Friday, July 31, 2020

More Like Mackenzie King?

Michael Harris believes that Justin Trudeau has -- in Joni Mitchell's words -- "skated away" down the river:

Rather than skewering the PM with these serious accusations, the finance committee merely gave him a chance to stick pins in the flotation devices bouying this political brouhaha. And stick pins he did.
First, and most important, Trudeau testified that he never spoke to representatives of WE, and only learned of the charity’s involvement in the massive volunteer grant program on May 8. That was the date cabinet received the recommendation from the public service that WE was the only organization able to administer the volunteer grant program.
Trudeau also flatly denied being friends of the charity’s founders, Craig and Marc Kielburger. Trudeau said he never had dinner with them, never socialized with them, and didn’t consider them friends. Just people he knew.
When it came to members of Trudeau’s family, that not-so-grand inquisitor, Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre, tried repeatedly to get the PM to state how much money his mother, brother and wife had been paid by WE.
Trudeau refused, claiming that he did not know the numbers. It was his weakest moment of the day. It is already on the public record that his mother Margaret, his brother Alexandre and his wife Sophie had received more than half a million dollars from WE.
In the case of his mother and brother, the PM noted that both of them were “professionals” in their own right, with a history of being paid for delivering speeches. He didn’t monitor their earnings. In his mother’s case, she had been a champion of removing the stigma from mental illness for years — and written two books about the subject.
So it was natural that she would be sought out by groups like WE to give public speeches on that and other subjects. Besides, the conflict of interest legislation defines “family” as spouse and immediate family — a point even the prickly Poilievre admitted.
But it was Trudeau’s explanation of his wife’s involvement with WE that let the air out of the charge that benefits to his family had affected the government’s choice to select WE to administer the volunteer grant program. When pressed on how much money his wife had received from WE, Trudeau instead pointed out two crucially important things.
The first was that Sophie’s work for WE was unpaid, although she had been reimbursed for expenses. And before that happened, Trudeau testified that his wife’s pro bono work for WE was approved by no less a person than Canada’s ethics commissioner.

Justin claims that Wilfred Laurier is his "second favourite" prime minister. He never mentions William Lyon Mackenzie King. But it appears that he has studied King's career closely.


Thursday, July 30, 2020

Lewis' Last Words

In an earlier post, I expressed my admiration for John Lewis. Today, The New York Times published his last address to his nation, written a couple of days before he died. It will be read and re-read in future decades. Lewis wrote:

While my time here has now come to an end, I want you to know that in the last days and hours of my life you inspired me. You filled me with hope about the next chapter of the great American story when you used your power to make a difference in our society. Millions of people motivated simply by human compassion laid down the burdens of division. Around the country and the world you set aside race, class, age, language and nationality to demand respect for human dignity.

Lewis reminded his readers that he was familiar with state-sanctioned violence:

Though I was surrounded by two loving parents, plenty of brothers, sisters and cousins, their love could not protect me from the unholy oppression waiting just outside that family circle. Unchecked, unrestrained violence and government-sanctioned terror had the power to turn a simple stroll to the store for some Skittles or an innocent morning jog down a lonesome country road into a nightmare.

His response to that violence was inspired by Martin Luther King:

I heard the voice of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on an old radio. He was talking about the philosophy and discipline of nonviolence. He said we are all complicit when we tolerate injustice. He said it is not enough to say it will get better by and by. He said each of us has a moral obligation to stand up, speak up and speak out. When you see something that is not right, you must say something. You must do something. Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself.

King is remembered for a simple declarative sentence, "I have a dream." Years from now, Lewis will also be remembered for two straightforward assertive sentences: "Democracy is not a state. It is an act."

As I have written before: May he rest in peace.


Wednesday, July 29, 2020

The Collective Power Of Science

Jacob Berkowitz writes that, when most of us graduate from school, we have a pretty fuzzy idea of what science is:

Most of us leave high school, and any study of science, with a fundamentally skewed vision of science’s nature. We tend to think of science as a noun, as facts in textbooks, but not also as a verb, as the doing of research. This is a crucial difference.

But it's wise to consider the etymology of the word:

The word “science” comes from a Latin root for “to know.” Yet on the way to knowing, science is ultimately about the right, responsibility and challenge of living with doubt. As Albert Einstein quipped, “If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research.”
The reason we call the period in Europe around 1600 the Scientific Revolution is exactly because it was an intellectual rebellion against the primacy of received knowledge from the church or the ancient Greek and Roman philosophers such as Aristotle. The first scientists, such as Galileo, were fundamentally heretics (from the Greek, “to choose”) because they asserted that the nature of reality could be perceived by individuals in the present through careful experimentation and observation.

In recent years, there's been an effort to turn knowledge into dogma -- and effort which is fundamentally unscientific. People fear uncertainty. And they fear the notion that our knowledge is incomplete. So when scientists change their advice on wearing masks they are called untrustworthy. All they are doing is what scientists have always done -- working collectively:

What gives science its power as a way of knowing is that it’s collective knowing – it’s the facts that we can collectively agree on through repeated experimentation and observation. It’s why Britain’s Royal Society (the world’s oldest science club) has the motto Nullius in verba, Latin for “take nobody’s word for it.” This isn’t about being bull-headed and arrogant, it’s because scientists know that while the truth is out there, it is more often than not incredibly difficult to figure out.

This is not a  time for simple answers. But it is a time to pay attention to collectively gathered evidence -- and to act accordingly.

Image: Google Sites

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Scoring On His Own Goal

Justin Trudeau has a talent for shooting himself in the foot. Back in 2017, the two people who are at the centre of Trudeau's problems now were also front and centre then. Susan Delacourt writes:

The presence of [Bill] Morneau and [Julie] Payette in this summer’s political headlines speaks not just to recurring characters, but to recurring themes for Trudeau, and quite possibly some lessons unlearned from three years ago.
It’s striking, in retrospect, how two announcements within one week in July 2017 have retained the power to send ripples through this very strange year in Canadian politics.
On July 13 three years ago, the news emerged that former astronaut Payette was being named by Trudeau as the next governor-general. Five days later, on July 18, Canada’s finance minister unveiled a proposal to close tax loopholes for self-employed people working as private corporations.
Both of these decisions would come back to haunt the Trudeau government — even now, in the summer of 2020.

In 2017, Morneau and Payette were in hot water:

Within days of the Payette [appointment] announcement, journalists began to unearth incidents from her past that cast doubts on her suitability for such a high office — a dismissed assault charge and involvement in a fatal collision when she lived in the United States.
Questions, good ones, were raised about how Payette cleared the vetting process, and why the Trudeau government had not put her appointment through the selection panel that had been established for her predecessor, David Johnston, when he was appointed by Stephen Harper.
Meanwhile, the Morneau announcement was also starting to look more ill-considered with each passing day of that long hot summer. Small-business owners of all kinds were girding for all-out revolt against the tax changes, calling them an attack on entrepreneurs and hard-working Canadians.
By the time fall rolled around, Liberal MPs were feeling the political damage; Morneau would eventually soften the proposal to ease its impact on small businesses.

