Thursday, December 31, 2020

New Years 2021

I wrote earlier that 2020 has been a very dark year. And the first few months of 2021 will probably be darker. Each new year is another chapter in the eternal battle between our better and our darker angels  -- between intelligence and stupidity.

The new year will see that battle play out once again. Let's hope that -- beginning tomorrow -- our better angels have the upper hand.

Happy New Year.

Image: The Motley Fool

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Will He Fade Away?

Frankly, I don't know what will happen to Donald Trump once he leaves office. Julius Krein writes that Trump  will disappear over time:

Donald Trump’s refusal to concede the election has fueled intense speculation about his post-presidency: will he start a new conservative cable network? Will he act as a kingmaker in the Republican party? Will he run for president again in 2024?

Underlying all of these rumors is the assumption that Trump will continue to hold sway over a significant voter base. But this is by no means assured. It seems just as likely that, over time, Trump’s trajectory will land him closer to associates like Steve Bannon and Rudy Giuliani – hosting a middling podcast and hawking branded merchandise while trying to fend off prosecution.

The media echo chamber which now insists that Trump will be a titanic political force for years to come sounds increasingly similar to the one that, five years ago, claimed he was no more than a flash-in-the-pan celebrity candidate. The glaring underestimation of Trump in the past and probable overestimation of his prospects today actually stem from the same error: the belief that Trump’s political appeal rests mainly on his personality cult, not on any association with a certain set of policy arguments.

Krein believes that the Republican Party has changed Trump more than he has changed the party:

It is clear that the Republican establishment changed Trump more than he changed the party. Although his administration’s policy record is a mixed bag, the shift in rhetoric over four years was unmistakable. Attacks on hedge fund managers and pharma executives became rarer and rarer, replaced with praise for tax cuts, cheering on the Dow, bashing “socialism” and lauding supreme court appointments. To be sure, arguments can be made for all of these things, at least among conservatives, but they are arguments that Ted Cruz or even Jeb Bush could make, albeit less theatrically. Of late, Trump’s combativeness has focused almost exclusively on allegations of election fraud and cringe-inducing self-pity; most people are already tuning it out.

And, despite Trump's ubiquitous media presence, there are things that are more consequential than being on television 24/7:

The average voter is not motivated entirely by tribal loyalties and subrational impulses (though the average media personality might be). Even if wonkishness is an undesirable trait for presidential candidates, big-picture policy visions matter.

Turning out enthusiastic audiences at rallies and commanding a large social media following are much less important than is commonly believed. Joe Biden proved that in both the Democratic primaries and the general election of 2020. Furthermore, when it comes to policy formation, the effectiveness of mass politics is often constrained by an increasingly oligarchical system. Institutional power often outweighs popular appeal.

Trump's appeal is really like the appeal of so-called "professional" wrestling:

Trump may never lack an audience or fail to draw a crowd. Yet as an aficionado of professional wrestling, he should understand the limitations of a genre in which advertising rates historically tend be quite low relative to ratings, presumably because wrestling’s core audience has comparatively little discretionary spending power. Unfortunately, the parallels between pro wrestling and American politics go beyond the entertainment spectacle; they extend to economics and influence as well.

Like Nietzsche’s Socrates, Trump was “the buffoon who got himself taken seriously”. Unlike a Socratic buffoon, however, Trump never overcame himself. Bereft of the wider critique that once confounded political elites, his personality cult is no longer compelling even as a vessel for ressentiment. Its chief acolytes today are the legacy media operations whose fortunes his nonstop controversies helped revive, opportunistic scribblers hoping to cash in on one more #Maga or #Resistance potboiler, and those who prefer that the media focus on anything except the substantive issues raised in 2016. They will happily ride the Trump gravy train as far as it goes, but it’s already running out of steam.

I'm not sure I buy Krein's argument. But it bears consideration.

Image: United Steelworkers

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Corruption At Centre Stage

Lisa Van Dusen writes that corruption has taken centre stage in our politics. In the battle between democracy and authoritarianism, corruption is seminal -- because corruption is all about incentives and disincentives:

The hypercorruption that has spread through the financial system, the political world, the intelligence community and Big Tech for the past two decades — most vividly in the weaponization of Donald Trump but ringing like a bell through the 2008 market collapse, the Citizens United US Supreme Court decision in 2010, the series of intelligence “failures” from the incomprehensible handling of China since its accession to the WTO in 2001, to the Iraq invasion, to the CIA hacking of Congress, to the 2016 election interference, to the recent months-long hack perpetrated against US government targets, to the exploitation and impunity of major technology platforms — has brought us to this juncture. Among other trends that have culminated in the recent run of atrocious years, the first two decades of the 21st century may be known as the era when corruption made democracy inconvenient for capitalism, because democracy includes accountability, oversight, and the approval of the people as the price of power.

One of the functions of any government should be to stamp out corruption. But to achieve that objective, government has to function. Unfortunately, right-wing governments around the world have been dedicated to making sure that government fails. Joe Biden now faces a sustained effort to make him fail. But now, the push for Biden's failure is driven by more than right-wing politicians:

Joe Biden is already confronting opposition determined to make him fail not because making government fail is the core of rightwing politics but because he has derailed that segue. This is now about the fact that making democracy fail is the goal of interests who never want to have to tether their fates to stoking either the satisfaction or rage of any base, ever again.

There is hope if people can see beyond the doubletalk and doublethink which have dominated our politics. But we have a long way to go.


Monday, December 28, 2020

The Perils Of Dogmatism

We live in dogmatic times. Judy Johnson defines dogmatism as "a trait that drives people to adopt polarized, hardened belief systems, dogmatism manifests in conspiracies theories, gross inequalities of wealth and opportunity, and widespread racism. It has a role to play in climate change and even pandemics."

She writes that dogmatism has several characteristics:

Five features are cognitive characteristics. The first is intolerance of ambiguity — a key feature Stanley Budnar defined as, “the tendency to perceive ambiguous situations as sources of threat.” Second is a defensive cognitive closure, in which conflicting ideas are immediately judged as ridiculous. Third is a rigid certainty that protects dogmatists from having to open their minds to the possibility they’re wrong, and the fourth, compartmentalization, partitions contradictory beliefs in isolated cognitive chambers with no connecting corridors. The final cognitive characteristic is a lack of personal insight that reflects dogmatic people’s inability to distance themselves far enough from their core beliefs to recognize their own dogmatism.

Besides its cognitive characteristics, dogmatism is marked by five behavioral features:

One is a preoccupation with power and status, which often creates stereotypes that remove ambiguity. The next is glorification of the in-group and vilification of the out-group, as seen in ethnocentric hero worship, prejudice and discrimination. Third is arrogant, dismissive communication that dismisses the person, not the idea.

