Monday, August 31, 2020

Don't Blame Me

Andrew Rawnsley writes that Boris Johnson's government is guided by the "novel doctrine of total power with absolutely no responsibility." Consider what has happened to the principle of ministerial responsibility on Johnson's watch: 

One of the rules that they have been shredding most aggressively is the concept of ministerial responsibility. Under previous governments of many different complexions, this idea has been central to how democratic politics is supposed to work. When things go wrong, the minister is accountable to parliament and must answer to the public for his department’s failings. When things go badly wrong, the minister resigns. Ministerial responsibility is at the core of the compact between government, parliament and public. Bronwen Maddox, the director of the Institute for Government, has it right when she says: “Unless there are consequences for ministers of the decisions that are their responsibility, the UK’s principles of democratic accountability will become meaningless.”

Privately, BoJo's crew boasts that they are tearing up the rule book on governing:

When searching for somewhere else to throw the blame, their first choice is civil servants, who make convenient targets because they are not supposed to answer back. So out goes Sally Collier, chief executive of Ofqual, the regulator, over the grading fiasco. Following her overboard goes Jonathan Slater, the permanent secretary at the Department for Education, who was sacked in a fashion brutal even by the standards of the current regime. Mr Williamson, meantime, stumbles on towards his next appointment with calamity in an apparent determination to make Chris Grayling feel a bit better about his time in government.
In an even darker part of the forest, there is a manifest effort to manipulate inquiries into the handling of the coronavirus crisis by shifting culpability from the prime minister and his lieutenants. Sir Mark Sedwill was effectively fired as cabinet secretary in June after anonymous briefings to Number 10-friendly media designed to depict him as bearing prime responsibility for the numerous failures to get a grip on the emergency. Public Health England, which is to be scrapped before there is any full accounting of who was responsible for which errors, is also being cast as a scapegoat.

It is axiomatic that a government takes on the personality of the person in charge:

The character of government is shaped by the personality of the person at the top. When he was US president, Harry Truman had a sign on his Oval Office desk that was inscribed: “The buck stops here.” If Boris Johnson had a sign, it would read: “Not me, guv.” Anyone familiar with his biography knows that he does not feel constrained by conventional norms of behaviour and nor will he willingly shoulder responsibility for his bad choices. His career is potholed with scandals, mendacities and betrayals of trust. Having got to the pinnacle of the greasy pole all the same, he has concluded that, providing your skin is thick enough and your reserves of shamelessness are deep enough, there is no scandal so enormous or blunder so titanic that it cannot be brazened out. 

Does that remind you of anyone else who is in the news daily?


Sunday, August 30, 2020


Donald Trump claims he represents law and order in the United States. That claim, of course, is as bogus as his claim that he founded and ran a university. Trump revels in breaking the law. The latest example of that is his campaign's use of Leonard Cohen's song "Hallelujah" at the Republican convention. David Friend reports that:

Michelle Rice, a lawyer for Cohen's estate, says the Republican party made a "rather brazen attempt to politicize and exploit" the Montreal poet laureate's iconic song after being explicitly told they didn't have the blessing of the rights holders.

"We are surprised and dismayed that the RNC would proceed knowing that the Cohen Estate had specifically declined the RNC's use request," Rice said on behalf of the estate.

"We are exploring our legal options."

A representative for Cohen's publishing company, Sony/TV Music Publishing, issued a statement saying it too had declined permission to use the song at the RNC.

A recording of the track, performed by singer Tori Kelly, played over the fireworks display after U.S. President Donald Trump's acceptance speech for the Republican nomination. American tenor Christopher Macchio sang an operatic version live from the White House shortly afterward.

Trump appears to have an affinity for the work of Canadian musicians. But they have no affinity for him:

Neil Young sued Trump's campaign earlier this month after numerous requests to stop playing his songs at rallies were ignored, while The Rolling Stones and Tom Petty's estate are among others who have filed cease and desist orders for unauthorized use of their music.

However, Cohen's estate suggested that they might allow Trump to use another of Cohen's songs: "You Want It Darker." I suspect, even if that happened -- and you listened carefully -- you would hear a gravelly wail from Cohen's grave on the northern slope of Mount Royal.

Image: National Newswatch

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Will it Work?

The Republican convention is over. And it was a Trumpian freak show from start to finish. Trump as usual used public resources for his own benefit. Ruth Marcus writes:

The gross misuse of public resources — more than that, of public symbols and presidential authority — was beyond imagining. Trump turned core executive powers into made-for-television, partisan spectacles. He commandeered newly minted citizens in a naturalization ceremony that belied the anti-immigrant fever central to his presidency.

Having spent his tenure debasing the power of clemency to reward political allies, he turned it into reality TV, once again helping himself rather than dispensing justice. By the time the fireworks ignited over the Washington Monument, spelling out “Trump” and “2020,” the death of outrage was complete.

And the chest-thumping must have produced a lot of migraines:

“The greatest economy in history”; “I say very modestly I have done more for the African American community than any president since Abraham Lincoln” — and his allies’ smears against the Democratic nominee. Those whizzed by too fast to digest, which was also by design. (One remark by one surrogate stands out for its calumny: former Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz, slandering Joe Biden as a “Catholic in name only,” a slur so outrageous that Notre Dame’s president was moved to rebuke Holtz.)

Trump will go down as the greatest liar to occupy the office. And his convention kept pounding on two blatant lies:

Concentrate, instead, on two areas of core misdirection: that Trump has handled the coronavirus pandemic brilliantly, and that Biden is a scary socialist. For all the convention’s flagrant disregard of public health guidelines, its speakers were even more flagrant in ignoring the extent and damage of the pandemic (economic adviser Larry Kudlow spoke of it in the past tense, on a day when 1,152 additional deaths were reported) and in praising the president’s supposedly effective handling of a virus whose danger he diminished and whose spread he permitted to flourish.

Trump, of course, outdoes all the rest. “To save as many lives as possible, we are focusing on the science, the facts and the data,” he proclaimed Thursday night — this on a day when his administration was forced to backtrack on its advice against testing for those exposed to covid-19 and not showing symptoms.

And then there was the sliming of Biden. “The hard truth is, you won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America,” Vice President Pence warned on Wednesday — and then Trump took it up a notch.

The typical approach, especially for an incumbent president, is to rise above, to speak blandly of “my opponent” without deigning to name names. In acceptance speeches dating back to Richard Nixon, the eight incumbent presidents combined to mention their opponents by name only a dozen or so times, often with a measure of graciousness. Biden didn’t utter Trump’s name once during his speech; Trump named-checked him 40 times, as a weak-willed, job-destroying, tax-hiking, China-cosseting, police-hating radical.

“Biden is a Trojan horse for socialism,” Trump warned.

That this bears no resemblance to the actual Biden, to his lengthy record or his current platform, is of no import to Trump or his supporters.

Trump has made a fortune selling horse manure. I'm being polite. The question remains: Will it work?

Image: twitter

Friday, August 28, 2020

Try As He Might

Erin O'Toole has won the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada. But, to achieve that victory, he tied his fortunes to the party's social conservatives. Alan Freeman writes:

In the 2017 Tory leadership race, O’Toole ran as a moderate against a pretty right-wing roster of candidates. He came in third. Scheer won by hoovering up social conservative votes and capturing support in Quebec by promising to defend supply management for dairy farmers. Realizing that being a moderate wasn’t going to work in 2020 against the equally moderate MacKay, O’Toole took on a harsher, more belligerent tone to appeal to the party’s right.