Obviously, there's a pattern here. And the cause behind that pattern is pretty clear:

The connecting thread between those two controversies was lack of political forethought and a certain tone-deafness among members of Team Trudeau. So convinced were they of their own correctness in the two announcements that due diligence went out the window — proper vetting in Payette’s case, potential political impact in the tax issue.
There was one more connecting theme — it wasn’t just opposition critics who were the most outraged, but Liberals themselves. The worst political wounds are always the self-inflicted ones.

This isn't the first time Justin has scored on his own goal.

Image: Pressform

Monday, July 27, 2020

The Plot To Sink Biden

Yesterday, I wrote that there seems to be a plan among the Trumpers to declare Joe Biden's victory illegitimate. In this morning's Guardian, Lawrence Douglas fleshes out another nasty scenario:

Consider the following scenario: it’s 3 November, 2020, election day. By midnight, it’s clear that former Vice-President Biden enjoys a substantial lead in the national popular vote but the electoral college vote remains tight. With the races in 47 states and the District of Columbia called, Biden leads Trump in the electoral college vote 252 to 240, but neither candidate has secured the 270 votes necessary for victory. All eyes remain on Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania and their 46 electoral college votes.
In each of these three states, Trump enjoys a slim lead, but the election-day returns do not include a huge number of mail-in ballots. Some states, such as Colorado, have been counting their mail-in votes from the day they arrived, but not Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. These states do not allow elections officials to begin the task of counting the mail-ins until election day itself. It will take days, even weeks, for the key swing states to finish their count. The election hangs in the balance.
Only not for Trump. Based on his November 3 leads, Trump has already declared himself re-elected. His reliable megaphones in the right-wing media repeat and amplify his declaration, and urge Biden to concede. Biden says he will do no such thing. Biden knows that the bulk of the mail-in ballots have been cast in heavily populated urban areas, where voters were unwilling to expose themselves to the health risks of in-person voting. And he is keenly aware that urban voters vote overwhelmingly Democratic. Indeed, this phenomenon, in which mail-in and provisional ballots typically break Democratic, has been dubbed “blue shift” by election law experts.

It's going to take time to count those mail-in ballots. And Trump has spent the entire campaign railing against them:

The count of the mail-in ballots in the three swing states is plagued by delays. Overworked election officials, slowed by the need to maintain social distance, struggle to process the huge volume of votes. Trump’s lawyers, aided by the Department of Justice, bring multiple suits insisting that tens of thousands of votes must be tossed out for having failed to arrive by the date specified by statute. All the same, as the count creeps forward, a clear pattern emerges. President Trump’s lead is shrinking – and then vanishes altogether. By the time the three states complete their canvass of votes nearly a month after the election, the nation faces an astonishing result. Biden now leads in all three. It appears he has been elected our next president.
Only Trump tweets bloody murder. All his most dire predictions have come to pass. The mail-in ballots are infected with fraud. The radical Democrats are trying to steal his victory. The election has been rigged, he says.

But things could get worse. Consider what might happen:

Now things take an ominous turn. Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania all share the same political profile: all three states are controlled by Republican legislatures faithful to Trump. And so Republican lawmakers in Lansing, Madison and Harrisburg take up the fight to declare Trump victorious in their state. Citing irregularities and unconscionable delays in the counting of the mail-in ballots, state Republicans award Trump their states’ electoral college votes.
Yet all three of our crucial swing states also have Democratic governors. Outraged by the actions of Republican lawmakers, the Democratic governors of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania announce that they will recognize Biden as having carried their state. They certify Biden as the winner, and send the certificate cast by his electors on to Congress.

Not since the Civil War has the Republic been in such peril.

Image: Esquire Classic

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Defiling And Destroying

Former federal prosecutor Glenn Kirschner argues that Donald Trump and William Barr have declared war on China because they know Trump is going to lose. They will claim that China has interfered with the American election, and attempt to negate Joe Biden's election victory. Whether that's the real reason for their hostility to China or not, Ezra Vogel writes it's a huge mistake -- because it pits not just China but a good portion of Asia against the United States:

U.S. officials are now attacking the Chinese Communist Party — and reportedly weighing a sweeping travel ban against members — without realizing its complexity and diversity. It is no longer the party that exemplifies the communist goals of Stalin or Mao. After Deng Xiaoping came to power in 1978, the party was transformed into an organization to represent the nation. The Party includes people who have been pro-American, including business people, scientists and intellectuals. But when Americans attack the Communist Party as a whole, members — particularly those who would like to see more democratic procedures — rally to support the Party and, by extension, the nation.
In the half century since I became a professor of East Asian studies at Harvard, I have had the pleasure of teaching many Chinese students, some of whom stayed in the United States and others who returned to China. I have also come to know many Chinese students and faculty who studied at Harvard but were not my students. I have visited China at least once a year over the past four decades and have often met those students and scholars who returned home to China.
Many were excellent students in the United States. They were open to new ideas and enjoyed the intellectual freedom. In the past several years, as U.S.-China relations have become more polarized, returnees have faced new constraints on their freedom in China. Many find creative ways to stretch their freedom while staying out of trouble. They want to be loyal to China while remaining friends of the United States. But when they read of Americans attacking China with accusations that are not true — such as saying that the coronavirus was purposely engineered in a Wuhan laboratory — this strengthens their patriotism and willingness to support the Chinese government against Washington.
Many returnees have advanced important policies, such as establishing rules that required payments to American firms for intellectual property or standards applied by institutions such as the United Nations. Former premier Zhu Rongji fought to gain membership in the World Trade Organization so that China would be forced to make internal changes that meshed with those of international organizations. China chose as the head of its new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) someone who had served in both the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank and who wanted to make the AIIB one that followed world standards. 
Our Americans sent to China by the Fulbright program have done a marvelous job of establishing academic relationships and making important connections. Now the United States has said that it would be suspended. Americans who took part in the program and Chinese friends who responded positively now feel abandoned by the country that once sought their friendship.

Just as Trump threw out Barack Obama's infrastructure to deal with pandemics, he's now burning the bridges the United States built with China. It should be patently obvious: Trump defiles and destroys everything he touches.

Image: You Tube

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Right In Front Of Our Noses

All of us, Andrew Nikiforuk writes, should be wearing masks. That's what Nassim Taleb, a Lebanese born mathematician, told us back in January:

Taleb warned in late January that this pandemic required a rapid reduction in global mobility including lockdowns and social distancing to prevent exponential growth.
But the functionaries ignored Taleb, because they didn’t understand that a pandemic is a dynamic whirlwind of complexity.
In June Taleb wrote about the masks masquerade and the incompetence of some medical professionals. He noted that bureaucrats (and he calls them imbeciles) wouldn’t appreciate the power of masks because linear thinkers don’t like simple solutions.
The bureaucrats reasoned that one person wearing a mask wouldn’t cut down infection rates by much, and demanded more evidence. What they missed was the compounding effects of two or more people wearing masks.
Wearing a mask, of course, protects others from contagious droplets that can, without a mouth covering, travel eight to 12 feet. (Yes, our social distance requirements are a bit short.)
But as Taleb argued, two people wearing masks changes the scale of the story. A masked duo can reduce any exposure to each others’ viral load by 75 per cent. That matters because this coronavirus gets more contagious the more of it you take into your throat and lungs. So by reducing the viral load by three-quarters, Taleb pointed out, the duo actually will “reduce the probability of infection by 95 per cent or more!”