Such ad hominem attacks are typical of the fourth behavioural feature, namely dogmatic authoritarian aggression. This is characteristic of leaders who divide people into warring camps around the world. Bob Altemeyer notes that such leaders demand absolute respect, unwavering loyalty and obedience to arbitrary rules, which they enforce without mercy. Commenting on the increasing prevalence of authoritarianism, Anne Applebaum states that charismatic, authoritarian political leaders create national chaos by stoking fear in the vulnerable, lambasting mainstream media for spewing fake news, appointing sycophants to powerful positions in the justice system and repeating vicious lies to brainwash the vulnerable.

Obviously, there are lots of examples of this behaviour. And the dangers of this behavior are equally obvious. Something to think about as we enter the new year.


Sunday, December 27, 2020

All Kinds Of Lessons


Commentators are beginning to turn their attention to Donald Trump's legacy. Simon Tidall's column in The Guardian is a good place to start. He writes:

How much damage did Donald Trump do around the world, can it be repaired, and did he accomplish anything of lasting significance? Assessing the international legacy of the 45th US president is not so much a conventional survey of achievement and failure. It’s more like tracking the rampages of a cantankerous rogue elephant that leaves a trail of random destruction and shattered shibboleths in its wake. Last week’s wild pardoning spree is a case in point.

From five thousand feet, destruction and ruin are all you see:

Trump’s ill-disguised hostility left deep scars in Germany, the most important European ally. This apparent phobia, fed by Berlin’s large trade surplus and relatively low defence spending, had a misogynistic tinge. He was, on occasion, unbelievably rude to chancellor Angela Merkel. A recent Pew poll found only 34% of Germans think US relations are in good shape.

All that said, Nato not only survived Trump’s constant criticisms; in some respects, its original purpose – deterring Russia – was reinforced by deployments of additional US forces in eastern Europe and the Baltic republics. Trump’s demand that European allies spend more on defence was not unreasonable, although his bullying brought only limited change.

And in Asia, Trump has left all kinds of rubble behind him:

Trump’s habit of thinking transactionally, not strategically, had a disastrous impact in Asia and elsewhere. He treated loyal allies Japan and South Korea with disdain – especially over misconceived talks with North Korea. He indulged rabble-rousers such as Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippines president, antagonised Pakistan, yet still failed to significantly enhance ties with India.

The fierce mutual animosity currently poisoning US-China relations is Trump’s most troublesome geopolitical legacy. Before 2017, there was still an outside chance that the old and new superpowers could find ways to get along. That’s gone. China is now viewed by Americans of all stripes as the No 1 threat. Beijing’s aggressive leadership is much at fault. But Trump’s trade and tech wars, Taiwan brinkmanship and “Wuhan virus” rhetoric made everything worse.

That's quite a record. And I haven't even touched on the ruin Trump has left in his own country. There are all kinds of lessons to be learned about what happens when you allow a mob boss to strut and fret  his hour upon the world stage. As Shakespeare wrote, "It is a tale told by an idiot."


Saturday, December 26, 2020

The Year Ahead

This is the time of year predictions proliferate, and Tony Burman has a few of his own. He writes:

This coming year will be better in many respects than the one we are now ending.

Just as we look back at the worldwide impact of the 1918 Spanish Flu with horror, historians a century from now will recall the world’s inept response to the pandemic of 2020 — and weep.

But they will also marvel at our recovery in 2021.

The pandemic will largely be under control, vaccines will proliferate, the global economy will rebound, and Donald Trump will effectively be gone — although he will, like that crazy uncle who refuses to die, torment us still.

In other words, this coming year won’t be an easy journey back to sanity.

The return to sanity will not be achieved easily:

When sanity returns to the White House with Joe Biden’s inauguration, many Americans will begin to realize the enormity of what almost happened. A sitting U.S. president — with the support of the Republican leadership — tried to deny the will of the American people and steal the election. The repercussions from this will be explosive.

It's hard to predict which explosions will occur and where. But one thing is certain:

Just like the Black Death in the 14th century and the Spanish Flu in 1918, the 2020 pandemic will transform the world in ways that we can only now imagine. It will start a global debate about how each of us lives. Beyond its horrific death and destruction, the pandemic has triggered many profound changes in the home, workplace and in social relationships that will be lasting.

That new world will be primarily shaped by the rise of Asia:

America’s failings under Trump have created opportunities for China. Once again, there is talk of the dawn of an “Asian Century” that sees a post-America world with economic and political power shifting to an increasingly aggressive China. This will present the most important challenge to Biden. How can he persuade traditional allies in Europe and Asia that the U.S.-led global system is not finally coming to an end?

And, just as Donald Trump will be ushered off the stage, Boris Johnson will also fade into the history books:

A year ago, Prime Minister Johnson led Britain’s Conservatives to a resounding victory. Now, there is no certainty he will remain in power until the next election. This next year will be his undoing. Johnson’s mishandling of the pandemic and the backlash over the deepening Brexit debacle have plunged his approval ratings. And there are genuine fears that the United Kingdom is heading to a breakup.

Much has been broken in 2020. Reassembling the pieces will not be easy.


Thursday, December 24, 2020

Christmas 2020


It's been a dark year. And the weeks following Christmas will be filled with more death and -- for many  --  desperation.

A principal I worked with, who is a cancer survivor, says the disease has changed his perspective. He appreciates each new day and the potential it brings. He has learned what many of us are still learning. May we come to experience his wisdom.

However you celebrate, happy holidays.


Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Before He Leaves

Those who know Donald Trump predicted that, as his time in office came to an end, he would issue pardons "like Christmas cards." Yesterday, the Christmas rush began.  Maggie Haberman and Mike Schmidt report in The New York Times that:

In an audacious pre-Christmas round of pardons, President Trump granted clemency on Tuesday to two people who pleaded guilty in the special counsel’s Russia inquiry, four Blackwater guards convicted in connection with the killing of Iraqi civilians and three corrupt former Republican members of Congress.

Mr. Trump nullified more of the legal consequences of an investigation into his 2016 campaign that he long labeled a hoax. He granted clemency to contractors whose actions in Iraq set off an international uproar and helped turn public opinion further against the war there. And he pardoned three members of his party who had become high-profile examples of public corruption.

The 15 pardons and five commutations were made public by the White House in a statement on Tuesday evening. They appeared in many cases to have bypassed the traditional Justice Department review process — more than half of the cases did not meet the department’s standards for consideration — and reflected Mr. Trump’s long-held grudges about the Russia investigation, his instinct to side with members of the military accused of wrongdoing and his willingness to reward political allies.

Trump has already given Michael Flynn and Roger Stone get out of jail free cards. And there will be more such passes issued -- perhaps even one to himself. Clearly, Trump plans to set fire to the place before he leaves.

Image: Smithsonian Magazine

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

The House Trump Built

Donald Trump is entering his final days as president. And the end looks like a loopy movie. Richard Wolffe writes:

The last days of the Trump presidency increasingly resemble the fictional presidency in the movie Monsters vs Aliens.

