Sunday, May 31, 2020

I Don't Even Know How to Process This

How, over the span of 48 or 72 hours, does it seem that America has entered free fall?

The brutal death of another unarmed black man at the hands of a white police officer. Protests and riots sweeping the United States and spilling over into other countries as far away as Europe. A racist degenerate president issuing dog whistle tweets to a nation divided. America at a slow simmer of grievance and hatred that threatens to boil over.

Now this broken man, Trump, has announced that he will designate ANTIFA a terrorist organization, something he would never imagine doing to America's white supremacists.
“This is being driven by Antifa,” national security adviser Robert O’Brien told CNN on Sunday, according to NBC. “And they did it in Seattle. They have done it in Portland. They have done it in Berkeley. This is a destructive force of radical — I don’t even know if we want to call them leftists. Whatever they are, they’re — they’re militants who are coming in and burning our cities, and we’re going to get to the bottom of it.” 
ANTIFA is a favorite target of the right. On May 30, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida tweeted, “News networks missing a big story. In city after city we have a rogues gallery of terrorists from Antifa to ‘Boogaloo’ groups encouraging & committing violence. They may not be ideologically compatible but share a hatred of govt & police & are taking advantage of the protests.” 
Boogaloo often refers to right-wing groups; “From militia groups to white supremacists, extremists on a range of online platforms talk about—and sometimes even anticipate—the ‘boogaloo,'” ADL reports. Trump did not mention that group in his declaration, but officials’ blaming of outsiders for the violence has run the gamut of a variety of groups.) The degree to which ANTIFA is involved in riots throughout various cities is disputed.
Experience shows that Trump always pursues what he believes will advance his personal interests, what will sell to his base. With an election five months distant and his popularity flagging, in large part due to his astonishing incompetence in handling the Covid-19 pandemic, Trump needs a diversion and what better than to stoke the Culture War.

Just what is ANTIFA?  Who leads it? How is it organized? Where is it based? How is it funded? Does it even exist?
According to ADL, ANTIFA stands for the “anti-fascist protest movement.” 
“…antifa activists have aggressively confronted what they believe to be authoritarian movements and groups,” ADL reports. “…These violent counter-protesters are often part of ‘antifa’ (short for ‘antifascist’), a loose collection of groups, networks and individuals who believe in active, aggressive opposition to far right-wing movements.” According to ADL, “While most counter-protestors tend to be peaceful, there have been several instances where encounters between antifa and the far-right have turned violent."
"A loose collection of groups" of which "most... tend to be peaceful." That doesn't sound like an organization much less a terrorist organization.  Coming from Trump, who uses the "bad apple" analogy when it comes to white supremacists, the majority of which he has described as fine people, it is telling that he chooses to paint those opposed with such a broad brush of "terrorists."

This is America, after all, a nation beset by right-wing terrorism to which Trump has shown abject indifference.
When the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness issued its terrorism threat assessment for 2020 last week, it noted a marked shift. 
The threat level from violent, homegrown extremists, and specifically white supremacists, was marked in red as the top category: “High.” The threat from the Islamic State, Al Qaeda and their ilk was demoted to third, in green: “Low.” 
Terrorism experts believe that holds true for the entire United States. 
“In the U.S., more people are killed by far-right extremists than by those who are adherents to Islamist extremism,” said Mary McCord, a Georgetown University law professor and a former senior Justice Department official for national security. Her comments came at a discussion last week at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, which commemorates victims of the most notorious attack by international terrorists on American soil.
Even the idea of  enacting a domestic terrorism law is hotly contested.
Proponents argue that a domestic terrorism law would streamline and clarify the patchwork of charges now used against homegrown extremists, charges that often avoid even mentioning terrorism. 
Opponents counter that a new law would amount to a worrisome expansion of government powers, and might face constitutional challenges on the grounds of impinging on free speech. 
Yet the New Jersey report laid out what is at stake in stark terms. “Some white supremacist extremists argue that participating in mass attacks or creating other forms of chaos will accelerate the imminent and necessary collapse of society in order to build a racially pure nation,” it said.
There have been many studies into the radicalization underway across the United States, including these papers from the Homeland Security archives, and many of them identify white supremacists as more dangerous to America than Islamic militants.  And it sure as hell isn't ANTIFA that has shot up mosques and synagogues and black churches. What has Trump done to stop that? Nothing.


