Sunday, February 28, 2021

The March Toward Austerity

Things seem to be moving in Boris Johnson's direction. John Harris writes:

It may be neither fair nor particularly rational, but in the past three weeks or so Boris Johnson and his allies have been buoyed up by rising public optimism. Thanks to the vaccination programme and the expectations swirling around the somewhat provisional back-to-normal date of 21 June, the government’s dire handling of so much of the pandemic has receded from view.

The prime minister looks both very lucky, and a more formidable leader than he seemed in the grim days of late 2020; Keir Starmer seems to have stalled. Meanwhile, even people with an understandably cautious sense of the immediate future can surely warm to the prospect of packed pub gardens, revived music festivals and family reunions.
But one shouldn't be too quick to jump to conclusions. Rishi Sunak, the man in charge of Britain's finances, isn't sounding very generous. He says that "government borrowing to finance greater spending is 'morally, economically and politically' wrong. Indeed, in Wednesday’s budget the chancellor will reportedly pledge to keep a tight grip on day-to-day spending, introduce tax rises and point towards an eventual fiscal reckoning."

So the March Towards Austerity continues. The consequences have been catastrophic:

Despite some emergency help from central government, the financial gaps that councils are facing remain huge – and urban areas seem to be particularly affected. Manchester city council is facing cuts in the next financial year of £41m; in nearby Bolton, the figure is £35m. The London borough of Newham will put through “cuts and savings” of £43m by April 2023, £30m of it this year. The council in Leeds is now facing mind-boggling economies of £87m, the single biggest amount to be taken out of its spending since the start of austerity – and which, according to the city’s new leader, James Lewis, could be followed by further cuts of as much as £60m unless the government takes decisive action. As he told me last week: “It means that any ambition we have to do anything other than the basics will be really limited. It’s an incredibly grim picture.”

The path that has led to all this is plain enough. Unlike the government, councils have to set balanced annual budgets for spending on services. Over the last decade, the money they receive from the centre has been cruelly hacked back. Ever-changing Tory plans for local authority funding have made them more and more reliant on council tax and business rates – both of which have been squeezed by the pandemic. Now, the social crises let loose by Covid are putting renewed pressure on the most essential services, not least help for older people, those with disabilities and at-risk children.

The result is something that almost defies belief: despite everything we know about the inequalities highlighted by the pandemic, and the vital role councils have played in dealing with it, the dire local cuts that have defined the last decade are grinding on.

And Johnson is confident that he's doing the right thing.


Saturday, February 27, 2021

Where Fools Congregate

CPAC -- the Conservative Political Action Conference -- is taking place over the weekend in Orlando, Florida. It's interesting to see who isn't there. Lawrence Martin writes:

A star of the show for many years was Mitt Romney, the standard bearer against Barack Obama in 2012. But this time, having voted in favour of Donald Trump’s impeachment, the senator from Utah couldn’t even get an invitation.

“We won’t credential him as a conservative,” conference chair Matt Schlapp said. It’s good Mr. Romney is staying away, he added, because if he came, “I would actually be afraid for his physical safety.”

Also persona non grata is Nikki Haley, Mr. Trump’s former United Nations representative, who has been touted as a leading candidate to top the party ticket in 2024. She should have been a keynote speaker. But she castigated Mr. Trump, saying he took the party down a path it should not have followed. She then tried to arrange a meeting with the demagogue at Mar-a-Lago. He snubbed her. The conference is doing the same.

Those who are there have drunk the Kool-Aid:

The agenda features several panels and speakers who will uphold Mr. Tump’s fantasyland claim that he won the election. None of the 10 House Republicans who voted for impeachment are among the 47 Republican members of Congress slated to speak.

A few Republicans have broken with Trump. But the vast majority have not. This is Trump's Party. Junior has suggested that the event be renamed TPAC. There is even a six-foot-tall golden statue of Trump in the lobby. The party has its own golden calf.

Unfortunately, there is no Moses who will descend from the mountain to break up the orgy.

Image: Orlando Sentinal

Friday, February 26, 2021

A Social Disease

Republicans are objecting to some of Joe Biden's appointments. Jennifer Rubin writes that most of them are women of colour. For instance, they

attacked Neera Tanden, President Biden’s nominee to head the Office of Management and Budget, declaring that her “allegiance is not to America and it’s not to President Biden, it’s to Secretary [Hillary] Clinton.” The Indian American, you see, is not loyal to this country.

Other women of colour are in the Republicans' sights:

The Post reports, “Many of the president’s Black, Latino, Asian and Native American nominees are encountering more political turbulence than their White counterparts, further drawing out the process of staffing the federal government.” When someone like Tanden is treated so differently — accusing her of disloyalty and making up a new standard never employed for Republicans or White males (mean tweets) — that “turbulence” becomes indistinguishable from racism.

The GOP is now going after two nominees for key spots in the Justice Department, Vanita Gupta for associate attorney general and Kristen Clarke for head of the civil rights division. And — no shocker — both are women of color. The Post reports: “Kristen Clarke, a Black lawyer who has been nominated to lead the Civil Rights Division at Justice, has been accused of being insensitive to Jewish people because she invited the author of an antisemitic book to speak at Harvard. She has said she regrets this decision.” She was 19 years old at the time. That’s it.

Clarke has spent her career fighting religious discrimination — from her work in New York to launch the Religious Rights Initiative. Clearly, Republicans’ opposition to her is not about some newfound concern about antisemitism. It’s about making a woman of color, whose qualifications are beyond question, into a scary, radical figure.

Meanwhile, right-wing groups have launched a campaign calling Gupta “dangerous,” falsely claiming she advocated defunding the police in a speech. They have also claimed that she wants to lessen punishment for violent white supremacists, an absurd distortion of her opposition to the federal death penalty — a view many elected officials hold.

Republicans have been throwing fits about “cancel culture” and disinviting controversial speakers on campus. Their own party includes a House member who has spread antisemitic conspiracy theories (Jewish lasers?!). Are we’re supposed to believe they care one whit about antisemitism? 

It's not hard to decipher what's going on:

Take a woman of color who is an outspoken advocate for her views. Call her dangerous, radical, extreme, disloyal. Find some scrap of something that proves nothing and seems to contradict their enabling of a racist, disgraced ex-president. It is as blatant as their attempts to disenfranchise Black voters, their refusal to disown white-supremacist groups and their lionization of Confederate imagery. Forget the “Party of Lincoln”; this is the party of Jim Crow.

The Republican Party has become a social disease. Like syphilis, it eats brains and ends in insanity and death.


Thursday, February 25, 2021

A New Relationship

A tradition has developed over the last fifty years. The first foreign visit a new American president makes is to Canada. As was the case with so many traditions, Donald Trump trashed that one. But Joe Biden restored it. In the Age Of COVID, though, the meeting was virtual. Lawrence Martin writes:

Truth be told, there was not a lot of big news from the Trudeau-Biden video conference. It was fully anticipated that they would restore goodwill to the relationship, which they did, and that they’d vow to work closely together on an array of issues, which they did.

