Saturday, November 21, 2020

On cultured ignorance

Evan Radford's report on the insufficient public response to soaring COVID-19 case loads in rural Saskatchewan surely reflects the polling (PDF) showing a higher proportion of social irresponsibility than in any other province. But it's worth noting how that in turn can be traced to years of anti-science propaganda from Scott Moe's Saskatchewan Party and its backers - which is in turn reflected in Moe's choices. 

It's no accident that the fault lines in public responses to COVID are similar to those dealing with climate change. There,  the same unscrupulous corporate actors who have invested massive disinformation campaigns around the world have long held sway over the Saskatchewan Party. And the result has been both rhetoric and policy which disavow any commitment to vital collective action, instead seeking to squeeze every dollar of corporate profit possible out of the province regardless of the harm to its citizens. 

That effort has gone beyond merely trying to cast doubt on climate science to a concerted effort to change the subject to artificial regional grievance. There too, the Saskatchewan Party has quite deliberately stoked the fires of baseless anger. Its former premier has been one of the main talking heads behind a separation project. And in addition to leading his own support to that effort in general, Moe has shown far more consistency and devotion to contrived fights against Justin Trudeau than to the social battle against COVID-19.

Even when it comes to COVID-19 itself, the chosen response of Moe's government has been to do as little as possible generally, and to portray the pandemic as an isolated or big-city problem which isn't actually real for rural areas.

Of course, the U.S.' experience has shown that a deep enough effort at manipulating public opinion can get people to disbelieve the existence of the very disease that's killing them. And we shouldn't be surprised if that phenomenon appears in Saskatchewan as well.

But if it's too late to change how the combination of Moe, his oil backers and the right-wing populist "movement" is endangering people in the fall wave of COVID, it's not a moment too soon to set out to the task of ensuring their message no longer serves as the foundation for public opinion and policymaking alike.

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Linda McQuaig discusses how the calamitous effect of COVID-19 shows the dangers of putting care in the hands of the corporate sector. And Christopher Reynolds reports on Jagmeet Singh's call to end the for-profit ownership of long-term care homes by the federal government. 

- Ricardo Tranjan notes that commercial landlords are among the private interests extracting extra profits COVID-19. And Jenny Cowley, Asha Tomlinson and Stephanie Matteis report that promised action against pandemic price-gouging has never materialized, leaving consumers on the hook for the greed of retailers.

- Rosa Saba reports on a push for paid sick days for the front-line workers most at risk in the midst of a pandemic.

- Global News reports on Michel Bastarache's findings of a toxic culture of misogyny and homophobia within the RCMP which likely can't be fixed from within.

- Finally, Seamus Heffernan calls out how inmates in Canada's prisons are fed insufficiently as a matter of both austerity and gratuitous punishment.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Musical interlude

 Interpol - If You Really Love Nothing

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Shannon Vanraes reports that Manitoba has become the latest jurisdiction reduced to triaging patients in their cars due to a lack of resources to respond to the coronavirus. Mickey Djuric reports on new modeling showing that Saskatchewan is on the verge of a severe COVID-19 outbreak, even as Paul Merriman plans to do nothing until it's too late to improve matters. But it's worth noting - as already pointed out - that even the best-case scenario (involving cases leveling off at their current number) would need to have involved substantial action a month ago.

- Zak Vescera reports on Alex Wong's observation that we need immediate action to save lives. And the Saskatchewan NDP is calling for a three-week "circuit breaker" of non-essential services to prevent both catastrophic spread and more severe lockdowns later on. 

- Owen Jones argues that since any COVID-19 vaccine will be the result of publicly-funded research for the benefit of all humanity, it makes no sense to hand over patents rights allowing big pharma to limit access to it.

- Janyce McGregor and Peter Zimonjic reports on the federal NDP's push for a national pharmacare program. And while the Cons try to throw out jurisdictional arguments, it's worth noting how private health interests are lining up at the trough to turn health care needs into profits thanks to their Alberta cousins.

- Finally, Hadrian Metrins-Kirkwood writes that the Libs' much-ballyhooed climate change legislation doesn't actually promise to generate much other than a lot of paperwork, while Adam Radwanski likewise finds the bill wanting compared to its international counterparts. And Robert Devine argues that we can't count on the market to save us from the calamitous consequences of an impending climate breakdown.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Umair Haque discusses the U.S.' extreme aversion to public goods (based primarily on a desire to exclude large numbers of people from normalized society) - and the role that ideology has played in its failure as a state. 