Even the Beaverton couldn't give this one a pass.
Across the internet, large swaths of otherwise barely connected people who happen to hold the same belief system began speculating if they, too, now constitute an “organization”. Formal requests for recognition have already been filed on behalf of vegetarians, people who insist on continuing to watch Riverdale, and Libras. 
The United States is currently only able to classify foreign entities as terrorist organizations, leading American adherents to the ANTIFA movement to the further surprise discovery that they are in fact now foreigners. 
“No kidding!” responded Alana Weaver – a Chicago area clothing designer who believes that the slow creep of fascism must be opposed at all costs – upon learning that she was now a foreigner. “Do I get to pick what country I’m from now? Can I be Norwegian?”
The leaders of ANTIFA could not be reached for comment because they do not exist.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

When 'Normal" Is Pathological

A recurrent theme on this blog is the subject of how something as benign sounding as "normal" can be a one-way road to the cliff-edge.

Anthropologist, Jared Diamond, addresses normalcy in his book, "Collapse, How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed."  He discusses normalcy in the context of "creeping normalcy" or "landscape amnesia." That refers to human nature's shortsightedness, our ability to forget the past, to blur memories that remind us of how dangerously far we have gone over a remarkably brief period of years.  If you lose your awareness of what "normal" meant ten or twenty years ago, you have lost your metric by which to gauge change.  A sense of normalcy can mask enormous abnormality.

The Tyee's, Andrew Nikiforuk, addresses the danger in his latest column, "Normal is the Problem."
Sharon Wilson is a fifth-generation Texan who drives around rural communities and takes pictures of oil and gas facilities with an infrared camera. The pictures make visible all the methane pollution that industry and governments pretend is not happening in rural communities. 
Wilson recently tweeted these two sentences: “We can and must do better than going back to normal. Normal is the problem.” 
And she is right as rain about that. Normal has become a pathological state.
...Let’s face facts: our hi-tech, globalized-trade-anything-for-peanuts world run mostly by tyrants isn’t natural.

Since 1970, an outpouring of normality has just about destroyed the Earth: It has created an abnormal economic machine, blind to energy spending, that doubled the global population and boosted per capita consumption by 45 per cent. 
At the same time the so-called value of global economic activity grew by 300 per cent. Meanwhile global trade has exploded like a coronavirus by 900 per cent. To support all this consumption and trade, the extraction of “living materials” from nature has jumped by 200 per cent.
...That’s like eating your kidneys for dinner, and I can’t think of anybody who would consider that normal except Hannibal Lecter
We have eliminated 40 per cent of the world’s original forests. We have extirpated (and there’s a word for these normal times) most of the world’s large mammals. An estimated one million species of animals and plants stand on the brink of extinction. ...Homo sapiens, another mammal, are on that list, and we pretend that’s normal.  
 ...Normal means you don’t have any respect for limits or sacred places. Normal means you think you can simply swap fossil fuels with so-called “clean energy” and protect the norm. But it mostly means you have surrendered your capacity to be human and to love this place. 
So I don’t want to go back to normal. 
I don’t want to go back to a world where it’s okay to industrialize and then globalize the care of old people as though they are just another resource to be mined before they die.
...I don’t want to go back to the digital contagion uprooting our minds and souls where authoritarian males justify the mining of our computers for data to improve their ability to engineer our behaviours. 
That’s just predation. 
I don’t want to go back to a world where lawyers and judges don’t understand the difference between a legal system and a justice system. I don’t want to go back to a world where governments think it is okay to sacrifice agricultural communities with disruptive fracking technologies that cause earthquakes, pollute groundwater and consistently lose money. 
That’s just white-collar crime with a high-pressure water pump.
...I don’t want to go back to a world where we accept the status quo of escalating wealth inequalities and polarized political thinking. 
Polarization ends in one of three bloody ways: civil war, revolution or slavery.
...I don’t want to go back to a world where billionaires think so little of this Earth that their primary obsession is to escape to Mars. 
I don’t want to go back to a world where political leaders don’t have the courage to talk about cheap energy, reckless consumption, over-population and climate change in the same sentence
And I don’t want to go back to a world where the media can’t admit that our civilization, as William Ophuls puts it, “has gotten too big, too complex and too hard to manage.” 
I don’t want to go back to an economy where corporations socialize all costs and privatize all gains. That’s robbery and theft. And it must end.
...So Sharon Wilson got it right. Normal is the problem, and the normlessness of a pandemic has exposed the fat tail of normal as pathology. 
And I am not going back to it. 
Sharon Wilson says we can leave normal for better this way: “Do all things with love, and be damn fierce about it.” 
Amen to that.
Ask yourself this: Is your political party of choice in these ranks? If it is, what are you doing supporting it?