Canadians will be pleased at the professionalism and maturity Mr. Biden brings, it being such a relief from the confrontational attitudes of Donald Trump. As for the road map of co-operation the two leaders laid out, it sounded nice – but we’ll have to see what happens when realities intrude.

Times and things have changed. Martin asks:

Do Canadians even want a new partnership with the U.S., given its crisis-ridden state? By comparison, Canada is in a position of strength on a number of fronts. Which is the country that is more equitable, more unified, less violent, less hidebound, less racist? Which is the country that has a better functioning democracy, a better health care system, a longer life expectancy, a greater social safety net?

The American relationship is still obviously of tremendous importance. But Canada’s dependence on the U.S. is not as deep as it used to be. Economically, culturally, militarily, Canada is more secure than before.

Remember the talk, post-free-trade, of moving to deeper forms of integration with the U.S., such as a customs union or a perimeter accord or a European Union-type of arrangement? You never hear that any more. Instead, the trend now is toward managed trade and more protectionist measures, which of course mitigate against any new kind of partnership. In that new dynamic, Canada is well positioned. With the modernization of the NAFTA agreement, there is a safety net.

Militarily, the end of the Cold War reduced the importance to Canada of the American defence umbrella. Mr. Biden and Mr. Trudeau talked about strengthening NORAD, the defence warning system, and that is worthwhile – but it’s hardly as important as it used to be.

Culturally, we recall that in the old days, Canada was so paranoid about U.S. domination that the Committee for an Independent Canada was all the rage. Subsequently, there was fear of brain drain, of all our country’s finest minds heading south. Now there is no more hand-wringing about a Canadian identity. Our cultural maturity is well ensconced.

On unity, Canada has already faced up to a decades-long crisis over Quebec independence. Now the unity crisis lives south of the border, where two political solitudes are fiercely colliding.

Our paths have diverged. And a new relationship is required.

Image: Where Sidewalks End

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Being Held To Account

The United States passed an ignominious milestone two days ago -- 500,000 deaths from the coronavirus. That milestone was absolutely avoidable. And, in the UK, there have also been thousands of avoidable deaths. Owen Jones writes:

A government that is able to get away with the avoidable deaths of tens of thousands of its own citizens can get away with anything. In the coming months, the days will become lighter and warmer, and a population that has been through the most severe national emergency since the second world war will be ever freer. Playgrounds will fill with laughing children, rounds will be bought in pubs and friends will hug. As the “before times” come roaring back, the relief will fuse with a desire to scrub the nightmare away from our collective consciousness, and leave it to the history books and future Netflix dramas to unpick.

We have witnessed governments that have failed to take COVID seriously -- and insisted that the economy was the first priority:

From the very start, Conservative strategy was to prioritise economic interests over human life: a calamity on its own terms, which left us simultaneously with one of the world’s worst death tolls and recessions – because it was always the virus that threatened our economy the most. Years of austerity left Britain with depleted personal protective equipment (PPE) stocks and the government failed to build up testing capacity even as the virus left China’s shores. While health experts such as Prof Anthony Costello warned that “every day of delay will kill”, the government briefed journalists that it would pursue herd immunity and allow the virus to run rampant. The government finally U-turned, but no other major European country entered lockdown with infections so high. An underfunded and under-resourced NHS with 40,000 nursing vacancies was expected to pick up the pieces, while the government was reduced to paying extortionate prices for PPE, some of which was unusable.

That immoral strategy has been on full display in Texas over the last two weeks.

When are we going to hold our leaders to account?

Image: SmartCompany

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Racism In The American Psyche

Yesterday, Merrick Garland appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The contrast between Garland and William Barr -- his immediate predecessor -- was profound. Jennifer Rubin writes:

President Biden’s nominee for attorney general, Merrick Garland, sailed through his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday, providing Republicans nary a reason to oppose him (although some will). Along the way, he provided a seminar on race while implicitly revealing the utter cluelessness and intellectual shallowness of Republicans. 
The Republican Senator from Louisiana -- who, unfortunately, is named John Kennedy  -- was particularly embarrassing:

The simple example of disparities in sentencing and incarceration for nonviolent marijuana charges opened an informed discussion of the myriad ramifications for Black Americans (e.g., access to college education, jobs, credit, business licenses).
That, in turn, made the faux outrage from Republican Sen. John Neely Kennedy (La.) over being accused of implicit bias all the more ridiculous. Garland patiently explained that it is not an insult or accusation but a description of the human condition.

Garland is a Jew. He knows something about bias. And it was interesting to note what happened while he was testifying: 
the right-wing confab of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), which is holding a conference on the “cancel culture” later this week, was forced to cancel the appearance of a notorious antisemite. A more self-aware group might recognize that the “cancel culture” has nothing to do with politics, governance or America’s challenges; it is merely an invective thrown around when whining right-wingers are held responsible for racism and other bad behavior.
The Republican Party has been revealed as a crucible for hate:
It was easy to see which party is simply encouraging White grievance (Republican senators would have their base believe, “They think you’re all racists!”) and which is addressing a serious and pervasive issue in American society.

Clearly, racism has deep roots in some American psyches.


Monday, February 22, 2021

Don't Panic

Canada's deficit hawks are worried about the increasing costs of fighting the pandemic. Andrew Jackson writes:

Last week, the Globe and Mail and the National Post gave prominent coverage to a report from the C.D. Howe Institute’s Fiscal and Tax Working Group. The report sounded the alarm over high and mounting government deficits even as the pandemic and high unemployment remain very much with us.

The Working Group is chaired by John Manley, former federal minister of finance and former head of the Canadian Business Council representing Canada’s top CEOs and Janice MacKinnon, a former minister of finance in Saskatchewan. It includes several former federal government senior officials.

The report called for restricting deficits to urgent and temporary measures such as mass vaccination, and support for business investment. It deplored the somewhat ambitious spending promises made by the Trudeau government in the recent Economic and Fiscal Update.

But not all of the economic gurus agree:

Rather inconveniently for our fiscal hawks, last week also saw the publication of an article by Gita Gopinath, the head of the research department of the Washington-based International Monetary Fund.

Ms. Gopinath states baldly that inflation is “nothing to be concerned about.”  Inflation at low, well below target rates “is expected to allow for continued low interest rates and government spending to support growth, especially in advanced  economies.”

The article judges that newly elected President Biden’s huge stimulus package will not push up inflation in the US significantly. It could be added that fast rising government debt in the European Union and Japan is equally unlikely to lead to higher inflation.

Ms. Gopinath reasons that inflation and interest rates will remain low since there is a lot of global over-capacity, ongoing automation and technological change is pushing down prices, and many large companies have very high profits which means that they can absorb higher costs without raising prices.

