Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Lessons Learned?

Matt Bai writes that the story of Deborah Birx is a tale for the ages:

Birx isn’t one of the political hacks who did Trump’s bidding until it was time to save her reputation by making an empty show of principle. (Ahem, Elaine Chao.)

No, Birx is a retired Army colonel and respected doctor who made a tangible difference in the global fight against AIDS. As Trump’s White House coordinator for the pandemic response, she worked tirelessly to get the coronavirus under control — no one disputes that.

She was put in an impossible predicament, something Birx has been vocal about since she left the White House, most recently in a much-hyped CNN interview with Sanjay Gupta that aired this past weekend.

Birx says now that she was constantly marginalized by the loopy sycophants in Trump’s orbit and berated by the president himself. “It was very uncomfortable, very direct, and very difficult to hear,” she said of one memorable conversation with the now-former president.

There are a number of former military people who chose to work for Trump. Most of them -- the exception seems to be Mike Pompeo -- now regret their decision:

Birx operated on the same premise that many others in senior roles, including career soldiers such as former White House chief of staff John F. Kelly and onetime national security adviser H.R. McMaster, accepted as well.

She apparently woke up every morning believing it was nobler to try to manage an ignorant, mercurial president than it was to speak out publicly and risk losing all influence.

She no doubt told herself she had an obligation, as a policy expert, to do whatever she could to protect Americans from the administration’s abject incompetence. And if that meant she had to echo untruths and offer up a bunch of silly praise, so be it.

You would think, two generations after Robert McNamara’s misguided attempts to conceal the truth about Vietnam, that more of them might have internalized the cost of perpetuating political myths.)

It's been almost fifty years since the Vietnam War came to its horrific end. Lessons learned?

You have to wonder.


Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Faster, Stronger, Better?

Glen Pearson throws out a few numbers for our consideration:

It took Apple 42 years to reach $1 trillion in value and 20 weeks to get from that point to $2 trillion.  In that same amount of time, Tesla became the most valuable car company globally – worth more than Volkswagen, Daimler, Honda, and Toyota combined.

The global economic output has increased fivefold since 1950.  Per-capita income is three and a half times more than it was then.  The world has acquired 2 billion more people than it had just two decades ago.  By 2050, the global population will be four times larger than in 1950.

Classical economics would applaud that kind of growth. But should we applaud?

It seems like everything has scaled up in such a short time – cars, planes, roads, houses, cities, entertainment venues, hospitals, post-secondary institutions, etc.  Perhaps the greatest rise of all has been in our expectations.  Things our parents never dreamed of now fill our homes and communities.  There is no slow lane anymore, and our wants grow exponentially, year after year.

We thought COVID would bring everything to a thundering halt:

When COVID first arrived a year ago, the world appeared to magically slow down, giving millions, including politicians themselves, time enough to reflect and talk about running public affairs better.  In general, government was there for us, when Canadians faced calamities too many to count.  The three great consumer categories – healthcare, education, groceries – were disrupted as never before, but government interventions and direct payments rounded off the rough edges of the new COVID reality.

What we have now is a mad rush -- and an even greater divide:

Jonathan Wheatley, Senior Lecturer in Comparative Politics at Oxford Brookes University, writes that the signs are already apparent.  Great disruption will come from the pandemic, but little will change in terms of what people were hoping for.

First will be the divide in values.  For this, just look at the growing distance and anger in regards to economic values between the left and the right, and in cultural values between liberal internationalists and conservative nationalists.  While quite dissimilar to America, it is nevertheless a division widening in Canada, and it is bound to pressure us into increased alienation from one another.  Regionalism will be tested.  That vaunted Canadian hegemony will be challenged.

Wheatley’s second great sign regards gender change, and is best put in his own words:

The lockdown has affected the family and the roles of its members in a number of ways.  The closure of schools has led to a massive increase in domestic childcare needs, including home schooling, and there is evidence that women have mostly picked up the slack.  Moreover, more women than men have lost their jobs during the crisis.  At the same time, a majority of frontline healthcare workers are women, meaning that in a number of households, childcare responsibility passes to men.   This also has the potential to make the essential work carried out by women more valued.

Much of this sounds positive, until we consider that lack of advantage for women in what Canadian economist Armine Yalnizyan terms the “she-covery”.  In the aggregate, Canadian women have fallen further behind in hopes of an economic recovery.  A great gender disruption is about to assault our culture, economy, and workforce, and the outcome isn’t at all clear.

Canada has been fortunate in escaping the pandemic extremes frequently seen in other nations, but as it emerges on the other side it confronts its old problems and a more disruptive world.  Worse, the pace of change will intensify.  So many of our historic practices haven’t so much been cast aside as left behind by a future coming towards us at warp speed.  COVID gave our politics a bit of breathing space, but that advantage is quickly ending just as even greater disruption breaks upon our shores.

Does faster and stronger mean better?

Image: Brookfield Institute For Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Monday, March 29, 2021

The Big Picture

Last Thursday, the Supreme Court declared that the carbon tax was constitutional. It was also the day that the Auditor General released her latest report. Susan Delacourt writes:

One theme kept forcing its way through the noise, however, and it’s this: Canada’s perpetual federal-provincial battles are a real and present danger to Canadians and possibly the planet. It’s not just that it would be nice if they could get along — it’s hurting us when they don’t.

Had the governments been working together better at sharing information last year, the auditor-general found, this country would have been better prepared for the pandemic. If Canada is serious about fighting climate change, the Supreme Court ruled, federal and provincial governments are going to have to work together on this matter of “national concern.”

Big global issues, in other words, require a Canada that’s more than the sum of its parts — to borrow a phrase from past national-unity struggles. What we have right now, far too often, is an equation that adds up to nothing — time lost tackling crises because the federal and provincial governments are working at cross purposes.

We are a family. And all families are dysfunctional. It's a matter of degree. These days, there is a continuing quarrel among the members:

Last week reminded us is that government relations matter as much as government itself does. Federal-provincial battles may be inevitable in Canada, but when the stakes are high, they can be destructive.

If national unity is a journey, you might say that last Thursday was the moment when some powerful voices shouted: don’t make me stop this car.

It’s not immediately clear that anyone in the back seat was listening. On Friday, an exasperated Premier Doug Ford said he was telling mayors across Ontario to bang down the doors of federal MPs to speed up vaccine delivery. “I’m frustrated,” Ford said.

In Alberta and Saskatchewan, premiers Jason Kenney and Scott Moe were vowing that the Supreme Court ruling on Thursday was far from the end of their crusade against carbon pricing.

“We are not deterred,” Kenney said. “While the Supreme Court has determined that Prime Minister Trudeau has the legal right to impose a carbon tax, it doesn’t mean he should,” Moe said.

Maybe we will actually have to stop the car.

Which leads to a simple question: Who among us sees the big picture?