Just About Everything You Need to Know About Covid-19 and the Viral World We Inahabit.

You might not know this but, if it wasn't for viruses, we wouldn't exist. About half the human genome was created by viruses. As for the current contagion, we're making it far more deadly than it should be.

If you can spare an hour and a bit, check out this interview with Dr. Zach Bush, internist and endocrinologist. I was a bit skeptical at first but his comments are compelling. He's not an anti-vaxxer. He's not a conspiracy theorist. He's a scientist.

If you want a shorter version, skip to the 32:00 mark.

Friday, May 29, 2020

The Incredible Value of Living

When talk turns to survival and infection rates in the pandemic the focus is usually on death and how much the economy is damaged so that a relatively small percentage of the public might be spared.  That's the Jason Kenney approach. It's the Republican orthodoxy also.

Paul Krugman says there's more to it.
America is now engaged in a vast, dangerous experiment. Although social distancing has limited the spread of the coronavirus, it is far from contained. Yet despite warnings from epidemiologists, much of the country is moving to open up for business as usual.

...Now, money matters: There is a clear relationship between income and life satisfaction. But it’s not the only thing that matters. In particular, you know what also makes a major contribution to the quality of life? Not dying.
...both transportation and environmental policy have in the past been explicitly guided by numbers placed on the “value of a statistical life.” Current estimates are around $10 million.

True, Covid-19 deaths have been concentrated among older Americans, who can expect fewer remaining years of life than average, so that we might want to use a lower number, say $5 million. But even so, doing the math says that social distancing, while it reduced G.D.P., was well worth it.

That’s the conclusion of two studies that estimated the costs and benefits of social distancing, taking the value of a life into account. Indeed, we waited too long: A Columbia University study estimated that locking down just a week earlier would have saved 36,000 lives by early May, and a back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that the benefits of that earlier lockdown would have been at least five times the cost in lost G.D.P.

So why are we rushing to reopen? 
To be sure, epidemiological forecasts are highly uncertain. But this uncertainty calls for more caution, not less. Open too late, and we lose some money. Open too soon, and we risk an explosive second wave of infections, which would not only kill many Americans but also probably force a second, even more costly lockdown.

So why isn’t the Trump administration even trying to justify its push for reopening in terms of a rational analysis of costs and benefits? The answer, of course, is that rationality has a well-known liberal bias.
...The point is that the push to reopen doesn’t reflect any kind of considered judgment about risks versus rewards. It’s best seen, instead, as an exercise in magical thinking.

Trump and conservatives in general seem to believe that if they pretend that Covid-19 isn’t a continuing threat, it will somehow go away, or at least people will forget about it. Hence the war on face masks, which help limit the pandemic but remind people that the virus is still out there. 
One way to put it: Trump and his allies don’t want us to wear face masks but do want us to wear blinders.
Sure, Trump says he wants Americans to continue wearing masks, washing hands and social distancing, and many do, but we also see that many don't. We see crowds, mainly young people, massing on beaches and parks in the United States, in Canada and in Britain. And we have the example of Wisconsin where Republicans persuaded a judge to lift the Democrat governor's lockdown that, over the following two weeks, saw Covid infection levels return with a vengeance at record levels.

We've gone through  two months, 10 weeks of quarantine and we did, to varying degrees, "flatten the curve" and more. That was a huge social investment but we can nullify the benefit by magical thinking that this is over.

There's no end of sophistry coming out of guys like Trump and Kenney and Johnson. If you want to know how to identify a scammer, here's a handy way. They will cite some seemingly minuscule number of the fatalities Covid has caused.  Figures don't lie but liars, do they ever figure.

