Friday, December 31, 2021

Happy New Year


As this year comes to a close, it's clear that we will face several cascading challenges next year. They will test our character -- individually and globally. Let's hope we're up to what's coming our way.

Happy New Year.

Image: AsianPolyGlotView

Thursday, December 30, 2021

A Dismal Response

Our political class, Andrew Nikiforuk writes, have learned nothing from COVID:

Three weeks ago Omicron, a variant more transmissible than TikTok, started another global conflagration. And thanks in part to the connectivity of global elites who insist upon uninterrupted long-range travel, the variant has now started roaring fires in more than 90 nations.

Once again authorities responded with sloth, resignation or deadly indifference. How déjà vu of them.

Instead of acting quickly, our political classes collapsed into self-pity or pulled out a morgue full of excuses.

Individuals elected to lead complained the pandemic is so unpredictable. (Sorry, the evolution of variants is highly predictable as The Tyee has repeatedly explained.)

Put bluntly, our response has been too slow:

Pandemic expert and physicist Yaneer Bar-Yam, whose track record on COVID has been depressingly accurate, offered a blunt assessment this week on Twitter.

“Omicron is spreading very rapidly. The responses of many countries are insufficient. Please protect yourself and your families. In the next few weeks shelter in place, and be prepared for the shock that will occur as cases rise.”

“We don’t know the full extent of the shock and must prepare for difficult times,” he wrote. “There are risks of supply chain disruption. We cannot predict their extent due to the underlying complexity.”

In the next six to eight weeks expect a large proportion of the doubly vaccinated to get infected. Many will become deathly sick or develop long COVID.

Omicron, the most highly mutated variant to yet emerge, can evade both natural and vaccine immunity. As a consequence this wave could put the world back to square one in this pandemic.

And don’t think for a moment that Omicron is the worst the pandemic can still throw at us.

In his informative Forbes articles, U.S. virus expert William Haseltine soberly notes that coronaviruses have been around for million of years and can infect various animals. The next variant might well come from an infected population of mink or deer.

Moreover COVID, the seventh coronavirus to plague humans, “is capable of far more changes and far more variation than most ever thought possible and it will keep coming back to haunt us again and again.”

Hasletine adds that a variant more transmissible and deadly than Omicron is entirely possible given the dismal global response to the pandemic so far.

Yesterday, I wrote that the economic response to COVID has been pretty good. But the public health response has been dismal.

Image: The Weather Channel

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

The Post Pandemic Economy

In retrospect, David Olive writes, our economic response to the pandemic has been pretty good:

In the Great Reset of 2021, the $119-trillion global economy was guided back to near normality after one of the most severe blows dealt to it in generations.

Humanity has never attempted this before, nor has it needed to.

The COVID-19 pandemic, unlike the Spanish flu, the Great Depression and two world wars, reached the four corners of the world, crushing economies in its path.

Which makes 2021 a banner year, because economic recovery is now well underway in Canada and in most major economies worldwide.

The pandemic exposed major economic weaknesses:

Decades of offshoring and globalization have made the North American economy vulnerable to fragile extended supply lines.

China's periodic factory shutdowns this year due to COVID-19 outbreaks have held up supply of North American goods that once upon a time were made locally. Chinese and American ports are struggling to handle as much as three times the cargo they were designed to process.

And America is suffering an acute shortage of long-haul truckers who bring goods to Canada from clogged California and other U.S. ports.

All of that has brought a new appreciation of buying locally. This year has a seen a new “in-shoring” movement to repatriate offshore production to North America.

And, at present, those fragile supply lines are fueling inflation:

The inflation rate for October, Statistics Canada’s latest reporting period at this writing, was alarming, at 4.7 per cent — an 18-year high.

In November, U.S. inflation was even higher; at 6.8 per cent, it was close to a 40-year high. The main reason for the difference is America’s more severe labour shortage, due largely to unusually low U.S. immigration levels for the past several years.

But the economic consensus seems to be that inflation will be temporary:

The consensus forecast for Canadian inflation is 2.6 per cent next year, and about 2.0 per cent in each of the next three years.

We'll see. We still have a long way to go.

Image: Becker-Friedman Institute University of Chicago

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

The Real Thing

The moral authority of organized Christianity lies in tatters. With some of that religion's loudest adherents claiming that Donald Trump was anointed by God to re-order the world, who could find inspiration there? It was not always thus -- as the death of Desmond Tutu should remind us. South African journalist Redi Tlhabi writes:

To understand Archbishop Tutu, we must return to the dark period of South African apartheid. Fear and despair hung like an albatross around our necks. It was a time of unprecedented bloodshed. The townships, where Black people lived, were on fire and the police and army ruled the streets through the barrel of a gun, killing and maiming many.

That’s when a diminutive clergyman came into the scene. He walked through the streets of the burning townships, confronting the police, calming angry crowds, trying to quell the inferno with his authoritative voice. He spoke at mass funerals, condemning the apartheid state whilst risking his credibility among Black youth who were fired up and thirsty for revenge.

We live in what some have called "The Post Truth Era." For Tutu, Truth was everything:

Archbishop Tutu’s weapon of choice was the truth. He spoke it in all circumstances. He campaigned fiercely against apartheid and took his message to the world. This earned him the Nobel Prize in 1984.

His service to South Africa did not end with the fall of apartheid. He chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The TRC, despite its limitations, unearthed the atrocities of the past in shocking detail. Families got to hear how their loved ones were tortured and killed by apartheid’s machinery. It was raw and Tutu would often bow his head and weep during the hearings.

Some anti-apartheid activists became too comfortable once they reached power. Tutu was consistent and chastised the same African National Congress leaders he supported during apartheid. Their corruption and lack of accountability were anathema to him.

Former President Thabo Mbeki earned Tutu’s wrath for his denialism of the AIDS epidemic, which cost hundreds of thousands of lives, according to some estimates.

Tutu was coherent and demanded the same from all of us. There was no course too difficult or too dangerous. His quest for justice went beyond South Africa. The power of his moral clarity was undeniable. Mandela was correct when he said his voice “will always be the voice of the voiceless.”

To the core of his being, Tutu affirmed the lyrics of the Irish folksong, "All God's Creatures Got A Place In The Choir." He -- and his example -- will indeed be missed -- because he was the real thing.

Image: Al Jazeera

Friday, December 24, 2021

Merry Christmas

My wife and I received our boosters yesterday. I received mine from a retired doctor. He was there to make things work. Several other retired health care workers and members of service clubs were there for the same reason.

Christmas isn't about me. It's about others. And it's about joy and possibility. Whichever and however you celebrate this season, may you also know joy and possibility.

Merry Christmas.

Image: Wonderopolis

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Right Wing Fractures

Henry Olsen writes that the same fracturing happening on the American Right is happening around the world: 

The same fissures in the old conservative coalition that plague the GOP appear in virtually every other modern democracy. Nationalist and populist parties have grown dramatically in the past decade, often gaining near parity with incumbent center-right parties. Urban and suburban moderate voters, meanwhile, have often swung to classically liberal or green parties that are comfortable aligning with left-wing governments.

