Wednesday, April 29, 2020

No Comfort From Chris Hedges

Reading Chris Hedges is never a fell-good experience. His unflinching assessments, his unsparingly bleak prognostications, offer no comfort. During the very trying times we are currently living through, why subject yourself to his analyses?

For a very simple reason: better a bitter truth than a sweet lie.

An interview in Salon shows that Hedges has little hope for any kind of renaissance in the United States after the Covid-19 crisis abates. There is a deep underlying rot:
The country's infrastructure is rotting. Trump presides over a plutocratic, corrupt, cruel, authoritarian, pathological kakistocracy. [I had to look that word up.] The commons is being reduced to rubble while the ultra-rich extract ever more wealth and other resources from the American people. Excessive military spending has left the United States incapable of attending to the basic needs of its people. A culture of distraction and spectacle has rendered many Americans incapable of being responsible engaged citizens. Our public educational system does not teach critical thinking skills. Radical right-wing Christians, white terrorist organizations and other neofascist paramilitaries and extremists are engaging in a campaign of thuggery, intimidation and violence against multiracial American democracy.
As handled by Trump, the coronona virus is but a foretaste of things to come,
as social inequality and political failure combine to create a full collapse of the country's already declining standard of living, as well as its ailing democracy.
And those who think the Democratic Party in general, and Joe Biden in particular, are capable of reviving the U.S. are deluding themselves:
Why? Because the Democrats are also part of the plutocratic establishment that has failed the American people.

Twelve hundred dollars to individuals suffering during this crisis is not sufficient. The Democrats were only really trying to block the equivalent of a $500 billion slush fund that is going into Mnuchin's hands, a man who acts like a criminal. That $1,200 is going to get vacuumed right up by the credit card companies and the banks who hold the mortgages.
The belief that Americans have a real electoral choice is an error in thinking.
America's current political system is a corporate political duopoly. A person can either vote for nativists and racists and climate deniers and creationists on one end, or a person can vote for people who speak in the language of tolerance and are willing to put gay people or women or people of color into positions of power as long as they serve the system.
In voting for Joe Biden, Americans will be voting for more of the same.
What is Biden's record? What is a person voting for if they back Biden on Election Day 2020?

The humiliation of courageous women like Anita Hill who confronted her abuser. You vote for the architects of endless war. You vote for the apartheid state in Israel. Biden supports those things. With Biden you are voting for wholesale surveillance by the government, including the abolition of due process and habeas corpus. You vote for austerity programs. You vote for the destruction of welfare. That was Biden. You vote for cuts to Social Security, which he has repeatedly called for cutting, along with Medicaid. You vote for NAFTA, you vote for "free trade" deals. If you vote for Biden, you are voting for a real decline in wages and the loss of hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs.
With Biden you are also voting for the assault on public education and the transfer of federal funds to Christian "charter schools." With Biden you are voting for more than a doubling of the prison population. With Biden you are voting for the militarized police and against the Green New Deal.

You are also voting to limit a woman's right to abortion and reproductive rights. You are voting for a segregated public school system. With Biden you are voting for punitive levels of student debt and the inability of people to free themselves of that debt through bankruptcy. A vote for Biden is a vote for deregulating banking and finance. Biden also supports for-profit insurance and pharmaceutical corporations.

A vote for Biden is also a vote against the possibility of universal health care. You vote for Biden and you are supporting huge, wasteful and bloated defense budgets. Biden also supports unlimited oligarchic and corporate money to buy the elections.

That's what you're voting for.
Things are very hard for all of us these days. If you accept Chris Hedges' dour outlook, there is much worse to come for the Benighted States of America.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

"I'd Die For A Haircut"

Live in one of several jurisdictions in the Benighted States of America, you could very well get your wish:

Sunday, April 26, 2020

But A Brief Reprieve

If our thoughts have been able, even briefly, to break out of their ongoing obsession with Covid-19 and death, we will have realized a couple of things:

One, that we really aren't masters of the universe, our supposed natural supremacy just a cruel delusion that has led us to this particular juncture in history. An invisible presence has sent us scurrying to our basements. How truly humbling.