Here's the deal. No one can give any meaningful statistics for the death toll that Covid-19 will claim. Why? Because we're still in the first wave of this pandemic. Medical history going back to the Black Death shows that pandemics come in two waves, sometimes three. Of those waves, the second is usually the big killer. So, to try to close the books on Covid-19 when we're still not even clear of the first wave is outright deceit.

The stats probably looked pretty good when the first wave of the Spanish Flu passed in the summer of 1918. People couldn't wait to get back to normal. They came out of isolation, stopped wearing masks, all that good stuff, and then they died in droves when autumn ushered in the second wave.

We must also recall that the current stats reflect a period in which most of us were under lockdown - isolation, masks and gloves, disinfectants, handwashing. Those numbers show that these measures worked. They're not a measure of the lethality of Covid-19. That's a lie, a real whopper. While results varied, we flattened the curve. But now, in the name of Our Lady of the Blessed Economy and our endless Culture Wars, we want to lift those restrictions. And we have the example of Wisconsin for what that can mean in only a couple of weeks. The virus has returned there, infection rates higher than ever. That's the price of Hubris. The Greeks knew what followed as Nemesis.

Then there's the specious comparisons of first wave Covid deaths to other causes of death such as car accidents. Car accidents are a freely assumed risk. Even then we go to great lengths to keep deaths to a minimum - radial tires, disc brakes, seat belts, air bags,  anti-skid braking, stability control, and collision avoidance sensors of all descriptions. Yet, no matter how well equipped my car, no matter what precautions I take such as defensive driving or choosing low-congestion routes, there's no guarantee that this won't be the day I get into a head-on with some drunk driver or someone texting. I'm not happy about that but I understand it and I choose to assume that risk.

A final point is that death rates are misleading. It's as though you're either dead or you're fine. That's just not true. Here's an example. My daughter has a rheumatologist. That woman's husband is also a doctor. They have two kids under 10 years old.

At the very early days when Covid started turning up, her husband contracted the virus while treating a patient in hospital. Like many, he was asymptomatic for a while, long enough to bring the virus into their home to infect both his wife and the kids.

It was unpleasant for the kids but they bounced back. The husband wound up in hospital but came through it relatively intact. The rheumatologist, however, wasn't so lucky. She wound up in the ICU on a ventilator and it was touch and go. She's out now but her heart and lungs are damaged, permanently. She's incapable of exertion which is not great for a mother of two young kids. She can't return to work, can't see her patients. She's limited to telephone consults. At some point in the coming months she'll be assessed to determine how long she can expect to live. These jackals who toss out statistics would have you ignore reality.

Here's the takeaway. People who quote stats are bullshitting you. They are giving you bogus "interim" numbers. They're drawing facile comparisons completely out of context. They're working very hard to mislead you. Draw your own conclusions.

Welcome to the Culture War.

"When the Looting Starts, the Shooting Starts."

Donald Trump wants the governor of Minnesota to put his collective knee on the carotid artery of Minneapolis demonstrators rioting over the police execution of George Floyd, an unarmed and handcuffed black man.

Late Thursday, President Donald Trump blasted the "total lack of leadership" in Minneapolis. "Just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the Military is with him all the way. Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts," he said on Twitter.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

What's Next, Wisconsin?

Two weeks since the Wisconsin Supreme Court granted a Republican application to strike down the Democratic governor's lockdown order the Cheese State is reaping what they have sown.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down a statewide coronavirus stay-at-home order on Wednesday, siding with a legal challenge from Republican lawmakers who said the state’s top public health official exceeded her authority by imposing the restrictions. 
While lockdown orders meant to quell the pandemic have been challenged in court in several states, the decision in Wisconsin marked the first such lawsuit to succeed in a larger political debate over social distancing that has grown increasingly partisan. 
At stake in Wisconsin was a “Safer at Home” order that had been extended through May 26 by the state’s secretary for the Department of Health Services, Andrea Palm, acting at the direction of Governor Tony Evers.
Today the people of Wisconsin are paying for that GOP hubris.
Health officials in the midwestern U.S. state of Wisconsin reported a record number of new COVID-19 cases Thursday, two weeks after the state Supreme Court struck down a state-wide stay-at-home order issued by the governor and enacted by the state health department.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services reported 599 new known COVID-19 cases Wednesday, with 22 known deaths, the highest recorded daily rise since the pandemic began. The department reports the state had more than 16,460 known cases and 539 known deaths as of Wednesday.

