Monday, January 31, 2022

An Enraged, Ignorant Minority

The protesters claim they want "freedom." But, Michael Harris writes:

What freedom is it that they are celebrating? Essentially, the freedom to disrupt and endanger the vast majority of their fellow citizens who know the difference between a public health crisis and a phoney political pose.

The overwhelming majority of Canadians favour vaccine mandates and believe that the unvaccinated are putting other people in peril. That’s why every party in the last federal election in Canada, with the exception of Maxime Bernier’s Peoples Party, stood for some form of vaccination compliance to help fight COVID-19.

The drivers in those trucks, allegedly hundreds of them, will no doubt turn Ottawa into a hot mess for as many days as they can. They have already disrupted the work of the 90 per cent of truckers who are vaccinated and just want to get on with the job; just as the unvaccinated are driving a pandemic that has killed thousands of people, and worn out a sizeable number of nurses and doctors in this country and in others.

This inane convoy should remind everyone of something—the idiots who interfered with health-care workers by conducting their ignorant anti-vaccine, anti-masking protests outside hospitals—even when it meant endangering patients. Some even surrounded the homes of those medical officers responsible for setting the restrictions to save lives from COVID-19.

There is an analogue for these folks:

that jackal-pack of Republican members of Congress and Senators who have also formed a tyranny of the minority by endorsing Trump’s Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen from him.

Those people, wittingly or unwittingly, came close to igniting a political coup in the United States last January. How crazy has the GOP become? Former House speaker Newt Gingrich has called for the jailing of those sitting on the Congressional committee investigating the insurrection at the Capitol. Newt could have been mayor of Salem when the big thing was burning witches.

One young woman on Parliament Hill proudly displayed her Trump flag. And, like Trump, the convoy offers a free pass to crazies:

The Freedom Convoy will bring out every chocolate-encrusted nut-bar in the country. Some of the worst elements in this disgraceful faux protest have made clear that they would like to essentially dissolve government. They are not patriots or champions of human rights. They are democracy-wreckers and spreaders of lies and disease. They are the tail-gate trying to wag the truck.

There are many words that describe them, But I am struck -- horrified -- by their ignorance:

Do they really think it is in anyone’s interest to go back and forth across the U.S. border unvaccinated and without masks? Do they really think it’s unreasonable to demand that anyone who does that must quarantine for 14 days when they come back to Canada from the U.S.?

Tired of the pandemic guys? Isn’t everyone? But the way to beat it isn’t turning a pandemic into a constitutional rights issue. The idiot fringe doesn’t have the right to issue death warrants to people who abide by the rules.

The United States has strict rules about foreigners entering their country during COVID-19. The Department of Homeland Security started with mandating that air travellers coming into the country had to be vaccinated. Then it extended that requirement to land crossings. So now, every Canadian who wants to cross into the U.S. must show proof of vaccination. Why should anyone be opposed to Canada following the same policy for the same reason—public safety?

They claim that they can "take over the government." It doesn't work that way. And, if it did, this enraged ignorant minority wouldn't like the place they called their own.

Image: Daily Hive

Sunday, January 30, 2022

A Sad History

This week, the United States Supreme Court takes up cases against the affirmative action programs at Harvard University and, my alma mater, the University of North Carolina. Paul Butler writes in The Washington Post:

I got into Yale University and then Harvard Law School because of affirmative action. Some 20 years later, in 2003, I needed Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor to hear my story, because she was expected to cast the deciding vote in two cases that would determine the constitutionality of considering diversity in university college admissions.

O’Connor was the commencement speaker that May at George Washington University Law School, where I was a tenured professor. The graduating students had elected me to receive an award for teaching and service, which meant I also would be offering brief remarks.

And so, taking the stage, I thanked the students for their award, and told them my achievements had been accomplished by virtue of my mother’s love, my own hard work — and affirmative action.

Four weeks later, O’Connor cast the deciding vote upholding the University of Michigan’s consideration of diversity in admissions to its law school. I take no credit, but I’m glad that I spoke up — and that there was somebody to speak up to.

The court has changed a great deal since O'Connor sat on it -- as the present battle over abortion rights clearly shows. Butler writes:

For more than 50 years, affirmative action has been one of the most successful racial justice interventions. Despite that fact — indeed, maybe because of it — it’s game over. The court would not have accepted the current cases unless it was clear that its right-wing ideologues finally have the votes to reverse the existing law.

Still, it’s important that beneficiaries of affirmative action acknowledge how it has improved our professional lives, to rebut the critique that diversity in admissions means that unqualified people get in, or that it stigmatizes Black students.

In fact, I believe my presence on campus, along with a critical mass of other Black and Brown students, was a benefit to the school. We provided an integral part of the education of our White colleagues. In my first year of law school, we read a case about the right to a hearing when welfare benefits are cut off. When the professor asked why this was important, a White woman said it probably wouldn’t make a difference in the outcome, but it would be “fun” for the person who had received the benefits. Black students schooled her that there’s nothing fun about pleading with government bureaucrats for adequate food and housing.

There are a great many Americans who have no idea how their non-white neighbours live. Every time people of colour take one step forward in the United States, their opponents reverse that progress by taking two steps back. Hence, after Barack Obama was elected, voters installed the Great Orange Boob.

A sad history indeed.

Image: The Washington Post

Saturday, January 29, 2022

The Truckers And Fox News

Fox News has picked up the story on the truckers convoy. Kieran Levitt writes in The Toronto Star:

The convoy has received substantial air time from U.S. right-wing outlets and big-name American political commentators on social media all week.

