Friday, May 14, 2021

Remembering Recent History

Inflation in the United States is rising. Paul Krugman is circumspect:

It’s true that while almost everyone was expecting a spike in consumer prices, the actual spike was bigger than expected. The one-year inflation rate went above 4 percent, surpassing its previous recent peak, in 2011.

It’s not silly to ask whether unexpectedly high inflation means that the economy has less room to run than both the Biden administration and the Federal Reserve have been assuming; that could be true, and if it were, Biden’s spending plans might be excessive and the Fed might need to consider raising interest rates sooner rather than later.

However, Krugman argues, the inflation numbers are driven by bottlenecks in the economy, not overall inflation:

Sure enough, those April price numbers were driven to a large extent by peculiar factors obviously related to the economy’s restart. When people talk about underlying inflation, they rarely have the price of used cars in mind; yet a 10 percent monthly rise in used car prices — partly because people are ready to travel again, partly because a shortage of computer chips is crimping new-car production — accounted for a third of April’s inflation. There was also a 7.6 percent rise in the price of “lodging away from home,” as Americans resumed going places amid a waning pandemic.

The same thing happened in 2011:

And inflation hawks went wild. Representative Paul Ryan (remember him?) grilled Ben Bernanke, the Fed chairman, over his easy-money policies, intoning, “There is nothing more insidious that a country can do to its citizens than debase its currency.”

Bernanke wasn't rattled:

The Fed stayed focused on “core” inflation, a measure that excludes volatile food and energy prices and that it (rightly) considers a better gauge of underlying inflation than the headline number. And the Fed’s cool head was vindicated: Inflation quickly subsided, and the dollar was not debased.

Things calmed down. What lessons can we draw from this?

First, you shouldn’t have a hair-trigger reaction to short-term fluctuations in inflation. Second, when you do see a bump in prices, look at the details: Does it look like a rise in underlying inflation, or does it look like a blip driven by temporary factors?

As inflation numbers rise here, we should keep that recent history in mind.


Thursday, May 13, 2021

Another Pipeline Problem

Gretchen Witmer, the governor of Michigan, wants to shut down the pipeline which supplies half the fuel needs of Ontario and Quebec. Lawrence Martin writes:

This line has been in operation for 67 years without a leak into the Straits, but that doesn’t cut it with the uncompromising governor, a rising Democratic Party star. She alleges it is in ill-repair and could cause a horrific spill. She’s ignored a compromise reached by the previous governor, Republican Rick Snyder, that would see Enbridge bore an underground tunnel connecting Lake Huron and Lake Michigan as a replacement for the pipeline.

It serves as a reminder of where we're going. Oil is on the way out. But that doesn't mean it will be easy writing its obituary. Fortunately, Biden's energy secretary was born in British Columbia and she has a sense of what it's like to navigate relations between Canada and the United States. 

 Solving this problem will be difficult.


Wednesday, May 12, 2021

When Truth Is No Longer Self Evident

Former senator Jeff Flake opens an op-ed in The Washington Post with a quotation from George Orwell:

“The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those who speak it.” 

Then he quotes from the Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident.”

These days, in the United States, truth is no longer self-evident. Flake writes:

It seems a good time to examine how we got to a place where such a large swath of the electorate (70 percent of Republican voters, according to polling) became willing to reject a truth that is so self-evident.

This allergy to self-evident truth didn’t happen all at once, of course. This frog has been boiling for some time now. The Trump period in American life has been a celebration of the unwise and the untrue. From the ugly tolerance of the pernicious falsehood about President Barack Obama’s place of birth to the bizarre and fanatical fable about the size of inauguration crowds, to the introduction of the term “alternative facts” into the American lexicon, the party’s steady embrace of dishonesty as a central premise has brought us to this low and dangerous place.

Flake is flummoxed by his former party mates:

When I became an unwitting dissident in my party by speaking in defense of self-evident truths, I assumed that more and more of my colleagues would follow me. I remain astonished that so few did. Congresswoman Cheney, I know how alone you must be feeling. But just know that history keeps the score, not Kevin McCarthy or Elise Stefanik.

It is elementary to have to say this, but we did not become a great nation by believing or espousing nonsense, or by embracing lunacy. And if my party continues down this path, we will not be fit to govern.

Perhaps he should have included one more quotation -- From Thomas Macaulay, Lord Acton:

" All power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

Flake's former party is hellbent on achieving absolute power. Acton would tell him that none of this is surprising.


Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Much More Than Cowardice

The conventional wisdom these days is that Republicans are doing what they're doing because they're cowards. Greg Sargeant writes:

As a broad description of our current moment, this is profoundly insufficient. It risks misleading people about the true nature of the threat posed by the GOP’s ongoing radicalization.

Obviously fear of attacks from Trump — or from right-wing media or primary challengers — is one motivator. But by itself, this simply won’t do: It implies that Republicans would prefer on principle to stand firm in defense of democracy but are not doing so simply out of fear of facing immediate political consequences.

The truth is much more sinister than that:

It’s impossible to chalk this effort up to “cowardice” or “fear of Trump.” It is a deliberate action plainly undertaken to manufacture fake evidence for the affirmative purpose of further undermining faith in our electoral system going forward.

The Republicans have made careful calculations. They know exactly what they're doing:

Republicans are employing their own invented doubts about 2020 to justify intensified voter suppression everywhere. [Jim] Banks neatly crystallized the point on Fox, saying those doubts required more voting restrictions — after reinforcing them himself.

Indeed, with all this, Republicans may be in the process of creating a kind of permanent justification for maximal efforts to invalidate future election outcomes by whatever means are within reach.

The lies about 2020 and the increasing dedication to destroying democratic institutions in the quest for power are inextricable from one another. As Jay Rosen says, the press is comfortable calling out the former — it can be packaged as a “fact check." But being forthright about the latter requires depicting one party as far and away the only primary threat to our democratic stability. That’s accurate, but it’s uncomfortably adversarial.

Relatedly, describing Republicans as “cowards” who “fear Trump” casts their machinations as mere reluctant efforts to cope with externally imposed circumstances they’d prefer not to be dealing with. This lets Republicans off the hook in a very fundamental way. It risks misleading the country about the true depths of GOP radicalization — and the real dangers it poses.

The Republicans crave power. And they're willing to destroy democracy to get it.

Image: The Medium

Monday, May 10, 2021

Cheney's Long Game

A civil war is being waged within the Republican Party. It appears that Liz Cheney will be a casualty of that war. But Conrad Yakabuski writes that the Cheneys settle scores   -- and they play the long game:

The Cheneys supported Mr. Trump in 2016 as the lesser of two evils, Ms. Clinton constituting, in their eyes, the devil incarnate. And during Mr. Trump’s term in office, Ms. Cheney voted in Congress to advance his agenda. But it is now clear she was biting her tongue all along.

The Cheneys began to reap their revenge against Mr. Trump even before the Jan. 6 Capitol riot that forever cast a stain on the Trump presidency and U.S. democracy. Axios reported that Ms. Cheney had been responsible for a Jan. 5 Washington Post op-ed signed by all 10 living former defence secretaries, including her father, that called on the country’s military leaders to reject any attempt by Mr. Trump to cling to power. Axios called it a “power play” by the Cheneys.

Ms. Cheney was hailed as a brave heroine for voting, along with nine other GOP House members, to impeach Mr. Trump following the riot he stood accused of inciting. By then, however, she had already declared war on Mr. Trump, so there was nothing particularly gutsy about her vote. It was just the next salvo in her war to reinstate the old guard atop the GOP.

