the president is saying – and the reality we observe around us – appears to be widening.
Is it possible that a president who has spent four years lying to the American people now assumes that everyone is lying? Or can he simply no longer distinguish between fact and fiction, between conspiracy theories spread by fringe “news” outlets such as the One America News Network and observable reality? What sane human being could imagine that America wanted to hear that George Floyd was smiling down from heaven at the day’s modestly improved job reports?

Trump has normalized so many things -- things which should not be normal:

It’s remarkable, how much one can get used to, with a president who has made over 18,000 false or misleading claims since taking office. But all that seems more disturbing now, not only because the tweets and speculations have gotten more aggressive and outlandish, but because the upheavals in our country, the crises we face – the continuing Covid-19 pandemic, the tanking economy, the unrest inspired by the early stages of a necessary reckoning with racism – have made us wish, more than ever, for a leader who shows some honesty, common sense, or who just (we’re setting the bar quite low here) behaves like a responsible adult.

He resembles Cerberus, the figure from Greek mythology who guarded the gates of hell:

These days, when I think of Trump, I only rarely picture a guy with an orange face, weird hair and an absurdly long tie. I’ve instead begun to imagine Cerberus, the many-headed dog-monster from Greek mythology.
One of this creature’s heads is obviously Donald Trump’s, but there are others, snarling and yapping and bickering, all offering wrong opinions and bad advice as they try to keep Trump in line and do damage control when he strikes out on his own. Trump’s head may be the monster’s public face, but there are also the heads of Ivanka and Jared; of Attorney General William Barr subverting the rule of law and orchestrating the vile photo op in front of St John’s church; of Mitch McConnell; and of Senior Adviser Stephen Miller, fanning Trump’s racism and implementing his inhuman anti-immigration policies.
Let’s not forget who Cerberus was, in Greek mythology. Perpetually angry and snarling, Cerberus acted as the guardian of the underworld. His ferocious multiple dog heads were forever twisting, showing their teeth, and barking at the newly damned approaching the gates of hell.

Image: Monster Wiki - Fandom

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Pandemic Fatigue

Robin Sears writes that pandemic fatigue is setting in:

Public health officials have raised alarms almost daily about the risks of letting our guard down, or re-opening without clear safeguards. Yet Canadians have volunteered to talk show hosts that they are weary of hand washing, sanitizing and staying home. So far we have avoided the impact of this COVID-19 fatigue sending caseloads soaring again, as is happening in the American South. But there are limits to everyone’s willingness to put much of their life on hold.
The base level of stress and anxiety that the lockdown has inflicted on nearly everyone is draining. Widespread reports of sleep disruption, distraction and fatigue attest to the hidden costs of COVID-19. The fatigue leads to indecision and anxiety, driving the cycle around again. You can see the impact everywhere.

The fatigue is setting in just as people are in the streets demanding meaningful structural change:

Then there is the contrast of the massive high energy anti-racism street protests around the world. Will they also begin to fade? Perhaps not. By the end of this week the shift in Americans views of police violence was dramatic according to several polls. Being an American election year may mean real legislated change is possible. In Canada, there have been too many politicians and police leaders who bristle at the suggestion that we have systemic problems to acknowledge and address, too. Our political response so far has been somewhat tone-deaf.

The danger is that, just as we are on the cusp of real, sweeping change, we may choose to lay down and go back to sleep. Knowing how to orchestrate change is critical:

Tommy Douglas always encouraged young radicals to lead from the front. He always added the caution to ensure that you are not so far in front that you have left your supporters far behind. A strategy of “étapisme,” that Quebec sovereigntists used to defend their cautious pace to their most radical base, ‘step by step,’ can be an excuse for inaction. But demands for the impossible — like defunding police services — merely pushback the delivery of what is actually achievable. It is a tough balance to find and maintain.

We are, as they say, at an inflection point.