Instead, we have been distracted by a virulent discussion about human rights -- while the evidence around the world is clear:

When this coronavirus came along, it encountered cultures in Japan, China, South Korea and Taiwan where people don’t wait “for statistical data to find comfort in an easily adopted prophylactic device.”
Hong Kong’s low death and infection rates from the coronavirus owe much to the ubiquity of masks (99 per cent) and their compounding effects.
Crowded Hong Kong boasts a population similar to Quebec. But unmasked and spacious Quebec suffered more than 5,600 deaths while Hong Kong recorded eight deaths. Why?
The benefits of wearing masks scales up as more people don them, and protect the commons.

Sometimes the answer is right in front of our noses -- and we don't see it.

Image: The Tyee

Friday, July 24, 2020

The Gods Got Even

Yesterday, Donald Trump sent out a tweet that showed the world in which he lives. Accompanied by a picture of a rambling suburban house, the tweet read, "The Suburban Housewives of America must read this article. Biden will destroy your neighborhood and your American Dream. I will preserve it, and make it even better!"

The word "housewife" became a term of derision back in the late 1950's. Jennifer Rubin writes:

"Housewife” may have been a popular term in the 1950s (which, it seems, is approximately when Trump imagines America was at its greatest — pre-civil rights, pre-women’s rights, pre-globalization) — but, for decades, it has been a condescending term that denigrates women who choose not to leave the house for work. (I’m old enough to remember when Republicans used to claim Democrats did not respect women who did not work outside the home.)
Trump’s screeching tone comically attempts to scare women, imagining they are easily frightened and susceptible to crude political manipulation and racist dog whistles (“destroy neighborhoods” is code for bringing the “wrong people” into the neighborhood).
Nothing in Trump’s appeal remotely addresses what does alarm women: the unchecked spread of coronavirus; an economic collapse; Trump bullying them to send kids back to school during a pandemic; Trump-directed clashes between police and demonstrators; and Trump’s constant attempts to inflame racial animosity. It is not former vice president Joe Biden who inspires fear and dread; it is Trump who raises their blood pressure and creates havoc in their lives.

It's what comes out of Trump's mouth and his cell phone that repeatedly reveals who -- and just how mentally ill -- he is. And one and the same time, he lives in a world that no longer exists and that never existed. The only reason he has been able to do so is because his inherited wealth has protected him from the consequences of his pronouncements and his behaviour.

If the ancient Greeks were writing this scenario, Trump would contact COVID and leave the stage, destroyed by the virus which has destroyed so many lives. In Greece, the gods always got even.

Image Twitter

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Where Do We Go From Here?

The time immediately after World War II was a time of tremendous transition. The American billionaire, Rick Dallio claims that we are at another such inflection point. Will we transition, or will we sink into our same old ways? Glen Pearson writes that, after the war, Canada followed the lead of Franklin Roosevelt:

To deal with the gaps, or holes, in Canadian society, they followed the lead set by Franklin Roosevelt years earlier and invested in Canadians themselves just as much as the country’s natural resources.  They shifted policies and shaped taxes to create a more advanced, and prosperous, citizenship.  They invested in companies that invested in workers.  Leave a gap untended long enough and you’ll have revolution on your hands.  The likes of Louis St. Laurent, Lester Pearson and John Diefenbaker, with help from the likes of Tommy Douglas, understood that possibility and set about to put the country on a different, more equitable, course.  They understood that the old paths had ultimately led to dysfunction and disaster and sought to forge a new path of shared prosperity.

A much different man than Roosevelt now sits in the White House. He's Roosevelt's polar opposite. Following Donald Trump's example will lead to oblivion:

If Ray Dalio is right, most countries in the world will make a fundamental mistake should they follow normal procedure afer every recession – downsizing, austerity, cutbacks.  They must see it as post-World War Two leaders perceived it:  a time of transition planning, not recession paring.  Canada’s debt-to-GDP ratio in the mid-1990s was 63.8%.  Today, even in the midst of a crippling pandemic, it is 53.8%, but rising.  Canada entered the Covid-19 crisis with the lowest central government debt-to-GDP ratio of the Group of Seven economies.  In the 1990s, we were sixth.
The opportunity is now present, where the Canadian economy can be regenerated from the ground up, in a fashion that empowers Canadians instead of isolating them.  We have done it before in worse conditions.  It’s this distinction between recession thinking and transition planning that will determine this country’s future in a more troubled world.

The choice is ours. The question is: Are we smart enough to make the right choice?


Wednesday, July 22, 2020

No Moral Imagination

Our political leaders keep saying that we're getting back to normal. But, George Monbiot writes, we don't want to go there:

Of course, we would all like to leave the pandemic behind, with its devastating impacts on physical and mental health, its exacerbation of loneliness, the lack of schooling and the collapse in employment. But this doesn’t mean that we want to return to the bizarre and frightening world the government defines as normal. Ours was no land of lost content, but a place in which lethal crises were gathering long before the pandemic struck. Alongside our many political and economic dysfunctions, normality meant accelerating the strangest and deepest predicament humankind has ever confronted: the collapse of our life-support systems.

The evidence of that dysfunction is everywhere:

Last month, confined to our homes, we watched columns of smoke rising from the Arctic, where temperatures reached a highly abnormal 38C. Such apocalyptic imagery is becoming the backdrop to our lives. We scroll past images of fire consuming Australia, California, Brazil, Indonesia, inadvertently normalising them. In a brilliant essay at the beginning of this year, the author Mark O’Connell described this process as “the slow atrophying of our moral imaginations”. We are acclimatising ourselves to our existential crisis.
This month we learned that $10bn-worth of precious metals, such as gold and platinum, are dumped in landfill every year, embedded in tens of millions of tonnes of lesser materials, in the form of electronic waste. The world’s production of e-waste is rising by 4% a year. It is driven by another outlandish norm: planned obsolescence. Our appliances are designed to break down, they are deliberately engineered not to be repaired. This is one of the reasons why the average smartphone, containing precious materials extracted at great environmental cost, lasts for between two and three years, while the average desktop printer prints for a total of five hours and four minutes before it is discarded.
The living world, and the people it supports, cannot sustain this level of consumption, but normal life depends on it. The compound, cascading effects of dysbiosis push us towards what some scientists warn could be global systemic collapse.