Sunday, March 28, 2021

The "Crisis" At The Border

Republicans are fuming. They say that things have gotten worse at the southern border since Joe Biden became president. Robert Reich writes:

The House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, declares it a “crisis … created by the presidential policies of this new administration”. The Arizona congressman Andy Biggs claims, “we go through some periods where we have these surges, but right now is probably the most dramatic that I’ve seen at the border in my lifetime.”

Donald Trump demands the Biden administration “immediately complete the wall, which can be done in a matter of weeks – they should never have stopped it. They are causing death and human tragedy.”

“Our country is being destroyed!” he adds.

But, every year at this time, desperate people in South America head for the U.S. border:

US Customs and Border Protection apprehended 28% more migrants from January to February this year than in previous months. But this was largely seasonal. Two years ago, apprehensions increased 31% during the same period. Three years ago, it was about 25% from February to March. Migrants start coming when winter ends and the weather gets a bit warmer, then stop coming in the hotter summer months when the desert is deadly.

There is a problem with unaccompanied children at the border. But the bottom line remains. Most immigrants to the United States don't vote Republican. So, from a Republican perspective, it's imperative to keep them out of the country. 

When it comes to voting, the present battle is existential. That's why the efforts of the so-called Party of Lincoln must be defeated.


Saturday, March 27, 2021

Racist Politics At Its Worst

For decades, Republicans talked in code. They claimed they wanted to ensure "voter security." Now they've dropped the code. They're saying the ugly stuff out loud. Exhibit A, Ruth Marcus writes, is Georgia's new voting law:

Alice O’Lenick, chairwoman of the Gwinnett County election board, didn’t mince words about the need to tighten up voting rules in Georgia. After the “terrible elections cycle” in 2020, when Republicans lost both Georgia Senate seats and Biden won the state’s electoral votes, “I’m like a dog with a bone,” she told fellow Republicans in January. “I will not let them end this session without changing some of these laws. They don’t have to change all of them, but they’ve got to change the major parts so that we at least have a shot at winning.”

Conservative lawyer Michael Carvin, representing the Republican National Committee in an Arizona voting rights case before the Supreme Court earlier this month, was equally transparent — and transactional. When Justice Amy Coney Barrett asked why the RNC was involved in the case — in particular, why it had an interest in preventing people from having their votes counted if they were cast in the wrong precinct — Carvin didn’t bother to pretend this was about anything other than partisan politics.

“Because it puts us at a competitive disadvantage relative to Democrats,” he said. “Politics is a zero-sum game, and every extra vote they get through unlawful interpretations of [the Voting Rights Act] hurts us.”

Thirty percent of Georgia's population is black. And Republicans are doing everything they can to discourage black voters:

As a lawsuit filed by voting rights groups to challenge the Georgia law noted, polling places in majority-Black neighborhoods make up just one-third of Georgia polling places, but accounted for two-thirds of those that had to stay open late to accommodate long lines in the June primary. According to the suit, “the average wait time in Georgia after polls were scheduled to close was six minutes in neighborhoods that were at least 90% white, and 51 minutes in places that were at least 90% nonwhite.”

Which underscores the point: These restrictions operate to the particular detriment of Black voters, who tend to have less access to acceptable forms of identification, have jobs that make it harder to get to the polls during business hours and live in neighborhoods with fewer polling places and longer lines.

Republicans claim that all this needs to be done in the name of election security. That's a crock:

Perhaps these restrictions, and their discriminatory impact, could be justified if there were a need to impose them. There isn’t. Not a clear one, not any one at all, except for the baseless frenzy over stolen elections and widespread fraud whipped up by Donald Trump and his allies. As Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger — now the named defendant in the lawsuit — said in January, the state conducted “safe, secure, honest elections” during the 2020 cycle.

This is a return to Jim Crow. It's racist politics at its worst.


Friday, March 26, 2021

The Carbon Tax

The Supreme court has ruled on the carbon tax. Dianne Saxe writes that yesterday was a good day:

When pollution is “free” we get more of it; when polluters pay for their damage, it’s remarkable how quickly they find alternatives. Without a carbon price, we will probably speed ever faster towards climate breakdown. 

For decades, federal and provincial conservatives have fought putting a price on pollution:

The Conservative premiers who spent millions attacking the federal law dismantled climate action in their own provinces. Doug Ford’s “Environment Plan” emphasizes litter pick up, while driving up emissions and air pollution with gas-fired electricity, highways and sprawl. When Erin O’Toole releases his carbon-price-free plan, I expect him to promise tree planting, nuclear power, and using CO2 to extract oil, expensive measures that will achieve little any time soon.

Bottom line: the Conservatives do not offer a better alternative to carbon pricing, just delay, denial and greenwashing. No expensive future technology will somehow make everything fine. Planting trees and picking up litter are worthwhile, but continuing to burn fossil fuels as if pollution were “free” is a dead end.

The decision is a tough read, primarily concerned with how to squeeze carbon pricing into our constitutional straitjacket after 150 years of federal-provincial disputes. Ultimately, six judges upheld the act, because do-nothing provinces threaten Canada as a whole.

Now the ball is in the courts of the three provinces that fought the carbon tax. What can be done?

To be honest, the carbon price has been too low (and its future too uncertain) to have driven down our emissions yet. It should have more impact now, with the price scheduled to increase, but many other initiatives are necessary if we are to get off fossil fuels in time.

We need strong laws and strong regulations. We need a strong climate lens on every decision that governments make. We need transparent climate reporting. We need to disrupt fossil fuel lock-in. We need to protect nature. We need to make it easier, safer and more convenient to choose clean options. And we need to use the climate crisis, wherever possible, as a trigger to make health and inequality better.

Don't expect this to be an easy lift. Conservatives oppose government regulation in principle. But the court has opened the door to precisely that.


Thursday, March 25, 2021

Another Lockdown

COVID variants are spreading rapidly. But the Ontario government continues to open up the province. Bruce Arthur writes:

Ontario is engaging in a game of chicken with COVID-19, which is not a game jurisdictions typically win. It feels like a perfect storm, in a way. A populace exhausted by months of middle-of-the-road restrictions which were enough to tire out the citizenry, rather than the virus. A government that has been losing patience with science, and now just wants to throw open any door it can. Variants that send more people to hospital. A chief medical officer of health who thinks indoor dining is safer than backyard gatherings. Maybe he missed a meeting.

Early data seems to show new variants send people across different age groups to hospital at approximately double the rate of classic COVID. The ICUs never emptied out after the last wave because the province got impatient, and there were 372 COVID patients in Ontario ICUs Tuesday, with 33 new admissions in the previous 24 hours. The second-wave high was 420. Hospitals have become more nimble and creative, but there are breaking points.

It will be a political decision. And that means the buck stops on Doug Ford's desk:

We’ll need another lockdown, is what the math seems to indicate, so this may come down to Doug. The one thing that has spurred somewhat serious intervention has been Ford seeing modelling that showed the hospitals might soon tip. Well, wait a few weeks.