Some American media experts say the story fits a perfect mould for an audience in the United States that has been fed an anti-vaccine narrative for months by outlets such as Fox News looking to make Biden look bad and, in turn, Donald Trump look good.

In short: vaccines, restrictions and Biden — bad. Trump and “freedom” — good.

The website of Fox News’ Sean Hannity blasted out a story this week with the headline “TRUCK YEAH: Canada Forms Freedom Convoy of 10K Trucks to Protest Vax Mandates, ‘Overreach is Over.’”

Of course, the story is full of exaggerations:

The convoy, by official measurements, is a fraction of that 10,000-trucks figure that’s been floating around online (some have even suggested the number is as high as 50,000). Officials in Ottawa — where the protesters began to arrive Friday — have pegged it as being between 1,000 and 2,000 vehicles.

Police in Kingston, Ont., said Friday that the convoy leaving that city had 17 full tractor-trailers, 104 tractors without trailers, 424 passenger vehicles and six RVs. Another large convoy is expected to arrive from Western Canada by Saturday.

American podcaster Joe Rogan commented on the convoy, saying Canada was a “country in revolt” on a recent show. Elon Musk, the richest man in the world, declared that “Canadian truckers rule” on Twitter. Right-wing commentator Ben Shapiro has been posting articles on his Facebook page all week about the convoy.

“Canadian truckers are rightfully demonstrating against authoritarian vaccine mandates,” Shapiro said Tuesday.

There's a big piece of the story that isn't reported: "The Canadian Trucking Alliance has denounced the protest, stressing that almost 90 per cent of Canadian truckers have already been vaccinated. Still, the group says about 16,000 could be sidelined due to the vaccine mandate here and the corresponding one for truckers in the United States.)"

But these days, on the right, facts don't matter.


Image: The Toronto Star

Friday, January 28, 2022

Fools Parade

The truckers will arrive in Ottawa this evening. Along the way, they've picked up quite a lot of money. The CBC reports that there have been a lot of anonymous donors:

At least a third of the donations to the GoFundMe campaign set up to support the convoy of trucks headed to Ottawa to protest vaccine mandates came from anonymous sources or were attributed to fake names, according to an analysis by CBC News.

While thousands of Canadians and Canadian businesses have dipped into their pockets to fund the cause, thousands of other donors to the campaign are listed simply as "Anonymous."

As of 6:30 p.m. ET Thursday, six of the top 10 donations, all over $10,000, were listed as anonymous, including the single largest donation of $25,022.

While the campaign is fundraising for a Canadian political protest, some donations appear to have come from outside of Canada, based on comments left by donors on GoFundMe.

Some donations were made using the names of other people. Among the most common donor names listed on the GoFundMe site are Justin Trudeau, Sophie Trudeau and Theresa Tam — the name of Canada's chief public health officer.

It will not be a peaceful weekend in Ottawa:

Ottawa police are asking residents not to travel if they can avoid it this weekend, with "major traffic disruptions" expected in the downtown core. 

"If you have appointments, children in activities, are expecting food deliveries, please be prepared to adjust your plans," police tweeted. 

They say they'll do everything they "possibly can" to keep emergency lanes open and access to hospitals and health-care facilities intact.

Ottawa Public Health has closed its vaccine clinics at the University of Ottawa from Friday through Sunday and its Lowertown Neighbourhood Vaccine Hub will be closed on Friday.

The brain dead walk -- and drive trucks -- among us.

Image: CBC

Thursday, January 27, 2022

Breyer Retires

U.S.Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer has announced his retirement. Linda Greenhouse writes that he was the right man in the wrong age:

Justice Breyer’s belief in the power of facts, evidence and expertise was out of step in a postfactual age. The protections of the Voting Rights Act were no longer necessary in the South? The Constitution’s framers meant to give the populace an individual right to own a gun? Or, more recently, the federal agency charged with protecting American workers was likely powerless to protect the workplace from a deadly pandemic?

Really? Of course, Justice Breyer was on the losing side.

Observers of the court label Breyer a "pragmatist." Greenhouse disagrees:

Although the labels often affixed to Justice Breyer are “pragmatist” and “seeker of compromise,” it has always seemed to me that these, while not inaccurate, miss the mark. They discount the passion beneath the man’s cool and urbane persona, passion that I think stems from his early encounter with a court that understood the Constitution as an engine of progress.

That passion was obvious in his astonishing 21-minute oral dissent from the bench in 2007 from a school integration decision that, early in Chief Justice Roberts’s tenure, marked a significant turn away from the court’s commitment to ending segregation. The law professor Lani Guinier, in a famous article in The Harvard Law Review the next year, celebrated that dissent as “demosprudence,” a way of speaking law directly to the people in the expectation that they will then speak back to the lawmakers.

“I mean, there were three-quarters of a million new cases yesterday,” the justice said, his voice rising. “New cases. Nearly three-quarters — 700-and-some-odd thousand, OK?” He continued that the number was 10 times as high as when the Occupational Safety and Health Administration “put this rule in. The hospitals are today, yesterday, full, almost to the point of the maximum they’ve ever been in this disease, OK?”

Noting that the standard for granting an injunction of the sort the plaintiffs requested required a showing that the court’s intervention was in the public interest, he asked: “Is that what you’re doing now, to say it’s in the public interest in this situation to stop this vaccination rule, with nearly a million people — let me not exaggerate — nearly three-quarters of a million people, new cases every day? I mean, to me, I would find that unbelievable.”

Of course, that’s what the court did, and of course, Justice Breyer dissented.