Image: Harvard Health - Harvard University

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Trump And History

Fintan O'Toole writes that Donald Trump is the Unpresident -- a man who enlarges the public sphere  as he tries to shrink history:

This sudden enlargement of the public sphere is a response to Donald Trump’s mastery of belittlement. For all his logorrheic meanderings and florid hyperbole, Trump’s method is essentially reductionist, with mocking nicknames (“Crooked Hillary”), three-word slogans (“Lock her up!”), and an entire presidency predicated on four letters: MAGA
A central feature of Trump’s practice of malign minimalism is the erasure of American history. It is not just that his own ignorance (exposed, for example, in his suggestion in February 2017 that Frederick Douglass was still alive) seems almost total. It is that Trump is obsessed with a pseudo-history in which the past exists only as prelude to his own greatness and to the unique evil of his enemies. In the days after George Floyd’s death, Trump tweeted repeatedly about history: “The Greatest Political Crime In the History of the U.S., the Russian Witch-Hunt”; “the greatest political, criminal, and subversive scandal in USA history”; “Our Country has just suffered through the greatest political crime in its history.” He twice tweeted versions of a quote from Fox News host Lou Dobbs describing Trump himself as “arguably the greatest president in our history” and “Absolutely 100% the greatest President in history.” And he claimed that “My Admin has done more for the Black Community than any President since Abraham Lincoln.”
In this demented solipsism, the entire American past is shrink-fitted so that it hugs Trump’s own ample figure, cleaving both to his greatness and to his victimhood as an object of unparalleled persecution. The immediate backdrop for this obliteration of history is the catastrophic failure of Trump’s administration to control the spread of the coronavirus. A word Trump has repeatedly used to characterize both the crisis itself and his allegedly brilliant response to it is “unprecedented.” (He used it twice, for example, in his address to the nation on the pandemic on March 11.) The virus must exist in a temporal vacuum. Nothing like this has ever happened before, so how can Trump be blamed for not being prepared? There is no history of pandemics.

Trump doesn't know history. But he's convinced he can make it go away. Unfortunately, those who don't know history are condemned to repeat it.

Friday, June 12, 2020

The End Of The Civil War

Eugene Robinson has an interesting column in today's Washington Post. He writes that Donald Trump, not Jefferson Davis, may be the last president of The Confederacy:

It should have happened 155 years ago, when Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, but maybe — just maybe — the Civil War is finally coming to an end. And perhaps Donald Trump, not Jefferson Davis, will go down in history as the last president of the Confederacy.
Symbols like flags and monuments matter, because what they symbolize is our vision of ourselves as a nation: the heroes, battles, movements, sacrifices and ideals we honor. So when I see multiracial crowds toppling the statues of Confederate soldiers and politicians, when I see respected military leaders arguing that Army posts should no longer bear the names of Confederate generals, when I see NASCAR banning displays of the Confederate battle flag at its races — witnessing all of this, I let hope triumph over experience and allow myself to imagine that this may indeed be a transformational moment.
Like the Civil War itself, “Lost Cause” symbology is simply and entirely about white supremacy. It has nothing to do with “heritage” or “tradition” or any such gauzy nonsense. The heavily armed “liberate Michigan” mob that invaded the statehouse in Lansing, egged on by President Trump, had no historical reason to be waving the Confederate flag. That banner represents the knee that has been kept on the necks of African Americans not just for eight minutes and 46 seconds, the time Derek Chauvin spent crushing the life out of George Floyd, but for 401 years.

Even though the war officially ended in 1865, many southerners stubbornly held onto the notion that the Old South was a kind of American Round Table, where chivalry flourished and nobility called the shots. But that was a fantasy. It never was that way. And the symbols of that fantasy are coming down:

Many recall that the Confederate flag at the South Carolina statehouse was taken down in 2015 following the massacre of nine African American worshipers by a white supremacist at Emmanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston. Few realize that the racist flag had been installed at the statehouse not in 1861 but a century later, in 1961, when black South Carolinians like my parents were agitating for the right to vote.
The statue of Davis in Richmond, brought down by protesters Wednesday night, was not erected until 1907. Like almost all of the Lost Cause monuments, it was built during the revanchist era, when Southern whites were celebrating their reestablished dominance over African Americans via repressive Jim Crow laws and the terrorism of the Ku Klux Klan.