New political coalitions are forming:

The incoming four-party Dutch government will include Democrats 66, a center-left party. This means the new coalition agreement includes substantial spending increases for education and climate change, leading ING bank to declare it was “a farewell to Dutch frugality.” Austria’s conservatives govern with the Greens, resulting in a budget with tax cuts for business and working-class voters balanced by increases in carbon taxes to battle climate change. These parties, like many in the moderate and business wings of the GOP, would prefer to swing to the center economically rather than swing right on cultural issues to placate populists.

The Reagan-Thatcher conservatism of forty years ago is dead:

The global evidence makes it clear that 1980s-era Reagan-Thatcher conservative politics is a dead letter. Coalitions built on that formula — free markets, globally minded, strong on defense — no longer win majorities. The new conservative winning formula is extremely hard to pull off, as one must simultaneously satisfy the still significant Reaganite element while winning over nationalist populists and moderate suburbanites. Having incompetent opponents who veer too far to the left, such as Britain’s Jeremy Corbyn, help bring these disparate groups together out of fear. But no center-right figure has yet built such a coalition on positive grounds that has survived the stress of actually governing.

The Conservative Party of Canada should have figured that out. Unfortunately, it hasn't:

Canada’s Conservative Party tried to appeal to moderate suburbanites while offering an economic appeal to blue-collar voters in that nation’s recent elections. It didn’t work. The party lost seats in suburban Toronto and Vancouver while the aggressively populist People’s Party soared to win nearly 5 percent of the vote.

Britain's Conservatives have also had a hard time adapting to this new world:

Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party has a large parliamentary majority in Britain, but his government is stymied by conflicts between its traditional suburban voter bloc in the south, which eschews higher government spending, and blue-collar, former Labour-voting constituencies in the north that crave it.

It's still unclear how all of this will ultimately shake out -- or if the Right will be able to figure it out.

Image: twitter

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Our Own Nutbars

Canadians have been horrified by American politicians like Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Greene proudly spouting unadulterated stupidity. Now one of our own has taken to Facebook to prove the truth of Mark Twain's admonition that it is better to have people think you're stupid than to open your mouth and remove all doubt. Ian Bailey and Marieke Walsh write in The Globe and Mail:

An Alberta Conservative MP posted false information about vaccines and their efficacy as she defended people who choose not to be vaccinated and said they’re being “demonized.”

Rachael Thomas, the member of Parliament for Lethbridge, made the comments in a video posted to Facebook on Dec. 16, which is still online. In the post she makes claims that are not backed by readily available information from public-health agencies.

About the unvaccinated, Ms. Thomas said, “They are being portrayed as evil, as if they are deserving of the contempt that we have for them, as if they should be the ones that are blamed or used as the scapegoat for the fact that life isn’t normal right now.”

“Those who are choosing not to be vaccinated. They’re not trying to perpetuate the virus. They’re not trying to purposely complicate life. They have good reasons,” she said.

In the video, Ms. Harder says there are more vaccinated people in hospital than unvaccinated people. That’s not correct according to the latest data from Alberta Health Services, which show that 62 per cent of people hospitalized are unvaccinated.

American insanity has crossed the border. We have our own nutbars.

Image: The Globe And Mail

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

A Winter Of Discontent

OMICRON is tearing through Ontario. Bruce Arthur writes:

It’s beginning to look a lot like chaos, everywhere you go. On Monday people lined up for rapid tests that ran out fast, or tried to get booster appointments that weren’t available until February next year. Some public health units ran out of Pfizer or contact tracing or both, and testing may be next. These are the early days of Omicron, and it probably feels like you’re on your own.

Which despite the best efforts of so many, you probably are. A lot of the defences people have counted on to see COVID clearly, or keep them safe from infection, are already crumbling. Omicron moves too fast.

“I think people need to be taking precautions for the coming storm,” said Dr. Lawrence Loh, the medical officer of health for Peel. “The opening of eligibility to 18-plus has basically overwhelmed capacity and supply; we really need people to reduce their contacts in the meantime while they await their booster, especially if they’re older.

“At the local level, we’re working as best and as quickly as we can to get it out. But the storm is coming and visibility is starting to diminish. Basically now we’re at the point where if you’re sick or exposed, just stay home. If you’re getting worse, go to the hospital. If you’re young with two doses, consider helping an older member of the community get to a spot first.”

OMICRON is like a prairie blizzard. You can see it coming from miles away. It moves fast. And, when it hits, everything comes to a halt:

Which means these are the days before a Hail Mary deliverance, or the hardest part. Mathematical modelling led by Dr. Sally Otto at UBC reiterated what she told the Star last week: if Omicron is half as severe as Delta, we will still have more people in hospital than we’ve ever had. If it’s 10 per cent as severe, then Omicron can likely be treated as something less than a bomb.

So it’s a hell of a thing to bet on the most optimistic outcome, which scientists in Denmark and the United Kingdom and Germany and Canada still describe as unlikely. There are more than 800,000 unvaccinated Ontarians between 30 and 69, and if another 150 land in the ICU elective surgeries are likely gone. Ontario’s health-care workers had already been thinned by the pressure of previous waves; the police, as the Star’s Wendy Gillis reports, are anticipating 20-30 per cent of the workforce could be sickened with Omicron at once. Imagine that shortage in health care, and most everything else.

This will most surely be a winter of discontent.

Image: Global News

Monday, December 20, 2021

Not A Government In Waiting

The Conservative caucus is not a collection of happy campers. Althia Raj writes:

The brewing tensions of the past three months, since the Conservatives’ disappointing election loss, came to a head last Wednesday in what one MP described as a “bloodbath.”

The blood spilled on the caucus floor belonged to party Leader Erin O’Toole, the MP offered in vivid detail. It was the culmination of weeks of frustration, anger, lies, betrayal, shifting alliances, scheming and plotting that have come to characterize the human drama behind the scenes between O’Toole and his caucus.

During the Tories’ last meeting, public dissenters were labelled “cowards” for airing their opposition to Quebec’s Bill 21 over social media. Social Conservatives, upset they’d taken one for the team on the Liberals’ conversion therapy ban, known as C-4, were livid that Red Tory colleagues were publicly celebrating the move, suggesting their views promoted hate and fear.

The appearance of the Omicron variant, coupled with O’Toole’s leadership troubles, has exposed deep fault lines within the Tories’ tenuous coalition. There are different cliques of MPs: those opposed to lockdowns, those upset with O’Toole’s reversal on carbon pricing, those upset with his hands-off approach to Bill 21, those upset over the rush to pass C-4, those who support C-4, those angry over Sen. Denise Batters’s expulsion from caucus, those upset by what they see as the public hanging of Alberta MP Shannon Stubbs.

The Conservatives have adopted the Republican model of grievance politics. But it's the grievances against each other that are tearing them apart:

In October, Conservative MPs adopted the Reform Act, giving themselves the power to call for a caucus leadership review or to expel caucus members. As long as 24 members requested it, a secret-ballot majority vote can boot the leader or a caucus member.

On. Nov. 16, the CBC cited “senior Conservative sources” saying 24 MPs had pledged to sign a letter requesting the removal of a colleague.

O’Toole had already appointed 78 MPs — of 118 — to his shadow cabinet. He packed his team with new MPs, those ideologically aligned and even some old allies who’d backed Peter MacKay during the last leadership contest over concerns O’Toole lacked the right leadership skills.