In case you missed this 2009 animated masterpiece, President Hathaway (voiced by Stephen Colbert) responds to an alien invasion with a team of unlikely heroes, among them a giant-sized TV reporter from Modesto, a cockroach-turned-mad-scientist, and an enormous blob of Jell-O.

Trump has surrounded himself with wing nuts:

At the center of the team to save Planet Trump are the unhinged characters of Sidney Powell and Michael Flynn, who reportedly met with the soon-to-be-ex-president in the White House over several hours on Friday.

Both Powell and Flynn have previously been fired by the reality TV star turned president – who, after all, built a public persona around firing people on The Apprentice. But on Planet Trump, firings are not as final as they appear to be, which surely means it’s not too late for the Mooch to extend his 10-day record of service to the nation.

Powell was ejected from the elite strike force of lawyers just one month ago for her outlandish claims that Joe Biden won the presidential election with mysterious “communist money” and the support of the long-deceased Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez.

Friday’s surreal bull session included Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser, who has the distinct honor of having been fired by both Obama and Trump – a rare point of agreement between the yin and yang of the American presidency. Flynn lied to Mike Pence and the FBI about his conversations with the Russian ambassador, pleading guilty to the felony as part of the Mueller investigation.

Newly pardoned by the man who fired him, Flynn is now reportedly advocating for Trump to invoke martial law to rerun the election. This would normally be key to executing a Chavista coup, but is obviously now the victim of a Chavista coup.

One of the ringleaders of this madcap gang is Patrick Byrne, the former CEO of Overstock, who left the online retailer last year claiming that he had romanced a Russian agent on behalf of “the Men in Black”. Good luck making sense of that, or Byrne’s latest venture: what he calls “a team of hackers and cybersleuths and other people with odd skills”. For Trump’s favorite news channel, OAN, this constitutes an “elite cybersecurity team”.

This is the self-defeating, nonsensical house that Trump built.

Unfortunately, that house will endure after Trump leaves.

Image: New York Magazine

Monday, December 21, 2020

A Balancing Act

Traditionally, politicians have framed issues as binary choices. Don Lenihan and Andrew Balfour write that "the binary approach frames issues as a choice between two mutually exclusive options (either/or) and then picks a side."

But the pandemic and climate change are issues that defy binary framing. They require a balancing approach: "The balancing approach requires a leader to sort through both sides of an issue in search of middle ground."

And finding a middle ground can be difficult. Moreover, it is fraught with potential mistakes:

Policy analysts describe issues like the pandemic or climate change as complex, which means that each one is really a dynamic constellation of issues, rather than single and isolated.

The pandemic has led Doug Ford to make mistakes:

We see this in the strategies that Ford and other premiers are using to contain the virus, while protecting the economy. Sometimes they get the balance right, and sometimes they get it wrong. In hindsight, Ford’s decision to broaden the colour-coded categories turns out to have been a bad one.

Balancing requires that we follow the evidence -- and listen to the experts. But this is harder than it sounds:

Experts can provide real insight into the risks associated with different options, but it is not their job to tell the public how to weigh these risks against one another. Weighing risks involves value judgements and people with different values weigh them differently.

In the end, it falls to the premier to decide where the “right” balance lies. And that’s a tough call. If Ford got this one wrong, it is not because he is unconcerned about people’s health or indifferent to the risks. It is because first ministers are under enormous pressure both to protect public health AND save the economy.

Lenihan and Balfour conclude that there are two important lessons to be drawn about framing issues as a balancing act:

1. There is no “perfect” balance between these goals. People will always have differences. But there are better and worse choices and finding them would be much easier if everyone understood how complex issues work, why balancing is the right way to manage them, and how it differs from the binary approach.

2. Balancing is a learning process that involves trial and error, and the public needs to see the process working this way. Transparency is essential. To help realize this, critics should focus less on whether premiers like Ford get it right the first time, and more on whether they are learning the right lessons as they go.

Something to think about as we enter the new year.


Sunday, December 20, 2020

A Better World

This has been a very difficult year. But it has not been all darkness.  Robin Sears writes:

For all the pain of this year, let’s also celebrate the solidarity that most of us showed. Conflict sells newspapers, so the tiny number of jerks — anti-vaxxers, covidiots, and gun-wielding conspiracy paranoids — got far more attention than they deserved. Despite their threats, there very few violent clashes. Overwhelmingly, people reached out to help those in need. There is hope in that.

The horrific police killings in the United States produced change as well as tragedy. Cities are banning chokeholds, excessive use of force, and trying to reassert civilian control over what have become heavily armed hostile forces in too many communities. Those smartphone videos first shocked the world, and then lit the fuse that led millions to take to the streets and demand real change on racism.

In the midst of our basest instincts, large numbers of people chose a more noble path. Health care workers, public servants, and volunteers rose to the challenge. And we were forced to confront the deep-seated inequalities in our society:

The virus has revealed growing inequality and social injustice more starkly than we have seen since the Depression era. For the first time there is broad and serious discussion about two previously unthinkable policy steps: guaranteeing a decent basic income for every citizen, and taxing the accumulated wealth of the rich. They may not happen soon, but the genie is out of the bottle and will not easily be forced back down. Like the demand for pensions a century ago, or broad public health care two generations ago, these ideas will become irresistible over time.

This is not to say that we have triumphed. We are far, far from any victory -- particularly as we enter the Christmas season:

Now we go into one of the most emotionally difficult holiday seasons of our lives. Mourning the ones we have lost, fearful about who might be next, lonely for the embrace of distant family and friends. Some will view any holiday cheer as unseemly in the face of so many in pain. The opposite is true. There is no better time to show determination and even laughter at our surviving this awful year. And celebrating the promised changes in race relations, policing and public health the pandemic brought.

Traditionally, Christmas is a time when we look forward to a better world. The pandemic has shown us why we desperately need a better world.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Sweeping Insanity

Donald Trump is taking credit for the coronavirus vaccine. But Sheryl Gay Stolberg reports that many of his supporters say they won't get vaccinated:

Elizabeth Graves, an ardent supporter of President Trump, is not opposed to vaccines. She said she had taken flu shots and pneumonia shots and, having just turned 50, was interested in being vaccinated against shingles.

But Ms. Graves, a legal transcriptionist in Starkville, Miss., said she would not be taking a coronavirus vaccine — and the sight of Vice President Mike Pence rolling up his sleeve to get vaccinated on live television on Friday, she added, would not change her mind.

Lawrence Palmer, 51, a field service engineer in Boiling Springs, Pa., and Brandon Lofgren, 25, who works in his family’s trucking and construction business in rural Wisconsin, said they felt the same way. All are fans of Mr. Trump, and echoed Ms. Graves, who said she was “suspicious” of government and that Mr. Pence’s vaccination “doesn’t mean a thing to me.”