And, while ordinary citizens get it, our leaders don't:

 A YouGov survey suggests that eight out of 10 people want the government to prioritise health and wellbeing above economic growth during the pandemic, and six out of 10 would like it to stay that way when (or if) the virus abates. A survey by Ipsos produced a similar result: 58% of British people want a green economic recovery, while 31% disagree. As in all such polls, Britain sits close to the bottom of the range. By and large, the poorer the nation, the greater the weight its people give to environmental issues. In China, in the same survey, the proportions are 80% and 16%, and in India, 81% and 13%. The more we consume, the more our moral imagination atrophies.

And that is precisely the problem: Our leaders lack moral imagination.

Image: You Tube

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Knowledge Is Power

Donald Trump has spent the last few weeks trying to stop the publication of books that reveal who he is. But he's also worked very hard to conceal data on the pandemic which is devastating the United States. Paul Krugman writes:

Nobody should be surprised that the Trump team is trying to suppress bad news about the pandemic. This was completely predictable given the Law of Obama Projection: Every right-wing conspiracy theory about President Barack Obama was an indication of what Republicans wanted to do themselves, and would do once they had the power.
The Trump administration recently ordered hospitals to stop reporting Covid-19 data to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sending it to a private contractor instead. As a result, hospitalization data, a key pandemic indicator, disappeared from the C.D.C. website before being reinstated after a widespread outcry.
And some Republican-controlled states, notably Georgia, have for months been massaging coronavirus data, presenting it in misleading ways that understate the problem.
Trump keeps insisting, falsely, that the only reason we’re seeing so many cases is too much testing, so his aides are trying to mollify him by holding testing down.

Donald Trump doesn't know much. But he does know that knowledge is power. And that knowledge can -- and will -- be used against him.


Monday, July 20, 2020

Destroying The System

We now have a western separatist movement on the prairies. Don Lenihan writes that it's part of the populist wave that has swept the world. It's important to understand how populism -- particularly right-wing populism -- works:

Typically, populists allege that some group, such as a professional elite or a political party, has gained control of the policy process and is using it to advance their own interests. The process, they say, is biased and can’t be trusted.
Thus, the western alienation narrative accuses Central Canada of using its majority in Parliament to exploit the west. Brexiters tells a similar story about how Britain’s power has shifted from London to Brussels. Donald Trump railed about the need to “Drain the Swamp” by driving the corrupt elites out of Washington.

Populists are not interested in working things through. They do not believe in what used to be called "brokerage politics."  However, the Canadian political system was set up for brokerage politics:

Looking back, governments of the past seemed more able to take on difficult tasks than those today. Think of bilingualism or the national healthcare system. Cabinet may have made the decisions, but ministers relied on a network of people – including the caucus, party, riding associations and, ultimately, the community – to help identify issues and “broker” solutions.

Unfortunately, we live in an age of polarization -- and the polarizing debates it engenders. Populists

are interested in marketing, not problem-solving. Their narrative is designed to polarize debate and force people in the middle to choose a side. Except, now the issue is about more than policy. It is about the fairness of the system itself, and that raises the stakes.

And, amid all the fire and fury, we risk destroying the system itself.


Sunday, July 19, 2020

The Cuts Don't Match The Rhetoric

In Ontario, health care is a mess. Bob Hepburn writes:

As he launches a major campaign-style road show this week that will see him travel nearly 5,000 kilometres across the province this summer, Premier Doug Ford will be thanking beleaguered health-care workers for their dedication and hard work during the pandemic.

The truth is that Ford has made the lives of health care workers much more difficult:

Ford’s actions — all made with the clear goal of cutting costs — have produced few, if any positive results, with no money saved, no end to “hallway medicine” and no sign of better days ahead for patients.
And while the bandages Ford has hurriedly thrown at health care since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in February have helped a bit by momentarily easing the bleeding, they have failed to stop the pain inflicted by Ford since his election victory in June, 2018.

There is lots of blood on the floor:

Here are a few of the measures Ford has imposed over the past year that negatively impact health care:
Destabilized public health units by cutting their budgets by $200 million a year, then reversing the cuts without clarity on funding levels beyond the first year;
Set real-dollar budget cuts, with funding for daily hands-on care increased at barely one per cent, below the inflation rate.
Cancelled mandatory annual inspections of long-term-care facilities.
Passed Bill 124, giving health-care workers and other government employees pay raises of just one per cent a year, which is below the inflation rate. This comes after most health-care professionals didn’t get a pay hike in the last 10 years.
Rejected proposals to increase the number of nurses despite being shown the province has the lowest nurse-to-population ratio in Canada.
Passed Bill 175, restructuring the home-care sector in which for-profit private delivery of home care will increase, but with no commitment to increase the number of patients receiving home care or increase the number of visits a patient can receive.
Rejected pleas to increase rehabilitation services for thousands of patients now paying for such needed services out of their own pockets.

Ford's response to COVID has been better than I expected. On the other hand, he has deeply damaged our health care system at precisely the moment when it needed much more support.

Image: The Toronto Star

Saturday, July 18, 2020

John Lewis

I was 12 years old in 1960. On a Friday night, I stayed up late to watch the Pierre Berton Show. His guest that night was John Howard Griffin, the author of Black Like Me. From my perch north of the border, I became interested in the American Civil Rights movement. I read Griffin's book. I read Martin Luther King's book, Why We Can't Wait. I read James Baldwin's book, The Fire Next Time. And, nine years later, I found myself, a student-teacher, in the public schools of North Carolina -- where kids were being bused from school to school in an effort to achieve some kind of racial balance. The community boiled.

It was during this time that I encountered the work and the passion of John Lewis. He was young, and a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He marched. He was beaten. And he spoke -- again and again. The Editorial Board of The New York Times writes this morning:

Representative John Lewis, who died Friday at age 80, will be remembered as a principal hero of the blood-drenched era not so long ago when Black people in the South were being shot, blown up or driven from their homes for seeking basic human rights. The moral authority Mr. Lewis exercised in the House of Representatives — while representing Georgia’s Fifth Congressional District for more than 30 years — found its headwaters in the aggressive yet self-sacrificial style of protests that he and his compatriots in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee deployed in the early 1960s as part of the campaign that overthrew Southern apartheid.
These young demonstrators chose to underscore the barbaric nature of racism by placing themselves at risk of being shot, gassed or clubbed to death during protests that challenged the Southern practice of shutting Black people out of the polls and “white only” restaurants, and confining them to “colored only” seating on public conveyances. When arrested, S.N.C.C. members sometimes refused bail, dramatizing injustice and withholding financial support from a racist criminal justice system.

In his final years, Lewis saw a raging bigot make it to the White House -- the very opposite of what he had fought for. But he did not stop fighting.

May he rest in peace. His truth goes marching on.

Image: The New York Times

Friday, July 17, 2020

Follow The Money

Rona Ambrose has joined the board of JUUL. Michael Harris writes:

What message does it send when a former federal health minister joins the board of an e-cigarette company, the way Rona Ambrose did?
The practise of public officeholders who make big salaries in government moving on to even bigger salaries as lobbyists, consultants, or corporate board members, based largely on their insider knowledge is growing.
Still, members of the public health community were startled by Ambrose’s decision.