Now, O’Toole was suggesting he had the numbers to oust anyone.

Whether that’s true or not is unclear. But sitting as an Independent would likely doom an MP’s chances of re-election.

It was a period of fear, anxiety. People watched their backs.

This is not a government in waiting.

Image: The Toronto Star

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Nader On Trump

The outline for a fascist takeover in the United States is clear for all to see. Ralph Nader writes:

Getting ready for 2024, the Georgia GOP legislature has stripped the election-certifying Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger, of his authority to oversee future election certifications. The legislature has also given itself the unbridled authority to fire county election officials. With Trump howling his lies and backing his minion candidates, they created a climate that is intimidating scores of terrified election-precinct volunteers to quit.

Added to this are GOP-passed voter suppression laws and selectively drawn election districts that discriminate against minorities – both before the vote (purges, arbitrary disqualifications), during the vote (diminishing absentee voting, and narrowing dates for their delivery), and after the election in miscounting and falsely declaring fraud.

Add to these measures a simple lever that has now been put in place:

The ultimate lethal blow to democratic elections, should the GOP lose, is simply to have the partisan GOP majority legislators benefiting from demonically-drawn gerrymandered electoral districts, declare by fiat the elections a fraud, and replace the Democratic Party’s voter chosen electors with GOP chosen electors in the legislature.

There are several institutions and people who could do something about all of this. But they are not acting:

All that is going on to deal with Trump’s abuses in any focused way on Capitol Hill, controlled by Democrats, is the House’s January 6th investigation. So far as is known, this Select Committee is NOT going to subpoena the star witnesses – Donald Trump and Mike Pence. So far, the Congress is feeble, not a Rock of Gibraltar thwarting the Trumpian dictators.

It’s Trump’s Supreme Court and his nominees fill many chairs in the federal circuit courts of appeals. The federal judiciary – historically the last resort for constitutional justice – is now lost to such causes.

The Dems do moan and groan well. But where is their big-time ground game for getting out the non-voters in the swing states? Are they provoking recall campaigns of despotic GOP state legislators in GOP states having such citizen-voter power? Why aren’t they adopting the litigation arguments of Harvard Law School’s constitutional expert, Professor Larry Tribe? Where are their messages to appeal to the majority of eligible American voters who believe that the majority rules in elections? Why aren’t they urgently reminding voters of the crimes and other criminogenic behavior by the well-funded Trump and his political terrorists?

What about the legal profession?

Aren’t they supposed to represent the rule of law, protect the integrity of elections, and insist on peaceful transitions of power? They are after all, not just private citizens; they are “officers of the court.” Forget it. There are few exceptions, but don’t expect the American Bar Association and its state bar counterparts to be the sentinels and watchdogs against sinister coup d’états under cover of delusional strongarming ideologies.

And look at what's not happening on campuses:

Weren’t they the hotbeds of action against past illegal wars and violations of civil rights in the Sixties and Seventies? Sure. But that was before the Draft was eliminated, before the non-stop gazing at screens, and before the focus on identity politics absorbed the energy that fueled mobilizations about fundamental pursuits of peace, justice, and equality.

Taken all together, it's not very encouraging. Bad things happen when good people do nothing.


Saturday, December 18, 2021

Facts Don't Matter To These Folks

The stolen election meme keeps roiling through American politics. Jesse Wegman writes:

The professional vote-fraud crusaders are not in the fact business. While they pretend to care about real election crimes, their purpose is not to identify whether voters are actually committing such crimes; it is to concoct a world in which the votes of certain people (and it always seems to be the same people) are presumptively invalid. That’s why they are not chastened by data demonstrating — again and again and again and again — that there is essentially no voter fraud anywhere in this country.

Thanks to their efforts, about three quarters of Republicans believe the 2020 election was stolen, and they won’t be convinced by evidence to the contrary.

That evidence continues to grow. Earlier this week The Associated Press released an impressively thorough report examining every potential case of voter fraud in six decisive battleground states — Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — where Donald Trump and his allies challenged the result in 2020. Voters in these six states cast a combined 25.5 million votes for president last year, and chose Joe Biden over Mr. Trump by 311,257 votes. The total number of possible cases of fraud the A.P. found? Fewer than 475, or 0.15 percent of Mr. Biden’s margin of victory in those states.

Facts won't change these peoples' minds. They are a virulent minority who know they are a virulent minority. Like those in the South who used to be referred to as "white trash," they cling desperately to the notion that they are better than people whose skins are not white. They dare not say what they believe. So they claim, with Donald Trump, that millions of votes were fraudulently cast. It's simply a lie:

That’s the thing about voter fraud: Not only is it rare, it’s generally easy to catch, especially if it happens on a larger scale. In 2019, North Carolina officials ordered a do-over of a congressional election after the winning candidate’s campaign was found to have financed an illegal voter-turnout effort. That candidate was a Republican, as were two of three residents of the Villages, a Florida retirement community, who were arrested and charged with double voting in the 2020 election earlier this month. (The third had no party affiliation.)

To the extent there is any fraud, it is almost entirely an individual phenomenon. The A.P. report confirmed this, finding no evidence anywhere of a coordinated effort to commit voter fraud. That’s no surprise. Committing a single case of fraud is hard enough; doing so as part of a conspiracy is essentially impossible, once you consider how many people would need to be in on the scheme. “It’s a staggeringly inefficient way to affect an outcome,” said David Daley, the author of “Unrigged: How Americans Are Battling Back to Save Democracy.” “It simply doesn’t work.”

To sum up once more for the folks in the cheap seats: Voter fraud is vanishingly rare. It is virtually never coordinated. And when it does happen, it is often easily discovered and prosecuted by authorities.

But people who don't buy facts buy lots of snake oil.

Image: The Conversation

Friday, December 17, 2021

Somewhere There Is Light

Rebecca Solnit's new book is titled Orwell's Roses. Dorothy Woodend writes that it is a book for our times:

If you need some prickly bits of hope and thorny rationality in these times, George Orwell is your man. The English author of such seminal texts as 1984, Animal Farm and Homage to Catalonia is the subject of American writer Rebecca Solnit’s new book, Orwell’s Roses.

The essay collection, conjoined loosely by Orwell’s life and work, is delicate and perambulating, but also studded with bedrock ideas, emerging like boulders out of deep research and analysis. One moment you’re bobbing along with Solnit’s graceful prose; the next you run face first into a sentence so adamantine in its acuity, that it literally takes your breath away.

It’s a bit akin to getting hit in the head by a rock, but in a good way. You come away feeling stunned, but also profoundly impacted.

The bogeyman of Orwell's time was Joseph Stalin -- who Orwell understood thoroughly:

A great many people believed (and some still do) that Stalin was a fine fellow, when all evidence to the contrary, like millions of dead Russians, indicates otherwise. Even those who knew better looked away from the truth of his rule. Solnit cites playwright George Bernard Shaw and news writer Walter Duranty as Stalin fans and apologists, but there were plenty of western journalists, writers and artists who also capitulated to the Soviet fantasy.

