Tuesday, January 31, 2023

A Voracious Thirst

If you want to know what's to come in Washington, take a look at John Durham's investigation. Michelle Goldberg writes:

Trump’s circle insisted, falsely, that the Mueller inquiry was a hit job that employed Russian disinformation — via the Steele dossier — to frame Trump, all part of a plot cooked up by the Hillary Clinton campaign. Durham seems to have bought into this Trumpist conspiracy theory, and to help prove it, he tried to employ what appears to be Russian disinformation to go after the Clinton camp. More specifically, he used dubious Russian intelligence memos, which analysts believed were seeded with falsehoods, to try to convince a court to give him access to the emails of a former aide to George Soros, which he believed would show Clinton-related wrongdoing.

Astonishingly, The Times found that while Trump’s attorney general Bill Barr and Durham were in Europe looking for evidence to discredit the Russia investigation, Italian officials gave them a “potentially explosive tip” linking Trump to “certain suspected financial crimes.” Rather than assign a new prosecutor to look into those suspected crimes, Barr folded the matter into Durham’s inquiry, giving Durham criminal prosecution powers for the first time.

Then the attorney general sat back while the media inferred that the criminal investigation must mean Durham had found evidence of malfeasance connected to Russiagate. Barr, usually shameless in his public spinning of the news, quietly let an investigation into Trump be used to cast aspersions on Trump’s perceived enemies. (The fate of that inquiry remains a mystery.)

The Republicans have fine-tuned this kind of thing:

This squalid episode is a note-perfect example of how Republican scandal-mongering operates. The right ascribes to its adversaries, whether in the Democratic Party or the putative deep state, monstrous corruption and elaborate conspiracies. Then, in the name of fighting back, it mimics the tactics it has accused its foes of using.

Look, for example, at the behavior that gave rise to Trump’s first impeachment. Trump falsely claimed that Joe Biden, as vice president, used the threat of withholding American loan guarantees to blackmail the Ukrainian government into doing his personal bidding. Hoping to get Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to substantiate his lies, Trump tried to use the threat of withholding American aid to … blackmail the Ukrainian government into doing his personal bidding. The symmetry between accusations and counter-accusations, in turn, fosters a widespread cynicism about ever finding the truth.

It’s important to keep this in mind because we’re about to see a lot more of it. Now that they control the House, Republicans have prioritized investigating their political opponents. McCarthy has stacked the Oversight Committee, central to the House’s investigative apparatus, with flame-throwing fantasists, including Marjorie Taylor Greene, Paul Gosar and Lauren Boebert. Further, as Politico reported in a “field guide” to the coming Republican inquiries, McCarthy has urged Republicans to treat every committee like the Oversight Committee, meaning all investigations, all the time.

The Republicans have no policies. They have no principles. All they have is a voracious thirst for revenge.

Image: The Inquisitive Mind

Monday, January 30, 2023

Prime Minister Singh?

Most Canadians don't think of Jagmeet Singh as a potential prime minister. And they have history on their side. Michael Harris writes:

It is true that, despite a run of impressive leaders, the NDP has never won a federal election since its creation in 1961. To mention just a few, Tommy Douglas, David Lewis, Ed Broadbent, Jack Layton,  and Tom Mulcair were never able to deliver the goods—despite strong showings on their individual leadership qualities in poll after poll.  

But in Singh's case, Harris believes things might be different:

In a recent Ipsos survey, pollster Darrell Bricker found that 54 per cent of respondents wanted Justin Trudeau to step down in 2023. The same poll found that 59 per cent had an unfavourable view of Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre. This is not a ringing endorsement of either of the two traditional parties that have ruled the roost in Canada since Confederation. In the same poll, Jagmeet Singh scored the highest approval rating of any federal leader at 53 per cent.

Canadians have good reason to be disappointed in both the Liberals and the Conservatives:

Despite some very impressive accomplishments, the Liberals are beginning to make the kind of unforced errors characteristic of a government running out of steam. Chequebook politics is making them look like people who can’t manage a troubled economy, an impression reinforced by former Liberal insider Bill Morneau’s unflattering portrait of the prime minister in his new book.  

With a possible recession on the horizon, and rampant inflation breaking budgets from coast to coast, post-COVID grumpiness has reached a new high. The usual casualty of such oceanic disgruntlement is the incumbent government, whether or not it is to blame for the problems.

People are prepared to forgive flip-flops, like the PM’s stunning reversal of his policy on first-past-the-post elections, and on buying the controversial F-35 fighter jets. But scandal is another matter. If it should be shown that there was hanky-panky in the $100-million worth of contracts awarded to the U.S. firm McKinsey and Company, or corruption in contracts let out of the offices of Liberal cabinet ministers, the bloom could go off the Trudeau rose in a hurry.

And Mr. Poilievre is far from being a rising star:

Pierre Poilievre, who feeds off the anger of the disaffected, failed his initial test as leader when the CPC lost the first byelection under his watch. The party’s candidate not only lost to the Liberals, he was thrashed, losing by 20 points. That said, the turnout in Mississauga Lakeshore was just 26 per cent. 

In Quebec—like Stephen Harper before him—Poilievre has so far been a flop. A recent Angus Reid poll found that 44 per cent of respondents strongly disapproved of the new Conservative leader. Only eight per cent held strongly favourable views of Poilievre.   

He came out in favour of a mob of truckers who gave Canada its own version of the Capitol Building riot.  

And his claim that crypto currency might be the way for Canadians to opt out of inflation is absurdity in hot pursuit of farce.

So there may be an opening for Singh. Harris believes there will be an election this year. As for Mr. Singh, we'll see.

Image: CBC

Sunday, January 29, 2023

The Problem Is Ford

The healthcare system in Ontario is under severe strain. Doug Ford says that the way to fix the problem is to move procedures from hospitals to private for-profit clinics. Linda McQuaid writes that  the system is struggling because Ford is starving it of funds:

Ontario is one of the richest provinces, but it spends less per person on health care than any other province.

If Ontario just spent the average of what the other provinces have spent on health care per capita over the past five years, we’d be spending an additional $7.2 billion this year — more than enough to properly pay our beleaguered nurses, lure thousands more nurses to Ontario and bring back into use countless hospital operating rooms all over the province idled by years of budget cuts.

Ford is not a bright guy. Consider his solutions:

Ford bizarrely insists on capping nurses’ pay increases at a punitive one per cent, denying reasonable compensation to people who hold the key to reviving the system.

Instead, Ford squanders money on tax breaks, giving up $8.2 billion in revenue annually from tax changes since 2018. And, when he gets additional health care funds from Ottawa in the upcoming federal-provincial deal, he could use those funds for further tax cutting, unless strings are firmly attached.

Allowing more private health care won’t solve this underfunding. It will simply mean more health services are carried out by profit-seeking entities that will pocket a share of the public money.

We know about the profit motive — it permeates the business world, driving corporate managers to slash costs in evermore innovative ways so they can deliver ever-larger profits to shareholders.

We've seen the profit motive at work in Ontario's private nursing homes:

It turns out Ontario has carried out what amounts to a real-life experiment on the impact of the profit motive in health care — in the case of long-term care homes, where private equity and other innovative forms of cutthroat capitalism have had free rein.

