Saturday, October 31, 2020

It's A Sequence

COVID numbers are spiking around the world. They offer a grim lesson: Opening up too soon is a fool's errand. Yesterday, Doug Ford told his daily news conference:

“I want the health officials to come up with a plan that lets business operate safely, because we don’t know how long this virus will be with us, but my friends, what we do know is together, we’re going to get through this.”

But, Bruce Arthur writes, Ontario is in a tight spot:

Does Ford want to emulate Alberta, which has stuck with many voluntary restrictions as their cases rise, or Manitoba, which waited too long to act and is now in crisis? This sounds like the talk of a province that didn’t invest enough in public health or epidemic response — whose testing system crashed, and where contact tracing has been half-abandoned in Toronto and Ottawa, among other places feeling the strain.

Ford could emulate Donald Trump and claim that he has defeated the virus. But Trump is clearly mad  -- something Doug Ford is not. There is a simple truth about COVID:

The pandemic isn’t a balance beam so much as it’s a sequence: public health, then the economy. 

And, until we truly understand that simple assertive sentence, we'll simply get things wrong. And the numbers will continue to rise.

Image: You Tube

Friday, October 30, 2020

On The Edge

Everyone knows that Donald Trump lies. But lately, Paul Krugman writes, Trump's lies are qualitatively different:

On Tuesday the White House science office went beyond Trump’s now-standard claims that we’re “rounding the corner” on the coronavirus and declared that one of the administration’s major achievements was “ending the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Who was that supposed to convince, when almost everyone is aware not only that the pandemic continues, but that coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are surging? All it did was make Trump look even more out of touch.

In last week’s debate, Trump declared that New York is a “ghost town.” Eight million people can see with their naked eyes that it isn’t.

On Monday, campaigning in Pennsylvania, Trump repeatedly claimed that thanks to the state’s Democratic governor, “You can’t go to church.” Thousands of churchgoing Pennsylvanians know that this simply isn’t true.

On Wednesday, campaigning in Arizona, Trump went on a rant about California, where “you have a special mask. You cannot under any circumstances take it off. You have to eat through the mask. Right, right, Charlie? It’s a very complex mechanism.” As 39 million California residents can tell you, nothing remotely like that exists.

What Trump says these days is more and more absurd. And it raises the question:

Who is this supposed to convince? It’s hard to see any political upside to such ludicrous confabulations, which demand that people reject their own direct experience. All they do — I hate to say this, but it’s obvious — is raise questions about the president’s stability.

So what’s going on? Trump wouldn’t be the first politician to lash out wildly in the face of electoral defeat. “You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.” Remember, also, that Roy Moore, defeated in Alabama’s 2017 special Senate election, never conceded.

In fact, almost everyone expects the mother of all temper tantrums, quite possibly including calls for violence, if Trump does, in fact, lose next week. To some extent he may just be getting an early start.

There is an analog. Krugman points to George Orwell:

After those bizarre claims about California masks, I reread George Orwell’s classic essay “Looking Back on the Spanish War.” Observing Spain’s fascists and their fellow travelers — including many in the British press! — Orwell worried that “the very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world.” He feared a future in which, if the Leader “says that two and two are five — well, two and two are five.”

The point is that for Trump and many of his supporters, that future has already arrived. Does he believe that there’s any truth behind his bizarre claims that Californians are being forced to eat through complicated masks? That’s a bad question, because he doesn’t accept that there is such a thing as objective truth. There are things he wants to believe, and so he does; there are other things he doesn’t want to believe, so he doesn’t.

What’s scary about all this isn’t just the possibility that Trump may yet win — or steal — a second term. It’s the fact that almost his entire party, and tens of millions of voters, seem perfectly willing to follow him into the abyss.

The United States is truly on the edge of the abyss.


Thursday, October 29, 2020

I Have My Doubts

 Max Boot writes that it's time to destroy the Republican Party:

I have watched with incredulity the GOP’s descent into collective madness. Many Republicans I know began by holding their noses and voting for Trump because of judges and taxes and their hatred of Hillary Clinton. Now the whole Republican Party seems to inhabit the Fox News Cinematic Universe, an alternative reality where President Barack Obama spied on Trump and Joe Biden is a socialist who will let “anarchists” and “arsonists” run riot.

The madness knows no bounds:

The party has even become infected by the lunatic QAnon cult, whose followers believe Trump’s opponents are blood-drinking, Satan-worshipping pedophiles. In one recent poll, half of Trump supporters said top Democrats are involved in child sex trafficking. Georgia’s Senate primary offers a disturbing snapshot of the state of the party: Rep. Douglas A. Collins promotes his endorsement from two convicted felons (former Trump advisers Michael Flynn and George Papadopoulos) while Sen. Kelly Loeffler touts her support from Marjorie Taylor Greene, a soon-to-be House member who questioned whether the Pentagon was really attacked on 9/11.

The same trickle-down craziness is evident in Republican mishandling of the coronavirus. Trump has given up trying to control the pandemic, mocks masks and promotes conspiracy theories such as his claim that death counts are inflated because “doctors get more money and hospitals get more money” if they say people died of covid-19. This specious allegation is faithfully echoed by Republicans such as Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa. Red states are paying a devastating price for pandemic denialism: North Dakota has the lowest rate of mask-wearing in the country and the highest covid-19 death rate per capita in the world.

Trump has given permission for Republican bigots to come out into the open — to replace dog whistles with wolf whistles. Sen. David Perdue (R.-Ga.) mocked Sen. Kamala Harris’s Indian first name. Madison Cawthorn, a House nominee in North Carolina, proudly visited Hitler’s lair and created a website attacking a journalist for having worked “for non-white males, like Cory Booker, who aims to ruin white males running for office.” Laura Loomer, a Republican candidate for a House seat from Florida, calls herself “a proud Islamophobe” and cheered the deaths of 2,000 refugees crossing the Mediterranean (“Good. 👏 Here’s to 2,000 more.")

So, this year, Boot is voting for Biden. But he's going even further:

That’s why, even though I’m not a Democrat, I’m voting straight-ticket Democratic on Nov. 3 — and for as long as necessary to make Republicans come to their senses. The GOP needs to be detoxified and de-Trumpified.

He hopes the party can be rebuilt. I have my doubts.

Image: You Tube

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Ford's Continued War On Education

Doug Ford's image -- thanks to the pandemic -- has undergone a makeover. But, Linda McQuaig writes, when it comes to education, there's been no make over:

It may seem like a lifetime ago -- that carefree day in pre-pandemic times when two million Ontarians crowded into downtown Toronto to celebrate the victorious Raptors -- but Premier Ford is unlikely to ever forget the unmistakable jeering that followed his introduction.

One of the key things that had made him so wildly unpopular on that day back in June 2019 was his move toward defunding -- no, not police -- but something more precious to Ontarians: public education.

There had been widespread anger over the government's announcement a few months earlier that it planned to increase class sizes throughout the province (enlarging high school classes from 22 to 28 students and eliminating 3,500 teachers) and to force students to take online courses.

These moves, designed to cut $850 million out of provincial education spending, weren't mentioned during the election campaign and were clearly seen as putting the interests of students behind business demands for deficit-reduction.