If anything has been made clear in this pandemic it is that government policies matter, and that some people will always do what they are allowed to do, and more. Earlier in the pandemic I asked a source familiar with the province’s decision-making process, who is in charge of Ontario’s epidemic strategy, its specific response? They said, Doug.

Well, Doug, it may be your show now. And you will own it, either way.

In the end, Doug will be held accountable.

Image: Global News

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

A New Flood of Refugees

Michael Harris writes that Canadians should brace themselves for a new American Civil War;

Racist politicking in America is no longer travelling incognito. And the Republican is its political arm, failing to censure outright racist statements by its politicians while methodically working to return Jim Crow vote suppression to states where Black voters might deliver defeat to its candidates.

Canadians must keep a sharp eye on developments to our south both as a warning to root out any such impulses at home, and to steer clear of the social calamity brewing in the U.S.

At the moment, the battle centers around suppressing votes -- particularly the votes of people of colour:

[Republicans] claim to be fixing a problem. But it’s one that doesn’t exist. Their so-called electoral reforms have only one purpose: smothering the Black vote that usually goes to the Democrats. The party of Lincoln has become the party of Trump and disenfranchisement.

Georgia is a prime example. Biden won and flipped the state that hadn’t voted Democrat in 30 years. It was an election that was closely examined and found to be free and fair by the state’s own Republican election officials.

One-third of Georgia’s population is Black. Biden won because of a record turnout, winning 88 per cent of the Black vote. The Democrats won the Senate because 90 per cent of the Black vote went to candidates, and now senators, Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff. If all of Georgia’s restrictive voting legislation passes, and is not struck down by the courts, it is highly unlikely those results could be repeated.

Texas is following the example of Georgia. Republicans there have adopted draconian anti-voting measures, including a ban on drive-through and outdoor voting. There are also new restrictions on dropping off completed absentee ballots. And the Texas electoral officials who used to help people through the Byzantine registration system, the deputy-registrars, have been eliminated altogether.

It is the same story in Republican-held Iowa. Gov. Kim Reynolds signed into law a bill that reduces the number of early voting days from 29 to 20 and closes polling stations an hour early on election day. Iowa officials are now banned from forwarding applications for absentee ballots unless a voter has first requested one. And unless that absentee vote is received before polls close on election day, it won’t be counted.

As reported by CNN, in 2021 alone, at least 243 bills have been put forward in 43 states that would have the effect of restricting voting. The stated reason is to protect the integrity of the voting system. Yes, and the fox circles the henhouse to guard the chickens.

If the Republicans succeed, things could get very bloody. And, as was the case during the Vietnam War, we could see a flood of American refugees.


Tuesday, March 23, 2021

The Sunshine List

Back when Mike Harris was premier, Ontarians were introduced to The Sunshine List. Martin Regg Cohn writes:

A quarter-century ago, then-premier Mike Harris dreamed up the ideological device of salary disclosure as a way to attack big government. He wanted to name and shame well paid public servants to put them in their place, feeding the fiction that they were wildly overpaid compared to the allegedly lean and mean private sector.

It fed the anti-government folly of the Harris Progressive Conservatives, who swept into power with their so-called Common Sense Revolution. Except it made little sense then and it’s even more nonsensical now.

Back in 1996, Harris set a $100,000 threshold for disclosure, but time hasn’t stood still. Adjusted for inflation, that benchmark should at the very least be updated to $155,960 for the latest salary disclosure.

Put another way, the Bank of Canada inflation calculator pegs today’s unadjusted $100,000 salary threshold as being equal to $64,120 back in 1996 — far below the figure that Harris set his sights on. There’s a reason even he didn’t target that lower number back then — $64,000 isn’t as provocative.

Twenty-five years have passed. And the $100,000 threshold has remained. Now the names on the list are not all high flyers:

Now we are being distracted by salary creep, as incomes rise inexorably above the outdated and unadjusted psychological marker of $100,000 — which isn’t nothing, but also isn’t worth what it was in Harris’s day. That’s why principals first started appearing on the list a few years ago, followed by some police officers earning overtime, and now the most senior school teachers at the top of their pay scale — all flooding the sunshine zone but obscuring the original intent of public scrutiny.

The furor last Friday, when the latest numbers showed so many teachers on the list, shows how disclosure can be deleterious and invidious. The amount we pay teachers in the top tier is not a secret — it’s a matter of public record, contractually determined.

The Sunshine List fueled what has become a hallmark of Conservative politics -- envy. And what about Mr. Harris?

Harris of course went on to make millions of dollars on corporate boards, leveraging his years in the premier’s job and proving that ideology and hypocrisy can be close cousins.

Image: Toronto Sun

Monday, March 22, 2021

In Retreat

Sometimes it doesn't seem like it -- particularly given this weekend's Conservative convention. But, E.J. Dionne writes that, globally, the Far Right is in retreat:

There’s a long-standing habit among Americans of reading our own politics as a signal for where the whole democratic world is moving. Sometimes it’s justified. Ronald Reagan’s election was clearly part of a broad movement toward the free-market right in the 1980s. Bill Clinton’s embrace of a centrist brand of progressivism in the 1990s was widely imitated.

So is a Joe Biden wave forming out there? Perhaps more importantly, has the drift toward right-wing authoritarianism that Donald Trump’s ascendancy seemed to herald been checked?

Of course it’s early, and many key national elections — in Germany and France, for example — lie in the future. But voting in the Netherlands last week and recent state elections in Germany and Australia point to a covid-era seriousness about government’s responsibilities, a search for democratic stability after a series of right-wing uprisings, and a redefining of progressive politics in a green direction.

We're not talking a wave. But, in Europe and Australia, the pandemic has produced political moderation:

Here’s the most striking fact about the Dutch vote, two state elections in Germany and an election in Western Australia: The incumbents did well in all of them. And while parties of the far right in the Netherlands and Germany held their own — advancing a bit in the Netherlands, moving backward in Germany — their surge has been checked. They are no longer, as they were in the Trump years, at the center of the news.

If nothing else, Biden’s defeat of Trump has shifted the momentum away from the global far right. And the pandemic and growing concerns about the climate have made electorates more practically minded and more focused on results. That’s progress.

We'll have to see if the progress continues.


Sunday, March 21, 2021

The Stupid Party

Chantal Hebert writes that, on Thursday, the Supreme Court will rule on the Trudeau government's carbon tax:

For Justin Trudeau’s government, the stakes could not be higher. Should the court find that Ottawa has exceeded its constitutional powers, one of the consequences of the decision would be to transfer the lead in the Canadian fight on climate change to largely unfriendly premiers.

The federal carbon tax only applies in provinces that decline to meet the floor price on greenhouse gas emissions set by Ottawa using policies of their own. With Ontario, Alberta and Saskatchewan leading the charge, they have been fighting the tax in the courts.