These days, all kinds of people who know better lick Donald Trump's boots. Stalin had a vast coterie of bootlickers -- like Trofim Lysenko:

Lysenko, a bootlicker and master dissembler, told Stalin exactly what he wanted to hear, namely that it was possible to increase crops yields with hardier strains of wheat almost overnight. The end result of his fiction was the death of millions of people. Whereas [Nikolai] Vavilov, who had dedicated his entire career to finding ways of better feeding the world, told the truth and died of starvation in a gulag.

What's the lesson behind all of this?

The lessons of history don’t always pertain exactly, but at best they can remind one that whatever else happens, change is the one constant. Empires rise, empires fall. But before the light returns again, we’re in for a whole lot of suffering.

Still, even in the darkest of timelines, there are things to be treasured, savoured and celebrated. Solnit’s writing is one of those things. Like Orwell, her work shines with the clear light of reason and humanity, reminding readers that this too shall pass, even if it feels like the madness is permanent.

Buckle up. It's going to get darker. But -- somewhere -- there is light.

Image: The Tyee

Thursday, December 16, 2021

A Long Way to Go

On Tuesday, Chrystia Freeland delivered a virtual fiscal update. That was a sign of the times. Heather Scoffield writes:

It was ominous and telling that Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland had to pull the plug at the last minute on the live delivery of her fiscal speech to the House of Commons on Tuesday and switch it to virtual.

Rapid testing had just indicated that two of her staff had tested positive for COVID-19, and suddenly the entire office, including the minister, had to take steps to isolate — but keep on doing their jobs by turning to all the workarounds we have developed over the past 21 months.

Freeland’s first post-election fiscal reveal is all about enabling that pattern economy-wide — dedicating billions to keeping the trains running on time despite the lightning speed at which Omicron is disrupting our lives.

The pandemic mantra for fiscal policy — “whatever it takes” — still stands. But its focus has shifted dramatically.

Stage 1 of the pandemic recession was locking down the economy, sending workers home and closing up shop so that we wouldn’t contaminate each other.

On paper, it looks like we have recovered. Employment is back, the economy is growing at a strong pace, and we’ve made up for lost time.

But things have changed. And COVID has come roaring back:

Canadians are cancelling their travel plans for Christmas, parents are scrambling to take days off from work to care for children exposed to the virus, financial markets are churning and global supply chains are gummed up.

But going back to a period of economic restrictions is not on Freeland’s menu right now, and senior officials said the main goal of fiscal policy right now is to hold on to what we have recovered — Omicron be damned.

That takes money, which is provided for amply in the fiscal update. Freeland had a windfall of about $38 billion extra this fiscal year compared to what she initially expected, thanks mainly to tax revenues bloated by inflation and some unused program supports. She spent $28 billion of that in last-minute measures, much of it on adapting to omnipresent Omicron.

In the name of helping individuals take contagion matters into their own hands, Freeland’s update puts $1.7 billion towards 180 million more rapid tests, and another $2 billion towards COVID-19 therapeutics and treatments. In the name of keeping buildings open to the public, the update has money for ventilation and air filtration in schools, community buildings and small businesses.

In the name of looking for solutions to supply chain disruptions, there’s $50 million for ports to open parking lots for their containers. And in the name of dealing with labour shortages exacerbated by the strange patterns of the reopening, there’s $85 million to speed up immigration.

And just in case, there’s a big, new $4.5-billion fund just for Omicron — to manage the border and keep the variant at bay, extra supports for businesses and individuals, extra health costs that may pop up.

After $300 billion of federal money already spent on keeping us safe from the pandemic, we are now supposed to know how to live with this thing and keep the economy running accordingly.

The large economic problems revealed in the latter days of the pandemic — inflation, affordability, labour shortages, and the potential for rising interest rates at a time of high personal and public indebtedness — were not part of Freeland’s fiscal update. Nor were the $78 billion in election promises that propelled the Liberals to a minority victory just a few months ago.

That was on purpose, Freeland told reporters watching her on a big screen from the room where her press conference was supposed to have been held.

There will be more to come in the budget. We've got a long way to go.

Image: The Toronto Star

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

A Staggering Bill

Supriya Dwivedi writes that Doug Ford's failure to act on climate change is going to cost Ontarians big time:

If you care about affordability, you should care about climate change. While Conservative politicians across Canada have done a very good job of maligning climate change mitigation as fundamentally unaffordable, the reality is, if we don’t act now on climate change, we’ll be dealt a much higher bill down the road.

The Financial Accountability Office has just released a report on the costs of climate change:

It’s important to note the report itself was limited to direct costs on public assets. Indirect costs — such as deaths, power outages, supply chain disruptions, or damage to privately owned buildings — were not covered. Additionally, the report only focused on three aspects of climate change: extreme heat, extreme rainfall, and freeze-thaw cycles.

And even with those limitations, the figures in the report are daunting: “In the medium emissions scenario, the FAO estimates that by 2100, additional infrastructure-related costs of maintaining Ontario’s public buildings could range from $29 billion (3.7 per cent higher than baseline) to $134 billion (16.8 per cent) by 2100. In the high emissions scenario, these additional costs could range from $55 billion (6.9 per cent) to $232 billion (29 per cent) by 2100.”

In the nearer term, assuming a stable climate for the rest of this decade, we’re looking at a massive increase: “The FAO estimates that in the absence of adaptation, the cumulative cost of maintaining public buildings in a state of good repair will increase by about $6 billion relative to baseline spending in a stable climate over the remainder of this decade (2022-30).”

None of this is good news. It’s particularly grim once one considers that Doug Ford and the PCs haven’t just stalled on the climate file but have been actively hostile to meaningful action on climate change.

Ford has pitched himself as the taxpayer's friend. But the bill will come due when he's gone:

Ford basically built his political brand as being the definitive champion of the taxpayer. It’s all but certain that in the upcoming campaign, Ford and the Ontario PCs will once again claim to be the only party that respects taxpayers and their hard-earned dollars. However, without meaningful policies to help mitigate the worst impacts of climate change, the claim to be looking out for taxpayers falls apart.

On the climate file, it's always been a case of "Pay me now or pay me later." Doug Ford prefers to let others pay the bill -- and the bill will be staggering.

Image: The Narwhal

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

The Clear Coup

Today the House of Representatives will vote to hold former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows in contempt of Congress. Jennifer Rubin writes:

Multiple pieces of evidence have emerged pointing to a deliberate effort to overthrow our democracy. And it is former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows who is key to piecing them all together.

Start with the two memos from John Eastman, President Donald Trump’s lawyer, who sketched out a plan for Vice President Mike Pence to block Joe Biden from assuming the presidency. After making false accusations of election fraud, Eastman suggested Pence could simply refuse to accept electoral college votes when Congress met on Jan. 6 to certify the results, making Trump the “winner” or throwing it to the House where Republicans on a unit vote (one per each state delegation) might have crowned Trump president.

Two additional memos from Trump campaign counsel Jenna Ellis, one on Dec. 31 and one on Jan. 5, have also surfaced. Politico reports: “In the Jan. 5 memo, Ellis argued that key provisions of the Electoral Count Act — limiting Pence’s authority to affirm or reject certain electors — were likely unconstitutional. She concluded that Pence, while presiding over lawmakers’ counting of electors, should simply halt the process when their alphabetical proceeding reached Arizona.” This, of course, would be patently illegal. (Has her state bar been contacted?)

