Saturday, December 31, 2022

Happy New Year

2022 has been a horrific year. The war in Ukraine raged for most of it. The number of deaths from COVID continued to rise. Millions of us continued to believe the most outrageous lies. And all of this has happened as the planet gets hotter.

Will 2023 be better? Let's hope so.

Happy New Year.

Image: Hindustan Times

Friday, December 30, 2022

It's About The Money

The talk in Washington these days is all about George Santos. Eugene Robinson writes:

After initial reporting by the New York Times, journalists have discovered that, basically, Santos’s whole life story — as he sold it to voters — is a lie. He did not attend the exclusive Horace Mann Prep school in the Bronx, according to school officials. He did not graduate from Baruch College, as he had claimed. He did not climb the ladder of Wall Street success via Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, as he boasted. He is not “a proud American Jew,” as he wrote in a campaign document seeking support from pro-Israel groups, but instead considers himself “Jew-ish, as in ‘ish.’” Which apparently means not being Jewish at all.

Those are just a few of the acknowledged or apparent lies Santos told. He presented himself as the made-for-television incarnation of the vitality and diversity the Republican Party would like to project: a handsome gay Latino man, wealthy and self-made, whose very existence refuted the charge that today’s GOP shamelessly panders to racism and bigotry.

Most Republicans have had nothing to say about Santos. But some have spoken out:

One exception is Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.), who defended him with tweets acknowledging that Santos lied but accusing “the left” of lying, too, although most of the examples she cited were not lies at all. “The left said George Floyd didn’t die of a drug overdose, they lied,” she wrote. Fact check: Floyd was murdered, and a jury convicted former police officer Derek Chauvin of the crime.

Santos is just another in a line of better-educated con men:

In today’s GOP, a leading figure such as Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) — a cum laude graduate of Princeton University and a magna cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School who clerked for Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist — routinely rails against smarty-pants “elites” who supposedly look down on regular folks like him.

Greene and others have shown that the way to prominence in the party is not through legislative or administrative accomplishments but via attention-grabbing displays of performative outrage. If you can “own the libs” on Fox News and on Twitter, you can raise a lot of campaign cash; and if you can raise tons of money, you can have tons of power. What does it matter if what you say has no grounding in fact? By the time you get called on it, you’re off to the next over-the-top statement.

For Republicans, it's not about the truth. It's about the money.

Image: CNBC

Thursday, December 29, 2022

What Have We Learned?

What has the pandemic taught us? Andre Picard writes:

For the longest time, we didn’t take viruses (and other pathogens that cause infectious disease outbreaks) all that seriously. Indeed, one of biomedicine’s most infamous and oft-quoted declarations is that “it is time to close the book on infectious diseases and declare the war against pestilence won.” But while the line itself is actually an urban legend – the man it was widely attributed to, former U.S. surgeon general Dr. William H. Stewart, never said it – the overconfident sentiment behind it is all too real, and all too common.

COVID-19, though, has been humbling. It has challenged many of our assumptions about viral illnesses. That a coronavirus, a type of virus that usually causes colds, could kill millions – 6.7 million deaths worldwide, by the official numbers – was unexpected. That the virus could leave countless more with potentially permanent sequelae in the form of long-COVID – even more so.

The mitigation measures that were undertaken, at least in the early days of the pandemic – such as lockdowns, working from home and masking – also created an unprecedented living laboratory that produced some eye-opening findings. By dramatically reducing social interaction, we all but eliminated influenza and other respiratory illnesses in 2020 and 2021. But they came back with a vengeance in 2022.

With all of this experience behind us, some of us have learned the wrong lesson:

Some have taken this to mean that getting infected with viruses is actually good for us, because it strengthens the immune system. This is one of the many ideas that has fallen under the too-broad, unscientific umbrella term of “immunity debt.” But this thinking is wrong. There is no evidence of any such “debt” that needs to be paid.

What is the right lesson?

The lesson is that we should not see infections as inevitable. We have tools to prevent them, from masking to vaccination, and we don’t use them effectively. At the very least, we can reduce harm by not letting viruses run wild.

Yet, flu vaccination rates are poor, even for those at highest risk, such as elders and young children. COVID-19 booster uptake has been middling.

The current “tripledemic” that is hammering children and filling up pediatric hospitals is also a reminder that no illness exists in isolation.

If anything, COVID-19 infections may have caused immune dysregulation that makes people (particularly children) more susceptible to other infections.

This may explain why Canadians are seeing not only surges in strep A (a bacterial infection that is usually mild), but also rare invasive cases that prove deadly. Same goes for the outbreaks of scarlet fever (also caused by strep A) and chickenpox we’ve seen in some countries.

Unfortunately, we can expect what is happening to children to happen among the elderly, another high-risk group. We are already seeing outbreaks of influenza, RSV and strep A in nursing homes, which have already been devastated by the pandemic.

In some ways, these more recent viral challenges have distracted us from the main event: COVID-19. While we largely returned to “pre-pandemic” normalcy this year, this has actually been the deadliest year yet for COVID-19; in 2022, Canada will surpass 17,000 deaths, more than the 14,642 deaths we recorded in 2020 or the 16,489 in 2021. A fifth wave of Omicron is just beginning.

So, what have we learned? First, viruses are not going away. And second, we have to use the tools we have -- over what could be a very long run -- to save lives.

Image: Britannica

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

One Nation Under Danielle Smith

Danielle Smith is arguing that Alberta is a nation. That's an argument Quebec has been making for a long time. But there are differences between the two provinces. Max Fawcett writes:

While Alberta has all the requisite feelings for nationhood, it’s badly lacking when it comes to the facts. There are no distinct linguistic or cultural characteristics that would clearly distinguish Alberta as a nation, unless you consider the hoser dialect from the mockumentary Fubar to be an accurate representation of the province as a whole.

Unlike Quebec, which existed long before Confederation and had a clearly defined political and legal tradition that set it apart from the rest of what would become Canada, Alberta was part of “Rupert’s Land,” an administrative territory signed over to the Hudson’s Bay Company by King Charles II. Eventually, that land was bought out by the newly formed country of Canada in 1869 for the princely sum of $1.5 million, and Alberta was carved out from it alongside Saskatchewan in 1905.

There is, however, one characteristic that both provinces share -- a seething sense of grievance:

As Alberta Sen. Paula Simons once said, “For better or worse, and often for worse, the culture of grievance is baked into the DNA of this province.”

 Things change, however, when a Conservative government is in power in Ottawa:

As political science professor Mike Medeiros wrote in a December 2021 piece for Policy Options, “Political movements that represent actual ‘nations’ do not care much about which party is heading the central government; they are more concerned with preserving and enlarging their autonomy.”

All of Canada's provinces jealously guard their constitutional backyards. But, in Alberta, a Liberal government in Ottawa becomes an existential threat.

Image: FlagMart Canada

Saturday, December 24, 2022

Happy Holidays

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hannukah -- or just being alive -- may there be fellowship at your table and warmth at your hearth -- as we all try our best to deal with this snowstorm.