It is a paradox of the pandemic: Helping speed the development of a coronavirus vaccine may be one of Mr. Trump’s proudest accomplishments, but at least in the early stages of the vaccine rollout, there is evidence that a substantial number of his supporters say they do not want to get it.

And therein lies the essential lunacy behind Donald Trump's presidency:

For the most part, public opinion has been swinging in favor of vaccination. Seventy-one percent of Americans are willing to be vaccinated, up from 63 percent in September, according to a survey released this week by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Still, the survey found that Republicans were the most likely to be hesitant, with 42 percent saying they would probably not or definitely not be vaccinated, as compared with 12 percent of Democrats.

The Republican response to Trump and the vaccine is essentially schizophrenic -- another sign of the insanity which has swept over the United States.

Image: Tiltfactor

Friday, December 18, 2020

Trump's Long Goodbye

Donald Trump is living through a long humiliation -- mostly by his own doing. Doug Saunders writes:

The past six weeks have provided many of us the enjoyable experience of watching Donald Trump losing – badly – in a drawn-out series of public humiliations and serial self-abasements.

This spectacle has grown tiresome to some, especially to Americans who face the constant horror of more than 3,000 daily deaths resulting from their President’s incompetent pandemic response. They’d like someone to shut him up, or cancel his social-media feeds, or at least teleport us to Jan. 21, when he will once again become part of the U.S. background noise.

It's natural to feel that the sooner Trump goes the better.  But Saunders believes that prolonging Tump's humiliation is absolutely necessary:

It is vitally important that the entire world witnesses his loss and humiliation, his embarrassing tantrums, and his flailing displays of impotence and weakness.

To see Donald Trump as a pathetic loser is the most effective imaginable challenge to the phenomenon that’s become known as “global Trumpism.” It has nothing to do with political beliefs or actual leadership styles; strongman leaders drawing on distrust and intolerance have been a 21st-century phenomenon for a decade, most of them inspired and supported by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

But electoral support for such leaders, in those countries that still have functioning democratic systems, has been given a serious boost by Mr. Trump’s ascent. A vote for whatever party in your country that believes in a byzantine global conspiracy of immigrants, media, elites and religious minorities was previously a fringe protest move, a withdrawal from the mainstream. After 2016, it felt as though you were joining the winners.

The best way to send Trumpism to an ignoble end is to let Trump have his long ignoble goodbye.

Image: The New Republic

Thursday, December 17, 2020

The Old Doug Ford

Doug Ford recognized the danger of the pandemic. But, Martin Regg Cohn asks, does he understand what's going on with the climate? Apparently not:

Call it the pandemic paradox. The only question is whether we wake up to the warning signs for global warming in good time, or continue sleepwalking — and trash talking it as time runs out.

To his credit, the new Doug Ford grasped the virulence of the virus early on.

To his discredit, the old Doug Ford doesn’t get the gravity of greenhouse gas emissions even this late in the game.

He’s back — back to his old ways, back to his old fundraising scare tactics, back to his old rhetorical distortions, back to his old wedge politics of divide and confuse. Back to the same old fight against carbon pricing.

When Justin Trudeau announced his climate policy, Ford fumed:

“I’ve never, ever, ever been more disappointed in an announcement ever since I’ve been in politics,” the premier fumed with calculated hyperbole.

Spoiler alert: Most Canadians will continue to be fully rebated for the rising carbon levy — currently 4.4 cents a litre at the gas pump, but increasing to 27.6 cents when it is fully phased in by 2030.

Nonetheless, Ford called the policy a tax grab:

“Make no mistake about this, this is nothing but a 30 per cent tax grab,” Ford said mistakenly, if not mendaciously.

To be clear: If the levy is rebated, it is not retained; if it is not retained, it is not a tax; if it is not a tax, it is not a grab.

Ford’s Tories have been riding the anti-tax train since he won the Progressive Conservative leadership in early 2018, reversing the party’s previous support for the federal carbon levy, and budgeting an unconscionable $30 million to fight it in court. The strategy has been unravelling ever since.

One after another, provincial courts have rejected legal challenges to the carbon levy (the federal court has yet to rule). Last September, an Ontario court declared unconstitutional Ford’s embarrassingly unconservative diktat that the gas stations of the province be compelled to affix his anti-tax propaganda stickers to the pump — on pain of a $10,000 fine (Ford’s Tories declined to appeal, leaving the stickers unstuck, and Ford’s message unhinged).

The Ford makeover was temporary. The Old Doug Ford is back.

Image: Press Progress

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

It's Genetic

Arwa Mahdawa writes that speculation is Jared and Ivanka Kushner are planning to flee to Florida:

Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump have decided not to move back to New York and are heading to Florida. According to the New York Post, the pair have spent over $30m on almost a hectare of land near Miami Beach. While that may seem like a wild amount to spend on a relatively small piece of empty land, it is situated on the super-exclusive Indian Creek Island, which has the nickname Billionaire’s Bunker.

There are only 41 residences on the island and it has a 13-strong police force as well as its own round-the-clock armed marine patrol. It’s supposedly one of the most secure places in the world. Although, to be honest, I can think of a few places with even higher security where some of the Trump family may end up next.

Life gets tough when you have to leave the White House. But perhaps the Kushners are thinking like Ivanka's father. Florida is a good place to protect your assets:

Florida is a great place to move to if you are a retiree or a criminal. As well as sun, sea and sand, it boasts a number of laws that may appeal to someone desperate to keep their hands on their money. These include something called a “homestead exemption”, which protects a Florida resident’s primary home (of unlimited value) from being seized by creditors.

Back in 2008, for example, Bernie Madoff’s wife suddenly switched her primary residence from New York to Florida and applied for a homestead exemption to protect her $9.4m home. Weirdly, she applied for this exemption just a few months before Madoff pleaded guilty to running a massive Ponzi scheme.

For the Trumps, grifting is genetic.

Image: Patrick Semansky/AP

Sunday, December 13, 2020

The American Brain Dead

Jennifer Rubin writes that the number of Americans who believe  utter rubbish is astounding -- and dangerous:

A spate of surveys shows a significant majority of Americans (maybe 60 percent, a couple of polls report) thinks President-elect Joe Biden won the election. (This is akin to “What color is George Washington’s white horse?”) That means 40 percent or so of Americans are utterly deluded.

The consequences are grave. It gives Republicans license to continue to break norms and even the law (e.g., threaten election officials). It promotes irrational, obstructionist politics and increases the divide between Americans. Biden voters, I would guess, have never been more contemptuous of Trump voters as they are now, especially as the MAGA crowd spouts nonsense about a “Kraken.” (For those who are uncertain what this means, just remember "Q" is out and Kraken is in as the all-purpose bogeyman for the far right.)