A leaked internal document confirms that, on the education file, nothing for Ford has changed:

COVID aside, smaller classes, by allowing teachers to devote more individual attention to students, have long been seen as a bedrock principle of good education.

But the Ford government has never seemed particularly interested in such bedrock principles, according to a secret internal document obtained last January by Star reporters Rob Ferguson and Kristin Rushowy.

Rather than demonstrating a commitment to "do absolutely everything, everything" to support our public schools, the document reveals a profit-oriented approach to education that sounds straight out of a corporate boardroom.

Along with plans to cut funding to school boards, the document expressed dissatisfaction that "the [public school] system does not generate any revenue for the province."

The document suggests developing "a business model" for producing online courses that could be marketed to other jurisdictions so "maximum revenue generation may be realized."

Since when is public education about "maximum revenue generation" -- rather than about educating our children, instilling in them civic values and respect for others, and helping them develop into adults who can fully participate in our economy and our democracy? Why is this government so keen to turn the crucial institution of public education into a profit-making centre?

For modern conservatives, profit should be behind everything. If you can't make a profit, you're a parasite.


Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Get Us Through The Pandemic

There were two byelections in Toronto yesterday. When you combine those results with the results in New Brunswick, B.C., and Saskatchewan, there is a consistent message: We don't want to change horses in the midst of a pandemic. Susan Delacourt writes:

Trudeau wasn’t out to gain more power with the Toronto by-elections but chances are that the Monday results will muddy speculation over whether Trudeau has everything to gain by trying for a full do-over of the 2019 results anytime soon. His fight in “safe” Liberal ridings was arguably tougher in 2020, like everything else this year.

The prime minister is being accused daily in Ottawa of trying to light the fuse on a federal election, with opposition parties saying he’s trying to capitalize on the COVID crisis to turn his minority into a majority. Last week, in a close brush with the collapse of Trudeau’s government, New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh said he was refusing to topple the Liberals out of spite — to deny Trudeau exactly what he wanted.

Monday’s by-election results, though more tightly fought, taken with provincial elections in New Brunswick, British Columbia and Saskatchewan, would seem to indicate that voters prefer to stay with the leadership they know during this crazy year. New Brunswick’s government went from minority to majority, so will B.C’s government, it’s expected, after all the results are counted in the next few weeks. Saskatchewan’s Premier Scott Moe was due to keep his hand on government too after Monday’s elections in that province.

The message seems pretty clear: Get us through the pandemic. Then we'll consider other issues.


Monday, October 26, 2020

Stealing An Election

Robin Sears writes it's hard to steal an election in Canada because

we maintain a paper record of every ballot, plus the ballots themselves, electronically counted or not. We have national systems and regulations which are rigorously followed by a centrally trained set of election officers. We also gave up long ago on any role for the parties in local electoral administration.

South of the border, it's a different story:

The foundational weakness in the American system is that electoral administration remains in partisan control at the local and state levels. In some cases, it is a contested structure with the GOP in control at the state level, and Democrats locally. Needless to say, games are played in close races. George W. Bush became president as a result of GOP operatives in Florida being able to convince a local judge to halt an unfinished recount, and then submit those incomplete results that still favoured Bush to the Supreme Court, whose conservative majority declared him the winner.

Currently, polls suggest that Joe Biden is leading. But that doesn't mean he will win:

The Biden and Trump campaigns have retained armies of lawyers to launch similar efforts in dozens of jurisdictions if required, where the ballot count is close and a small shift in votes will flip the electoral college in that state. Add to this, the prospect of the Trump forces trying once again to block vote-counting after a few days, and then those bitter contests being referred to Trump-packed local federal courts, and then to the newly Trump-packed Supreme Court. One may only pray that voters follow Barack Obama’s powerful admonition this week that they turn out and deliver a decisive victory for change.

In this country we have our problems -- God knows, we have problems. But the good news is we don't live south of the border.


Sunday, October 25, 2020

Rotten To Its Core

Max Boot used to be a Republican cheerleader. He's not cheering now. Things, he writes, have changed:

I’m old enough to remember when the Republican Party was known as the “party of ideas.” That was in the 1980s. Since then it has become the party of pseudo-scandals.

The change began with Newt Gingrich:

The change occurred, as the Princeton historian Julian Zelizer documents in his book “Burning Down the House,” because of the efforts of Newt Gingrich, then a Republican backbencher, to bring down House Speaker Jim Wright in the late 1980s. Casting about for dirt he could use, Gingrich focused attention on the fact that the speaker had published a book that was bought in bulk by lobbyists. While the book deal looked bad, it was not against the law or House rules. But it didn’t matter: Gingrich thundered that Wright was “the most corrupt speaker in the 20th century” and compared him to Mussolini. Wright was pressured into resigning, Gingrich soon became speaker himself, and the GOP was off to the races.

Since Gingrich's ascension, it's been all downhill:

Since then, the Republican Party, in cahoots with media partners such as Fox “News” and Rush Limbaugh, has manufactured one pseudo-scandal after another: Vince Foster’s suicide, Whitewater, Mena airport, John Kerry’s Swift Boat service, Barack Obama’s birth certificate, the Clinton Foundation and Hillary Clinton’s emails, among others.

The party has become thoroughly focused on pseudo scandals. And, under Donald Trump, that focus has been turbocharged:

The process has been turbocharged under President Trump, who is even more ruthless and unscrupulous than Gingrich. The former reality-TV star won the 2016 election by defaming a former secretary of state and first lady as “Crooked Hillary” and demanding that she be locked up for unspecified offenses. Now he is trying to run the same playbook on Joe Biden.

Trump got himself impeached by trying to blackmail Ukrainian officials into accusing Biden and his son Hunter of wrongdoing. That didn’t stop Trump’s attorney, Rudolph W. Giuliani, from working with shady Ukrainian contacts — including a lawmaker described as a Russian agent by Trump’s own Treasury Department — to produce dirt on Biden. Until recently, this had resulted in a few audiotapes of interest only to One America News Network.

Then Giuliani turned over to the New York Post the supposed contents of a laptop supposedly belonging to Hunter. The alleged emails have never been authenticated, and the New York Times revealed that the New York Post’s own journalists had so little faith in the story that the lead reporter refused to put his name on an article he had written. The Washington Post reported that Trump’s own national security adviser told him that “any information Giuliani brought back from Ukraine should be considered contaminated by Russia,” and more than 50 former intelligence officers warned that the emails have “all the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation.” (Trump’s director of national intelligence, John Ratcliffe, denies that the laptop is part of a Russian operation, but he has scant credibility.)

The second non-scandal is the claim that Joe Biden was part of a 2017 deal with Hunter Biden involving a Chinese oil company. Even if true, this also wouldn’t be wrong, because Joe Biden was a private citizen then. But it’s not true. The Wall Street Journal reports that the venture “never received proposed funds from the Chinese company or completed any deals” and that “corporate records … show no role for Joe Biden.” So this was a deal that never occurred and that Joe Biden wasn’t involved in. Some scandal.