E-cigarettes are not a solution to the problem of youth smoking:

A big problem it is. According to the CDC, in 2019 about 30 per cent of U.S. high school students used tobacco products. For every one that smoked cigarettes, about five used e-cigarettes. This after cigarette smoking had declined steeply. In the early 1960s, 42 per cent of U.S. adults smoked cigarettes. Today, it’s 14 per cent. But vaping, concluded the American Medical Association, is creating “a new generation of nicotine addicts.”
In Canada, as in the U.S., teen vaping is on the rise. Twenty per cent of high school students reported using e-cigarettes in the previous month according to the 2018-2019 Canadian Student Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs Survey. This was double the rate reported in the 2016-2017 report.

And Ambrose is on the record about e-cigarettes:

“These new technologies will not succeed in eradicating cigarettes unless businesses and regulators work together to successfully fight the problem of underage use.”

Why the change in Ambrose's perspective? I suggest that -- as is the case so often these days -- we follow the money.

Image: The Tyee

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Doing Their Damnedest

All over the world, the Right has gone to war against masks. Consider what has happened in Britain. Owen Jones writes in The Guardian:

“A monstrous imposition!” is how our modern-day Boudicca, the Tory backbencher Sir Desmond Swayne, decried the new law compelling customers to cover their faces before entering a shop. Sir Desmond does not have a blanket objection to covering his visage, you understand: he has previously described blackface as an “entirely acceptable bit of fun” after boasting of dressing up as the late soul singer James Brown. But while Sir Desmond may believe that all freeborn Englishmen have a sacred right to racist fancy dress, measures to stop the spread of a pandemic that has killed one in every 1,000 of his fellow citizens represent objectionable tyranny.

 The American Right also sees the mask as an assault on liberty:

In Texas, anti-mask activists believe such an imposition belongs in a “communist country”, while the Oklahoma city of Stillwater backed off from imposing a compulsory mask order after threats of violence. On one level, this is just another expression of dog-eat-dog individualism: to hell with the common good if it requires sacrifice on my part, however minor. But it is entirely in keeping with another phenomenon: of the modern right’s embrace of victimhood.

That is what is at the core of all of this: the Right revels in its victimhood:

Here in Britain, we are ruled by a Tory government with an 80-seat majority; most of the press swear editorial allegiance to it, with the two dominant newspapers, the Daily Mail and the Sun, appointing themselves the protectors of the nation’s moral code. In the US, Trump is supported by nearly every Republican officeholder and has his own cable TV propaganda channel in Fox News. You would think that triumphalism alone would reign, but on both sides of the Atlantic, it is mixed with profound insecurity. The populist right fears that the ground it has conquered in the so-called “culture wars” and in the corridors of power could be lost, and abruptly so, with its progressive opponents using the first opportunity in power to go further than ever in asserting the rights of minorities and women.
Rightwingers’ insecurity is twofold. They point to what is described as the “long march through the institutions”, a concept inspired by the work of the late Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci: that the left has secured cultural hegemony, not least in universities. The BBC, in this narrative, is a primary antagonist, regarded as institutionally hardwired against the right’s aspirations, despite its flagship interviewer, Andrew Neil, chairing the rightwing magazine the Spectator, and the corporation having played a pivotal role in bolstering the careers of rightwing demagogues from Nigel Farage to Katie Hopkins. That the right can boast a network of lavishly funded and well-connected thinktanks is ignored, too, because it is inconvenient to a myth of victimhood.
The other is a straightforward fear of the younger generation, among whom progressive values are hegemonic. On issues ranging from LGBTQ and women’s rights to anti-racism and immigration, younger people are attempting to communicate their moral values on social media to the older generation who dominate the commanding heights of the nation’s media. This is at the root of the “culture war” or “cancel culture”: rising demands that the values of the nation’s institutions are aligned with the worldview of the under-40s have provoked a moral panic. Black Lives Matter is just one flashpoint in that struggle: another is trans rights, an article of faith among much of the country’s youth.

The old guard can see who will replace them. And they're doing their damnedest to stop them.

Image: CP24

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

A Little Due Diligence

Jacques Leger writes that, at the moment, we are in a nasty place:

It did not take long for the controversy to blow up. The opposition parties and the media began building a case. Demands for ethics probes and to refer the case to police multiplied as more information came out about sole sourcing and close ties between the PM and his family with WE.  The PM admitted not recusing himself, nor did the Finance Minister and both have since apologized. The PM and his spouse have been frequent and highly visible supporters of the charity. The PM’s mother and brother were both paid thousands of dollars per appearance to speak at WE Charity events. Finance Minister Morneau’s daughter works at the Charity. All that was presented as bad “optics” and potential conflicts of interest.
The upshot was that political opponents were asking the public to condemn the PM even though a valuable charity would be sideswiped in the process. Then, it came out that this charity is such that many prominent people, including members of all political tribes, had wanted to associate with it for years. Former Conservative PMs and Ministers, current and former Premiers, Conservative leadership candidates, their spouses and children have participated in their programs, addressed them, funded them, sung their praises, traveled abroad with them and wanted to be seen with them.
What was initially described as a $1B sole source contract eventually was shown to be worth less than $20M to manage $900M of grants to young people. A 2% fee is a low administration charge compared to what the Red Cross, United Way and other charities are paid to administer programs for disasters and the elderly, contracts also granted without bids!

In the end, this is all about optics:

There was so much reported that significant false information became “common knowledge”: the PM’s mother was paid with taxpayer funds; WE was given $1 billion and was going to make a big profit; and the PM was lying about having received a recommendation from the civil service.

The optics are the result of plain sloppiness. A little due diligence would have made a world of difference,


Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Total Incompetence

COVID is racing across the United States like wildfire. The country is an international pariah. Michelle Goldberg writes:

As our country plunges into a black hole of unchecked illness, death and pariahdom, the administration is waging a PR war on its own top disease expert, Anthony Fauci, trying to convince news outlets that he can’t be trusted. “The move to treat Dr. Fauci as if he were a warring political rival comes as he has grown increasingly vocal in his concerns about the national surge in coronavirus cases,” reported The Times.
Trump has also undercut the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, retweeting the conspiratorial ramblings of the former game show host Chuck Woolery: “The most outrageous lies are the ones about Covid-19. Everyone is lying. The C.D.C., media, Democrats, our doctors, not all but most, that we are told to trust.” There are now so many stories of Trump fans dying after blithely exposing themselves to the virus that they’ve become a macabre cliché.

Around the world, the United States is a laughing stock:

The country’s international humiliation is total; historians may argue about when the American century began, but I doubt they’ll disagree about when it ended.

Yet no one is calling for Donald Trump's resignation. Trump's incompetence is total. And the country stumbles into oblivion.