And now we learn of a particular PowerPoint presentation:

And we have seen the mind-boggling 38-page PowerPoint plan to conduct a coup, including a declaration of “national security emergency” that could halt the voting, if needed. As bizarre as the document was, even more bizarre are the alleged meetings that Meadows and lawmakers had with the plan’s author, none of whom had the common sense and loyalty to report it to the FBI.

This is about more than a criminal case. It is about a well-organized coup:

Given the number of people involved in the coup attempt and how perilously close we came to constitutional disaster, the scheme amounts to the most astounding political story in our lifetimes (or perhaps in history).

That those involved in the plot might return to power is unimaginable; that the GOP continues to embrace Trump is shameful. If we cannot collectively recognize that threat to the republic, then, to Benjamin Franklin’s disappointment, we cannot keep it.

From the beginning, Americans were warned that their democracy was fragile. The information the committee keeps uncovering proves just how fragile it is.

Image: NPR

Monday, December 13, 2021

Doug Ford And Electric Vehicles

Kathleen Wynne's government legislated a $14,000 rebate for Ontarians who purchased electric vehicles. Doug Ford wasn't impressed. Allison Jones writes:

Shortly after coming to power in 2018, Ford's government scrapped Ontario's cap-and-trade system, and with it the electric vehicle rebates funded by that program.

He also stopped building charging stations — the provincial transit agency even removed some — and dropped a requirement for new homes to include the wiring for potential EV chargers.

Ford at the time decried the rebates of up to $14,000 as subsidizing purchases for wealthy buyers — and he still does, mostly. 

"Before the election I didn't believe in giving millionaires rebates on over $100,000 Tesla cars," he said last month. "I just didn't believe in it. Let's see how the market dictates."

In the year after the rebate cancellations, the market for electric vehicles tanked in Ontario. At its highest point, electric-vehicles made up around three per cent of the province's total passenger vehicle sales. That dropped to below one per cent after the rebate was scrapped.

The introduction of a federal rebate saw Ontario's electric-vehicle sales begin to climb again. The most recent data from Statistics Canada puts the numbers back to nearly where they were before the provincial cancellation.

But that is still well below levels seen in provinces with their own rebates, such as British Columbia and Quebec, which are seeing electric-vehicle sales of about 13 per cent and 10 per cent, respectively.

Electric-vehicle advocates say Ontario can’t be a leader in manufacturing while being a laggard in sales.

Now Ford has announced that he wants Ontario to be a world leader in the production of electric vehicles:

Ontario's "Driving Prosperity" plan focuses on repositioning the province's auto sector to build electric vehicles, as well as establishing battery production here, taking advantage of critical minerals found in the Ring of Fire. It aims to build at least 400,000 electric vehicles and hybrids by 2030.

Ontario has secured investments from big automakers such as Ford and GM to build new electric vehicles at their facilities in the province in the coming years, and the premier is looking to attract more.

"Our government knows it and the auto industry knows it: Ontario is the No. 1 place in the world to build the cars and trucks of the future," Ford said when he announced the strategy last month.

But Doug has no plans to re-introduce the rebate:

"Producing more EVs in Ontario will not directly translate into more EV sales in Ontario unless there’s more support for consumers to go electric," [Joanna Kyriazis, senior policy adviser at Clean Energy Canada] said.

"What we’re talking about is how Ontario from the manufacturing side and the supply side can actually drive and support this kind of revolution in electric vehicles, create a bunch of jobs … rather than using Ontario taxpayers’ money to support the purchase of vehicles that were manufactured elsewhere," said [David]Tarrant, now a vice-president at Enterprise, a strategic communications firm.

There's an old saying: "Put your money where your mouth is." Doug puts his mouth where the money isn't.

Image: Detroit Free Press

Sunday, December 12, 2021

Trumpism Is Here To Stay

If you were hoping that Donald Trump would go gently into that good night, take a look at a column written by Ron Filipkowski in The Washington Post:

Not quite a year ago, on Dec. 19, 2020, Donald Trump lit a match. “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th,” he tweeted. “Be there, will be wild!” That night, on the social network Parler, a user posted, “Build the gallows.”

No one can draw a straight line from Trump’s tweet to the storming of the U.S. Capitol, but the events of Jan. 6 were born on social media — which makes it a good place to discover what the activists, influencers and organizers of the MAGA movement are up to on the ground. Then, they were charting a course to “stop the steal” on a national stage. Now, they have taken their disparate causes and motives to the local level, refocusing on softer, more vulnerable targets such as local government agencies, because, according to the new motto of one of their ubiquitous leaders, former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, “Local action has a national impact.”

These people are mad as hell and they're very dangerous:

My background, combined with the research skills of my team, has allowed us to monitor and track right-wing groups across a wide array of platforms. We watch obscure live­stream events and listen to podcasts and radio broadcasts, and I have attended events in person. We follow influencers and organizations wherever they are on social media — Facebook, Twitter, Parler, Gab, Telegram, YouTube, Gettr, Rumble, Frank Speech and other, darker places.

What we’re seeing is that many of the activists and influencers who promoted and attended the rally that became the violent attempt to stop the certification of President Biden’s election have now turned their attention to three primary targets: school boards, city and county commissions, and secretaries of state and supervisors of elections. The new endeavors give the appearance of grass-roots efforts but feature familiar characters teaming up with organizations long involved with financing and leading disruptions, protests and disinformation campaigns on a variety of issues — organizations like Morton Blackwell’s Leadership Institute, the Council for National Policy, Turning Point USA, the Heritage Foundation’s Action branch and Liberty Counsel. What’s more, some of these activists have harnessed the anger, fear and resentment they have helped churn up and are using it for their personal and financial benefit. We began noticing this shift between February and March, as these leaders launched new websites, created new business entities, and restarted their events and rallies.

There is big money in hate. Donald Trump personifies that fact. And the fate of a nation hangs in the balance.


Saturday, December 11, 2021

Manchin And the Filibuster

Greg Sargeant writes that Joe Manchin is putting democracy in danger:

Manchin knows the filibuster is rendering the Senate dysfunctional. And Manchin spent many months trying to build GOP support for reasonable voting rights protections, to no avail.

So Manchin knows Republicans will never, ever support anything remotely meaningful in protecting democracy. Yet he remains the public face of the idea that democracy reform must be done only in a bipartisan fashion, or not at all.

Yes, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) is also a holdout, as are a few other moderates. But get Manchin, and the others would surely follow.

Without Manchin, the possibility of a filibuster suspension to protect democracy with Democrat-only legislation is off the table, putting us in an impossible bind.

The House has passed a reform package. It's a once-in-a-generation opportunity to fix much that is wrong with American democracy. But, as long as the filibuster remains in place, the package will never get through the Senate:

The reform package passed by the House illustrates the point. Championed by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), it would strengthen congressional oversight of communications between the White House and the Justice Department, making presidential manipulation of law enforcement harder.

The Protecting Our Democracy Act would expedite court review of efforts to stonewall congressional subpoenas, and curb abuses of presidential pardon and emergency powers, among many other things.

Donald Trump exploited all of those problems. He tried to corrupt the Justice Department into manufacturing a pretext for overturning the 2020 election. After using court delays to stall oversight of himself, Trump and his insurrection co-conspirators are doing this again to stymie an accounting into it.