She may lose this current battle. But don't count her out:

Ms. Cheney is playing a longer game than most of her House colleagues. While they fear Mr. Trump’s wrath in next year’s midterm elections, she is betting his influence over the GOP will soon wane. Privately, most Republicans acknowledge they are eager to move on from Mr. Trump. And his reign may increasingly look like an aberration as the GOP embraces its traditional stands on foreign policy and fiscal management, only minus the endless wars.

If she's right, lots of the present Republican house caucus could disappear -- along with Donald Trump.

Image: The Globe And Mail

Sunday, May 09, 2021

The Way We Were

The pandemic entente between Doug Ford and Justin Trudeau is over. Susan Delacourt writes

This back-and-forth is a sign that the 2020 entente between the Ford and Trudeau governments is probably over. Gone are the days when Ford and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland held late-night “therapy” calls and when the Ontario premier lavished daily praise on all Ottawa was doing to help out with the pandemic.

Ford has recently released an ad demanding that Trudeau close Canada's borders to international travel. This week, at one of his daily briefings, Trudeau responded:

Trudeau . . . betrayed some frustration with Ford’s government on the same score on Friday when he spoke to reporters and was asked about the ad.

“Doug Ford asked me to restrict international students. There’s been about 30,000 international students come into Ontario over the past months because they were approved by the Ontario government,” Trudeau said.

“If the Ontario government wants to do more to restrict the volume of people coming into Ontario, we are more than happy to work with them on it, but it’s been a week since we’ve received that request directly from the premier (and) they haven’t followed up, except with personal attacks which doesn’t make sense and quite frankly won’t help Ontarians.”

That response was followed up by a letter from Inter-Governmental Affairs Minister Dominic Leblanc:

“We welcome your specific requests for further refinements to the mutually agreed list of acceptable international travellers,” LeBlanc writes in the letter, sent formally to Health Minister Christine Elliott and Solicitor-General Sylvia Jones, in reply to a missive they dispatched to Ottawa in the last week of April.

“The federal government stands ready, however to date we have not received such a request.”

Ford's strategy is pretty transparent:

Most political observers have recognized Ford’s anti-Ottawa salvos for what they are: an attempt to shift blame away from himself as Ontarians grow weary, frustrated and angry with the never-endemic.

The latest polling from EKOS shows that Trudeau’s Liberals now enjoy 42 per cent support in Ontario, while approval for Ford’s handling of the pandemic has dropped from 80 per cent last year to just 19 per cent this month. In a post on Twitter highlighting the tumble, EKOS chief pollster Frank Graves said: “That is unimaginably low. Biggest issue of last 80 years. Worst marks ever.” 

We're back to the way we were.

Image: CTV Toronto News

Saturday, May 08, 2021

Killing Reaganomics


The United States has been living with Reaganomics for fifty years. Joe Biden wants to send that policy catastrophe to its well-deserved death. Linda McQuaig writes:

"Trickle-down has never worked," declared Biden in his address to Congress last week, as he rolled out a massive agenda that would drive a hole through the heart of Reaganomics and its small-government fetish (at least when it comes to government helping ordinary people).

Biden wants to spend $6 trillion on things that would significantly improve the lives of regular Americans -- family benefits, paid medical leave, free preschool and community college, infrastructure and green new jobs, enhanced rights for workers.

And he wants to pay for it by raising taxes on corporations and other high-fliers last seen buckled over laughing at how massively they've swindled the American people.

To accomplish his goal, Biden is calling on other nations for help:

In a potentially game-changing move, Biden is trying to enlist major nations (through the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) to support a global minimum tax, which corporations would be required to pay on their worldwide income, regardless of whether it was reported in a tax haven.

Washington is proposing a minimum rate of 21 per cent. So if a U.S. corporation reports income in a country where the corporate tax rate is 5 per cent, Washington would impose an additional tax to bring that corporation's tax rate up to 21 per cent. This would mean much higher taxes for corporate giants -- Amazon, Facebook, Google, etc. -- that make extensive use of tax havens.

International tax expert Gabriel Zucman says that if other countries follow the U.S. in policing their corporations this way "it's the end of tax havens."
Germany and France have pledged support for Biden's corporate minimum tax -- but not Canada.

Trudeau said he's open to the idea, but declined to commit to it, insisting instead that Canada will always ensure its taxes are competitive with other nations. This kind of tax competition is exactly what Biden's global minimum corporate tax is designed to avoid.

As the U.S. Congress lines up to kill Biden's program, this is precisely the time for Justin to support it -- enthusiastically.

Image: The Rabble

Friday, May 07, 2021

The Saga Of Rudy Giuliani


Rudy Giuliani is in it deep -- really deep. George Conway writes in The Washington Post:

In law and in life, things have a way of coming full circle. The quoted words come from the former president’s supposedly “perfect” phone call with Ukraine’s president, and described what could happen to the American ambassador there, Marie L. Yovanovitch. It was Giuliani’s relentless efforts that got her recalled. 

The arc of Giuliani's career has been remarkable:

The once-respected former federal prosecutor, New York mayor (“America’s mayor”!), presidential candidate and possible Cabinet pick, stands reduced to a laughingstock: shirt-tucking star of the “Borat” sequel, headliner for a news conference at Four Seasons Total Landscaping, and now defendant in a $1.3 billion defamation suit for having claimed that the long-dead Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chávez founded a voting software company that helped steal the presidency from Trump. 

The work Giuliani has done for Trump has exposed him, Conway writes, as "one of the world's worst lawyers:"

He’s the bumbler who blurted out on national TV that his client, Individual-1, had reimbursed a $130,000 payment made to a porn star, a transaction that triggered a sprawling and ongoing New York grand jury investigation into Trump’s overall business affairs.

The former first client wasn’t too thrilled about that. But he ought to be even more ticked about what came next: not one, but two, impeachments, both Rudy-enabled. Nobody — other than perhaps the impeachee himself — did more than Giuliani to get his client charged with high crimes and misdemeanors.

And the screw-ups keep coming:

According to a transcript published last week of a Giuliani phone call with one of the Ukrainian president’s top aides, it was Giuliani who first urged the Ukrainians to announce a bogus investigation of Joe and Hunter Biden so Ukraine could have “a much better relationship” with the United States. It was Giuliani who told the media that his Ukrainian adventure “isn’t foreign policy,” but was meant to “be very, very helpful to my client.”

Donald Trump claimed that he would hire "all the best people."

Famous last words.

Image: The New Republic

Thursday, May 06, 2021

Ford's War On The Environment

Under the cover of the COVID emergency, Doug Ford is selling out the environment. Martin Regg Cohn writes:

Under cover of COVID-19, Premier Doug Ford has been selling out the environment and selling it off to the highest bidder with underhanded tactics:

Environmental issues transcend the merely political and ideological. For this premier it is pathological.

He will be remembered as Ontario’s least green premier in a generation — going back to the days of his now notorious predecessor, Mike Harris.

Ford is leading a three-pronged attack on Ontario's environment:

It begins with the loosening of the Greenbelt, a band of protected farmland, forests, rivers and lakes. Ford has outdone himself by recycling a defeated, Harris-era politician named Norm Sterling to head the Greenbelt Council.

Perhaps no one else could be found to fill the big shoes of the previous Greenbelt Commission chair, former Toronto mayor David Crombie. A former federal Tory cabinet minister, Crombie resigned in protest last year over the Ford government’s meddling by issuing a call to action:

This is high-level bombing and needs to be resisted.”

Crombie’s reputation as Toronto’s “tiny perfect mayor” lives on. By contrast, Sterling is coming back from the political dead with his stature infinitely diminished.

The fraying of the Greenbelt fits a broader pattern. Ford’s PCs used their majority muscle last December to disempower 36 local conservation authorities while emboldening local developers.