We've been here before. And experience should teach us that, at this point, there's no reason to panic.

Image: Social Europe

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Keeping Democracy Alive

The current chaos in the Republican Party provides a teachable moment for all democracies. Robin Sears writes:

No sustainable democracy is possible with one dominant party and one crippled or divided opponent. That is the prospect facing American democracy after five years of Trump devastation. It is a perilous moment. The GOP faces a fork in the road: do they pursue a Trumpian strategy in the 2022 mid-terms, or do they risk Trump’s wrath and his threat to create a new political party by openly rejecting him? One choice is unpleasant, the other is unacceptable. There are no others.

How did things get to this point?

Susan Delacourt’s book “Shopping for Votes,” a penetrating analysis of the takeover of parties by marketers and fundraising pros, is part of the answer. Allowing the local party organization to wither — creating shells ripe for seizure — is another.

Delacourt’s thesis was an accurate description of the core reality of modern political party management: your activists are a network of ATMs that you need to kick regularly to make them spew the dollars required for the party’s further fundraising and marketing. Why would any intelligent voter volunteer to be one of these battered ATMs?

When you can market your message by automated dialing, then fax, and then multiple digital tentacles, why would you bother with the time and resource-consuming management of a deep and broad network of local party organizations? So what if the Regina Centre NDP riding association had helped to win municipal support for a new community centre? How will that help the party leader’s popularity?

What has happened to the Republican Party happened to the Progressive Conservative Party twenty-five years ago:

When our own conservatives split over similar populist, culture war issues, they enabled nearly 15 years of often arrogant decision-making by unchallenged Liberal prime ministers. The Conservative majority ended in disaster in 1993, and it was only in 2008 that a reunited Conservative party won a majority. History demonstrates that one enfeebled opponent and one dominant governing party are never good for a democracy. At least in Canada, the NDP, the Bloc and the Greens offered some voter choice during those years.

The unvarnished truth is this: Unless democracy is alive and well on the ground, it isn't alive at all.

Image: Wikipedia

Saturday, February 20, 2021

A Little Easier


Yesterday, the G7 nations held a virtual summit. Susan Delacourt writes:

It was only 14 or so months ago that Justin Trudeau, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron were caught on camera at a NATO summit reception, appearing to have some fun at Trump’s expense.

Joe Biden, Trump’s successor, enjoyed that moment so much that he put it in one of his campaign videos. “We need a leader the world respects,” proclaimed the ad. He promised to be that leader.

The world changed during the Trump years -- something Biden stressed in his remarks at the summit:

“The challenges we face today are different. We’re at an inflection point,” the new president said. “We are in the midst of a fundamental debate about the future and direction of our world. We’re at an inflection point between those who argue that, given all the challenges we face — from the fourth Industrial Revolution to a global pandemic — that autocracy is the best way forward, they argue, and those who understand that democracy is essential — essential to meeting those challenges.”

The problems we face are not any easier to solve than they were during Trump's tenure. But, with Trump sulking in Mar-a-Lago instead of the White House, it may be a little easier to craft solutions to them.

Image: The Toronto Star

Friday, February 19, 2021

The Big Lie Migrates

Texans are freezing and in the dark -- because the state's power grid has failed catastrophically. Paul Krugman writes:

The underlying story of what happened in Texas appears to be fairly clear. Like many states, Texas has a partly deregulated electricity market, but deregulation has gone further there than elsewhere. In particular, unlike other states, Texas chose not to provide power companies with incentives to install reserve capacity to deal with possible emergencies. This made power cheaper in normal times, but left the system vulnerable when things went wrong.
Texas authorities also ignored warnings about the risks associated with extreme cold. After a 2011 cold snap left millions of Texans in the dark, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission urged the state to winterize its power plants with insulation, heat pipes and other measures. But Texas, which has deliberately cut its power grid off from the rest of the country precisely to exempt itself from federal regulation, only partially implemented the recommendations.

Texans aren't used to living through a deep freeze. But climate change is having its way:

The biggest problems appear to have come in the delivery of natural gas, which normally supplies most of the state’s winter electricity, as wellheads and pipelines froze. Nor was this merely a matter of the lights going out; people are freezing too, because many Texas homes have electric heat. Many of the homes without electrical heat rely on, yes, natural gas. We’re looking at enormous suffering and, probably, a significant death toll.
Instead of accepting responsibility, however, officials from Gov. Greg Abbott on down, backed by virtually the entire right-wing media complex, have chosen to lay the blame on green energy, especially wind power.
Now, it’s true that the state generates a lot of electricity from wind, although it’s a small fraction of the total. But that’s not because Texas — Texas! — is run by environmental crazies. It’s because these days wind turbines are a cost-effective energy source wherever there’s a lot of wind, and one thing Texas has is a lot of wind.
It’s also true that extreme cold forced some of the state’s insufficiently winterized wind turbines to shut down, but as I said, this was happening to Texas energy sources across the board, with the worst problems involving natural gas.

The Big Lie worked well for Republicans in Washington. Now The Lie has migrated south to Texas. Republicans there are hoping it will accomplish for them what it accomplished for the federal cousins.

Image: Dallas Morning News

Thursday, February 18, 2021

The Bum's Rush

Rush Limbaugh is dead. Donald Trump's rise to the presidency would not have happened without Limbaugh. Robert McFadden and Michael Gyrnbaum write in The New York Times:

Since his emergence in the 1980s as one of the first broadcasters to take charge of a national political call-in show, Mr. Limbaugh transformed the once-sleepy sphere of talk radio into a relentless right-wing attack machine, his voice a regular feature of daily life — from homes to workplaces and the commute in between — for millions of devoted listeners.

He became a singular figure in the American media, fomenting mistrust, grievances and even hatred on the right for Americans who did not share their views, and he pushed baseless claims and toxic rumors long before Twitter and Reddit became havens for such disinformation. In politics, he was not only an ally of Mr. Trump but also a precursor, combining media fame, right-wing scare tactics and over-the-top showmanship to build an enormous fan base and mount attacks on truth and facts.

The AP catalogs some of his bons mots:

Long before Trump’s rise in politics, Limbaugh was pinning insulting names on his enemies and raging against the mainstream media, accusing it of feeding the public lies. He called Democrats and others on the left communists, wackos, feminazis, liberal extremists, faggots and radicals.

When actor Michael J. Fox, suffering from Parkinson’s disease, appeared in a Democratic campaign commercial, Limbaugh mocked his tremors. When a Washington advocate for the homeless killed himself, he cracked jokes. As the AIDS epidemic raged in the 1980s, he made the dying a punchline. He called 12-year-old Chelsea Clinton a dog.