Breyer's exit from the court is another reminder that we live in a dark, superstitious age.

Image: the New York Times

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Are EVs The Solution?

Electric vehicles are having a good run. But are they the solution to our energy problems? Andrew Nikiforuk is skeptical:

I reject the optimistic narrative for electric vehicles. Instead, here’s what I fear. EVs will end up simply adding to energy demand by vastly accelerating society’s embrace of automation and artificial intelligence.

My sense is that industries pushing electric cars are not so much concerned with slowing down extreme climate change as they are accelerating technological control over our lives — all under the guise of liberation. We’ve been groomed to accept this as inevitable progress. In 2015, Google engineer and ultra-techno-optimist Ray Kurzweil pronounced autonomous electric vehicles a sure thing that, as one article paraphrased, would “free us up to do something else instead of driving during the commute.”

Nikiforuk believes that EVs won't solve our emissions problems:

Passenger vehicles produce about 10 per cent of all global greenhouse gas emissions. Other forms of transportation collectively add another six per cent. Approximately 1.4 billion ICE vehicles now clog the world’s ever-expanding road system. Replacing every one of these old farts with electric wonders — even if such a scheme were possible — would only address 16 per cent of the carbon dioxide problem.

Actually, not even. Because if we assume all the new electric cars run on “renewable” energy such as wind or solar power, these systems require fossil fuels for their manufacture, installation and maintenance. In fact, it takes more carbon emissions to make an electric car than a conventional vehicle because of the energy intensity of battery manufacture. And of course electric cars run on roads made of and by fossil fuels.

But the problem is more complicated than that. Houston energy analyst Art Berman raises another neglected point. Transport is not the main use of ICEs. Of the 165 million internal combustion engines manufactured in 2020, less than half, 78 million, were destined for the road. Agriculture, manufacturing, power generation, forestry and construction accounted for the other 53 per cent, says Berman.

To complicate matters further, EVs require materials that need to be mined:

Replacing ICE cars with EV cars likely won’t radically reduce emissions, but these machines will energize and expand the globe’s energy intensive mining sector.

Last year the Paris-based International Energy Agency published a report on critical minerals needed for electric cars and renewables. The IEA, no radical organization, described the EV revolution as a “shift from a fuel-intensive to a material-intensive energy system.” In other words, buying an electric car just moves civilization’s ever-expanding industrial footprint from one kind of mining to another, from fracked well pads to open-pit mines.

About 10 per cent of the world’s energy spending now goes to the extraction of minerals. According to the IEA, the electric car requires six times the mineral inputs of a conventional vehicle. Most of these minerals go into the battery manufacturing. They include lithium, nickel, cobalt, manganese, copper and graphite. There are other minerals with names like neodymium, praseodymium, dysprosium and terbium.

According to the Geological Survey of Finland, “the production/consumption of industrial minerals increased by 144 per cent between 2000 and 2018.” An EV boom will accelerate that industrial assault on ecosystems around the world, creating, as the IEA notes, a host of environmental and social challenges. “The prospect of a rapid increase in demand for critical minerals — well above anything seen previously in most cases — raises huge questions about the availability and reliability of supply.” No kidding.

To make one tonne of lithium, mined in high and dry alpine places like Chile and Tibet, requires 500,000 gallons of water. Lithium mining is no more green or clean than hydraulic fracturing or bitumen mining. “Like any mining process, it is invasive, it scars the landscape, it destroys the water table and it pollutes the Earth and the local wells,” said Guillermo Gonzalez, a lithium battery expert from the University of Chile, as far back as 2009. “This isn’t a green solution — it’s not a solution at all.”

You see where this is going. The automobile industry is going electric. But that doesn't mean that the world will experience a green new day.


Tuesday, January 25, 2022

His Days Are Numbered

Erin O'Toole is a strange creature. He's a leader who doesn't act like a leader. Althia Raj writes:

Watching Erin O’Toole obfuscate with reporters Monday — on whether he supports a truck convoy protesting vaccination rules — laid bare the Conservative leader’s principal challenge. He desperately wants to avoid his predecessor’s mistakes but in doing so keeps making his own errors.

O’Toole was asked eight times, whether he stands with the so-called “freedom convoy,” the truckers making their way to Parliament to protest the mandatory vaccination of those crossing the border. (Since Jan. 15, unvaccinated Canadian drivers require pre-arrival COVID-19 testing and must quarantine upon their return. New American rules prevent them from re-entering the U.S.) Four times, O’Toole was asked if he would meet with them. He never gave a clear answer.

His response? Everyone — including truckers — should get vaccinated (but not via a mandate) and a “solution for our supply chain crisis” should be found. His proposal is a $333 to $666 break on Canada Pension Plan payments to make trips to the grocery store less painful.

He criticizes government policy. But refuses to take a clear position on anything:

I remembered former Conservative leader Andrew Scheer’s unfortunate appearance at the “United We Roll” rally, a similar convoy in 2019 that made its way to Ottawa, this one with oil and gas workers. It was billed as a pro-pipeline rally, but the group’s roots in the yellow-vest movement were apparent on the hill, where anti-immigration rhetoric was visible and Faith Goldy, a social media personality with white nationalist ties, addressed the crowd. Scheer’s office tried to defend his presence. Surely, O’Toole’s camp wanted to avoid that scenario. The new Tory leader has sought to paint a different picture of his party to mainstream Canadians and the possibility that the angry truckers may gather in ways similar to the last convoy must not be lost on him.

