Friday, April 30, 2021

Biden's Job Creation Plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image: Medium

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Finally . . . Maybe

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

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

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

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

But we as citizens also share the blame:

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

That history should teach us a few lessons

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

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

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

And the Conservatives are ignoring their part in that history:

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

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

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

Image: YouTube

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

The Tune Has Changed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The times and the tune have changed. 

Image: The Toronto Star

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Rethinking Mass Tourism

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

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

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

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

But all those people produce lots of negative impacts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image: MDS

Monday, April 26, 2021

Irrational Decisions

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

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

Wicker saw the Civil Rights Era as a Great Awakening:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something to think about as this pandemic rages on.

Image:  The New York Times

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Something For Everybody

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She has tweaked a few taxes:

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

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

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

We'll see.

Image: The Toronto Sun

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Not His Thing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image: The Toronto Star

Friday, April 23, 2021

It's Getting Worse

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

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

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

Polling data underscores how virulent the virus has become:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image: The Conversation

Thursday, April 22, 2021

The Folly Of Killing Sick Days

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How things have changed:

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

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

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

Perhaps personal experience will teach Doug something.


Image: The Toronto Star

Wednesday, April 21, 2021


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

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Really Big

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who's got it right? Time will tell.

Image: Canadian Chamber Of Commerce

Monday, April 19, 2021

The Frying Pan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, April 18, 2021

Making The Cash Registers Ring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday, April 17, 2021

More Deadly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elsewhere, other doctors reacted as Dr, Fallis reacted:

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

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

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

There is only one inescapable conclusion:

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

Idiocy is even more deadly than COVID.


Friday, April 16, 2021

The Worst Is Here

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

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

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

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

There are no easy solutions:

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

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

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

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

 The buck stops at Doug Ford's desk:

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

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

It's all hit the fan.

Image: Collins Dictionary

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Collective Stupidity

I have written previously that the collective I.Q. of the Republican Party is a negative number. That conclusion seems to be bolstered by recent polling. Giovanni Russonello writes in The New York Times:

More than two in five Republicans said they would avoid getting vaccinated if possible, suggesting that President Biden has not succeeded in his effort to depoliticize the vaccines — and leaving open the question of whether the country will be able to achieve herd immunity without a stronger push from Republican leaders to bring their voters on board.

The results of the Monmouth poll lined up with those of a separate survey by Quinnipiac University, also released on Wednesday, that found 45 percent of Republicans saying they did not plan to get vaccinated.

Americans don’t have as much faith in one another: Just 43 percent said the general public had done a good job dealing with the outbreak. Democrats in particular were disappointed in their fellow citizens, with just one in three saying the public had handled it well.

And while hardly any Democrats — just 12 percent — said they would feel safe attending large events like professional sports games or concerts, two-thirds of Republicans said they would.

Republicans used to pride themselves on being the Party of National Security. How times have changed. They are now the Party of Collective Stupidity.

Image: Brainy Quote

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Time For A Wealth Tax

The federal budget will be announced next week. Linda McQuaig writes that it should contain a wealth tax. Unfortunately, the wealthy have been successfully arguing against such a tax for years. In fact, there already is such a tax. It's called the property tax. But McQuaig favours an NDP proposal:

An NDP proposal -- based roughly on proposals by U.S. Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren -- would levy an annual tax of one per cent on net wealth above $20 million. If you don't have $20 million, it's not coming for you.

The NDP plan would raise an estimated $10 billion a year -- or more if the rate rose for bigger fortunes, notes economist Alex Hemingway of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Several arguments have been advanced against such a proposal:

A wealth tax is foreign to the Canadian tax system. In fact, Canada already has such a tax. It's called the property tax. It's imposed on almost all the wealth held by low- and middle-income Canadians -- their homes. A wealth tax would simply extend the property tax to include other forms of property mostly held by the wealthy, such as stocks and bonds (above $20 million).

A wealth tax has not worked in other countries. The wealth taxes adopted in many European countries were badly designed. They had low thresholds, so they taxed many people who were not ultra-rich, just well-off. Today's proposed wealth taxes only target those who are clearly, undeniably wealthy.

The ultra-rich will find ways to evade or avoid the tax. Our tax laws, which permit widespread tax avoidance and evasion, are not laws of nature but policy choices made by legislators. Stopping tax evasion is simply a matter of political choice -- especially with today's technology that makes it easy to digitally trace the movement of money. An increase in Revenue Canada's enforcement budget -- to be used against tax haven trickery -- and tougher penalties for cheaters could be extremely effective. The only thing lacking is political will.