Happy Holidays.

Image: CKDR

Friday, December 23, 2022

Lean And Hungry McCarthy

It was interesting to watch Kevin McCarthy's reaction to Volodymyr Zelinsky's address to Congress. Dana Milbank writes:

He stood at the floor leader’s desk, restlessly playing with the microphone. As Volodymyr Zelensky was about to enter the chamber, McCarthy checked his phone. As the adulation began, McCarthy clapped absently while chatting with Republican whip Steve Scalise (La.).

Zelensky told the rapt chamber that “your money is not charity” but “an investment in the global security and democracy that we handle in the most responsible way.” Lawmakers rose to applaud. McCarthy, who vows to probe Ukraine’s use of U.S. funds, froze in his chair before eventually lumbering to his feet.

Zelensky urged lawmakers to “ensure that America’s leadership remains solid, bicameral and bipartisan.” McCarthy again rose slowly, then quickly sat back down.

Zelensky called on Americans to “help us bring to justice everyone who started this unprovoked and criminal war.” McCarthy sat out the standing ovation, drumming his fingers.

“Let the world see that the United States are here,” Zelensky urged. McCarthy yawned.

Many in McCarthy's party are no friends of Zelinsky:

Most GOP lawmakers skipped the speech entirely, and a few in attendance — Lauren Boebert, Matt Gaetz, Tim Burchett — sat through it sulking. Other Republicans trashed Zelensky, calling him “the Ukrainian lobbyist” (Rep. Thomas Massie), “the shadow president” (Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene) and a “welfare queen” (Donald Trump Jr.).

McCarthy has a "lean and hungry" look about him. He has sold his soul to herd cats. As Shakespeare's Caesar warned, "such men are dangerous."

Image: Carolyn Kaster/AP

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Failure -- Pure And Simple

Andrew Nikiforuk has chronicled our failure to deal with COVID. The consequences have been disastrous:

As the pandemic evolves, the failure of current public health policies now shines clearer than a midnight star. The assumption that hybrid immunity — vaccines combined with infections — would end COVID’s relentless evolution has fed the pandemic, not starved it.

If getting infected, vaxxed, or vaxxed-plus-infected actually made us safe as COVID circulates, Canada wouldn’t be recording its highest death rate of nearly 20,000 this year.

Yes, COVID has vanquished more Canadians this year than in 2020 or 2021. And the virus has sent more Canadians to the hospital this year than in previous ones, too.

We have simply refused to do what we know works:

The solutions are not hard or onerous. They do not involve lockdowns.  Or even major rule changes.

The key is to simply and systematically reduce viral transmission with clear messages that get the job done to protect the general health of our citizens, children and elders.

Providing schools and work places with good ventilation and filtration is doable and even cheap, given that Canada has spent $9 billion on COVID hospitalization costs alone this year.

Why isn’t it happening?

Putting on a N95 mask or a respirator in public spaces radically reduces transmission and protects everyone. 

Why isn’t the government providing N95 masks for free to encourage their widespread use?

Isolating when sick, an old-fashioned courtesy, reduces the spread of disease.

Why did we abandon this basic communal kindness? 

Providing access to testing gives everyone information about viral movement and prevalence. It also invites proper treatment or respectful isolation. 

Why have we retreated from medical accountability?

Public health officials have a duty to advance health and serve the common good. They abandon that responsibility when they kowtow to the short-term needs of cowardly politicians with an eye only on election cycles and disease of power.

The reason we have not dealt with COVID is that there is a more viscous virus than COVID. It's called political cowardice.

Image: Quotefancy

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

The Petulant Oligarch

Elon Musk's meltdown reminds us -- yet again -- that we live in the Age of the Petulant Oligarch. Paul Krugman writes:

As The Times’s Kevin Roose recently pointed out, Musk still has many admirers in the technology world. They see him not as a whiny brat but as someone who understands how the world should be run — an ideology the writer John Ganz calls bossism, a belief that the big people shouldn’t have to answer to, or even face criticism from, the little people. And adherents of that ideology clearly have a lot of power, even if that power doesn’t yet extend to protecting the likes of Musk from getting booed in public.

How did we get here?

It’s not really a surprise that technological progress and rising gross domestic product haven’t created a happy, equitable society; downbeat visions of the future have been staples of both serious analysis and popular culture for as long as I can remember. But both social critics like John Kenneth Galbraith and speculative writers like William Gibson generally imagined corporatist dystopias that suppressed individuality — not societies dominated by thin-skinned egomaniac plutocrats acting out their insecurities in public view.

Part of the answer, surely, is the sheer scale of wealth concentration at the top. Even before the Twitter fiasco, many people were comparing Elon Musk to Howard Hughes in his declining years. But Hughes’s wealth, even measured in today’s dollars, was trivial compared with Musk’s, even after the recent plunge in Tesla stock. More generally, the best available estimates say that the top 0.00001 percent’s share of total wealth today is almost 10 times what it was four decades ago. And the immense wealth of the modern super-elite has surely brought a lot of power, including the power to act childishly.

Beyond that, many of the superrich, who as a class used to be mostly secretive, have become celebrities instead. The archetype of the innovator who gets rich while changing the world isn’t new; it goes back at least as far as Thomas Edison. But the big fortunes made in information technology turned this narrative into a full-blown cult, with wannabe or seem-to-be Steve Jobs types everywhere you look.

Indeed, the cult of the genius entrepreneur has played a large role in the rolling debacle that is crypto. Sam Bankman-Fried of FTX wasn’t selling a real product nor, as far as anyone can tell, are those of his former competitors who haven’t yet gone bankrupt: After all this time, nobody has come up with significant real-world uses for cryptocurrency other than money-laundering. What Bankman-Fried was selling, instead, was an image, that of the mussy-haired, scruffily dressed visionary who grasps the future in a way normies can’t.

Elon Musk isn’t in quite the same category. His companies produce cars that actually drive and rockets that actually fly. But the sales and especially the market value of his companies surely depend at least in part on the strength of his personal brand, which he can’t seem to help himself from trashing ever more with each passing day.

Put bluntly, it comes down to this: the concentration of wealth encourages corruption.

Image: Vanity Fair

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Fraud Is His Middle Name

Yesterday, the January 6th Committee referred Donald Trump to the justice department on four charges. Of the four, Eugene Robinson writes, Trump's attempt to "defraud the United States" is the most obvious and easy to understand:

The fraud allegation relates mostly to a deceitful attempt to field slates of fake electors to reverse the result of the 2020 election. More broadly, however: What has Trump’s entire political career been but a great big fraud?

Start at the beginning. Before 2009, Trump was a Democrat who generally supported the party’s positions on issues such as abortion. It was only in 2012, just a decade ago, that he began seriously seeking to amass power within the Republican Party — and changing, or pretending to change, his views on social issues accordingly.