And two, that our forced confinement has been extraordinarily beneficial to the environment, with a reported global average drop of 6% in greenhouse gas emissions; it is an improvement, however, that isn't nearly enough to mitigate climate change and will likely prove ephemeral.

But I fear these realizations will prove to be short-lived. Forced contemplation and reflection are uncomfortable. Teachable moments pass; lessons learned are quickly forgotten. Already, we passionately pine for a return to a normal that was never normal: getting and spending, overpopulating the earth, plundering the world's pantry with barely a second thought.

Yet some are hopeful that we can mend our ways, and that current hard-won environmental benefits can be retained:
...climate scientists and activists hope this moment can be a turning point, when our efforts to combat one global crisis inspire action against another, and governments use their unprecedented spending on economic recovery to accelerate a transition away from fossil fuels and toward a green economy.
Robin Edger, executive director and CEO of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, sees this as our last, best chance:
Even before the pandemic it was going to take a massive investment and radical change to meet these targets, Edger said. “We were already talking about a public mobilization along the lines of nothing we’d seen since the Second World War. So now we’ve had this economic collapse as a result of a health crisis and the government has a choice to make: Are we going to make investments in line with our country’s stated climate goals and set ourselves up for the future, or are we going to try to cling to the past and pour money into shovel-ready but unsustainable projects?”
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres used the occasion of Earth Day earlier this week to draw a parallel between the global efforts to fight COVID-19 and climate change, calling the climate crisis an “even deeper emergency” and urging governments to target their economic recoveries toward a more sustainable future. “The current crisis is an unprecedented wake-up call,” he said. “We need to turn the recovery into a real opportunity to do things right for the future.”
Chantal Hebert, on the other hand, is dubious of the prospects for progress as she recalls what happened to Stephan Dion's Green Shift platform in the midst of the 2008 world financial crisis:
The 2008 storm hit as voters were headed to the polls in a federal election.

One of its immediate consequences was to sweep the campaign carpet from under then-Liberal leader Stéphane Dion and his climate-change platform.

As attention shifted to the quickly deteriorating economic scene, Dion came to look as if he had brought the wrong lines to the electoral audition. A plurality of voters opted to keep Stephen Harper in the role of prime minister.

Only a few months before the federal campaign, the climate-change issue had legs. It faltered quickly in the face of a looming recession.
Will history repeat itself under the Covid-19 scourge?
Back in October, an overwhelming majority of voters supported parties that promised more proactive measures to mitigate climate change.

An equally high proportion of Canadians also told pollsters that strong environmental credentials — in the shape of a credible climate change plan — should be a must for any party aspiring to power.

But whether the public and political commitment to addressing climate change will remain strong as minds shift to repairing the damage of the pandemic remains an open question.

Already, polls are showing a shift in voters’ priorities, with climate change taking more of a back seat not only to the economy but also to health care.

Will cash-strapped governments, under the gun to restore some sense of normalcy to the daily lives of Canadians in time for their next electoral appointments, be in a good place to walk the talk of a green big picture?
Will we prove to be apt students as we move forward? My three decades as a teacher require a less than definitive answer.

And the greatest teacher of all, history, unfortunately renders a far less ambiguous answer.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

The Relentless, Indefatigable Chip Franklin

Most days I stop myself from reposting Chip Franklin's hilarious screeds. Today is not one of those days.

Friday, April 24, 2020

UPDATED: Another Sad, Mad Episode

Listening to Donald Trump prattle on is like bearing witness to the stream-of-consciousness ravings of a backward, depraved child:
“And then I see the disinfectant where it knocks it out in a minute,” Trump said. “One minute! And is there a way we can do something, by an injection inside or almost a cleaning? Because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it’d be interesting to check that. So, that you’re going to have to use medical doctors with, but it sounds interesting to me.”

Dr Deborah Birx, the taskforce response coordinator, remained silent. But social media erupted in hilarity and outrage at the president, who has a record of defying science and also floated the idea of treating patients’ bodies with ultraviolet (UV) light.