This kind of lunacy makes it hard for democracy to function:

Conduct from Republican House and Senate members shows the pernicious effects of this cult of absurdity. Victimology and self-pity (We were denied a second Trump term!) mixed with arrogance (Only we know what really happened in those ballot-counting rooms!) do not make people amenable to compromise or empathy. Indeed, it turns seemingly capable and sane public figures into raving lunatics, uninterested in solving real problems. When you’re chasing ghosts in the Dominion Voting Systems, there is little time for real legislation. Instead, you wind up with Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), formerly purveyor of Russian-inspired conspiracies, holding hearings on the nonexistent fraud that even President Trump does not really believe happened. The mega lawsuit supported by Republican state attorneys general is now about “overturning” the election results, as Trump has repeatedly said on Twitter.

The Brain Dead have taken over one of the two American political parties. Can the second be far behind?


Saturday, December 12, 2020

How Serious Are We?

The Liberals have finally come up with a broad climate change policy. Adam Radwanski writes:

For five years since their Paris Agreement commitment to cut greenhouse-gas emissions 30 per cent by 2030, it was never clear how that was supposed to happen – not with the government mostly dabbling in green policies that didn’t add up to nearly enough.
Now, Canadians have a credible answer, courtesy of the climate-policy plan for the next decade that Ottawa released on Friday, and it’s contentious enough that it could easily be a pivotal question in an election next year. Having in their first term introduced a national carbon price too low to have much more than a symbolic impact, the Liberals now intend to raise it sharply enough to really change the ways we behave.
The carbon price is to rise by $15 per tonne each year after 2022 – up from the current $10/tonne annual increases, which most carbon-price advocates were just hoping would be maintained – until it reaches $170/tonne in 2030.That’s not so far off from the $210 a tonne that, according to a report last year by the pro-carbon-pricing Ecofiscal Commission, would be sufficient to hit 2030 emissions-reduction targets absent much other new policy.
The inescapable takeaway from what was announced on Friday is that the Liberals have come down on the side of a market-based solution strong in economic theory, but mostly untested in political practice. And they have done so somewhat at the expense of other, more-interventionist climate-related measures.

The political theory is going to be where the rubber hits the road. The plan is

a far cry from the calls by environmental groups for the government to commit in excess of $50-billion – or in some cases more than $100-billion – toward a green economic recovery. And the plan’s relatively restrained tone on future spending, coupled with the market mechanism that is its centrepiece, shouldn’t leave those groups holding their breath.
Ottawa also has to attempt some manner of fresh consultations with the provinces, as promised before the past election prior to any future carbon-price increases. The premiers of the provinces challenging the existing policy aren’t exactly going to be receptive. They’re likely to chafe at plans to reopen provincial equivalency agreements on industrial carbon pricing (which is different from the fuel price paid by consumers) that they only recently signed. They may have some company from other premiers who feel blindsided by Friday’s news.

The conventional wisdom is that there will be an election in the spring:

There is still very big political risk in campaigning on a policy that would ultimately add roughly 40 cents a litre at the gas pumps; that requires trust in government that revenues are actually being returned; that demands faith in economic theory at a time populism might more easily triumph.

So it appears that the die has been cast. The forces of denial will be primed and ready. We shall soon know how serious we are about our planet.


Friday, December 11, 2020

Natural Governing Parties

Conservatives are remarkably similar these days -- on both sides of the Atlantic. Andy Beckett writes in The Guardian:

"Politics is sometimes … about finding out how to change the rules of the game,” wrote the Anglo-American political philosopher Raymond Geuss in 2008. The Conservatives are often good at this exercise. Despite rarely being very popular, competent or full of ideas, they’ve managed to stay in office for the last 10 years through a variety of unconventional manoeuvres: forming a coalition with the Liberal Democrats; changing the electoral cycle with the Fixed-term Parliaments Act; avoiding a hostile House of Commons by illegally proroguing parliament; and, most important of all, by calling a rare and risky referendum on EU membership, losing it, and then siding with the winners.

All this manoeuvring has been made easier by the fact that the Conservatives are seen as Britain’s natural rulers, even by many of their enemies. The Tory reputation for pragmatism – you could call it shamelessness – also helps them. To much of rightwing Britain, an acceptable version of Conservatism is whatever Conservative governments say it is.

It's that assumption that conservatives are a natural governing elite that is central to the problems we face -- because the unspoken corollary is that the system can't be changed:

The usual response from non-Tories to such brazen gaming of our political system is to feel appalled, frustrated or helpless – or to argue that Britain needs a more watertight constitution, which would supposedly make such manipulation impossible. But creating a constitution that constrains Britain’s most powerful party is an ambitious goal. In the shorter term, liberals and leftists might be better off taking on board the Conservatives’ insight that the current political system is malleable, and make some alterations to it of their own.

Sometimes the system does change:

Very occasionally, non-Tory governments have done that. In 1911, after a Tory-dominated House of Lords had blocked the Liberal chancellor David Lloyd George’s radically redistributive 1909 “people’s budget”, his government pushed through the Parliament Act, which removed the Lords’ power to veto legislation.

Decades later, Tony Blair’s government was the first Labour one to enact many significant constitutional reforms: removing most hereditary peers from the Lords, introducing proportional representation for European elections, and devolving power to Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and a handful of elected mayors. All of these were welcome erosions of the old, centralised, often Tory-friendly way of doing things. But the beneficiaries have often been parties other than Labour. The SNP used devolution – and the 2014 independence referendum granted by the Conservatives – to become Scotland’s dominant party, at Labour’s expense. And the most powerful politician Blair’s devolution has produced is the former mayor of London, Boris Johnson.

In the US, another country with a political system that the right has gamed for decades, there’s more awareness among leftists and centrists that this has taken place, and more readiness to consider aggressive responses, such as expanding the Senate and supreme court to reduce their conservative biases. The existing political rules have lost much of their legitimacy: even the Economist magazine, usually cautiously centrist in its US coverage, argued in 2018 that American democracy had become a “tyranny of the minority”, with “a built-in bias towards rural Republicans”. It’s harder to imagine an establishment publication here being prepared to say that our political system is tilted too far rightwards. Believing that we do democracy fairly – which for many Britons means allowing the left an occasional win – is still an ingrained national habit.

We have reached the point when "natural governing parties" must be sent to the dustbin of history.

Image: Triumph IAS

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Its Darker Angels

Erin O'Toole wants to put a kinder, gentler face on his party. But, Bob Hepburn writes, since he became the Conservative leader, he has pandered to the party's darker angels:

The Conservative party has increasingly become the home of far-right conspiracists, COVID-19 anti-vaxxers, emboldened hard-line gun lovers and politicians spouting anti-socialist hysterics.

Through all of this O’Toole has tried to appease the worst elements in the Conservative fold by issuing vague statements that say nothing, neither condemning nor praising the actors who are now defining the party as it prepares to fight the coming election.

Consider the way O'Toole has dealt with his leadership rival Derek Sloan:

O’Toole has refused to condemn Tory MP Derek Sloan for sponsoring a nation-wide petition championed by anti-vaxxers that spreads falsehoods about the safety of COVID-19 vaccines. To date, more than 30,000 people have signed the petition.