So the one-time moderate became a right-wing attack dog pledging to fight the “liberal left” and “cancel culture,” language he seems to have learned after watching a bit too much Fox News. And O’Toole vowed to “Take back Canada,” unsubtly borrowing from Boris Johnson’s successful and xenophobic-tinged “Take Back Control” slogan in the 2016 Brexit referendum.

Though O’Toole comes from Ontario, he decided to go after the Alberta vote big time, and succeeded in landing Premier Jason Kenney’s endorsement. To do so, he went all out for the oilsands by promising to: get rid of carbon taxes, overturn the federal B.C. north coast tanker ban, make it easier to build pipelines, and give Alberta billions in equalization payments.

At a time when Alberta’s economy is in free fall and the need for massive diversification away from fossil fuels is imperative, O’Toole came up with the extraordinary statement that “My province needs to understand that Alberta’s issues are national issues.” How about a national politician who speaks the truth to Alberta about its need to prepare for a post-carbon world?

O’Toole also won because he understood the Conservatives’ weird voting system, which gave major weight to Quebec ridings where Conservatives are about as plentiful as unilingual anglophone monarchists. Allying himself with Quebec gun-rights activists, the O’Toole campaign swept many of these constituencies, helping to secure his victory.

There has never been anything moderate about The Harper Party. Despite their name, they are still Stephen Harper's Party. Like any good politician, O'Toole realized that presenting himself as a moderate in The Harper Party was a losing proposition. So he veered strongly to the right.

The downside of that strategy is that, try as he might, he won't be able to put lipstick on this pig.


Thursday, August 27, 2020

They'll Huff and They'll Puff

It was a rough night in Louisiana -- or as they say down there -- "Looziana." Hurricane Laura rolled in in the wee small hours of the morning. The National Hurricane Centre warned that Laura was "unsurvivable" and "castastrophic." But Donald Trump's party went on. And once again, Dana Milbank writes, he is a man without a plan:

He didn’t create the coronavirus, but he made its impact on the United States worse than in any other country because he had no plan to combat it. More than six months after the virus surfaced, he said his administration was “in the process of developing a strategy” to fight it.

He didn’t cause the economic collapse, but he worsened it because he didn’t have a long-term plan to soften the blow. Congressional Democrats offered him an election-year gift of a multitrillion-dollar stimulus package, but he walked away because Republicans thought it too generous. Now millions of unemployed Americans are seeing government help evaporate.

He didn’t invent police brutality, but he worsened tensions because he didn’t have a plan (or a desire) to fix racism in policing. Instead he demonized racial-justice demonstrators, sent in federal police who inflamed violence and, at this week’s convention, glorified gunmen who confronted demonstrators. The deadly scene this week in Kenosha, Wis., is the latest byproduct of the escalation.

Trump didn’t cause Hurricane Laura, but the storm highlights his lack of a plan to lessen climate change, to diversify the nation’s energy supply (major oil and gas facilities are in Laura’s crosshairs) or to prepare a muscular government response.

The evidence of what Trump called "American Carnage" is everywhere. And he is its cause. The only way to remedy the situation is for American voters to become the Big Bad Wolf of the children's fable.

They may not blow his house down. But they must blow him out of the White House.


Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Missing The Boat

Our movers and shakers are panicked about population growth. George Monbiot writes that they don't understand the real problem:

When a major study was published last month, showing that the global population is likely to peak then crash much sooner than most scientists had assumed, I naively imagined that people in rich nations would at last stop blaming all the world’s environmental problems on population growth. I was wrong. If anything, it appears to have got worse.

Overpopulation is concentrated in the poorest parts of the world:

Population growth is overwhelmingly concentrated among the world’s poorest people . . . . The extra resource use and greenhouse gas emissions caused by a rising human population are a tiny fraction of the impact of consumption growth.

Overconsumption is the real problem.  And, historically, scolding the poor for overpopulation has led to racism:

The excessive emphasis on population growth has a grim history. Since the clergymen Joseph Townsend and Thomas Malthus wrote their tracts in the 18th century, poverty and hunger have been blamed not on starvation wages, war, misrule and wealth extraction by the rich, but on the reproduction rates of the poor. Winston Churchill blamed the Bengal famine of 1943, that he helped to cause through the mass export of India’s rice, on the Indians “breeding like rabbits”. In 2013 Sir David Attenborough, also a patron of Population Matters, wrongly blamed famines in Ethiopia on “too many people for too little land”, and suggested that sending food aid was counter-productive.

Most of the world’s population growth is happening in the poorest countries, where most people are black or brown. The colonial powers justified their atrocities by fomenting a moral panic about “barbaric”, “degenerate” people “outbreeding” the “superior races”. These claims have been revived today by the far right, who promote conspiracy theories about “white replacement” and “white genocide”. When affluent white people wrongly transfer the blame for their environmental impacts on to the birthrate of much poorer brown and black people, their finger-pointing reinforces these narratives. It is inherently racist.

That narrative continues today in the worldwide backlash against immigrants. If we truly want to solve the overpopulation problem, Monbiot writes, we should focus on the emancipation of women:

We know that the strongest determinant of falling birth rates is female emancipation and education. The major obstacle to female empowerment is extreme poverty. Its effect is felt disproportionately by women.

And, as poverty decreases around the world, so will population:

A good way of deciding whether someone’s population concerns are genuine is to look at their record of campaigning against structural poverty. Have they contested the impossible debts poor nations are required to pay? Have they argued against corporate tax avoidance, or extractive industries that drain wealth from poorer countries, leaving almost nothing behind, or the financial sector in Britain’s processing of money stolen abroad? Or have they simply sat and watched as people remain locked in poverty, then complained about their fertility?

If we blame the poor, we miss the boat. We should be blaming ourselves.


Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Simple and Crass

The Republicans have decided that they don't need a platform. What they will run on, Dana Milbank writes, was on full display last night -- fear:

The Republican National Convention on its opening day was as uplifting as the apocalypse, as positive as perdition.

The woke-topians,” Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) warned, “will disarm you, empty the prisons, lock you in your home and invite MS-13 to live next door, and the police aren’t coming when you call.”

Kimberly Guilfoyle, the former Fox News personality and current girlfriend of Donald Trump Jr., informed the convention that Democrats “want to destroy this country and everything that we have fought for and hold dear. They want to steal your liberty, your freedom. They want to control what you see and think and believe so that they can control how you live. They want to enslave you to the weak, dependent, liberal victim ideology, to the point that you will not recognize this country or yourself.”

Midway through this rage-fest, the convention went to news footage of violence and destruction in the streets and bleeped-out obscenities — then cut to the wood-paneled interior of the mansion of Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the St. Louis couple who were charged with firearms violations after they threatened racial-justice demonstrators with a pistol and military-style weapon.

The pair, personal injury lawyers both, spoke about the “out-of-control mob” and the “Marxist liberal activist” and “radicals” who menaced them by walking past their house — which “could just as easily happen to any of you who are watching from quiet neighborhoods around our country.”

“They’re not satisfied with spreading the chaos and violence into our communities. They want to abolish the suburbs altogether,” the McCloskeys declared. “Make no mistake, no matter where you live, your family will not be safe in the radical Democrats’ America.”