As if that weren’t bad enough, right-wing rumormongers have been spreading even more vile accusations against Hunter Biden that are straight out of QAnon. Donald Trump Jr. claimed to Fox News, with no evidence, that Hunter is linked to “human trafficking and prostitution rings.” How low can you go?

Trump knows no bottom. Nor does the Republican Party. It's rotten to its core.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

The Decline Of Common Purpose

At the end of World War II, the American historian Arthur Schlesinger  wrote

Voluntary institutions have provided people with their greatest school of self-government.  Rubbing minds as well as elbows, they have been trained from youth to take common counsel, choose leaders, harmonize differences, and obey the express wishes of the populace.  In mastering the associative way, they have mastered the democratic way.

During the present election -- more than ever -- that notion is being put to the test. Glen Pearson writes that "the associative way" is also being put to the test in Canada:

People have confused politics with democracy, and as they have turned away from its endless partisanship, they have left the heart of their nation to political masters, not empowered citizens.  Citizenship is hard to quantify and even qualify for modern media, who have chosen instead to latch on to the endless drama streaming out of political capitals.  Citizens, on the other hand, including millions of Canadians, have opted to jump into the stream of social media and cable news to stay informed or to confirm their opinions.  The difficulty is that they can do so fully separate from others.  It’s democracy in a box, which one can open at home, scrutinize for a time, then put it back in the closet.

The trend has been going on for a long while. But COVID has offered a chance to change that trend:

Then came COVID – a precarious time when those institutions once rejected were at the forefront of ensuring the essentials of life for Americans and their families, just as in Canada and other nations.  That experience gradually sidelined the president’s rantings and ravings against those depositories of American democracy that the people were suddenly finding essential.  The more he criticized front line workers, medical experts, bureaucrats charged with protecting the country, equality movements,  hospitals, military veterans, the nation’s open-door policy, and, naturally, the Democratic party itself, the harder it became for him to retain supporters other than his loyal base.

In other words, people in democracies around the world are looking to the same institutions they were in the process of rejecting just months earlier.  People aren’t as interested in political shenanigans as their own pain.  They wish to recapture prosperity, not the petty politics that characterized their governments before COVID arrived.

At first, it looked like we might see a rebirth of the associative way. However,

The new patterns are increasingly reflecting the old ones.  Polarization is normal.  Political dysfunction is normal.  The loss of democracy’s allure is normal.  And the lack of ability to build a new and more inclusive nation is normal.

We really can't afford to go back to the old ways. Our public health -- and the health of the planet -- are at stake.


Friday, October 23, 2020

An Empty Head

Jennifer Rubin is a former Republican who saw through Trump from the very beginning. This morning, she writes a six-point column which slices and dices Trump's performance in last night's presidential debate:

First, Trump appeared subdued at the onset. Deprived of the opportunity to interrupt by the mute button, he rambled and repeated self-congratulations during his time allotments. He insisted he could raise as much money as Biden has (claiming incorrectly that Biden’s had received the bulk of his money from Wall Street), but chose not to. Trump is plainly sensitive that he was clobbered in the money race. He has never learned what matters to voters. 

Second, Trump still has not come up with a realistic plan to fight covid-19. He has yet to develop any sense of compassion, and he remains unable to take responsibility for the crisis. “I take full responsibility," he said during the debate, before adding: “It’s not my fault that [the virus] came here.” Most galling, he insisted we are “learning to live with” the pandemic. Biden pounced to reiterate that more than 220,000 Americans have died from the disease. Once more, Trump was illogical and nonsensical: “We have the best testing in the world by far — that’s why we have so many cases!"

Third, Trump was so intent on spinning strange and convoluted conspiracy theories that it is doubtful anyone outside the loony-tunes world of right-wing media understood what he was talking about. (At one point, Trump said something about Biden selling pillows and sheets.)

Fourth, Biden was strongest on health care, reminding us that Trump has no plan and has never had one. He reiterated his support for a public option, not for Medicare-for-all. His best line may have been: "Ten million people now have pre-existing conditions because of the president’s handling of covid. What are they going to do?” As Trump insisted Biden wanted to destroy private health insurance, Biden responded, "He’s a very confused guy. He thinks he’s running against someone else. He’s running against me, Joe Biden.”

Fifth, Biden made hay of his focus on working- and middle-class Americans, pointing out that Trump’s measure of success is the stock market. "Where I come from in Scranton and Claymont, the people don’t live off the stock market,” Biden said. His emphatic support for a $15 minimum wage was likely a winner in critical swing states. When Trump started trashing “Democrat cities,” Biden shot back that he would be the president for all of Americans.

Sixth, Trump’s utter lack of decency came when he insisted conditions for kids at the border were just swell. ("They are so well taken care of. They are in facilities that were so clean,” Trump said.) Biden emotionally hit back, “Separating children from their parents violates every value we hold as a nation.” 

Trump doesn't have a problem with what in radio is called "dead air." He fills the air with words. But, unfortunately, there are no ideas behind the words. He's an empty suit with an empty head.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Any Bets?

Justin Trudeau's government survived yesterday. But the Conservatives are already serving up another motion. Susan Delacourt writes:

The first wave of COVID-19 may have bridged some differences between the parties in the minority Parliament, but the second wave is hardening them.

Normally, political parties can ride out public anger about an unnecessary election, which tends to fade after a few days into the campaign. The stakes in 2020 are higher, and the anger might well have become an undercurrent right up to voting day, making results as unpredictable as the coronavirus.

On the face of it, Trudeau might well have the most to gain from an election before this year is out. Successive elections, at home and abroad, have shown that votes held during the pandemic tend to favour the government in charge and even offer the real prospect of gains.

But, when voters are angry -- really angry -- all bets are off:

The second wave of COVID-19 is basically an endurance test, and this is essentially the climate in which politics is now being conducted at the federal level. Just as we learned how many Canadians were living paycheque to paycheque in the first wave, Canada’s minority Parliament is lurching from one breaking point to another as 2020 draws to a close.

Is anyone taking bets on how long the present government can survive?


Wednesday, October 21, 2020

An Election?

By this evening, we'll know whether we're headed into a federal election. Bruce Anderson and David Coletto at Abacus Data have surveyed Canadians on the prospect of an election:

About a third of those surveyed say they have been following this situation very or pretty closely. One in five Canadians (20%) hadn’t heard of it. The rest had only a vague recollection. Compared to our norms this indicates a relatively low level of public engagement so far.

Conservative supporters are slightly more likely to be following the events closely, but about a third of all four major party supporters say they are following the events at least pretty closely.

A majority (55%) of those surveyed would prefer to see the vote to create the committee passed and an election triggered. Just under half (45%) would prefer MPs act to prevent an election.

Conservative voters are broadly in favour (76%) of triggering the election, although 1 in 4 (24%) of them do not want this outcome.

Just over a third of Liberal supporters prefer to see an election, but 62% would prefer to avoid one at this time. For NDP leader Jagmeet Singh his voters are roughly evenly split with 55% preferring to avoid an election while 45% willing to go to the polls.

It appears that Singh has his ear to the ground and will vote against the Conservative motion. The motion itself should come as no surprise. The Conservatives have been itching to bring Trudeau down since he became prime minister. M. Blanchet also has been itching for an election.