Instead, O’Toole insists it is the Liberals’ “incompetence” that’s to blame for Canadians’ fears about the vaccines. Right now, this tacit support for the anti-vaxxer crowd is about the only thing people are talking about when it comes to the Conservatives.

And then there is the case of Pierre Polievre:

O’Toole has given free rein to Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre, his most senior MP, to flirt with the conspiracy crowd by becoming a cheerleader for far-right loonies who have convinced themselves that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other global elites are plotting to impose a socialist order on the world, enriching themselves and making the masses poorer.

In recent weeks, Poilievre has gone to vast lengths to demonize what’s called the “Great Reset,” a simple, non-offensive vision by the World Economic Forum that suggests the COVID-19 pandemic provides a chance to adopt policies to reduce economic inequality around the globe.

And, like the nutbars south of the border, the Conservatives are calling their opponents "socialists:"

Far-right Conservatives love to toss the word “socialist” at Liberals and progressives, firing up their base and suggesting Canada is heading toward destruction. During the Trump presidency, the smearing of “socialists” has become more common in Canada.

The best example was a recent column in the National Post by Leslyn Lewis, who finished third in the Tory leadership race and will be the Tory candidate in the Ontario riding of Haldiman-Norfolk. Lewis, a darling of the Tory right and touted as a possible future leader, warned in excitable language that Trudeau is leading “a socialist coup” in Canada, which she described as “a quiet and bloodless revolution that seeks to control our lives through economic dependency,” right down to confiscating part of your retirement savings.

The party is now guided by its darker angels.


Wednesday, December 09, 2020

The Free Market Myth

Robert Reich writes that "the free market" is a myth. That has been proven true yet again during the pandemic:

How have a relative handful of billionaires – whose vast fortunes have soared even during the pandemic – convinced the vast majority of the public that their wealth shouldn’t be taxed in order to support the common good?

They have employed one of the oldest methods used by the wealthy to maintain wealth and power – a belief system that portrays wealth and power in the hands of a few as natural and inevitable.

If you amass a billion dollars you must deserve it because the market has awarded you that much. If you barely scrape by you have only yourself to blame. If millions of people are unemployed or their paychecks are shrinking or they have to work two or three jobs and have no idea what they’ll be earning next month or even next week, that’s unfortunate but it’s the outcome of market forces.

There could be no more poisonous idea. But, over the last fifty years, it is an idea that has gained the status of conventional wisdom:

According to this view, whatever we might do to reduce inequality or economic insecurity – to make the economy work for most of us – runs the risk of distorting the market and causing it to be less efficient, or of unintended consequences that may end up harming us. The “free market” is to be preferred over “government”.

But government sets up markets. And it can change them:

The interminable debate over whether the “free market” is better than “government” makes it impossible for us to examine who exercises this power, how they benefit from doing so and whether such rules need to be altered so that more people benefit from them. The myth of market fundamentalism is therefore highly useful to those who do not wish such an examination to be undertaken.

It’s no accident that those with disproportionate influence over the rules of the market – who are the largest beneficiaries of how the rules have been designed and adapted – are also among the most vehement supporters of the “free market”, and the most ardent advocates of the relative superiority of the market over government.

The debate over market v government serves to distract the public from the underlying realities of how the rules are generated and changed, from the power of the moneyed interests over this process, and the extent to which they gain from the results. In other words, not only do these “free market” advocates want the public to agree with them about the superiority of the market, but also about the central importance of the interminable and distracting debate over whether the market or the government should prevail.

 Politics these days has become an exercise in distraction. At all costs, we must not see the man behind the curtain.


Tuesday, December 08, 2020

A Short Time

Doug Ford has worked hard to not show his true colours. But, in the midst of the pandemic, they're showing through. Martin Regg Cohn writes:

After two years in power, the premier who promised never to sever the people’s Greenbelt is laying the groundwork to carve it up — and serve it up to developers. That’s not listening to the people, nor protecting what is precious to them.

In mid-pandemic, under cover of COVID-19, the Tories are dividing and divvying up the Greenbelt by ministerial fiat. On Monday, Ford’s PCs used their majority muscle in the legislature to pass a sweeping new law that disembowels 36 local conversation authorities while emboldening countless local developers.

With his brazen attack on the governance of the Greenbelt, the premier has provoked a firestorm — not least among Progressive Conservatives for whom conservation is a core value. This is not about ideology but ecology.

The Bill Davis wing of the party is very unhappy:

An impassioned public appeal by former Toronto mayor David Crombie to his fellow Tories fell on deaf ears last month. Hence his dramatic public resignation as chair of the Greenbelt Council late on Saturday.

For Crombie, who once served as a PC cabinet minister in the pro-environment government of Brian Mulroney, it was a cri de coeur. And cry of betrayal.

“This is not policy and institutional reform,” he raged. “This is high-level bombing and needs to be resisted.”

When Progressive Conservative conservationists call for resistance, you know they are calling out something insidious. If not quite a Saturday Night Massacre, it is a Saturday Night Immolation.

The flames are spreading, for Crombie’s desperation manoeuvre sparked a mutinous catharsis among conservationists. Six other board members have also quit in disgust, Tories and developers among them, all making the point that the government will drain the lifeblood out of the Greenbelt if they trample on watersheds that flow into it.

The Fordians are  flexing their muscles:

This week, they are also sowing division in an unrelated but equally contentious area quite apart from conservation — education:

On the same day that Ford betrayed his party’s conservationist roots, he also repaid a political IOU to the fringe social conservatives who helped him win power in 2018. Resorting to unsavoury legislative tactics, the premier forced through a grab bag of changes — buried in his fall budget bill — that not only gut the Greenbelt but also undermine higher education in this province.

Remember the bizarre saga of Canada Christian College, which the PC government wanted accredited to full university status? On Monday, the Tories voted to empower its notoriously homophobic and Islamophobic president, “Dr.” Charles McVety — he who doubts evolution — to award coveted bachelor of science and bachelor of arts degrees.

Mr. Ford can only keep up an act for a short period of time.


Monday, December 07, 2020

Building An Alternate Universe

There is a long tradition in the United States of former presidents building libraries to contain the history of their presidencies. Donald Trump, Karen Tumulty writes, is doing something entirely different -- he's building an alternate reality:

When other presidents leave office, they build libraries to house their records and honor their achievements.

President Trump is constructing something far more ambitious: an entire alternate reality.

The hour-and-40-minute diatribe of lies and grievance that he delivered Saturday night on a tarmac in Valdosta, Ga., was remarkable in that regard.

In his first big public appearance after losing the election to Democrat Joe Biden, Trump made only a glancing mention of the coronavirus pandemic that is spiking and taking the lives of record numbers of Americans on a daily basis. There were few masks apparent in the crowd.

The lame-duck president ostensibly was there to make the case for the two Republican candidates in next month’s runoff election, which will determine control of the Senate.