And now NASCAR is removing the Stars And Bars from its premises.

Undoubtedly, Trump doesn't understand why this is happening. His appeal to White Supremacists has always worked for him. Americans have finally seen what William Faulkner saw almost a hundred years ago. Hanging onto the myth of a glorious Old South leads, eventually, to decay and insanity.

Image: Quora.com

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Do We See?

Martin Luther King had some insightful things to say about power:

“It is the strength required to bring about social, political and economic change.”
“Now, we got to get this thing right. What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and that love without power is sentimental and anemic.”

We haven't got it right yet. Andrew Nikiforuk writes:

The shameless abuse of power by those that hold power, has never left us.
The ruling class of the United States increasingly exercises immoral power and has abandoned the people, as failing governments inevitably do. An infantile and immoral president, whose father rallied with the Ku Klux Klan, daily illustrates how reckless and abusive power can be. In the shadow of the president’s bullying. the media can’t even ask the right question. How can a narcissist love any other American but the infant-in-chief?

And we in Canada suffer from the same illness:

Canadians, inhabitants of a colonial society in widespread denial about racism, watch like spectators at a car crash as the protests spring from city to city.
The colonials forget that 30 per cent of the young men in our prisons are Indigenous. They represent five per cent of the nation’s population.
Our historical dementia is American in scale. Just weeks before the pandemic, Canada’s divisions displayed themselves as protests shut down rail traffic over racial injustice and the use of militarized police.

Many have said that we are at an inflection point. But what, exactly, is it all about? It's about more than police violence. It's about more than racism. It's about how power is bestowed and how it is exercised.

The pandemic has caused great hardship. But it has provided moral clarity. Ultimately, the question we face is: Do we see what we must do? Or will we roll over and go back to sleep?

Image: Smithsonian Magazine

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

The Marshmallow Test

Paul Krugman always has a good take on what is happening in the United States and -- because we are close neighbours --  what is happening here. That is most assuredly the case with his piece in this morning's New York Times:

The marshmallow test is a famous psychological experiment that tests children’s willingness to delay gratification. Children are offered a marshmallow, but told that they can have a second marshmallow if they’re willing to wait 15 minutes before eating the first one. Claims that children with the willpower to hold out do much better in life haven’t held up well, but the experiment is still a useful metaphor for many choices in life, both by individuals and by larger groups.
One way to think about the Covid-19 pandemic is that it poses a kind of marshmallow test for society.
At this point, there have been enough international success stories in dealing with the coronavirus to leave us with a clear sense of what beating the pandemic takes. First, you have to impose strict social distancing long enough to reduce the number of infected people to a small fraction of the population. Then you have to implement a regime of testing, tracing and isolating: quickly identifying any new outbreak, finding everyone exposed and quarantining them until the danger is past.

 We have the evidence. The strategy works. It has worked in places like South Korea and New Zealand:

But you have to be strict and you have to be patient, staying the course until the pandemic is over, not giving in to the temptation to return to normal life while the virus is still widespread. So it is, as I said, a kind of marshmallow test.

The United States is failing the test for several reasons:

New U.S. cases and deaths have declined since early April, but that’s almost entirely because the greater New York area, after a horrific outbreak, has achieved huge progress. In many parts of the country — including our most populous states, California, Texas, and Florida — the disease is still spreading. Overall, new cases are plateauing and may be starting to rise. Yet state governments are moving to reopen anyway.
Why are we failing the test? It’s easy to blame Donald Trump, a man-child who would surely gobble down that first marshmallow, then try to steal marshmallows from other kids. But America’s impatience, its unwillingness to do what it takes to deal with a threat that can’t be beaten with threats of violence, runs much deeper than one man.
It doesn’t help that Republicans are ideologically opposed to government safety-net programs, which are what make the economic consequences of social distancing tolerable; they seem determined to let crucial emergency relief expire far too soon. Nor does it help that even low-cost measures to limit the spread of Covid-19, above all wearing face masks (which mainly protect other people), have been caught up in our culture wars.