There is a consensus that without a carbon tax in its toolbox, Ottawa would struggle to craft an alternative plan efficient enough for Canada to have a shot at meeting its 2050 target of a carbon-free economy. That consensus includes a number of prominent Conservative thinkers.

Yet, at this weekend's Conservative convention, the delegates voted down a resolution recognizing the reality of climate change. Erin O'Toole bowed to his delegates' wishes:

On Friday, he told his party’s convention that a Conservative government would “scrap Justin Trudeau’s carbon tax on working Canadians.” In the same breath, the CPC leader promised to come up with a credible alternative.

That's exactly what Andrew Scheer promised in the last election, where "two-thirds of the electorate voted for parties that supported a carbon tax."

Back in the 1950s, a significant number of Americans referred to the Republican Party as "The Stupid Party." That moniker applies equally to the 21st Century Conservative Party of Canada.


Saturday, March 20, 2021

O'Toole's Speech

Last night, Erin O'Toole delivered a speech to the Conservative convention. It was all about change. First, he started with the facts:

We have lost two elections in five-and-a-half years. In that time, we have had four leaders. We must present new ideas, not make the same arguments hoping that maybe this time more Canadians will come around to our position.

Then he stated the obvious:

We are never going to win over Canadians just by relying on Justin Trudeau to continue to disappoint. His scandals, as outrageous as they often are, will never be enough to defeat him.

Then he lambasted the Liberals:

The Liberal government has used the worst health and economic crisis in generations to help some well-connected friends get ahead. While hundreds of thousands of Canadians got left behind. But even that will not be enough to defeat him. The Conservative Party can defeat him. But only with the courage to grow. To move beyond a party that does well only in certain parts of Canada, while leaving other Canadians out.

But he didn't say what kinds of changes the party needs to make. He did said he would introduce a jobs recovery plan. But it was pretty thin gruel. There's a reason the party's numbers are flat. Canadians know that Mr. O'Toole is pretty thin gruel.

And they know that O'Toole leads a party that is fixated on turning back the clock. That policy will no longer sell.


Friday, March 19, 2021

Learning As He Goes

Lots of people predicted that, if Joe Biden became president, he'd look and act goofy. He looked goofy in the past. But, so far, we've not seen any evidence of the old Biden. Frank Bruni writes:

He has . . . exploded that musty maxim about old dogs and new tricks. When Trump failed to “grow” into the presidency, as critics and even some fans hoped he would, the consensus was that it had been foolish to expect otherwise. Who but Trump could Trump be? Besides, he was 70 on the day of his inauguration. He’s going to grow and learn and change after that point?

Biden was 78 on the day of his inauguration, and in the year and a half immediately leading up to it, he demonstrated the new tricks of reticence and restraint. He continues to demonstrate them — “The Invisible President?” was the headline on a recent article by Joel Mathis in The Week — presumably on the theory that the less flamboyant his style, the more likely his actual policy triumphs, which won’t be complicated by his becoming a symbol of grander battles or turning himself into a cultural lightning rod.

His new tricks include a more progressive bent than in the past and, it seems, a less firm attachment to bipartisanship than he once claimed — developments that take into account the ravages of a pandemic, the toll of income inequality and his party’s current pulse. Remember those history-class debates about whether the leader makes the moment or the moment makes the leader? The moment is making — or, rather, remaking — Biden.

Donald Trump is a moron. He learned nothing in office -- because he can't learn anything. Let's hope Biden's take on things continues. As long as we can learn as we go, there's hope.

Image: The New York Times

Thursday, March 18, 2021

The Rubber Has Hit The Road

The filibuster -- as it currently exists -- is on the way out. E.J. Dionne writes:

Change is on the way. President Biden has signaled that the days of the Senate filibuster’s stranglehold on majority rule are numbered. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is scared to death that he’s right.

McConnell is particularly worried that Democrats will use their majorities in the House and Senate to enact fundamental reforms to our political system, from protecting voting rights to containing dark money’s influence on elections. That’s why the man who supposedly loves Congress’s upper chamber promised to create “a completely scorched earth Senate” if Democrats try to make it easier to pass legislation.

The Republicans have been a minority party for decades. They know they don't have the votes to win elections. So they have tried everything -- from voter supression to the filibuster -- to maintain minority rule. And they have changed the filibuster to maintain that minority rule:

Adam Jentleson is a former top Senate Democratic aide and the author of “Kill Switch,” an appropriately titled book on the chamber. He offered a brisk history of the filibuster in an interview. The 60-vote standard for passing most legislation is really the product of the past 20 years, Jentleson said, and has been truly routine only since 2007.

At the beginning of the republic, he noted, “there was no filibuster.” Then, “there was the talking filibuster, used rarely, mostly against civil rights. Then there was a slow rise [in its use] through the latter half of the 20th century, then it skyrocketed under Sen. McConnell,” Jentleson said to me in an interview. Little wonder, as the author noted, that the word filibuster comes from Dutch references to pirates.

The days of Mr. Smith Goes To Washington have long passed. Biden proposes to return to the days of Mr. Smith and institute a talking filibuster when: "stalling action required its members 'to stand up and command the floor, and you had to keep talking.' That was the rule when Biden first arrived in the Senate.

A voting rights bill will soon usher in change:

Biden made his comments on the filibuster on Tuesday, the eve of the formal Senate introduction of the For the People Act that has already passed the House. The comprehensive political reform bill would block the scandalous attack on voting rights in some Republican states. It would also curb gerrymanders that distort representation, take major steps to limit the power of dark money by expanding disclosure and create strong incentives for politicians to rely on small as opposed to large contributions.

The rubber has hit the road.


Wednesday, March 17, 2021

COVID And Inequality

The pandemic has exposed glaring inequalities in Canadian society. Susan Delacourt writes:

For the past year, Canadians have been forced to rein in a lot of their rights — their liberty, their freedom to assemble, to name just two.

But equality, or the lack of it, has continued to elbow its way into the existential conversations taking place in a year of pandemic living.

Canada may not be a more equal nation when the pandemic is over, but we’ll know a lot more about where inequality exists. Whether we do anything about it lies at the heart of all those promises to “build back better.”

“The legacy of the lost year will be devastating inequality,” Bloomberg news announced in a headline over a recent special to mark the first anniversary of the COVID-19 crisis. This past year, it said, “amplified every structural bias that exists.”

Those inequalities can no longer be ignored:

Across North America and many other parts of the world, people stepped out of pandemic isolation to say “enough” to racism in the wake of George Floyd’s death last spring. It was almost as if the hardship of pandemic living had sharpened awareness of racial inequality and lit a fuse that still burns.

Here in Canada, Black women made serious, historic strides in two leadership contests. The Greens elected Annamie Paul to lead them into the next election, and the Conservative leadership race was energized by the unexpected surge in support for Leslyn Lewis, who will be one of the co-hosts of the party’s big convention this weekend.