This real-life lab reveals that the profit motive operates pretty much the same in health care as in the corporate world: it has transformed nursing homes into lucrative businesses and, during the pandemic, into killing fields.

Indeed, given that COVID death rates were four times higher in profit-making long-term care homes, it’s odd that commentators aren’t crying: “we gotta do something different!”

Ford wants to extend that model into our hospitals.

It's pretty obvious. Our healthcare system is failing because Doug Ford is calling the shots.

Image: The Rabble

Saturday, January 28, 2023

They're Taking The Books Out Of Classrooms

In Florida, they're getting rid of lots of books. Marsha Lederman writes:

Just when you thought things couldn’t get any weirder or more depressing on the U.S. book-ban front comes this plot twist from Manatee County, Fla. The school board near Sarasota recently issued an edict that prompted teachers to remove all books from classrooms in response to new rules from the Florida Department of Education.

That policy states that all books in schools must be approved by a librarian (called a “certified media specialist”), or staff risk third-degree felony charges. With some classroom libraries too large to dispose of quickly, teachers have had to physically cover them up, with construction paper in some cases – or risk possible jail time. Teachers are not allowed to choose books for their classrooms. And only vetted books are allowed, to ensure they are free of pornographic material, age-appropriate, and don’t contain “unsolicited theories that may lead to student indoctrination.” It’s effectively leading to negative-option reading, and that’s led to the removal of such dangerous books as Sneezy the Snowman and Dragons Love Tacos.

What is happening in Florida is happening throughout the United States:

Book bans in the United States are becoming so rampant that they are now likelier to elicit heavy sighs rather than shock. Still, seeing the statistics in black and white is alarming. According to that PEN report, from July, 2021, to June, 2022, there were 2,532 instances of individual books being banned, affecting 1,648 individual titles. The two categories most frequently banned in schools were books with LGBTQ themes or prominent LGBTQ characters, and books with protagonists or prominent secondary characters of colour.

This is a scene cooked up by fools – who are somehow in charge of education – trying to create a nation of more fools. And Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who signed the bill into law, has presidential aspirations. Imagine edicts like this being issued nationally.

They're proudly marching backward -- to the Dark Ages, where Ignorance and Superstition ruled the roost.

Image: The Logical Place

Friday, January 27, 2023

Rural Rage

Rural rage is a feature of American politics these days. But it's not limited to the United States. In Canada, we are experiencing the same phenomenon. Paul Krugman writes:

The ostensible justifications for rural resentment don’t withstand scrutiny — but that doesn’t mean things are fine. A changing economy has increasingly favored metropolitan areas with large college-educated work forces over small towns. The rural working-age population has been declining, leaving seniors behind. Rural men in their prime working years are much more likely than their metropolitan counterparts to not be working. Rural woes are real.

The problem is that the party rural voters support does not champion their interests:

The policy agenda of the party most rural voters support would make things even worse, slashing the safety-net programs these voters depend on. And Democrats shouldn’t be afraid to point this out.

But can they also have a positive agenda for rural renewal? As The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent recently pointed out, the infrastructure spending bills enacted under President Biden, while primarily intended to address climate change, will also create large numbers of blue-collar jobs in rural areas and small cities. They are, in practice, a form of the “place-based industrial policy” some economists have urged to fight America’s growing geographic disparities.

The economic forces that have been hollowing out rural America are deep and not easily countered. But it’s certainly worth trying.

But even if these policies improve rural fortunes, will Democrats get any credit? It’s easy to be cynical. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the new governor of Arkansas, has pledged to get the “bureaucratic tyrants” of Washington “out of your wallets”; in 2019 the federal government spent almost twice as much in Arkansas as it collected in taxes, de facto providing the average Arkansas resident with $5,500 in aid. So even if Democratic policies greatly improve rural lives, will rural voters notice?

These days, misinformation rules the roost. Until that is dealt with, the rage will continue.

Image: The Toronto Star

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Another Convoy?

This week marks the first anniversary of the Truckers Convoy to Ottawa. Susan Delacourt writes:

In many ways, Ottawa is facing the same kind of test this weekend as the vaccine mandates that triggered the convoy outrage last year. We will only know what’s working by what doesn’t happen — if the convoy virus fails to infect the country as it did last year.

Officially, the Rouleau commission was only supposed to answer the question of whether Trudeau was right to invoke emergency legislation to end the protest. But of course, those hearings turned into much more, and many people (including this writer) hope all that testimony has become a vaccine of sorts against a future protest.

Then again, what Rouleau’s hearings demonstrated was that the convoy wasn’t just one protest. It was, in the words of former chief Sloly, a many-headed “hydra” that was impossible to confront as one, singular beast. One would hope that police and security are mindful of that reality in 2023, not assuming that a repeat of the convoy can be avoided by negotiating with a few people.

One of the things the truckers demanded -- the end of vaccine mandates -- has come to pass:

Much of the motivation behind last year’s mass protest — those vaccine mandates — are gone, which some supporters of the convoy regard as a victory of the Ottawa occupation and border blockades. That’s obviously an overreach. COVID isn’t gone, but Canada, like the rest of the world, seems to be learning to live with it without lockdowns.

One other big demand of the protesters — the ouster of Trudeau — obviously didn’t happen, and judging from the small demonstrations in Windsor and Hamilton the past couple of weeks, that’s still annoying an angry knot of Canadians. But is that sentiment rampant enough to paralyze a capital and a country again?

As my colleagues Raisa Patel and Grant Lafleche wrote in a one-year anniversary piece last weekend in the Star, the “freedom” movement is scattered and splintered now — likely unable to regroup, even to bask in the memories of last year.

For the next few days, though, many in Ottawa will be hyperalert to the sound of trucks honking or the sight of flags flying from vehicles entering the capital. This weekend will show whether Ottawa has been convoy-proofed.

The crazies are still out there. But, for the moment, they're disorganized.

Image: The Toronto Star

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Another Hike

Economists expect that the Bank of Canada will raise interest rates today. Craig Alexander writes:

The Bank of Canada is struggling to get inflation back under control. Since it adopted inflation targeting in the early 1990s, the central bank has been remarkably successful at keeping inflation within its 1-per-cent to 3-per-cent-target band. Indeed, the average pace of inflation over the decades has been almost bang on the 2-per-cent midpoint target. However, the inflationary pressures from the contraction in global supply during the pandemic and the surge in demand as government restrictions lifted caught the Bank of Canada and many other central banks flat-footed.

The current inflation shock shows Canadians just how critical it is to keep inflation low and stable. High inflation materially damages the standard of living of Canadians and is especially crippling to low-income Canadians that lack savings they can draw upon to buy even the most essential of products. This is why the bank has aggressively raised interest rates to wrestle price growth down, and why financial markets expect another rate hike on Wednesday – hopefully the last one.

What the Bank's actions signal is that the era of low-interest rates is over:

Interest rates trended downward over the 1990s and early 2000s before plunging to exceptionally low levels during the financial crisis in 2008 and 2009. Importantly, they remained minimal even after that crisis. This fuelled excessive investment in real estate and dramatically increased debt accumulation. It forced investors to buy more equities because fixed-income investments lacked adequate yield. It allowed businesses to put off making capital investments because there was no expectation that interest rates would rise significantly in the future.