He suggested that the Democrats’ stand on reproductive rights would have led to the abortion of Jesus Christ. When a woman accused Duke University lacrosse players of rape, he derided her as a “ho,” and when a Georgetown University law student supported expanded contraceptive coverage, he dismissed her as a “slut.” When Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, Limbaugh said flatly: “I hope he fails.”

I have no idea what the conversation at The Pearly Gates will be like. But, if I were Rush, I'd be worried. I wouldn't be surprised if they gave him the bum's rush.

Image: National Newswatch

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

The Disappearing Open Mind

We used to believe that being open-minded was an admirable quality. Glen Pearson writes that open-mindedness is hard to find these days. Conservatives, in particular, are having real problems on that score:

They felt their importance during the Stephen Harper years and took comfort that a more restrained outlook was governing the country and, especially, the economy.  Soon enough, however, the pendulum swung in the opposite direction and they have been left to deal with Justin Trudeau.  Dealing with the rise of the centre-left in Canada and the rough demise of principled conservatism in America has left them between a rock and hard place and, to date at least, their wait for moderate conservative leadership to rise up both north and south of the border has been a troubled one.

Just like their counterparts on the liberal side, they believed in balance and the idea that open-mindedness in policy issues was the best way to move forward.  One wonders if modern politics even runs like that anymore.  While global populism veers right, the reality is that Canada and America are becoming more diverse every year, and to try to hold on to the old ways is becoming increasingly harder.

Conservatives have real problems with diversity. Consider what's happening in the United States:

Economist Jed Kolko notes that the most common age of white Americans is 58.  For Asians it’s 29, for African Americans it’s 27, and for Hispanics it’s 11.  That’s the current state of America, meaning that the future belongs to non-white citizens, and it’s a transformation too far along to reverse or even stop.  Canada shows a similar direction.  Key historical forces like religion are on the wane, replaced by individual identities relentlessly seeking redress for past injustices or independence from any kind of institutional control.  These aren’t easy times to govern.

But, even worse, politics is everywhere:

A new trend . . . is increasingly making compromise or the finding of common ground impossible.  In the recent past, politics was something most Canadians kept private, like religion.  Those days are gone.  Politics is now everywhere – everywhere – and one can’t escape it.  To be interested in politics now means to take a side.  As political parties grow farther apart from one another, it means that their supporters are increasingly driven by their dislike for the other side instead of by loyalty to their own party’s policy.

The Canadian Federation was built on a foundation of open-mindedness. If we follow the path of the United States, we'll destroy what we have built.

Image: readbeach

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

A Long Way From The End

Ontario is re-opening its economy today -- again. Brooks Fallis writes that we are on the brink of a third wave:

Canada sits at a pandemic crossroads. Second waves are receding thanks to successful lockdowns and restrictions. Reopening of schools and economies without meaningful improvements in surveillance or containment is set to intersect with emerging variants of concern and vaccine shortages, creating a perfect storm for a massive third wave.

Unfortunately, the pandemic response has become increasingly politicized. In-fighting between different levels of government is now commonplace and directing blame seems more frequent than finding solutions to help us out of the crisis. At government press conferences, wishful thinking is sometimes presented as scientific fact.

In December, the end of the pandemic felt within reach. Vaccines were successfully and safely developed at record speed and huge volumes were promised by pharmaceutical companies. Canada had apparently locked-in an excess of doses. Individual COVID-19 patient mortality was dropping, and many provinces believed they were equipped to navigate second waves with a strategy of graduated restrictions.

Since then, much has changed. The pandemic is clearly far from over and has become decidedly more complex. Governments that failed to leverage appropriate scientific expertise risk being further exposed as unprepared and rudderless as this complexity mounts.

We now face two significant challenges:

The new variants of concern (VOCs) present two major new challenges. The first is a more difficult virus to control and contain. The B.1.1.7 variant is about 60 per cent more transmissible. Early evidence suggests it might also cause more severe disease, and have a higher mortality rate, though we do not yet know this with certainty. Variants are spreading in many communities across Canada. Unfortunately, most jurisdictions lack the ability to identify VOCs in real time.

The second is concern around immune evasion. Some VOCs (B.1.351 and P.1) could cause disease in people with natural immunity from prior COVID-19 infection or immunity from vaccination. Again, more data is needed, but the mere possibility is frightening.

Add to that the problems we have had with getting enough vaccinations into enough arms and it's clear we are a long way from seeing the end of COVID.

Image: STAT

Monday, February 15, 2021

After The Vaccinations

There has been a lot of speculation about a spring election. Chantal Hebert writes there won't be  an election until vaccinations are in the arms of Canadians:

Erin O’Toole is right when he predicts the next campaign will not be fought with all eyes on the rearview mirror. The path to a successful economic recovery will take precedence on the road travelled during the pandemic. But the underlying ballot-box question will be that of the competence of the main contenders.

That’s why an efficient vaccine deployment is so central to Liberal fortunes. That’s also why O’Toole is scrambling these days to recast his party as a reassuring government in waiting.

But the Conservative leader’s biggest problem so far is neither his shadow cabinet nor his low profile, but the fact that he is failing to make a good first impression on a growing number of Canadians.

They are entitled to ask which is the real O’Toole: the leadership candidate who railed against his main rival’s centrist views on his way to victory, or the party leader who swears he would govern from the centre on the lead-up to a federal campaign.

Each of the main parties has their work cut out for them. The Liberals need a successful vaccination rollout. The Conservatives need a positive impression of O' Toole. But the Dippers are also part of the equation:

The pandemic has complicated the life of all opposition parties, but it has also restored some of the NDP’s sense of purpose by allowing Jagmeet Singh and his team to focus on issues that play to the party’s strengths and history.

The NDP’s pitch to end for-profit long-term care and bring the system under the Canada Health Act will probably not get the party very far in Quebec, where the political culture is hostile to a larger federal role in social policy. But it could play well in places like Ontario and British Columbia, where the party has a real shot at improving its electoral lot. It is also an issue the New Democrats are comfortable fighting for.

And the Green Party's future is up in the air:

Green Party Leader Annamie Paul’s decision to run again in the Liberal stronghold of Toronto Centre a big gamble. The upside is that she already has boots on the ground, having run in the riding in a recent byelection. Another plus is Toronto Centre’s location at ground zero of the English-language national media.

But if her hope is to win the seat by wooing local NDP supporters and her larger plan to overtake and eventually replace the New Democrats on the federal scene, she may be a campaign too late.

In the last election, the Greens boasted a sure-footed leader in Elizabeth May against a rookie New Democrat rival. This time the roles are reversed.

And what about the Bloc Quebecois?

Expect the Bloc Québécois to spend more time basking in the sunshine of François Legault’s government than sharing the stage with its sovereigntist brother-in-arms in the National Assembly. A Mainstreet poll published this week pegged the Coalition Avenir Québec at 48 per cent in provincial voting intentions, versus 11 per cent for the Parti Québécois.

But by the time we get to summer -- when the vaccine rollout is supposed to be complete -- so much could change.