But the real reason for the failure is that the country is not living up to its name. At present, it is the Disunited States:

America in 2020, it seems, is too disunited, with too many people in the grip of ideology and partisanship, to deal effectively with a pandemic. We have the knowledge, we have the resources, but we don’t have the will.

Our federation has always been built on goodwill more than legal principles. In the end, our unity is based on our goodwill.  If we lose that goodwill, we, too, will fail the marshmallow test.

Image: You Tube

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

They Misread

It's now official. The American economy has been in recession since February. Jennifer Rubin writes:

It should be noted that this happened before most business shutdowns occurred. While the pandemic indisputably plunged the economy further into recession, the Obama recovery — which President Trump conveniently ignored — ended on Trump’s watch. 
To make matters worse, as with the Great Depression, the world’s economies have crashed as well. “Economic carnage wrought by the coronavirus pandemic has forced the global economy into the worst recession since World War II, according to a report published Monday by the World Bank,” the Post reports. “The organization, which provides financial assistance to middle- and low-income countries, estimates that global gross domestic product will shrink 5.2 percent in 2020 as the pandemic continues to disrupt business, travel and manufacturing around the world.”

Trump broke the economy. And he doesn't know how to fix it. Others do. But they're not members of the Republican Party. And they could very well make matters worse. Trump claims that the new employment numbers show that the economy is a "rocketship." But he and his party are misreading the numbers:

Steven Rattner, former “car czar" in the Obama administration, observed Monday morning that “this is the big issue.” Declining unemployment, he said, is the result of the huge amount of liquidity the Federal Reserve added to the economy. Congress in 2020 also acted much more quickly with much more fiscal stimulus than it did in 2008. But, Rattner warns, while Democrats want to do more, Republicans are grumbling about too much spending. He predicts that the May jobs reports will only cause Republicans to dig in.

During the 2016 election, Trump claimed that "only he" could fix the country. It should be absolutely clear by now that "only he" -- with the help of his party -- can break it -- to the point where it can't be put back together again.

Image: Thesaurus plus

Monday, June 08, 2020

What To Do With The Genie?

Linda McQuaig writes that radical measures are required to get us through this pandemic. And, she argues, they should be adopted when the pandemic is over. But powerful interests are lining up to ensure that doesn't happen:

This is the sort of dangerous thinking that a phalanx of powerful interests -- from the Fraser Institute to the financial press -- are keen to crush, realizing it could spread more easily than coronavirus at a crowded, maskless beach party.
Bay Street is determined to return to low government spending and to ensure that the recovery focuses, not on new aspirations, but on restoring the corporate world so that it's as rich and dominant as it was before the crisis.
As the Fraser Institute's Jason Clemens insists, the priority must be on tamping down government intervention and encouraging entrepreneurial innovation, while avoiding tax hikes.
In other words, resurrecting the old orthodoxy -- and making sure the rich aren't asked to pay a penny more.

But these kinds of radical solutions are not new. They were suggested ninety years ago to get the world out of The Great Depression:

The brilliant British economist John Maynard Keynes pointed out at the time that private enterprise wasn't investing during the Depression because, with everyone out of work, there was little prospect of making a profit. He argued that the only solution was for government to step in and spend massively on needed projects.
"We have the savings, the men and the material," he declared. "The things are worth doing."
Keynes said that putting people back to work would create productive capacity -- the very source of wealth: "It is utterly imbecile to say that we cannot afford these things. For it is with the unemployed men and the unemployed plant, and with nothing else, that these things are done."

Franklin Roosevelt adopted Keynes' program and it worked. It can work today:

But wait! Not so fast! Now that we see how it can be done, one is tempted to ask: could this be a way to pay for increased government spending on future things we truly need -- like building hospitals and public transit and investing in renewable energy?
As economist Jim Stanford suggests, "the genie is out of the bottle."

Rest assured, however, that the wealthy will do everything than can to stuff that genie back in the bottle.