He needed to win support from evangelicals, an important GOP constituency, so when he campaigned for the presidency in 2015, he called the Bible his “favorite book” but was unable to cite any verses. In 2016, he visited Liberty University, a conservative school founded by Jerry Falwell, and did quote a verse from Second Corinthians about liberty but absurdly referred to the book as “Two Corinthians.”

When he launched his 2016 presidential bid, he claimed that since he was so wealthy, he would self-finance his campaign — and thus not be beholden to special interests. He did spend some of his own money, but only about a fifth of the total expenditures he reported to the Federal Election Commission came from his own pocket. The rest he raised from donors big and small, including low-income supporters for whom giving any amount of money was a stretch.

While president, he operated a gaudy hotel in Washington on Pennsylvania Avenue, just blocks from the White House. Foreign governments seeking favor and influence spent more than $750,000 at that hotel during Trump’s term in office. And the Secret Service spent more than $1.4 million staying at Trump properties over four years, facing nightly rates as high as $1,185 per room.

The money grift continues. This year, Trump formed a “Save America” political action committee that raised an estimated $100 million, mostly by constantly dunning small-dollar donors. Trump gave the impression that the money would be used to help Republicans in the November midterm elections, but even his handpicked candidates received no more than a trickle of cash. In Georgia, defeated GOP Senate nominee Herschel Walker’s campaign accused Trump of “deceptive fundraising.”

Just last week, Trump ballyhooed a “major announcement” that turned out to be the sale of kitschy digital trading cards of him photoshopped as an astronaut, an Old West sheriff, a superhero and other macho personas. The video of Trump announcing this NFT collection would have made the cheesiest late-night infomercial pitchman blush. And the $99 that each gullible purchaser sent in went not to any political cause but to Trump himself. Even Trump’s longtime ally, Stephen K. Bannon, watched Trump’s spiel and moaned, “Make it stop.”

Trump's middle name is John. The truth is that Fraud should be his middle name.

Image: Province Of Manitoba

Monday, December 19, 2022

Do They Understand?

During the recent by-election in Mississauga-Lakeshore, Pierre Poilievre was nowhere to be seen. Michael Harris asks:

Where was Pierre Poilievre when his candidate needed him?

Perhaps he was on YouTube preaching to the converted. 

Or going for a stroll wearing his ‘Tarsands Strong’ hoodie. 

Maybe he was preparing a draft of the pink slip for Tiff Macklem, to be delivered to the governor of the Bank of Canada should Poilievre ever become prime minister. 

He might even have been reviewing his investment portfolio, to see if he had sunk a bit too much into cryptocurrency, you know, that great hedge against inflation. A financial commentator on CNN described the virtual money differently: the biggest Ponzi scheme in history.

This is a politician who claims to fight for the little guy. That is exactly what his candidate was in this by-election, a rookie underdog going up against a savvy veteran, the former finance minister of Ontario. 

Last time around, the Conservatives lost by six points. This time they lost by fourteen:

The same Poilievre who shook all those hands during the leadership race and bragged about it didn’t knock on a single door in Mississauga-Lakeshore. 

Remember, Poilievre won the lion’s share of the votes in Mississauga-Lakeshore during the Conservative leadership race. As Konrad Yakabuski wondered in The Globe and Mail, where were the hordes of new and enthusiastic Tories Poilievre signed up for that race? They certainly weren’t at the polls to save their candidate from getting waxed. 

When the auditor general points out the small matter of $27-billion of dubious COVID payouts that should be investigated, and the government reacts with a yawn, you would think that would give the Conservatives an advantage. Instead, the party bombed in its first electoral test under its new leader, just as disqualified leadership candidate Patrick Brown predicted it would, if the CPC made the hard-right turn to Poilievre as leader.

Voter turnout was just 25 per cent. There are two interesting things about that. Under normal circumstances, the CPC wins when the turnout is low. This time they were crushed. NDP votes appeared to go to the Liberals.

And then there is this. Is it possible that voters here didn’t show much interest in punishing the government because they don’t see the problems they are facing as nation? Inflation is not made in Canada, and supply lines have been disrupted everywhere. The current dismal situation is a global phenomenon that no one national leader can either fix or be blamed for. 

If that is true, and if that perception were to hold in other ridings, the CPC dream of riding aggrieved suburban voters across the land back into power will be dashed. The strategy of claiming everything is broken and just one person, Justin Trudeau, is responsible, will prove as empty as it is intellectually dishonest. Trudeau’s message that Canadians stick together in tough times, backed by their government, might just have more resonance than trying to make cheap political points out of universal hard times.

The Conservatives made a mistake when they chose Poilievre. Do they really understand the mistake they made?

Image: Macleans

Sunday, December 18, 2022

Labour On the Rise

Unions are on the rise. And, Linda McQuaig writes, we need to remember what unions have given us:

The public doesn’t usually warm to the notion of labour militancy — until reminded that, without it, weekends would be a lot shorter, or maybe not exist at all.

The truth is labour militancy has benefited all of us. It was instrumental in attaining the weekend, the eight-hour workday, the end of child labour, public pensions and public health care, and countless other gains that have dramatically improved the lives of working people and the broader public.

It’s worth keeping this connection in mind as the union movement — sidelined and subdued for decades — is finding its sea-legs and starting to reassert itself.

Doug Ford has done a lot to help labour find its sea-legs:

Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s overreach — in picking on lowly paid education workers and using the soft-touch skills of an axe murderer in invoking the Constitution’s notwithstanding clause — helped CUPE win over the public, unite the labour movement and convince Ford he had no option but retreat.

There will, of course, be a backlash:

Commentators are remarkably quick to depict striking workers as holding the public hostage, while never noticing that business interests routinely hold us hostage when they threaten to leave the country if their taxes are raised.

In the case of such business threats, we’re told that the only answer is to submit to the demands of the hostage-takers and keep their taxes low. In the case of workers, however, we’re told never to give in to hostage-takers — it only encourages them.

In fact, wage gains have not been a major source of recent inflation, while corporations have taken advantage of inflation to pad their profits, notes economist Jim Stanford, director of the Centre for Future Work.

Even so, Bank of Canada governor Tiff Macklem has singled out workers for discipline, advising businesspeople at a Canadian Federation of Independent Business event last summer to hold wage increases in check. The audience seemed only too happy to oblige. “You bet! We’re on it, sir!”

But the fight is not just about wages. There are fundamental changes in the works:

While white men continue to dominate the corporate world, women and minorities have surged into leadership roles in the union movement, where there’s an appetite for breaking down traditional power structures.

Labour’s role in these battles is key. It is the only force in society sufficiently strong and organized to effectively champion the broad interests of working people, while pushing back against the crushing weight of corporate power.

Labour takes on these battles because equality — improving conditions for everyone — is baked into its agenda.

As J.S. Woodsworth proclaimed, "“What we desire for ourselves, we wish for all.”

Image: AZ Quotes

Saturday, December 17, 2022

Money And Mental Illness


Elon Musk has suspended several journalists from Twitter. Paul Farhi writes:

Many of the journalists suspended Thursday, including Washington Post technology reporter Drew Harwell, had been covering that rule change, as well as Musk’s claims that he and his family had been endangered by location sharing.