He knows why Andrew Scheer failed and does not want to draw comparisons with his predecessor. The result is public spinelessness:

O’Toole’s most pressing problem is his lack of clarity. When he stakes out positions, it’s not clear he’ll keep them (see: the type of Conservative he is, his defence of conscience rights, or MPs’ rights, or gun rights, or scrapping the CBC’s television service, or the carbon tax).

It’s not hard to communicate. But it is if you have no clarity on your position. O’Toole could have said he understands the truckers’ disappointment but doesn’t support their methods, of blocking roads and busy borders. He could have said he has no plans to meet with the group but would have liked the Liberals to negotiate with the U.S. a waiver for unvaccinated Canadian drivers. Or he could have said he agrees with his Alberta MP Garnett Genuis who tweeted that he stands with the truckers and called on Trudeau to end his “nonsensical vaccine vendetta.”

Being a leader is about taking positions and defending them. As O’Toole prepares to meet his caucus for the first time this year, perhaps he should ask himself why he wants to remain party leader, if he can’t bring himself to lead.

I continue to think that O'Toole's days are numbered.


Monday, January 24, 2022

When Will They Ever Learn?

Last week was a tough slog for politicians with an exaggerated sense of self. Michael Harris writes:

Take Jason Kenney, temporarily Alberta’s premier until next year’s election. He was already on a bullet-train to oblivion for a host of tawdry scandals and poor decisions, including botching the response to the pandemic. Remember, this is the guy who told Albertans that the summer of 2021 would be the best one ever. The CBC later reported that at least 129 people contracted COVID-19 at the 2021 Calgary Stampede. What fun.

Now his suspended justice minister Kaycee Madu has been outed for calling Edmonton’s  chief of police over a $300 traffic ticket he was given for driving through a school zone while on his cellphone.

Even deadbeat politicians understand that no justice minister and solicitor general can cross that line, and still maintain respect for the rule of law.  In another political time zone, back in 1990, Jean Charest had to resign as Brian Mulroney’s federal sports minister after calling a judge on behalf of a constituent. Even Kenney, who is programmed to trivialize his own missteps and those of his ministers, should have known that Madu had to go.

And then there was the carnival at 10 Downing Street:

The antics at No. 10 do not require an apology. They require a resignation. Members of Johnson’s own party have joined the political opposition in the view that the PM has to go.  But when you are above it all, when you play by your own rules, you never do the right thing.  You continue to abuse power in order to retain it.

And that is exactly what Johnson is doing. It has been widely reported that the PM has set party whips on any Conservatives who express criticism of the Boss. There is even a demand to investigate the claim that Tory MPs are being “blackmailed” into supporting Johnson. As one wag put it, Tories are fighting Tories like “ferrets in a sack.”  The Conservative Party could implode over this, but that’s okay with Johnson as long as he remains in the driver’s seat.

And, of course, there was the continuing saga of The Great Orange Boob south of the border:

In an 8-1 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court he had carefully stocked with conservative judges made a crucial ruling. The court rejected Trump’s bogus claim of executive privilege to hide the facts about Jan. 6 from Americans. The justices ordered that White House documents from the Trump  administration dealing with events leading up to the sacking of the Capitol be released to the congressional committee investigating the matter. With access to phone logs, emails, notes, draft speeches, and conversations, the Jan. 6 committee will be able to answer a critical question. Was the Trump White House a bystander to the insurrection?  Or was it orchestrating a coup?

There is a lesson there. But as Pete Seegar asked decades ago, "When will they ever learn?"


Sunday, January 23, 2022

Ignorant Of History

The filibuster is alive and well. And Joe Manchin has cited James Madison in his argument to keep it. James Bouie writes:

“Allowing one party to exert complete control in the Senate with only a simple majority will only pour fuel on the fire of political whiplash and dysfunction that is tearing this nation apart,” he said. “Contrary to what some have said, protecting the role of the minority — Democrat or Republican — has protected us from the volatile political swings that we have endured over the last 233 years.”

It's interesting to hear Manchin cite one of the authors of the American Constitution to defend something that was never in the constitution. Madison wrote that the Senate had two purposes:

 “These were first to protect the people against their rulers, secondly to protect the people against the transient impressions into which they themselves might be led.”

At no point in this discussion was there any talk of a filibuster (a word not yet in common use) or any principle of unlimited debate. Madison’s point was that the structure of the Senate itself — its long terms of office, indirect method of election and staggered times for choosing members — would do the work in question. “A necessary fence against this danger would be to select a portion of enlightened citizens, whose limited number and firmness might seasonably interpose against impetuous counsels.”

Here’s where things get a little complicated. When Manchin and other filibuster defenders speak of protecting the “minority” in Congress, they mean a partisan minority. “Democrat or Republican,” as he said. But no one in Philadelphia had any idea of political parties, much less a partisan minority. They didn’t exist and none of the framers thought they would.

When Madison speaks of a “minority” in the context of the Senate, he means an economic interest, not an organized political faction. “In all civilized Countries,” he says, “the people fall into different classes having a real or supposed difference of interests. There will be creditors & debtors, farmers, merchants & manufacturers. There will be particularly the distinction of rich & poor.”

The Republican Party is a clear partisan minority. And it's doing everything it can to entrench minority rule. Like a lot of Americans, Manchin is ignorant of his country's history.

Image: The New York Times

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Authoritarian Alberta

Taylor Lambert illustrates how Jason Kenney deals with his enemies:

When Jesse Drwiega won the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Award for Performing and Visual Arts in 2020, he was thrilled. The prestigious honour provided the 25-year-old actor, singer and dancer from Red Deer a $5,000 scholarship as he prepared to pursue his master’s in theatre studies.