Monday, July 13, 2020

The Mob In Control

Roger Stone is a free man and the reasons he walks free are in plain sight. David Frum writes:

Roger Stone’s best trick was always his upper-class-twit wardrobe. He seemed such a farcical character, such a Klaxon-alarm-from-a-mile-away goofball—who could take him seriously?
He clowned, he cavorted, he demanded limelight—which made it in some ways impossible to imagine that he could have done anything seriously amiss. Bank robbers don’t go on Twitter to announce, “Hey, I’m going to rob a bank, sorry, not sorry.” Or so you’d expect.
Stone was simultaneously in communication with the Trump campaign and the candidate Donald Trump. The former Trump deputy campaign chair Rick Gates testified at Stone’s trial in November 2019 that he witnessed Trump take a call from Stone after the first WikiLeaks release in July. Less than a minute after the call ended, Trump told Gates that another release would follow later in the campaign.
Trump declared in writing to the Mueller investigation that he did not recall discussing WikiLeaks with Stone. On page 77 of Volume II of the report, Mueller expressed disbelief in Trump’s sworn evidence: “Witnesses said that Trump was aware that Roger Stone was pursuing information about hacked documents from WikiLeaks at a time when public reports stated that Russian intelligence officials were behind the hacks, and that Trump privately sought information about future WikiLeaks releases.” On page 17 of Volume II, the report cites the former Trump attorney Michael Cohen as one of those witnesses, along with Gates.

It's all there in plain sight. Stone was convicted on all counts. Yet he has avoided prison because he made it clear that, if he was sent there, he would sing:

Stone told the journalist Howard Fineman why he lied and whom he was protecting. “He knows I was under enormous pressure to turn on him. It would have eased my situation considerably. But I didn’t.” You read that, and you blink. As the prominent Trump critic George Conway tweeted: “I mean, even Tony Soprano would have used only a pay phone or burner phone to say something like this.” Stone said it on the record to one of the best-known reporters in Washington. In so many words, he seemed to imply: I could have hurt the president if I’d rolled over on him. I kept my mouth shut. He owes me.

The Mob controls the United States.

Image: Vanity Fair

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Finding A Way Forward

Jim Stanford writes that Canada's recent employment numbers are good. But we have a long way to go:

The headline growth in jobs (almost one million more Canadians were working in June, compared to May) was very encouraging, much better than expected. By that measure, Canada's labour market has climbed almost halfway back out of the hole we fell into from February through April. 
But the next steps of job recovery will be much harder to achieve. The share of remaining unemployed Canadians expecting to go back to their former jobs has fallen substantially (just one-third now). We are experiencing a wave of second-order layoffs as companies permanently downsize because their market isn't coming back. Recent examples of that (all in the hard-hit transportation sector) include Air Canada (20,000 layoffs), WestJet (3,300 layoffs), Bombardier (2,500 layoffs), and VIA Rail (1,000 layoffs).

And make no mistake. Those numbers are directly related to the government programs which have been spawned in the wake of COVID:

This was a busy week for Canadian economic data, with today's labour force report coming on the heels of Wednesday's federal government "fiscal snapshot." Most observers thought the snapshot was bad news, because it forecast an enormous $343 billion deficit. But in fact, that big deficit is the flip side of the coin of today's good jobs numbers.
The two are clearly related: Without the enormous injections of government support (for household incomes, to keep workers on payrolls, to fight the health battle against COVID-19) that caused that big deficit, today's job numbers would have been much more dire.

But one brutal fact remains: The suffering has been unequally distributed:

Women, young workers, workers in temporary and insecure jobs (including gig workers), immigrants and migrant workers, have all also experienced disproportionate harm from the crisis. Ongoing policy responses (including both income supports and job-creation measures) must be focused on those hard-hit groups, or else we will experience a destructive polarization of well-being and opportunity that, among other consequences, will weaken our capacity to respond effectively to future public health emergencies.

Now the real work must begin. And that means those who have been the worst affected must be helped in finding a way forward.


Saturday, July 11, 2020


Donald Trump has commuted Roger Stone's prison sentence. It is, says Stone, a sign of God's mercy. Because, you see, Roger has come to Jesus. Howard Fineman writes in The Washington Post:

When I called Roger Stone early Friday evening, he was in the midst of doing an online interview with an evangelical Christian leader. He let me listen in. It was, shall we say, a revelation. Until recently about as un-devout as a lapsedeverything could be, he earnestly recounted for an equally earnest interviewer how he’d been saved by Jesus Christ at a Franklin Graham rally.
“I stood up,” Stone said. “I accepted Christ as my savior. I felt like a cement block had been lifted from my chest.” His newfound faith had given him a ticket to eternal salvation and, perhaps, a stay-out-of-jail card.
Like God, President Trump was merciful, Stone said. Trump was a man of “enormous fairness and compassion” and would lift the burden Stone was facing.

And God only knows what the future holds for Stone:

“I know there is a lot of skepticism,” he said in the audial version of a straight face. “Who knows? A year from now you may be calling me Reverend Stone! What else am I going to do with all these white suits I own?”


Image: The New York Times

Friday, July 10, 2020

It'll Be Horrific

It's become a depressing pattern -- one ethics violation after another. Now we must process the WE controversy. Susan Delacourt writes:

The newest [violation] is Trudeau’s connection to the WE charity, hand-picked by his own government to dole out nearly $1 billion in pandemic-relief efforts for students: a choice that has since gone from reversal to regrets to really big trouble.
It’s not the first time things have gone so badly this way for Trudeau and that’s the baffling thing.
If this was a binge-watching series, viewers would have seen the hints in previous seasons.
First there is the denial and doubling-down.
Then there is the retraction, accompanied by revelations that things are worse than originally reported.
Then comes the prime minister’s promise to do better.

But, after awhile, the promises ring hollow. And the money keeps piling up in privileged pockets:

Thanks to revelations by CBC and Canadaland, we now know that Margaret Trudeau received $250,000 in honorariums for speaking at 28 WE events between 2016 and 2020.
Alexandre Trudeau, or Sacha, as he’s known, was paid $32,000 in speaking fees between 2017 and 2018.

That kind of behaviour is totally self-destructive -- not just for Trudeau but for Canadians in general. It's clear that the Conservatives don't know how to handle the pandemic. But Justin's nonchalance about ethics will put the Conservatives in the driver's seat.

The pile-up will be horrific.

Image: ClubLexus

Thursday, July 09, 2020

How It's Spent

Yesterday, the federal government released its "fiscal snapshot."  Ryan Campell writes:

It outlines the price tag up to now and describes how costs will evolve over the fiscal year. Headlines of the day include a $343 billion deficit for 2020-21 and a corresponding change in our national debt to $1.2 trillion. Expect pundits to repeat this figure over and over again to drum up fear.

The Conservatives thundered doom and damnation as soon as the numbers were announced. But those numbers need to be put in context:

The fiscal shock is serious but less threatening when put in historical perspective and scaled against the size of the Canadian economy. Canada’s net debt may have crossed the trillion dollar mark but, apart from being a big round number, the threshold itself is not particularly frightening. In 2018-19, well before the crisis, Canada’s debt was sitting at 30.9% of GDP. The G20 average for that same year was 82.0%. The fiscal update predicts debt may rise to 49.1% in 2020-21. The end result of this historically bad year is that Canada, after the crisis, will hold a fraction of the debt an average G20 country was carrying before the crisis. 
The cumulative impact of the war effort in the 1940s resulted in debt levels as high as 130% of GDP. In the 1980s debt was almost 70% of GDP.  At the time, the ten-year bond rates were nearly 12%. The high cost of borrowing made reducing debt challenging. Interest rates today are less than 1%, making any amount of debt accumulated more sustainable. In fact, today’s snapshot predicts debt servicing costs this year will be lower than last year. The government has the ability to spend multiple times what it already has before it reaches debt levels that were experienced – and dealt with – in other periods. 