Image: Wikipedia

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Republicans Unmasked

They needed seventeen Republican votes to convict Donald Trump. They got seven. The final count was decisive -- 57 for conviction, 43 against. In one sense, the senate saw Trump for who he is. But given that 67 votes were required for conviction, there is another obvious conclusion. The Republicans have been unmasked. The whole world sees who they are. Frank Bruni writes:

I keep thinking about the late 1990s, Bill Clinton, that whole melodrama and how Republicans used it in the service of a particular identity for their party. I keep thinking about what a lie that identity was then and what an absolute joke it is now.

Monica Lewinsky dropped into that crusade like a gift from the gods. What you saw on the faces of many Republicans as they discussed Clinton’s dalliance with her wasn’t indignation. It was glee, and it fueled the charade that men like Newt Gingrich — who was then the House speaker and was cheating on his second wife with the much younger woman who would become his third — were the bulwarks against moral chaos.

Republicans sought to define themselves as the caretakers of tradition, the guardians of propriety, the proudly old-fashioned champions of honor, order, patriotism and such. Clinton’s background, especially the accusations of infidelity, helped them do that. They turned him into a symbol of America’s turpitude. They reasoned that the more thoroughly they demonized him (and Hillary), the more persuasively they sanctified themselves.

He was lies and they were truth. He was lust and they were modesty.

Consider what has happened to the Republican Party in the era of Donald Trump:

Along came Trump, and Republicans decided that decency and decorum were overrated. Truth, too. Heck, everything that they claimed to stand for in the Clinton years was now negotiable, expendable, vestigial. Nothing was beyond the pale.

And, as jurors, some Republicans were simply disgraceful:

Rick Scott, who of course voted “not guilty,” was seen studying and then fiddling with a map or maps of Asia. Dare we dream that he’s plotting his own relocation there? [Josh] Hawley, who also voted “not guilty,” at one point moved to the visitors gallery above the Senate floor and did some reading there, his feet propped up, his lanky body a pretzel of petulance. What happened to Republicans’ respect for authority? What happened to basic decency and decorum?

On a simple majority vote, Donald Trump was unambiguously guilty. And, with the exception of seven Republican senators, the Party has been exposed for the fraud that it is.

Image: KIMT

Saturday, February 13, 2021

A Trumpian Defence

Donald Trump finally got the lawyers he wanted. Their defence of Donald was, indeed, Trumpian. Dana Milbank writes:

They misstated legal precedents. They invented facts. They rewrote history. Trump lawyer Bruce Castor, panned for his rambling opening argument Wednesday, closed the argument Friday by confusing Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger with Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

The personal injury lawyer, Michael Vander Veen -- who sued Trump last year, claiming that Trump's insistence that the election had been stolen was based on "no evidence" -- didn't deal with the evidence. Instead, he

reinvented history for the senators, telling them that “the clearing of Lafayette Square” last summer, done for Trump’s famous photo-op with a Bible, actually happened because, in van der Veen’s fanciful vision, racial-justice protesters had “pierced a security wall.”

And he insisted that Trump did what civil rights leader Julian Bond had done:

Van der Veen claimed that a 1960s legal precedent involving civil rights leader Julian Bond was about “the exact type of political speech which Mr. Trump engaged in.” Bond’s speech involved opposing the war in Vietnam, not fomenting deadly violence.

Trump lawyer David Schoen attacked the House managers' arguments for gross inaccuracies:

He announced, dramatically, that he had “reason to believe the House managers manipulated evidence.” His support for this heavy charge? One graphic wrote the year as 2020 instead of 2021, and one highlighted tweet should not have had a “blue checkmark.”

That's what Trump wanted to hear. And Van der Veen and Schoen spoke to and for him yesterday.

Image: The Washington Post

Friday, February 12, 2021

Big Changes

COVID is temporary. That's what governments everywhere are telling us. But what if it isn't? Tom Walkom writes:

In the past, coexistence was the usual human strategy for dealing with epidemics. We could not defeat the Black Plague. But we could learn to live — and die — with it.

Ditto with other plagues, including the deadly disease smallpox.

Then, in the early 19th century, came a breakthrough that enabled us to eventually defeat smallpox — the development of vaccines.

We're hoping vaccination will get us out of this plague. But we have a problem:

There is one problem with vaccination. It does not always keep up with mutation.

By allowing a virus to change ever so slightly, mutation can result in strains that are resistant to available vaccines.

This is particularly true of influenza, which is why the annual flu shot doesn’t always work: sometimes it is directed against the wrong strains.

We still know little about the COVID-19 virus. But one thing that is becoming clear is its ability to mutate into new strains. These strains, such as the variants first reported in England or South Africa, spread more easily than the standard COVID-19 version. There is some evidence that the so-called South African variant is less vulnerable to at least one of the current vaccines.

So what do we do?

First, keep on vaccinating anyway. Vaccination on its own may be insufficient. But it is still necessary if anything is to be accomplished.

Second, prepare for the long haul. If the virus is quickly mutating, then there is no room for colour-coded temporary lockdowns.

We have to be prepared for rapid and permanent change.

And the long haul could be grim:

It’s not enough to close all the barber shops for six weeks. What is needed is a permanent way to let hairdressers work safely.

Similarly, restaurateurs will have to come to terms with the fact that eating out is a luxury the world can no longer afford.

Outdoor patios will not solve their problems. They are being forced back into an older world, where restaurant meals were special and the norm was to eat at home.

That means that we are in for huge changes to the way we live.


Thursday, February 11, 2021

Air Tight

The case that House Managers presented yesterday -- and will continue to present today -- is a master class in good lawyering. E.J. Dionne writes that it is airtight:

The House impeachment managers moved efficiently on Wednesday to close off the escape hatches and back doors for Senate Republicans. Quietly but passionately, they put the lie to the sham alibis that weak and cowardly members of the GOP are likely to invoke if they decide to do Donald Trump’s bidding one more time.

Those who vote to acquit the former president will now own it all: the incendiary speech that made the nation’s capital a killing ground but also the months of incitement and lying that built up to the violence.

That doesn't mean that Trump will be convicted of insighting a riot. But it does mean that those who vote to acquit Trump will become his accomplices:

They will own the threats against elected officials who refused to cheat on Trump’s behalf, the attacks on Black voters in big cities, and the savage mendacity of his all-caps tweets. Voting to acquit will mean joining in Trump’s rejection of the democratic obligation to accept the outcome of a free election and in his declarations even before the voting began that this was a “rigged” and “stolen” contest.

The video the managers presented was devastating:

The managers turned again to video late in the afternoon to bring home the frightening horror of the mob’s violence. Plaskett emphasized their targeting of Capitol Police officers and Vice President Mike Pence, which ought to give some Republicans second thoughts about acquittal. I don’t want to hear the words “law and order” from Trumpists ever again.