Drwiega quickly realized what was going on.

A few days before, he’d received a call from an Alberta government official who’d asked him to re-record his video. Specifically, would Drwiega drop his brief mention of being disappointed with recent cuts to arts funding? The lieutenant-governor was going to be in attendance, and the government would prefer such views be deleted.

Drwiega had said no. He believed he had a right to respectfully express an opinion — especially given the ceremony was dedicated to students in the arts.

It had made him mad to have to stand his ground. And now, upon seeing himself all but erased from the event, anger gave way to shock.

Jason Kenney is involved in a full-throated attempt to erase reality:

This is a government that established the Canadian Energy Centre, better known as the “energy war room,” a propaganda machine for the fossil fuel industry.

It launched a public inquiry into foreign funding of environmental groups and industry critics, alleging a vast and probably criminal conspiracy that never was unearthed.

It unilaterally closed the office of the election commissioner while it was investigating Kenney’s victory in the 2017 UCP leadership race.

It introduced multiple pieces of legislation that experts say may violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, including laws empowering cabinet to make protesting illegal in arbitrary locations or letting people purchase memberships in political parties in someone else’s name without their permission or knowledge.

With an eye to the future, Kenney is radically reforming basic lessons taught to children, while dismissing experts who decry the new curriculum and undercutting the corps of educators who might resist such efforts.

And in this era when social media drives political discourse, Kenney’s “issues managers” aggressively hound critics of the government online, earning six-figure public salaries for their service.

If you're worried about what is happening south of the border, take a moment to consider what is happening in Alberta.

Image: The Tyee

Friday, January 21, 2022

Reason Over Passion

Inflation is surging. And Canadians -- naturally -- are worried. Heather Scoffield writes:

It’s not just that the price of apples and oranges is up well over six per cent and the cost of a fridge is almost 14 per cent higher than a year ago.

It’s that prices across the board are stubbornly high, wages are creeping up too, and now everyone is behaving as though too-high inflation will be here for the long haul.

Year over year, inflation was 4.8 per cent in December, the fastest pace for rising prices since September 1991, Statistics Canada reported Wednesday. Cars, home insurance, food and gasoline were what people noticed the most, although compared to November, gas prices were down.

Justin Trudeau didn't create the problem. And there's not much he can do about it -- for the moment:

The reasons? Mainly bad weather and supply chain dysfunctions, Statistics Canada said. For months now, most of the world has been struggling to deal with bottlenecks in supply chains that have been gummed up by pandemic restrictions and unpredictable surges in demand.

 At this moment,  however, Trudeau has to do something about managing expectations:

The Bank of Canada noted that employers and business owners were overwhelmingly thinking inflationary pressure is here to stay for a while.

“There’s still another shoe to drop,” says Scotiabank economist Rebekah Young.

The central bank’s quarterly survey of businesses showed that two-thirds of them believe inflation will stick above three per cent for the next two years. And 71 per cent believe they’ll be raising wages some time soon in order to deal with labour shortages and rising prices.

Those numbers are really high, and they suggest to economists that there’s a risk of an inflationary spiral. Higher wages feed more spending, which feeds higher prices.

COVID has made it hard to manage expectations. There's always a new variant around the corner. And, with each new variant, people get more and more cynical. Couple that with the flood of each new conspiracy theory, and any leader walks a tightrope.

One hopes that Justin remembers his father's motto: Reason Over Passion.

Image: Quotefancy

Thursday, January 20, 2022

A Tough Row To Hoe

Yesterday, Joe Biden held a very long press conference. For the most part, Jennifer Rubin was impressed. She writes:

President Biden, while marking the end of his first year in office on Wednesday, met a press corps anxious to paint him as a failure. While conceding that his voting rights bill and Build Back Better package have both stalled, Biden stuck to one core theme: The economy and the effort to crush the pandemic are improving because of his administration.

Many of the questions from reporters verged on self-parody. Fox News’s Peter Doocy comically asked why Biden is pulling the country so far to the left. (Disclosure: I’m an MSNBC contributor.) The right-wing outfit Newsmax asked about his mental fitness for the job. It seemed everything was his fault, from Republicans’ refusal to support virtually any proposal to the fight between airlines and telecom companies over 5G.

Faced with his stalled infrastructure bill and his failure to end the filibuster on his voting rights legislation, Biden said he was going to shift strategy:

While he argued that his BBB plan would have helped to address rising prices, such as for child care and prescription drugs, he recognized for the first time that the bill may need to broken into “big chunks.” While he initially denied that he was going to “scale back” his ambitions, this suggested he was doing just that. He speculated that investments in clean energy and universal pre-K might get through, but that an expanded child tax credit and free community college would not.

And he asked the key question: What are Republicans for? The simple answer is that they are for nothing, Instead, he bluntly assessed his opposition:

He also humorously needled the Senate minority leader. “I actually like Mitch McConnell … but he has one straightforward objective: Make sure there’s nothing that makes me look good … with the public at large.” Again, he asked: “What’s Mitch for?”

He did have some trouble answering questions on Russia. Vladimir Putin understands weakness, and he chooses targets that are weak. This would be the time for him to move in on Ukraine. We'll see how that turns out.

But, for the most part, Rubin believes Biden put in a strong performance. No doubt about it, though. He has a tough row to hoe.