The low-interest-rate era was supported by the disinflationary force of globalization that shifted production to lower-cost parts of the world that, in turn, reduced consumer prices. It made the job of keeping inflation subdued much easier for central banks and contributed to perpetually low interest rates.

However, in the wake of the pandemic and amid the tensions with China and Russia, businesses are now shifting their supply chains to build resilience and reduce risk. Future capital investment will be determined by more than just the cost of production, including geopolitical risk and ESG considerations. This will raise prices and make it harder for central banks to control inflation.

Moreover, the aging population across the Western world, including Canada, and the retirement of baby boomers has started to materially affect Canada’s labour market. Immigration will take some of the pressure off, but it will not solve Canada’s labour supply and skills shortages. There will also be more international competition for talent. Labour scarcity at home and abroad should raise the cost of labour, which will be passed along to consumers with higher prices unless firms find a way to materially boost productivity.

During the pandemic, firms discovered the vulnerability of just-in-time inventory systems, in which goods are ordered from suppliers only as needed. Many firms could not meet demand from existing stockpiles. To reduce this risk, businesses may carry higher inventory levels, and this means more volatility in stockpiles as demand ebbs and flows. The greater inventory swings can add to economic volatility and, in turn, greater volatility in interest rates.

The pandemic and the war in Ukraine have changed the world. I had thought that the spike in interest rates would be temporary. I was wrong.

Image: CNBC

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

We Don't Need Them

The major auto manufacturers shifted their focus to SUVs more than a decade ago. Sedans and subcompact cars are not where they make their money. Zoe Long and Jonn Axsen write:

When it comes to vehicular popularity, SUVs are winning in Canada. Eighty per cent of new vehicles sold in Canada in 2020 and 2021 were SUVs and pickup trucks. These sales levels were only 55 per cent a decade ago. Unfortunately, the trend comes at the expense of the climate.

In Canada, SUVs produce around one-third more greenhouse gas emissions per kilometre than cars on average. Over the past decade, our fuel economy standards have been improving the efficiency of new vehicles, but the switch towards SUVs, pickup trucks and minivans has been counteracting those efforts. From 1990 to 2019, emissions from SUVs and other trucks more than doubled in Canada, leading to a 40 per cent increase in total passenger vehicle emissions during that period.

This has threatened Canada’s commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40 to 50 per cent by 2030, and to reach net zero emissions by 2050. To explore the tension between the demand for SUVs and its climate challenges, we used a mixed-method approach to study consumer behaviour through consumers’ in-depth stories and the overall trends.

We surveyed nearly 1,000 representative SUV drivers, car drivers and non-drivers in Metro Vancouver and followed up with some of them in focus group discussions for our study. We found that while SUV users are drawn to the vehicle because of features that provide comfort, style and safety, some were willing to downsize due to policy changes.

In so many ways, the future is about downsizing. But downsizing isn't popular:

In the interest of shifting these trends, we explored the potential of different actions to sway people away from SUVs. In our survey, only 28 per cent of those planning to buy an SUV would consider downsizing to a car without any policy or other change.

But policy changes would help:

Some policies like financial penalties or incentives would encourage more SUV users to downsize. A drop of 20 per cent in insurance costs for cars would prompt 36 per cent of SUV intenders to downsize. Ten per cent higher purchase price taxes on SUVs would prompt 35 per cent to downsize, while a $5 toll to enter the City of Vancouver for SUVs only would prompt 33 per cent to downsize.

Today, Canada’s vehicle fuel efficiency standards are lenient towards SUVs and pickup trucks, which may have perversely incentivized the current trend towards SUVs. Carefully redesigning existing regulations to avoid such loopholes can be one option to address the climate change concerns posed by SUVs.

The current schedule for increasing carbon pricing in Canada could potentially shift buyers towards smaller vehicles over time by increasing the cost of gasoline. Unfortunately, car buyers are notoriously shortsighted at the time of purchase and tend to undervalue long-term fuel cost savings.

Other pricing mechanisms could include extra purchase taxes for gas guzzling vehicles or tax breaks and other fee reductions for buyers of smaller cars. Reduced vehicle insurance rates for smaller vehicles could be a win-win policy, providing road safety benefits and reducing GHG emissions, from the resultant downsizing.

Without pursuing a policy path, challenging the cultural and market entrenchment of SUVs will be tricky. Canadians are unlikely to end their SUV obsession on their own. We need policy actions to reduce the use of GHG-intensive vehicles and pursue our climate goals.

The SUV has had its day. We may want them. But we don't need them.

Image: The Tyee

Monday, January 23, 2023

An Old Story

Paul Kahnert warns that Doug Ford's plan to move surgeries to private clinics is a new chapter in an old story:

A successful heist requires careful planning and timing. Privatizing healthcare has been planned for years by the Conservatives.

It was once unthinkable that our non-profit public power hydro system would be turned into a for-profit system. Now the theft of our beloved healthcare system is going on right before our eyes.

Ford is following the exact same script to privatize healthcare as Mike Harris did when Harris claimed public power was bankrupt. While endlessly promising “lower rates” and that “nothing will go wrong” Harris’s hydro deregulation changed every non -profit hydro commission in Ontario into a for -profit corporation. Every ratepayer knows how those promises worked out. Ford is again promising that his for-profit private surgery clinics won’t cost you anything out of pocket. This is completely false. With profit as the main concern, private owners will add in a long list of additional fees not covered by OHIP.

Just how are private owners going to staff their clinics with doctors and nurses? There is only one way, pay a premium to lure them away from the public system and then charge more so they can make a profit off of them.   Unfortunately, Ford will likely pay some doctor turncoats to do ads praising his plan.

The story is called Disaster Capitalism. It is premised on taking advantage of a crisis. If there isn't a crisis, you have to create one. Mike Harris's former education minister -- who dropped out of high school in grade 11 -- suggested that was the way to reform education in Ontario.

We have a crisis in healthcare. But it's been a long time coming:

The Conservatives are largely to blame for this crisis that they created with under funding and funding cuts to pay for tax cuts. When you think about it, this should be illegal. It is important to note that the tax cuts and cuts to healthcare made by the Harris Conservatives in the 1990’s resulted in the loss of over 10,000 nurses. It was a loss the healthcare system never recovered from.

Before we go there, we should look at the record:

Since 1980, the wealthiest people and their corporations have successfully lobbied Governments for massive tax cuts in the multiple billions.

What we really need to do to fix our healthcare system is to reverse tax cuts. (Reversing tax cuts on the wealthy and their corporations is not raising taxes, it is restoring funding to build and pay for a civil society.) 

We need a healthcare deal. But after the federal government shows the premiers the money, we need to know what they intend to do with it. And what the federal government will do if the provinces cut taxes.

Image: The Rabble

Sunday, January 22, 2023

Do They Have A Deal?

It's been a tough slog. But Chantal Hebert writes that the federal government and the provinces appear to be near a ten-year deal on healthcare:

By all indications, peace — in the shape of a 10-year accord — may be about to break out on the federal-provincial health front.

To listen to the first ministers, a deal that would see the federal government increase its contribution to the provinces’ health-care budgets in exchange for more transparency could be struck as early as next month.