This new bill would address those problems. Democrats hope to get it through the Senate by breaking it up and seeing what Republicans will support. A few pieces might pass. But how many?

Meanwhile, the House select committee investigating Jan. 6 will likely turn up new evidence fleshing out Trump’s plot to exploit holes in the Electoral Count Act (ECA), which governs how Congress counts presidential electors. That will strengthen the case for reform.

For generations, anti-lynching legislation never got through the Senate because a handful of southern senators -- from both parties -- filibustered it. Now, instead of people hanging from trees, democracy is dying on the vine.

Image: Al Jazeera

Friday, December 10, 2021

We Lack The Will

David Suzuki writes that episodes of mass extinction are nothing new:

The fossil record indicates five mass extinction episodes have occurred, defined by disappearance of more than 75 per cent of all species within 2.8 million years, a mere blink in evolutionary time. In the five great extinctions, 75 to 90 per cent of terrestrial and marine plants and animals vanished.

Despite these enormous disruptions, life recovered in diversity and abundance, although radically different in makeup. In the Cretaceous-Paleogene mass extinction 66 million years ago, when dinosaurs disappeared after ruling the planet for 180 million years, mammals took advantage and thrived.

On average, an invertebrate species’ lifespan is about 11 million years, and a mammalian species lasts between one and two million years. After a mass extinction, ecosystems recover after two million years, while the biosphere takes about 10 million years to fully flourish again. These numbers and time frames are inferred from the fossil record and geology, and can provide a framework within which to assess the current epoch, often called the Anthropocene.

We are facing our sixth mass extinction. But, this time, things are different:

The explosive growth of human numbers, technological innovation and demands of the global economy have amplified our species’ ecological footprint so greatly that we have triggered another mass extinction episode. Unlike the previous five, this sixth extinction is the direct consequence of one species, us — an infant species that has only been around for 300,000 years.

Although I have faith that nature will continue on despite all we’ve done, whether or not we’re around for it, it will take millions of years for the biosphere to equilibrate again with another array of unimaginable and wondrous biodiversity.

It’s as if we’ve sped up time. Many plant and animal species we care about were destined to be here for a few million years at most, but now they’re disappearing at unimaginable rates, often within our lifetimes. We’re the first species to have caused rapid extinction and to be aware of what we’re doing. We have spread across the planet and become a geological force, reshaping the land and water according to our demands.

But as the top planetary predator, we’re one of the species most vulnerable to extinction — of other species and our own. If the plants and animals we rely on for food and more become extinct, we’re in trouble.

We have the intelligence to recognize the crisis and resolve it by pulling back, ceasing activities that contribute to extinctions, and encouraging nature. Nature always bats last, and wins. That’s because it sets the rules. And nature has an ace up its sleeve: time, all the time in the world until the sun burns out and is no more.

We have the tools to stop what's happening. But we don't have the will to do it.

Image: Discover Magazine

Thursday, December 09, 2021

Follow The Money

We're beginning to get some idea where the money to finance the Trump insurrection came from. The Washington Post reports:

Eight days before the Jan. 6 rally in Washington, a little-known Trump donor living thousands of miles away in the Tuscan countryside quietly wired a total of $650,000 to three organizations that helped stage and promote the event.

The lack of fanfare was typical of Julie Fancelli, the 72-year-old daughter of the founder of the Publix grocery store chain. Even as she has given millions to charity through a family foundation, Fancelli has lived a private life, splitting time between her homes in Florida and Italy, and doting on her grandchildren, according to family members and friends.

The Washington Post previously reported that on Dec. 29, 2020, Fancelli donated $300,000 to Women for America First, a nonprofit group that helped organize the Jan. 6 rally, and $150,000 to the nonprofit arm of the Republican Attorneys General Association, which paid for a robocall touting a march to “call on Congress to stop the steal.”

On the same day, Fancelli gave $200,000 to State Tea Party Express, according to Sal Russo, a top consultant to the conservative group. Russo told The Post last week that he gave the House committee records of Fancelli’s donation, which he said was used for radio ads and social media urging supporters of President Donald Trump to attend the rally and subsequent march. He condemned the violence at the Capitol.

Fancelli is their heir to the Publix fortune:

Her family’s fortune comes from the fast-growing Publix supermarket chain, which has tried to distance itself from Fancelli’s involvement in the rally. Based in her hometown of Lakeland, Fla., Publix touts its reputation for customer service with a decades-old “where shopping is a pleasure” slogan.

After an initial report a few weeks after the rally that Fancelli had donated about $300,000, Publix released a statement saying that she was not involved in the business and that it could not comment on her actions. Last week, after The Post inquired about Fancelli’s contributions totaling $650,000, the company went further, saying it “cannot control the actions of individual stockholders” and issued an unusual rebuke of a member of the founder’s family. Because the company is privately held, Fancelli’s stake — if any — is not a matter of public record.

“We are deeply troubled by Ms. Fancelli’s involvement in the events that led to the tragic attack on the Capitol on January 6,” Publix said in a statement to The Post.

Just a little old lady living in Italy -- and an easy mark.

Image: The Washington Post

Wednesday, December 08, 2021

The Rich Are Massively Richer

Here's some depressing news this Christmas. A new report documents that the rich are getting massively richer. Jake Johnson reports that:

In the nearly three decades since 1995, members of the global 1% have captured 38% of all new wealth while the poorest half of humanity has benefited from just 2%, a finding that spotlights the stark and worsening gulf between the very rich and everyone else.

That’s according to the latest iteration of the World Inequality Report, an exhaustive summary of worldwide income and wealth data that shows inequities in wealth and income are “about as great today as they were at the peak of Western imperialism in the early 20th century.”

The pandemic has made things worse:

“The Covid crisis has exacerbated inequalities between the very wealthy and the rest of the population,” said Lucas Chancel, co-director of the World Inequality Lab and lead author of the new report. “Yet, in rich countries, government intervention prevented a massive rise in poverty—this was not the case in poor countries. This shows the importance of social states in the fight against poverty.”

“Indeed, the share of income presently captured by the poorest half of the world’s people is about half what it was in 1820, before the great divergence between Western countries and their colonies,” the report notes. “In other words, there is still a long way to go to undo the global economic inequalities inherited from the very unequal organization of world production between the mid-19th and mid-20th centuries.”

Not exactly progress, is it? Ho! Ho! Ho!

Image: TRT World

Tuesday, December 07, 2021

Plastic Words

Andrew Nikifiouk writes that we  refuse to face the cascading crises in front of us:

Two weeks ago, I gave a talk at the University of Victoria arguing that our morally bankrupt civilization is chasing dead ends when it comes to climate change and energy spending.

I argued that by focusing on emissions, we have failed to acknowledge economic and population growth as the primary driver of those emissions along with the unrestrained consumption of natural systems that support all life.

I added that people plus affluence plus technology make a deadly algorithm that is now paving our road to collective ruin.

Nikiforuk has some interesting things to say about what he calls "the technosphere:"

Our biggest problem is a self-augmenting, ever-expanding technosphere, which has but one rule: to grow at any cost and build technological artifacts that efficiently dominate human affairs and the biosphere. The technological imperium consumes energy and materials in order to replace all natural systems with artificial ones dependent on high energy inputs and unmanageable complexity.