And they showed that Trump did not make just one speech to get that violence rolling:

“This clearly was not just one speech,” said Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.). “It didn’t just happen. It was part of a months-long effort with a specific instruction: Show up on January 6.”

Importantly, the managers showed how Trump’s criminality involved not just whipping up the shameful, quasi-fascist violence (although that alone would justify conviction) but also his attacks on the entire democratic process, an argument carried by Reps. Joaquin Castro (D-Tex.) and Eric Swalwell (D-Calif). “He had absolutely no support for his claims,” Swalwell said. “But that wasn’t the point. He wanted to make his base angrier and angrier. And to make them angry, he was willing to say anything.”

And lest anyone imagine that the day’s violence was an accident, [Stacey] Plaskett pointed to the planning and coordination on pro-Trump, far-right websites that included discussions of D.C.’s gun laws and which police and military forces might be arrayed against the mob.

Trump will not be convicted. But that's not the point:

We will owe a debt to the House impeachment managers for many years to come. They have created an indisputable record. They catalogued lie after lie about the election’s outcome. They laid out Trump’s long history of promoting political violence, including his praise, shortly before the attack on the Capitol, for Rudolph W. Giuliani, right after his lawyer had called for “trial by combat.”

The senators who vote to acquit Trump will live in infamy. They will take their place in American history -- alongside Benedict Arnold.

Image: The Washington Post

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Craven Cowards

Yesterday, Donald Trump's lawyers argued that it was too late to convict Donald Trump of high crimes and misdemeanors. That should have been done, they proclaimed, while he was in office. Jennifer Rubin writes:

Let’s not forget that the only reason the impeachment, which the House voted on before Trump left office, was not sent to trial immediately was because then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and his fellow Republicans stalled. They break the hypocrisy meter by turning around and claiming that the Senate, therefore, cannot try Trump now.

The Democratic house managers simply let the pictures from that day speak for themselves:

The Post reported: “Almost every senatorial eye in the chamber was glued to the screens as lead House manager Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) played a 13-minute video depicting the events of Jan. 6 to introduce the impeachment case against [former president Donald Trump] — with a few notable exceptions.” It was obvious why Republican Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.), Rick Scott (Fla.), and Rand Paul (Ky.) cravenly averted their gaze: The scenes were so disturbing as to render their defense of the former president a moral abomination.

The voices of rioters parroting Trump’s incendiary words dismantle the notion that rioters were not motivated by Trump. “If that’s not an impeachable offense, then there’s no such thing,” Raskin concluded after the video.

Trump's senators -- and most Republicans in the House -- will refuse to convict him. But that refusal will mark them forever as craven cowards.


Tuesday, February 09, 2021

Convict Trump

Adam Kinzinger isn't popular among his fellow elected Republicans. That's because he doesn't mince words. He believes that DonaldTrump should be convicted of encouraging an insurrection:

It’s a matter of accountability. If the GOP doesn’t take a stand, the chaos of the past few months, and the past four years, could quickly return. The future of our party and our country depends on confronting what happened — so it doesn’t happen again.

The immediate cause for Trump’s impeachment was Jan. 6. But the president’s rally and resulting riot on Capitol Hill didn’t come out of nowhere. They were the result of four-plus years of anger, outrage and outright lies. Perhaps the most dangerous lie — or at least the most recent — was that the election was stolen. Of course it wasn’t, but a huge number of Republican leaders encouraged the belief that it was. Every time that lie was repeated, the riots of Jan. 6 became more likely.

Unless Republicans convict Trump, Kinzinger believes his party --  and the republic -- have no future:

Impeachment offers a chance to say enough is enough. It ought to force every American, regardless of party affiliation, to remember not only what happened on Jan. 6, but also the path that led there. After all, the situation could get much, much worse — with more violence and more division that cannot be overcome. The further down this road we go, the closer we come to the end of America as we know it.

The GOP that inspired me to serve in uniform and then run for public office believed a brighter future was just around the bend. We stood for equal opportunity, firm in our conviction that a poor kid from the South Side of Chicago deserves the same shot as a privileged kid from Highland Park. We knew that if we brought everyone into America’s promise, we would unleash a new era of American progress and prosperity. Outrage and the fear of a darker future were nowhere to be found in that Republican Party.

When leaders such as Donald Trump changed that dynamic, many of my fellow Republicans went along without question. Many are still there because they believe the rank-and-file Republican voter is there, too.

But Kinzinger believes that most voters aren't where Republicans think they are:

Since my vote to impeach Trump, I’ve heard from tens of thousands of my constituents. Their reaction has been overwhelmingly supportive. Republicans of all backgrounds and outlooks have told me they appreciate my efforts to return the GOP to a foundation of principle, not personality. I’ve even heard from many Democrats. They don’t agree with me on a lot of issues, but they want the Republican Party to be healthy and competitive.

Sadly, Kinzinger is almost a majority of one in his party. But, at least, when he walks, he is proudly upright.


Monday, February 08, 2021

Some Of The People

Doug Ford came to power claiming he was "for the people." But he began his tenure by cutting programs. When the pandemic hit, it appeared that Ford was changing course. Ruby Latif writes:

At the beginning of the pandemic, I remember being worried about COVID — worried for my safety as an immunocompromised person, but also for the safety of my aging parents, along with other family and friends. Ford stepped up and worked with all levels of government, and partisan politics appeared to be a thing of the past. I recall many of my Liberal friends saying that they were going to have a hard time voting against him. The start of the pandemic essentially gave Ford a new lease.
The pandemic, however, has amplified Ford's cuts:

According to the MNP Consumer Debt Index, 18 per cent of Canadians are better off financially since the pandemic, while 39 per cent are worse off. Some of the population can continue to work from home, while many from the racialized communities are precariously employed and working on our front lines. Some have saved money by not buying lattes, while others struggle with job loss. The second wave of COVID-19 has only intensified the economic disparities and systemic inequities that existed pre-pandemic.

As a BIPOC woman and former political adviser, I am dismayed at the fact that we do not have stronger advocates for the populations that need it the most. It is crystal clear Ford’s government is only for some people — catering to developers and private owners of long-term-care homes.

The simple fact is that, knowing what we know, we can't go back to the way things were. And Latif asks:

Can Doug Ford move beyond tokenism, and truly be the champion “for [all] the people?” So far, his actions say otherwise. With the budget looming, will this government show that they have the courage to provide real funding to support long-term care, hospitals, schools and social services? These are the programs that can address the inequalities faced by racialized communities.

Being for some of the people will no longer wash. 

Image: INSEAD Knowledge

Sunday, February 07, 2021

Juggling Variables

Ontario has begun to re-open its schools. However, Martin Regg Cohn writes there is no one correct answer to schools reopening. That's because the virus -- and our knowledge about it -- is evolving: 

One year after COVID-19 changed our world, the only certainty is that there are no certainties. There is only risk tolerance — and rhetoric tolerance.