The second part of Ford's assault has been his crusade against carbon pricing:

By dismantling the existing “cap and trade” program he automatically triggered a federal carbon levy at the pump to make up for the province’s non-compliance.

Thus, our allegedly anti-tax premier got us the “carbon tax” we’d never had (cap and trade was working well). Then our supposedly penny-pinching premier budgeted $30 million to challenge the federal levy, hitting every taxpayer in the pocket.

And, finally, Ford is backing the construction of a highway and disregarding the environmental assessment which construction of the project requires:

This week the federal government stepped in, bigfooting Queen’s Park with an environmental assessment for Hwy. 413 that the province couldn’t bring itself to do properly. Ottawa’s intervention contrasts sharply with Ontario’s determination to fast-track the route that would raze 2,000 acres of farmland and pave nearly 400 acres of protected Greenbelt land in Vaughan.

Add all of this to Ford's response to COVID, and the picture becomes crystal clear. Ford is simply incompetent -- a danger to the public health and the public good.

Image: The Toronto Star

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

The Big Lie Is The Big Disease

It has been remarkable to watch what has happened to the Republican Party. Tom Friedman writes:

Under Trump’s command and control from Mar-a-Largo, and with the complicity of most of his party’s leaders, that Big Lie — that the greatest election in our history, when more Republicans and Democrats voted than ever before, in the midst of a pandemic, must have been rigged because Trump lost — has metastasized. It’s being embraced by a solid majority of elected Republicans and ordinary party members — local, state and national.

“Denying the legitimacy of our last election is becoming a prerequisite for being elected as a Republican in 2022,” observed Gautam Mukunda, host of Nasdaq’s “World Reimagined” podcast and author of the book “Indispensable: When Leaders Really Mattered.”

“This is creating a filter that over time will block out anyone willing to tell the truth about the election.” It will leave us with “a Republican Party where you cannot rise without declaring that the sun sets in the East, a Republican Party where being willing to help steal an election is literally a job requirement.”

In a two-party democracy, there can be nothing worse:

There is simply nothing more dangerous for a two-party democracy than to have one party declare that no election where it loses is legitimate, and, therefore, if it loses it will just lie about the results and change the rules.

That’s exactly what’s playing out now. And the more one G.O.P. lawmaker after another signs on to Trump’s Big Lie, the more it gives the party license at the state level to promote voter suppression laws that ensure that it cannot lose ever again.

Kimberly Wehle, a professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law and author of the book “How to Read the Constitution — and Why,” writing in The Hill on Monday, noted that “as of late March, state legislators have introduced 361 bills in 47 states this year that contain limitations around voting, a 43 percent increase from just a month earlier.

“The measures include things like enhanced power for poll ‘monitors,’ fewer voting drop-boxes, restrictions on voting by mail, penalties for election officials who fail to purge voters from the rolls, and enhanced power in politicians over election procedures.”

Although G.O.P. supporters of these bills insist that they are about election integrity and security, Wehle added, “the lack of actual evidence of fraud and mismanagement in the American electoral system totally belies those cynical claims.”

Donald Trump is a moron. But he's a monstrously destructive moron. He destroys everything he touches. And, in the end, he may destroy the republic.

The Big Lie is the Big Disease.


Tuesday, May 04, 2021

Kenney's Hell

Andrew Nikiforuk writes that Jason Kenney is in a hell of his own making:

Alberta has now recorded more daily confirmed COVID-19 cases on a per capita basis than any other Canadian province or U.S. state.

That’s more than 2,400 cases a day in a province of four million people. Nearly 30 per cent of the infected are children

With a rising infection rate of 12 per cent, one in eight Albertans test positive for the virus, likely in the form of its many variants, breaking all previous provincial records.*

Put simply, Kenney disregards what the scientists tell him:

These numbers reflect, first and foremost, Premier Jason Kenney’s callous and persistent disregard for scientific findings and mathematical reality. He apparently does not understand or deliberately ignores the inconvenient truth that the virus spreads exponentially and therefore, left to its own devices, explosively. And that the faster and wider it spreads, the more it strengthens through mutation.

Now the ugliness Kenney has sown is blooming:

As a consequence, Alberta now has 508.2 cases per 100,000 citizens. That’s double the rate in hard-hit Ontario and more than triple the rate in British Columbia.

As Lethbridge Mayor Chris Spearman lamented to the CBC last weekend: “We have done the least of the provinces. We’ve tolerated protests against masks and at the hospital and rapid vaccination clinic.”

Once you let the devil in the door, he often runs the house. Kenney again has waved him right in.

Kenney believed he was the smartest guy in the room --  a notion that was always pitifully false:

A man with high opinions of himself, Kenney thought he could outrun the variants with vaccines. He lost that gamble totally, and now young citizens are struggling for air in hospitals with tubes in their tracheas. One 17-year-old woman in McGrath tragically died within five days of exposure. When governments give a dangerous virus free rein, bad things happen.

What explains Kenny’s dithering and wholesale aversion to leading in the public’s interest? The brash libertarian, probably the most unpopular premier in Alberta’s history, set the tone in his politicking by signalling he really doesn’t believe the government should restrict anything — including the movement of viruses.

Then when Kenney began to fiddle with closing, opening and closing again in response to lurching COVID-19 rates, 17 members of his own caucus flung his own don’t-tread-on-me notions back in his face, protesting such measures. Last month they openly chastised their premier and called for a regional approach that would allow areas with low infection rates to avoid restrictions.

In a province where the premier doesn’t apparently give a damn, the enforcement of COVID-19 rules has become a joke throughout the province.

This willful dereliction of duty in the face of a public emergency prompted this sharp tweet from Shannon Phillips, NDP MLA for Lethbridge West:

“Conservatives used to be a party where self-discipline, rule of law, and understanding rights come w/ responsibilities was the narrative. Now it’s do what you want, disregard others, break the law, reject responsibility, just yell, blame, lie with no intellectual anchor.”

Alberta is awash in the virus. And no one is paying attention to Kenney. He and his fellow Albertans are in hell.

Image: The National Observer

Monday, May 03, 2021

Building A Legacy

If Joe Biden leaves a legacy, it will take a lot of hard work. Some presidents have done it. Others have tried and failed. E.J. Dionne writes:

Franklin Roosevelt did it. Ronald Reagan did it.

Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, gifted politicians in their different ways, plausibly hoped they could create coalitions that would outlast them. The achievement eluded both.

A new report by Aliza Astrow points to what Biden will have to do:

The report is both a warning and a promise. As long as Democrats stay weak among non-college-educated voters, she argues, they will have trouble holding, let alone strengthening, their control over the House and Senate. And they will continue to face agonizing fights to win the electoral college, even with large leads in the national popular vote. But modest shifts toward the Democrats among voters without a college degree would change the game.

The two models she cites of Democrats who succeeded in winning non-college-educated voters in states Trump carried represent different wings of the party: moderate Gov. Roy Cooper in North Carolina and progressive Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio. Both, she said, campaigned on jobs for blue-collar workers, job training and infrastructure. Those who heard Biden’s speech last week will notice something familiar.

Moreover, Astrow is careful to discuss Black and Latino non-college-educated voters, not just Whites. While Democrats carried non-White voters without a college degree by large margins in the past four presidential elections, the party’s share among non-college-educated minority voters has slipped since 2008. (Their performance among non-college-educated Whites declined even more.)

Biden recouped some of the party’s 2016 losses with these groups — enough to win the key states that gave him his electoral college victory — but did not hit Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 levels. As Astrow reports, Obama won 53 percent of the non-college-educated vote in 2008 and 51 percent in 2012. Hillary Clinton took 44 percent in 2016, and Biden bumped the Democrats’ share back up to 48 percent in 2020. 