But as is typically the case with Trump, the event was really all about himself. His rant was a live-action version of his Twitter feed, spewing evidence-free claims that the election was stolen.

What is truly frightening is that so many people flock ecstatically to Trump's universe, ripping off their masks as they do so. And the Republican Party is all in:

When 25 of my colleagues at The Post surveyed the offices of all 249 Republicans in the House and Senate late last week, they found only 27 of them acknowledging the reality that Biden won the election. Two members claimed, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that Trump came out on top. The remaining 220 lawmakers declined to say who won an election that took place more than a month ago and that wasn’t all that close.

What makes all of this more dangerous is the fact that the delusion being fueled by Trump has taken hold among his party’s rank and file. Polls are showing upward of 60 percent of Republicans believe the election was rigged. And that has consequences for our democracy that have the potential to linger long after Trump has left office.

It seems to matter not a whit to them that Trump’s baseless claims of massive election fraud are being thrown out of courts across the country.

COVID kills people. Insanity turns people into zombies who -- unfortunately -- survive.

Sunday, December 06, 2020

Scheerly O' Toole

Erin O' Toole has been pounding the Trudeau government's response to the COVID pandemic. Chantal Hebert writes:

For more than a week, the Conservatives in the House of Commons have been accusing the ruling Liberals of fiddling while the rest of the world has pre-emptively been procuring vaccines.

For now, a variety of independent sources have contradicted the Conservatives’ assertion that once vaccines are available Canada will find itself relegated to the back of the line.

It would not be the first time the Conservatives, on O’Toole’s nascent watch, have overreached in their critique of Trudeau’s pandemic management.

Their current offensive mirrors an earlier one — in September — that saw O’Toole accuse the Liberals of having missed the bus on the procurement of rapid tests.

It has now been weeks since thousands of those tests were distributed to the provinces and for a variety of reasons that have little to do with the timing of the federal delivery most have yet to put them to use.

O' Toole's problem is that his fellow Conservatives are not acting on testing and vaccination:

While O’Toole and his leading critics were on the vaccine barricades this week, one of his former leadership rivals was publicizing a petition replete with misleading information about their alleged perils.

In the Commons, the Conservative leader repeatedly accused the Liberals of putting the lives of Canadians and the health of the economy at risk by allegedly dragging their feet on deploying vaccines.

But outside the House, O’Toole had little but evasions to offer about Ontario MP Derek Sloan’s role in spreading anti-vaccine falsehoods.

Mr. O'Toole is trying to present himself as the new Stephen Harper. It's clear though that he's the new Andrew Scheer. And, even if he were the new Harper, O'Toole would clearly be misunderstanding the moment.


Saturday, December 05, 2020

Eating Their Own

For four years, Donald Trump turned his fire on anyone he thought was his enemy. His supporters cheered. Now his supporters are learning that Trump treats his supporters with the same contempt he has for his opponents. Michelle Goldberg writes:

Since Trump’s defeat, the MAGA revolution has begun devouring its own. As it does, some conservatives are discovering the downsides of having a president who spreads malicious conspiracy theories, subverts faith in democracy and turns the denial of reality into a loyalty test. As the internet meme goes, people voted for the Leopards Eating People’s Faces Party, and now the leopards are turning on them.

People and institutions that get involved with Trump often end up diminished or disgraced. Since the election, this is happening faster than ever. The president is reportedly thinking of firing Attorney General Bill Barr because, for all Barr’s obsequious toadying, he has declined to repeat Trump’s fantasies about widespread electoral cheating. Much of the MAGA-verse has turned on Fox News, because its news programs aren’t pretending that Trump won.

Both Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia and Gov. Doug Ducey of Arizona have been slavishly faithful to Trump, but stopped short of breaking the law by refusing to certify the vote in their states. For that, they’ve been at least temporarily cast out of Trump’s movement. “What is going on with @dougducey? Republicans will long remember!” Trump tweeted. At a berserk Georgia rally on Wednesday, the pro-Trump lawyer Lin Wood led the crowd in a “lock him up” chant against Kemp.

Trump, like Titus Andronicus, now has Republicans eating their own. And he'll feast on their remains until he's dragged off the stage. How long do Republicans want to sit at Trump's dinner table -- knowing that they're dinner?

Image: The Guardian

Friday, December 04, 2020

Who Are You Going To Believe?

The culture war being waged in the United States is destroying that nation from within. Aaron Wherry writes that Erin O' Tolle has embraced the idea of a culture war. The idea goes back to British writer Goodhart's book, The Road To Somewhere:

In short, Goodhart posits that the traditional politics of left and right, liberal and conservative, are now overlaid by a "larger and looser" distinction "between the people who see the world from Anywhere and the people who see it from Somewhere."

According to Goodhart, the typical Anywhere is a well-educated professional living in a large city away from where they grew up. They generally vote for left-of-centre parties. They are mobile, embrace change and take "egalitarian and meritocratic attitudes on race, sexuality and gender and think that we need to push on further."

They do not entirely accept the idea of a borderless world but are individualist and internationalist in disposition and "are not strongly attached to larger group identities, including national ones." In Goodhart's words, "they value autonomy and self-realisation before stability, community and tradition."

The average Somewhere, he says, is less well-educated, earns a lower income, comes from a small town or a suburb and is more grounded in a specific place. "They do not generally welcome change and older Somewheres are nostalgic for a lost Britain," Goodhart writes. "They place a high value on security and familiarity and have strong group attachments, local and national." They tend to vote for conservative parties.

These Somewheres, Goodhart adds, "accept the equality revolution but still value traditional family forms and are suspicious of 'anything goes' attitudes." They are not authoritarians, he writes, but they "regret the passing of a more structured and tradition bound world."

Attitudes toward immigration, Goodhart says, "have probably become the single biggest litmus test of Anywhere/Somewhere difference and over time have come to stand for more general attitudes toward social change and whether people feel comfortable with and feel they benefit from it, or not." (Canada, he notes, is a "partial exception" to the rule that "large scale immigration" is universally unpopular.)

The Anywheres, Goodhart argues, have been dominant in culture and society and must now be more conscious of how their fellow citizens from Somewhere are feeling.

Stephen Harper picked up Goodhart's idea and passed it on to O'Toole. O'Toole is positioning himself as a spokesman for the Somewheres and he accuses Justin Trudeau of being a tool of the Anywheres:

"While this prime minister seems to think that every Canadian can simply work on their laptop from the local café," O'Toole said Monday, "that is not reality, nor is it what Canadians want. Conservatives are here to fight for those who build things in Canada, those who get their hands dirty and take pride in doing a job well before they come home for the night."

To burnish his credentials among those who "get their hands dirty," O'Toole said that his first job in high school was dishwasher and short-order cook. He did not mention that he went on to become a corporate lawyer in Toronto and in-house counsel to a major multinational corporation (Procter & Gamble).