Sunday, June 07, 2020

Ford's Day Of Reckoning

Doug Ford's response to the coronavirus has surprised a lot of Ontarians -- including me. Despite that, Bob Hepburn writes, Ford will soon face a day of reckoning:

That day will come when the findings are released by the first of several inquiries being set up to investigate Ontario’s troubled long-term care system. Ontario’s nursing homes have been hot spots of COVID-19 outbreaks, with about 1,700 residents killed and more than 5,000 infected so far.
For decades, far too many of these facilities have been understaffed, underfunded, overcrowded, poorly managed and badly in need of repairs and upgrading.
Ford insists he wants answers to what’s wrong with the system, adding “we need to get this fixed.” He also suggests it’s not his fault because he inherited a mess from the previous Liberal government.

But the fact is that Ford did nothing to improve the situation before the virus hit:

In fact, though, Ford has done little to improve conditions in these facilities since being elected on June 6, 2018. Indeed, in many cases his actions — or inactions — have actually worsened conditions.

And Ontarians have been here before:

That’s what happened to former premier Mike Harris, who in 2001 was riding high in polls until he had to testify at the inquiry into the Walkerton water scandal. On the stand, Harris was questioned about whether his government’s policies were in any way to blame for the tainted water outbreak, which killed seven and sickened more than 2,300 residents in the Walkerton area.
Just three months after testifying, Harris abruptly announced his resignation. One year after the damning Walkerton findings were released in 2002, the Conservatives under then-leader Ernie Eves were trounced by the Liberals in the provincial election.
Ford is facing the grim possibility of having to testify in four — and possibly more — investigations into conditions in the long-term care system.
Provincial ombudsman Paul Dube is launching a probe into how the government handled the system in the pandemic. Ontario’s patient ombud office will probe systemic problems, focusing on staffing levels and more. Long-Term Care Minister Merrilee Fullerton has promised an “independent commission” to study the system and opposition parties are calling for a separate, full public inquiry.
Ford’s record with the long-term care system has been abysmal since he was elected.
First, the Ford government dropped the mandatory annual inspections of all homes that was adopted by the previous Liberal government. Only 2,800 inspections were conducted in 2019, most of them related to specific complaints or to critical conditions.
Second, Ford cut funding increases for the long-term care system to less than the rate of inflation.
Third, there’s been no movement on any of the new long-term care beds that were approved before the 2018 election.
Fourth, Ford made no move to address critical staffing issues, including the shortage of nurses and the low pay and lack of full-time work for personal support workers in these facilities.
Fifth, his government was exceedingly slow in providing protective equipment to staff and testing staff and residents for COVID-19 — with much of it coming only after many deaths.
Sixth, Ford cut some $1 billion over a decade to Toronto Public Health, funds vital for helping to ensure health safety in long-term care residences.

Ford deserves credit in the present. But his past will catch up with him.

Image: National Post

Saturday, June 06, 2020

The End Is Nigh

Donald Trump calls himself the law and order president. That's quite a stretch. Tony Burman writes that 2020 is beginning to look like 1968, when Richard Nixon branded himself the "law and order" president. 1968 was the year

when America’s crucial fault lines — the battle over civil rights, the disastrous Vietnam War, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, the youth revolution and more — exploded seemingly at once. The aftershocks both in the U.S. and the world at large reverberated for decades afterward.
But 1968 was also a year that carried with it the accumulated burden of a decade of crisis.
Beginning with the shock of John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, these were years of spreading race riots in major American cities, a violent counter-reaction by police and security forces, the growing despair of the Vietnam War and the collapsing presidency of Lyndon Johnson, who was being challenged from within his own Democratic Party.

Now things are different:

As much as [Trump] portrays the protesters in the streets as “left-wing anarchists,” the opposite is proving true. They have been overwhelmingly diverse — and peaceful — and recent polls indicate that two-thirds of Americans support them.
Trump is under increasing attack from quarters that have, until now, been notably mute, such as former defence secretary James Mattis, who said this week that the president was “the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people … Instead, he tries to divide us.”

The crises are piling up on each other:

They include the fallout from a collapsing economy, the urgent need for adequate health care, the cry for racial justice, and the damage from Trump’s policies that have seriously worsened income inequality and the climate crisis.