Biden's task is to unite voters who see others as their foes. He's hoping that he can find economic common ground between them:

But Biden’s intuition is that economic questions unite less economically privileged voters across racial lines — and that many non-college-educated voters think the Democrats have stopped talking to them altogether. By addressing their concerns explicitly and sympathetically, as he did last week, Biden hopes first to close this communications gap and then deliver tangible benefits.

Tom Wicker thought that was the way of the future in the 1960's. Back then, unfortunately, race trumped economics. Donald Trump proved that -- at least for four years -- it still did.

Perhaps things have changed.

Image: The Kinder Institute For Urban Research

Sunday, May 02, 2021

The Great Communicator

When Joe Biden ran for president, many predicted he would stumble and bumble his way through the job. Robin Sears writes that after his speech to Congress this week, it's clear he is a masterful communicator:

President Joe Biden is no great orator. On some days he is a hesitant, painfully stumbling speaker. No Reaganesque soaring rhetoric, no thundering à la LBJ. But in the manner of Roosevelt, he is a convincing, authentic political communicator bar none. He reaches out, crediting Mitch McConnell for his help on a key bill. He stressed that his early successes were due to the work of every member of Congress, not him.

Make no mistake — this was a profoundly radical speech, even if delivered in a style perfect for a lunchtime Rotary Club chat. And that was its power. Using the old political tool of personal stories to highlight a complex policy, Biden cited one American after another, who in their pain had reached out to him by letter.

And he used those stories to promise big changes:

Biden committed to two years of free pre-kindergarten starting at the age of three, and two years of free community college. Plus child care, paid medical leave and cheaper drugs. Contrast that with what’s on offer from everyone except the NDP in Canada. Another blush about our collective timidity, at a moment demanding political courage to push through to the other side of this pandemic.

He has promised a wealth tax not as frivolous as charging 10 per cent on your latest yacht. Unlike this government, he has not flinched on taxing capital gains more fairly. He gave shout-outs to American labour, saying something that I have never heard from the lips of a Canadian Liberal or Conservative leader: “Unions built the middle class.” All this from a centrist American Democrat.

Getting his agenda through Congress will not be easy. The Republican Party -- as it did with Barack Obama -- has adopted a scorched earth response to that agenda. But, if Biden can convince enough American voters to support his agenda, The Republicans are the ones who'll get burned.

Canadian politicians should take a few lessons from Biden.

Image: Business-Insider

Saturday, May 01, 2021

Controlling COVID At Our Borders

To get to Net Zero, Andrew Nikiforuk writes, we have to tightly control our borders -- something we have not done:

On CBC’s The Current, Kelley Lee, Canada Research Chair in global health governance at Simon Fraser University, called the government’s response “reactive,” because the Indian variant had already arrived in Canada weeks ago.

“If there’s a gold standard of how a country can manage its borders to curb the spread of COVID-19, Ottawa hasn’t met it yet,” said Lee. “I’d say maybe Canada is like a bronze medal standard, possibly.”

Countries that shut down their borders early have controlled the virus:

The early border restrictors included Taiwan, Vietnam, China, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore, and none have experienced continuous lockdowns or even third waves.

By locking out the virus with effective border controls, these nations simultaneously protected public health and shielded their economies — a lesson Canada has not yet appreciated.

What is involved in controlling borders? Several things matter:

1. Timing matters. Border controls must be proactive, not reactive. Their goal is to prevent trouble. A nation can only do that by being prepared and acting quickly. Canada, for example, restricted non-essential travel in March 2020, but it wasn’t until early this year that mandatory testing and quarantine in government-managed hotels were set up. By then, variants from the U.K. and Brazil were already circulating widely in the community.

2. Take universal measures. Countries that have mostly stopped the virus at the border have applied screening, quarantines and testing to most, if not all travellers. “They didn’t have people slipping through the gaps,” said Piper.

3. A multi-layered approach secures the border. Given the pace and scale of globalization, novel pathogens will always show up at the doorstep, but they don’t have to invade the house if a layer of interventions secures the way.

Discouraging all non-essential travel is the first protection. Repeated testing and screening all travellers before, at and within the border forms the next layer of defence. The third consists of a well-enforced quarantine program that applies to most everyone.

Canada’s current three-day hotel quarantine is only for air travellers, followed by home quarantine. Much of Europe only applied restrictions haphazardly, and often had no testing or quarantine protocols until the second wave. In contrast, Australia and New Zealand have had a mandatory 14-day quarantine enforced by the police or the military since the beginning of the pandemic. Hong Kong insists on 21 days.

Vietnam, a nation of 97 million that borders China, stands out as singular example. Last March, it cancelled all inbound commercial flights. It then used a contact tracing system to track down cases, which never exceeded 110 a day. It also restricted travel within the country. Citizens that lived in a region with a high case rate weren’t allowed leave until cases had been suppressed in that region.

As a result, Vietnam achieved Zero COVID. It also recorded one of the highest economic growth rates in Asia last year. Limited air travel to low-risk neighbours — such as South Korea, Taiwan and Japan —has now resumed. Yet everyone arriving in Vietnam by air, sea or land must be tested and wait out a mandatory 14- to 21-day quarantine period.

It's clear that half measures don't work. It's not easy to be tough on a virus. But it's much easier to be tough at the beginning of a pandemic than it is later on in its run.

Image: CNN 

Friday, April 30, 2021

Biden's Job Creation Plan

This week, Joe Biden proposed his American Families Plan. Paul Krugman writes that, while the plan has many parts, it will create a lot of jobs. And the Republicans are apoplectic:

The official G.O.P. response to Biden’s speech on Wednesday, by Senator Tim Scott, seemed low-energy; Scott is still complaining about “big government” and denouncing Biden for spending money on things other than roads and bridges. The closest thing to a real argument was the claim that Biden is proposing “the biggest job-killing tax hikes in a generation” — presumably a reference to Bill Clinton’s tax increase in 1993.

We've heard this objection for decades. But countries -- including the United States -- have raised taxes and created jobs:

Republicans always claim that raising taxes on the rich will destroy jobs, they have never yet been right. Scott’s rejoinder to Biden appeared to suggest that the 1993 Clinton tax hike killed jobs; in reality, the United States added 23 million jobs on Clinton’s watch. People also seem to forget that Barack Obama presided over a significant hike in high-end taxes at the beginning of his second term; the economy continued to add jobs rapidly, at the rate of about 2.5 million a year.

Oh, and employment in California boomed after Jerry Brown raised taxes on the wealthy in 2012, defying conservative declarations that the state was committing economic suicide.

It’s also instructive to compare the United States with other advanced countries, almost all of which have higher taxes and more generous social benefits than we do. Do they pay a price for these policies in the form of reduced employment?

Many Americans would, I suspect, be surprised to learn that the truth is that many high-tax, high-benefit countries are quite successful at creating jobs. Take the case of France: Adults between the ages of 25 and 54, the prime working years, are more likely to be employed in France than they are in America, mainly because Frenchwomen have a higher rate of paid employment than their American counterparts. The Nordic countries have an even larger employment advantage among women.

Taxes don't kill jobs. Lack of childcare does:

The answer is that taxes don’t visibly kill jobs — but lack of child care does. Parents in many rich countries are able to take paid work because they have access to safe, affordable child care; in the United States such care is prohibitively expensive for many, if they can get it at all. And the reason is that our government spends almost nothing on child care and pre-K; our outlays as a percentage of G.D.P. put us somewhat below Cyprus and Romania.

The American Family Plan would completely change this picture, providing free preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds while limiting child care costs to no more than 7 percent of income for lower- and middle-income parents. If this raised employment of prime-age American women to French levels, it would add about 1.8 million jobs; if we went to Danish levels, we would add three million jobs.