I suspect that the NDP's coffers need some time to be replenished. Political self-interest is driving the decision.

We await the future.

Image: Port Credit BIA

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

The Same Old Crew

Erin O'Toole is trying to give the Conservative Party a facelift. But they're still the same old crew. Consider Pierre Poilievre's recent attack on the Bank of Canada. Andrew Jackson writes:

On October 15, Poilievre accused the Bank of Canada of being “an ATM for Trudeau’s insatiable spending appetites” and alleged that monetary policy was becoming ideological and “more and more political.”

It is fair game for parliamentarians and all Canadians to debate the merits of current monetary policy. But the opposition finance critic provided not a shred of evidence that the Bank of Canada is driven by motives of political partisanship or has been instructed to act in a particular way by the federal Liberal government.

Poilievre failed to note Conservative support for Trudeau government policies:

Mr. Poilievre failed to even note that the Conservatives have supported the major spending measures to support businesses and workers legislated to date by the federal Liberal government in response to the pandemic. If it were not for a major change in monetary policy, the cost of these measures and the deficit today would be even greater since the government would not have had access to ultra cheap money.

Currently, the federal government is financing the deficit by selling long term bonds with a very low interest rate, 0.5% for a ten year bond. Most conservative commentators, such as former Bank of Canada Governors, argue that the monetary policy response has been appropriate and that there is no short-term problem given that inflation is very low and the economy is operating well below capacity.

Mr. Poilievre says it is “insane” to think that “governments can just print money to pay their bills.” It would be even more crazy to let the economy fall into a deep depression by not responding through aggressive monetary and fiscal policy.

Context means nothing to Poilievre. He's repeating classical Conservative economic rhetoric. Good economists pay attention to context:

It is true that some concerns have been raised by economists as to how long very loose monetary policy can last. But inflation is not a threat, and the Bank of Canada does not need to change course until it deems necessary.

The Conservatives remain so devoted to orthodox finance and balanced budgets that they are afraid to act even in times of dire emergency.

O'Toole looks different than Stephen Harper or Andrew Scheer. But the Conservatives still smell the same.


Monday, October 19, 2020

Incompetent and Obtuse

Assuming that Donald Trump loses the election, the people who work for him will soon be looking for employment. Jennifer Rubin writes that they might have trouble finding their next jobs:

First, members of this administration probably acquired bad habits (ignoring gross misconduct, lying for their boss, etc.), practiced a great deal of willful ignorance and rationalized unethical conduct. The administration, aside from its corruption and moral rot, was also grossly incompetent in its day-to-day operations. Staffers coming out of Trump’s orbit would likely have to unlearn misconceptions about how functional workplaces operate.

Second, those seen as ethically obtuse and tolerant of racism pose a business risk. Clients and customers might not want to be associated with a firm that features someone who just months ago promoted their boss’s ludicrous lies or remained silent as he winked at QAnon conspiracy theories. Alumni of the Trump administration do not suffer from a political association but rather from their willingness to enable someone who betrayed his country’s highest ideals.

In other words, these ex-Trump figures do not bring desirable skills or valuable experience; they come more as a potential liability.

Human Resources professionals operate under one basic assumption: Past performance is the best predictor of future performance. There are exceptions. But it's not wise to bet on an exception.

If the Trump alumni are seeking jobs, you might think they'd spend a little time in rehabilitation:

These Trump alumni might seek to make up for perpetuating racism and xenophobia, for their attacks on democratic institutions and norms, and for their efforts to sow division and undermine objective reality. They might consider community service. They might donate time or money to groups fighting racism, helping immigrants, defending press freedoms and teaching good citizenship.

But don't bet on that either. Because -- like their boss -- they're both incompetent and obtuse.


Sunday, October 18, 2020

Repairing the Damage

Robin Sears is positive -- almost positive -- that Donald Trump will lose the election. Then, he writes, there will be a flurry of activity:

The impact this vile man had on partisanship, turning senators into quislings and too many voters toward violence, has been sad to watch. But his outrageousness gave many Democrats the courage to try on creative and even radical new ideas. Trump’s attacks opened a new policy dialogue and helped elect an impressive next generation of politicians. Democrats flirtation with Wall Street and neo-liberalism, and most revoltingly their cowardice in the face of the gun makers, will not soon return.

The GOP will face an ideological fork in the road, as well. Will they end their 50 year flirtation with racism, pushed from a dog whistle in Nixon’s day to loud racist rhetoric from Trump and his creepy children? Will they follow the path of the Lincoln Project, that impressive group of political consultants, former candidates and donors who launched a hilarious and undermining ad campaign against Trump. As one of its leaders recently said with a chuckle, he never would have thought it was shady political operatives who would light the path back to ethical conservatism.

The first order of business should be protecting the electoral system:

America’s electoral system has always been the weakest, most fragmented, and too often used to suppress voters access, than in any other G7 nation. It continues to be shockingly vulnerable to foreign intervention, local skulduggery, and even technical incompetence. Now there will be a rising demand to clean it up and strengthen it.

Trump, even in defeat, will not go away. But he has always been about the show:

It has always been about attention and money, more than power. Trump’s fascination with and expertise in manipulative TV programming may have another attraction: to help him defend himself against an array of criminal charges and angry creditors.

That said, he's done an horrendous amount of damage. And the damage has to be repaired. But for all this to happen, Trump must lose -- decisively.


Saturday, October 17, 2020

Easy Marks

Donald Trump's supporters believe that he is there to help them. But the evidence belies that notion. Helaine Olen writes:

Trump and Republicans have played a neat trick these past four years, claiming to act on behalf of the economically and politically disenfranchised, and then getting them to turn a blind eye to the fact that their own actions in office are designed to line the pockets of elite supporters. But as the coronavirus pandemic continues to claim victims and disrupt lives, the evidence of Trump’s perfidy is harder than ever to ignore. Little wonder some turn to outlandish conspiracies such as QAnon to justify their continued belief in Trump. As crazy as it is, it’s less embarrassing than admitting you are just another patsy in Trump’s lifelong con.

The New York Times came up with the receipts this week. First, there was yet another installment in its series on Trump and his taxes, this one centered more on his activities in the White House — or, as the Times put it, “the swamp that Trump built.” It quickly became known among lobbyists and those seeking favor from the administration that joining Mar-a-Lago, (where the initiation fee doubled shortly after Trump was elected president, and is now $250,000) buying drinks at the Trump International Hotel in D.C., and hosting meetings and conventions at family-owned properties was a way to make a favorable impression.

Many people, including The Post’s David A. Fahrenthold, have made these point again and again, so much so that Norm Eisen, co-founder of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, told me in 2018, “The president is essentially holding out a tin cup and shaking it.” But the Times put the pieces together in a devastating way. Somehow the deep state so desperate to stop Trump couldn’t put an end to that epic money-making spree.

Con men succeed because they can spot easy marks. And there is truly a remarkable number of Americans who are easy marks.