That's the message: Your family won't be safe if you elect the Democrats. Simple and utterly crass -- like the man who is currently president.


Monday, August 24, 2020

Fires In His Own House

So it's Erin O'Toole. The pundits are surprised -- and so is Peter Mackay. Now that analysts are beginning to sort through the votes, it appears that the party's social conseratives put O'Toole over the top. Katy O'Malley reports that:

In the end, very little about the last few hours of the Conservative leadership race turned out as expected, from the unforeseen mechanical glitches in the vote-counting process that pushed the promised reveal of the results until just before midnight to the grand finale, which gave veteran Ontario MP Erin O’Toole a decisive victory over presumptive favourite Peter MacKay after successfully securing the second and third-choice support from the other two candidates on the ranked ballot, rookie MP Derek Sloan, who was eliminated after the opening round, and Toronto-area lawyer Leslyn Lewis.

It’s worth noting that, despite coming in third on the official party scoreboard, Lewis actually won more votes than either of her two competitors in the second round, but was dropped from the ballot due to the point system, which assigns 100 points to each riding.

Judging from the final tally, it would appear that a critical mass of her supporters ultimately wound up backing O’Toole over MacKay on the third — and last — go-round.

So while the party has moved to the geographical centre of the country -- Peter Mackay has been practising law in Toronto for the last five years -- policy-wise, the party is moving to the right. 

Rather than moving to the centre, conservative parties around the world are moving further right. Canadian conservatives have hopped on that bandwagon. It's an open question whether or not Canadians themselves are moving in that direction.

And O'Toole faces another problem. Stephen Harper's party has been a western-based party. It's no accident that the Wexit folks have risen in rebellion. O'Toole would dearly love to take down Justin Trudeau. But, for the present, he'll have to put out some fires in his own house.


Sunday, August 23, 2020

Maryanne's Tale


CNN  and The Washington Post have obtained copies of conversations Mary Trump had with her aunt, retired judge Maryanne Trump Barry. The judge appears to know her brother well:

Maryanne Trump Barry bitterly criticized her brother, President Donald Trump, saying, "Donald's out for Donald," and appeared to confirm her niece Mary Trump's previous allegations that he had a friend take his SATs to get into college, according to audio excerpts obtained by CNN.

The Washington Post first obtained the previously unreleased transcripts and audio from Mary Trump, author of a recent bombshell book about the President and one of his most outspoken critics. Mary Trump, who has said that Donald Trump is unfit to be president and has voiced support for his rival Joe Biden, revealed to the Post that she had secretly taped 15 hours of face-to-face conversations with Barry in 2018 and 2019.

Among the some of the more critical comments made by Barry was commenting on how her younger 74-year-old brother operated as president. "His goddamned tweet and lying, oh my God," she said, according to the recording. "I'm talking too freely, but you know. The change of stories. The lack of preparation. The lying. Holy shit."

Barry also said at one point to her niece, "It's the phoniness of it all. It's the phoniness and this cruelty. Donald is cruel," according to the audio scripts and recordings.

Perhaps the most revealing part of the newly released audio is a conversation Barry reportedly had with her niece on Nov. 1, 2018, that seems to be the impetus for the allegation that Trump paid someone to take his SATs, which was one of the most publicized allegations in Mary Trump's book "Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created The World's Most Dangerous Man," according to the Post.

According to the Post, the conversation went like this, Barry said to Mary: "He went to Fordham for one year [actually two years] and then he got into University of Pennsylvania because he had somebody take the exams." "No way!" Mary responded. "He had somebody take his entrance exams?"

Barry then replied, "SATs or whatever. . . . That's what I believe," before saying, "I even remember the name." That person was Joe Shapiro," Barry said.

 Should anyone be surprised ? Quelle famille!


Saturday, August 22, 2020

Tightrope Walk

Justin Trudeau has been walking a tightrope lately, Michael Harris writes. His gymnastics were triggered by the resignation of Bill Morneau:

Morneau’s demise triggered a chain of events that prompted the prime minister to take the greatest chance of his political career — the decision to prorogue Parliament with the wolf pack closing in on his alleged ethical shortcomings once again.

That move brought Parliament’s work to a grinding halt, including investigations by parliamentary committees delving into the WE charity affair. Apart from throwing a histrionic hissy fit at press conferences, as the Conservatives’ Pierre Poilievre did this week, MPs won’t get a chance to call new witnesses before their committees until after a new speech from the throne.

The Conservatives -- particularly Pierre Poilivre -- are furious. But Harris thinks that Trudeau just might get away with it:

The PM bought himself time to craft a new legislative agenda laying out how he plans to restart the economy. Judging from the massive amounts of money already spent on supporting millions of Canadians through the pandemic, it will be a dramatic agenda.

The government is hoping that hitting the reset button will make such a splash that only parliamentary nitpickers will continue to gripe about a dubious program that managed to last all of one week, and has already claimed the finance minister.

The prorogation will be short. And it will end with a Speech from the Thone. Will there be a snap election?

The PM is betting that no political party, with the exception of the Bloc Québécois, will be anxious to trigger an election. He is probably right.

The Conservatives need time to establish the fact that there is a new marshal in town. Going into an election with a leader just over a month on the job would be dicey.

Where would the policy come from? Where would the money come from? Where would the candidates come from? And how would Canadians feel about an election foisted on them during a pandemic? (We will soon see, as New Brunswick heads to the polls in September after its minority government couldn’t work a deal with the opposition.)

As for the NDP, the financial cupboard is bare. Besides, Jagmeet Singh has a chance to use the Trudeau government’s vulnerability to negotiate progressive policies as the price of his support. Things like child care, where he has already gotten $2 billion out of the government, and pharmacare.

As for the Greens, the party is in the middle of a leadership battle and might not even have a new leader if the government were to fall in September.

It's the kind of thing that Trudeau the Elder would do. And it's the kind of thing that Mackenzie King did frequently.

Image: the

Friday, August 21, 2020

Laughing All The Way To The Bank


Steve Bannon has been arrested and charged with fraud. Michelle Goldberg writes:

According to a federal indictment, Bannon, along with his associates Brian Kolfage, Andrew Badolato and Timothy Shea, ran a crowdfunding campaign, We Build the Wall, ostensibly to help fund Trump’s promised southern border barrier. The project became, said prosecutors, a source of illicit personal enrichment.

We Build the Wall was run as a nonprofit, and assured donors that “100 percent of funds raised” would go toward wall construction. Some donors, said the indictment, wrote to Kolfage that “they did not have a lot of money and were skeptical of online fund-raising campaigns,” but they were “giving what they could” because they trusted his promises.

According to the indictment, Bannon used a separate nonprofit to siphon off over $1 million, some of which was used to pay Kolfage, who also received money through a shell company set up by Shea.

Among other things, the indictment says, Kolfage used the funds to pay for “home renovations, payments towards a boat, a luxury S.U.V., a golf cart, jewelry, cosmetic surgery, personal tax payments and credit card debt.” (He seems to have used the boat, called the Warfighter, to sail in one of Trump’s beloved boat parades.)

Donald Trump Jr. lavished praise on Bannon and his associates: 

“This is private enterprise at its finest. Doing it better, faster, cheaper than anything else, and what you guys are doing is pretty amazing.”