The previous state record number of new coronavirus cases was 528 a week earlier.
Now, another victim, the 2020 Wisconsin State Fair. Cancelled.
The Wisconsin State Fair was canceled Thursday due to the coronavirus pandemic, marking the first time since 1945 that the 169-year-old annual tradition will not take place. 
The move was widely expected given the cancellation of state fairs across the country and most major events, including Summerfest in Milwaukee. The fair, scheduled for August in West Allis, attracts more than a million people who down cream puffs, ride roller coasters, check out 4-H exhibits and take in concerts over its 11-day run.
Well played, Republicans. 

Herd Immunity? Not Anytime Soon.

A graphic in The New York Times reveals that the prospect of developing 'herd immunity' to the Covid-19 virus is not at all likely.

The top left shows the infection/antibodies density that could create herd immunity.  Contrast that with the density levels that now exist in New York, London, even Stockholm where there hasn't been much of a lockdown.

Herd immunity is commonly defined as "the resistance to the spread of a contagious disease within a population that results if a sufficiently high proportion of individuals are immune to the disease, especially through vaccination.

"the level of vaccination needed to achieve herd immunity varies by disease but ranges from 83 to 94 percent"

Ain't Too Proud to Beg - Off. Boogaloo, My Arse.

Is America primed for a 60s-style race war?

1967. A bunch of buddies and I piled into a car (they were huuuge back then) and drove to Windsor's waterfront Dieppe Park to watch the war go on across the river in Detroit. Gordon Lightfoot memorialized the spectacle in song, "Black Day in July."

The clouds above the Motor City glowed red from the burning buildings. Some 2,000 in all were destroyed.  We watched main battle tanks, M-48 Patton tanks, some of them probably built at nearby Chrysler and Ford plants, slowly roll down Jefferson Ave. Soldiers of the 82nd Airborne, the 101st Airborne and the Michigan National Guard were deployed. Every now and then you could hear gunfire as troops engaged rioters and fired on looters. Let's say it left an impression.

Detroit wasn't the first race riot and it wasn't the last. But Detroit was the benchmark until, 25 years later, LA cops beat the living hell out of Rodney King. When a jury without a single black juror acquitted those cops it was on.  This time the 7th Infantry Division, 1st Marine Division and the California National Guard turned out.

The 21st century has witnessed mass demonstrations sparked by outrageous killings of American blacks. Think the Cincinnati riots of 2001, the 2014 Ferguson, Missouri protests, the Trayvon Martin execution, and so many others including Eric "I can't breathe" Garner, Freddy Gray . The Associated Press story of the year for 2014 was police killings of unarmed black people.

Now it's the brutal execution of George Floyd.

Enter "the Malignancy of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue" who legitimized racism in America in the aftermath of the death of a protester at Charlottesville, Virginia during a "Unite the Right" rally. It has not been a happy time to be black in America since race-baiter Trump took office.

Like moths drawn to a campfire, the Covid lockdown has brought America's feral white supremacists out into the streets.  Clad in "tactical" gear, with the obligatory AR-15 assault rifles slung from their shoulders, they have stormed State Houses and public demonstrations, spewing menace and intimidation wherever they appear.

The new buzzword of the white supremacists is "Boogaloo."  The ADL describes it as a code word for Civil War II.
This new usage seems to have started with gun rights activists intimating or promising violence if the government were to “come for their guns.” The full phrase has been used this way before; for example, in June 2018 someone started a Reddit thread titled “Civil War 2: Electric Boogaloo” featuring a 2012 Facebook post by Gavin Newsom, then California’s lieutenant governor, telling the National Rifle Association, “we ARE coming for your guns.” The implication made by the poster was clear—that any such effort would result in civil war.