This technological assault on the biosphere and our consciousness has greatly weakened our capacity to pay attention to what matters, let alone how to think. The result is a highly polarized and anxious society that can’t imagine its own collapse let alone the hazards of its own destructive thinking.

The best response to this constellation of emergencies is to actively shrink the technosphere and radically reduce economic growth and energy spending. Our political class can’t imagine such a conversation.

As an old English teacher, I was particularly intrigued by Nikiforuk's assertion that the technosphere corrupts language:

Just as the technosphere has replaced bird song with digital beeps, the technological imperium has increasingly replaced meaningful language with techno-speak.

A world dominated by reductionist and mechanistic thinking has produced its own Lego-like language completely divorced from natural reality. Decades ago the German linguist Uwe Poerksen called this new evolving language “plastic words.”

They include words like environment, process, organization, structure, development, identity and care. All can be effortlessly combined to convey bullshit: “the development of the environment with care is a process.” This modular language creates its own tyranny of meaningless expression.

Experts, technicians, politicians and futurists employ this plastic language to baffle, confuse and obfuscate. Poerksen notes these words are pregnant with money, lack historical dimension and refer to no local or special place. This language, divorced from all context, does to thinking what a bulldozer does to a forest. It flattens it.

George Orwell knew that once language is corrupted, so is thought. That's why we can't think our way out of these crises.


Monday, December 06, 2021

No There

Republicans have been obstructionist for a long time. Paul Krugman writes that last week's attempt to shut down the government is merely another in a long line of manufactured crises:

Republicans led by Newt Gingrich partly shut down the government in 1995-96 in an attempt to extract concessions from President Bill Clinton. G.O.P. legislators created a series of funding crises under President Barack Obama, again in a (partly successful) attempt to extract policy concessions. Creating budget crises whenever a Democrat sits in the White House has become standard Republican operating procedure.

Yet current G.O.P. attempts at extortion are both more naked and less rational than what happened during the Obama years.

Under Obama, leading Republicans claimed that their fiscal brinkmanship was motivated by concerns about budget deficits. Some of us argued even at the time that self-proclaimed deficit hawks were phonies, that they didn’t actually care about government debt — a view validated by their silence when the Trump administration blew up the deficit — and that they actually wanted to see the economy suffer on Obama’s watch. But they maintained enough of a veneer of responsibility to fool many commentators.

This time, Republican obstructionists aren’t even pretending to care about red ink. Instead, they’re threatening to shut everything down unless the Biden administration abandons its efforts to fight the coronavirus with vaccine mandates.

Consider what the Republicans are doing at both the federal and state level:

As many observers have pointed out, claims that opposition to vaccine mandates (and similar opposition to mask mandates) is about maintaining personal freedom don’t stand up to any kind of scrutiny. No reasonable definition of freedom includes the right to endanger other people’s health and lives because you don’t feel like taking basic precautions.

Furthermore, actions by Republican-controlled state governments, for example in Florida and Texas, show a party that isn’t so much pro-freedom as it is pro-Covid. How else can you explain attempts to prevent private businesses — whose freedom to choose was supposed to be sacrosanct — from requiring that their workers be vaccinated, or offers of special unemployment benefits for the unvaccinated?

In other words, the G.O.P. doesn’t look like a party trying to defend liberty; it looks like a party trying to block any effective response to a deadly disease. Why is it doing this?

What seems to be happening instead goes beyond cold calculation. As I’ve pointed out in the past, Republican politicians now act like apparatchiks in an authoritarian regime, competing to take ever more extreme positions as a way to demonstrate their loyalty to the cause — and to The Leader. Catering to anti-vaccine hysteria, doing all they can to keep the pandemic going, has become something Republicans do to remain in good standing within the party.

The party is as mentally and morally vacuous as the defeated man who still leads it. There is no there there.

Image: AZQuotes

Sunday, December 05, 2021

A Pivotal Moment

Sometimes opponents come together for a common cause. Robin Sears writes:

In the spring of 1940, facing rapidly darkening clouds of war, Winston Churchill reached out quietly to Clement Attlee, a lifelong opponent, to join a new unity government along with some of his senior colleagues. Attlee’s agreement helped Britain win the war.

And sometimes they blow the opportunity:

Four decades later, Pierre Trudeau, facing a deepening recession, skyrocketing energy prices and rising tensions with both Quebec and the West, reached out to Ed Broadbent and asked him whether he and some colleagues would consider joining a government. Broadbent demurred, knowing that the enmity toward Trudeau Sr. on issues like wage and price controls was too deep to fly. Trudeau then stumbled into the disastrous National Energy Program alone.

We have reached another pivotal moment:

Canada is facing a pandemic, a climate crisis and looming battles with the provinces — most divisively, perhaps, on health care. We have a new minority government — never good at cross-partisan, let alone federal/provincial dialogue — strutting as a majority government once more.

The Council of the Federation (COF), the club of provinces and territories, has been signalling to Ottawa that they are increasingly united and more willing to work out a deal on health-care funding. As always, the negotiation will focus on the two knottiest issues: how much, and for what?

If Quebec were to be less vocal in its perennial demand to “just sign the bloody cheque and shut up,” it would give the premiers the chance to find bridges to agreement on “conditionality” and on how much, putting Ottawa in a difficult place. The “strings attached” health-care funding demand from Justin Trudeau’s government is a little insulting. Insisting on specific guarantees, like mental health-care funding only going to programs they approve, implies the premiers are a collection of irresponsible spendthrift teenagers.

If Ottawa said “we would like to tell Canadians what you think you most need funding for,” the premiers’ answer might sound more like “we have these six issues at the top of our needs list, and together we will prioritize any new money toward them.” Instead, Ottawa’s arrogance understandably gets a raised finger.

There may be several premiers who would consider some form of performance assessment about how well they do health care. There have been discussions among experts about an existing national health study institution, such as the Canadian Institute for Health Information, or a new one created for the purpose, doing annual assessments of goals and targets achieved. If agreed on by the COF, this would be a gift for Ottawa to seize. But it would need a quid pro quo.

The greatest noise is always made about the cost, but it is the far easier issue to resolve. Federal Liberals have always governed as if spending was never a real concern for their favourite projects. After this spendthrift 20 months, how could they credibly cry poor about the future of health care? It would do the standing of a somewhat enfeebled prime minister no end of good to deliver a transformational change in federal/provincial health-care management.

Will our political leaders recognize the moment and seize it? Stay tuned.

Image: The Toronto Sun

Saturday, December 04, 2021

Some Early Signs

We're beginning to see some early signs of what OMICRON can do.  Bruce Arthur writes:

Omicron appears to be extraordinarily transmissible. Cases in South Africa are doubling every two to three days. [Dr. Peter] Juni, the scientific director of Ontario’s independent volunteer science table, says if first-wave COVID had a basic reproduction number of 3 — meaning one case created three more, on average — then Alpha was a 4.5, and Delta is a 7, Omicron appears to be in the 10-15 range, meaning one case can cause 10 to 15 cases with no safety measures. A Christmas party in Oslo resulted in more than half of a fully vaccinated room getting infected. Measles, for the record, is a 12-18, and is so infectious that you could catch it standing in the same room.