I'll leave the final word to Walter Shaub, the former director of the Office of Government Ethics:
“It is incomprehensible to me that a moron like this holds the highest office in the land and that there exist people stupid enough to think this is OK. I can’t believe that in 2020 I have to caution anyone listening to the president that injecting disinfectant could kill you.”
P.S. Should you be wondering how the Twitterverse is reacting, click here.

I am particularly fond of this one:


Thursday, April 23, 2020

The Hits Keep Coming.

This certainly beats having to write something for my blog. Thanks to my friend Dom for sending me the following:

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

With A Little Help From The Feds

Sorry (not really); I just can't help myself:

Streaming 24 Hours A Day

The United States may be an empire in deep and irreversible decline, but it continues to excel in one area: comedy of the absurd. Its citizenry's irrational antics amply serve both as entertainment to saner jurisdictions and sobering indictments of exactly how low the human animal can sink:

Monday, April 20, 2020

To All Trump Enthusiasts Everywhere

I'm sure your master endorses this message.

Meanwhile, Heather Mallick has an interesting explanation for the servile attitude so many Americans have toward their clown president.
Why do Americans, alleged rugged individualists, upholders of liberty, haters of king and government, put up with this grotesque man? They’re in the habit of doing so, some American observers have said. Most presidents — thought not Nixon or Dubya — generally talked sense before and Americans grew used to listening.

But it’s more than habit. Americans bow down to authority just as Britons do to monarchs and aristocrats; they doff their cap. They actually play a silly song, “Hail to the Chief,” when a president enters a room and have done so since 1829.

Americans worship titles. We refer to former prime ministers, but a president is called President for the rest of his life. On political talking heads shows, a long-retired diplomat is always called “Ambassador.” Generals remain generals even after retirement, which seems hopelessly pompous.
For me, however, the crowning element of her article is her invocation of some classic Shakespearean insults she deems particularly fitting to lob at the mendacious, inept, sociopathic American president:
“He’s a most notable coward, an infinite and endless liar, an hourly promise breaker.” “Thou cream-faced loon! Where got’st thou that goose look?” “Nut-hook, nut-hook, you lie.” “Would thou wert clean enough to spit upon”

“That trunk of humours, that bolting-hutch of beastliness, that swollen parcel of dropsies, that huge bombard of sack, that stuffed cloak-bag of guts, that roasted Manningtree ox with the pudding in his belly, that reverend Vice, that grey Iniquity, that father Ruffian, that Vanity in years?”
Shakespeare truly was a man for all time.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Build That Wall!

It is our only hope of keeping out citizens of the Benighted States of America such as these:

Friday, April 17, 2020

This Is Absolutely Ghoulish

First it was Dr. Oz betraying his Hippocratic Oath.

Now Dr. Phil has joined the movement as he and the ever-compassionate Laura Ingraham discuss why the lockdown should end. Start at about the 2:00 minute mark:

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

The Weakest Link

There has been much criticism worldwide over national governments' failures to act quickly enough to contain the spread of Covid-19; one needs only look at the frightening death tolls in countries like Italy, Spain and the U.S. to appreciate the merit of such criticism. But in my view, much of that failure is a result of our refusal to recognize the interconnectedness of today's world.

When the bug first broke out in Wuhan, China, our initial response was to check all passengers travelling from the afflicted area. Not a bad first start perhaps, but it was predicated on the assumption that such people could be effectively isolated, an assumption that quickly proved illusory. Before long, cases with no known contacts with travellers arose. Community spread had begun.

The rest, of course, is very recent history, and the story is still unfolding.

If nothing else, this pandemic has been a pointed reminder that, thanks to contemporary technology, no nation or individual can successfully isolate from others. And as the following report by Redmond Shannon makes abundantly clear, until all countries have ready access to the equipment and medical support necessary to contain Covid-19 (and whatever pandemics follow it), no one will ever be truly secure.

Please start the following at the the 16:15 mark:

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Pandemic: The Lessons On Offer

To say that our current Covid-19 global crisis is causing us to rethink many things is to state the obvious. Far and wide, people are coming to new understanding about their priorities, their values, and their attitudes toward others.