White supremacists have also adopted the boogaloo concept. A particularly disturbing boogaloo t-shirt (currently available online) features the word boogaloo under a photograph of John Earnest, the white supremacist who opened fire at a synagogue in Poway, California, in April 2019, killing one person. 
Whereas the militia movement, radical gun rights activists typically promote the boogaloo as a war against the government or liberals, white supremacists conceive of the boogaloo as a race war or a white revolution. Some promote boogaloo-related phrases alongside hashtags such as #dotr or #DayOfTheRope, both of which are references to neo-Nazi William Pierce’s The Turner Diaries, a novelized blueprint for a white revolution. 
Accelerationist white supremacists are particularly apt to use “boogaloo” – they seek the violent collapse of modern society in order to bring about a new, white-dominated world. Among them is Paul Nehlen, who gained notoriety by running for U.S. Congress in Wisconsin in 2016 and 2018. After the Poway synagogue shooting, Nehlen embraced both accelerationism and the term boogaloo and has even posted photos of himself wearing the John Earnest/boogaloo shirt. 
The white supremacist (and accelerationist) group Feuerkrieg Division recently posted a song about a race-war boogaloo to its official Telegram channel. A sampling of the lyrics makes its thrust clear:

Do the Boogaloo!
Kill the kikes, and save the whites
Come on, it’s time to go!
Do the Boogaloo!
Plug a pig, and then a Yid
Let’s do the Boogaloo, all together now!
 They might be heavily armed but I'd bet the farm that, at the first sound of gunfire, they would run for cover, get the Hell out of Dodge and back into the safety of mom's basement. The problem is that no one knows what they might do. What we do know is that, if something happens, Trump won't have done anything to stop it.

Then there's this, retweeted by Trump this morning:

h/t Stu

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Meng Wanzhou Still on the Hook. Extradition Proceeds.

Will China up the pressure on Canada after today's decision from the B.C. Supreme Court finding that the bank fraud charge against Huawei's Meng Wanzhou is an extraditable charge.
In the months since Meng's arrest, China has repeatedly expressed anger at Canada for arresting Meng. 
The Chinese government has targeted Canadian canola and meat imports.

And within days of Meng's arrest, authorities detained two Canadians who were living and working in China, former diplomat Michael Kovrig and entrepreneur Michael Spavor.
The associate Chief Justice of the B.C.S.C., Heather Holmes, still has to rule on alleged abuses of Meng's rights during here arrest.

Chinese authorities were quick to express their displeasure.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian called for Meng's release again Tuesday, insisting the dispute was political, not legal. 
"The Canadian side should immediately correct its mistake, release Ms. Meng and ensure her safe return to China at an early date so as to avoid any continuous harm to China-Canada relations," Zhao said in a news conference.
Trump has already said that he might release Meng if China plays ball on their trade dispute.

Our High-Carbon Future

Many have imagined the Covid pandemic will usher in  a new era marked by fundamental change.  To some that means a low-carbon world just ticking along on alternative, green energy. The planet-destroying carbon-fuel era is over goes the refrain.

Don't bet on it.

Justin Trudeau, straining under the weight of his new $16-19 billion bitumen pipeline, has reaffirmed his fealty to a high-carbon economy for Canada. But who cares, the future is leaving the oil patch in the dust, right?

Don't bet on it.

The International Energy Agency predicts that the world is just waiting for the pandemic to pass and then we'll be devouring hydrocarbons as never before.
The IEA warns that that use of fossil fuels is likely to rebound when the crisis is over, leading to a spike in CO2. 
One reason is because China and other Asian nations are putting in orders now for a new generation of coal-fired power plants to supply energy in the future
“We see a historical decline in emissions, but unless we have the right economic recovery packages, we might see emissions again skyrocket and the decline of this year would be completely wasted," the IEA's executive director Fatih Birol told the BBC. 
“Remember the 2008-2009 crashes. We immediately saw a decline in emissions, but afterwards it rebounded. We must learn from history.”

One for the Books. Elon Musk's Crew Dragon Set to Fly Today.

UPDATE - Launch scrubbed. Weather problems at the launch site caused the launch to be delayed. The next opportunity will be the end of May.


I remember the flight of Yuri Gagarin. I remember the suborbital flight of Alan Shepard and the three-looper of John Glenn.  I grew up devouring the progress of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space programmes that culminated with Neil Armstrong's first steps on the moon.