Image: English Idioms And Slang Dictionary

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

BoJo's Troubles

Boris Johnson is in trouble. Andrew Mackasill and Guy Faulconbridge report that:

Johnson has repeatedly apologized for the parties and said that he was unaware of many of them. However, he attended what he said he thought was a work event on May 20, 2020 which revellers had been told to “bring their own booze”.

To trigger a leadership challenge, 54 of the 360 Conservative MPs in parliament must write letters of no confidence to the chairman of the party’s 1922 Committee. Eleven lawmakers of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party have have submitted letters of no confidence in him on Wednesday morning, the Telegraph reported.

As many as 20 Conservative lawmakers who won their seats at the last national election in 2019 plan to submit letters of no confidence in Johnson, the Telegraph reported. A handful of others have already said they had written such letters.

“Group of 2019 MPs to submit letters to try to hit threshold of 54 to trigger a contest,” BBC Political Editor Laura Kuenssberg said on Twitter. “They might hit 54.”

Johnson has always been an embarrassment. But, these days, it's one misstep after another:

Johnson on Tuesday denied an accusation by his former adviser that he had lied to parliament about a lockdown party, saying nobody had warned him the “bring your own booze” gathering might contravene COVID-19 rules.

He sidestepped questions about whether he would resign if proven he misled parliament, saying only that he wanted to wait for the outcome of an internal inquiry.

Opposition leaders have accused Johnson of being a serial liar and called on him to step down.

Downing Street lockdown parties – some held when ordinary people could not bid farewell in person to dying relatives – have undermined Johnson’s authority.

His own former spokeswoman resigned after she was captured laughing and joking on camera about how to cast a party if asked about it by reporters.

Such was the revelry in Downing Street at one event that staff went to a nearby supermarket to buy a suitcase of alcohol, spilled wine on carpets, and broke a swing used by the prime minister’s young son.

The Mirror said staff had even bought a wine fridge for Friday gatherings, events that were regularly observed by Johnson as he walked to his apartment in the building. 

It won't be long before the press will be referring to Boris as "Nero."


Tuesday, January 18, 2022

The Circular Firing Squad

The Democratic Party is forming a circular firing squad. Paul Waldman writes in  The Washington Post:

Faced with voting rights legislation felled by Sens. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema’s (D-Ariz.) devotion to the filibuster, Manchin’s destruction of the Build Back Better social infrastructure bill and the likelihood of losing the House in November, some of the more vulnerable Democrats are searching for anything that might convince the voters they ought to be returned to office.

You can understand their frustration. The House has done its job for the past year, passing one piece after another of the Democratic agenda, only to watch the bills die in the Senate. Perhaps it’s a tribute to a few members’ faith in the wisdom of the voters that they believe that if the public sees them trying hard to accomplish worthwhile things, they might be rewarded.

They're beginning to think that the Republicans will take back the House this year. But that doesn't have to happen:

Only two times in recent decades has the president’s party avoided a major defeat in a midterm election — and it wasn’t because the party delivered well-designed legislation that brought tangible benefits to the electorate, who then flocked to the polls in a show of gratitude.

If Democrats could come up with a really good reason for voters to hate Republicans and fear their return to power — and pound it relentlessly until November — it might motivate enough Democrats to get to the polls to avert disaster. But they haven’t done it yet.

And given the information which continues to come out about Donald Trump's attempted coup, they ought to be mad as hell. We'll see what happens.

Image: American Rhetoric

Monday, January 17, 2022

A Northern Trump


Susan Riley writes that Trumpism has infected Canadian politics:

Something strange has been happening in Canadian politics since the Trump contagion to the south. Voters elect a mostly reasonable, often affable, Member of Parliament only to discover, as they watch their MP climb the leadership ladder, that they are not so reasonable, not so affable after all. That, in fact, some are drifting rapidly from the centre to the fringe, even to tinfoil-hat territory.

Consider the case of Erin O'Toole:

It is evident, most recently, with Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, whose public appearances—tweets, videos, press conferences—have taken on an almost manic tone. One 40-second video has him bouncing around in front of the Parliament Buildings in -23 weather—“-37 in Yellowknife!”—accusing Liberal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault of threatening to shut down Canada’s energy sector in 18 months, leaving us all freezing in the dark.

First, Guilbeault could never achieve such a coup even if he tried. Governments move too slowly. Second, even the most ardent environmentalists acknowledge that renewables are not ready to replace fossil fuels that quickly. But, more important, OToole’s claim is not true—and he knew when he said it that it wasn’t true, as The Toronto Star’s Althia Raj underscores in a recent column.

What Guilbeault has vowed to do—elaborating on an international commitment first endorsed by Stephen Harper in 2009—is end federal subsidies to fossil fuel companies by 2023. It’s a tall order, but it is no sneak attack: it was promised in the Liberals’ election campaign and now, at last, they are preparing to deliver. In an interview with The Narwhal, Guilbeault mentioned “eliminating fossil fuels” in a list of his government’s ambitions, an obvious error (he had spoken previously of eliminating fossil fuel *subsidies*.)

As Raj reports, O’Toole publicly acknowledged the minister “made a mistake” in a Zoom presentation, before an unusually animated O’Toole made his video, distorting Guilbeault’s intention. The Conservative leader apparently doesn’t care, because that is the way politics works these days. Hysterical exaggerations, often flatly untrue, advanced without a shred of shame or remorse.

There's more of the same coming from O'Toole:

Consider the Conservative leader’s recent condemnation of Justin Trudeau for “normalizing lockdowns” and single-handedly bungling the management of the pandemic, by failing to provide rapid tests and PPE. By now, everyone knows that lockdowns are determined by provinces and not by Ottawa— indeed, premiers are more inclined to ignore federal suggestions than embrace them.