The number is not the problem. The real challenge is how that money is spent:

The better question is how the borrowed money is being spent? In this case, the outlay will save lives now and into the future. Spending will prevent structural damage to the economy that, if unchecked, will limit employment and lower living standards for decades. This is money well spent. 
The debt levels announced in the spring fiscal snapshot do not require service cuts to offset increased spending. Making cuts when investment is needed would make a bad situation worse. One day in the not-too-distant future, the health threat will be diminished. Making the right decisions now will make sure the economy on the other side is vibrant, equitable and sustainable. We must protect people’s safety today and their livelihood tomorrow. This means setting ambitious targets to stimulate growth while actively trying to build a better future. When the time is right, temporary crisis spending can be wound down, and a healthy economy will outgrow the debt.

The Conservatives don't understand this.  Andrew Scheer said yesterday that the notion he should wear a mask inside Pearson Airport -- a policy the airport has mandated -- is "ridiculous." It's been obvious for some time that Mr. Scheer is no bright light. Unfortunately, those who have lined up to replace him burn less brightly.

Let's hope that, in the immediate future, Canadians don't hand the steering wheel over to them.

Image: The Beaverton

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Hate -- Pure And Simple

If you want to know what Donald Trump's campaign will look and sound like, Nathan Robinson writes, consider the speech he gave at Mount Rushmore:

The general thrust of Trump’s speech was: this country is not threatened by a virus, it is threatened by a protest movement that aims to destroy our culture and history. At a time when Covid-19 cases are growing by the tens of thousands every day, Trump tried to shift the focus to “cancel culture” and the activists who have been trying to tear down controversial monuments:

Trump accused his opponents of trying to wipe out American history:

Our nation is witnessing a merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values and indoctrinate our children. Angry mobs are trying to tear down statues of our founders, deface our most sacred memorials and unleash a wave of violent crime in our cities … One of their political weapons is “cancel culture” – driving people from their jobs, shaming dissenters, and demanding total submission from anyone who disagrees. This is the very definition of totalitarianism.

Trump had a problem pronouncing totalitarianism. It was a clear sign of his desperation:

It’s clear what Trump is doing here. His presidency is in crisis. The economy has collapsed, and the administration has proved itself totally incapable of containing the coronavirus, instead promoting irresponsible reopenings that are now causing infection surges. Joe Biden, while uninspiring, is polling well against Trump because nearly everyone is dissatisfied with the direction of the country. Trump cannot pretend that things are going well, because people can see plainly that this is not the case. All he can do is try to whip up the culture war, to get his supporters to see themselves as being in an existential war against a fascist left.

His target audience is aggrieved whites. And he knows how to whip up hatred in their ranks:

They’re the ones whose country and culture is being supposedly “lost”; it seems unlikely that many Native Americans will miss an Andrew Jackson statue. Trump is relying on these white people being angry and aggrieved enough to get him re-elected in November. But it’s a desperate tactic. People’s minds are on other things, like the deadly disease killing their grandparents and destroying social life as we know it.

They were his audience in 2016. Others decided to take a flyer on him. They have since come to regret their decision. Trump knows that. So all he has left to run on is hate -- pure and simple.

Image: PolitiFact

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

The New Ambassador

Bob Rae is Canada's new ambassador to the UN. His appointment comes in the wake of Canada's failure to gain a seat on the Security Council. Susan Delacourt writes:

Bob Rae, Canada’s next ambassador to the United Nations, had much to say about defeat when he spoke to the media on Monday.
It isn’t everyone who would be reflecting on loss when gaining an important new job on the world stage.
But this is Rae’s fortune and forte. The former premier of Ontario, also the former interim leader of the Liberal party, has once again arrived in a role for which he is perfectly suited, at a less-than-perfect moment in history.

Rae, like Trudeau, is following in his father's footsteps:

Rae now has something else in common with Justin Trudeau, the man who appointed him to the UN post on Monday.
Both now are doing jobs that their fathers did before them. Rae’s father, Saul Rae, served as ambassador to the United Nations in the 1970s, when Pierre Trudeau was prime minister.
“For me to be able to work in the same place as my father, and to be able to have his picture in my office,” Rae said, “is a wonderful moment for me.”

Rae's appointment also signals an attempt to build bridges between Trudeau and the old Liberal guard. His appointment strikes me as a very smart move -- and I taught in Ontario when all of the province's public servants endured "Rae Days." Rae paid the price for his decisions. And it appears that the price he paid made him a wiser man.

Image: The Toronto Star

Monday, July 06, 2020

The Cost Of Illiteracy

God knows, the United States has failed many times to live up to its ideals. But its great leaders understood those ideals and put them into words. Unfortunately, Donald Trump doesn't read. That inconvenient truth is evident every time he steps in front of a teleprompter. Jennifer Rubin writes that, if Trump did read, he would have encountered several worthy sentiments:

Thomas Jefferson’s words — “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” — transcend the flawed author and the epoch in which they were written. They define the country not as an “us” vs. “them” fight to the death; they make clear this is an experiment in self-government that each generation must perfect.

Or, if he read, Trump might have encountered the real Abraham Lincoln -- who he likes to compare himself to:

It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

And, instead of shouting "law and order," he might say something different, having read these words from Martin Luther King:

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial ‘outside agitator’ idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.”
Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I have been arrested on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade. But such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First-Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest. …
I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.

Trump stands as the ugliest example of the cost of illiteracy.

Image: Macleans

Sunday, July 05, 2020

Simply Stupid

In 2015, Justin Trudeau promised to build a Canadian Infrastructure Bank. It was a good idea. But it has become a bad idea, thanks to a man named Larry Fink and a Wall Street investment firm named Black Rock. Linda McQuaig writes:

Larry Fink . . . epitomized what had gone wrong with Wall Street. Years earlier, Fink had helped develop the market for mortgage-backed securities -- a market that later helped trigger the 2008 financial crash.
The talented Mr. Fink went on to be the U.S. Treasury's key adviser on the $700 billion Wall Street bailout -- widely regarded as a gigantic giveaway to some of the world's richest people.
In January 2016, Fink met newly elected Canadian PM at the annual billionaires' retreat in Davos. The conversation quickly turned to infrastructure, which interested them both.