Back then we knew their names. Each was a hero. Some of that was lost as we moved on to orbital flight, the space shuttle and the International Space Station. Chances are if you're thinking of the space shuttle astronauts you'll remember someone who died, someone like Sally Ride.

Today, however, a bit of that earlier spark may reignite, for a short while anyway, as two NASA astronauts attempt to pilot the Space-X Dragon manned vehicle to a rendezvous with the International Space Station.

This could herald a new era in space exploration, perhaps the colonization of the moon.

If the weather doesn't deteriorate, you can watch the Falcon-Dragon launch online. Pre-launch programming will begin in about half an hour, 12-noon, eastern time. Liftoff is scheduled for 4:33 EDT.


Wait a second. The Dragon crew are Bob and Doug.

Erasing Evolution

Some creatures, the oldest, carry within them billions of years of evolutionary history. Human activity is putting that history in jeopardy as we drive those species into extinction.

It's ironic that just as we're beginning to unlock the evolutionary history these species offer us, we're wiping them out, erasing that history.  Billions of years of evolution gone in the span of a single human lifetime.

There are reasons that some species have lasted for billions of years while others emerge and are gone again in the span of mere centuries, a few millennia. Understanding why some persist, even thrive over timelines almost beyond human comprehension, could be invaluable as humankind struggles not to render our own species extinct.

Harper's Ship has Sailed.

When Stephen Harper began popping up in the news again I felt like an abused dog finding itself crossing paths with his evil former master.

Give him his due, Sideshow Steve can still set stomachs a'churning. He's just that kind of nasty and he makes it obvious that he'll never run out of arrogance.

However, a Harper comeback?  The National Observer's Sandy Garrosino says, relax, Harper's ship has sailed.
Did Harper really carve out an inspiring new vision for 21st century Canadian Conservatism, or did he simply dominate through fear?

Did he just enforce enough party unity to score an electoral fluke during a period of national political flux? 
A generation of former cabinet ministers has come and gone since Harper governed. In that time, the right’s energy and narrative has been seized by Trumpian ideologues schooled by Roger Stone and Breitbart. 
Harper is wise enough to understand that brand doesn’t translate in Canada, but now that the fear is gone, what remains of his own? The CPC, virtually shut out of Quebec and the 905, is largely reduced to a regional Prairie party. 
From the wings, Stephen Harper may still control his chastened party, but Canadians have moved on. 
Power may be enigmatic and mercurial, but you know it's finally over when the laughter is following you out the door.

The Beaverton's Scathing Satire

The headline really isn't funny - "Every living premier in Ontario blames long-term care facilities problems on their predecessor."

The process started when reporters asked Doug Ford about the accusations. He quickly pointed the finger at Wynne, who immediately jogged by and told everyone it was McGuinty, who stopped cancelling gas plants long enough to say it was Eves, who told his grandkids to tweet that it was Harris, who immediately put down the stacks of money he is making off of long-term care facilities to blame Rae, who phoned in from Myanmar to blame Peterson, who did whatever David Peterson is known for to blame Davis, who immediately came out of his cottage in his pajamas to blame Robarts, who is dead.
“What’s a long-term care facility?” asked the confused ghost of John Robarts. “Are people living past the age of 55, or something?” 
Political observers are optimistic about this recent multi-Premier development. “Obviously this situation is tragic but there is a bright spot,” said political scientist Mary Cartwright. “We have finally found an issue on which political parties of all stripes can agree on: treating senior citizens like shit.” 
The 8 living Premiers then added that they didn’t understand why the current government had not addressed the situation, and they were really to blame. At which point Doug Ford looked around for a beat and then muttered “oh, shit.”

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

No, Mr. Ford. It's Not a Police Matter. It's So Much More.

So much for Doug Ford's brief stint as the caring, concerned premier of Ontario.

The province's Covid-19 response changed public opinion of the giant blonde lout. Then this.
Cockroaches, rotten food, patients with ulcers left bed-bound, staff moving from unit to unit wearing contaminated gear. 
Those are just some of the disturbing conditions detailed in a Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) report made public Tuesday and based on the observations of its members at five Ontario long-term care homes deemed by the province to have required the most support.