Suddenly, that spa treatment isn't so urgent; the coveted new outfit can wait; maybe the precariously-employed should have more stability and remuneration. That it takes a near-apocalyptic event to bring about such introspective cogitation likely reveals a great deal about our shortcomings as a species.

We have always mouthed platitudes about our essential workers, but now our appreciation of them feels more genuine, whether we are talking about medical personnel, grocery store workers, sanitation workers or mail carriers. But are we willing to go the distance for them when this catastrophe finally wanes?

History provides a mixed answer, according to history professor Walter Scheidel. The Black Death, caused by rat fleas carrying bubonic plague, started in the fall of 1347 and, over the next century and a half, (periodic flareups being the pattern,) likely killed one-third of Europe's people.

And it upended the socio-economic order, despite the old guard trying tenaciously to keep things as they had been for a very long time.
The wealthy found some of these changes alarming. In the words of an anonymous English chronicler, “Such a shortage of laborers ensued that the humble turned up their noses at employment, and could scarcely be persuaded to serve the eminent for triple wages.” Influential employers, such as large landowners, lobbied the English crown to pass the Ordinance of Laborers, which informed workers that they were “obliged to accept the employment offered” for the same measly wages as before.

But as successive waves of plague shrunk the work force, hired hands and tenants “took no notice of the king’s command,” as the Augustinian clergyman Henry Knighton complained. “If anyone wanted to hire them he had to submit to their demands, for either his fruit and standing corn would be lost or he had to pander to the arrogance and greed of the workers.”
Consequently, the worker finally caught a break, and a certain leveling occurred:
... wealth inequality in most of these places plummeted. In England, workers ate and drank better than they did before the plague and even wore fancy furs that used to be reserved for their betters. At the same time, higher wages and lower rents squeezed landlords, many of whom failed to hold on to their inherited privilege. Before long, there were fewer lords and knights, endowed with smaller fortunes, than there had been when the plague first struck.
But a worker's paradise was by no means established. While there were some successes, there also were many disappointments:
During the Great Rising of England’s peasants in 1381, workers demanded, among other things, the right to freely negotiate labor contracts. Nobles and their armed levies put down the revolt by force, in an attempt to coerce people to defer to the old order. But the last vestiges of feudal obligations soon faded. Workers could hold out for better wages, and landlords and employers broke ranks with each other to compete for scarce labor.

Elsewhere, however, repression carried the day. In late medieval Eastern Europe, from Prussia and Poland to Russia, nobles colluded to impose serfdom on their peasantries to lock down a depleted labor force. This altered the long-term economic outcomes for the entire region: Free labor and thriving cities drove modernization in western Europe, but in the eastern periphery, development fell behind.
In the end, true change proved elusive:
When population numbers recovered ... wages slid downward and elites were firmly back in control. ... In most European societies, disparities in income and wealth rose for four centuries all the way up to the eve of World War I. It was only then that a new great wave of catastrophic upheavals undermined the established order, and economic inequality dropped to lows not witnessed since the Black Death, if not the fall of the Roman Empire.
There are obvious parallels to be found in today's world. Employers such as Loblaw, Metro, Shoppers Drug Mart, Dollarama and Walmart have retroactively boosted the wages of their front-line employees, people bravely performing necessary work. Even banks are getting into the act, with the Royal Bank offering a $50 per day bonus for onsite workers who earn less than $65,000 per year. Notably, however, these boosts are temporary.

Clearly, there are lessons for all of us during this pandemic. Unlike earlier times, we have a much wider grasp of the world and our place in it. We have immense power to shape the future for the betterment of all that previous generations did not. If we elect to fall back into the patterns of the past, we will have made an informed choice, but it will be one that reveals much about our character as contemporary citizens of the world and as a species.

Decision time is here.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

On Covid-19 Fake News

I received a lovely note the other day from a reader named Rose. While I am pleased she finds my blog a useful resource, I am also happy that she included a very pertinent link as an aide in spotting fake news, especially that involving our current pandemic. I shall return to that link in a moment.

But first, how big a problem is disinformation during this time of fear and uncertainty?