Musk suggested on Twitter, without evidence, that the journalists had revealed private information about his family, known as doxing. “Criticizing me all day long is totally fine, but doxxing my real-time location and endangering my family is not,” he tweeted late Thursday.

At least eight other journalists were suspended the same evening, including New York Times technology reporter Ryan Mac.

CNN reporter Donie O’Sullivan was suspended shortly after posting a tweet about Musk’s claim that a “crazy stalker” had chased his young son in Los Angeles, according to screenshots.

Matt Binder, a Mashable reporter, was tweeting about O’Sullivan’s suspension when his account also went dark.

Independent journalist Tony Webster’s account was also suspended as of Thursday evening. So were the accounts of former MSNBC host Keith Olbermann; Intercept reporter Micah Lee; Voice of America’s chief national correspondent Steve Herman; and Aaron Rupar, a Substack writer with nearly 800,000 followers on Twitter.

This has happened at the same time Donald Trump has launched his latest business venture: selling Pokemon cards of himself clad as a superhero who vanquishes his enemies.

We've known for a long time that money is a catalyst for corruption. It appears that it's also a catalyst for mental illness.

Image: YouTube

Friday, December 16, 2022

A New Nutbar

Polls suggest that Donald Trump's popularity is waning and that Ron DeSantis' star is on the rise. Paul Krugman writes:

Anyone imagining DeSantis as a more sensible, saner figure than Trump — a right-wing populist without the reality-denying paranoia — is delusional. DeSantis hasn’t gone down all the same rabbit holes as Trump, but he has gone down some of his own, and his descent has been just as deep.

Above all, DeSantis is increasingly making himself the face of vaccine conspiracy theories, which have turned a medical miracle into a source of bitter partisan division and have contributed to thousands of unnecessary deaths.

The vaccine story is truly remarkable:

In the spring of 2020 the U.S. government initiated Operation Warp Speed, a public-private partnership intended to develop effective vaccines against the coronavirus as quickly as possible. The effort succeeded: By December 2020, far sooner than almost anyone had imagined possible, vaccinations were underway. (I received my first shot the next month, on Jan. 28, 2021.) And yes, this was a success for the Trump administration.

Have the vaccines worked? And how. There are multiple ways to evaluate their lifesaving effect, but I’m especially taken with a simple approach promoted by the analyst Charles Gaba, who looks at the correlation across U.S. counties between vaccination rates and Covid death rates. Between May 2021, when two-dose vaccinations first became widespread, and September 2022 the least-vaccinated 10 percent of counties suffered a death rate more than three times as high as the most-vaccinated.

Now, you may have heard that at this point deaths among vaccinated Americans are exceeding those among the unvaccinated, which is true. But that’s partly because most deaths are among the elderly, who are overwhelmingly vaccinated; very few Americans have received no shots; and not enough vaccinated people are getting booster shots.

But why are some U.S. counties so much less vaccinated than others? The answer, as Gaba shows, is partisanship: There’s a startlingly close relationship between the share of a county’s voters who supported Trump in 2020 and the percentage of that county’s residents who haven’t received their shots — and the percentage who have died from Covid.

You can, by the way, see the same patterns at the level of whole states. For example, although New York was hit hard in the first months of the pandemic (before we knew how the coronavirus spread or what precautions to take), since May 2021 more than twice as many people have died of Covid in Florida than in New York. Even taking Florida’s slightly larger and much older population into account, that’s thousands of excess deaths in the Sunshine State.

And the governor of the Sunshine State

announced on Tuesday that he was forming a state committee to counter federal health policy recommendations — and asking for a grand jury investigation into unspecified “crimes and misdemeanors” related to coronavirus vaccines.

I doubt that anyone believes that DeSantis knows or cares about the scientific evidence here. What he’s doing instead is catering to a Republican base that equates listening to experts, on public health or anything else, with “wokeness,” and demonizes anyone saying things it doesn’t want to hear.

As far as I can tell, DeSantis hasn’t joined the likes of Elon Musk in calling for the prosecution of Anthony Fauci, who led America’s Covid response. But he has called Fauci a “little elf” and said that we should “chuck him across the Potomac.” (Presidential!)

Now, will DeSantis’s attempt to position himself as the leader of the anti-vax movement and give at least tacit approval to conspiracy theories actually endear him to the Republican base? Again, I don’t know. Even if it does, I suspect that it will hurt him in the general election if he does become the nominee: Vaccine paranoia and Fauci hatred are still niche positions in the electorate at large.

But anyone who imagines that replacing Trump with DeSantis as the G.O.P.’s leader would signal a party on its way to becoming sane again is in for a rude shock.

It would simply be replacing an old nutbar with a new nutbar.

Image: NPR

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Biden's Way

When it comes to the American economy, things are going Joe Biden's way. Jennifer Rubin writes:

The Post reports: “Prices cooled again in November, rising 7.1 percent compared with last year, the smallest year-over-year increase since last December. They also climbed 0.1 percent over October, beating analysts’ expectations.” In addition, core inflation rose only 0.2 percent, “the smallest increase since August 2021, according to data released Tuesday morning by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.”

The Republicans ran on an apocalyptic economic vision during the midterms. But that vision -- like so much else Republicans spout these days -- was simply false:

President Biden on Tuesday took the opportunity to boast about the data: “In a world where inflation is rising at double digits in many major economies around the world, inflation is coming down in America.” He argued that this served as proof that “our economic plan is working.”

Biden also highlighted the 10.5 million jobs added during his presidency, including 750,000 in manufacturing. And he laid out his goals for the economy, which now seem attainable: “Get price increases under control without choking off economic growth; bring inflation down while keeping our labor market resilient; build an economy from the bottom up and the middle out.”

According to GOP gospel, all of that pandemic spending was a mistake, and Biden was steering the U.S. economy into a recession. Oh, and according to Republicans, Biden was somehow to blame for skyrocketing gas prices.

So where does that leave Republicans? All they have left is a seething need for revenge. And that is what they have wanted all along.

Image: Power Thesaurus

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

How Smart Is He?

How is Pierre Poilievre doing? If the recent byelection in suburban Toronto is a signal, you'd have to say, "Not well." Max Fawcett writes:

Mississauga-Lakeshore is a suburban Ontario riding the CPC won under Stephen Harper’s leadership in 2011 and Poilievre absolutely must win if he wants to form the next federal government. This time, his side lost by 14 points — more than double the six-point defeat it suffered in the 2021 federal election. The CPC’s poor showing is all the more striking in light of the current political environment, one that’s dominated by inflation, rising interest rates and other economic dynamics that should hurt the incumbent party. “Yup, the Poilievre message is really resonating in suburban Ontario,” Globe and Mail columnist Andrew Coyne tweeted sarcastically.