A wealth tax would discourage savings and entrepreneurship. Hardly. The tax would only hit those who have accumulated enormous assets, typically long after their initial entrepreneurial effort (or those who have inherited huge assets through no effort). Does anyone seriously believe that, in the future, creative Canadians would stop being entrepreneurial if they thought they would only end up with a fortune of, say, many hundreds of millions of dollars rather than perhaps a billion dollars?

Some wealthy taxpayers have very low incomes and thus might not have the cash to pay an annual wealth tax. If truly wealthy individuals have small incomes it's because they've arranged their finances this way in order to avoid paying income taxes. They could easily sell some of their assets. There's no reason to sympathize with their plight. After all, if working people lose their jobs, they're forced to sell assets (except their homes) until they're sufficiently poor to qualify for welfare benefits.

Back in the 1950's we had much higher marginal tax rates -- and the wealthy survived quite nicely. The difference between then and now is that now there are many more extremely wealthy people. Is there any reason to believe that they too would not survive nicely?


Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Ford's Folly

Yesterday, Ontario's education minister announced that all schools in the province are returning to online learning. Bruce Arthur writes:

The schools … well, it’s really something when the province insists schools are safe, refuses to properly test, keeps kids home after Christmas, moves March break, calls on the federal government to somehow procure vaccines for children, won’t cancel classes before April break, insists schools will reopen after April break, and then shuts schools the next day. So we get the blunt-force application of closures across the province, because there is simply too much virus in the community. Well, how did that happen?

As our knowledge of this virus grows, we need to make changes. But the changes in Ontario have been an exercise in whiplash:

“The government is playing chicken, and I think they’ve actually lost,” says Dr. Andrew Morris, a professor of infectious diseases at the University of Toronto, and the medical director of the Antimicrobial Stewardship Program at Sinai-University Health Network.

“I think they thought that they could time things, regardless of their cynicism of how many people get sick. We’re going to be leading CNN and the BBC in the next couple of weeks. Who would have thought that a year later we wouldn’t have learned from other jurisdictions? But here we are.”

It’s not like the changes are perfect. Ontario needed restrictions, but it needed them Feb. 11, and even the current versions probably aren’t enough to actually reduce cases. A redeployment of vaccines by the risk profile of postal codes is a great idea, and necessary, though the CBC’s Mike Crawley exposed that five of the 114 vaccination hot spots were in fact less COVID-heavy than the provincial average, and that four were held by Progressive Conservative MPPs; meanwhile, seven ridings with much higher rates that were not designated as hot spots were all held by opposing parties.

In the end, it's clear that Mr. Ford can't handle a crisis:

He is in over his head, and it is the weakness that will linger. This failure has plenty of parents in his government, and the incompetence has been exposed in increasingly ruthless fashion, day by day. Sunday, the minister of education wrote a letter saying schools would stay open after the April break; Monday, the premier declared they would be closed. It’s a pattern. On April 1 the government announced restrictions, and changed them five days later as the baked-in numbers kept rising. The vaccination plan was described in great detail on Tuesday last week. Wednesday, it was completely different.

History will remember Doug Ford for his inability to handle COVID.

Image: London Free Press

Monday, April 12, 2021

The Crazies Have Taken Over

Over the weekend, Republicans changed the place where they were going to meet. The new venue was owned by Donald Trump. And the Republicans paid him to meet on his property. Trump responded by addressing those assembled. In his speech, he attacked former vice president Mike Pence and called Mitch McConnell a “dumb son of a bitch.”  

The problem for Republicans is that Trump will not go away. James Downie writes:

Even if Trump doesn’t run in 2024, though, Republicans can’t get rid of him for two other reasons. First, as my colleague Greg Sargent pointed out, one of the party’s biggest causes at the moment — voting restrictions — is inextricably tied to the former president’s lies about the 2020 election. The nationwide campaign to limit voting rights and the resulting fights with various corporations and sports leagues all stem from lawmakers’ acceptance (sometimes tacit, sometimes not) of Trump and his allies’ campaign to undermine the results.

Second, Trump has the money. GOP small donors remain big fans of the president, with the New York Times reporting that Trump has more cash on hand than the Republican National Committee. The RNC donor summit that Trump spoke to was confirmation of his outsized role: Not only was the bulk of the two-day event held at a Palm Beach hotel, less than five miles from Mar-a-Lago, but instead of Trump coming to the donors Saturday night, the RNC bused all the attendees to Trump’s club. One would hardly have been surprised if each bus seat came with a ring to kiss.

