Saturday, November 28, 2020

Saturday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Michael Smithson examines data from 45 countries confirming that any attempt to play off COVID-19 suppression against economic activity is based on a false assumption, as the former is a must to allow the latter.

- Leyland Cecco reports on the surge in COVID-19 cases on the Prairies - showing that the fecklessness of the conservative governments of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba is remarkable enough to win notice internationally. Duane Bratt and Lisa Young discuss the politics behind Jason Kenney's failures - though it's worth highlighting how Kenney and his party have legitimized and boosted exactly the extreme-right positions which are now being presented as an excuse for poor government. And Zak Vescera reports on Saskatchewan's doctors who are bracing for the worst.

- Davide Mastracci takes the time to Fisk the anti-CERB propaganda put out by Postmedia last week, while Lindsay Tedds details exactly what it gets wrong.

- The Associated Press reports on Purdue's guilty pleas arising out of the manipulative marketing of opioids. And Walt Mogdanich and Michael Forsythe dig into the appalling thinking behind the opioid epidemic - including McKinsey's plan to pay pharmacies for causing overdoses. 

- Finally, Brendan Kennedy reports on the Centre for Future Work's research confirming that universal child care would far more than pay for itself.

Friday, November 27, 2020

Musical interlude

 Remi Wolf - Hello Hello Hello (Polo & Pan Remix)

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Michael Fraiman discusses how far too many leaders have failed or refused to live up to the title when their authority was needed to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. And Canada News Central reports on the findings of Ontario's Auditor-General about Doug Ford's failure to fund or listen to public health experts.

- Joe Dangor writes about new research from the Mayo Clinic confirming the role of masks in limiting the spread of COVID-19.

- Sara DiNatale tells the story of Gerardo Gutierrez, a worker who died of COVID-19 after being ordered by his employer not to wear a mask. And Arthur White-Crummey reports on an outbreak at Thunder Creek Pork whose details have been kept under wraps by both the corporate owner, and the Saskatchewan Health Authority.

- Lauren Kaori Gurley reports on Amazon's surveillance of labour and environmental groups (along with its own workers) in order to avoid any challenges to its control. 

- Finally, George Monbiot highlights how the UK's Brexit mess is the result of a war between competing capital factions - with the public interest as the main casualty. And Bernie Sanders comments on the need to win back the support of working class voters - both at the polls and through regular engagement in the political process - in order to counter the trend toward authoritarianism as the perceived alternative to neoliberal corporatism.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

On anti-precaution

Jennie Russell and Charles Rusnell's bombshell report offers an alarming - if perhaps not surprising - look at how Jason Kenney's UCP has refused to do anything more than the bare minimum to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. And naturally, Scott Moe's habit of following Kenney's every move makes it virtually certain that the same principles explain the Saskatchewan Party's similarly late, weak and reluctant response to a deadly virus.

So let's look at one of the main problems with Alberta's ideological response - and how it fits into the picture in Saskatchewan.

In its public messaging, the Saskatchewan Health Authority has quite rightly made reference to the Swiss Cheese Model - recognizing that under circumstances where no single intervention will eliminate the spread of COVID-19 on its own, we need to maximize the partial protections available in order to minimize overall transmission.

But there are noteworthy options missing from the SHA's own "swiss cheese" message and strategy. And Alberta's revelations may explain why:

A source with direct knowledge of the daily planning meetings said the premier wants evidence-based thresholds for mandatory restrictions that are effectively impossible to meet, especially in an ever-changing pandemic.

As of Wednesday, no thresholds have been designated publicly. 

The source said Kenney's attitude was that he wasn't going to close down anything that affected the economy unless he was provided with specific evidence about how it would curtail the spread of COVID-19. 

"This is like nothing we have ever seen before. So [it is] very, very difficult to get specific evidence to implement specific restrictions," said the source who, like the others interviewed by CBC News, spoke on condition of confidentiality for fear of losing their job.


CBC News also interviewed a source close to Hinshaw who said she has indicated that, eight months into the pandemic, politicians are still often demanding a level of evidence that is effectively impossible to provide before they will act on restrictive recommendations.


Ogbogu said it is clear politicians, who are not experts in pandemic response, are not focusing on what matters most to public health.

"The focus needs to be on the disease, on how you stop it," he said. "Not the economy. Nothing is more important."

In effect, then, Kenney has been applying an anti-precautionary principle to public health measures. 

Rather than ensuring that protective action is taken in the face of imperfect or uncertain information, Kenney's position has been that nothing may be done unless it can be proven to be perfect and indispensable. That's probably an impossible standard at the best of times, but it of course only becomes all the more unattainable when the province has given up on actually gathering complete information about the virus' spread.