Those who chose to turn a blind eye to the inequalities have paid a price:

Politicians were punished most severely when they failed to be mindful of equality with their voters — travelling over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays while others were forced to stay home, acting as though they were above the limits that are supposed to be endured universally in a pandemic. Trudeau’s most serious ethical controversy over the past year touched on whether one charity was being singled out for special treatment.

The next federal budget will tell us if any lessons have been learned over the last year.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Work After The Pandemic

The pandemic has changed the way many of us work. Paul Krugman writes:

A year of isolation has, in effect, provided remote work with a classic case of infant industry protection, a concept usually associated with international trade policy that was first systematically laid out by none other than Alexander Hamilton.

Hamilton asserted that there were many industries that could flourish in the young United States but couldn’t get off the ground in the face of imports. Given a break from competition, for example through temporary tariffs, these industries could acquire enough experience and technological sophistication to become competitive.

John A. Macdonald's National Policy was imported from Alexander Hamilton. Working from home is a little bit like Macdonald's National Policy:

The pandemic, by temporarily making our former work habits impossible, has clearly made us much better at exploiting the possibilities of remote work, and some of what we used to do — long commutes so we can sit in cubicles, constant flying to meetings of dubious value — won’t be coming back.

For many, it's a new way of doing things. But it won't completely revolutionize the world of work. Its effect will be something like what happened when e-readers were introduced:

A decade ago many observers believed that both physical books and the bookstores that sold them were on the verge of extinction. And some of what they predicted came to pass: e-readers took a significant share of the market, and major bookstore chains took a significant financial hit.

But e-books’ popularity plateaued around the middle of the last decade, never coming close to overtaking physical books. And while big chains have suffered, independent bookstores have actually been flourishing.

Why was the reading revolution so limited? The convenience of downloading e-books is obvious. But for many readers this convenience is offset by subtler factors. The experience of reading a physical book is different and, for many, more enjoyable than reading e-ink. And browsing a bookstore is also a different experience from purchasing online. But what I find in a bookstore, especially a well-curated independent store, are books I wasn’t looking for but end up treasuring.

The remote work revolution will probably play out similarly, but on a much vaster scale.

So what will work look like in the future?

The advantages of remote work — either from home or, possibly, in small offices located far from dense urban areas — are obvious. Both living and work spaces are much cheaper; commutes are short or nonexistent; you no longer need to deal with the expense and discomfort of formal business wear, at least from the waist down.

The advantages of going back to in-person work will, by contrast, be relatively subtle — the payoffs from face-to-face communication, the serendipity that can come from unscheduled interactions, the amenities of urban life.

So the best bet is that life and work in, say, 2023 will look a lot like life and work in 2019, but a bit less so. We may commute to the office less than we used to; there may well be a glut of urban office space. But most of us won’t be able to stay very far from the madding crowd.

We await the future.


Monday, March 15, 2021

The Meaning Of Wealth


A recent incident at a Vancouver Pizza Pizza outlet has attracted a lot of attention. David Ball reports:

In the final hour of Feb. 20, two smartly dressed, middle-aged white guys cruising around Vancouver decided they had a hankering for pizza. The stakes seemed pretty low when they pulled into Pizza Pizza, a glowing outpost in an otherwise dimly lit plaza on the eastern edge of the Kitsilano neighbourhood.

But within a few minutes a video camera had captured the men screaming bigoted insults at the young workers and boasting of their riches compared to the servers “worth zero.”

On their way out of the store, a recording shows, the men encountered an apparently Asian teenager and physically attacked him.

The incident made the news and soon it was announced that Brenton Woyat, a wealth manager, and James Davidson, whose line of work remains unknown, had been charged with assault, and one with impaired driving.

The incident was apparently triggered by a request from the restaurant's staff to comply with the medical officer's mandate to wear masks:

That night at Pizza Pizza, Woyat stood at the counter wearing a mask. But Davidson clutched one in his hand or wore it uselessly under his chin, his mouth exposed as he declared, “You’re Nazis. You guys are complete fucking morons. COVID is a joke. You guys are fucking brainwashed.”

He shouted: “Are you fucking Middle Eastern or where are you from?” And, “I’m worth $50 million, you’re worth zero.”

There have been other such incidents:

In Prince George, a Walmart customer refusing to wear a mask pummeled a store greeter to the ground, repeatedly punching his head into the floor.

In Nelson, a hotel employee suffered a heart attack after being spat on and screamed at by a customer refusing to wear a mask. 

It appears that wealth can have deleterious effects. Wealth does not mean entitlement. It should mean noblesse oblige.


Sunday, March 14, 2021

We Still Need Stimulus

Canada's employment numbers for February looked pretty good. But, Heather Scoffield writes, the devil is in the details:

With 259,000 new jobs in February, many of them in the sectors that have been hit repeatedly by the pandemic, there is good reason for solace.

We are still short 600,000 jobs though, compared to the glory days of February 2020. Plus, an additional 400,000 people are working less than half their usual hours.

Measured another way, Statistics Canada estimates that there are about 3.4 million people today who are unemployed, not working but want to work, or are not getting enough hours. That’s a million more “underutilized” people than a year ago.

And many of those "underutilized" people are going to have a hard time finding jobs:

Young workers, especially women, can’t seem to catch much of a break, mainly because their jobs in accommodation, food services and retail have been the hardest hit. Will those jobs ever return in full?

Self-employment is in a dismal state. The number of self-employed workers didn’t change much in February despite gains in many other areas of the economy, and the number of hours those self-employed workers are putting in has declined 11.8 per cent compared to a year ago. That’s compared to just 1.6 per cent for other employees.

Many small businesses say they are on the brink and fear they won’t last the pandemic, meaning those jobs won’t return in the same way, even with widespread vaccination.

Long-term unemployment receded in February by 49,000 people but from a high of 512,000 in January. These people will have a tough time getting back into the workforce as their skills atrophy and their experience grows stale.

The pandemic has created a lot of pent-up demand. But the federal government is still going to have to spend money to make sure that all of Canada's workers can take advantage of that demand.


Saturday, March 13, 2021

Nice Work

In response to the economic damage done by COVID, governments everywhere are planning to spend on infrastructure. But Linda McQuaig writes, in Canada, that spending will benefit the wealthy. Justin Trudeau has established the Canada Infrastructure Bank and endowed it with $35 billion:

Of course, municipalities badly need new infrastructure so the bank, endowed with $35 billion in public money to help finance infrastructure, should be a godsend.

But it isn't -- except for business and investors.

That's because of the business-friendly way the Trudeau government designed the bank. Municipalities that want the bank's financial support for an infrastructure project must "partner" with a private business.

These public-private partnerships (P3s) ultimately drive up the cost of the projects and leave municipalities with less control over their own infrastructure.

The problem is that " if municipalities don't want to "partner" with business -- if they want instead to handle the projects themselves, raising the money through municipal bonds as they've traditionally done -- Canada's new public bank won't help them."