Image: You Tube

Friday, October 16, 2020

Eyes On The Prize

COVID exposed the inequalities in our system. Now it is exacerbating them. Frances Ryan writes in The Guardian:

There are times in which it feels as if we are running two worlds in parallel. Billionaires have seen their fortunes hit record highs during the pandemic, seeing their wealth climb by 27%. Meanwhile, living standards have plunged for some of the UK’s poorest families. Research by Save the Children shows those already struggling are financially even worse off since lockdown: 60% have had to cut down on meals, and more than a third have turned to charity for food and clothes.

It is a longstanding feature of a rigged system: while the poorest suffer in a crisis, the wealthiest profit from it. This was highlighted in the aftermath of the financial crash, and is all the more relevant as coronavirus spreads. And yet the truth of inequality in the UK does not necessarily cut through to the public. Recent research by Tax Justice found that while 72% of Labour voters felt that billionaires shouldn’t exist alongside foodbanks, just 52% of the public as a whole agreed. It’s not that people don’t support higher taxes on wealth – they overwhelmingly do, and this has only increased during the pandemic – but that many feel alienated by “divisive” anti-wealth language and see the accumulation of money as a moral positive in providing security.

This is where the language we use becomes seminal:

The language we use is going to be vital in this. Faced with upsetting social problems, the left instinctively provides details of them – I’ve done this many times myself – but this can often be counterproductive. Research by the Frameworks Institute shows framing problems in terms of a crisis feeds a sense of fatalism. Far from a wake-up call to inspire action, this sort of language is more likely to dampen engagement. This doesn’t mean we should stop talking about social ills. As child poverty rockets across the Midlands and the north of England, explaining the scope – and causes – of the damage we see is vital. But we have to balance highlighting the problems with proposing solutions to them.

I’ve often said that the greatest challenge the left has is convincing people that better things are possible. Cynicism, as much as rightwing ideology, is what blocks change. One very simple thing that progressive groups are encouraging critics of the Tories to do is to say “this government” rather than “the government”, when they issue attack lines. With trust in politicians low, such strategies help keep open the possibility that a better government can change lives.

During the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, African Americans kept repeating, "Keep your eyes on the prize." In this very difficult moment, we should do the same.


Thursday, October 15, 2020

The Government You Buy


Doug Ford says he can't be bought. But his behaviour suggests otherwise. Martin Regg Cohn writes:

Ahead of the last election, after a series of investigative columns in this newspaper exposing the Wild West of Ontario politics under the last Liberal government, all parties came together to support the cleanup (because all parties were part of the problem). Ontario’s legislature banned contributions from business and labour unions in 2016, so that vested interests wouldn’t trump voter interests.

To compensate for the millions of dollars that all major parties were forsaking, the province followed the old federal model of public funding based on per-vote allocations. Every vote would count, not just at the ballot box but in annual remittances to the parties based on their performance in the last election — initially set at $2.71 per ballot cast.

(Based on the results of the 2018 election, the victorious Tories were in line to receive $6.3 million annually while the NDP would get $5.2 million, the Liberals about $3 million, and the Greens around $700,000.)

But then Ford won the election — not only overthrowing the Liberals, but also overruling his own Progressive Conservatives to overturn the all-party consensus on public funding. Lashing out at the idea of “subsidies” to political parties, as if they are somehow unethical and antithetical to democracy, he ordered them phased out by the end of next year.

Forget Ford's rhetoric. Cohn believes politics is operating as it has for decades -- for the benefit of the wealthy:

Democracy is based on laws and level playing fields. Not trust in tilted gameboards behind closed doors.

By defending subsidies for the well off, and demonizing “per-vote” allocations for everyone else, Ford is playing favourites — and playing footsie with our democracy.

Ford’s old campaign sloganeering against “subsidies” was based on a flawed assumption wrapped in a glaring contradiction. Upon taking power, he set back campaign finance without thinking ahead.

Today, the premier gets that in a pandemic, it’s not politics as usual. Why then should it be business as usual — as before — for big donors, at the expense of the rest of us?

Plus ca change.


Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Second Place

COVID numbers are rising sharply in Ontario. Which raises the question, "Who is directing the province's response to the pandemic?" Bruce Arthur writes:

As the pandemic has progressed in Ontario, Doug Ford has made a show of deferring to his medical advisers, and two above all. Dr. David Williams, the much-criticized chief medical officer of health, and the health command table. Those are far from his only medical advisers; they are, however, the ones he mentions most.

Ford loves to mention his health command table, but the province refuses to name the participants, and Ford has, too, when asked. Unlike the public health advice in all 34 public health units in the province, no provincial-level public health advice — from Public Health Ontario, the health table, the health measures table, or the other advisory tables that feed into the health table — is ever made public.

Which means the health table acquired a sort of mythic quality. But while the premier might cite it as a reason to do or not do things, multiple sources insist it is not pulling the strings, or pushing things forward. It is primarily made up of government officials from a wide range of ministries and sources, and a few outside advisers.

As is the case south of the border, politics are calling the shots:

One source familiar with the process says the table primarily gets recommendations from the ministry, and discusses them, but “you can’t really have a decision-making body with 80 people on a phone call when you don’t know who’s there.”

But the decision on moving Toronto, Peel and Ottawa back into Stage 2 last week was driven more by the health measures table, which consists of seven current and former medical officers of health. One source familiar with the process was asked who is really directing Ontario’s epidemic response. They said: “Doug Ford.” 

Which, on the face of it, isn't surprising. But, when push comes to shove, I suspect that science and medicine take second place in Ford's calculations.

Image: Huffington Post

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

A More Stable World?

As absurd as the notion might seem, we may be on the verge of a more stable world. Glen Pearson writes:

That violent brand of populism that introduced paroxysms of fear through the developed world has quietly been tamped down.  It will never go away – it’s an historical constant – and it will always be nipping at the heels of established democracies.  But its power to affect the masses has been kept in tenuous abeyance.  COVID has provided some breathing space for reassessment.

It's most apparent in the United States. But what is happening in the United States is also happening around the world:

Some European nations have been given a brief reprieve from the endless populist chaos.  Nevertheless, in places like India, Brazil, China, and, to a lesser extent, Britain, a burgeoning sense of nationalism and racism continues to push their citizens to the edge – a reality causing Freedom House International to claim that 2020 still sees democracy in decline and authoritarianism as a continual threat.

Yet, in numerous established democracies, a second chance seems to be emerging.  Fatigue with all the chaos and commensurate effects on economies is bringing on a growing tide of millions seeking not just stable, but better government.  In places like New Zealand, Denmark, Sweden, Australia, and, yes, Canada, democracy has remained resilient, defying the efforts of crippling extreme right-wing chaos.  Even Germany and France have achieved a certain level of stability that many thought impossible a year ago.

We still don't know for sure whether or not Donald Trump will go down his golden toilet. But the evidence seems to suggest that's what's going to happen. Last week, Peggy Noonan -- Ronald Reagan's speechwriter -- wrote in the Wall Street Journal:

This is also the week that journalists and politicos in Washington began wondering about something they never expected to be thinking about this year.  They are wondering if November 3 won’t be a win for Joe Biden but a blowout, a landslide in a polarized country that doesn’t produce landslides anymore. 