Maybe Trump Jr. was a sucker who believed this, or maybe he just didn’t care. The truth is that We Build the Wall is what Trumpist private enterprise looks like — a gaudy scam that monetizes grievance.

That's what Trumpworld is all about -- monetizing grievance. Trump and his associates leave the poor worse off than when they found them. And they laugh all the way to the bank.

Image: Fox News

Thursday, August 20, 2020

The New Democrats' Moment

 The NDP, Linda McQuaig writes, is sitting in the catbird seat:

Trudeau’s prorogation seems to be a self-centred attempt to avoid further parliamentary scrutiny over WE. Still, the PM’s suddenly shaky fortune could be turned to good use, if the NDP uses its leverage to compel the minority Liberals to be as progressive as they like to portray themselves to an increasingly progressive Canadian public.

The NDP could follow in the footsteps of its feisty, one-time leader David Lewis, who in the 1970s successfully coerced Pierre Trudeau’s minority Liberals, pushing them to create a national, publicly owned oil company (Petro-Canada, unfortunately later privatized), more generous public pensions and election finance legislation aimed at curbing the political clout of the wealthy.

Today’s situation — with the pandemic worsening Canada’s already extreme inequality — cries out more than ever for bold, progressive action.

The usual resistance has surfaced:

The C.D. Howe Institute, representing Bay Street, has begun pushing for the reduction of Canada’s pandemic-related debt, while making clear that such debt reduction must not include higher taxes on the rich (even though that’s where all the money is).

But, in the United States, things are moving in the opposite direction:

Yet, with Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders likely to be prominent in a Joe Biden administration, wealth taxes could well be on the government agenda, moving the U.S. tax system closer to the fairer one designed by Franklin Roosevelt. It is a system Canada copied, with great results, until the 1980s.

Furthermore, even moderate Joe Biden has embraced a Green New Deal, a massive government-led effort to transition away from fossil fuels and create a national clean-energy infrastructure, creating millions of jobs in the process.

And, make no mistake, there is similar movement here:

An Abacus poll last year found that 67 per cent of Canadians supported a wealth tax — and that’s before the pandemic drastically reduced the incomes of our most vulnerable workers. Meanwhile, the stock market soars, making a mockery of the refrain “we’re all in this together.” Depends on what you mean by together.

Trudeau has read the signs. But he's going to need a kick in the pants to get him to move. That's where the NDP comes in:

If the NDP could push Trudeau to embrace a Canadian Green New Deal, it could be an inspiring counterpoint to calls for austerity from Bay Street and Conservatives. With borrowing costs near zero, Ottawa could invest massively, as it did during the war, again fighting a crucial battle, putting Canadians to work, and growing our way out of debt.

The opportunity is clearly there. Whether we will seize it or not is the open question.


Wednesday, August 19, 2020

It Just Might Work

If you want to know what kind of finance minister Chrystia Freeland will be, Tim Harper suggests that you take a look at her book, Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else:

Chrystia Freeland’s deep dive into the workings of the richest of the rich was a noteworthy work by a globe-trotting financial journalist. It avoided beating the super-elite over the head with a Pierre Poilievre-style club, but picked apart the dangers for society as a whole as the super rich pull further away from the rest of us.

In the “Plutocrat” era of a decade ago, Freeland spoke of recovery from the 2008 collapse as a recovery of the one per cent. She spoke of the need for a new deal to guard against the stalling of social mobility, in which the space between the rungs at the top and the bottom get bigger and it becomes harder for the rest of us to climb.

Twelve years removed from that crisis, Freeland assumes the government’s top portfolio amidst a recession driven by a global pandemic, and the “Plutocrat” challenges are more acute. Trudeau spoke of a recovery that includes women, youth, racialized and Indigenous Canadians who have been hurt most, but he also spoke of the pandemic as an opportunity to be bold. He spoke of giving everyone a chance, not just the one per cent.

It's clear that Trudeau intends to move his government to the left -- and he's daring the opposition parties to take him down. He has prorogued parliament and some will say he's showing ethical cowardice. That will be the criticism from the Conservatives and the Bloc. But Andrew Scheer continues to sound like a high school student who is miffed because he lost a student council election. And Yves-Francois Blanchet keeps sounding like a grumpy grandfather on his front porch.

Trudeau says he's doing a reset -- and he intends to make the NDP and Green Party players. His plans could all come crashing down with a non-confidence vote. And a national election during a pandemic would be a whole new ballgame.

On the other hand, it just might work.

Image: St Catherines Standard

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

For The Foreseeable Future


Bill Morneau is gone. What are we to make of it? Aaron Wherry writes that it's hard to work your way through the weeds:

Whenever something interesting happens around Parliament Hill, it is tempting to imagine that the participants are playing three-dimensional chess — maybe the purported differences over policy were just a cover story for the fact that it's really about WE; maybe this is all meant to distract from Trudeau's own problems —  but that sometimes assumes a degree of cunning that is not otherwise in evidence.

There were several leaks leading up to Morneau's resignation:

First, "insiders" told the Globe and Mail that Morneau was on thin ice, in part because of "clashes" with the prime minister. Trudeau took the extraordinary step of expressing his full confidence in Morneau, but then, a few days later, Bloomberg published its own report of differences, including an anonymous claim that Morneau was too "orthodox" in his view of fiscal discipline. On Sunday, Reuters took a turn, with unnamed sources suggesting that Morneau was offside on the issue of a "green" recovery.

It is difficult to know exactly where these stories originated. It might be easy to imagine these whispers were part of an officially orchestrated campaign to push Morneau out, but it's not necessarily clear why the prime minister or his office would've needed or wanted to go to such lengths.

Those leaks are a problem. And Gerald Butts, Trudeau's former head at the PMO, reminded Liberals that they are dangerous:

"Liberals are more lethal to Liberals than are any competing partisans. Canadians have little patience for this stuff in the best of times, and these are not those," Gerald Butts, Trudeau's former advisor, tweeted on Monday, before it was clear that Morneau was heading for the exit. "Friendly advice to former colleagues: knock it off, unless you miss losing."

It was a messy exit in difficult times. And whoever takes Moreau's place -- short term or long term -- needs to remember that we will be living through difficult times for the foreseeable future.


Monday, August 17, 2020

The Same Things

If you want to know why the United States is such a screwed up country, William Cooper writes, don't blame the politicians. Blame the people who put them there:

Data from Google Trends — the search giant’s tool for tracking and analyzing Google’s search statistics — shows that Americans have a stunning indifference to public policy and, at the same time, a gross infatuation with triviality. It’s no surprise, then, that our elected officials are frequently incompetent and our governance often poor.

Consider a few examples:

Take, first, a comparison between Americans’ interest in the multi-trillion dollar federal budget and in reality television. The United States budget reflects our national values and measures our global impact. Given its size and scope, the budget materially alters billions of lives both at home and abroad.

Google Trends shows, however, that Americans care far more about the inconsequential happenings of strangers than they do about how our trillions are deployed. There is, for example, tremendously more interest in the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills than in the Office of Management and Budget, the executive agency that oversees budgetary spending – peaking at over ten times the interest when the housewife drama gets juicy.

Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — a key player in the government’s fiscal response to the coronavirus — gets unceremoniously brushed aside when The Bachelorette is in season — typically peaking at roughly 25-50 times more interest in The Bachelorette.