Consider what happened in Mapleton, Ontario:

Like many municipalities, Mapleton needed to upgrade its water and wastewater systems. The CIB offered a $20-million debt-financing package, and proudly promoted Mapleton as a "pilot project" for its new model of financing municipal water projects.

But the $20-million financing package was aimed at ensuring the private partner achieved its profit targets, and offered nothing directly to the municipality.

When Mapleton township studied the deal carefully, it realized that it would be cheaper for the township to do the water project itself. So it cancelled the deal -- and received no help from the CIB.

All that Mapleton was left with was a $367,000 legal bill in connection with the CIB process.

But why didn't the CIB offer the $20-million subsidy directly to the municipality to help finance the project? Why must a private partner be involved?

What the CIB calls its "innovative financing model" is really a mechanism for directing taxpayer dollars to private companies so they can earn profits managing our infrastructure -- even though we can build and operate these projects more cheaply on our own.

What's the point of this bank -- besides ensuring businesses profit from our public services?

That really is nice work -- if you can get it.


Friday, March 12, 2021

Over a Barrel

The election of Joe Biden has put the relationship between Canada and the United States on a better footing. David Carment and Richard Memijean write:

Biden has already returned the relationship to normal by making his virtual meeting with Trudeau his first as leader, reflecting his plan to stabilize American foreign policy.

Despite disagreement on a few key issues, Canadians were pleased. Biden and Trudeau have an obvious personal chemistry, reinforced by their centrist ideological outlooks and their recognition that politically they need to tack left. Both want their countries to “build back better” while paying attention to climate change and addressing socioeconomic inequality. Progress will occur on other shared concerns, such as NATO’s future, multilateralism, human rights and democracy promotion.

But there is a downside. As we grow closer to the United States, our options become more limited:

A friendly American administration will not necessarily make it easier for Canada to pursue its interests and enhance its sovereignty. Biden is an American president first and foremost, and is using diplomacy and statecraft to promote his interests and goals. Like Trump and Obama before him, Biden will pressure Canada to help him succeed, such as by spending more on defence and security.

On issues that truly matter to Canadians, he so far has given precious little. There was no word on American assistance on vaccine procurement, exemptions from Biden’s nationalist procurement strategy, or consideration for Canada’s pipeline concerns.

Biden’s “alliance of values” seeks to restore American hegemony. He wants to re-establish American leadership in areas that risk being dominated if not controlled by China. Allies can go along for the ride and help Biden address his political concerns. Otherwise, they face the prospect of heightened tensions, as Europe is now encountering as it tries to work constructively with both China and the U.S.

And to solve our problems with China, we must rely on the United States:

The new framework on Canada-U.S. relations states that the two countries are discussing how “to more closely align our approaches to China.” Ironically, Conservative leader Erin O’Toole’s attempt to portray the Liberals as soft on China, such as the recent House motion declaring crimes against the Uyghurs to be genocide, will if anything only push Canada deeper into the American orbit, since Canada on its own lacks the power to stand up to China.

So, in some way, things are better. But, on the other hand, we are over a barrel.

Image: Getty Images

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Here Come The Judge

His recent appearance at CPAC has made clear that Donald Trump does not intend to go away. But, as he plots his comeback, something else is going on. He faces multiple lawsuits. Donald Ayer and Norman Eisen write:

Recent statements by Donald Trump and his enablers prove that he and his Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen aren’t departing from American politics anytime soon. But neither is the push to hold him legally accountable, as shown by a new lawsuit — the second against Trump by a member of Congress arising out of the failed Jan. 6 insurrection. As attorneys who have overseen prosecutions or other accountability efforts in Republican and Democratic administrations alike, we believe the combination of civil cases and a pair of rapidly accelerating state criminal investigations make for a potent force to combat the ex-president’s ongoing wrongdoing.

Congressman Eric Swalwell -- a former federal prosecutor -- has sued Trump for his role in the capital insurrection on January 6:

Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), alleges that the former president, his son Don Jr., his lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani and Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) conspired to prevent Swalwell and other members of Congress from discharging their duty to certify that Joe Biden had won last year’s presidential election. The complaint says the defendants engaged in an extensive, months-long promotion of the Big Lie, capped off by Trump’s fighting words and the violence that followed on the day of the electoral vote count.

Recent days also saw the delivery of long-sought tax and financial information to Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. as part of an investigation into Trump’s many alleged misdeeds in New York City’s jurisdiction, including bank and tax fraud. That should greatly accelerate the long-running investigation. So too should Vance’s recent hiring of a top deputy with extensive experience trying complex criminal matters, Mark Pomerantz. He and Vance are reportedly sharpening their focus on the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, whose cooperation could also speed up the case.

And then there is the case taking place in the suburbs of Atlanta:

There’s a matching criminal threat from Fulton County, Ga., District Attorney Fani Willis over Trump’s call to ask that the secretary of state in Georgia “just … find 11,780 votes” to help Trump beat Biden. This is a more recent investigation, but it’s also potentially much less complex than the case in Manhattan, now in its third year. As a result, the Fulton County investigation may move even faster. Indeed, a grand jury met in the Georgia investigation last week, and Willis recently added a nationally recognized racketeering expert to her investigative team. Look for the New York and Georgia probes into criminal liability to close in on Trump.

They're coming for Trump. That's why he's desperately raising money from his supporters. He wants them to pay his legal bills.

Image: Chick Publications

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Some Of Us

During the pandemic we have repeated the mantra, "We're all in this together." But the pandemic will leave some people better off -- and millions of people worse off than they were. That's certainly the case in Britain. Rafael Behr writes:

The language of collective endurance has helped sustain public spirits, but it also elides major sacrifice with acts that, in the wider scheme of human experience, register more as inconvenience: wearing a mask; foregoing meals out.

It might seem callous to talk now about anyone having had a “good pandemic”, but it is dishonest to pretend that the nation will walk out of the darkness together, with one story to tell. The disease has ravaged some and spared others. It gets deadlier with age, but appears also to have discriminated along racial lines for reasons that are not yet fully understood. Partly, that is likely to be a function also of class inequality. Covid thrives on deprivation: crowded accommodation; poor diet; precarious jobs that make it harder for people to self-isolate or take time off work for convalescence.

A release of pent-up consumption by the lucky group will generate flattering growth statistics, although that economic bounce will leave millions behind. Boris Johnson’s MPs will resist efforts to force the winners to subsidise the losers on any adequate scale. The Conservative cult of self-reliance usually provides intellectual anaesthesia against the discomfort of living in a very unequal society. There is less duty to care about unemployment once it is cast as a self-inflicted penalty for idleness. It gets harder to argue along the same lines when a pandemic is the cause of people’s suffering, but then the myth of collective sacrifice and the rhetoric of “hard choices” can be applied to salve wealthy consciences. We are all in it together. Some are just in deeper than others.

And that is the point. Some of us are in much deeper than others.