Time will tell. But, if the political winds shift, there will be a lot of work to do:

For nations like Canada, a Democratic sweep in America will usher in a larger world of collaborative internationalism – an arena in which this country can hold its own.  The fact that Canadians kept their act together while living so close to the epicentre of democratic dysfunction proves not only that we still have great reserves of accountability and goodwill, but that we can also export them to a more open world.  It isn’t a world incapable of moving forward, but it must now decide it is time to do so.

We await the future. 

Image: knowledge@wharton -- University of Pennsylvania

Monday, October 12, 2020

A Death Cult

Lisa O'Neill is worried. She went to the same high school as Amy Coney Barrett -- whose Senate confirmation process starts today. O'Neill writes:

Like the late Justice Scalia, for whom she clerked, Barrett is a self-described textualist and originalist; she interprets the US constitution based on its plain language and an attempted understanding of the intent and mindset of the original drafters. Barrett has also written that, in her view, it is appropriate and legitimate for judges to overturn precedents when they conflict with their personal interpretation of the constitution. Obedience to the exact original meaning of the constitution without current context is problematic. These laws were made by white, cisgender men who enslaved other human beings and never intended to include a vast sum of Americans–like women and people of color–in their quest for equal rights.

The founders did great work. But they realized that their nation would always have to strive for a "more perfect union." Retreating to the past was a way of denying that need to evolve and improve. And Coney Barrett's views suggest she's not concerned about making people's lives better:

With Barrett’s nomination, I worry about the lives and futures of my fellow Americans. I worry about the lives of over 20 million Americans who depend on the Affordable Care Act for healthcare when Barrett criticized the supreme court decision upholding Congress’ authority to enforce it. I worry about the lives of women and all those with uteruses when Barrett has referred to abortion as “always immoral” and stated that judges may overturn precedents according to their interpretation of the constitution.

I worry about the lives of LGBTQ+ families when Barrett defended supreme court dissenters on the landmark marriage equality case Obergefell v Hodges. I worry about the lives of Black, Native, Asian and Latinx Americans when Barrett has pointed out what she perceives as flaws in Brown v The Board of Education: the landmark case that desegregated schools. I worry about the lives of transgender youth and adults when, in lectures, Barrett stated she did not know if transgender bathrooms were necessary given the text of Title IX and when she misgendered transwomen, calling them “physiological males.”

Coney Barrett is precisely the kind of judge Donald Trump wants on the Supreme Court. He's not concerned with the lives of other people. To date, 215,000 Americans have died from COVID and there will be tens of thousands of more deaths.

The man quite literally leads a death cult.

Image: Wall Street Journal

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Kamala In Westmount

Dan Bilefsky is a Canadian correspondent for the New York Times. He grew up in Westmount, where Ms. Harris and her mother and sister moved after her mother divorced her father. Her mother did cancer research at McGill. Bilesky has been talking to people who knew Kamela then:

Her childhood friends recalled a confident young woman who showed seeds of activism, found cultural affirmation in her Black identity and complained about French class.

Mara Rudzitis, an art teacher at Westmount High for 22 years, recalled Kamala sometimes spent her lunch hour making art in the arts and crafts studio, where students would come to paint and make ceramic masks.

“We didn’t get the cream of the crop at Westmount High — many of those kids would go to private schools — we got more of the sour cream,” she told me. “Kids are very impressionable at that age and Kamala was exposed to people from all walks of life and nationalities.”

Ms. Kagan told me that while Ms. Harris was a diligent student, her limited exposure to French before coming to Canada disadvantaged her at a high school where the students in the French immersion section received more attention and resources. Ms. Harris arrived in Montreal knowing a handful of French words learned from ballet classes and was placed in the English section, Ms. Kagan said.

Montreal was a multicultural city long before Canada adopted multiculturalism as a policy. Hers was a much different environment than the one Donald Trump -- and many Americans -- have grown up in. Certainly, it's the polar opposite of the world Donald Trump knows.

Harris's education has been broad and deep. Trump hasn't learned anything since he was ten years old. He was, William T. Kelley -- one of his professors at the University of Pennsylvania -- said, "the  dumbest goddamn student I ever had."

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Image: The New York Times

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Who's He Talking To?

Bruce Arthur writes that Doug Ford seems to be confused. When asked about Thanksgiving:

He said stick with 10 people, indicated he would do the same, denied he said it, said stick to your household without specifying what the household was, tweeted to clarify afterwards, deleted the tweet, and tried again. It still didn’t specify that his immediate household is two people, not 10.

Perhaps he's getting bad advice:

So who is giving him advice? CMOH Dr. David Williams, whose advice has often seemed wayward? Associate medical officer of health Dr. Barbara Yaffe, who said she hadn’t seen the worrisome Toronto neighbourhood positive test data reported by the Star until she read it in the paper, and which the federal health minister is now concerned about?

The numbers in Ontario are spiking -- as they are around the world:

But the seven-day average, with old cases excluded, is 601. Two weeks ago it was 386. The lineups and testing backlog muddy the waters. There is no way to look at the state of Ontario’s epidemic and say the curve is flattening. Not yet.

COVID fatigue has set in. And Doug Ford's confusion does nothing to stop the growth of that fatigue.


Friday, October 09, 2020

Completely Noodled

Donald Trump claims he's been cured. But his insanity grows as he lurches toward defeat. Consider his interview with Maria Bartiromo. Edward Keenan writes:

Over the course of the hour-long appearance, Trump attacked vice-presidential nominee Kamala Harris as a “monster” and a “communist” who wants “killers and murderers and rapists to enter our country.” He attacked his Attorney General Bill Barr for not locking Biden and former president Barack Obama up in jail on unspecified charges of the “greatest political crime in American history.” He said polls showing him trailing ever-further behind Biden didn’t match the evidence he sees: “They have a boat thing, they have 5,000 boats, they have thousands of trucks all over the country. I don’t believe the polls.” He again refused to say he’d peacefully transfer power if he lost, saying falsely that “thousands and thousands of ballots” marked with his name have been found in rivers. And he called Nevada election officials “cheaters” and “con men” and suggested postal carriers there would be indicted.

As Trump has seen his position in the polls sink — all 11 national polls noted Thursday by aggregator showed Trump trailing by at least eight points, and eight of them showed Biden with a double-digit lead — he seems to have entered a Mad King-era in his campaign: furiously retweeting conspiracy videos; impulsively announcing he’d put an end to congressional stimulus talks that the American public overwhelmingly favours (before maybe having second thoughts and calling for some kinds of stimulus again); telling Americans who have lost loved ones to COVID-19 not to be afraid of the virus, suggesting both that “when you catch it you get better, and then you’re immune” (sadly, neither part of that sentence is always true) and that getting it personally was a “blessing from God.”

So the question no longer is, "Will he lose the election?" It's "What will he do when he loses the election?"

Image: nymag

Thursday, October 08, 2020

No Bobble Head

I have always enjoyed reading E.J. Dionne's columns. Perhaps that's because I feel a distant kinship with his French Canadian forebears. Dionne writes that Kamela Harris did a superb job last night -- by keeping the focus on Donald Trump's failures and Joe Biden's character:

No matter how hard, in his quiet and earnest way, that Vice President Pence tried to turn Wednesday’s vice-presidential debate into an assault on Joe Biden, Sen. Kamala D. Harris and reality itself forced the discussion back again and again to the failures of the Trump administration.