As former Trudeau pollster Dan Arnold noted, the Liberal vote share was higher in the byelection (and remember, byelections tend to be terrible for incumbent party candidates) than in 2021, 2019 or 2015 — and higher than Sousa, a former Ontario Liberal finance minister, ever got in a provincial election. “As for Poilievre,” Arnold wrote, “he did succeed in collapsing the PPC vote, but will come in with lower vote share than (former CPC leader) Erin O'Toole did in 2021. He's right around (former CPC leader Andrew) Scheer's 2019 total.”

Will Poilievre learn from this experience? Time will tell. And Poilievre does have time to learn. There are two obvious lessons to be learned:

Chief among those is the reality that what works for a leadership race — a steady diet of well-seasoned political red meat — doesn’t suit the appetites of the general electorate. YouTube videos about lumber and cryptocurrency may fire up his young male supporters within the Conservative Party of Canada, but they seem far less effective at motivating less ideologically strident voters. Not everyone is on Twitter or YouTube, and page views aren’t the same thing as votes — especially when many of those views can come from outside our borders.

An even bigger lesson revolves around his approach to dealing with the mainstream media. Picking fights with the media may fire up the base, delight your donors and help you control your message, but they also make it much harder to reach people who aren’t already invested in your politics. And yet, Poilievre seemed determined to ice out major media outlets in the course of campaigning for Mississauga-Lakeshore.

This sort of narrowcasting media relations strategy may have worked in an internal party race, especially one where hatred of the “mainstream media” is practically an article of faith. But as the byelection blowout shows, it’s far less effective when you have to contend with non-conservative voters and the media outlets they rely upon.

Will Poilievre and Co. learn these lessons?

It will be tempting for them to blame the mainstream media, attack the subsidies those outlets receive from government and suggest the solution lies in defunding news organizations and the CBC. The Liberals, for their part, probably wouldn’t mind seeing the Conservatives go down this road, given that it looks an awful lot like the same intellectual dead-end Scheer proudly steered into during his last speech as CPC leader.

If Poilievre’s people don’t want him to become the second coming of Scheer, they’ll need to find a way to engage more constructively with people outside their partisan bubble. That will almost certainly mean opening him up more to the mainstream media and the Parliamentary Press Gallery and finding a way to turn a toxic relationship into a conventionally adversarial one. If they don’t, they risk turning Justin Trudeau into a four-time prime minister — perhaps even one with a new majority mandate.

So we're left with the question: Just how smart is Pierre Poilievre?

Image: The Toronto Star

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Musk's Stupidity

There are several myths floating in the ether these days. One of them is the notion that the amount of wealth one accumulates is a reliable measure of intelligence. Elon Musk puts the lie to that notion. Greg Sargeant writes:

Over the weekend, Elon Musk called for the prosecution of Anthony S. Fauci, the leading infectious-disease expert in the Biden administration. “My pronouns are Prosecute/Fauci,” Musk tweeted, mocking transgender people for good measure. Musk then endorsed a complicated right-wing conspiracy theory about Fauci’s role in the covid-19 pandemic.

This sort of info-warring, at bottom, is what characterizes Musk’s transformation into the world’s richest right-wing troll. Tons of pixels have been wasted on efforts to pin down Musk’s true beliefs, but whatever they are, we can say right now that he’s consciously exploiting fundamental features of the right-wing information ecosystem.

In his attack, Musk flatly validated a big right-wing obsession: The idea that Fauci was involved in U.S. government funding of controversial early research into covid, and lied to Congress about it. As The Post’s Glenn Kessler demonstrated, this is a highly complex dispute, but there are zero grounds for concluding anything remotely like that happened. Musk’s claim is at best profoundly irresponsible and at worst straight-up disinformation.

Forty years ago, Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner advanced the idea that there are eight different types of intelligence -- spatial intelligence, bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, musical intelligence, linguistic intelligence, logical-mathematical intelligence, interpersonal intelligence, intrapersonal intelligence, and naturalistic intelligence. 

Clearly, Musk possesses significant mathematical and spatial skills. However, in several other categories, he's a mental midget.

Image: Angela Weiss and Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Monday, December 12, 2022

Who Taught Her History?

Danielle Smith believes that the federal government should be -- in Pierre Trudeau's words -- the "headwaiter to the provinces" She claims that:

“The way our country works is that we are a federation of sovereign, independent jurisdictions. They are one of those signatories to the Constitution and the rest of us, as signatories to the Constitution, have a right to exercise our sovereign powers in our own areas of jurisdiction.”

Smith is either ignorant of -- or she is misreading -- Canadian history. Graham Thomson writes:

Smith may have been confusing Canada with the European Union or perhaps the United States of 200 years ago. This is not how Canada works.

In fact, our country was deliberately drawn up with a strong federal government as an inoculation against the kind of division that led to the American Civil War.

But that doesn’t matter to Smith or her supporters who appreciate the freeman-on-the-land vibe when it comes to dealing with the much-hated Justin Trudeau.

Smith has set a trap and she assumes that others will take the bait:

The act is indeed part of a political game, one Smith is trying to play against the rest of Canada through the federal government, and against Alberta’s NDP ahead of the province’s general election May 29.

In a year-end interview, Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley said she’s afraid Smith’s act could lead to copycat legislation from other populist premiers, harming Alberta and the entire country.

“We are a landlocked province whose economic frame is very much based on exporting out of our province and these guys are completely oblivious to the fact that should Danielle Smith actually be remotely successful with some of the things she claims she’s seeking to achieve through this opportunity, it could easily be used by other provinces. Then we risk further fragmenting our nation, further gumming up big ideas and big efforts to grow.

It will hurt the country.”

Smith's legislation will work its way through the courts. And Albertans will have their say in an election in May of next year. We'll see what happens.

Image: Toronto Star

Sunday, December 11, 2022

Trudeau's Pandemic Spending

Pierre Poilievre rails about the money the Trudeau government spent during the pandemic. And there were problems. Max Fawcett writes that the auditor general has pinpointed:

$4.6 billion in payments to people who weren’t eligible for the programs they tapped, along with a further $27.4 billion that went to businesses or individuals that auditor general Karen Hogan says deserve further scrutiny. “I am concerned about the lack of rigour on post-payment verifications and collection activities,” she said in a news release.

But, overall, Hogan's report:

also speaks to how successful the federal government’s COVID-19 support programs were, given the speed at which they were deployed and the uncertain environment in which they were created and refined. As it notes: “Within weeks, many programs were up and running. Historically, programs of this size would have taken months, if not years, to roll out.”

That speed necessarily raised the risk of giving money to people or businesses that didn’t need it, and the $32 billion the report identifies as potential overpayments to individuals and businesses are obviously a problem. But they pale in comparison to the rampant fraud that took place in the United States, where an estimated 10 per cent of the $800-billion Paycheck Protection Program was literally stolen — along with as much as $400 billion from the $900 billion COVID unemployment relief program and another $78 billion in so-called “Economic Injury Disaster Loans.”