Just to be clear, making it possible for more women to take paid jobs isn’t the principal point of this plan — and there’s nothing wrong with parents’ choosing to stay at home and care for their kids. Instead, it’s mainly about improving the environment in which children grow up, partly as a matter of social justice, partly so that they eventually become healthier, more productive adults.

But a consequence of that is job creation -- something that we, in The Great White North, should consider in our federation.

Image: Medium

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Finally . . . Maybe

We may be on the cusp of a national childcare program. Why has it taken so long to get here? Susan Delacourt writes that all three of our major parties share the blame:

Start with the Liberals. It is true that the past Liberal government delivered a national child-care program, province by province, with the final deal sealed just before the 2005 election that would send Paul Martin’s government to defeat.

Stephen Harper’s Conservatives campaigned against that Liberal child-care system, arguing that their proposal to give money directly to parents was the better way. “Choice in Child Care,” it was called, and parents would get $100 a month. When the Conservatives won power in early 2006, they duly sent out the cheques and dismantled all those deals that the old Liberal minister, Ken Dryden, had put together.

New Democrats had a hand in that defeat for child care by bringing down the Martin government, as Les Whittington, former political reporter for the Toronto Star, noted in a column this week for the Hill Times.

But we as citizens also share the blame:

So did the voting public, mind you. As Dryden said a few years later, he kept running into voters in the 2005-06 election who were sure they would get to keep the best of all worlds: the Conservatives’ cheques for parents and a national child-care program.

That history should teach us a few lessons

Liberals are proposing to go at this new program with more money — lots more — than what was on the table in the 2000s. But while the $30-billion over five years is certainly more than the $5-billion Martin and Dryden promised, the process is close to identical: protracted negotiations with the provinces, with the hope that one plus one plus one over the long haul will eventually add up to something national.

That may be the only way we get to national programs in this fractured federation — Canada’s cherished national health-care system came about the same way, after all — but it’s a slow road, littered with petty bureaucratic and political dramas.

Put it this way: if you liked how the various levels of government worked together for national vaccine rollout or paid sick days, you’re going to love the new child-care program.

And the Conservatives are ignoring their part in that history:

Conservatives, meanwhile, have displayed remarkable nerve this week arguing that Liberals failed to deliver a national child-care program that they killed 15 years ago. They have, however, managed to remember just how much they preferred the idea of cheques going directly to parents — all that “families know best” stuff they’ve dusted off for use in another decade.

“The problem with what the Liberals are proposing I think is worse because it limits a family’s choice,” Saskatchewan Conservative MP Corey Tochor said this week. Tochor wasn’t an elected politician back when we last did this child-care drama, but he has the old script intact. “We should be trusting families to make the choices that are right for them.”

Finally, we may get national childcare. Maybe. If we don't screw it up.

Image: YouTube

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

The Tune Has Changed

Ontario used to think of itself as the crown jewel of the Canadian provinces. But, this week, Newfoundland and Labrador  -- who Ontarians used to think was Canada's neediest province  -- sent in a medical team to help Ontario in its fight against COVID. Among them was Dr. Allison Furey, the wife of premier Andrew Furey who -- like his wife -- is a doctor. Susan Delacourt writes:

The pandemic has officially turned the rules of Canada’s federation upside-down — Ontario is now a have-not province in COVID-19’s brutal third wave.

This is a notable development in the short and long lens of history. In the immediate term, it means that Ontario’s stay-at-home orders have now escalated to the level of a national emergency in the province. In the larger picture, Ontario finds itself in the not-so-traditional place as a taker, not a giver, of aid in this country.

This moment has looked inevitable for at least a couple of weeks now, as the province continued to post record high COVID case counts and surges of patients into acute and intensive care units of beleaguered hospitals.

And, as Ontario's crisis deepened, Doug Ford started pointing fingers:

Friends don’t keep score in tough times, but politicians do, and it might be a bit of a stretch to describe relations between Ontario and Ottawa as “friendly” in this stage of the pandemic.

A year ago, when Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland and Ford were having nightly “therapy” calls, it looked like a real, enduring friendship was blooming. But over the weekend, Freeland said in a Sunday CBC interview she hadn’t chatted to Ford recently. She had instead passed along her best wishes in a budget-related call with Ford’s finance minister.

The Ontario premier hinted a few weeks ago in a press conference that he had taken some guff from other first ministers about how often he complimented the feds through the pandemic. Perhaps it was that peer pressure, or his own declining poll numbers — or maybe the relentlessly descending situation in Ontario — but the shout-outs to the federal Liberals have definitely been fewer and far between.

When asked repeatedly about whether he would ask Ottawa for help, the premier more or less said that all he needed was more vaccine, which was Ottawa’s job. Oh, and stricter lockdowns at the border; also Ottawa’s job.

In Ottawa, meanwhile, Trudeau and his team would say they were standing by, giving Ontario what it wanted, but insisting that vaccine rollout and running the health-care system is a provincial job.

The difference here from the first wave is that political blame is now a rolling force in 2021; something politicians are trying their hardest to avoid or deflect.

The times and the tune have changed. 

Image: The Toronto Star

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Rethinking Mass Tourism

There was a time when everyone -- or almost everyone -- seemed to be booking a cruise, a flight, or a road trip. But the pandemic has changed all that. Mass tourism is no longer a thriving business. And maybe, Martin Regg Cohn writes, that's not such a bad thing: 

The march of mass tourism once seemed unstoppable — flotillas of cruise ships and jumbo jets disgorging swarms of tourists to invade ancient sites and intrude on living cultures.

The global trend lines were undeniably explosive, rising from 400 million visitors a year in 1990 to 1.4 billion in 2019. Nothing could deter mass tourism, not terrorism nor war — not until it became a casualty of COVID-19.

The world’s biggest source of employment and entertainment has lost a staggering 1.1 billion tourists over the past year, slumping right back to where it was three decades ago. Today, we are almost all stuck at home, pondering the unbearable remoteness of being … locked down, with our luggage locked away.

But all those people produce lots of negative impacts:

As people search for ever more remote destinations to get away from the crowds, it creates new tensions and contradictions. How do we deal with the power imbalance that pits the visitors against the visited, the hunters versus the hunted?

By visiting an unspoiled place, do we spoil it for others — the “others” who live there, and the “others” who come after us? The tidal wave of tourism has a way of engulfing the most tranquil waters.

The truth is that mass tourism, or over-tourism, was already becoming a drag on the environment, a drain on water resources and a deterrent for future visitors.

If you’re surrounded by your fellow travellers who come from the same place and are going to the same place, you have to ask: Why travel to the far ends of the earth only to feel like you never left home?

It’s not just the overwhelming crowds but the underlying infrastructure that can be so unsettling. Mass tourism leads to the bulldozing and demolition of traditional structures to make way for new tourist hotels with huge restaurants and oversized parking lots.

When this is over, tourism will return. But should we be willing to take the journey?

Image: MDS

Monday, April 26, 2021

Irrational Decisions

We like to think that people make rational decisions. And we make predictions based on that assumption. But assuming rational human behaviour damns us. Charles Blow illustrates how recent American history proves this point:

One of those who came before me was a man named Thomas Wicker, a Southerner like myself. He’d been the lone Times reporter accompanying President John F. Kennedy on a trip to Dallas, and dictated the details of the assassination from a phone booth. Wicker, who wrote under the byline Tom Wicker, went on to inherit the column of the retiring Arthur Krock, whom The Times called “the dean of Washington pundits, who had covered every president since Calvin Coolidge.”

Wicker saw the Civil Rights Era as a Great Awakening:

In 1965, The Voting Rights Act, one of the seminal pieces of civil rights legislation in the history of this country, was signed into law. Soon after, in August of that year, Wicker penned a most prescient column, one I have recalled often, which contained some wise caution, but also some naïve optimism.