The Guardian cites the growing problem of prominent people who apparently have more fame than brains:
The actor Woody Harrelson and the singer MIA have faced criticism after sharing baseless claims about the supposed connection of 5G to the pandemic, while comments by the likes of the Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, playing down the scale of the crisis in the face of scientific evidence have attracted criticism in recent days.
Such ravings have consequences.
The issue has gained extra prominence as Britons began vandalising mobile phone masts in recent days amid wildly sharing baseless claims linking the virus to 5G.

There is growing concern that online disinformation could be having real world health impacts. Research by Dr Daniel Allington, senior lecturer in social and cultural artificial intelligence at King’s College London, suggested there was a statistically notable link between people who believed false claims about the coronavirus and people who were willing to flout the government’s social distancing guidelines.

His findings, based on a experimental study conducted in coordination with the Centre for Countering Digital Hate, found that people who said they believed coronavirus was connected to 5G mobile phone masts are less likely to be staying indoors, washing their hands regularly or respecting physical distancing.
Even more unhinged is Roseanne Barr who, in a phone interview with Norm Macdonald, had this to say about the bug:
"You know what it is, Norm? I think they're just trying to get rid of all my generation...."The boomer ladies that, you know, that inherited their — you know, are widows. They inherited the money so they got to go wherever the money is and figure out a way to get it away from people."

Barr made a number of other unorthodox claims during the interview: She argued that people are "being forced to evolve," urged working women to learn how to make bean soup, claimed that Chinese people eat bats and rats (and that she saw one guy eat a baby), and insisted that "there exists an operative in each town that reports back to Central Intelligence false information to ruin my career."
If you want to read more about this supremely unbalanced lady, Venay Menon has a droll take on her escapades.

Misinformation can be deadly, especially as it pertains to Covid-19. Perennial huckster/televangelist Jim Bakker is facing legal consequences after peddling a snake oil called Liquid Silver Sol he claimed would protect people from the bug. One hopes that the convicted felon pays a heavy price for his dangerous advocacy.

Which brings us back to the question of how to best inoculate ourselves against the virus of hysterical untruths. Readers of this blog will know that I have long been an advocate of critical thinking as the best protective; as I have said many times, it is an ideal toward which I continually strive, well-aware that I often fall short.

Reading widely of legitimate sources is a vital nutrient in this quest, but happily there are some readily accessible sites that make it easier. Snopes, of course, is one of the best. Its recent effort to dispel the myth that eating alkaline foods will confer protection against Covid-19 is an apt illustration of its usefulness.

A search engine can be of great benefit as well. Try putting the term fake news covid-19 into one and look at the results.

There are many, many useful resources on the web which I am confident you can access with little difficulty, and so I leave you with the site suggested by my correspondent Rose. Called Website Planet, it offers some very useful guidance and tools in our collective quest for truth and accuracy.

The Covid-19 virus is naturally dominating all of our concerns today. However, working to flatten the curve on the pandemic of misinformation that existed before and will continue long after the bug is managed will surely serve us well in the bigger picture known as everyday life, life that we will, eventually, return to.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

A Sick Gorilla

I made the following comment on Owen's blog this morning regarding Donald Trump:

To watch Trump turn this thing [Covid-19 crisis] into a personal exercise of ego and imbecility makes me believe we live next door to an egregiously backward nation, one that can no longer command any worldwide respect.

May that contagion never spread.

Clearly, I am not alone in that view. In today's Star, Bruce Arthur offers this observation:
... we don’t have a North American ally anymore .... We have a sick gorilla in a cage, and we have to constantly worry how it might lash out.

... it is obvious to anybody who watches Donald Trump for five minutes that the man is a wicked, lying child who bluffed his way into being in charge of an aircraft carrier, and has no idea what to do now.
The crisis the world today faces puts in stark relief Trump's myriad shortcomings:
The president is in denial, and spends every day going on television performing a grotesque improvisational opera of empty promises, disinformation and blame, while agitating to reopen the country for the sake of the stock market.
Most of us have known for some time, of course, just how toxic, dysfunctional and disabled the United States has become as a consequence of their elevating Trump to the presidency. Unfortunately, there is no inoculation against their folly.
So yes, the United States holding up a shipment of masks at the U.S.-Canada border that was meant for Ontario — a shipment of three million, according to Ontario Premier Doug Ford, of which 500,000 were released as of Monday morning — was a big deal. But it was more than that, too.