The Republicans discriminate against people of colour. But they have refused to discriminate against the crazies. Now the Crazies have taken over the party.


Sunday, April 11, 2021

Calling On The Ghosts

When Justin Trudeau came to power six years ago, he vowed that his party would not be the same old Liberal Party. Susan Delacourt writes:

Once upon a time, Trudeau made great efforts to cut his Liberal party’s ties to its past, even the history of his own father’s years in power. He abruptly disowned the senators appointed under past Liberal leaders as one of his first acts at the party helm. He vowed that a new, Trudeau-led party would close the book on past Liberal dramas.

But, at this week's virtual convention, he resurrected the ghosts of past Liberal prime ministers:

Anyone who has followed Trudeau throughout his path to the top of the party, there was no missing how Saturday’s speech was a change in tone toward ghosts of Liberal past, or even his own past.

He was introduced on the virtual stage by Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc, who entertained the audience with anecdotes of babysitting Trudeau and his brothers, and the deep ties between his parents and two generations of prime ministers.

Trudeau began his speech with a gracious shout-out too to Turner, the “true Grit” who died last year. When he spoke of what further challenges awaited the Liberal party of 2021, during and after this pandemic, he said repeatedly: “There’s still work to do.”

It was an unmistakable reference to Jean Chretien's victory speech in 1993. As Trudeau asked his supporters to reach out to those who didn't vote for the Liberals last time, he also picked out his targets:

Trudeau doesn’t have as many neighbourly thoughts about Conservative leader Erin O’Toole, calling him and his party out for being “disconnected” from the world in Saturday’s speech. The Bloc Québécois also took a few hits from Trudeau, but not the New Democrats, notably, who are helping the Liberals stay in power.

Will the strategy work? We'll get the answer in the next election.

Image: The Globe And Mail

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Different Dictionaries

Democrats and Republicans speak two different languages. Michelle Cottle writes that each party has its own dictionary. Consider the different definitions of the following terms:

Bipartisanship. This seems straightforward enough. If both political parties support a proposal, it’s bipartisan, right? Not so fast. There has been much debate of late about which team members count. If a majority of Republican voters and a majority of Democratic voters favor a bill, does that make it bipartisan? Democrats, and especially the Biden White House, say yes. Or is an idea only bipartisan if lawmakers from both parties sign on? Republicans in Congress appear to support this narrower interpretation.

Voting reform. Both parties agree on the need to shore up the integrity of the electoral system. But, for Democrats, voting reform means making ballot access easier and encouraging maximum participation. Republicans want to go in the opposite direction, with measures that risk hitting minority voters especially hard. As a piece in the conservative National Review asked this week, “Why Not Fewer Voters?”

Infrastructure. This may be the hottest linguistic battle now raging, spurred by the sprawling, multitrillion-dollar proposal from the White House. As the president and his people define it, infrastructure includes everything from the “care economy,” community colleges and electric vehicles to job training and investment in domestic manufacturing and scientific research. If you can dream it, Democrats want to count it as infrastructure. (Having fun with this sprawl, the Twitterverse has been offering its definition-expanding thoughts, such as “Firing Fauci is infrastructure” and “Prosecuting Matt Gaetz is infrastructure.”)

Covid-19 relief. During the debate over this year’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act, Democrats began with a maximalist definition that included an increase of the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. This was soon jettisoned.

Republicans — surprise! — took a stricter line, excluding measures such as direct aid to state and local governments. House Republicans tweeted out a pie chart that categorized only 8 percent of the bill as aimed at “crushing” Covid-19 — a figure limited to direct health spending — while 27 percent was labeled “State and Local bailouts.” “Stop calling it a ‘Covid relief’ bill,” the House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy grumped on Twitter.

When people can't even agree on the terms of reference, there can be no progress.

Image: The New York Times

Friday, April 09, 2021

Disaster Capitalism At Work

Linda McQuaig looks back forty years, to when biotech was part of the Canadian landscape:

It's hard to believe it has come to this. Forty years ago, when a biotech industry was just a gleam in Fidel Castro's eye, Canada had already made it to the top.

We already had one of the world's leading biotech firms -- Connaught Labs, a publicly owned enterprise that had developed and produced its own vaccines for seven decades, and whose research scientists were considered among the best in the world.