- Erika Beauchesne reminds us that progressive taxes on the rich can serve as both a source of revenue, and a means of rebalancing a warped distribution of wealth and power. And Christo Aivalis calls out the Libs, Cons and Bloc for voting down the NDP's motion for a publicly-supported wealth tax.

- Evelyn Forget writes that the success of the CERB and other temporary coronavirus relief programs demonstrates the power of a basic income which ensures that nobody is at risk of going without the necessities of life. And David Gray and Philip Leonard offer a reminder of the failings of an employment insurance system designed to restrict access rather than ensure support.

- Meanwhile, Cam Scott and Rob Crooks discuss the need for a housing strategy based on the public interest rather than profit-seeking.

- Jenna Moon reports on the continued profiteering by supermarkets which are raising prices while taking any additional benefits away from employees. Clark Kaufmann reports on allegations that Tyson Foods' callousness in response to COVID-19 included having managers take bets on how many employees would get sick with a deadly disease on their watch. And George Monbiot warns that the UK is at risk of an imminent food shortage due to the Con government's belief that it has no responsibility to ensure it's available.

- Finally, Martha Neovard writes about the utter lack of public health logic behind the Saskatchewan Party's decision to keep families apart unless they're willing to risk going out to a for-profit space. And Nicole Di Danato reports that Saskatchewan's doctors instead recommend restricting bars, nightclubs and bingo halls as creating risks which far exceed any benefit to their remaining open.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Dan Zakreski reports on Shannon Grant Tompkins' effort to share the stories of the people suffering from the spread of COVID-19. And David Climenhaga writes that poor government is leading to avoidable sickness and death as Alberta (like Saskatchewan and other provinces) apparently mistook earlier luck for competence and invincibility.

- Denise Balkissoon writes that the pandemic should serve as a warning that children aren't infinitely resilient (as they've been assumed to be for the purpose of enabling continued underfunding of schools and community programs). 

- Daniella Ponticelli reports on the people who have been deprived of any support at all due to the Moe government's insistence that they rely on temporary federal programs while making no effort to restore benefits once those expired.

- Anna Louise Sussman discusses New Zealand's effort to apply genuine pay equity by properly valuing work disproportionately performed by women. And Thara Kumar and Kayva Anchuri make clear that Albertans are prepared to stand up for the care workers currently being targeted by the Kenney UCP.

- Mitchell Thompson reports on Amazon's imposition of impossible expectations on employees who are seeing their health harmed as a result.  

- Finally, Seth Klein writes about the urgency of mobilizing against a climate breakdown. Jordan Press reports that even Tiff Macklem is pushing for stronger action than we've seen to date. And Alex Ballingall points out Canada's woeful record of missing even the least ambitious of emission reduction targets - which only stands to continue as the Trudeau Libs focus on subsidizing the oil sector rather than living up to our obligations under the Paris agreement.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

 Smushed cats.

Tuesday Evening Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Andrew Nikiforuk discusses how a "COVID zero" strategy has been successfully executed elsewhere - and could be achieved in Canada as well. But in case we needed a reminder as to the numerous ways in which our current governments are falling painfully short of that goal, Katie Dangerfield reports on the hospitals which are already bursting at the seams as case loads are soaring; Alicia Bridges discusses the Crown corporation workers being forced to stay at the office even in positions which they performed from home this spring; Jason Warick reports on Scott Moe's arbitrary distinctions between communities in getting even to a mask mandate; Arthur White-Crummey reports on an outbreak at Moose Jaw's Thunder Creek pork plant; and Zak Vescera discusses how Fond du Lac is facing a severe outbreak without potable drinking water. And Andre Picard highlights the prospect that we'll need another full lockdown to get the current wave under control. 

- Carl Meyer notes that Canada stands out along with Saudi Arabia among the world's worst offenders in pouring public resources into dirty fossil fuels. And Alastair Marsh points out that even for people fixated on profits, the only sound investment strategy is to fund the transition to a clean economy.

- Rosa Saba discusses the potential for a national child care strategy - but also the danger that it might fall short of a universal non-profit model which actually ensures access to spaces for everybody who needs it.

- Jonathan Sas writes that any hope for meaningful change in the U.S. will need to be generated by social movements rather than the Biden administration. And John Clarke recognizes that the same principle applies in Canada as well.

- Finally, Paris Marx writes that the ad-based model of the Internet can't be expected to survive much longer.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Eric Dolan reports on new research showing the connection between a sense of entitlement and a refusal to take basic steps to protect public health in a pandemic. And Francine Kapun reports on the Peel region's move to fine employers who don't put reasonable precautions in place. 