 Nonetheless, vaccination is the best tool we have to deal with it:

Vaccination remains our best tool, from what experts can discern. Juni has been going over data with South African colleagues and the table all week. And on the most central point, Juni is cautiously hopeful.

“The preliminary data we have clearly points towards that the protection against hospital admission continues with full vaccination also for Omicron,” said Juni. “The data on vaccination is limited: we have vaccination status of those admitted, so it’s incomplete data, right? But it’s a very clear pattern. So I believe even if the data to a certain extent are biased, we will continue to see what they’re seeing and you know, the data right now are accumulating on a daily basis.”

A lot hangs on how virulent Omicron will be. There are anecdotal stories of milder symptoms from South Africa, which is worth hoping for. But unless Omicron is much less virulent than Delta — perhaps 10 times less in the unvaccinated, according to Juni — the increase in transmission rate would likely swamp Ontario hospitals, in the absence of other public health measures.

This is no time to abandon public health measures -- regardless of what certain people tell you.

Image:  CNBC

Friday, December 03, 2021

Pandemic Leadership

OMICRON is here. The Trudeau government has learned something about messaging in a pandemic. Althea Raj writes:

“The pandemic is not over,” Transport Minister Omar Alghabra reminded the country Tuesday, as the government announced stringent new measures to help thwart the spread of COVID-19’s new Omicron variant in Canada.

The rules — mandatory on-arrival testing for many air travellers and quarantining in government facilities for some — are tough, and could be expensive and time consuming. At a time when Canadians seem to no longer be afraid of the virus and treat it as a mild inconvenience perhaps it was a needed reminder that life — especially for many outside our borders — is not back to normal.

Alghabra, flanked by Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos and Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino, demonstrated that the government has learned several lessons from its pandemic management, chief among them to communicate better, and to embrace a cautious and transparent approach.

The ministers mentioned 12 times that the rules could change at any moment as the situation evolves. (That’s for those of you planning a vacation abroad.) Canada has now blocked travellers from 10 African countries because of Omicron, although the variant has also been detected in 13 others.

The ministers also urged Canadians to remain “cautious and prudent.” Public health measures won’t help stop the spread of the virus if Canadians don’t abide by them.

Get vaccinated. Social distance. Wear a mask. Respect capacity limits.

Contrast that with what the Conservatives are saying -- and doing:

The Tory leader, Erin O’Toole, refused to tell Canadians how many of his candidates were unvaccinated; he pledged that any who were not would be tested daily to try to ensure they didn’t spread the virus.

After the campaign, the Conservatives argued it was time to get rid of pricey pre-departure PCR testing at land borders for vaccinated travellers and to move to a rapid antigen test for those arriving by air. (The Liberals scrapped the PCR test only for trips shorter than 72 hours.) At the same time, O’Toole argued there should be no hybrid Parliament, that all MPs should be in the House of Commons in person — where they cannot physically distance — and that no one should be allowed to know how many of his MPs remain unvaccinated.

I’ve been told of two: Niagara West MP Dean Allison and Oshawa MP Colin Carrie. Allison’s campaign manager told his local paper he has a medical exemption. Carrie told constituents two doctors advised him he “cannot receive a currently approved vaccine due to a diagnosed autoimmune disease and adverse reactions to other vaccines,” but two Conservative sources say he doesn’t have a valid exemption as per Ontario’s medical exemption guidance. His office has twice refused to confirm that he has a valid medical exemption. So far, Carrie has been allowed to sit in the Commons.

The Trudeau government has all kinds of flaws. But it can learn from its mistakes. The Conservatives appear to be incapable of learning -- and changing.

Image: Lake Superior News

Thursday, December 02, 2021

Roe Is Dead

 After hearing the arguments, it appears that the United States Supreme Court will ditch its landmark Roe V Wade decision. Dana Milbank writes:

A deeply partisan majority on the Roberts Court is about to enshrine a new principle in American jurisprudence: Justice for he who yells the loudest.

The six Republican-appointed justices on the Supreme Court left no doubt in oral argument Wednesday that they would end the constitutional right to abortion that American women have had for nearly half a century. The court will either overturn Roe v. Wade outright or cripple the landmark ruling by eliminating the “fetal viability” standard at its core. Both would return us to a time before most people living ever knew, when state legislatures controlled women’s reproductive decisions.

That's remarkable because "Public opinion hasn’t changed. The science hasn’t fundamentally changed. No new legal theory has been promulgated. The only difference is the court now has a majority hellbent on settling scores in the culture wars."

In the age of Donald Trump -- whether it's abortion or COVID -- everything is politicized. Justice Sotomayer rightly said, “Will this institution survive the stench that this creates in the public perception that the Constitution and its reading are just political acts? I don’t see how it is possible.”

Outside the court, demonstrators on both sides were protesting:

Police used metal barricades to split First Street NE in front of the court into equal sections for the opposing sides, each with a soundstage. Not content with that arrangement, a group of antiabortion demonstrators invaded the other side and took turns drowning out the speakers there with a pole-mounted bullhorn at ear-shattering volume:

“Maybe some of you should have been aborted, you wicked, nasty disgusting, ungodly — I don’t even want to call you women! You are bloodthirsty animals!”

“In the name of Jesus Christ, shut your vile, sick mouth!”

“This is what happens when you allow women to emasculate men! God hates you!”

They heckled a Black speaker: “Go to Chicago! Black-on-Black killing is off the charts! … You don’t mind taking the White man’s dollar when he wants to kill babies!”

This from those who  are "pro life." Roe is dead and the United States is doomed.

Image: the Los Angeles Times

Wednesday, December 01, 2021

More Gloom

COVID 19 has taken its toll -- not just in terms of sickness and death, but in terms of public optimism. Susan Delacourt writes:

New polling by Abacus research shows that COVID-19 anxiety has skyrocketed in the past few days, fuelled merely by the emergence of Omicron. “Four in 10 adults say they are becoming more worried about the pandemic over the past few days, almost doubling (20-point increase) the response to the same question a month ago,” Abacus reported on Tuesday.

The anxiety has landed with accompanying gloom about the future. A full 28 per cent of Canadians now believe the worst of COVID-19 is still to come; roughly the same (26 per cent) reported to Abacus that they thought the worst of the pandemic was over. “This is more pessimism about the future of the pandemic than since May 2021,” the polling report states.

EKOS polling is unearthing the same disturbing trends. EKOS president Frank Graves posted some of his research this week on Twitter, showing that COVID-19’s toll is depression, loneliness and lack of optimism over the long haul.

Managing public perceptions is what politics is all about. And politicians are in a bind:

David Coletto, head of Abacus research, says this newest wave of pandemic-related anxiety means that politicians just have to double down on transparency. “Leaders need to demonstrate they are monitoring the situation and have a plan that will be executed when certain things happen. Being perceived to be in control is critical,” Coletto said.

“The public has been on a roller-coaster. Every time their hope for an end to the pandemic grows, something else happens that increases anxiety and uncertainty. Being clear on what the government is doing and will do if certain thresholds are met can help.”

Our current crop of leaders doesn't run up the score on the subject of transparency. We'll see how it goes.

Image: Sky News