Now Trudeau proposes to let investment bankers in on the ground floor of the infrastructure bank. But that notion is fraught with problems:

Involving private investors dramatically drives up the costs, leaving Canadians paying much more, either through taxes, tolls or user fees, notes Toby Sanger, an economist who now heads the Ottawa-based group Canadians for Tax Fairness.
Sanger points out that, under the low-interest-rate scenario proposed by Trudeau, Ottawa would raise the money itself -- by selling government bonds to the public. (Ottawa currently pays only 1.4 per cent on a 30-year bond, allowing it to get the money almost for free.)
On the other hand, Sanger notes, private investors expect high rates of return, typically between seven and nine per cent.
The new bank will also allow investors to end up owning some of the projects they invest in.

That's the same playbook Mike Harris used when he leased Highway 407 -- built and paid for by Ontario taxpayers -- for a song. The new owners have been making a killing on the toll road.  They've been doing that for twenty years. And the lease runs for another 79 years.

COVID has underscored just how foolish -- the word insane comes to mind -- such public policies are. It is simply stupid to continue such folly.


Saturday, July 04, 2020

Genuinely Ignorant

It is surely ironic that today -- July 4th -- is the day Boris Johson has chosen to liberate Britons. The pub doors have swung open wide. And Britons have been told that all is now right with the world. But Jonathan Freedland writes that British Independence Day is hiding an ugly truth:

I’m speaking of 11pm on 30 June, the moment at which Britain lost the ability to seek an extension of the Brexit transition period. Unless we reach a new free trade agreement with the European Union in the next six months, we will be crashing out of the EU with no deal on 31 December.
It seems like bad form to mention it now, when we have a deadly disease to contend with. That suits Johnson and Dominic Cummings well: they hope to bury the bad news of Brexit deep inside the coronavirus, calculating that any damage inflicted by the former will be concealed by the general trauma of the latter. “Covid’s created an excuse,” says one former Conservative minister.

Like his orange cousin across the Atlantic, Mr. Johnson works very hard to hide uncomfortable truths. He's doing that now:

Now is absolutely not the time to submit Britain to the economic shock of a chaotic break from our nearest trading partners. Recall that the Bank of England has warned that the UK faces its deepest recession since the Great Frost of 1709; that the OECD forecasts that the UK will suffer the worst recession in the developed world; that three quarters of UK manufacturers expect to cut jobs this year.
The layoffs have already started, with thousands announced this week, from Upper Crust to Airbus. When the furlough scheme ends, there’ll be many more. Mass unemployment is coming; consumer confidence will shrink as those with money become ever warier of spending it. If, on top of all that, Britain leaves the EU without a deal, or a deal so thin it’s barely better than no deal, it will fall as a blow to the skull of a man already bleeding.
None of this is abstract. The government has already published the tariffs that would be imposed on basic food items necessarily imported from the EU. They would add 12p to a 500g bag of dried pasta, 4p to a tin of tomatoes: to some, that won’t sound like much, but for those counting every penny it could make all the difference. If you’re grappling with food poverty, an increase of 20% or more on staples will be ruinous. In normal times, charities might step in. But many of those are fighting for their own lives, their high street shops devastated by the collapse in footfall brought by lockdown.
This is how the coronavirus and a no-deal Brexit compound each other, their combined damage greater than the sum of its parts. Ministers like to play down the coming Brexit pain, suggesting that since all industries are going to have to adapt to Covid-19, they might as well adapt to an EU crash-out while they’re at it. But that’s wrongheaded, not least because the two different crises will affect different sectors. Travel, tourism and the arts have been gutted by coronavirus, while manufacturing, pharmaceuticals and financial services stand to be hit by Brexit. “It’s two parallel shocks, rather than one shock that might conceal the other,” says Naomi Smith of Best for Britain.

We face several challenges all at once. But the biggest challenge we face is genuinely ignorant leadership in very important places.

Image: The Atlantic

Friday, July 03, 2020

Reality Has To Hit The Road

Some people complain that Donald Trump doesn't have a campaign message. Michelle Goldberg isn't buying it. In fact, she writes, the message is simple and straightforward: white grievance:

The president started this week by tweeting out a video that encapsulates the soul of his movement. In it, a man in The Villages, an affluent Florida retirement community, shouts, “White power!” at protesters from a golf cart bedecked with Trump signs. “Thank you to the great people of The Villages,” wrote Trump. Only after several hours and a panic among White House staffers did the president delete the tweet.
Trump understands that he became a significant political figure by spreading the racist lie that Barack Obama was really born in Kenya. He launched his history-making presidential bid with a speech calling Mexican immigrants rapists and adopted a slogan, “America First,” previously associated with the raging anti-Semite Charles Lindbergh. Throughout the 2016 campaign, he won the invaluable prize of earned media with escalating racist provocations, which his supporters relished and which captivated cable news.

He "seems to grasp that racism is what put him over the top. It’s what made his campaign seem wild and transgressive and hard to look away from."

Except this time it isn't working. Yet Trump continues to do what he has done all his life  -- deny reality. He played a businessman on TV as his businesses cratered. Now he's playing a president on TV, as coronavirus cases -- and deaths -- soar.

At some point, reality has to hit the road.

Image: The Daily Beast

Thursday, July 02, 2020

We're Lucky

Another Canada Day has come and gone. Each anniversary should remind us that Confederation is a work in progress -- and that we still have much work to do. But, Susan Delacourt writes, on this anniversary, we should recognize that we are extraordinarily lucky -- because we are not the United States:

The border between this country and the United States has never been this sharply defined, literally and politically. As many states in America are tumbling back into a resurgence of the virus, Canada and its health-care system are slowly emerging from the crisis in much better shape than our neighbour to the south.

There are two big differences between Canada and the United States: We are not Americans and we have medicare:

Those two big identity differences — our not-Americanism and our medicare program — are not just figments of our imaginative pride anymore. It’s a good thing that Canadians are too polite to be smug.
Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy and Japan are all in the nearly-there club, with chart curves that look comfortably similar, rising up to late April or early May, then declining. Only the United States is in the red category on this site, its numbers still on a sharp ascent as of the end of June.
COVID-19, in short, is punching a big hole in U.S. claims to superiority with its allies and Americans themselves are noticing.
One former health-care executive in the United States has been getting a lot of attention in this country lately because of a mea culpa he posted on Twitter. Wendell Potter, who used to work with the Cigna health-insurance firm, said he was sorry for all the lies he used to tell about Canada’s health-care system and pointed to the COVID-19 response in our two countries as proof of which one was better.
Potter’s Twitter thread confessed that big money was spent in his business “to push the idea that Canada’s single-payer system was awful & the U.S. system much better.” Now, however, he said it’s clear “it was a lie & the nations’ COVID responses prove it.”

We're far from perfect. We too have a long history of racism. And, likewise, our policing system has to be reformed. But, on this Canada Day just passed, we should be grateful for what we have and for what we have accomplished.


Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Canada Day 2020

Canada Day in the Time of COVID. Tourism is the lifeblood of our town. And the tourists have arrived in groups, shoulder to shoulder. They don't wear masks. When the locals remind them of the rules, their response is: "There's no COVID here!"

It's all rather surreal. In two weeks, we'll discover what kind of a day this was.

Nonetheless, Happy Canada Day.

Image: South China Morning Post