A second example of the staggering disconnect between what Americans are interested in and what matters is a comparison between the Kardashian family (Kim, Kylie, Kanye and the gang) and Africa (the entire continent). Despite making great progress in recent decades, Africa continues to have widespread and profound challenges including preventable hunger, economic distress, and child mortality.

Yet Americans care far more about the Kardashians than all of the countries in Africa.

Additional examples abound. There’s Meghan Markel (the wife of England’s Prince Harry) versus Boris Johnson (the country’s prime minister). Justin Smollett (at the peak of the previously little-known actor’s fake-battery scandal) versus China (yes, China). Deflategate (Tom Brady’s deflated-football controversy) versus the Federal Reserve (yes, the Fed).

So is it any wonder that a reality TV star is president? Americans focus -- or don't focus -- on the same things Donald Trump does.


Sunday, August 16, 2020

A Life Well Lived

Richard Gwyn has died. I began reading his reporting as a kid, moved to his biographies of Pierre Trudeau and John A. Macdonald and tuned in regularly when he was on television. He represented the best in Canadian journalism. 

He gave up a life of privilege in Britain, Francine Kopun writes, to become an ink-stained wretch in Canada:

Gwyn was born in Bury St. Edmunds, a town northeast of London, on May 26, 1934. His father was Brigadier Philip Jermy-Gwyn, an Indian army officer, according to Robert Lewis’s book “Power, Prime Ministers and the Press.”

Gwyn attended Stonyhurst College, a private Catholic boarding school run by the Jesuits, and then Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.

After Sandhurst, Gwyn embarked on a world tour and landed a radio reporting job in Halifax, followed by a job at United Press International in Ottawa, where he scored a worldwide scoop by reporting that Princess Margaret had asked that John Turner, a 29-year-old Montreal bachelor who went on to become prime minister, be added to the guest list for a ball in her honour.

As well as journalism, Gwyn worked for Eric Kierans, one of Pierre Trudeau's ministers,  a man who was not afraid to take on the boss. Gwyn got to see Ottawa from the inside. That knowledge always made him a reliable source.

His was a life well-lived.

Image: The Toronto Star

Saturday, August 15, 2020

What Are We Going To Do?


The world has changed, Lori Fox writes. And we're not going back to the old one:

The world we knew is gone. 
The life you thought you were going to have is gone.

The lives we all thought we were going to have are gone.

We're still trying to understand what has happened to us:

Since COVID-19 first emerged sometime toward the end of 2019, more than 741,000 people have died and 20 million have been infected, with 121,000 infections in Canada alone. With people locked into their homes, sick or afraid of getting sick, the economy came to a grinding halt, a shockwave of lost jobs and reduced or redistributed consumer spending. Canada lost around two million jobs in April, with the hardest hit – outside of people who were already un- or underemployed – being low-wage workers, of which women and younger people comprise a large portion, groups that were already at an economic disadvantage in the Before.

Those jobs aren’t just going to just magically reappear as we reopen; COVID-19 has reshaped consumer demand and will continue to do so into the future. Many small businesses – restaurants in particular – are permanently closed, and it will take time for something to replace them, if such a thing will even be possible in the near future.

 Maybe that's not a bad thing. However, we need some perspective:

For the working class who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic, discussions around CERB – which some claim is a disincentive for people to return to work – and how some people, particularly millennials, spend that money, only serves to make the deep-seated class divide in this country more apparent. If $2,000 a month – about $12.50 an hour, or around $24,000 a year before taxes for a full-time worker – means that people are making more money than they were before, the problem is not CERB, but that workers are not fairly compensated for their labour with a living wage. Anyone who would weigh in critically on how that money is spent, moreover, should ask themselves if they believe that only the wealthy deserve financial autonomy, and the pleasure and dignity of human comforts, or if CERB is really just a subsidy for landlords.

The curtain has been pulled back on how our society operates:

The destabilizing effect of this pandemic has laid bare the economic inequality on which our society functions. Class disparity, the resistance to universal income, systemic racism, the militarization of the police and the rhetoric of the current political climate are not the result of the pandemic; they are the endgame of capitalism. We’ve merely paused the machine long enough to see them clearly.

So the question remains: What are we going to do about it?

Image: Pinterest

Friday, August 14, 2020

Why The Rush?

In Ontario, there is a rush to get back to school. Bruce Arthur asks, Why the rush?

On Thursday, provincial Education Minister Stephen Lecce delivered yet another version of the school reopening plan. He primarily announced that school boards can now access a total of $500-million in reserve funds to hire extra staff, and to lease space in order to reduce class sizes and ensure social distancing. And there’s a total of $50-million to upgrade HVAC ventilation systems.

Which means three-and-a-half weeks to remake a lot of schools. Lecce first brushed off the idea that school openings could be delayed, though he said he was open to staggered starts over the first week. He said some school boards had already looked at leasing other spaces, and hiring more teachers, or upgrading ventilation systems in buildings that, at last check, were not always easy to upgrade. If you’ve ever seen how long it takes to make a school playground smaller and worse, you might be skeptical.

Evenly applied, $500-million is about $109,000 per each of the 4,600 schools in Ontario, and it will be case by case as to how many teachers, HVAC upgrades, and facility rentals that produces. The Toronto District School Board’s projected cost to create full-time,15-to-20 kid-per-class, enhanced-protocol schools in a prudent manner was at least $20-million.

We know that children do not suffer from COVID as adults do. But we do know they transmit the disease:

The science evolves: children, as it turns out, can get and transmit the virus effectively, even if they mercifully suffer it less, especially under the age of 10. But that means they can infect teachers, staff, parents, caregivers, and their social circles. And yes, Ontario’s community transmission is blessedly low. The point is nobody wants schools, as they have in some jurisdictions, to drive outbreaks.

Meanwhile, parent advocacy groups, Toronto Public Health, Peel Public Health, and the Public Health Agency of Canada suggested smaller class sizes. The Sick Kids reports the province so widely lauded said, “smaller class sizes should be a priority strategy as it will aid physical distancing and reduce potential spread from any index case,” which the province ignored before the CEO of Sick Kids reiterated it.

And Dr. Michael Warner, an infectious disease specialist and Toronto's Michael Garron Hospital says, “The plan cannot end at the doors of the school. It has to make sure that when people leave the school, communities are protected from the school.”

So why not take the time and money to do it right?


Thursday, August 13, 2020

COVID And Higher Education

Higher Education is facing two unpleasant truths: A university education has become a commodity. And students are no longer buying what universities are selling. Megan McArdle writes:

A pandemic is an essentializing force; it strips away the frosting of rhetoric and habit and forces us to confront bare realities. Nowhere is this more apparent than in higher education, which over the past few decades has been one of two sectors that have just kept increasing their prices, the share of national income and, of course, the share of our attention they claim.

To a large extent, students have become customers. And professors should acknowledge their own role in getting us to that point, because the commodification of higher education is a direct byproduct of the transformation of college into the entrance examination for America’s middle class, something the professoriate has cheered on.

Markets are terrific, and we need them, but we also need institutions that are buffered from them. When those buffers break down, as they have in America’s colleges, dysfunction ensues. University business-think has meant bureaucratic overgrowth and an obsession with useless “metrics” — assessing faculty using student evaluations rather than student learning, goosing “selectivity” by soliciting applications in order to reject them.