Wicker wrote: "At best the Negroes can make themselves no more than a minority of the Southern electorate, Democratic leaders here are apprehensive on two counts. The least likely is the possibility that the Republican Party, newly resurgent in the South, might seek to isolate Negroes in a hapless Democratic Party and turn itself into a larger white man’s party.”

But that is precisely what the Republican Party has done, particularly in the South.

Wicker didn’t believe that this would happen, in part because white Southerners also approved and benefited from “the Democratic approach to welfare and economic problems.” In his estimation: “Where the pocketbook collides with the race issue, the pocketbook usually wins.”

Wrong again. History has shown us over and over that white racists will consistently vote and act against their own interest so as to oppose or deny Black people. As Heather McGhee so brilliantly argues in her most recent book, “The Sum of Us,” they will drain the pool rather than share it with Black people.

When slavery was ended in this country, it would have been smart for poor whites and Blacks to make common cause because they had common economic interests. America — and Western culture — taught white people that there was intrinsic value to whiteness, even if you were poor, that it was a racial Rolex that could always be bartered.

So, the preservation of whiteness is a driving force of the racists’ political prerogative, even if they are working class, struggling or poor. As Walter Johnson wrote in the Boston Review in 2018, “The history of white working-class struggle, for example, cannot be understood separate from the privileges of whiteness.”

White supremacy is irrational. But it is alive and well.

Something to think about as this pandemic rages on.

Image:  The New York Times

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Something For Everybody

Chrystia Freeland's budget has something for everybody. Michael Harris goes into the details:

The star of this 739-page budget? The federal government will also spend $30 billion over the next five years on a national child-care program. That is something that the Liberals have been promising since 1993, when it was a key plank in their campaign platform document, the Red Book.

This marks the second time a Liberal government has introduced a national child-care program. The first one was created by former prime minister Paul Martin. That short-lived program was barely up and running when incoming prime minister Stephen Harper cancelled it. Harper replaced the national plan with a $100-per-child payment made directly to parents.

The finance minister also announced a new hiring credit for employers, which can be used to hire new staff or raise the wages of existing employees. The federal government will cover as much as $1,100 of a worker’s pay every four weeks.

Addressing the crisis in affordable housing, the budget included a new tax on absentee foreign property owners speculating in the Canadian housing market. Faced with an over-heated real estate market, Ottawa will also invest in incentives for first time homebuyers, and generous tax credits to homeowners to make their homes more energy efficient. A total of $4.5 billion will go into that program in the form of $40,000, interest-free loans to participants.

Canada’s minimum wage was raised to $15 an hour.

The provinces got a $7 billion top-up in health-care transfers.

Pensioners get a $500 cheque this summer, and a ten per cent increase annually starting in July 2022.

There is $57 million for farmers who had to pay to quarantine offshore workers coming into the country.

Employment insurance sickness benefits have been extended from 15 to 26 weeks.

The doubling of Canada Student Grants has been extended for two years, and there are also interest payment breaks for students with outstanding loans.

Freeland also set aside $18 billion for safer communities for Indigenous peoples.

She has tweaked a few taxes:

including a tax on luxury cars, boats and private aircraft. The tax will be between 10 and 20 per cent on cars and planes worth more than $100,000 and yachts valued at $250,000 or more.

Other new measures include a sales tax for online platforms and e-commerce warehouses, and a digital services tax on big web companies.

But the budget focuses on spending, not taxes. It will drive deficit hawks crazy. Will it survive? Harris believes that, in the end, the NDP will support it.

We'll see.

Image: The Toronto Sun

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Not His Thing

This week Doug Ford said he was sorry. And he cried. Bruce Arthur writes:

The premier is in self-isolation after exposure to a positive COVID case, and broke down talking about not being able to hold a parent’s hand as they die, and maybe that was part of the emotion. Maybe it really was the accumulated weight, but then, we are all carrying accumulated weight. Talk to an ICU nurse sometime. Mostly, Doug Ford didn’t look like he was up to the job.

The apology and the tears were good theatre; but they were a distraction:

There is a better way to do this, and instead the government decided on policies so absurd they enraged the entire political spectrum, with plummeting polls to match. Which, if we’re being honest, was probably the biggest reason Doug said sorry.

Ford also said the buck stopped with him, before blaming the federal government for everything. The strangeness, the breakdown, the setting — it was all reminiscent of the Rob Ford era, and it was striking.

It was all a show to avoid what is the whole point: 

The point is that so much damage has been done, and will be done, and what matters now is what this government does. There are already 800 COVID-19 patients in Ontario ICUs, and the patient transport system is the only reason several hospitals haven’t been overwhelmed. The ICU number isn’t even the true number, because there are so many patients who would ordinarily be in the ICU, but are being given supplemental oxygen on the wards. Elective surgeries are gone. Triage is underway.

The point is that this government owns the third wave, lock, stock and coffins. They were told what would happen; they opened Ontario up anyway, waited until three weeks ago to do anything, waited another week before doing a little more, and left the vulnerable root causes untouched.

They could have controlled it. They chose not to. Ford cried the same day one of his MPPs, Jane McKenna of Burlington, spoke in the legislature of COVID-19 Chicken Littles. That’s probably the kind of person the premier was speaking of when he mentioned the people who thought a stay-at-home order should not have happened at all.

The point is that if Ontario manages to avoid the worst-case modelling presented by the science table it will be because so many people did so much to save us from a provincial government that still didn’t understand the playgrounds shouldn’t close. The case curve finally appears to be flattening; it’s now possible Ontario could hold this to 1,000 in the ICU. But ICU numbers will take some time to fall. Emptying the ICUs, even if cases drop and continue to drop, will take months.

So what the government does matters, Real, easy paid sick leave for workers who need it; Ford is already signalling he won’t impose costs on business owners, though. Close more nonessential businesses; that still hasn’t happened. Pour vaccines into hot spots; that may be on the list. Hot spots in Toronto and Peel are slated to get 25 per cent of Pfizer now; the science table asked for 50 per cent. When the science table laid out its recommendations in that letter earlier this week, it dawned on me that it was the first time Ontario had ever seen a strategy that wasn’t just to react, to protect donors, and to hope the hospitals didn’t tip.

Reaction defines Doug Ford. Proactive behaviour is not his thing.

Image: The Toronto Star

Friday, April 23, 2021

It's Getting Worse

David Brooks writes that, among Republicans, Trumpism is metastasizing:

There are increasing signs that the Trumpian base is radicalizing. My Republican friends report vicious divisions in their churches and families. Republican politicians who don’t toe the Trump line are speaking of death threats and menacing verbal attacks.

What’s happening can only be called a venomous panic attack. Since the election, large swathes of the Trumpian right have decided America is facing a crisis like never before and they are the small army of warriors fighting with Alamo-level desperation to ensure the survival of the country as they conceive it.

Polling data underscores how virulent the virus has become:

The first important survey data to understand this moment is the one pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson discussed with my colleague Ezra Klein. When asked in late January if politics is more about “enacting good public policy” or “ensuring the survival of the country as we know it,” 51 percent of Trump Republicans said survival; only 19 percent said policy.

The level of Republican pessimism is off the charts. A February Economist-YouGov poll asked Americans which statement is closest to their view: “It’s a big, beautiful world, mostly full of good people, and we must find a way to embrace each other and not allow ourselves to become isolated” or “Our lives are threatened by terrorists, criminals and illegal immigrants, and our priority should be to protect ourselves.”

Over 75 percent of Biden voters chose “a big, beautiful world.” Two-thirds of Trump voters chose “our lives are threatened.”