From there, given the common backers, ideologies, strategies and political connections between the UCP and the Saskatchewan Party as well as their similar messages and plans around COVID-19, there's every reason for concern that the same principle is being applied to Moe's decision-making. And it's Saskatchewan's citizens who are living with the avoidably-increased risk of COVID-19 when Moe's government takes vital slices of cheese off the table.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Raj Chetty, John Friedman, Nathaniel Hendren and Michael Stepner study a myriad of issues about COVID-19 and its public reaction - with a focus on how social insurance relieving against the effect of closures has accomplished far more (both for well-being and for economic indicators) than attempts to force businesses to stay open. And Brad DeLong points out the folly of austerity even under normal conditions - and its particular danger in a time of crisis.

- Adam Miller and Amina Zafar discuss the lessons that we should be taking from the Canadian provinces which have best controlled the coronavirus. Laura Glowacki highlights the role that indoor air plays in the community spread of COVID-19. And Zoe Hyde writes that there's little evidence to suggest a lower level of infection or transmission among children as opposed to adults.

- David Hughes highlights the factors which make the TMX pipeline an absolutely useless endeavour at this point. And Mia Rabson reports on the Canada Energy Regulator's conclusion that the same applies to Keystone XL.

- Meanwhile, Simon Enoch weighs in on Saskatchewan's pitiful placement as the least energy-efficient Canadian province.

- Finally, Jonathan Watts discusses the rise of land inequality among farm operations around the globe. And Marc Montgomery points out how that phenomenon is playing out in Canada's prairie provinces. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

On limited consultations

While we'll find out this afternoon what (if anything) the Moe Saskatchewan Party will do in terms of action against COVID-19, Jason Warick's report on its consultation process doesn't offer any reason for confidence.

It's bad enough that Moe is only consulting with groups who have an obvious motivation to avoid restrictions. But the consultation itself seems to be limited to self-regulation falling short of the possibility of shutting down any activity - even where the people involved recognize a need to consider that option:

"Every sport was asked last week by the government to come back to the business response team with what they can do more in terms of restrictions," said Kelly McClintock, general manager of the Saskatchewan Hockey Association.

"So I'm assuming there could be some announcements this week in terms of maybe some more restrictions."


Rob Kennedy, manager of sport development for Sask Sport, said they don't have an opinion on whether sports should continue or not. He said sports provide a lot of physical and mental health benefits to tens of thousands of kids across the province, but said community health and safety is the top priority.

He said their role is to come up with sport-specific suggestions for making things safer. Some indoor, close contact sports have different levels of risk than distanced outdoor ones.

It's the government health experts and leaders who can best make those final decisions, Kennedy said.

And even corporate spokespeople aren't taking the line that there's a need to keep businesses open at the expense of public health:

Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce CEO Steve McLellan agreed.

He said business owners are working hard to innovate and keep their customers and staff safe. He said the chamber doesn't have a set position on further restrictions, but is confident the government will strike the right balance between fighting the virus and preserving jobs and businesses.

"We need to make sure that we have as many businesses as many jobs available when we come out of COVID as we possibly can, but not keeping businesses open at the cost of our public health," McLellan said.

Which makes it rather striking that the consultations have seemingly been designed to ask only the question of what more limited steps might be available to give the appearance of action, rather than which protections are actually necessary to rein in the pandemic. And it's not hard to anticipate Moe omitting the consistent statement that it's his responsibility to consider the latter question by saying the consultation represents the limit of what he can possibly do.

On shared obligations

There's been plenty of attention paid to the Saskatchewan Health Authority's list of the sites of known community spread of COVID-19, including questions as to both the categories used and the action resulting from the information. But regardless of any argument about how exactly to define the boundaries of a given acquisition source, there's a crucial parallel to be drawn with familiar arguments about greenhouse gas emissions (whether based on industry or based on geography).

In both cases, we face systemic dangers which threaten absolutely everybody's well-being. But in both cases, it's also true that no single industry or group's contribution alone is enough to rein in the threat.

In the case of climate change, that excuse has largely been deployed by specific lobby groups as an excuse to put off any obligations whatsoever. As the script goes, why should I be expected to help out when my actions alone won't reverse the growth of emissions from other sources? 

But if that message has been far too successful in averting action on climate change, COVID-19 should offer us a compelling example of its flaws under circumstances where the consequences are far more immediate. 

Rather than reflecting the invisible discharge of gases in ways, the community spread of a virus is plainly the result of personal actions and choices. And we're now seeing how the few people who insist on thumbing their noses at even the most basic protections increase both the compliance demands and the risk of adverse outcomes for people who are more responsible.

Of course, where there's overlap between activities which are both comparatively inessential and particularly dangerous, we should have little hesitation in restricting those first and more strongly. 

But we can't deal with the entirety of either the COVID-19 pandemic or the threat of climate breakdown by limiting our focus to one or two contributing causes. And that should represent a reason for all of us to contribute however we can - not an excuse for anybody to do nothing.

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Umair Haque highlights how European and North American states have failed to control the coronavirus compared to other developed countries. And Ian Austen discusses the prospect that Canada could get to the COVID-zero state achieved by Australia. 