As Carleton University professor Jennifer Robson pointed out, the $4.6 billion in overpayments to individuals amounts to a four per cent overall rate — not great, but not that much different from the one per cent overpayment rate the Employment Insurance program reported in 2019. “I’m having a hard time seeing this as scandalous when the rules to get CERB/recovery benefits were so pared down, by necessity for speed/ease (which the AG acknowledges), and with consent of Parliament,” Robson tweeted.

She wasn’t the only one refusing to clutch her pearls on the subject. As Laval economist Stephen Gordon said in his own tweet, “If someone from the future had visited me in April 2020 and told me that two years later, the most pressing economic concern in Canada would be an overheating economy and inflation, I would have been ecstatic. That was the *good news* scenario in April 2020.”

Something to keep in mind when you hear Poilievre's complaints.

Image: The Tyee

Saturday, December 10, 2022

The Sinema Show

Kyrsten Sinema has changed her party affiliation. But, Alexandra Petri writes, if you think that change signals a change in other things -- like who she is, or how she'll vote -- you're mistaken:

Anyone concerned that this new swerve toward independence would make her any less the human version of an eviction notice written in glitter gel pen can relax. Sinema will continue to serve up exactly the same quirks that we have come to know and … know, from her time as a Democratic senator.

From voting against raising the minimum wage with a cutesy thumbs-down, to impeding legislation to close corporate tax loopholes for unclear reasons, to generally waltzing through the Senate with her signature brand of cheese-grater-to-the-eardrum whimsy, we can expect more of the same! No longer being a Democrat will, in fact, alter nothing about her (this should come as a surprise, but less of a surprise than you wish it would).

On the one hand, it is a relief that she does not plan to concoct new, different ways of being awful: deciding that, for instance, that we actually need a second, bonus filibuster, or forging an even tighter bond with Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). On the other hand, it could be more of a relief.

Increasingly, it seems, politics is less about public service and more about self-service:

Sinema will continue to be the self-crowned protagonist of the Senate, an AIM away status with really deep song lyrics in it that you probably wouldn’t really get. She is still a party of one, just as rAnDom as ever, and now everyone gets to celebrate that fact! Get excited to pay attention to her and her constantly surprising wants — or rather, to continue paying attention to them in exactly the same way! You have a broadly popular policy idea that will benefit her constituents? She’ll support it … maybe!

Anyone worried that now, legislating with her would be any less like “50 First Dates,” where each day you had to wake up and woo her anew, can stop their fretting. You do not need to put away the ukulele, or the private equity dollars, for that matter. Sinema is unaltered.

The Sinema Show has changed networks. But it's still the same show.

Image: The Washington Post

Friday, December 09, 2022

Delusion Has Gone Viral

Yesterday, I wrote about our developing constitutional crisis. Today, that crisis deepens. Padraig Moran writes:

Canada's Constitution is not a legitimate document, and has not safeguarded Alberta's interests within federation, says one of the architects of that province's newly passed Sovereignty Act.

"I want the Constitution to be changed, or we'll have another referendum," said Barry Cooper, referring to independence referendums in Quebec in the 1980s and 1990s.

Cooper is a professor of political science at the University of Calgary and one of the authors of a policy paper called the Free Alberta Strategy, seen as the unofficial blueprint for the Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act, also known as the Sovereignty Act.

Speaking to Matt Galloway on The Current, Cooper said that Canada is a federation, but has never acted as such. 

"It's time to change it, to turn it into a federation," he said. 

"If Canada doesn't want to do that, then the only alternative we have — in order to defend our interests — is to make sure that Canada does negotiate. And that means the threat of leaving."

However, the Soverneigty Act is not popular with Albertans:

According to a poll results released by Leger last week, 32 per cent of Albertans agree the Sovereignty Act is necessary to stand up to the federal government.

Cooper said it's up to Smith and her leadership team to gain more support for the idea, but added that "if Canada does not show some understanding, then their rejection of Alberta will be obvious and the numbers will change."

Smith hasn't been elected to her office. But Cooper feels she can swing support for the bill. Delusion has gone viral in Alberta.

Image: UCalgary Profiles

Thursday, December 08, 2022

It's Here

Canada is heading for a constitutional crisis. The governments of Quebec, Alberta, and Ontario have been flexing their muscles. Andrew Coyne has had enough:

What should the federal government do about this? We know the answer already. It is the same advice it is given in all such circumstances. It should do nothing. It should do nothing, not because doing nothing is necessarily the best course, but because to do something about it – even to speak against it, in anything but the most respectful tones – might upset Quebec. Or another province, as the case may be.

Thus is the eleventh commandment, Thou Shalt Not Offend The Provinces, depicted as a legal or even moral absolute, and not what it is really: raw power, on the provinces’ part, and raw fear, on the feds’.

This commandment ignores the obvious:

The only reason to have a federation is to have a federal government. It isn’t just about provinces co-operating or getting along with one another: If that were all, they could do it as 10 separate states – exchange ambassadors, send fraternal greetings, the lot. It’s the particular role played by a federal government, invested with federal powers, that marks a federation apart from an alliance.

The Fathers of Confederation knew this. They created a federal government with real powers to do the things the provinces couldn’t or wouldn’t do on their own: to enforce a common market, to safeguard minority rights, and to otherwise ensure the provinces did not, in the individual exercise of their powers, do harm to the whole.

Now it can do none of those things. Nor, thanks to the notwithstanding clause, can the courts. We are told we must simply accept that Canada should be a place where religious and linguistic minorities are banished from the public square, that cannot function as a single economy, that cannot perform the most basic functions of a nation-state – or even call itself a nation. And we must do all these things in the name of national unity!

History suggests that, when the federal government flexes its muscle, the right things happen:

What might be noticed about previous such crises, on those few occasions – patriation, the secession reference, the Clarity Act – when the federal government has worked up the nerve to proceed over provincial objections, is that it emerged with its authority enhanced, not diminished. Support for secessionism fell, not rose.

Perhaps this is not accidental. Perhaps when a federal government acts like a federal government, it reminds people that the federal government exists, that it has a reason for existing, that it has its own role and its own legitimacy, independent of what the provinces think of it. Constitutional crisis? Bring it on.

Justin Trudeau might not be ready for the fight. But Andrew Coyne is.

Image: Maytree

Wednesday, December 07, 2022

Workers and Robots

Will robots replace workers? Paul Krugman's answer to that question is yes and no: 

At the level of the economy as a whole, the verdict is clear: So far, machines haven’t done away with the need for workers. U.S. workers are almost five times as productive as they were in the early postwar years, but there has been no long-term upward trend in unemployment.

That said, technology can eliminate particular kinds of jobs. In 1948 half a million Americans were employed mining coal; the great bulk of those jobs had disappeared by the early 21st century not because we stopped mining coal — the big decline in coal production, in favor first of natural gas and then of renewable energy, started only around 15 years ago — but because strip mining and mountaintop removal made it possible to extract an increasing amount of coal with many fewer workers.

But that doesn't mean that the change has been easy:

Individual workers may not find it easy to change jobs, especially if the new jobs are in different places. They may find their skills devalued; in some cases, as with coal, technological change can uproot communities and their way of life.