COVID-19 is a moving target, so we must adapt. A year ago we were told to forget masks, wash our hands faithfully and clean countertops relentlessly to kill infectious fomites lurking everywhere.

Today we know that masks are our first line of defence, whereas fomites are no longer front and centre. Daily disinfection might be overkill compared to the lifesaving benefit of masks for students who, younger than the rest of us, will be last in line for vaccines.

And, just as our knowledge of which protections work best has evolved, so has our understanding of who is infected and why:

The empirical evidence of recent months suggests our youngest students are more protected, older students less so. Distancing between desks matters, but masking and ventilating matter more (best achieved by opening windows, even in winter, and closing up jackets; windowless classrooms need a better fix).

And we now understand the logistics of getting vaccines:

It’s tempting to blame the federal government for not procuring a bigger supply (even if our per capita buy is the world’s largest), nor securing earlier delivery dates (easier said than done). What leverage did Canada have to jump to the front of the global queue, lacking any domestic capacity or international clout in a global zero sum game (more for us means less for others)?

We may think ourselves wiser but we are not mightier than our American friends. Slow to the draw on medicare and masks, they are still the biggest gunslingers on the planet in terms of vaccine production and consumption.

In short, there are all kinds of variables involved in policymaking around COVID. That applies particularly to the re-opening of schools. And we will have to juggle these variables into the future.


Saturday, February 06, 2021

Fearing Modernity

Republicans may not want to admit it. But Marjorie Taylor Greene is now the face of their party. Lloyd Greene writes:

Trump is out of office but his spirit lives on. The anger and resentment of the Republican rank-and-file will likely define the party’s trajectory in the coming months and years. QAnon is now a pillar of the party, as much as the House minority leader Kevin McCarthy, may disavow knowledge of its existence.

Greene’s sins are real, not imagined. Over the years she has blamed California’s wildfires on a Jewish laser beam from space, claimed 9/11 was an inside job, and suggested that school shootings were staged. In 2018 and 2019 she endorsed social media comments that appeared to support the assassination or execution of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi. (Recently, Greene has partly walked back some of her more disturbing past remarks.)

At its core, the Republican Party is driven by fear -- fear of modernity. They simply deny the facts of modern life. Trump is  -- and remains -- the Denier-in-Chief. And, as Greene proclaimed yesterday, the party is his:

Even now, Trump is the top choice for his party’s 2024 presidential nomination. Beyond that, more than three-quarters of Republicans believe there was widespread voter fraud despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. For many, the truth is too much to handle.

Regardless, Trump’s big lie has taken root and will not soon disappear. The demographic tectonics and disparities that spurred Trump to power are still with us. Biden’s election didn’t change that.

Until -- and unless -- Republicans reject Trump, the future of the United States is very dark indeed.


Friday, February 05, 2021

The Damned Republican Party

Yesterday, two significant things happened in Washington: the Senate passed  Joe Biden's Covid rescue plan without any Republican votes. Kamala Harris passed the deciding vote. And Margorie Taylor Greene was supported by the overwhelming majority of House Republicans. There can no longer be any doubt about who and what the Republican Party is. Eugene Robinson writes:

Trump led the GOP's base deep into the wilderness. Republican leadership in Washington lacks the skills and the guts to lead the party back to reality — and back to constructive participation in addressing the massive challenges we face. Don't blame "both sides" for ruining the elegant, strategic, productive political competition we'd like to see. One party is trying to move the chess pieces. The other is trying to eat them.

And what is true of the federal Republican Party is also true at the state level:

At the state level, the Republican Party is, if anything, even less tethered to reality. The Arizona state GOP actually censured former senator Jeff Flake and Cindy McCain, widow of the late senator John McCain, for failing to blindly support Trump. A few Republican governors, such as Jim Justice of West Virginia, are doing well in the vaccination phase of the pandemic. Others, such as Ron DeSantis of Florida, continue to put politics over public health.

The Republicans will claim that Joe Biden's promise of bipartisanship is a lie. But Robinson correctly observes that "There are no productive deals to broker between objective reality and cynical fantasy, between truth and lies."

The Republican Party is damned.

Image: The Pepper Bough

Thursday, February 04, 2021

We Haven't Yet Learned

Forty years ago, we were told that global capitalism would produce a better world. It hasn't exactly worked out as planned. Glen Pearson writes

Not all that long ago, we learned that successful capitalism was about the effective balance between supply and demand. The pandemic experience of these past 12 months has added one more classification to that formula that we have frequently overlooked: distribution.  In a globalized world, where free trade agreements connected nations across a vast spectrum, the wheels were greased for the rapid movement of goods, unencumbered by overbearing regulations.  We took it for granted that what we wished for was readily available.

That world is gone for now, its place interrupted by blocked supply chains, border restrictions and less disposable cash.  The most pressing examples are COVID vaccines.  The demand is in the billions of people, the supply in the hundreds of millions of doses, and the distribution … well, there’s the rub.  The cause for all the confusion is to be found in how rich nations are competing with one another in a fashion similar to a frontier capitalism reminiscent of the past.

It’s a travesty in its own way.  The lightning-like development, testing and production of the various vaccines has been unequalled in history and yet the vials remain largely undelivered and unused.  This is made even more confounding when we hear that rich nations have over-ordered vaccines by the millions while poor nations like Nigeria, Mexico, Zimbabwe and Pakistan are still awaiting shipments.  This is all happening while, according to Duke University research, wealthy nations have already bought up 6.4 billion doses and are sparring over another 3.2 billion about to be produced.

It’s not hard to understand what’s going on here.  Voters, fatigued following a year of public health controls, financial downturns, and loss of social mobility, are increasingly demanding that their governments get on with vaccinations so they can get on with their lives.  The longer that takes, the more precarious becomes any government’s hold on power.

Perhaps, given human nature, all this was inevitable. One thing is clear: selfishness is alive and well:

Foreign Affairs wrote last week that while Japan, Australia, and Canada account for less than 1% of the world’s coronavirus cases, the three nations secured more than all of the Caribbean and Latin America combined, which represent 17% of global COVID cases.

Moreover, we were woefully unprepared for the pandemic:

It was only a year ago the we were alerted to the presence of this invisible force emanating from somewhere in China.  Repeatedly warned it could end up in the West, virtually every country was woefully unprepared, despite their touted advanced health systems.  The brand of government – Left, Right, Centrist – didn’t really matter; they were outmatched.  The exceptions could be counted on the fingers of one hand.

Somehow, a blind spot emerged among numerous economists and corporate spokespersons, who claimed that the economy should come first.  Nations accepting that advice quickly learned just how expensive a botched pandemic recovery can be.