This level of catastrophism, nearly despair, has fed into an amped-up warrior mentality.

“The decent know that they must become ruthless. They must become the stuff of nightmares,” Jack Kerwick writes in the Trumpian magazine American Greatness. “The good man must spare not a moment to train, in both body and mind, to become the monster that he may need to become in order to slay the monsters that prey upon the vulnerable.”

Trump may be gone. But the virus he hosted has mutated and is spreading like wildfire.

Image: The Conversation

Thursday, April 22, 2021

The Folly Of Killing Sick Days

Doctors have been pleading with the Ontario government to legislate paid sick days. Apparently, Doug Ford -- now that he is self-isolating -- is considering the policy. Martin Regg Cohn writes:

This province long ago closed its eyes not merely to a natural virus, but to our own human nature. COVID-19 spreads in unpredictable ways, but our premier acted in utterly predictable ways and his supporters never gave it a second thought.

To understand how we got here — in mid-pandemic without payroll protection for sick workers — we have to go back to pre-COVID times and ask ourselves:

Ontario's previous premier -- Kathleen Wynne -- had legislated two paid sick days for Ontario's workers. One of the first things Doug Ford did when he came to power was to get rid of them -- claiming that they were "job killers:"

Too many businesses begrudge workers who ask to be paid a day’s wages when they book off sick — seen as something for nothing. Bigger companies can afford to be more generous; unionized firms are compelled to be more accommodating; but left to their own devices, most businesses will duck — and dock pay.

The business lobby pushed back hard when a previous premier (ah yes, remember Kathleen Wynne?) changed the law to require two paid sick days for workers. It will be the death of us, they argued — we can’t afford it.

Pre-pandemic, his popularity at its peak, basking in his honeymoon, Ford wiped out Wynne’s other social reforms — including a $15 minimum wage, free pharmacare for young and old adults, a basic income pilot, a ban on doctor’s notes.

“Keep fighting with me — you know that I’m here to fight for the little guy,” Ford said in late 2018 as he set his sights on sick pay.

How things have changed:

An open letter to Ford early last year from health-care experts noted, “The medical literature consistently states that employees with no sick leave are more likely to go to work and expose others to infection.”

Which is precisely what happened among workers who live paycheque to paycheque. It’s human nature for the working poor to avoid losing a day’s pay, just as it is human nature for employers to avoid paying them for a sick day.

That’s why we elect governments to step in to do the right thing. What was indefensible then remains unfathomable today.

Perhaps personal experience will teach Doug something.


Image: The Toronto Star

Wednesday, April 21, 2021


Derek Chauvin has been found guilty. Eugene Robinson writes that it shouldn't feel like a victory. But it does:

It shouldn’t have been an open question whether a police officer could kneel on a man’s neck for more than nine minutes, snuffing out his life, with complete or even partial impunity. We shouldn’t have had to hold our collective breath from the moment it was announced there was a verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial to the moment that verdict was read. This shouldn’t feel so much like a victory.

The jurors in Chauvin’s trial trusted their eyes and ears. They saw the video of George Floyd pinned to the hard pavement, they heard him plead again and again that he couldn’t breathe, and they held Chauvin fully accountable.

They saw George Perry Floyd Jr. — fully — as a human being.

In 1857, the Supreme Court of the United States declared that black people weren't human. They were "chattel" -- property -- and could be used or abused at their master's whim. And, despite the Emancipation Proclamation six years later -- and subsequent Supreme Court decisions -- the notion that black people are not human persists.

Yesterday's verdict was a clear rejection of that notion. Whether it will find its way into public acceptance remains to be seen.


Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Really Big

Kevin Page writes that the budget Chyrstia Freeland tabled yesterday is big -- really big:

Budget 2021 is big. It has many moving parts. It breaks records. It weighs in at 700 pages. Over six years, there is $143 billion in net new spending. There are 10 priorities. If one takes the time to add up all the line-item spending initiatives for all priorities, you will exceed 250.

This is a spending budget. It is not a spend-and-tax budget. There are relatively few significant tax measures of notable consequence for the fiscal bottom line. Higher taxes for e-commerce; some luxury goods; limits on interest deductibility; and, course, tobacco. Taken together, these taxes will raise about $10 billion over the next five years. Not pocket change, but not enough revenue to fund a higher Canada Health Transfer, a national pharmacare program or a much stronger social safety net system with a basic income component.

So there are a lot of things that are not in this budget. But the really big take away is a national childcare program. Paige says it will generate a lot of economic stimulus:

It is the one signature and legacy initiative that carries the greatest prospect of boosting long term growth and well-being. Some $30 billion over five years has been set aside. Negotiations await. Notwithstanding broad public and analytical support, the provinces are living on a tight fiscal string. Quebec already has the model program. Others are playing catch-up. The final shape of a national program will be debated in provincial and territorial capitals in the months ahead.

The government is betting that, if we can get COVID under control, stimulus  and pent up demand will grow us out of the deficits we have created:

The government is committed to fiscal stimulus. It signaled this intention in the 2020 Fall Economic Statement. It is allocating more than $100 billion over the next three years with about $50 billion set aside in 2021-22. The scale of the stimulus in 2021 is even larger when you add more than $20 billion in measures announced last fall. It is a lot stimulus (at least three times the federal stimulus provided in 2009) for an economy projected to rebound strongly this year when vaccinations are in place.

The Liberals are also betting that this stimulus will not severely overheat the economy:

Clearly, the federal government is willing to risk the potential for an overheated economy and higher short-term inflation should the release of pent-up demand, higher savings and optimism become a reality. It wants a strong kickstart. It wants to put COVID-19 in the rearview mirror.

Conservatives will scream that the budget will lead to hyperinflation. They will be apoplectic. But they also believe that climate change is a hoax. The NDP will howl that we need much more stimulus -- in the form of a national pharmacare program.

Who's got it right? Time will tell.

Image: Canadian Chamber Of Commerce

Monday, April 19, 2021

The Frying Pan

In Ontario, we are now in the frying pan. The Ford government has tried to turn down the heat. But they have refused to take the pan off the stove. The Toronto Star's editorial page points to the Fordian lack of focus:

Public health experts have been warning of something like this since at least mid-February, and the alarms got louder and louder with every passing week. Yet the government kept doing the least it thought it could get away with, until Premier Doug Ford himself admitted on Friday that “we’re losing the battle” and imposed even tighter restrictions.

More to the point, it’s now clear Ontario has no effective plan to deal with the actual sources of the third wave — so-called hotspot areas and big workplaces that have seen outbreaks involving hundreds of people.

The government recognizes the problem, at least in words. On Friday, Ford said the province plans to increase vaccine doses going to those hotspots by 25 per cent, although as usual details on how that will be done were scant.

But if, as the premier said, 80 per cent of COVID cases are coming from just 20 per cent of the province, why not send a much greater share of available vaccines to those areas? Like, say, 80 per cent? Ford called what’s happening in those hard-hit areas an “inferno” — so why not turn the fire hoses directly on the heart of the blaze?

Of course, that would mean diverting limited vaccine supplies away from other regions. It would be politically hard to tell those regions they must wait, that their 60- and 70-year-olds won’t get their jabs as quickly as promised.

But it would be the right thing to do if the province is serious about choking off the third wave. There’s no point in telling everyone to stay home when the pandemic is being fuelled by people who have to leave home simply to feed their families.

All of this is obvious; even the government acknowledges the reality. It just doesn’t have a coherent plan to do anything about it.

Such a plan would pay some people in the hardest-hit workplaces to stay home until the COVID numbers stop rising. That would be cheaper than shutting down the entire province.

And, of course, paid sick leave. It’s incomprehensible that Ford is still digging in his heels on that, fobbing off critics on a federal program that falls far short of what’s needed. The premier needs to come to his senses on that.