Cuba, on the other hand, had only a modest lab with six technicians. But Castro had a dream -- creating an innovative biotech industry to produce vaccines for Cubans and others in developing countries often ignored by big pharma.

Then came Brian Mulroney. And he had an agenda:

Brian Mulroney had a different dream -- privatizing Canada's public enterprises in line with requests from the business community. So, in the 1980s, the Mulroney government sold Connaught Labs, then one of the world's most innovative vaccine developers.

He sold out the resources we need now. And we're in a spot. To solve our problem, Justin Trudeau is forming a public-private marriage. The old Connought plant -- now owned by Sanofi-Pasteur -- will produce vaccines for Canada and other countries.

That is not a solution. On the contrary, it's a reckless use of a lot of public money.

Ottawa is in ongoing negotiations with Sanofi over a contract aimed at giving Canadians priority access to vaccines produced at the Connaught plant during a future pandemic, federal industry minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said last week.

But surely it would have been better to postpone announcing the $415 million until after Sanofi had agreed to the government's terms about priority access for Canadians.

Without that nailed down, we can just keep our fingers crossed that Sanofi will come through for us in the future.

The situation reveals how much Canada is at the mercy of the powerful drug industry now that we no longer have a domestic vaccine capacity that we control.

Indeed, Sanofi might use its negotiations with Ottawa to push hard on another issue that's important to Sanofi and other big pharma companies.

In December 2017, big pharma was outraged when the Trudeau government announced changes to the Patented Medicines Regulations aimed at reducing patented drug prices by billions of dollars.

Big pharma has retaliated by not submitting 39 drugs, including treatments for cancer and Parkinson's, to Health Canada for approval, citing uncertainty over the proposed changes.

With big pharma effectively holding a gun to Canada's head, the Trudeau government has twice postponed implementing the tough new regulations, now delayed until July 1.

It's a textbook case of how Disaster Capitalism works.

Image: Mother Jones

Thursday, April 08, 2021

An Alternate Universe

Jason Kenney is in trouble. There is a significant revolt in his caucus. Don Braid reports:

It’s out in the open — a full-blown revolt against Premier Jason Kenney’s COVID-19 policy by 16 UCP caucus members.

This is very serious business for Kenney; a crack that could become a chasm at the heart of government, just as the virus itself is again spreading quickly.

The MLAs’ joint letter “to Albertans” on Wednesday says: “After 13 painstaking months of COVID-19 public health restrictions, we do not support the additional restrictions placed on Albertans yesterday, and will continue advocating for a transparent path forward that provides certainty to Alberta families, communities and businesses.”

These UCP politicians, mostly from rural and small-city areas, also level a devastating allegation that repeated attempts to communicate have been ignored.

“For months, we have raised these concerns at the highest levels of government, and unfortunately the approach of government has remained the same,” the letter says.

The signees include some high-profile members — Tracy Allard, the former minister who was ejected from cabinet for holiday travel to Hawaii; legislature speaker Nathan Cooper, who represents Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills; Angela Pitt from Airdrie-East, Miranda Rosin from Banff-Kananaskis, and 12 more.

Politicians on the right have seen the pandemic as primarily a political problem, not a public health problem. And that frame simply leads to insanity.

The Alberta Revolt once again underscores the fact that modern conservatives live in an Alternate Universe.

Image: Redbubble

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

When Things Get Tough

Doug Ford is about to issue a stay-at-home order. Bruce Arthur writes:

But now here we are. The province’s magical thinking, its hunger for short-term economic gains, its hostility to science, and a profound lack of leadership have led us here. It could get as ugly as almost anything Ontario has seen in the pandemic.

"I mean, the thing that strikes me most is that people have been predicting this since January,” says Dr. Ashleigh Tuite, epidemiologist at the University of Toronto, who has contributed to several science table briefs. “The fact that it’s not like this snuck up on us. To me, that’s the strange part. It’s not like this came out of nowhere. It was quite predictable. I always say this about modelling: it’s not necessarily quantitatively right on, but the broad contours were there, and they were there since January.

“And as soon as we identified the B.1.1.7 variants, as soon as we saw that they had increased, projecting what would happen was predictable. You didn’t have to be a sophisticated mathematical modeller to make those conclusions. You could just draw a straight line — not a straight line, an exponentially increasing line.

“At this point of the pandemic, you don’t need models. You can look at the data in front of you and understand what’s happening. Or you should be able to understand what’s happening. That there’s this surprise and inability to understand what’s happening is the surprising part.”