And now COVID has broken the model. "Suddenly, the lectures and the homework were the only part schools could still deliver. Yet somehow, few students seem reassured that they’re getting most of what they were paying tuition for."

None of the other stuff students paid for was available -- "residential amenities, sports teams, networking opportunities, career coaching, dating service and so forth." The end result will be that tuition fees will have to go down -- and there will be far fewer professors walking the halls of academe.

In so many ways, the world has changed. Higher Education won't be the same.

Image: The Irish Times

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Kamala Harris

So it's Kamala Harris -- a graduate of Westmount High School -- who is the Democratic vice presidential nominee. She's the future, Frank Bruni writes. And, God knows, Donald Trump and his vice president -- Mike Pence -- are ghosts from the past. The vice presidential debate will be a study in contrasts:

There’s Mike Pence, white of hair as well as cheek, his demeanor more starched than his dress shirt, his smile so tight it’s the twin of a grimace. He represents more than the Trump administration, God help him. He represents an America that’s half memory, half myth.

And there’s Kamala Harris — younger, blacker and more buoyant. She’s only the fourth woman on the presidential ticket of one of the country’s two major political parties and she’s the first woman of color. She represents an America that’s evolving, fitfully, toward equal opportunity and equal justice.

Under her gaze, Pence has to defend a racist, sexist president. As he watches helplessly, Harris gets to talk about how that racism and sexism feel to a Black woman like her. This isn’t any ordinary clash of perspectives and philosophies. It’s an extraordinary collision of life experiences.

Harris can be razor-sharp. But intellectual nuance is not Trump's thing. He won't fight Harris with ideas. He has none. He'll call her names. And she'll  respond:

And oh, can she be nimble and fierce. That’s what Biden learned in that tense primary debate, cheap shot or no cheap shot. That’s what Jeff Sessions, Brett Kavanaugh and William Barr learned when they appeared before Senate committees and endured her grilling.

Pence -- who is afraid to deal with any woman except his wife -- will not have an easy time of it. Neither will Trump.

Image:  The Boston Globe

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

The Mess Biden Will Inherit

Donald Trump encouraged incoming members of his administration to consider his tenure as a TV show   -- a show which has turned out to be about fantasy. Take, for instance, his latest executive orders. Eugene Robinson writes:

The smoke-and-mirrors executive actions Trump signed this weekend are but the latest example. They don’t actually do anything concrete to help the millions of Americans thrown out of work by the pandemic, with the one exception of extending the moratorium on repayment of student loans, which is a good thing. Beyond that, Trump didn’t really forestall an expected wave of evictions; he just mandated a study of the issue. Trump didn’t really extend the $600-a-week federal supplement to unemployment benefits; he cut it to $300 and demanded that the states, which are basically broke, pony up an additional $100.

Behind the smoke and mirrors is carnage. And, if Biden wins, he will inherit that carnage. Most obviously, there is the wreckage of COVID:

Just look at the devastation and disgrace the United States has suffered. Other industrialized nations listened to their medical experts, shut down their economies comprehensively to drive infection rates to near zero, and then cautiously reopened. They have done so in fits and starts, with some setbacks and new closures, but most have been able to keep the virus at bay.

But here, in the nation that Ronald Reagan called a “shining city on a hill,” infection rates in most regions remain out of control. Europe has imposed a travel ban against Americans, who are deemed too likely to spark new outbreaks of disease. The developed world must see us as one of those “shithole countries” that Trump famously disdained.

Then there are the raw racial divisions which Trump has exploited:

Cities across the nation are still rocked by the Black Lives Matter protests over police violence and systemic racism. A police shooting in Chicago — which police have said was return fire toward a protester who shot at officers — sparked widespread damage and looting Sunday along the city’s glittering downtown Magnificent Mile. There were tense weekend protests in flash points such as Portland, Ore., and Louisville, as well as in smaller cities such as Asheville, N.C., and Stamford, Conn.

A president who put the well-being of the nation above politics would have sought to lead and guide the fractious national conversation we are having about race. Instead, Trump has made the moment into a confrontation between advocates of “LAW & ORDER” and demonstrators whom he calls “Marxists” and “anarchists.”

The federal government, through the Justice Department, could be aiding the process of police reform. Instead, through the Department of Homeland Security, it sent unidentified officers in unmarked vans to sweep up protesters in Portland and threatens other cities with similar treatment.

Should Joe Biden win, he will have to confront cascading crises. He will have his work cut out form him -- because, as Mark Antony said, "the evil men do lives after them."

Image: Pinterest

Monday, August 10, 2020

Throwing It All Away

Tom Friedman writes that recent events in Lebanon provide a stark warning. Things go horribly wrong when everything becomes political. In Lebanon, it's been that way for a long time:

Because of the sectarian nature of Lebanese society, where all the powers of governing, and the spoils of the state, had been constitutionally or informally divided in a very careful balance between different Christian and Muslim sects, everything was indeed political. Every job appointment, every investigation into malfeasance, every government decision to fund this and not that was seen as advantaging one group and disadvantaging another.

It was a system that bought stability in a highly diverse society (between spasms of civil war) — but at the price of constant lack of accountability, corruption, misgovernance and mistrust.

Friedman writes that the United States is going down Lebanon's path:

The United States is becoming like Lebanon and other Middle East countries in two respects. First, our political differences are becoming so deep that our two parties now resemble religious sects in a zero-sum contest for power. They call theirs “Shiites and Sunnis and Maronites” or “Israelis and Palestinians.” We call ours “Democrats and Republicans,” but ours now behave just like rival tribes who believe they must rule or die.

As in the Middle East, so increasingly in America: Everything is now politics — even the climate, even energy, even face masks in a pandemic.

Indeed, we in America are becoming so much like a Middle Eastern country that, while the Lebanese were concluding that the explosion was truly an accident, President Trump was talking like a Beirut militia leader, declaring that it must have been a conspiracy. “It was an attack,” he said his generals had told him. “It was a bomb of some kind.”

The danger of tribalism is that it can kill a democracy:

A society, and certainly a democracy, eventually dies when everything becomes politics. Governance gets strangled by it. Indeed, it was reportedly the failure of the corrupt Lebanese courts to act as guardians of the common good and order the removal of the explosives from the port — as the port authorities had requested years ago — that paved the way for the explosion.

“For a healthy politics to flourish it needs reference points outside itself — reference points of truth and a conception of the common good,” explained the Hebrew University religious philosopher Moshe Halbertal. “When everything becomes political, that is the end of politics.”

To put it differently, when everything is politics, it means that everything is just about power. There is no center, there are only sides; there’s no truth, there are only versions; there are no facts, there’s only a contest of wills.

We live in a time where facts increasingly don't matter. It's who wins that matters.

In short, we risk throwing it all away.


Sunday, August 09, 2020

Pretty Ugly


A pandemic, Alan Freeman writes, allows us to see our leaders' true colours:

In the U.S., President Donald Trump downplays the surging death toll of the pandemic, but sees it as a great opportunity to muse about delaying the November election he now seems sure to lose. In the U.K., Prime Minister Boris Johnson uses the pandemic diversion to stuff the House of Lords with his cronies, including his brother, the son of a Russian oligarch and members of the Labour Party who backed Brexit. In Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau figures the pandemic is a great time to give those neat guys at WE Charity a $1-billion contract without bothering to look at alternatives.