But that kind of policy is anathema to conservatives. Ford is caught in a box of his own making. And he can't find a way out of it.


Sunday, April 18, 2021

Making The Cash Registers Ring

Last week, that blonde flamethrower from Georgia -- Marjorie Taylor Greene -- declared that she was a member of "The America First Caucus," which she said was dedicated to "Anglo-Saxon values."  She and the whole Republican Party are waging a culture war. Why? Max Boot writes that the answer is easy to understand if you follow the money:

Decades ago, in 1992, the New York Times ran an earlier exposé of Republican fundraising. The direct-mail pioneer Richard A. Viguerie had started an organization called the United Seniors Association that bombarded retirees with letters warning that “All the Social Security Trust Fund Money Is Gone!” and demanding $5 membership dues to protect their benefits. Most of the money raised went into more fundraising — including generous payments to Viguerie’s own companies.

Viguerie, who had once worked with George Wallace, was one of the creators in the 1970s of the direct-mail fundraising juggernaut that helped elect Ronald Reagan and lots of other Republicans. But the direct-mail wizards raised money by introducing to politics the kind of high-pressure sales tactics normally reserved for the sales of penny stocks or timeshares. Before long, the profit motive became as important as politics. While fleecing the faithful, the fundraisers radicalized Republican politics.

As Terry Dolan of the National Conservative Political Action Committee said: “The shriller you are, the better it is to raise money.” Conservative fundraising appeals, now on the Internet, depend on “triggering” right-wing voters on incendiary issues such as abortion, gun rights, marriage equality, transgender rights, immigrant “invasions,” and now “cancel culture” and “wokeism,” while warning of imminent doom unless you send in your donation today. That creates a financial imperative to wage culture wars to keep the cash registers ringing.

Mickey Edwards, a former Republican member of Congress from Oklahoma, recently wrote in the Bulwark about his experience as chairman of the American Conservative Union in the early 1980s, when the process was just beginning:

“The ACU, and conservatives generally, had long been focused on a few things — keeping taxes low, keeping regulation in bounds, adequately funding national defense, and, more generally (this was how conservatism was defined in political terms), prudence and skepticism in the face of proposals for sweeping overhauls. However, what I found in the fundraising letters I was being sent to sign were harangues centered on social issues. Waging the culture war was a more effective way of raising money.”

War has always been hugely profitable for some. For Republicans, a culture war makes the cash registers ring.


Saturday, April 17, 2021

More Deadly

Bruce Arthur was with medical professionals at the Brampton Civic Hospital when Doug Ford announced his government's latest plans to fight COVID:

The doctors and nurses and respiratory therapists watched Doug Ford’s press conference from the respirology ward at Brampton Civic Hospital. Brampton Civic is one of the hardest hit COVID-19 hospitals in the country: every day the ICU and the wards fill up, and doctors transfer patients anywhere they can find a bed, and then they do it all again. When the system starts to collapse, people think Brampton Civic will be the first hospital to fall.

The premier was on the screen. The hospitals are destined to be crushed; the modelling the province didn’t believe is coming true. This was Ontario’s third escalation of restrictions in three panicky weeks. Maybe this would be the moment the government truly took this seriously.

Ford began to speak. “The reality is there are few options left,” he said. Then he announced what his government would do.

And, as Ford announced his new plans, the anger exploded:

“It started out with pure anger when I watched the press conference, because there was the feeling that they might actually recognize who is actually getting sick from this and dying from this,” says Dr. Brooks Fallis, an ICU doctor at Brampton Civic. “They’ve done nothing to meaningfully protect them. And today they prioritized allowing those people who can stay at home to have non-essential goods made and delivered to them by people who end up in the ICU. It just felt like today was sending a whole lot of people to their death when they didn’t have to.

“And when the whole system starts to collapse and we run out of patient transfers and the emerg backs up into the parking lot, that’s when people will start to die who didn’t even need to die with the virus.”

Elsewhere, other doctors reacted as Dr, Fallis reacted:

“If we want to bring the numbers down we need to focus on exclusively restricting indoor spaces as much as possible, and making outdoor spaces as safe as possible,” says Dr. Peter Juni, the scientific director of Ontario’s independent volunteer science table. “There is no way to be safe with other people indoors under the current circumstances. There is no way. Not in places of worship, not in big-box stores, not anywhere else.

“I feel sick,” says Dr. Ashleigh Tuite, an epidemiologist at the University of Toronto who has contributed work to the science table. “I actually feel sick. Every week we have this buildup, and is this going to be the week where suddenly they get it, and they’re actually going to do something to make this better, and if they don’t get this now they’re not going to get it. It’s been a few hours, but I'm still shaking.”

“I do feel defeated,” says Dr. Michael Warner, the head of critical care at Michael Garron Hospital in East York. “I’m kind of past anger, and on to defeat. I’m guess I’m just resigned to our shared destiny. I cannot see any circumstance where I can now protect my patients from being forced to be palliated because of the lack of beds.”

There is only one inescapable conclusion:

This is what happens when you elect idiots. Not just one: several, because it takes a village full of village idiots to close playgrounds, over a year into a pandemic that science has shown is mostly spread through the air. It takes a village full of village idiots to respond to a pandemic driven by workplace transmission, and weighing primarily on racialized citizens, by allowing cops to ask where you live and where you’re going if you’re outside. You’ll get a ticket if you refuse to say. 

Idiocy is even more deadly than COVID.


Friday, April 16, 2021

The Worst Is Here

In Ontario, COVID numbers are staggering. And, Bruce Arthur writes, they're going to get much worse:

Friday the Ontario government is expected to introduce stricter public health restrictions for the third time in three weeks, because Ontario’s panicked, pleading attempts to negotiate with a virus were always doomed. The only question now is how catastrophic it becomes.

“There are no good options anymore,” said a Science Table source, who declined to share the specific COVID-19 projections on hospitalization, cases, and death Friday. “We’re past that point.”

The projections are said to be between 12,000 and 18,000 cases per day by the end of May if nothing is done, and the nightmare of 1,800 patients in the ICU. The best-case scenario is now believed to be 1,000 in the ICU, more than double the second-wave high.

There are no easy solutions:

“Because this keeps seeding from high-risk regions to the low-risk regions, the low-risk regions can never really get their counts down,” says Dr. Kieran Moore, the medical officer of health for Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington, where patients from Scarborough have been airlifted for weeks. “Restricting travel across Ontario is one means that we can allow all areas to try to recover, and get their counts down so we can get back our economy. I don’t know when that can happen, given that the rate of illness is so high in our high-risk regions right now.

“We’re in big trouble. I look at the Ontario data, and the immunization data, five times a day. We can’t immunize our way out of this: we have to public health measures our way out of it.”

Much stricter measures are required. And the public is sick of the ones that are in place:

The variables now are how far this government goes to limit mobility, and how a populace exhausted by months of restrictions reacts. The stay-at-home order instituted last week may have had an effect, but the traffic didn’t slow: mobility often equals contacts, and contacts spread the virus. The variants are ravaging this province; the seven-day average is a record 4,208 cases per day, and they are incredible undercounts, because the positivity rate on tests is climbing the walls, too.

 The buck stops at Doug Ford's desk:

The government has let this spiral so far out of control. They were warned, but they reopened Ontario to variants anyway.

So people are gasping, and hungry for air, and dying, and more every day: often younger, essential workers, racialized, vulnerable. The hospital system is already crumbling in places we can’t see. There are COVID patients who would usually be in the ICU, but are being cared for on the wards — one hospital executive in the GTA estimates they number in the hundreds.

It's all hit the fan.

Image: Collins Dictionary