At this point, all parties to the discussion have a stake in that optimism translating into a breakthrough. Having collectively raised public expectations of a positive outcome on what has become the number one concern of many Canadians, the first ministers are under self-generated pressure to deliver a viable compromise.

It's in Ottawa's interest to reach a deal:

That starts with the federal Liberals. They are entering a critical political year, anywhere from four to six points behind the Conservatives in voting intentions.

A general election may not be imminent. With Alberta and Manitoba respectively headed to the polls in the spring and the fall, few expect a federal campaign in 2023. But a year in politics is quickly passed.

By this time next January, Trudeau’s third term will have extended beyond the average life of a minority government.

Failing to strike a health-care deal would undoubtedly hurt Liberal prospects for reelection, but that does not mean the striking of one will turn the tide in their favour.

And the provincial healthcare systems are at the breaking point. It's in no one's interest to repeat what happened in 2006:

Ironically, the 2006 election was triggered by the NDP’s decision to join the other parties in a vote of non-confidence in the Liberals over the latter’s health policy.

At the time, NDP Leader Jack Layton argued he had not received enough assurances the Liberal party would fight the increased use of private health care in the provinces.

It’s too early to tell whether history will repeat itself in this Parliament. Jagmeet Singh was making noises along the same lines this week as he urged Trudeau to financially punish provinces such as Ontario for contracting out some surgeries to for-profit private clinics.

Should public pushback against Premier Doug Ford’s move gather momentum, what is now only a veiled threat could yet see the NDP pull out of its pact with the Liberals.

(Before that happens, it may be worth noting that Layton’s decision to turn his back on Martin in late 2005 resulted in the election of a government even less interested in policing private health care and in a decade-long decrease in the NDP’s influence on the federal agenda.)

Layton's decision led to ten years of Stephen Harper. Pierre Poilievre is Harper Redux. It's in everyone's interest to push this deal over the finish line.

Image: Hospital News

Saturday, January 21, 2023

Will She Leave?

Rumors are circulating about Danielle Smith's future. David Cleminhaga writes:

There’s a whiff of smoke in the air, as if a cow has kicked over a lantern in a stable somewhere, and flames are just starting to spread.

On Saturday, the Breakdown, an Alberta political podcast, tweeted “Heard from multiple reliable sources today that the UCP caucus is a hair's breadth away from boiling over and prospective leaders to replace Smith are actively being discussed.”

The Breakdown’s thread continued: “Apparently caucus is split along rather predictable lines, and there are increasing concerns within the larger faction that Smith is more focused on the ‘Danielle Smith Show’ than she is actual governance or winning the next election.”

“This all comes at a time where the same groups that elevated Smith are becoming more frustrated with her constant equivocation on her promises to them,” the folks at the Breakdown said. “One source told us today that there is a very real possibility of a new leader before the next election.”

There are leaks in the UCP house:

On Sunday, former Progressive Conservative deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk tweeted an intriguing fragment of a message he said was from a member of Smith’s cabinet.

“It would be easy to leave,” the purported minister lamented, with a certain lack of clarity. “To stay. Not so easy when I see something that has been said that is unacceptable from my new leader. Honestly. Is she going to lead this party in the next election? I don’t know. Do you? Won’t be me but who? A good opposition is as important as a good government.”

Lukaszuk commented that Smith “indeed has problems when her cabinet ministers exchange among themselves messages like this one.” Most of us would want to respond to the mystery minister: “So, resign already? Make a scene!”

Still, if this really was said by a member of Smith’s cabinet, it’s hard to disagree that it suggests the premier’s problems are growing.

Has she overplayed her hand?

Image: The Globe And Mail

Friday, January 20, 2023

Lies And Grift

The Saga of George Santos gets more and more outrageous. Dana Milbank writes:

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has just padded Santos’s résumé further with a seat on the Small Business Committee.

And Santos does have relevant small-business experience! In 2008, the enterprising Santos stole a man’s checkbook in Brazil and used it to buy himself shoes and other items, according to police and court records uncovered by the New York Times.

Santos further honed his business acumen by going from having only $55,000 in earned income in 2020 to loaning his campaign $700,000 in the 2022 cycle, apparently brought in from a “family firm” that had $80 million in assets but no listed clients.

Along the way, Santos gained crucial experience at yet another small business, Harbor City Capital, accused by the Securities and Exchange Commission of being a Ponzi scheme that stole from its investors (which, The Post reported, included a sanctioned Russian oligarch’s cousin who also contributed to Santos’s campaigns).

McCarthy’s leadership team also awarded Santos a spot on the Science, Space and Technology Committee — and this, too, is a deserved recognition of Santos’s extensive and inventive curriculum vitae. What better place for a man whose stories are not of this world than the committee whose jurisdiction is in outer space?

On Thursday, Santos was denying reports that he had performed in drag in Brazil under the name Kitara Ravache. To summarize:

He didn’t attend Horace Mann School, didn’t attend Baruch College (where he also didn’t have a volleyball scholarship that required him to get two knee replacements), didn’t get an MBA from New York University, and didn’t work for Citigroup or Goldman Sachs. He didn’t own 13 rental properties or have employees who died in the Pulse nightclub shooting. His nonprofit, Friends of Pets United, did not save 2,500 dogs and cats (although it is accused of stealing $3,000 from a GoFundMe for a disabled veteran’s dying service dog). He is not a Jew, his grandparents weren’t Holocaust refugees, and they fled neither Ukraine nor Belgium. His mother wasn’t a finance executive, and she wasn’t at the World Trade Center, nor apparently even in the country, during the 9/11 attacks, which didn’t “claim” her life. His real name may or may not be George Santos, or Anthony Zabrovsky, or Anthony Devolder. He may or may not be American born, have a brain tumor, be biracial, have a husband, be a longtime “openly gay” man or have attended a “Stop the Steal” rally in a stolen Burberry scarf.

Santos is the Republican Party in a microcosm -- he's all about lies and grift.

Image: The New York Times

Thursday, January 19, 2023

One Way Or Another

The Trudeau government's Just Transition Plan is causing a lot of sound and fury in Alberta. Max Fawcett writes:

Brace yourselves, folks. If you thought the conversation about the federal government’s so-called “just transition” couldn’t get any dumber, you’re about to be proven wrong. That’s because Alberta’s premier, her senior staffers and most of the province’s pundit class are pretending an internal federal government document from last June contains its plan for the imminent demise of the oil and gas industry.

There’s just one small problem: it’s not even remotely close to true.

There's a lot of misinformation in the air:

First, the non-smoking gun in question. It’s a package of committee meeting briefing materials for Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson that includes speaking notes, background materials and a list of some questions he might get and answers he could give to them.

It’s not much of a secret, given that it was posted publicly on a government transparency website last September. But buried in there is a set of figures about potential labour market impacts of the global energy transition that are being misconstrued — either through malice or incompetence — by the premier and her various proxies.

“What kind of leader intentionally throws hundreds of thousands of his own citizens on the unemployment line?” Rob Anderson, the principal secretary to Alberta Premier Danielle Smith, asked rhetorically on Twitter. “Trudeau has crossed a line here.” Smith went even further, suggesting the document revealed a plan to eliminate 2.7 million jobs nationwide.