If Pence’s goal was to disrupt the trajectory of an election that has been moving the Democrats’ way, he plainly failed. And Harris succeeded by declining to make herself a center of attention. She acted instead as advocate for Biden and a sharp, detailed but tonally restrained critic of the current occupant of the White House.

Around our house, we have come to refer to Pence as "Oily Mike." Despite Pence's calm demeanor, that characterization was on full display last night:

Pence’s reserved demeanor may have done more to harm than help the candidate whose cause he was promoting, by reminding viewers of Trump’s extreme lack of discipline.

And, when Pence attacked Biden, Harris was ready with information, not spin:

She was skilled at using Pence’s attacks to provide listeners with new information helpful to her ticket.

Thus, when Pence accused Democrats of being anti-Christian for their handling of Trump’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, Harris pointed out that both she and Biden were “people of faith.” She said that she was “insulted” by Pence’s attacks and noted that Biden would, in fact, be only the second Catholic president.

And when Pence attacked Biden’s economic plans, Harris used his criticisms to place herself and Biden in the great tradition of lunch-bucket Democrats — and managed to convey more detail about Biden’s plans than Biden himself had in his own debate. She spoke of how Biden would make it easier for young people to attend college, for all Americans to get health care — and stressed that Biden would not raise taxes on anyone earning less than $400,000 a year.

When Pence accused her of being a lousy District Attorney, she responded that she "would not be lectured" by Pence. She will not be a bobble-headed vice president -- something Pence has been for the last four years.


Wednesday, October 07, 2020

When the Doctors Disagree

The public health professionals at Queens Park and in Toronto disagree. Bruce Arthur writes:

The two sides, while wasting three days, have their lawyers figuring that out. With a virus that we now know moves faster than traditional public health measures, every hour can count. The city and the province are wasting plenty of them.

But the jurisdictional disagreements are a sideshow for the real thing, because the actual divide is clear. Toronto medical officer of health Dr. Eileen de Villa looks at the data, looks at the backlog, looks at her resources, and thinks the city should take the extraordinary steps of closing indoor dining and restricting all unnecessary travel. And the province — chief medical officer of health Dr. David Williams, and Premier Doug Ford — looks at the same data, listens to her and Mayor John Tory, runs it through their advisory tables, and disagrees.

Between Sept. 20 and 26, 44 per cent of Toronto outbreaks involved restaurants, bars and entertainment venues. Two cases at Yonge Warehouse and Regulars Bar created a combined 2,300 possible exposures, which is enough to jam contact tracing if nothing else happens. Sources say Toronto Public Health has shared all its data with the province.

Then there is the data obtained by the Star’s Kate Allen and Jennifer Yang. Test positivity data shows the virus is again surging in Toronto’s most vulnerable neighbourhoods, but also across the city. And remember, the picture’s incomplete.

The battle again is between dollars and bugs. For Doug Ford, dollars have always driven policy. The irony is that, until the bugs outrank the dollars, there will be far fewer dollars driving the bus.


Tuesday, October 06, 2020

Pope Francis Chimes In

Pope Francis is not afraid to take on the issues of his time. Last week he issued an encyclical on the problems that beset us. Catherine Pepinster writes:

In this weekend’s document he makes it clear that populism and nationalism – of the kind Trump typifies – are damaging, warning that “a concept of popular and national unity influenced by various ideologies is creating new forms of selfishness and a loss of the social sense under the guise of defending national interests”.

It’s also clear that Francis has seen through the neoliberal experiment and its alleged trickle-down benefits that have only served to create a class of the super-rich and left behind the people who are most in need – such as people with disabilities and, indeed, those who rely on state-provided education and healthcare. “If a society is governed primarily by the criteria of market freedom and efficiency, there is no place for such persons, and fraternity will remain just another vague ideal,” he warns.

Francis condemns unrestrained individualism. But he's no progressive either:

For Francis, fraternity is much more than an ideal, but a necessity if the world is to become a better place. But while his idealism sets Trump followers’ teeth on edge, he can also make Democrats on the left uncomfortable, too. There is no advocacy here of big government and welfare state narratives either. Instead, he is focused on the local and the small. And at the heart of his teaching in this document and all his papal pronouncements over the past seven years has been a strong stance on the right to life that takes him all the way from completely rejecting capital punishment to vetoing abortion, too.

There are lots of Catholics in the United States. In the last election, they broke 52% for Trump and 44% for Clinton. It'll be interesting to see what happens this time around.


Monday, October 05, 2020

Believe It

Donald Trump is crashing and burning. But, as has been the case from the beginning, Donald lives in a permanent state of denial. Jennifer Rubin writes:

The national polls are stunning: Biden has a 14-point lead in the NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll (53 percent to 39 percent) taken before Trump announced that he had tested positive for the coronavirus. Biden has a 10-point led in the Reuters-Ipsos poll (51 percent to 41 percent). Biden led by at least eight points in all the polls released on Sunday. In the two most recent Pennsylvania polls, Biden leads by seven points. The FiveThirtyEight poll average shows Biden’s lead hovering around seven points in Michigan and Wisconsin.

Trump’s obnoxious and bullying routine in last week’s debate did not sit well with viewers. NBC-WSJ polling found that 49 percent said Biden won, 24 percent said Trump won and 17 percent said neither did (the “balance” punditry that both were bad gets the least support among actual voters).

But his spokesman still mocks Joe Biden for wearing a mask:

Campaign adviser Jason Miller went on the Sunday shows and continued to mock Biden for wearing a mask too frequently (“a prop,” he called it), showing how little Trump has learned from his own illness. Trump is in the hospital; Biden is traveling to battleground states.

Even worse, when confronted with the White House’s failure to follow guidelines for mask-wearing, Miller insisted that all is well since they test for the virus. This mentality led to a Rose Garden event where attendees were tested, yet no fewer than eight people, that we know of, have tested positive for the virus.

And on the weekend, Trump went on a joyride in an SUV to see his supporters. The other occupants of the vehicle were masked and gowned. Nothing about the virus has sunk into Trump's skull.

Stupidity can be terminal. Believe it.


Sunday, October 04, 2020

There Comes A Time

There's been a lot of magical thinking about COVID. The most persistent magical meme is that we've turned the corner. Alan Freeman writes:

As we head indoors in our small family units for the next six months or so, there is no way we’re going to be partying at Christmas. Perhaps next Easter, but then only if we have an early spring. Hopefully, new efforts by authorities to slow the spread by reducing social contacts will soon have an impact. But if they do, will we want to plunge into another upward spiral by letting down our guard too soon as we did this summer?

The fact is that the pandemic is far from over. The pain, both social and economic, is likely to persist throughout 2021 and politicians should stop trying to make us feel better. They need to tell us the truth even if we don’t want to hear it.

Masks, distancing and hand washing will not be enough. Faster and more readily available testing will help but until there is a safe, effective and well-distributed vaccine, some activities are just not going to be safe. We are going to have make tough choices. If schools and factories are to stay open, bars, gyms, saunas and theaters will likely have to close, especially in hard-hit regions. And we’ll have to stop visiting friends and family indoors.