We're in a really nasty place:

I hope the province is panicking because it might understand the worst is coming to pass. They can shift the vaccination plan to focus more on hot spots, which might mean mobile units at outbreak sites, might mean lowering the age limit in harder-hit postal codes, might mean pouring water on the hottest fires. That would be good.

But right now it’s clear there is no plan. There is just salvage.

Ford is a salesman. But he's no manager. A retired friend of mine comes from Cape Breton. He tells me there is a phrase there that describes Ford: "He can't manage a line to a two-hole outhouse."

This is when things get tough.

Image: Cottage Life

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Seeing Through The Code

For decades, Republicans talked in code. Welfare meant help to people of colour. Opposition to communism really stood for help to the military-industrial complex. Then they elected Donald Trump, who threw out the code and exposed the Republican agenda in all its ugliness. Now that Joe Biden is president, they've returned to talking in code. Consider their rejection of Biden's infrastructure bill. Paul  Krugman writes:

Their real motives aren’t a mystery. They want Biden to fail, just as they wanted President Barack Obama to fail, and will once again offer scorched-earth opposition to anything a Democratic president proposes. And they’re especially opposed to public programs that might prove popular, and thereby help legitimize activist government in voters’ minds.

But laying out those true motives wouldn’t play well with the electorate, so they’ve been looking for alternative attack lines. And in the past few days many Republicans seem to have settled on the claim that most of the proposed spending isn’t really infrastructure.

Being who they are, they can’t help going to ludicrous extremes, and their claims that only a few percent of the proposal is “real” infrastructure are easily debunked. The only way to get anywhere close to their numbers is to declare, bizarrely, that only pouring concrete for transportation counts, which means excluding spending on such essentials for a modern economy as clean water, reliable electricity, access to broadband and more.

The meaning of infrastructure has changed. It means much more than concrete -- and it includes several intangible things:

What you need to know is that the case for these intangible investments is every bit as strong as the case for repairing decaying roads and collapsing bridges. Indeed, if anything it’s even stronger.

True, back in the 1950s around 90 percent of business investment spending was on equipment and structures. But these days more than a third of business investment is spending on “intellectual property,” mainly R&D and purchases of software.

Businesses, then, believe that they can achieve real results by investing in technology — a view ratified by the stock market, which now puts a high value on companies with relatively few tangible assets. Can the government do the same thing? Yes, it can. In fact, the Obama administration did.

Investment in technology, especially in renewable energy, was only a small fraction of the Obama stimulus, but it’s the piece that got the worst rap. Remember how Republicans harped endlessly on how loan guarantees for the solar-power company Solyndra went bad?

And the Obama investment in green technology produced many successes. You’ve probably heard about Solyndra; have you heard about the crucial role played by a $465 million loan to a company named Tesla?

More broadly, the years since 2009 have been marked by spectacular progress in renewable energy, with solar and wind power in many cases now cheaper than electricity from fossil fuels. There are still people who seem to imagine that green energy is flaky hippie stuff, but the reality is that it’s the wave of the future.

What about spending on people, which accounts for hundreds of billions and will reportedly be the main focus of an additional proposal? There’s overwhelming evidence that this is a good idea.

The truth is that it’s hard to assess the payoff to spending on physical infrastructure, because we don’t get to observe the counterfactual — what would have happened if we didn’t build that bridge or road. We’ll only get really solid evidence on the value of physical investment if, as seems all too possible, some key pieces of our infrastructure collapse.

By contrast, we know a lot about the effects of investing in people, because some of our most important family-oriented programs, like food stamps, were rolled out gradually across America. This lets researchers compare the life trajectories of Americans who received early aid as children with those of otherwise similar Americans who didn’t.

The results are clear. Children who received early aid did better than those who didn’t by every measure: education, health, earnings. The social return on aid to families, especially children, turns out to be huge.

In the 1950s -- under Dwight Eisenhower -- Republicans built the Interstate Highway System. Then they fell asleep. Like Rip Van Winkle, they have awakened to find the world changed. But, unlike the Great Snorer, they refuse to recognize the changes. That's why they talk in code.

Image: Wikipedia

Monday, April 05, 2021

Why We Failed

We have been dealing with COVID for over a year now. It's clear that in  North America and Europe we've failed on several fronts. Andrew Nikiforuk writes:

Canada’s failures mirror what many critics call a “total system failure” in public health throughout North America and Europe.