That framing was picked up by the holy trinity of Postmedia’s conservative Alberta columnists (Staples, Bell and Braid), who all carried versions of it, along with inflammatory comments from Smith, in their columns on the subject. Braid described the briefing documents as “political dynamite,” while Staples wrote: “This plan might well strike you as madness, as a federal government that has lost all humility and common sense.” Bell, in his inimitable style, cut right to the chase. “Energy jobs, about 202,000 workers gone,” he wrote. “In Alberta, 187,000 jobs toast. Read that number again.”

But the document doesn't make that claim:

If you actually bother to read it, and clearly almost nobody has, the contents are far more benign. It does not, as Bell and Anderson are claiming, suggest the jobs in Alberta’s oil and gas industry will be eliminated. Instead, it points out that they will be impacted by the global transition to lower-carbon technology, and that the federal government should prepare to help where and how it can.

The truth, not that it seems to matter, is that the global energy transition will have an impact on oil-producing regions like Alberta whether they acknowledge it or not. Indeed, it already has. Even in Texas, where proximity to the Gulf of Mexico and a Republican state government has made building oil and gas projects as easy as opening a lemonade stand, oil and gas jobs are on a clear downward trend.

Despite the post-COVID boom in commodity prices, as of August 2022, there were 201,700 people employed in the state’s upstream oil and gas business — 107,200 fewer than December 2014.

And while Albertans may want to blame the Trudeau government for the push to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, or even suggest it’s “killing” their oil and gas industry, that’s not what the industry’s leaders are saying.

“We’re not doing this because we’re being regulated to do it,” Pathways Alliance CEO Kendall Dilling said recently. “We’re doing this because our CEOs truly have a conviction that we don’t have a long-term future if we can’t address what’s been our Achilles heel: our greenhouse gas emissions.”

And guess what? It’s the market that’s driving this change, not the government. “We know it’s what’s necessary for our long-term sustainability,” he said. “It’s also our financial institutions, our insurers, our shareholders and a host of other stakeholders who are saying that they want to see us recreate ourselves and be relevant in a low-carbon future.”

The transition is coming -- one way or another.

Image: Policy Note

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

A Declining Population

China has reported that its population is declining. Given the number of souls there, that may strike some people as a step in the right direction. But, Paul Krugman writes, a declining population presents a nation with two big problems:

The first problem is that a declining population is also an aging population — and in every society I can think of we depend on younger people to support older people. In the United States the three big social programs are Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid; the first two are explicitly targeted at seniors, and even the third spends most of its money on older Americans and the disabled.

In each case, the funding for these programs ultimately depends on taxes paid by working-age adults, and concerns about America’s long-term fiscal future arise largely from a rising old-age dependency ratio — that is, a rising ratio of seniors to those of working age.

The other problem is subtler but also serious. To maintain full employment, a society must keep overall spending high enough to keep up with the economy’s productive capacity. You might think that a shrinking population, which reduces capacity, would make this task easier. But a falling population — especially a falling working-age population — tends to reduce some important kinds of spending, especially investment spending. After all, if the number of workers is declining, there’s less need to build new factories, office buildings and so on; if the number of families is declining, there’s not much need to build new housing.

The result is that a society with a declining working-age population tends, other things equal, to experience persistent economic weakness. Japan illustrates the point: Its working-age population peaked in the mid-1990s, and the country has struggled with deflation ever since, despite decades of extremely low interest rates. More recently, other wealthy countries whose demographies have begun to resemble Japan’s have faced similar issues, although these issues have been sidelined — temporarily, I’d argue — by the burst of inflation set off by policy responses to Covid-19.

It has taken a long time, but Japan did a pretty good job of managing the problem:

To be fair to the Japanese, they’ve arguably handled the issue of population decline pretty well, avoiding mass unemployment in part by propping up their economy with deficit spending. This has led to high levels of public debt, but there has been no hint that investors are losing faith in Japanese solvency.

Time will tell how China handles the problem. But it's also a problem we face in Canada.

Image: Business Insider

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

On The Brink Of Collapse

Doug Ford has announced that his government will move some surgeries out of hospitals into for-profit clinics. I was skeptical of the idea. But Martin Regg Cohn adds some context:

The claim that Ontario is breaking new ground betrays a simplistic ignorance of recent innovations by other progressive provinces. By expanding the number of private clinics delivering publicly funded treatment in Ontario, Ford is following the lead of British Columbia, Quebec, and other provinces that have experimented with practical alternatives to hospital-based care.

The fear of for-profit operators exploiting desperate patients suggests a misunderstanding of medicare’s basic principles: It is a single-payer public system bankrolled by governments; but it is a multi-player delivery system buttressed by private colonoscopy clinics, stand-alone cataract clinics, chain pharmacies, contractor doctors and independent midwives who will deliver your baby in your own private home — far from not-for-profit hospitals. The NDP campaign slogan claiming you’ll have to pay your own way with credit cards has been repurposed by Ford into a guarantee that you’ll only need an OHIP card.

The most cogent criticism of Ford's plan is that medical personnel will be siphoned from hospitals to clinics. That criticism hits at the biggest problem in our health system: We don't have the people to staff the system -- in either hospitals or clinics. The problem existed before the pandemic. The pandemic made the situation worse.

It takes time to train healthcare workers. You can't simply put up a Help Wanted sign and have people walk in off the street. We live in an area where several of our doctors have retired.  New doctors are not coming in to replace them.

Ford may move the location of surgeries. But until he does something about the people who perform the surgeries, the system will be on the brink of collapse.

Image: Twitter

Monday, January 16, 2023

Better Than His Predecessor


As time passes, the contrast between Joe Biden and Donald Trump gets starker. Jennifer Rubin writes:

In the first two weeks of the new Congress, MAGA extremists have neutered House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.); gutted the Office of Congressional Ethics; tried to help tax cheats by voting to repeal funding for the IRS; and set up a committee to obstruct criminal investigations and gin up scandals about Biden and his family.

Voters are predictably disgusted. Navigator, a Democratic polling and messaging operation, found that “sizable majorities believe Republicans are focused on consolidating their power and fighting among themselves rather than serving the public.” Only 14 percent want Republicans to spend time investigating the Bidens. And just 44 percent of independents view McCarthy favorably, a 20-point drop from November.

Meanwhile, Biden’s approval ratings have improved. For that, he can likely thank inflation rates, which have declined for six months relative to the year prior. He can also boast about unemployment, which has fallen to a 53-year low.

Biden has spent much of his time over the past few weeks highlighting economic progress, demonstrating the benefits of his infrastructure program and touting new tech investment. He has also rolled out an enforcement plan for the border and vowed to regulate Big Tech companies to protect Americans’ privacy, prevent practices harmful to children, go after anti-competitive practices and demand greater transparency. These are all things Republicans say they are concerned about.

The result is that Biden and the Democrats keep looking better than the MAGA Republicans:

Biden has always benefited from context and contrast. In the 2020 Democratic primaries, his centrism gave him broad-based appeal and convinced voters he was more electable than the raft of more progressive contenders. In the 2020 general election, his sanity, decency and even “boringness” were the antithesis of the radical, mean and unhinged incumbent president.

Now Biden has the opportunity to contrast himself with House Republicans, who are living up to Democrats’ characterization as unethical, power-hungry, chaotic and clueless. It’s as if they took Biden’s speech in Philadelphia last year decrying extreme MAGA Republicans as a playbook, not an indictment.