However, something different is happening now:

In the past, the jobs replaced by technology tended to involve manual labor. Machines replaced muscles. On the one hand, industrial robots replaced routine assembly-line work. On the other hand, there has been ever-growing demand for knowledge workers, a term coined by the management consultant Peter Drucker in 1959 for people engaged in nonrepetitive problem solving. Many people, myself included, have said that we’re increasingly becoming a knowledge economy.

But what if machines can take over a large chunk of what we have historically thought of as knowledge work?

Last week the research company OpenAI released — to enormous buzz from tech circles — a program called ChatGPT, which can carry out what look like natural-language conversations. You can ask questions or make requests and get responses that are startlingly clear and even seem well-informed. You can also do fun things — one colleague recently asked for and received an analysis of secular stagnation in sonnet form — but let’s stick with things that might be economically useful.

ChatGPT is only the latest example of technology that seems to be able to carry out tasks that not long ago seemed to require the services not just of human beings but of humans with substantial formal education.

So what happens now?

It is difficult to predict exactly how A.I. will impact the demand for knowledge workers, as it will likely vary, depending on the industry and specific job tasks. However, it is possible that in some cases, A.I. and automation may be able to perform certain knowledge-based tasks more efficiently than humans, potentially reducing the need for some knowledge workers. This could include tasks such as data analysis, research and report writing. However, it is also worth noting that A.I. and automation may also create new job opportunities for knowledge workers, particularly in fields related to A.I. development and implementation.

What will happen in the long run? Krugman repeats John Maynard Keynes answer to that question: "In the long run we'll all be dead."

Image: Business Insider

Tuesday, December 06, 2022

Bats In His Belfry

Donald Trump has gone completely off the rails. Marc Thiessen writes:

After the Supreme Court two weeks ago unanimously rejected his request to stop a congressional committee from obtaining his tax returns, Trump blasted the court, using the language of the left-wing critics who question the legitimacy of his judicial appointments. “The Supreme Court has lost its honor, prestige, and standing, & has become nothing more than a political body, with our Country paying the price. … Shame on them!” Trump declared on his Truth Social account — oblivious to the fact that these words could just as easily have been uttered by Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) or outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). If anything, the court’s actions in this case — and the refusal of any Trump judges or justices to embrace his election denial conspiracy theories — prove precisely the opposite: He appointed jurists whose only loyalty is to our laws and our Constitution.

But apparently, loyalty to our laws and our Constitution is not the standard Trump seeks to uphold. Quite the opposite. In a rant without precedent in the annals of presidential rhetoric, Trump called this weekend for the “termination” of the Constitution. “A massive Fraud of this type and magnitude allows for the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution,” he thundered, adding, “Our great ‘Founders’ did not want, and would not condone, False & Fraudulent Elections!”

Trump has been telling Americans who he is for decades. But, if they can't get the message now, they are just monumentally stupid:

With his latest missive, Trump has embraced a form of secular sedevacantism — the erroneous belief held by some extreme traditionalist Catholics that there is currently no valid pope — arguing that Joe Biden is an illegitimate “anti-president” and that he, Trump, should either be reinstalled in office or a new election should be called. (How this would be accomplished, he does not say.) I’m sorry, but this is bat-guano crazy. It should be rejected and repudiated by every self-respecting conservative.

There have always been bats in Trump's belfry. Now they're the only things that live there.

Image: Rise Structures

Monday, December 05, 2022

A Dead End

Michael Harris believes that Danielle Smith won't be Alberta's premier for long:

As premier of Alberta, Danielle Smith is a political mayfly; not long for the job.

By May 29, the woman who was made premier by one per cent of Albertans will be a gaudy footnote, in the dismal decline of a conservatism firmly captured by anger. This group continues to look for a fight with Ottawa under any pretence, however false.  

Donald Trump has done it in the United States, using unhinged surrogates like Marjory Taylor Greene.  Pierre Poilievre, who is trying desperately to sell the false narrative that “everything is broken” in Canada, does it with personal videos that wouldn’t pass muster in an elementary school show-and-tell class. And Danielle Smith is doing it with her inept and purposely belligerent Sovereignty Act.  

Smith’s bungling since winning the United Conservative Party leadership on the sixth ballot on Oct. 6, should have prepared everyone for this senseless, divisive, and anti-democratic power grab. This is the historically challenged leader who said that unvaccinated people are “the most discriminated against group” in her lifetime. 

The truth is that this brand of conservatism is now well-worn. It was rejected in the American mid-term elections. And it's being rejected here:

Smith, and Poilievre for that matter, don’t seem to realize that toxic conservative extremism is going out of fashion. With the recent convictions for seditious conspiracy of the ring leaders of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack in the United States, Trump’s hold on the Republican Part is all but gone. His dinner with a neo-Nazi and an anti-Semite have accelerated the process. The public in that country seems tired of the chaos, lies, and bullying—and the poor showing of the GOP in the November midterm elections just emphasizes that trend.  

It looks like there is a little of the same fatigue in Alberta, with demonizing everything that comes out of Ottawa. According to a recent poll by Janice Brown Opinion Research, Smith is in the process of delivering a majority government to the NDP and former premier Rachel Notley. The poll also found that the UCP may even lose seats in the areas around Smith’s rural base.

Modern conservatism has reached a dead end.

Image: Lifehacker Australia

Sunday, December 04, 2022

Why The Silence?

Danielle Smith's Alberta Soverniety Act is an atrocity. Althia Raj asks why are Conservatives across the country keeping their mouths shut?

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith’s new bill gives the province’s legislature the job of the courts, to determine not only whether Ottawa has trampled on provincial jurisdiction but whether a federal policy “causes or is anticipated to cause harm to Albertans.” If the legislature agrees, it passes a resolution giving Smith’s cabinet the ability to respond to the intrusion. Cabinet can make or change laws to respond to the “harm” without going back to the legislature for approval. It can demand provincial entities, such as school boards, health authorities, and municipal and provincial police, ignore federal laws — essentially creating a zone in the country where provincial laws stop federal laws from being enforced. These measures could last up to four years, before going back to the legislature for review.

Reaction was swift. Emmett Macfarlane, an associate political science professor at University of Waterloo, called it, “The most unconstitutional bill in Canada’s modern history.” Lisa Young, a University of Calgary professor, tweeted about lighting her hair on fire, after it was realized the bill was worse than expected. Over at the Hub, however, Geoffrey Sigalet, a UBC Okanagan political scientist, and lawyer Jesse Hartery argued the bill should be constitutional as the province has no obligation to enforce federal laws.

How have Conservatives reacted?

Back in September, Smith’s proposed sovereignty act was so alarming that Rajan Sawhney, Travis Toews, and Brian Jean joined together to denounce it as a dangerous fairy tale.

“The act is a false bill of goods,” said Toews.

Danielle is deceiving UCP members about reality,” said Jean, who deemed it a vote “tricking” effort.