Unfortunately, there's been a lot of magical thinking in Quebec. The number of infections in la belle province keeps rising -- partially because Quebec keeps insisting that it will do its own thing in its own way:

From the start, Premier François Legault has seemed more interested in a distinct Quebec approach to the pandemic than the right approach. During the early weeks of COVID-19, Quebec officials compared the province’s performance with Portugal and Germany, not even deigning to look at the more successful approaches in B.C. and Alberta, let alone neighbouring New Brunswick, which essentially kept the virus out, reporting just two deaths since March.

When Canada’s chief science adviser, Mona Nemer, openly criticized Quebec in May for failing to put together an adequate testing and tracing strategy, Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebec’s director of public health, hit back, declaring he wasn’t responsible to “this lady” and calling her a back-seat driver. Of course, she was right. It took months for Quebec to boost its testing numbers and its tracing efforts remain weak.

Thinking that Quebecers outside Montreal were somehow immune to the virus, Legault called on Quebecers to take their summer holidays throughout the province. They responded in droves, flooding places like Gaspé in July and August, turning summer vacation into a super-spreader event. By the end of September, the Gaspé region was reporting the highest active case rate in the province.

When schools reopened in the province, students were told to wear masks in corridors but not in the classroom. Of course, the decision was announced after Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, said it was a good idea to enforce mask wearing throughout the school day and Ontario had signed on to the idea for its schools. When an English-language school board in Montreal decided that it would rather be safe than sorry and made masks mandatory in class as well, it was overruled by Quebec City.

Quebec isn't the only place where magical thinking has flourished. We live in a town which depends on summer tourism. This summer all kinds of tourists raised a middle finger to the rules. Luckily,  COVID numbers here are still low. But there comes a time when your luck runs out.

Saturday, October 03, 2020

Going Down

This week has been the worst week of Donald Trump's presidency. Tony Burman writes:

The announcement early Friday that he and first lady Melania Trump have tested positive was shocking, but it was not surprising.

For months, Trump has been reckless, even criminally negligent, about the threat of the pandemic, and U.S. public health experts have estimated this lack of leadership has led to tens of thousands of avoidable American deaths.

But it is ironic this latest blow to his election campaign came only two days after one of his most dismal public performances as president.

Burman believes that his debate performance provides a clear signal that Trump knows he's going to lose the election:

Trump knows by now that he will lose November’s election, probably by a wide margin. With the death toll from the pandemic at more than 200,000 Americans and an economy that has collapsed, voters are clearly turning against him, including in the key battleground states.

And Trump, however delusional that he often appears to be, must know that.

Faced with defeat,  he has concluded that he is going to take American democracy down with him:

Trump no longer appears to see Democratic challenger Joe Biden as his primary rival. To him, Biden is mere roadkill along the way to a more crucial target.

As four years of Trump’s presidency have revealed, he sees America’s multicultural democracy — and all the institutions that support it — as his enemy.

In other words, no less than American democracy is in Trump’s crosshairs.

As a friend of mine likes to say, Mr. Trump is a Weapon Of Mass Destruction.

Image: Modern War Institute

Friday, October 02, 2020

Well Deserved

Donald Trump has tested positive. Frank Bruni writes that there are at least two morals to be drawn from that news:

The most obvious is that the coronavirus has not gone away and there is no guarantee, contrary to the president’s sunny prophecies, that it’s going away anytime soon, certainly not if we’re cavalier about it.

Which brings up another moral, also obvious but apparently necessary to articulate: There is a real risk in being cavalier. The president is now the embodiment of that. The first lady, too. Also Hope Hicks, one of his closest advisers, and who knows how many others in his immediate circle? That question exists because, from the start, there has been a culture of cavalier attitudes and behavior at the White House when it comes to the coronavirus.

Cavalier is an understatement. Denial is more accurate. Trump has spent his life denying facts. Now those facts have come home to roost:

That culture was on flabbergasting display during those evening briefings the president used to do, the ones that he used primarily to congratulate himself and his administration on their fantabulous job battling the pandemic. They battled it all the way to America’s exceptional status as the world leader in recorded cases of, and deaths associated with, the coronavirus.

That culture was evident in the rallies that the president arranged and insisted on doing over recent weeks. That culture persisted on Thursday, when, according to an article by Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman in The Times, Kayleigh McEnany, maskless, held a briefing with reporters after Hicks’s infection with the virus was confirmed and after McEnany was on a plane with her and exposed to her.

Whether this news will make a difference to Trump's supporters is difficult to say. It would be wrong to wish him ill. On the other hand, his fate -- whatever it turns out to be -- is well deserved.


Thursday, October 01, 2020

Mewling And Puking

 Like Donald Trump, Boris Johnson is a narcissist. John Crace writes:

Like most narcissists, Boris Johnson is unable to conceive of other people having an independent existence. Rather, they are mere satellites orbiting his ego. Mere objects whose only function is to do his bidding. And to be fair, it’s a world view that has served him well enough up to now as he’s cruised his way, with a flamboyant mixture of broken promises, outright lies and back-stabbing, to his life’s goal of becoming prime minister. Family, friends and colleagues that have been trampled upon along the way are just collateral damage.

He's always been the star of his own show. But, as is the case with Trump, people are beginning to change the channel:

There are growing signs that many people are increasingly deciding that enough is enough. Tory backbenchers have got fed up with being left out in the cold from the government’s coronavirus legislation and the Speaker, Lindsay Hoyle, made no attempt to disguise his anger on Wednesday at the way parliament had been sidelined. But the person who most gets under Boris’s skin is Keir Starmer. Because more than six months in, he has yet to get the better of the Labour leader.

It must be driving Johnson mad. Prime minister’s questions was always meant to be the Boris Show. The half-hour in the week when the country laughed at his jokes and enjoyed his put-downs. Except it hasn’t worked out like that at all. Partly because the Labour leader is visibly better prepared, but mostly because he refuses to be cast in Johnson’s image. Keir is very much his own man: he keeps his questions short and direct and calls out Boris’s bluster for the bullshit it is.

Starmer is getting the best of Johnson:

Today, Johnson was wrongfooted from the start when Starmer wondered why Luton was the only town to have gone into extra lockdown restrictions and come out of them. Boris’s reply that Luton had “pulled together” won’t have gone down well with the 25% of the country who live in the other 47 regions that are still living under extra strict measures, as it rather implied they must have been taking the piss.

For the rest of the session Starmer walked rings round Johnson. He picked him up for not even knowing what restrictions he had put in place where. The best that Boris could come up with was that it was up to everyone in each area to find out the rules for themselves. Then Starmer tackled the prime minister on his definition of “viable businesses” and the level of support he was prepared to provide. “Putting an arm around the whole country” didn’t quite square with an angry email Starmer had received from a wedding planner in the chancellor’s Richmond constituency.

By the end, Boris was merely an infant “mewling and puking in his nurse’s arms” yet to advance beyond Jaques’s first stage of man. Unable to come up with any clever – or even not so clever – replies, he merely yapped out his distress that anyone should dare to question him on anything and to accuse the Labour leader of sniping from the sides.

There's a lot of mewling and puking going on these days.