- John Michael McGrath slams Doug Ford for being more concerned with guarding jurisdiction than taking action to protect the public from the coronavirus (or at least allowing the federal government to do so). Heather Mallick rightly challenges Ford's valuation of business income over human lives. And Randy Robinson highlights why demanding that small businesses stay open in the face of a wave of community spread won't actually help their survival rate.

- Jason Warick reports that Saskatoon's intensive care units are already over capacity as Saskatchewan faces an alarming rise in new COVID cases.

- Sarah Anderson and Margon Rathke write that the activist energy used to mobilize voters in the U.S. is now being turned toward the pursuit of pandemic relief.

- Finally, Jonathan Soros highlights why we should be seeking revenue from the capital class rather than looking primarily to struggling workers. And Carly Stern points out what the U.S. (and other countries) can learn from Norway's success with a wealth tax.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

On missed opportunities

There has been plenty of commentary and analysis about the results of Saskatchewan's provincial election - including some discussion on the theme of an overly risk-averse NDP campaign. But I'll follow up with one specific example of what may have been missing from the party's message.

One of the key ideas promoted by Ryan Meili over nearly a decade as a leadership candidate and public figure has been the concept of SaskPharm, giving effect to the familiar and already-mooted idea that there should be public ownership of a supplier capable of meeting the need for medicine where the private sector fails to deliver (whether within reasonable price parameters or at all). 

And as recently as June of this year, the NDP's caucus included the concept in its COVID recovery plan (PDF). But come election time, the NDP's platform omitted any mention of SaskPharm. 

Unfortunately, that fit into a broader pattern of only tinkering around the edges when it came to economic issues. 

The NDP was willing to direct substantial amounts of money toward an SGI rebate and the removal of the PST on construction labour. And it planned to reinstate a number of lost entities such as STC, and industries such as the film sector. But very little in its economic message even hinted at any plans beyond restoring the province to its economic mix circa 2007.

That then caused problems in responding to the Saskatchewan Party's constant demand of slavish devotion to the oil sector. When it came time to answer as to what sources of jobs and economic development might be available for Saskatchewan once the rest of the planet wised up to the imperative to shift away from fossil fuels, the NDP unfortunately left ready-made possibilities off the table. And that made it far too easy for voters to accept they should stay on an unsustainable path, for lack of any specifics as to what alternatives might be available.

What's worse, the omission of SaskPharm from the election came at a time when we've become acutely aware of the dangers of relying on foreign and corporate suppliers for the medication and other supplies we need to stay healthy in the midst of a pandemic.

It's not clear that the next election will offer quite the same natural intersection between an immediate need, and an already-developed policy proposal which can serve as the focal point for Saskatchewan's economic development. But I'd argue that the NDP needs to put in the effort laying the groundwork for an economic vision which offers a clear choice of something better - lest voters wrongly believe their only option is more of the same.

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Andre Picard discusses the need for governments to take direct action to stop the spread of the coronavirus, rather than merely sending muddled messages about personal responsibility. And Amir Attaran and Lorian Hardcastle make the case for far stronger action by Canada's chief medical officers to combat COVID-19 as politicians dither and bothsides their way through a pandemic, while Adam Miller weighs in on how federal emergency powers could fill the gap being left by negligent provincial governments. 

- But Murray Mandryk (sadly only after setting an election narrative that we couldn't do better) tells us we can't expect Scott Moe to do anything but serve his corporate masters. In the absence of effective public health measures, Scott Schmidt asks Albertans to be far more responsible than their government in both limiting the spread of the coronavirus, and taking care of the people affected by it. And Zeynep Tufekci discusses the need for us to hunker down through the winter - particularly since the promise of vaccines in 2021 offers the prospect of an end date.

- Pete Evans reports on the anticipated wave of insolvencies and bankruptcies as the worst wave of a pandemic crests after needed supports have been taken away. And Alanna Smith reports that genuine economists - as opposed to corporate mouthpieces - recognize the value in stopping the spread of COVID-19 rather than insisting that businesses have to stay open regardless of the public health consequences.

- Serina Chang, Emma Pierson, Pang Wei Koh, Jaline Gerardin, Beth Redbird, David Grusky and Jure Leskovec study the separate and significant roles of crowding and socioeconomic disadvantage in facilitating the spread of the coronavirus.

- Finally, PressProgress reports that over a hundred private health businesses are lobbying the UCP's Ministry of Health in the midst of the pandemic, sensing the opportunity to swoop in as vultures after universal medicare is executed by Jason Kenney. And Scott Dippel reports on Calgary's conclusion that it has to hire Monte Solberg's lobbying firm in order to be heard by the UCP, as its representatives elected to serve the city's constituents are proving to be of no use whatsoever.