In contrast, many East Asian countries — applying the lessons learned from SARS — acted quickly and were prepared.

Some of those failures go back a long way:

Established after the 2003-2004 SARS outbreak in Ontario, the Public Health Agency was originally staffed and run by scientists. It’s National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg contributed to the global fight against Ebola and other diseases, and was world-renowned.

But under Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, the government replaced scientific experts with political operatives and bureaucrats at the agency and other ministries. For example, it demoted the chief medical officer to the role of adviser and installed a president with no scientific background as head of the agency.

The Liberal government did not correct these changes or the trend to downgrade scientific capacity in the government.

In 2019, the Liberal government further undermined the Public Health Agency’s pandemic mandate by neutering the role and function of Global Public Health Intelligence Network because the government no longer considered pandemics a real threat to national security.

And  good people simply quit in frustration:

The Public Health Agency’s president, Tina Namiesniowski, resigned last November. And the head of the National Microbiology Lab, Matthew Gilmour, abruptly left the lab last May during the beginning of the pandemic.

Essentially six things went wrong:

1. Caught flatfooted on surveillance. The agency was not adequately prepared to respond to the pandemic, “and it underestimated the potential impact of the virus at the onset of the pandemic.”

2. Failure to practice responses ahead of time. Prior to COVID-19, the agency did not complete a test of the efficacy of its Federal/Provincial/Territorial Public Health Response Plan for Biological Events. It was going to simulate the impacts of an influenza pandemic.

3. No plan until pandemic was six months along. As a consequence of these failures, the agency didn’t complete a plan for the COVID-19 pandemic until August 2020 or six months after the declaration of a global pandemic.

4. No early alert. The agency’s Global Public Health Intelligence Network, whose job was to provide early warnings of viral trouble, did not issue an alert on COVID.

5. Misreading the COVID-19 threat. The federal government has launched an independent review of the effectiveness of the GPHIN and its contribution to public health intelligence domestically and internationally.

The Public Health Agency had a model for doing 24-hour rapid risk assessments on novel pathogens, but it had never been formally evaluated or approved. It rated COVID as a low risk.

6. Not making sure health measures were followed. In terms of border control, the auditor general found that the Public Health Agency “did not always meet the targets it set to verify whether travellers subject to the mandatory 14-day quarantine upon entering Canada were following the quarantine orders” between March 31 and June 30, 2020.

The lessons are everywhere. Whether we will learn from them is an open question.

Image: Forbes

Thursday, April 01, 2021

Not Alone

On Saturday, Ontario will go back into lockdown -- because Bruce Arthur writes, the Ford government can't do what is required:

Half-measures are how we got here. Ontario has taken the approach of poorly explained restrictions that exhaust the finite patience and trust of the public, but which only slow the pace of growth rather than actually stop the spread. This government has not understood that the best route to a healthy economy is public health, and that the longer you wait for decisive, sweeping action, the bigger the mess at the end.

And now the bill is coming due. Wednesday morning Ontario hit a new high for COVID-19 ICU patients, at 421, with case counts still rising at more than 2,000 per day. That number will continue to rise, because there is a two- to three-week lag between infection and the ICU, so a rise in cases is already baked in, and escalating ICU admissions are baked in behind that, which is one reason playing to hospital capacity — which this government was still doing early this week, boasting of field hospitals and ICU beds that may or may not have qualified staff — doesn’t work.

Four weeks would buy some time for the province’s shambolic vaccination program to deliver on increased supply. But over four weeks cases, and ICU admissions, will almost certainly keep growing for two of those weeks.

“A three-week circuit breaker could bring the cases back below 2,000, and it could result perhaps in a maximum in ICU at around 800, if we do it really well,” said Dr. Peter Juni, the scientific director of the province’s independent volunteer science table. “But we would need to go really hard. It's a combination of being smart and really stringent with the measures, distinguishing clearly between essential and non-essential, making sure workplaces are safe, at the same time being really smart about vaccinations. There's a lot within reach if we do it properly.”

But we continue to not do things properly:

“The answer is an answer that nobody wants to hear, which is you limit all non-essential activity,” says Dr. Ashleigh Tuite, an epidemiologist and modeller at the University of Toronto. “And we know it works. The thing is, it works while it’s in place, and once you relax it, cases are going to go up again. And that’s why the more structural changes, like paid sick leave, are so important, and why we keep finding ourselves back in the position that we are.

The bottom line for Ford is that it costs too much to do the right thing. He's not alone in that conviction.