Shortages in Ontario hospitals are entering a new stage. Ford claims the province is a week from exhausting its own stores of PPE. On Thursday of last week some hospitals in the GTA started asking employees to save N95 masks, and said they anticipated there would be a way to decontaminate and reuse them.
When you have a system where healthcare and equipment is available to the highest bidder, chaos is inevitable:
In a for-profit medical system, the top employers of ER doctors are groups owned by private-equity companies, including Canada’s Onex. ProPublica reported they are cutting doctor hours, because the demand for non-COVID-19 health care has collapsed, and the revenue isn’t there.

Red states and blue states are getting different amounts of PPE, but it sounds as chaotic as anything. After several shipments of PPE destined for the states were essentially hijacked by the federal government, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker had to go on a stealth mission to China with the owner of the New England Patriots under the guise of a humanitarian mission to secure 1.5 million masks.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported an Illinois official had to race to a McDonald’s rest stop outside Chicago with a $3.4 million (U.S.) cheque to beat out other bidders for N95s. California is putting together a consortium of states to bid collectively. If only there were another way to say “A Consortium of States.”
Every day, as the Covid crisis rolls on, I am deeply, deeply thankful to live in a country with leadership that, while not perfect, has not forgotten the people it serves.

Clearly, the same cannot be said about the rapidly declining, unwinding United States of America.

Monday, April 6, 2020

But What About The Cleaning Bill?

A new protection against Corvid-19 has been found! Rejoice, Brothers and Sisters.

And can I get a big AMEN?

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Straight Talk From Italy

Perhaps more people would obey the mandate to self-isolate if more politicians spoke like this:

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Opportunities Exist

During this time of crisis, it is easy to forget other, equally vital issues and the fact that the problems we currently confront do not exist in isolation. Climate change and the myriad emergencies it has spawned are not going away. Two letters in the print edition of the Toronto Star suggest that the opportunities presented by Covid-19 should not be ignored:
Fight for the climate, not oil companies

Toronto Star 4 Apr 2020

Many oil and gas companies are suffering because of COVID-19, losing workers and business as the price of oil plunges.

Giving them a bailout package would allow them to recover their losses and help minimize the damage they will incur due to the global pandemic. However, funnelling money into these companies would not be beneficial to our environment in the long run.

The oil and gas industry is responsible for releasing greenhouse gases into our atmosphere, which is a major contribution to climate change. Instead of bailing companies that do more harm than good to our health and environment, the federal government should focus on strengthening our climate action plan.

Canada needs to concentrate on reducing emissions, not helping them grow. The energy sector will improve eventually, but the same cannot be said for our ailing planet, if we continue to put it in the back seat when making financial decisions.

Canada has a choice, and I urge it to make the choice that will lead us to a healthier future.

Azhar Ali, Toronto

Let’s own our oil, or at least shares in Big Oil firms

Toronto Star 4 Apr 2020

I find it heartening that some members of the federal Liberal caucus have dared to question the agenda of Big Oil without being ostracized.

We are hearing about a possible big bailout of the oil industry. I urge the government to do what U.S. president Barack Obama should have done in the big financial meltdown, what Canada ought to have done in the auto industry bailout: Provide a bailout, but take an equity position and corresponding membership on the boards of directors in the industry.

Use the bailout funds to support workers in transition to sustainable jobs, while at the same time winding down the industry in the public interest. Reopen a few mothballed refineries and ensure that an ever-dwindling supply of oil is refined here and used here as we move to electric transportation powered by renewable energy.

The oil industry really ought to pay us for the unbelievable damage it has done to our environment while sucking out the resources.

We know government is ultimately going to pay for its short-sightedness in subsidizing (for years) an industry that was rendering our planet uninhabitable. We are all going to pay.

So let’s face the music now, when Canadians are showing tremendous resilience and willingness to pull together in the face of emergency.

Sue Craig, Toronto