Tuesday, March 09, 2021

It Won't Be Harry


A short time ago, there was speculation that Prince Harry would be appointed Governor-General. Susan Delacourt writes:

Just a little over a year ago, about 60 per cent of Canadians polled said the Queen’s runaway grandson would be a good fit for the viceregal post — which, as coincidence would have it, is now vacant.

This was right after Harry and Meghan had found temporary refuge in Canada, before the pandemic, before they decamped to California and most importantly, before the bridge-burning interview with Oprah Winfrey that aired on Sunday night.

But times -- and opinions -- have changed:

The Winfrey interview is the worst thing that’s happened to the royalty on TV since season 4 of “The Crown,” which also seems to have awakened a strong anti-monarchist streak in this country, according to recent polling by Abacus Data.

Abacus CEO David Coletto binge-watched the latest series of “The Crown” late last year and got to wondering how it was making Canadians feel about the monarchy. Not good was the answer — 52 per cent of the people who had finished watching the series leaned toward abolition of the monarchy.

If some of these Canadians saw Sunday night’s interview with Harry and Meghan, chances are that those views are even stronger today. As Harry pointed out, the troubles that Meghan endured as a new part of the Royal Family felt like history repeating itself — the history of Princess Diana, depicted in season four of “The Crown.”

With the Royals, there's always the issue of security:

But there was a lot of discussion about security, which was a very live issue in Canada in the weeks after the two made a temporary home in British Columbia. While everything pre-pandemic feels like ancient history now, we might remember that debate was raging in this country over who would be paying for security for Harry and Meghan and their young son, Archie.

Security is a big deal to the family, as the interview revealed. Meghan recounted to Winfrey how crushed she was to discover that the Firm was not going to be paying for security for her son — the same son whose skin colour had been a matter of royal concern. As she said she was told while still pregnant: “He won’t be given security, he’s not going to be given a title, and also concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be when he’s born.”

Having a royal family costs money. And it appears that lots of people don't want to foot the bill. Even the Royal Family doesn't want to foot the bill.

Something's out of joint. And now it's certain that Harry won't be the next GG.


Monday, March 08, 2021

Underestimating Biden

During the Democratic primary and the election, Jennifer Rubin writes, the media consistently underestimated Joe Biden. This weekend his COVID rescue plan passed the Senate. Much has been made of the lack of bipartisan support for the plan. But it depends on how you define bipartisan support:

The president pushed aside repeated media chiding that he was not being bipartisan enough. In fact, as he observed in a victory lap speech on Saturday, “without the overwhelming bipartisan support of the American people, this would not have happened.” He continued, “Overwhelming public support — every public opinion poll shows overwhelming support for this plan. And for the last weeks, it’s shown that. Every public opinion poll shows the people want this, they believe it’s needed, and they believe it’s urgent.” Bipartisanship, the administration maintained, was not found in capitulating to Republicans whose paltry $650 billion plan failed to grasp the magnitude of the dual economic and health threats. Bipartisanship was achieved in meeting the needs of Americans who are eager for active government.

Biden faces huge challenges ahead. There will be a lot of heavy lifting. But the president and his team are focusing on citizens, not members of congress -- and that has advantages:

The Biden team’s focus allowed them to woo back into line moderate Democrats such as Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), who might irrationally deny a qualified woman of color a Cabinet spot or seek the limelight in holding up the deal to lower the unemployment subsidy from $400 to $300. Frustration is kept behind closed doors; the eyes of Biden’s colleagues are invariably on making the most important deal when the chips are down.

Donald Trump claimed to know the Art Of the Deal. Four years proved that he knew nothing about making deals. The only thing he understood was self-interest -- the kind of self-interest that gave him a COVID vaccination long before anyone else in the country got one. Biden knows how to make deals. And this success can lead to more successes:

Success builds on success. As Biden turns to items such as infrastructure, Republicans may feel more pressure to end their reflexive obstruction. One wonders if having bet against an overwhelmingly popular rescue plan, swing-district and swing-state Republicans want to keep turning up their noses at the very economic populism they insist they support. In the 1930s, disaster struck and metastasized on the Republicans’ watch; now, similarly, the GOP may find out that opposition to vigorous governmental action is a political loser that may keep them out of power until memories of their gross mismanagement fade.

It's too soon to reach any conclusions. But the Republicans could be out of power for a generation.


Sunday, March 07, 2021

Pandemic Politics

The pandemic has left its mark on Canada's political parties. Chantal Hebert writes:

Never have so many Canadians had to rely on governments for so much and for so long as they have over the past 12 months.

Given that, it should come as little surprise that the pool of progressive voters and the ranks of those who support government activism seems to have expanded over the course of the COVID-19 episode.

That reality has caused considerable pain for Conservatives -- who are philosophically committed to the principle of less government:

A year into the pandemic, the Conservatives are the only federal party that is consistently falling below its last election score in voting intentions.

Even as a debate has raged over the federal delivery of vaccines, the Conservatives, who — based on their seat count — are best positioned to replace the Liberals in government, have failed to hang on to their 2019 audience, let alone add to it.

Every national poll published since Feb.1 has Conservative support hovering around the 30 per cent mark. That’s down four points from the party’s election finish.

The same fate holds true for Conservative premiers:

Over on the Conservative side, the reviews range from decisively mixed in the case of Ontario’s Doug Ford and Manitoba’s Brian Pallister to outright negative in the case of Saskatchewan’s Scott Moe and Alberta’s Jason Kenney.

Even in the Conservatives’ heartland, the pandemic is doing the Canadian right no favours.

The pandemic has also improved prospects for the NDP:

As support for the Conservatives has shrunk, that for the NDP has expanded. In all but one of the last six national polls, the New Democrats have scored better than in the last election.

That is not to say Jagmeet Singh is necessarily on a roll. Historically some of the NDP’s best polling results have been achieved between elections.

We'll have to see if the Dippers fortunes have improved permanently. And the Green Party is still trying to find its footing under its new leader, Annamie Paul.

So, despite Justin Trudeau's stumbles, the Liberals appear to have weathered the pandemic pretty well.


Saturday, March 06, 2021

Getting Our Act Together

Mark Bulgutch is mystified about Ontario's vaccination program. He writes:

I readily admit some things are beyond my understanding. I don’t understand black holes in space for example. I don’t understand the rules of cricket or how a match can go on for days. I don’t understand why toast always falls to the floor with the buttered side down.

But what I really can’t understand right now is how Ontario botched its vaccination program so completely. It is as if the powers that be had no idea they would need to prepare for the day when vaccines arrived. I accept that the pandemic caught everyone off-guard, and there was a scramble to deal with getting ventilators for hospitals, PPE for front-line health care workers, and establishing rules for shutting down the economy.

By last summer, however, could not somebody have been told to begin to organize a vaccination plan? We didn’t need it the next day or the next, but we’d need it one day. Our political parties are forever planning the next election, even if it’s four years down the road. Our military plans for wars that we hope will never happen. Yet there is no evidence that anything was done to prepare for the certainty that vaccines were going to show up one day. It was a notion that caught Ontario by surprise.