Biden is no orator. And he has little charisma. But he's competent -- and clearly a much better person than his predecessor.

Image: CNN

Sunday, January 15, 2023

Poilievre In Quebec

You might think that a French Canadian, fluently bilingual leader might improve the Conservatives' prospects in Quebec. Chantal Hebert writes that's not happening:

The latest Conservative leader has his work cut out for him. In Canada’s second largest province, Poilievre is not only much less popular than his main rivals, but he is also off to a poorer start than his three predecessors.

In voting intentions, the Conservative party lags far behind both the leading Liberals and the Bloc Québécois. At 19 per cent, the party’s Quebec tally is its lowest provincial score.

Poilievre’s leadership numbers are even more dismal. At year’s end, an Angus Reid poll showed that almost two-thirds of Quebec voters have a poor opinion of the Conservative leader.

The Conservatives have almost always had a problem in Quebec. The Mulroney years were an exception:

It was also the only instance in recent history that a Quebec-based leader was at the helm of a united conservative party.

And Mulroney was a native son. Poilievre is not:

If anything, Poilievre’s leadership campaign and its aftermath have compounded the long-standing disadvantage that attends his outsider status in Quebec.

On his way to his first-ballot victory, Poilievre ran a take-no-prisoners campaign against Jean Charest. He might have elicited more admiration in the province had he beaten the former premier fair and square in the debating arena. But after a first brush with his main rival, Poilievre opted to be a no-show on the debate podium. It is hard to earn respect in absentia.

The collateral damage to the party in Quebec as a result of a scorched earth front-runner campaign was compounded by the departure of the party’s former Quebec lieutenant from the federal caucus.

Prior to his decision to sit as an Independent, Alain Rayes was one of the better-known Conservative MPs in the province, as well as a strong recruiter for a party that does not easily attract Quebec talent.

As it happens, both Charest and Rayes command larger audiences in Quebec than Poilievre. That may be even truer four months into the latter’s leadership tenure than it was on the morning after his leadership victory.

Stephen Harper became prime minister without much support from Quebec. But that has only happened once. The simple truth is that you can't make it to the prime minister's office without strong support in la belle province.

Image: The Toronto Star

Saturday, January 14, 2023

The Just Transition Act

There is a huge battle brewing in the West. Gary Mason writes:

In the 2019 federal election, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party announced that if elected, the government would introduce the “Just Transition Act,” which would give workers and communities dependent on the oil and gas industry the training and support they need to thrive in the clean, green economy of the future.

The announcement garnered little attention at the time. And after the Liberals won re-election, it was basically forgotten.

But now the federal government intends to keep its promise and things could get ugly:

Alberta holds the biggest megaphone on this file, and Premier Danielle Smith is using it to warn of war with Ottawa if it introduces a law that she suspects will threaten the livelihoods of those making a very good income in the province’s oil patch.

This really could be a redux of the grand fight we witnessed in the early 1980s over the National Energy Program – a battle that Ottawa, and specifically Justin Trudeau’s father, Pierre, lost badly. But Alberta has never forgotten what the feds tried to do: effectively take control over their oil industry. Consequently, anything that smells even remotely like the NEP sets off alarm bells in Wildrose country.

It is Albertans’ liquid gold that has been used to build unfathomable wealth for both individuals and for governments over the decades. But things have changed over the years – namely the menacing presence of climate change, which is not something people in Alberta like to talk about, despite what they will tell you.

Mr. Trudeau recently had the gall to make this point in an interview with Reuters. “One of the challenges is there is a political class in Alberta that has decided that anything to do with climate change is going to be bad for them or for Alberta,” he said, calling for Ms. Smith’s government to use its budget surplus to fund carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) technology.

It seems that Mr. Trudeau forgot that Alberta was an early pioneer in CCUS, even if for years the sequestration technology was an expensive disappointment. There is more optimism about it now, but there is still a long way to go before it makes a meaningful reduction in the province’s emission levels.

But there is a larger point:

Still, carbon capture aside, it’s fair to say that Alberta has not exactly been at the forefront of climate policy. The only Alberta premier who has come close to embracing the challenge that climate change poses is the NDP’s Rachel Notley, but she was dumped from office largely on the basis of the carbon tax she introduced. Her successor, Jason Kenney, eliminated the tax as his first order of business upon taking office. He then fought the national carbon tax in court, and lost.

The fact is that Alberta is, by far, Canada’s most polluting province. Emissions there have increased 55 per cent compared with 1990 levels; they have grown by 19 per cent since 2005. Yes, we understand that the province’s main industry is emissions-intensive, but we also shouldn’t pretend that the threat climate change poses is a challenge that has been openly taken up by the whole of Alberta’s political class in recent years, outside of Ms. Notley’s administration.

This is a clash where the divisions run deep. And it won't be easy bridging them.

Image: NASA Climate Change

Friday, January 13, 2023

Selfishness Pure And Simple

The Republicans in the House have made it clear. They plan to cut Social Security and Medicare. Paul Krugman writes:

CNN has obtained a screenshot of a slide presented at a closed-door Republican meeting on Tuesday. The first bullet point calls for balancing the budget within 10 years, which is mathematically impossible without deep cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. The second calls for reforms to “mandatory spending” — which is budget-speak for those same programs. And the final point calls for refusing to raise the debt limit unless these demands are met.

Given that most Republican voters are older -- and that all three programs are widely popular with that cohort -- why would Republicans do something that is so obviously stupid?

Put it this way: Advocating a welfare state for white people might well be politically effective. But in America, it’s a road not taken.

Here’s what I think is going on: Even now many, perhaps most Republicans in Congress aren’t culture-war zealots. Instead, they’re careerists who depend, both for campaign contributions and for post-Congress career prospects, on the same billionaires who have supported right-wing economic ideology for decades. They won’t stand up to the crazies and conspiracy theorists, but their own agenda is still tax cuts for the rich and benefit cuts for the poor and middle class.

Republicans aren't paying attention to voters -- even their own voters. They're doing the will of their donors. And, by doing so, they're feathering their own nests. It's selfishness pure and simple.


Thursday, January 12, 2023

Just Their Man

Every politician cultivates his or her base. Pierre Poilievre's base is dominated by angry young men. Linda McQuaig writes:

An insightful article in The Walrus, co-written by prominent pollster Frank Graves, describes how Poilievre is making gains among disaffected Canadian men — particularly young men — who “complain they have not seen the kind of progress their parents and grandparents did. Pensions and secure retirement are a mirage.”

These men are correct, and their anger at being left behind as the world economy zooms ahead is understandable, even poignant.

Where they get off course and start lapsing into loopy thinking is in their inability to grasp who’s to blame for their predicament. And this is where a populist strongman can make hay. A strongman purports to be on their side, grasping their grievances and feeling their pain.

Poilievre presents himself as a strongman:

Typically, the strongman urges them to vent their rage by storming the seat of government or, in the Canadian version supported by Poilievre, parking in front of Parliament and clogging the surrounding streets with enormous trucks, hot tubs and bouncy castles.

Strongmen offer up a clear villain: government, or in Poilievre’s words “this big beast called government.” Government’s evil is apparently perpetrated by all those who exercise its authority, notably public health officials trying to curb a pandemic.