The International Chamber of Commerce weighed in last week on how ignoring the vaccination needs of poorer nations could have a disastrous economic effect on the West, estimating a loss of $1.5 trillion –  $9.5 trillion (US) should the present oversight continue.  Even more sobering was their belief that one-half of that loss would be borne by those wealthy nations busily securing an oversupply of vaccines over the dire needs of their poorer cousins.

COVID has put the lie to globalization:

While politicians contented themselves with viewing the global financial system like a game of chess, the reality is that it is more like pool, creating a multitude of complications that could never be fully known when the shot was taken.  The rich nations created this economic order in order to gain material advantage.  To continue in that practice in the midst of a pandemic only shows just how self-serving capitalism can become when the bottom line takes precedence over the health workers on the front line.

And it appears that most of us haven't yet learned that lesson.


Wednesday, February 03, 2021

You Can't Believe What They Say

Two days ago, ten Republican senators met with Joe Biden offering him a COVID aid program that amounted to one-third of what he wanted. Paul Krugman writes:

Republicans, however, want to rip the guts out of this plan. They are seeking to reduce extra aid to the unemployed and, more important, cut that aid off in June — long before we can possibly get back to full employment. They want to eliminate hundreds of billions in aid to state and local governments. They want to eliminate aid for children. And so on.

This isn’t an offer of compromise; it’s a demand for near-total surrender. And the consequences would be devastating if Democrats were to give in.

Republicans offered the plan as a demonstration of "bipartisanship." But this isn't bipartisanship:

First of all, a party doesn’t get to demand bipartisanship when many of its representatives still won’t acknowledge that Biden won legitimately, and even those who eventually acknowledged the Biden victory spent weeks humoring baseless claims of a stolen election.

Complaints that it would be “divisive” for Democrats to pass a relief bill on a party-line vote, using reconciliation to bypass the filibuster, are also pretty rich coming from a party that did exactly that in 2017, when it enacted a large tax cut — legislation that, unlike pandemic relief, wasn’t a response to any obvious crisis, but was simply part of a conservative wish list.

Oh, and that tax cut was rammed through in the face of broad public opposition: Only 29 percent of Americans approved of the bill, while 56 percent disapproved. By contrast, the main provisions of the Biden plan are very popular: 79 percent of the public approve of new stimulus checks, and 69 percent approve of both expanded unemployment benefits and aid to state and local governments.

So when one party is trying to pursue policies with overwhelming public support while the other offers lock-step opposition, who, exactly, is being divisive?

In short, everything about this Republican counteroffer reeks of bad faith — the same kind of bad faith the G.O.P. displayed in 2009 when it tried to block President Barack Obama’s efforts to rescue the economy after the 2008 financial crisis.

Obama, unfortunately, failed to grasp the nature of his opposition, and he watered down his policies in a vain attempt to win support across the aisle. This time, it seems as if Democrats understand what Lucy will do with that football and won’t be fooled again.

In short, dealing with Republicans at this point is impossible -- because, like their former president, you can't believe a word they say.

Image: The New York Times

Tuesday, February 02, 2021

Long COVID And Chronic Fatigue


We are now dealing with the effects of what George Monbiot calls Long COVID. He writes:

Long Covid is no respecter of youth, health or fitness. It afflicts more women than men but it can strike anyone down, including people whose initial infection seemed mild, or even asymptomatic. In some cases, long Covid could mean lifelong Covid.

The effects can be horrible. Among them are lung damage, heart damage and brain damage that can cause memory loss and brain fog, kidney damage, severe headaches, muscle and joint pain, loss of taste and smell, anxiety, depression and, above all, fatigue. We should all fear the lasting consequences of this pandemic.

Long Covid is shorthand for a range of conditions. Some scientists divide them into three broad categories, others into four. Of these, one seems to ring a bell. It’s a cluster of symptoms that bear a strong similarity to myalgic encephalomyelitis or chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS). This is a devastating condition that affects roughly a quarter of a million people in the UK, and is often caused, like long Covid, by viral infection.

Like COVID, chronic fatigue syndrome has not been taken seriously:

A paper published in the British Medical Journal in 1970, and widely reported in the press, set the tone for scientific inquiry across much of the following 50 years. It dismissed outbreaks of the disease as either “mass hysteria” or misdiagnosis. The researchers failed to assess a single patient or interview a single doctor. Their conclusions were largely based on one observation: that the syndrome affected more women than men. Therefore, they reasoned, it was likely to be psychosomatic.

A study by the ME Association reveals that over 10 years, only £10m was spent in the UK on researching this syndrome: £40 per patient. By comparison, epilepsy research received £200 per patient, rheumatoid arthritis £320, and multiple sclerosis £800. Even today, some doctors refuse to believe sufferers, dismiss their symptoms or prescribe disproven and harmful treatments.

The now world is taking COVID seriously because so many people have died. Chronic Fatigue doesn't kill and therefore it has been overlooked. Monbiot believes that negligence is unforgivable.

Image: uppercervicalawareness

Monday, February 01, 2021

Big Trouble


Andrew Nikiforuk writes that our approach to fighting COVID 19 has been all wrong:

Last January, one strain of this novel virus began its assured global conquest, and since then our leaders have hardly learned a goddamn thing.

The old COVID-19 doubled its numbers every 40 days under a particular set of restrictions; under the same conditions, the variants double every 10 days. That means they can outrun any vaccination campaign.

That means if you haven’t eliminated — or almost eliminated — cases in your region, you are going to learn the meaning of grief.

These highly-contagious variants have emerged in jurisdictions with high infection rates: the U.K., Brazil, South Africa and California. They became global tourists months ago, before you read about them.

To illustrate it, British mathematician Adam Kucharski recently compared a virus mutation that was 50 per cent more deadly with one that increased transmission by 50 per cent.

With a reproduction rate of about 1.1 and a death rate of 0.8 per cent, current strains of COVID-19 now deliver 129 deaths per 10,000 infections.

A virus that is 50 per cent more lethal will kill 193 people in a month. A variant that is more transmissible wins the game with 978 deaths in just one month.

Some countries got it right. They refused to take half measures:

COVID-19 should have taught us one glaring lesson by now: If you do not stamp out this virus, the shapeshifter will come back to defeat you.

New Zealand, Australia, Vietnam, Iceland and Taiwan got it right. They went to zero and eliminated the virus. Atlantic Canada and the North got it right, too.

Theirs was a really tough approach. And it worked. But in Canada's two largest provinces we were weak-kneed:

Now here is the problem: The virus is evolving while our reactive response is devolving out of neglect, incompetence and fatalism.

In many parts of Canada, our vaccine programs are being administered improperly.

In Quebec, the authorities are not following proper schedules. If you don’t follow the schedules, the vaccine won’t work very well. That means Quebec has created an experimental population of half-vaccinated individuals who can support viral evolution.

As the variants rapidly move through the country, politicians are doing what they did last spring — reacting instead of getting ahead of the virus.

We've got trouble -- big trouble.

Image: CNN