Quebec has had all kinds of problems with COVID -- particularly deaths in nursing homes. But, at least, the province has a vaccination plan:

The good news is that something similar now seems to be happening here. Yesterday, my wife's friend took her elderly mother to a local community college gym. At the beginning of the morning, there was some delay in getting the process going. But, once things got started, vaccinations were given smoothly and quickly.

Finally, we're getting our act together.

Image: The Montreal Gazette

Friday, March 05, 2021

Neanderthal Thinking

Wearing a mask during the pandemic is not an impossible burden. Paul Krugman writes:

We’ve made a lot of progress against the pandemic over the past couple of months. But the danger is far from over. There are still substantially more Americans hospitalized with Covid-19 now than there were, say, last June, when many states were rushing to reopen and Mike Pence, the vice president then, was assuring us that there wouldn’t be a second wave. Roughly 400,000 deaths later, we know how that worked out.

Yet Texas and Mississippi have just ended their statewide mask requirements.

It’s true that there is now a bright light at the end of the tunnel: The development of effective vaccines has been miraculously fast, and the actual pace of vaccinations is rapidly accelerating. But this good news should make us more willing, not less, to endure inconvenience now: At this point we’re talking about only a few more months of vigilance, not a long slog with no end in sight.

But conservatives are having a tantrum. They want their porridge -- and they want it now:

So what’s motivating the rush to unmask? It’s not economics. As I said, the costs of mask-wearing are trivial. And basic economics tells us that people should have incentives to take into account costs they impose on others; if potentially exposing those you meet to a deadly disease isn’t an “externality,” I don’t know what is.

Of course, we know what’s actually going on here: politics. Refusing to wear a mask has become a badge of political identity, a barefaced declaration that you reject liberal values like civic responsibility and belief in science. (Those didn’t used to be liberal values, but that’s what they are in America 2021.)

This medical version of identity politics seems to trump everything, up to and including belief in the sacred rights of property owners. When organizers at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference asked attendees to wear masks — not as a matter of policy, but simply to abide by the rules of the hotel hosting the meeting — they were met by boos and cries of “Freedom!” Do people shriek about rights when they see a shop sign declaring, “No shoes, no shirt, no service”?

This insanity is no longer surprising:

These days conservatives don’t seem to care about anything except identity politics, often expressed over the pettiest of issues. Democrats appear to be on the verge of enacting a huge relief bill that embodies many progressive policy priorities. But the Republican response has been remarkably low energy, and right-wing media are obsessed with the (falsely) alleged plot to make Mr. Potato Head gender-neutral.

Joe Biden has called this Neanderthal thinking. Contrary to popular belief, Neanderthal Man did not go extinct. He obviously still lives in certain woe begotten areas of this planet.


Thursday, March 04, 2021

Who Is Being Served?

Rishi Sunak is Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer. More than anyone else, he is responsible for the disaster that has hit Britain. Owen Jones writes:

Rishi Sunak is one of the chief architects of Britain’s economic calamity. He is an arsonist posing as a firefighter, not that you would know it from some of the media profiles, which suggested he had more than risen to the occasion. Last year, the BBC released – and, following protests, hastily deleted – a video of the chancellor as Superman; ts offering this year included talking heads complaining that he’s too “lovely” to dig any dirt on.

The charge sheet against Sunak is straightforward – or, at least in a functioning democracy, it should be. A public health crisis is, in turn, an economic crisis. The countries that have most effectively suppressed the virus have tended to be spared the worst economic consequences. That Britain simultaneously has one of the world’s worst death tolls and most severe economic hits is a case study in positive correlation, not coincidence.

Sunak is a master of the art of self-promotion. But the facts on the ground belie the hype:

In a budget supposedly designed to solve a nightmare deepened by Sunak’s own actions, the man who applauded public-sector workers and then imposed a real-terms pay cut on many of them provided no answers for the NHS and social care. If a political consensus is to emerge from the rubble of this national emergency, surely the need to bolster our health and social services is it: the failure to do so led Richard Sloggett, a former special adviser to health secretary Matt Hancock, to call out an “error”.

While Boris Johnson vowed no return to “austerity”, day-to-day spending was slashed by £4bn. While corporation tax will supposedly be raised to 25% by 2023 (whether this commitment will stick, time will tell) big businesses have been handed an untargeted £25bn tax break in the meantime. While the state puts its arm around British bosses, a cut to universal credit in six months will further strip security away from those already stricken by the crisis. While the Tories raid the rhetoric of Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell’s 2019 manifesto, its substance has been hollowed out: £12bn is offered for a “green industrial revolution”, derisory compared with Labour’s £250bn commitment.

But it would be too easy for the government’s opponents to retreat into a comfort zone of deriding the same old Tories with their same old cuts. Boris Johnson and, more reluctantly, Rishi Sunak voice a willingness to spend in a way their Conservative predecessors did not. The consistent thread that runs through every Tory project, however, is mobilising the resources of the state to provide support and security for private interests. The dividing line, then, is: who should the state exist to provide for?

That is the central question of our time.

Wednesday, March 03, 2021

Stacking The Deck

The Ford government has introduced new legislation which -- supposedly -- will protect Ontario's elections. The bill's real purpose is to protect Mr. Ford. Marcel Wieder writes:

The proposed bill will now limit how important conversations take place about the current and future direction of the province. Under the bill, groups that either support or oppose government legislation must register a full year before an election and are limited to how much they can spend; how they interact with other like-minded groups; and what suppliers they can use. This has the chilling effect of restricting free speech and the right to association.

The amount that third parties can spend have been cut in half under the proposed bill. The current limits, which are currently the subject of a Charter challenge, do not come anywhere close to what the political parties can spend; are not tax deductible and do not reflect the cost of a sustained communications campaign.

Under the proposed legislation, individuals or organizations that wish to comment on a government bill that could be considered an election issue will need to register if they spend more than $500 conveying their opinion. The chief electoral officer is given the responsibility of determining whether it falls into the category of political advertising.

Even more outrageous is that this bill limits individuals or organizations from sharing information, appealing to donors who share a similar point of view and using a common vendor.

Ford is trying to shut down his opposition before the election. And the number of Ontarians opposed to Ford is growing:

The Doug Ford government is taking this draconian effort prior to the next election to block critics who oppose this government’s handling on a number of issues.

Health-care workers are critical of the government’s handling during the COVID-19 crisis, especially among the personal support workers.

Family members are mad at Ford over the disastrous response to long-term care residents.

Parents and education workers are upset over mixed messages, lack of planning and overall handling of the response to the education system during the pandemic.

Small business owners, restaurant owners and others who have been affected by closures, lockdowns and restrictions that have forced them out of business or to take on massive debt.

Ford wants to have all the cards in his hand. And he's stacking the deck.

Image: instructables