Such is also the case with Alberta's premier, Jason Kenney:

This week, it emerged that the government of Jason Kenney had agreed to basically scrap this year’s environmental monitoring of water flowing downstream of the province’s oilsands facilities along the main branch of the Athabasca River. No need for field studies on wetlands, fish or insects. No more pilot project on the risks posed by tailings ponds. No study of water quality in response to concerns about environmental degradation at Wood Buffalo National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Kenney's decision will make Alberta's oilmen happy. But it's not good news for the other inhabitants of the planet. And it's part of a pattern:

In the spring, Alberta’s energy regulator suspended environmental reporting requirements for the oilsands producers. Requirements to monitor ground and surface water were gone. Testing for methane was suspended. Air quality testing was reduced. A spokesman said the suspensions are likely to stay in place as long as COVID-19-related rules are around.

Interesting that this is the same province that tripped over itself to make sure that its beef-processing plants kept operating, even in the wake of a massive outbreak of COVID-19 among workers at Cargill. Yet these same geniuses somehow couldn’t figure out a way to make water-quality testing safe on a remote northern river. Are they afraid of catching the coronavirus from a duck?

In addition to shutting down environmental monitoring of the oilsands, with Ottawa’s approval, the Kenney government has also decided to revive another dinosaur industry — coal mining. In June, decades-old protections that stopped open-pit mines in parts of the Rocky Mountains and the foothills were rescinded, causing consternation among Albertans anxious to protect the environment. Kenney is also effectively banking on Trump’s re-election as he pours billions into the Keystone XL pipeline that Joe Biden has vowed to stop.

Kenney is hellbent on exploiting the oilsands. But he's moving in the wrong direction:

Last month, Total, the French oil company, dramatically announced plans to write off US$7 billion worth of Alberta oilsands investments, saying they were “stranded assets” with no future because of global carbon-reduction targets and high production costs. Total joined a long list of international investors, including Deutsche Bank, HSBC and BlackRock that have blacklisted the oilsands.

Instead of regretting the decision and explaining what the province is doing to make the sector more climate-friendly, Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage decided to lash out, calling Total’s decision “highly hypocritical.” She then went on to make the gobsmacking argument that international energy firms should actually increase their investments in Alberta, rather than pull out. That’s because Alberta is an ethical democracy and “a stable, reliable supply of energy,” she argued, noting that Total was still investing in Myanmar, Nigeria and Russia, presumably a bad idea because of their poor human rights records.

In most cases, when a leader reveals his or her true colours, those colours look pretty ugly.

Image: Al-Qualem

Saturday, August 08, 2020

A Great Time For Big Money

It's only taken twelve months. But, Jonathan Freedland writes, Boris Johnson is drowning in sleaze. Take the most recent example:

This week came word of at least £156m of taxpayers’ money wasted on 50 million face masks deemed unsuitable for the NHS. They were bought from a private equity firm through a company that had no track record of producing personal protective equipment – or indeed anything for that matter – and that had a share capital of just £100. But this company, Prospermill, had a crucial asset. It was co-owned by one Andrew Mills, adviser to the government, staunch Brexiteer and cheerleader for international trade secretary, Liz Truss.

Somehow Prospermill managed to persuade the government to part with £252m, boasting that it had secured exclusive rights over a PPE factory in China. Just one problem. The masks it produced use ear loops, when only masks tied at the head are judged by the government to be suitable for NHS staff. If the government wanted to spend £156m on masks for the nation’s kids to play doctors and nurses, this was a great deal. But in the fight against a pandemic, it was useless.

And then there was this incident:

This week the housing secretary Robert Jenrick was asked about his encounter with Richard Desmond at a Tory fundraising dinner last November, at which Desmond showed the cabinet minister a video of the housing development he wanted to build. Jenrick said he wished he “hadn’t been sat next to a developer at an event and I regret sharing text messages with him afterwards”, which rather glossed over the key fact: namely, that Jenrick promptly rushed through a decision on the project, the speed of which allowed Desmond’s company to avoid paying roughly £40m in tax to the local council. That move was later designated “unlawful”, and Jenrick was forced to overturn his decision.

It would be nice to think that episode was a one-off, but it’s hard to do so when developers have given £11m in donations to the Conservatives since Johnson arrived in Downing Street just one year ago.

Big Money has found its way into the inner sanctum of the Johnson government: 

A political consultancy firm with strong ties to both [Dominic] Cummings and Michael Gove managed to win an £840,000 contract without any open tendering process at all. Public First is a small research company, but it is run by James Frayn, an anti-EU comrade of Cummings going back two decades, and his wife Rachel Wolf, the former Gove adviser who co-wrote the Tory manifesto for last year’s election. The government says it could skip the competitive tendering stage because emergency regulations applied, thanks to Covid. Except the government itself recorded some of Public First’s work as related to Brexit (it now says this was an accounting anomaly and that all the work related to the pandemic).

This kind of political corruption is everywhere -- here, south of the border, and in the UK. It's a great time for Big Money.


Friday, August 07, 2020

Donald Is A Dork

Paul Krugman writes that, if there is an axiom that applies in Trumpworld, it's this: Take whatever Trump says and expect the opposite to happen. Three months ago, Donald signed onto a new NAFTA. Yesterday, he reimposed tariffs on Canadian aluminum. By now, such behaviour should surprise no one. But the consequences of that behaviour are catastrophic:

On Friday, we’ll get an official employment report for July. But a variety of private indicators, like the monthly report from the data-processing firm ADP, already suggest that the rapid employment gains of May and June were a dead-cat bounce and that job growth has at best slowed to a crawl.

ADP’s number was at least positive — some other indicators suggest that employment is actually falling. But even if the small reported job gains were right, at this rate we won’t be back to precoronavirus employment until … 2027.

Trump takes joy in inflicting pain; and this pain is going to last a long time. But, what is worse, his Republican enablers are going to make things truly tragic:

I’m not sure how many people realize just how much deeper the coronavirus recession of 2020 could have been. Obviously, it was terrible: Employment plunged, and real G.D.P. fell by around 10 percent. Almost all of that, however, reflected the direct effects of the pandemic, which forced much of the economy into lockdown.

What didn’t happen was a major second round of job losses driven by plunging consumer demand. Millions of workers lost their regular incomes; without federal aid, they would have been forced to slash spending, causing millions more to lose their jobs. Luckily Congress stepped up to the plate with special aid to the unemployed, which sustained consumer spending and kept the nonquarantined parts of the economy afloat.

Now that aid has expired. Democrats offered a plan months ago to maintain benefits, but Republicans can’t even agree among themselves on a counteroffer. Even if an agreement is hammered out — and there’s no sign that this is imminent — it will be weeks before the money is flowing again.

The suffering among cut-off families will be immense, but there will also be broad damage to the economy as a whole. How big will this damage be? I’ve been doing the math, and it’s terrifying.

Unlike affluent Americans, the mostly low-wage workers whose benefits have just been terminated can’t blunt the impact by drawing on savings or borrowing against assets. So their spending will fall by a lot. Evidence on the initial effects of emergency aid suggests that the end of benefits will push overall consumer spending — the main driver of the economy — down by more than 4 percent.