- And in case there were any doubt about the stakes involved, Inayat Singh, Dave Seglins and Andreas Wesley report on the tens of thousands of workers' compensation claims which need to be added to the immediate costs of COVID-19. Ed Yong describes how U.S. hospitals are doing what planning they can in the face of a wave of COVID cases which will inevitably swamp their capacity, while Bill Kaufman reports on the grim triage options facing Alberta's health care system.  And CBC News reports on a plea from B.C.'s health care workers for people to follow public health recommendations to limit viral spread.

- But sadly, Drew Anderson notes that appeals to personal responsibility have proven utterly useless, especially when paired with a lack of meaningful government action. Gary Mason writes that Jason Kenney's dithering and inaction are exacerbating the toll COVID-19 has taken on Alberta. David Climenhaga highlights the futility of replacing existing half-measures with rebranded half-measures which largely duplicate municipal decisions. Dave Cournoyer examines how the latest Alberta plan appears to have been slapped together to do the bare minimum. And Robbie Kreger-Smith notes that the failures now are almost certain to necessitate cancelling in-person Christmas celebrations a month down the road.

- Finally, Lee Berthiaume reports on the risk that Canada's lack of vaccine production capacity will lead to delays in distribution compared to our peer countries.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Cats with companions.


Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Jason Warick reports on Steven Lewis' blunt conclusion that Scott Moe and his government have been "really stupid" in taking "half-assed" steps in response to the fall wave of COVID-19. And Adam Hunter contrasts Moe's refusal to consider any meaningful steps to control the spread of COVID-19 in the name of the economy against the recognition by actual economists that nobody benefits from uncontrolled outbreaks.

- Patricia Treble points out the consequences of Alberta's failure to accept the advice of doctors that the province needed a "circuit breaker" to avert what's now the worst outbreak in Canada. Susan Wright takes note of Jason Kenney's choice to hide as case loads explode under his failed leadership. And Taylor Lambert discusses why Kenney is fixated on a provincial contact tracing app which has produced virtually no results at a cost of a million dollars and counting, rather than the federal one which is fully functional and free for his province to use. 

- Michael Laxer writes that while Doug Ford is using the language of a "lockdown" to try to claim credit for action, he's actually doing little more than allowing big business to keep operating while shutting down anything smaller and locally owned. And PressProgress documents Brian Pallister's apparent belief that the media should do his job in developing a pandemic plan.

- And with conservative premiers showing their utter inability to deal with problems which require effective government action, Tom Parkin makes the case for the federal government to step into the breach.

- Finally, Ian Welsh discusses the crucial difference between enemies and friends in the political sphere. And that distinction maps closely onto Luke Savage's warning that the Biden administration can't repeat Barack Obama's errors in primarily serving and appeasing the corporate class, rather than fighting for the people whose interests have long been neglected in the halls of power.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Monday Afternoon Links

Assorted content to start your week.

- Jim Harding writes about the Saskatchewan Party's politically-driven lack of action to get COVID-19 under control. Gillian Steward discusses how empty any bleating about "freedom!" sounds when it means needlessly exposing people to a deadly virus. And David Climenhaga calls out Jason Kenney for being missing in action. 

- Tyler Dawson notes that health care workers are bearing the brunt of the latest wave of COVID-19 as they're expected to absorb massive new demands while facing increased risks to their own health.

- Doug Saunders argues that the coronavirus pandemic has exposed weaknesses in Canada's federal structure. And Rosa Saba notes that the problems with Employment Insurance which resulted in the temporary creation of the CERB apply equally to the parental leave system administered as part of EI.

- Scott Schmidt calls out the Cons and the National Post for seizing on obviously-false spin to try to attack anybody who dared to receive relief benefits. 

- Finally, Stefanie Davis reports on new research showing that energy efficiency is just one more area where Saskatchewan ranks last among Canada's provinces. And Don Pittis points out that private-sector actors are going ahead with clean energy generation even as the Moe and Kenney governments try to put off any transition.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Lauren Dobson-Hughes discusses how we're paying the price for the failure of governments to protect their citizens from the collective action problem of a pandemic. And Shawn Moen points out how COVID-19 has exposed many people to multiple underlying crises which need to be reckoned with.

- Meanwhile, Gregory Beatty notes that the CERB has reminded us both of the value of an easily-accessible basic income, and the risks of assuming that a cash payout will be sufficient to address a broad range of social needs. And Bonnie Allen reports on the people now unable to pay rent due to the Moe government's decision to punt them off of provincial assistance without making any plans to restore benefits when the CERB came to an end. 

- Abacus Data is the latest pollster to find a strong majority of Canadians (of all party preferences) in favour of a wealth tax. 

- Darrin Qualman, Annette Aurélie Desmarais, André Magnan and Mengistu Wendimu examine how concentration and inequality among prairie farms are affecting both the agricultural sector, and the structure of rural life. And Kanahus Manuel and Naomi Klein discuss the "land back" movement to restore unceded territory to Indigenous control.

- Finally, Alex Ballingall reports on the prospect that federal child care funding might soon be attached to national standards - though it's a thorough indictment of decades of Lib promises that they've never bothered to reach that step before.