But Poilevre misplaces the blame:

Blaming government is a clever bait-and-switch, since the root grievance of the angry men is their economic insecurity.

And it wasn’t government officials (or pointy-headed public health authorities) who made them economically insecure. The corporate world did that!

If pensions and secure retirement are a mirage today (which they are), it’s because the cutthroat corporate world of recent decades stopped providing pensions to its employees.

The corporate world also pushed governments to adopt a whole range of pro-business policies that destroyed the earlier economic order based on the New Deal, under which economic rewards were distributed much more equitably.

Indeed, that New Deal order had treated the economic security of workers as vital — the very glue that made democracy work; if working people could achieve economic gains and financial security, they would value highly the democracy that delivered all that.

This has been stripped away over the past four decades as the corporate elite has managed to impose the new pro-business order, redirecting income and wealth to the top, slashing social supports and undermining the ability of the common people to achieve economic gains through unionizing.

This leaves today’s uneducated workers with little hope of retiring comfortably or buying a house, as their uneducated parents and grandparents did.

No longer tethered to a democratic system that doesn’t deliver as it used to, they become a volatile, malleable mass, susceptible to the snake oil of a wily strongman.

And Poilierve is just their man.

Image: The Toronto Star

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Dirty Air


Andrew Nikiforuk writes that we still haven't learned important lessons from COVID:

The past tells us plagues generally end messily; conclude at different times for different classes and regions; and don’t fade into obscurity until something dramatically changes in the ecology of the pathogen’s transmission or how people live alongside the disease.

Charles Forsberg, an MIT nuclear engineer, laid out this truth in a rousing article in Mechanical Engineering magazine.

“Historical amnesia” is what Forsberg called the general assumption that plagues are short-term events conquered by vaccines and drugs.

History, he wrote, “has shown that most diseases are stopped by shutting down disease transmission, not late-arriving vaccines or hospital treatments, and that the most enduring way to stop transmission is via engineered public health systems such as water treatment plants and mosquito control districts.”

In other words, plagues don’t tend to end until their human hosts re-engineer the environment that allows them to thrive.

What must we do?

From Forsberg’s perspective the only way to close the door on this pandemic is to provide “clean air the way engineered systems supply clean water.”

Forsberg is not alone in this blunt and practical assessment. Thousands of engineers and physicists who understand air chemistry now support better indoor air filtration and ventilation as our way out of relentless viral waves and chronic hospitalizations.

One civil engineer, Richard Corsi, who has spent his life trying to improve indoor air quality, even designed a $60 box fan that draws circulating air through filters as a pandemic fighter. Thousands of citizens have built them. And yes they work.

The virus wasn’t being spread by heavy droplets as the medical establishment first believed, but light aerosols that floated through a room like a fog or smoke. In fact schools equipped with good mechanical ventilation can reduce viral transmission by 74 per cent found one recent Italian study.

The complexity scientist Yaneer Bar-Yam also recognized earlier than most public health experts the importance for focusing on critical parameters such as clean air, testing and masks, which act as individual air filters. Why? Because all have ability to choke viral transmission if scaled up properly.

The clear air movement has begun to make progress. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers has published a document calling for better air quality as an effective means of reducing viral transmission.

The government of France ordered new CO2 standards for school classrooms, because high CO2 levels not only indicate low air exchange but also high COVID levels.

Coincidentally, a research paper by Harvard medical school’s Edward Goldstein released last month and not yet peer reviewed concludes that in France “children between the ages of 10 and 19 years played the greatest relative role in propagating Omicron epidemics, particularly when schools were open.”

Indoor air expert Corsi, now dean of engineering at UC Davis, believes that vaccines and anti-virals are really important. “But this pandemic is not going anywhere until we get serious about lowering the inhalation dose, folks,” he recently tweeted.

“Doing so is not rocket science. It’s technically simple and just a matter of human will.”

We've known for decades that illness thrives in dirty water. COVID thrives in dirty air.

Image: First Call

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

The American Constitutional Crisis

Now that Kevin McCarthy is the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Republicans plan to paralyze the Biden administration by threatening to default on the nation's debt. But Jennifer Rubin writes that the debt crisis is as manufactured as the resume of the Republicans' newest house member, George Santos:

For starters, the House GOP is spoiling for a fight on the debt limit. The rules package eliminates a long-existing parliamentary rule that automatically raised the debt ceiling whenever the House passed a budget. This will empower the House to hold the economy hostage to extract dangerous cuts to national security and crippling reductions in entitlements.

But the White House can defuse the extortionists’ bomb before it is detonated. It should plainly state that the president has the power to ensure Congress does not sabotage the full faith and credit of the United States.

Section 8 of Article I of the Constitution states that Congress has the power “to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts.” It further states that Congress has the power to borrow “on the credit” of the United States. Plainly, the Founding Fathers did not envision lawmakers deliberately refusing payment of debts and destroying the credit of the United States.

But the 14th Amendment makes clear that this power does not include the power to trigger a default. As constitutional scholar Laurence H. Tribe succinctly tweeted, “The debt ceiling is a misnomer: it does nothing to cap spending but just creates an illusory threat to stiff our creditors.” That’s because “[Section] 4 of 14th Amendment forbids defaulting on the nation’s debts.”

In other words, the constitution does not allow what the Republicans want to do. That will not stop them. If the last four years have proved anything, it's that Republicans only abide by the Constitution when they want to. Their leader recently called for the constitution to be suspended.

Besides manufacturing a debt crisis, the Republicans plan to bring all Justice Department investigations of Donald Trump and his co-conspirators to a halt. That would be a clear violation of the constitutional principle of the separation of powers:

It would do this by establishing a subcommittee on the “weaponization of the federal government,” which would be authorized to review ongoing criminal investigations.

Former federal prosecutor Joyce Vance explains in a Substack post, this would “go far beyond the legitimate scope of oversight. Reviewing criminal cases while they’re in progress, which DOJ won’t permit (although it will be forced to waste a lot of time and resources fending off the committee’s requests), would overstep Congress’s bounds and violate the separation of powers.”

It’s no secret what the Republicans are up to. Vance writes: “This is little more than a mechanism for House Republicans to try to interfere with any investigations into Trump, or any other Republicans, like George Santos or Matt Gaetz, who may be the subject of non-January-6-related matters.” She adds that Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who will likely lead the subcommittee, “will be able to issue subpoenas regarding the Hunter Biden investigation, which is being handled by a Trump-holdover U.S. Attorney in Delaware to try to embarrass President Joe Biden and argue that his Justice Department is giving favorable treatment to his son, which it clearly isn’t doing.”

The Justice Department has a well-established practice to prevent Congress from meddling in ongoing investigations and prosecutions. As the Justice Department explained in a letter to a congressional subcommittee in 2000, “Although Congress has a clearly legitimate interest in determining how the Department enforces statutes, Congressional inquiries during the pendency of a matter pose an inherent threat to the integrity of the Department’s law enforcement and litigation functions.” The letter continued, “Such inquiries inescapably create the risk that the public and the courts will perceive undue political and Congressional influence over law enforcement and litigation decisions. Such inquiries also often seek records and other information that our responsibilities for these matters preclude us from disclosing.”