Furthermore, evidence from austerity policies a decade ago suggests a substantial “multiplier” effect, as spending cuts lead to falling incomes, leading to further spending cuts.

Put it all together and the expiration of emergency aid could produce a 4 percent to 5 percent fall in G.D.P. But wait, there’s more. States and cities are in dire straits and are already planning harsh spending cuts; but Republicans refuse to provide aid, with Trump insisting, falsely, that local fiscal crises have nothing to do with Covid-19.

The conclusion is inescapable. Donald is a dork. After all, the man pronounces "Yosemite," YO-SEM-IIIT. And, clearly, dorkiness is a virus. Certainly, the Republicans have no herd immunity.

Image: The HyperTexts

Thursday, August 06, 2020

Back To School With Doug

This week Doug Ford revealed his back to school plan. He's not getting high marks. Bruce Arthur writes:

The safe care of our children is a fundamental social compact. So many parents have been stretched to breaking while trying to work from home and take care of their children. Society and economies are built around child care. Parents want to send their kids back to school, if it’s safe.

And while children suffer far less from this disease, mercifully, the science is moving towards the conclusion that they have an equal ability to spread it. Which has potential implications for school staff, parents, and the inevitable rings of spreading contagion. And a lot of parents love their kids, and so are anxious.

Unfortunately, Doug Ford is selling this plan with all the reassurance and élan of a bear driving a garbage truck. It’s not great.

“Let’s give this a shot, at least,” said Ford, as part of his daily media address. “We’re going to give it everything we can, and make sure that we move forward, and pray to god that everyone’s safe. That’s what I want. Just the kids to be safe.”

The ugly truth is -- as Dr. Anthony Fauci reminded Americans a few days ago -- this is an experiment. And kids and teachers are the guinea pigs. Even the experts don't know what's going to happen:

“This is what they call a wicked problem,” said Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases specialist at the University of Toronto. “There’s no right answer. We can talk about lower class sizes, we can talk about masks, we can talk about dumping in money, we can talk about policies, but none of it is going to eliminate the risk.

“Even with 15 kids in a class, are you going to be able to enforce physical distancing? Not a chance ... (but) I think there is a lot of attention, rightfully so, on trying to get these class sizes to be smaller, because it probably will help to some extent. Yes, from a strictly epidemiological standpoint, the smaller the ratio, the better. The fewer kids, the better. But the question is, how much more? I don’t know the answer.”

I suspect that, for the foreseeable future, online education will be the norm. But there are lots of kids who won't do well online. Either they don't have the access, the equipment, or the temperament to succeed in the enterprise.

As is the case everywhere, the pandemic has underscored the inequalities that exist in the way we have organized things. And the ones who suffer most are those at the bottom of the ladder.


Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Johnson And Trump

There are many similarities between Boris Johnson and Donald Trump. But they both possess one glaring trait. Each man is singularly ill-equipped to do his job. In the case of Johnson, Rafael Behr writes,

he struggles with the job itself and with the wound to his ego from the discovery that governing is beyond his capabilities. He winces from that injury and tries to mask the strain in public with bluster. The giveaway is how much he relies on assertion that the challenge can be met with a sheer effort of will; how it can be beaten by national grit. “We must keep our discipline, we must be focused and we cannot be complacent,” he said in his most recent televised press conference.
In his head the plural pronoun “we” is a rallying cry, but in fact it is a crutch. He invites us all to carry the burden of responsibility because he is tired of carrying it himself. Evocations of blitz spirit were right for the first phase of the crisis, but events and the public have moved on. “We”, the nation, can exercise discretion and behave responsibly, but we cannot make the hard choices that land on a prime minister’s desk.

The ugly truth is that governing isn't easy:

Government is hard because it consists of constant, agonising judgments – picking between imperfect options, each with undesirable side-effects. Everyone who has reached any position of Westminster seniority, whether as a minister or civil servant, ends up awed by the relentless demand on a prime minister to make those calls. Everyone, that is, except Johnson, who appears to have been taken by surprise.
If it comes down to competing demands of, say, pub versus classroom, Johnson has to lean towards one at the expense or the other. But he has built his career in evasion of trade-offs. His mandate is fashioned from denial that they even exist. He would not be in power without Brexit, and his campaign for that cause was based on assertions of zero downside. His professed doctrine is cakeism (the belief in both having sweet things and eating them); anyone who queries the logic or tabulates the cost of ingredients is dismissed as a nay-saying nincompoop.
Johnson’s ideal communications strategy is not to tell people things they don’t want to hear and, when bad news comes knocking, to hide instead of answering the door. In Downing Street that approach is reinforced by the epic arrogance of his chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, whose working assumption in policymaking is that nearly everyone on the planet is stupider than him.

It's always been dangerous to assume that you're the smartest guy in the room. Because you're not.


Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Canada's Trump

Jason Kenney, Linda McQuaig writes, is the closest thing we have to Donald Trump. He says he's a man of the people. But his policies clearly favour corporations over people:

It's worth examining the fiercely pro-corporate economic model endorsed by Kenney -- a self-styled populist who specializes in stirring up resentment and division -- and see why we should go to great lengths to avoid it in the future.
Of course, we're used to the mantra that the Alberta economy has been a roaring success. True, it's been a "have" province, lecturing the rest of us on how to live within our means -- a task that would have been easier if we'd all been born with abundant quantities of one of the world's most valuable commodities under our soil.
But the real measure of success is what one makes of the hand one is dealt. And, by that measure, Alberta has been a train wreck.
Its political leaders, by allowing corporate interests to design the economy to their own benefit, have squandered the province's vast natural wealth, leaving Alberta's citizens with a mere fraction of what they could be enjoying today, even with the downturn in world oil prices.

Kenney didn't invent the model. Ralph Klein was its patron:

Over the past two decades, more than half a trillion dollars — $528 billion — has been siphoned off by foreign shareholders who have ended up owning every major development in the oilsands, with only two small enterprises under Canadian ownership, according to a new study by University of Alberta political economist Gordon Laxer and Calgary researcher Regan Boychuk.
While the usual narrative has it that oil companies invested billions of dollars of capital to develop the oilsands, in truth, they've done nothing of the sort. All the investment that has gone into the oilsands over the past 23 years has effectively been paid for by the people of Alberta.
"Industry didn't pay those costs. Albertans did," says the report, soon to be released by the University of Alberta's Parkland Institute and the Council of Canadians.
That's because the oil companies have been operating under an extraordinarily generous regime -- paying a mere one per cent royalty, and only after all costs have been deducted.

It didn't use to be that way. Under Peter Lougheed, the rules of engagement were different:

In the 1980s, premier Peter Lougheed had been much tougher on the oil industry, forcing it to pay a royalty of 25 per cent and even creating an energy company owned in part by the public.

Lougheed operated the way Norway has continued to operate:

This annoying little country, also endowed with generous oil reserves and a small population, has shown how to throw a punch when it comes to dealing with Big Oil, ensuring the lion's share of the nation's oil wealth benefits its citizens.
By imposing a tough tax regime on oil companies (which always threaten to depart, but never actually leave the negotiating table) and setting up its own publicly owned oil company (now diversified into wind and solar power), Norway has ended up with a heritage fund worth about $1 trillion more than Alberta's fund.

A word to the wise: If you want to know where The Right is headed in this country, look to Kenney -- and shudder.

Image: The Toronto Star