Nixon was the outsider accusing the government of betraying its citizens. This time, Trump is the government:

Increasingly, polls suggest that Americans believe Biden is far better suited to deal with these problems than the incumbent.
So — assuming, of course, that Americans can keep Trump’s storm troopers off the streets between now and the inauguration of a new president in January — there may be life after Trump.

The end is nigh. And Trump knows it.

Image: treehugger

Friday, June 05, 2020

No Moorings

Donald Trump's recent actions have harkened back fifty years to another time and another president -- Richard Nixon. But, Paul Krugman writes, Trump is no Nixon:

The Trump-Nixon comparisons are obvious. Like Nixon, Trump has exploited white backlash for political gain. Like Nixon, Trump evidently believes that laws apply only to the little people.
Nixon, however, doesn’t seem to have been a coward. Amid mass demonstrations, he didn’t cower in the MAGAbunker, venturing out only after his minions had gassed peaceful protesters and driven them out of Lafayette Park. Instead, he went out to talk to protesters at the Lincoln Memorial. His behavior was a bit weird, but it wasn’t craven.
And while his political strategy was cynical and ruthless, Nixon was a smart, hard-working man who took the job of being president seriously.

More importantly, despite his character flaws, Nixon did some good things:

His policy legacy was surprisingly positive — in particular, he did more than any other president, before or since, to protect the environment. Before Watergate took him down he was working on a plan to expand health insurance coverage that in many ways anticipated Obamacare.
Trump, by contrast, appears to spend his days tweeting and watching Fox News. His administration’s only major policy achievement so far has been the 2017 tax cut, which was supposed to lead to surging business investment, but didn’t.

As in life, Trump in government has screwed up or destroyed everything he has touched.  The COVID crisis is a horrific example of the damage he does:

He responded to the Covid-19 threat first with denial, then with frantic efforts, not to control the pandemic, but to shift the blame for shambolic, ineffective policies to other people.

Nixon's times were different times.  The Republican Party was a different party. Things have changed:

The reason democracy is threatened in a way it never was under Nixon is not simply that Trump is a worse human being than Nixon ever was; it is the fact that he has so many enablers.
Trump’s authoritarian instincts, his admiration for and envy of foreign strongmen, his desire to militarize law enforcement have long been obvious. These things wouldn’t matter so much, however, if the Republican Party were still the institution it was in the 1970s — a big tent with room for a variety of views, represented in the Senate by many people with real principles. These were people willing to remove a president, even if he was a Republican, when he betrayed his oath of office.
The modern G.O.P., however, is nothing like that. Many of its leading figures — people like Senator Tom Cotton — are every bit as authoritarian and anti-democratic as Trump himself.
The rest, with hardly any exceptions, are loyal apparatchiks, intimidated into obedience by an angry base. This base gets its information from Fox and Facebook and basically lives in an alternate reality, in which protesters demonstrating peacefully against police brutality are actually a radical horde that will begin a violent insurrection any minute now.
The point is that today’s Republican Party wouldn’t object to a Trumpian power grab, even if it amounted to a military coup. On the contrary, the party would cheer it on.
The bottom line is that while parallels with the Nixon era are very real, there are important differences between now and then — and the differences aren’t reassuring. In many ways we’re a better country than we used to be, but we’re in dire political straits, because one of our two major parties no longer believes in the American idea.

Nixon was a dangerous man. But Trump is much more dangerous -- because the Republican Party has completely lost its moorings.

Image: The New York Times

Thursday, June 04, 2020

A Grand Reset

Klaus Schwab, the executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, writes that Capitalism needs a Grand Reset. The coronavirus has made the need for such a reset painfully obvious:

There are many reasons to pursue a Great Reset, but the most urgent is COVID-19. Having already led to hundreds of thousands of deaths, the pandemic represents one of the worst public-health crises in recent history. And with casualties still mounting in many parts of the world, it is far from over.