Asked in September whether he saw himself as a populist, O'Toole said he was simply "trying to address the hopes, aspirations and concerns of Canadians." But nearly every politician in the history of civilization would say they were doing more or less the same thing.

Populism is more usefully defined as an ideology that suggests society can be divided between the 'pure' public and the 'corrupt' elite. It is based in conflict. And O'Toole seems willing to embrace the idea of a fundamental clash between middle-class Canadians and the elites, between the Somewheres and the Anywheres — or at least to accuse the Liberal government of working to make sure there are a lot more Anywheres everywhere.

The Liberals claim they represent the same people. So who are you going to believe?


Thursday, December 03, 2020

The Juggernaut Continues

The Ontario legislature is currently debating Doug Ford's budget. That document, Fred Hahn writes, is another example of what Naomi Klein has dubbed "disaster capitalism:"

When we factor in inflation and population growth, base funding will decrease for education at all levels, social services, and municipalities. Funding for health care, the program area that sees the most support in this budget, will in effect be flatlined.

That means personal support workers and staff in long-term care aren’t seeing additional funding in this budget to ensure four-hours of direct, hands on care. Nor will they see any additional funding for compliance inspectors who help protect residents.

That means education workers who protect our schools, keeping them safe and clean while supporting students’ learning, will see no new pandemic funding to reduce class sizes or improve ventilation.

And while funding is set to decrease over time, tax breaks for corporations get bigger:

The government is also handing over money to large industrial and commercial businesses with increased electricity subsidies. This means that companies like Loblaws and Amazon, which have reported record profits during the pandemic, are getting government money to pay their hydro bills. Electricity subsidies now cost taxpayers more than $6 billion a year.

Coupled with the more than $3 billion in tax cuts handed out in the 2019 budget, and the years of record-low corporate taxes, what we’re actually seeing in this budget looks more like just another chapter in a long, ongoing, systematic heist of Ontario’s collective resources.

We are witnessing more corporate giveaways that have robbed Ontario of the revenue needed to support front-line public services that everyday people rely on — before, during, and after this pandemic passes.

So, the juggernaut continues -- you know, the one where the poor get poorer and the rich get richer.


Wednesday, December 02, 2020

Three Big Ones


COVID has proved the durability of three big ideas from three different men. John Boyko writes:

19th-century German political philosopher Karl Marx argued that we either own the means through which stuff and services are produced, or work for those who do. Our relationship to our society and each other, he wrote, is based on where we are within the layers of wealth and work.

One estimate says nearly 160,000 small businesses are at risk of going bust as soul-crushing unemployment continues to drain savings and hope. Meanwhile, since the pandemic began, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos has seen his net worth rise by billions. Identifying Ontario’s COVID hot spot as Toronto is a sad lie. Rosedale is fine. Jane and Finch is suffering.

COVID’s infection rate among people earning more than $150,000 a year is 42 per 100,000. Among those making under $30,000 it is 223. These numbers will persist as many leave small, multi-generational apartments and ride a crowded bus to a minimum wage job, while others enjoy a stretch while taking a break from their ergonomically designed chair in their nicely appointed home office. Women and racial minorities have suffered inordinate hardships, but Marx would point to the many middle- and upper-class women and people of colour that are doing just fine, thank you.

The second big idea came from Abraham Maslow, who introduced the concept of a hierarchy of needs:

We begin by seeking adequate food, drink and shelter. We are then able to pursue safety, and then love and belonging, followed by self-esteem — and finally, a feeling of self-fulfilment that he called self-actualization. COVID showed us that no matter where we are on the hierarchy, we can quickly slide back down. I live in what city-centric people call “cottage country.” In the pandemic’s early days, I heard neighbours insist that our one and only grocery store should deny admittance to non-residents — the cottagers — who were stocking up on our food and leaving us short.

Over 50 per cent of Canadians report that COVID is battering their sense of self-worth and has appreciably worsened their mental health. Alcohol and drug use is increasing along with family violence, fear and anxiety. Separation from friends and family is eroding feelings of love and belonging. Televised scenes of rioting in American streets, narcissistic madness in the White House and COVID’s ruthless second wave are all straining our sense of safety. Employers used to think that employees would be less efficient but happier working from home, but it ends up that the opposite is true. It’s tough to seek self-actualization while home-schooling the kids, enduring yet another damned Zoom meeting, missing friends and hoping that maybe the family can get together next Christmas.

And, finally, there is John A. Macdonald's idea that -- when push comes to shove -- the federal government is where the buck stops:

Only the federal government, he said — and so the constitution now deems — has the fiscal capacity and political legitimacy to respond nationally to a national crisis. Its Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) helped nearly 9 million of us to stay home and safe. It is now transitioning to a more flexible Employment Insurance program. The federal government shut the borders and signed contracts with those who will provide vaccines. Premiers worked hard within their jurisdictions while effusively praising the federal government’s invaluable support and initiatives. We need only look to our southern neighbour with their dominant power at the state level, and no equivalent of Elections Canada, to see how right Macdonald was to put power where it belongs.

Ideas come and go. But good ideas stand the test of time.


Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Everyone and Everything

Donald Trump, Eugene Robinson writes, is an ego monster:

In his desperation to avoid being forever labeled a loser, Trump is pursuing a futile course of action that only causes him to lose to President-elect Joe Biden again and again. Trump was declared the loser slightly after Election Day; he loses repeatedly and decisively in court; he loses in recounts and then demands re-recounts, which he will also lose. So much losing! 

With Trump, it's generally wise to assume the basest motives. Maybe he is actually trying to bully Republicans into nullifying the election and helping him stage what would amount to an authoritarian coup d'etat. Maybe he is spitefully trying to make life as difficult as possible for the new administration by delegitimizing Biden's victory in the eyes of many voters. Maybe he is reinforcing his cult-leader control over his followers in what amounts to a massive act of hostage-taking, hoping to use them as human shields against potential criminal investigations or prosecutions — or as sources of ongoing profit.

Trump insists that he always be in the spotlight, twenty-four hours a day:

Trump simply cannot accept that in an election that saw Republicans do well overall — gaining seats in the House, retaining control of statehouses, winning Senate seats that polls indicated they would almost surely lose — the man at the top of the ticket got creamed by more than 6 million votes.

"So I led this great charge, and I'm the only one that lost?" Trump tweeted Sunday. "No, it doesn't work that way. This was a massive fraud, a RIGGED ELECTION!"

He sucks all the air out of the room and all of the integrity out of his party:

Trump's conception of politics is clientelist, almost feudal: He sees himself as the boss and sees all those for whom he has done favors as his vassals. He seems unable to comprehend why they would do anything except his bidding — or why anyone might feel like the things he's done are no favors at all. 

Trump's exit, obviously, is anything but quiet. The question is how much of the scenery he will chew as he struts and frets his way from center stage to the wings where he belongs. 

Ego monsters ultimately destroy everyone and everything around them.