As to rapid tests, some will recall stories a year ago of millions of rapid tests gathering dust in provincial storerooms, of premiers, like British Columbia’s John Horgan, reluctant to use them because they were seen to be not as reliable as lab-based PCR tests. In fact, as Trudeau underscored last week, his government has sourced 425 million rapid tests overall. Some 85 million were delivered to provinces before December, and the Omicron onslaught, and another 35 million last month. And, as O’Toole must surely know, another 140 million are arriving now and being distributed.

There have been, and still are, shortages in some provinces, but the problem can hardly be laid at the feet of the federal government—certainly, not entirely—as anyone following the news knows. But this distortion is of a piece with O’Toole’s incoherence on the pandemic.

He and his wife are both vaccinated, after an early bout of COVID, and he regularly urges everyone to get their shots. He supports mandatory vaccines for the Canadian Armed Forces—as a veteran and proud defender of the military—yet is ambiguous about his own caucus, playing with words to hide the fact that there are some vaccine resisters in the Conservative ranks.

O’Toole also accuses the prime minister of characterizing all vaccine resisters as “racists” and worse, which is not what Trudeau said. In fact, he and O’Toole are in agreement that some who haven’t been vaccinated may be fearful, uninformed, or unable to manoeuvre the system. Trudeau’s target is the small minority of wilful resisters and protesters, with links to far-right movements who are also anti-immigrant, anti-feminist, and anti-government.

Just what we need: a Northern Trump.

Image: The Finacial Post

Thursday, January 13, 2022

So Are They All

The bug found its way into our house. My wife and I have been down with something. The doctor says that tests aren't available and we should assume that we've contracted OMICRON. It has not been pleasant. But we're thrice vaccinated and also vaccinated for the flu. If you haven't been vaccinated yet, you should assume that it's coming for you.

I awoke this morning to the news that Kevin McCarthy, like his colleague Jim Jordan, will not co-operate with the committee looking into the events of a year ago. No surprise there. In the words of Mark Antony, "He is an honourable man. So are they all -- honourable men."

Thursday, January 06, 2022

The Power Of A Lie

It's been a year since the attack on the American capitol. But here's a depressing number. Edward Keenan writes that:

One year after Jan. 6, 2021, only 55 per cent of Americans believe President Joe Biden legitimately won the election. That is depressingly close to the percentage of voters (51.3) who voted for Biden. Trump’s big lie, the one that inspired the insurrectionist assault on the Capitol a year ago, has prevailed against all evidence for a huge chunk of the public, including the roughly 75 per cent of Republicans who doubt the legitimacy of Biden’s presidency.

Trump himself has recast the Capitol riot as a glorious protest against the “real insurrection” that he says happened on election day, and has portrayed the rioters as martyrs and political prisoners. Most of the Republicans who seemed ready to abandon him in the aftermath of the Capitol storming have either come back to his side or fallen silent. Those like Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, who serve on the House of Representatives’ Jan. 6 commission and refuse to stop speaking about the danger of Trump’s culpability for that day, have been essentially exiled from the party.

As much as — or perhaps even more than — before, it is Trump’s party.

And, in the year since the attack, Republican state legislatures have been rewriting the rules about elections:

Republican-led state governments have been rewriting rules to further ensure majorities for themselves, to restrict voting in ways that seem likely to suppress Democratic constituencies, and to give partisan political figures power over federal election results and the authority to overturn them. Election authorities who stood up to Trump’s attempts to fraudulently overturn his election loss are being hounded out of office and replaced by Trump loyalists.

Keenan covered the attack for The Toronto Star:

A year ago, as I stood on the Capitol steps while the rioters rampaged, one of them said, “This could be the start of something.” Another replied, “Oh, it is. Today changes everything.” I wrote then that the change might be different than what they were expecting, that it might be the end of the indulgence of Trump.

One year later, it seems like the rioters were right. Their message has been embraced by many Americans, and their larger goals are now being pursued by other means. Their attack on the Capitol wasn’t the end of their attack on American democracy. And so the insurrection continues.

Never underestimate the power of a lie.

Image: AZ Quotes

Wednesday, January 05, 2022

While The Truth Is Putting On Its Shoes

The nutbars are loose and roaming the range. Stephen Mahar writes:

On Sept. 22, Shanon Sheppard of Halifax posted a video on Facebook to share terrible news with the world.

Sheppard, who comes across like a normal, worried mom in the video, says she hopes she can keep from crying. After she composes herself, she reveals the disturbing news she just learned from her daughter at school.

“One of her friends is now in critical care in hospital here in Halifax because her heart stopped right after she had a vaccine,” Sheppard says. “She’s not well right now. She can’t breathe. Her heart keeps stopping. She’s 13 years old—13 years old, and her heart stopped!”

Sheppard denounces Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston and chief medical officer Dr. Robert Strang for forcing a 13-year-old girl to be injected with a dangerous vaccine.

This was simply untrue. But, in Saskatoon, defeated People's Party candidate Mark Friesen picked it up:

Fresh from a fourth-place finish as a People’s Party of Canada (PPC) candidate in the federal election, he tweeted a link to Sheppard’s video along with his own video, filmed from behind the wheel of his truck.

“There are kids dropping like flies all over the world!” said Friesen, struggling to control his temper. “There are adults dropping like flies all over the world from this vaccine that you’ve now mandated! And the rest of you people, you just accept it because the government says so, because the f–king media says so, while we watch our kids die!”