There are at least three big tasks that much be accomplished:

The first would steer the market toward fairer outcomes. To this end, governments should improve co-ordination (for example, in tax, regulatory and fiscal policy), upgrade trade arrangements and create the conditions for a “stakeholder economy.” At a time of diminishing tax bases and soaring public debt, governments have a powerful incentive to pursue such action.
Moreover, governments should implement long-overdue reforms that promote more equitable outcomes. Depending on the country, these may include changes to wealth taxes, the withdrawal of fossil-fuel subsidies and new rules governing intellectual property, trade and competition.
The second component of a Great Reset agenda would ensure that investments advance shared goals, such as equality and sustainability. Here, the large-scale spending programs that many governments are implementing represent a major opportunity for progress. The European Commission, for one, has unveiled plans for a €750-billion (C$1.14-trillion) recovery fund. The U.S., China and Japan also have ambitious economic-stimulus plans.
Rather than using these funds, as well as investments from private entities and pension funds, to fill cracks in the old system, we should use them to create a new one that is more resilient, equitable and sustainable in the long run. This means, for example, building “green” urban infrastructure and creating incentives for industries to improve their track record on environmental, social and governance (ESG) metrics.
The third and final priority of a Great Reset agenda is to harness the innovations of the Fourth Industrial Revolution to support the public good, especially by addressing health and social challenges. During the COVID-19 crisis, companies, universities and others have joined forces to develop diagnostics, therapeutics and possible vaccines; establish testing centres; create mechanisms for tracing infections; and deliver telemedicine. Imagine what could be possible if similar concerted efforts were made in every sector.

We don't lack for solutions. What we lack is political will.

Image: twitter

Wednesday, June 03, 2020

With The People In The Streets

We mourn the death of democracy in the United States. George Monbiot writes that the same thing is happening in the United Kingdom:

Established power in this country is surrounded by a series of defensive rings. As soon as you begin to name them, you see that the UK is a democracy only in the weakest and shallowest sense.
Let’s begin with political funding. Our system permits billionaires and corporations to outspend and outmuscle the electorate. The great majority of money for the Conservative party comes from a small number of very rich people. Just five hedge fund managers have given it £18m over the past 10 years. The secretive Leader’s Group grants big donors special access to the prime minister and his frontbenchers in return for their money. Courting and cultivating rich people to win elections corrupts our politics, replacing democracy with plutocracy.
This grossly unfair system is supplemented by outright cheating, such as breaching spending limits and secretly funding mendacious online ads. The Electoral Commission, which is supposed to regulate the system, has deliberately been kept powerless. The maximum fine for winning an election (or a referendum) by fraud is £20,000 per offence. Democracy is cheap in this country.

Yet, despite all the financial firepower, the Tories can't win a majority:

Despite such assistance, the Conservatives still failed to win a majority of votes at the last election. But, thanks to our preposterous, outdated first-past-the-post electoral system, the 43.6% of the vote they won granted them a crushing majority. With proportional representation, we would have a hung parliament. Five years of unassailable power for Johnson’s Conservatives, even as popular support collapses, would have been impossible.

All of this sounds very familiar. It's happening in Britain, in the United States and in Canada:

Despite a vast array of new democratic techniques, pioneered in other countries, there has been a total failure to balance our supposedly representative system with participatory democracy. This failure grants the winning party a scarcely challenged power, on the grounds of presumed consent, to do as it pleases, for five years at a time. Even when public trust and consent collapse, as they have now done amid the coronavirus pandemic, there are no effective channels through which we can affect the decisions government makes.
These formal rings of power are supported by further defences beyond government, such as the print media, most of which is owned by billionaires or multimillionaires living offshore, and the network of opaquely funded thinktanks, that formulate and test the policies later adopted by government. Their personnel circulate in and out of the prime minister’s office.
Our political system has the outward appearance of democracy, but it is largely controlled by undemocratic forces. We find ourselves on the wrong side of the portcullis, watching helplessly as crucial decisions are taken about us, without us. If there’s one thing the coronavirus fiascos show, it’s the need for radical change.

How this will all play out is yet to be seen. But the coronavirus has made it impossible to claim that our democracies are healthy. If there is hope, it's with the people in the streets.

Image: rollingstone.com