But if you thought these three would now raise the alarm that Smith is trying to trick not just UCP members but all Alberta voters, you’d be disappointed.

 Now you hear nothing from Conservatives:

Our political system is increasingly challenged by elected officials who aren’t truthful, challenge facts, erode trust and put their personal ambitions ahead of the public good.

It's summed up in one word -- cowardice.

Image: BrainyQuote

Saturday, December 03, 2022

Gone Mad

The Globe and Mail editorializes that some of Canada's premiers have lost their minds:

The recent actions of some of Canada’s provincial premiers bring to mind a scene from Woody Allen’s 1971 comedy Bananas, in which the newly installed dictator of a Latin American country greets his cheering compatriots for the first time.

“Hear me,” he commands. “I am your new president. From this day on, the official language of San Marcos will be Swedish. In addition to that, all citizens will be required to change their underwear every half hour. Underwear will be worn on the outside, so we can check.”

“Power has driven him mad,” says an observer.

Consider what has happened in Alberta, Ontario, and Quebec:

The latest example is Alberta Premier Danielle Smith. Her government this week tabled its promised deliverance from the iron chains of federalism, the Alberta Sovereignty within a United Canada Act, and it’s as loony as anticipated.

The bill proposes, after the simple passage of a resolution in the legislature, to give cabinet the power to unilaterally amend legislation via orders in council. Cabinet can do so if it’s been decided that a federal law is unconstitutional, or even just “harmful,” without first testing the constitutionality of the law in question in court, and without defining the word “harmful.”

Cabinet can also order provincial bodies not to enforce specific federal policies or laws. It verges on insanity.

In Ontario, Premier Doug Ford has gone mad with power in his plan to build 1.5-million homes over 10 years. This month he reversed himself on a promise not to allow development in the province’s Greenbelt – a vow he had repeated like a mantra for years. And his government has neutered the municipal councils of Toronto and Ottawa, by allowing the mayors to adopt pro-housing bylaws with only one-third of the vote.

Mr. Ford also has made a regular habit of resorting to the Constitution’s notwithstanding clause to get what he wants. This fall he tried to use it to essentially strip an education workers’ union of its right to strike. He backed down in the face of a general strike, a predictable outcome that Mr. Ford somehow failed to imagine might be the result.

On to Quebec Premier François Legault, whose Coalition Avenir Québec government in 2019 unashamedly enacted an unconstitutional law, Bill 21, that prohibits some public employees from wearing religious symbols or garb at work. Mr. Legault calls it a defence of Quebec’s secular culture; a Quebec Superior Court judge called it a cruel violation of Charter freedoms in a 2021 ruling, but he had to let it stand because the law is shielded from restraint and tolerance by the notwithstanding clause.

What the premiers of Alberta, Ontario and Quebec share is their predilection for populism. All three focus on a base of voters that they portray as the victim of an uncaring enemy. In Quebec, it’s the federal government and immigrants that are the peril. In Ontario, it’s “elites” in big cities. In Alberta, it’s Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

When some people attain power, they go mad.

Image: Steam

Friday, December 02, 2022

The Costs Of Climate Change

If you're looking for a case study into the costs of climate change, consider what happened to British Columbia in 2021. Marc Lee and Ben Parfitt write:

When Don and Mary Nowoselski moved from Dawson Creek in northeast British Columbia to the Creston Valley 30 years ago, they were looking for a little less winter.

But in 2021, they "lost 100 per cent of our crop. We didn’t pick anything. It was just cooking, is what it was. The berries just cooked. I’ve never lost a complete crop ever in the 30 years we’ve been doing it. We just had to walk away from it. It was pretty devastating," Don recalls.

And then there was the year-ending floods and landslides that left five dead on the Duffey Lake Road, thousands forced to flee their damaged or destroyed homes in Merritt and Princeton; police, fire, paramedic crews and volunteers scrambling to get people out of harm’s way; and thousands of businesses suddenly without supplies.

Singly, each of those three events exacted a heavy toll on the province. Collectively, they made for the single-worst climate catastrophe in Canadian history.

All of the individual stories like the Nowoselskis' add up to horrendous losses:

Our research, published today by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, shows that when the broad sweep of non-insured losses is considered — along with a number of other factors — the estimated economic hit in B.C. associated with 2021’s extreme weather events is in the range of $10.6 billion to $17.1 billion

Our estimate includes:

Non-insured damages to households and businesses;

Lost income for workers due to closures or damaged transportation linkages;

Costs to the public sector, including immediate disaster response and longer-term cleanup and recovery costs, including rebuilding infrastructure; and

Specific impacts on vulnerable and/or marginalized populations such as people with low incomes, renters, seniors, Indigenous Peoples, immigrants and people with disabilities.

One key takeaway from 2021’s extreme weather events is that in many ways, they were linked, with one making the other worse.

Then came the heat dome:

The 2021 heat dome was at its worst over four days in late June when temperature records were shattered. Temperatures reached over 40 C in many parts of the province, leading to 619 heat-related deaths across B.C.

The farming sector, in particular, was hammered by the heat. More than 650,000 chickens and other livestock animals died, while certain crops were either significantly damaged or destroyed altogether.

The Nowoselskis were among those orchardists who used a rotating crew of between 50 and 100 pickers who moved back and forth between orchards as different cherry varieties ripened. The better pickers were routinely earning $300 to $400 or more per day.

We estimate that between $205 million and $328 million in income was lost in the most-affected sectors. Additionally, heat waves slow everyone down and therefore are also associated with general productivity declines. Over the four days of maximum temperatures, this likely cost the economy an additional $34 million to $84 million in lost productivity.

You get the idea. You'd think that, once climate change begins to cost you big time, you'd start to do something about it.

Image: The Tyee

Thursday, December 01, 2022

They'll Still Be Bitter

Justice Rouleau still has to write his report. But, already, a few conclusions can be reached about the Rouleau Inquiry. Max Fawcett writes:

For those who approached the proceedings with a more open mind, though, it’s hard not to see a certain beauty in the way events unfolded over the last six-plus weeks. By and large, the hearings were defined by respectful disagreements, exactly as Justice Rouleau said he hoped at the outset. Lawyers were able to ask pointed questions of elected officials, citizens had their concerns heard out and law enforcement agencies were asked to account for their choices in full view of the public. Canada, a country that has long been defined by its commitment to “peace, order and good government,” can be proud of this process.

But don't expect the convoy's organizers to be happy:

 As he wrapped up the public testimony last week, Rouleau said: “I think this process, I hope, will be of assistance to people to understand and move forward.” But that assumes that everyone involved wants to do those things — and when it comes to the convoyers and their various political, legal and media enablers, that’s clearly not the case.

They were a rag-tag group:

As the Toronto Star’s Tonda MacCharles and Alex Ballingall noted, “The overall picture that emerged this week was of a gathering of infighting protest groups that had differing and sometimes competing agendas, and lacked the ability for any one faction to control another.”

And, as the rise of Danielle Smith makes clear, they're not going away.

Image: Justin Tang/Canadian Press