Sheppard's video spread like a wildfire:

Hundreds of other people shared Sheppard’s video on Twitter. It went viral, getting more than 100,000 views on Facebook alone, before the platform took it down.

Such is the world we live in. “A lie can travel around the world and back again while the truth is putting on its shoes.” There is some argument about who said it. But it nonetheless remains true.

Image: Quotes Planet

Tuesday, January 04, 2022


One step forward and two steps backward. When it comes to COVID, that's the pattern. Ontario is once again repeating that pattern. Bruce Arthur writes:

Four days after the chief medical officer of health presented a plan to reopen physical schools, schools are back online for at least two weeks. Nineteen days after Premier Doug Ford said the province would not use lockdowns to defeat this wave, restaurants are closed again, bars, gyms, lots more.

It was too late and it might not matter enough, and we may not be able to tell just how much it does matter. Omicron could be so widespread that attempts to stop it are buckets in the ocean. Testing already crashed. There are a lot more cases than we see.

Premier Doug Ford looked shaken, like a man who had just gotten bad news; Ford then claimed he had made a decisive decision, three weeks after U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson had called this wave a tsunami. It wasn’t clear what exactly changed in the past four days, but something did.

What changed was the realization of just how transmissible the OMICRON variant is:

There was the hope Omicron would be mild, despite warnings about the comparative youth and immunity wall in South Africa, and despite a warning that Omicron needed to be 10 times as weak as Delta to make up for the speed of transmission. There was the worn old hope that cases would not translate to hospitalizations, and then that hospitalizations would not hit the ICU. Lagging indicators can lag slower, but they still lag.

And we did get lucky; just not lucky enough. The science table’s modelling in mid-December overshot Omicron’s severity, though it clearly explained why: that was the best data at the time. According to table scientific director Dr. Peter Jüni, Omicron appears at the moment to have 50 per cent of the hospitalization risk of Delta and 25 per cent of its ICU hazard. Vaccine protection against severe outcomes is holding and previous infection helps too. These are gifts.

But there are already too many cases, too fast. Monday’s 1,232 hospitalizations were triple the number from one week earlier. ICU admissions were 15 a week ago and 40 Sunday. Up to 10,000 non-emergency surgeries are being cancelled, including some heart and cancer surgeries; that should have been the line the province moved to preventively protect. Hospitals are already in crisis, with William Osler Health System calling its first pandemic-related Code Orange Monday and transferring patients to other hospitals for the first time in the Omicron wave. They won’t be alone for long.

It's not a case -- as the libertarians would have it -- of give me liberty or give me death. It's a case of give me enough hospital beds -- please.

We'll see if we'll have enough beds -- and enough people to staff them.

Image: Saanich News

Monday, January 03, 2022

Spinning Our Wheels

If you thought that 2021 was going to be a year of radical change, Susan Delacourt writes that you must be disappointed:

It has become a cliché to call 2021 the “Groundhog Day” year in Canadian politics, after the 1993 movie in which Bill Murray is condemned to live the same day over and over again. Actually, though, this year also appears inspired by another, earlier Murray appearance: a 1978 “Saturday Night Live” sketch called “The Thing That Wouldn’t Leave.”

A mock trailer for a horror movie, the piece featured a house guest (John Belushi) impossible to eject, no matter how many hints were dropped by Murray and a terror-struck Jane Curtin. Last year was kind of like that, beset with exit-averse things.

The big house guest who refused to leave was, of course, COVID. But several other issues are still front and centre as we enter 2022:

Then there were the various climate catastrophes; the fires in B.C. that burned for far too long, only to be replaced later in the year by torrential rains and floods that wouldn’t stop.

Politically, 2021 was the year that Trudeau couldn’t shake off minority government and none of the opposition leaders could trade their standings for better ones. Even Donald Trump is proving difficult to eject from American politics, not to mention the memory of the Jan. 6 rampage his supporters inflicted on the Capitol building in Washington. The lines from that SNL skit come to mind again: “A creature so rude, so inconsiderate, they thought it would never leave.”

Was it only two years ago that all the political parties embraced the word “forward,” inserting it in all their slogans and talking points? Thanks to all these things that won’t leave, however, much of politics has felt stuck in neutral, or even in reverse, in 2021.

Still, there have been a few big changes. The biggest is the vaccines:

When the year first kicked off, all of the talk around Parliament Hill revolved around access and availability of vaccines. Would Canada get enough doses, quickly enough to fight back the third wave?

"What are the Liberals doing to fix their deadly screw-ups and get us vaccines?” Conservative MP Michelle Rempel asked in the Commons in January 2021, in a very typical question for her party at the time. Only a month or so earlier, Rempel had floated the possibility that Canadians wouldn’t be fully vaccinated until 2030.

Eleven months and millions of vaccinated Canadians later — not to mention one federal election as well — it’s remarkable to see how that tune has changed on the opposition benches. The party that was crying out for more vaccinations at the beginning of 2021 has morphed into the party standing up for the liberty to be unvaccinated. For many, many weeks after the election, mystery surrounded how many Conservative MPs were vaccinated and who had opted out.

Officially, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole says he is staunchly in favour of vaccinations as the best way out of COVID. But whether O’Toole liked it or not, his own caucus is sprinkled with MPs who have been kicking up a fuss over mandatory vaccinations in Parliament and the right to keep their own vaccination status private.

Blame it on Mad Max, Delacourt writes. He's Erin O'Toole's real enemy.

That said, we can't spin our wheels forever. While Mother Nature is giving us a hard time, we need to remember that she abhors a vacuum.

Image: Edutopia