The Biden administration will be very busy over the next two years -- not passing legislation, but defending the constitution.

Image: YouTube

Monday, January 09, 2023

The Kraken

The latest COVID variant has arrived. Some scientists are calling it "the Kraken." Andrew Nikiforiuk writes:

 It has arrived in British Columbia and elsewhere in Canada.
The global spread of this variant, officially designated XBB.1.5, could deliver as much contagious grief as the original appearance of Omicron in the winter of 2022 say some researchers.

Kraken could wipe out and replace other circulating variants in this, the fourth year of the pandemic, and thereby create significant waves in many countries.

According to data from a bevy of COVID genomic watchers and independent scientists, XBB.1.5 started to break away from the Omicron pack and become a dominant force about two weeks ago.

It looks like the latest version of COVID could be particularly virulent:

Yale immunologist Akiko Iwasaki, whose research team has identified some of the biological signatures of long COVID, including immune dysfunction and low cortisol levels, is already worried.

She tweeted: “Please protect yourselves and others by wearing N95 masks. I am truly concerned about the #longCOVID wave that follows this infection.”

She added that she was “concerned because of the putative ability of XBB.1.5 to have increased capacity to infect cell types that express even lower levels of ACE2. This will increase tropism and possibly persistence in cell types that are long lived.”

In other words, the Kraken may cause more persistent disease.

And it appears that most of us have abandoned our defenses. Wisdom is in short supply these days.

Image: YouTube

Sunday, January 08, 2023

Setting Fires

For decades now, the Conservative Party of Canada has been taking its cue from Republicans south of the border. And the recent battle in the House of Representatives confirms that they are on a path to burn everything down. Max Fawcett writes that Pierre Poilievre, like his southern cousins, is a "political arsonist:"

Poilievre says his goal is “turning hurt into hope.” But if his attempt to channel Barack Obama feels just a bit off, that’s because he’s personally responsible for much of the anger he claims to be worried about. After all, he’s the one who keeps telling Canadians their country feels “broken” — and that all of their woes are directly attributable to one source.

His promise to turn the hurt he’s cultivated into hope is a bit like an arsonist trying to put out the fire they started. Poilievre has been starting political fires all across the country over the last year, whether it’s stirring up anger in Vancouver over drug policy, frustration in Alberta about federal climate policies, or discontent among vaccine-skeptical protesters in Ottawa.

Former Conservative leader Erin O'Toole recently warned his colleagues about the danger of starting fires:

In a year-end blog post, Erin O’Toole criticized the party’s embrace of the far-right elements that new leader Pierre Poilievre has repeatedly cozied up to. Notably, he called out the “F*ck Trudeau” flags that have become a common sight whenever convoy-curious conservatives gather in groups.

“These flags and the hyper-aggressive rhetoric that often accompanies them are slowly normalizing rage and damaging our democracy,” O’Toole wrote. “Since so many people that display the flags claim to be conservative, this might also be an appropriate time to tell them that these flags are the very antithesis of what it means to be conservative.”

But Poilievre is hell-bent on starting fires:

His willingness to blame the prime minister for almost anything was on display in a video he posted a few days ago when he shared the story of “Mustafa”, a Calgary man he apparently met in the Ottawa airport who was looking to get his passport renewed. According to Poilievre, “Mustafa” had applied 10 months ago, but still hadn’t received it — and his wedding in Cuba was supposed to happen the previous day. “They’re all down there in Cuba waiting for him to come down and get married, and he can’t get a passport. He applied 10 months earlier. This is how everything operates with Justin Trudeau.”

But as many people pointed out in the comments to his post, that isn’t actually how it operates. Much of the backlog in passport applications has been eliminated, and hundreds of people pointed out that they’d had their own applications processed in a matter of days or weeks. Meanwhile, if Mustafa was really in such dire straits, he could have simply gone to the Calgary passport office and requested the urgent or express delivery option rather than boarding a flight to Ottawa. For the leader of a party that claims to believe in personal responsibility, this is some pretty thin gruel.

 Perhaps Canadians are not as dull-witted as the Americans:

Canadians seem to be taking notice. The most recent Angus Reid Institute poll showed more than half of Canadians (54 per cent) have a negative view of Poilievre, while only one-in-three like what he’s offering. “These levels of unfavourable sentiment are much higher than those of previous leaders Andrew Scheer, Erin O’Toole, and Stephen Harper at the beginning of their own leadership ventures.”

Let's hope that's the case.

Image: Fire Rescue 1

Saturday, January 07, 2023

They Are So Dangerous

Kevin McCarthy is now the speaker of the U. S, House of Representatives. Dana Milbank writes:

This is insurrection by other means: Two years to the day since the Jan. 6 invasion of the Capitol, Republicans are still attacking the functioning of government. McCarthy opened the door to the chaos by excusing Donald Trump’s fomenting of the attack and welcoming a new class of election deniers to his caucus. Now he’s trying to save his own political ambitions by agreeing to institutionalize the chaos — not just for the next two years but for future congresses as well.

If you're looking for evidence, consider what McCarthy agreed to in his quest for votes:

He agreed to allow any member of the House to force a vote at will to “vacate” his speakership — essentially agreeing to be in permanent jeopardy of losing his job. He agreed to put rebels on the Rules Committee, giving them sway over what gets a vote on the House floor, and in key committee leadership posts. He agreed to unlimited amendments to spending bills, inviting two years of mayhem. He agreed to other changes that make future government shutdowns and a default on the national debt more likely, if not probable.

And consider the behaviour of his caucus colleagues:

This week, Republicans referred to one another as the “Taliban” and “terrorists” and “hostage takers.” They traded obscenities in a caucus meeting. One of the anti-McCarthy Republicans, Matt Gaetz of Florida, publicly called McCarthy a “squatter” for prematurely occupying the speaker’s Capitol office.

In an appalling scene on the House floor Friday night, Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), the incoming chairman of the Armed Services committee, lunged at holdout Gaetz and had to be pulled away. Nearby was Nancy Mace (R-S.C.), who conveyed her respect for the institution by voting with her dog in her arms.

On the House floor Thursday, Dan Bishop (R-N.C.), a White man from the South, accused Cori Bush (Mo.), a Black Democrat, of “grotesquely racist rhetoric.” The day before, Kat Cammack (R-Fla.) insinuated groundlessly in her speech re-re-re-re-renominating McCarthy that Democrats were drunk on the job.

Democrats howled for her words to be struck from the record, but because there was no speaker, there was nothing to be done. “There are no rules,” McCarthy said from his seat on the floor.

No rules. No functioning. And, essentially, no House. The elected members of Congress cannot be sworn in (although the office of New York Republican George Santos, who fabricated much of his life story, erroneously issued a news release stating that he had been sworn in). Bills can’t be introduced. Committee memberships and chairmanships can’t be assigned, and staff can’t be hired. Newly elected lawmakers can’t access emails or office supplies. House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik even called off her colleagues’ feeding. “Due to the House adjourning, there will not be pizza and salads tonight,” announced an email from her office Tuesday evening.

Two years ago, the insurrections tried to destroy their government from the outside. Now they will try to destroy it from the inside. And, in the end, that old adage held true: Democrats fall in love. Republicans fall in line.

That is precisely why they are so dangerous.

Image: Reuters