Over 1,675 troops have been brought in to backstop five long-term care homes in Ontario and a further 25 in Quebec over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. The allegations at homes — in Pickering, Scarborough, Etobicoke, North York and Brampton — paint an unsettling picture of residents being bullied, drugged and left for hours and days in soiled bedding. 
Ontario officials were notified of the report by the federal government Sunday in a memo to the solicitor general grouping the concerns into either non-adherence or non-existence of policies, inadequate resources including trained staff and medical supplies, deficiencies in care home infrastructure and concerns about standards of care. 
"It's heartbreaking, horrific, it's shocking that this can happen here in Canada. It's gut-wrenching, and reading those reports is the hardest thing I've done as premier," Ford said at a news conference Tuesday. 
"There's going to be justice. There's going to be accountability," a visibly emotional Ford told the families of loved ones in care homes. 
Speaking to reporters, Ford said Ontario has launched an investigation into the report's findings, referring one death to the coroner's office. Once a coroner's investigation is complete, he said, it will be up to police to determine if charges are in order "for neglect."
Ford's "somebody's gonna pay" approach is disgustingly disingenuous. His own government has jurisdiction over the province's nursing homes, just like the Liberal and Tory and even NDP governments that preceded Ford's.

It took Canadian soldiers to discover this? Ford's health minister didn't know? The Ford government had to be given a heads up by the feds?

As I wrote earlier today, this has been going on, to my direct knowledge, for half a century, probably a lot longer than that. How many inspectors did the Ontario government send into those dungeons? How often? How did they not find the abuse that was so obvious to our soldiers? How did those inspectors look the other way, or did they? Face it. nursing home operators only did what they were confident they would get away with. It took soldiers for gawd's sake to recoil in disgust at the rank abuse of their fellow citizens.

Yes, Ford's right. There must be justice. There must be accountability. And that has to begin where the rot starts - Queen's Park. Yes there should be criminal charges. But the real indictment has to be of Ontario's political system.

Trump Rages at Twitter

Donald Trump is furious that his favourite communications vehicle, Twitter, intends to fact check his lie-laden tweets.

Donald Trump responded to Twitter‘s new policy to add a fact-check link on his misleading tweets on Tuesday. The president tweeted, “.@Twitter is now interfering in the 2020 Presidential Election. They are saying my statement on Mail-In Ballots, which will lead to massive corruption and fraud, is incorrect, based on fact-checking by Fake News CNN, and the Amazon Washington Post. 
Trump continued with a second tweet adding, “Twitter is completely stifling FREE SPEECH, and I, as President, will not allow it to happen!"
One Trump Tweet in particular was called out by Twitter:
"There is NO WAY (ZERO!) that Mail-In Ballots will be anything less than substantially fraudulent. Mail boxes will be robbed, ballots will be forged & even illegally printed out & fraudulently signed. The Governor of California is sending Ballots to millions of people, anyone living in the state, no matter who they are or how they got there, will get one. That will be followed up with professionals telling all of these people, many of whom have never even thought of voting before, how, and for whom, to vote. This will be a Rigged Election. No way!"

Alberta Energy Minister - Covid Lockdown Is Perfect Opportunity to Build Pipelines.

The Alberta government sees a silver lining in the Covid-19 lockdown.
With social distancing measures in place, pipeline opponents would find it hard to gather for protests, which makes this the perfect time to build a pipeline, Alberta’s Energy Minister Sonya Savage said on a podcast by the Canadian Association of Oilwell Drilling Contractors. 
"Now is a great time to be building a pipeline because you can't have protests of more than 15 people. Let's get it built," Savage said as quoted by Bloomberg. 
The minister went on to say, "People are not going to have tolerance and patience for protests that get in the way of people working," adding, "People need jobs, and those types of ideological protests that get in the way are not going to be tolerated by ordinary Canadians." 

Canadian Soldiers Blow the Whistle on Canada's Nursing Homes

Soldiers are supposed to be pretty tough but they weren't prepared for what they witnessed when sent in to assist at Canadian nursing homes.

Canadian Armed Forces members deployed to long-term care homes have reported witnessing "extremely troubling" incidents in Ontario facilities. 
Trudeau did not detail the incidents reported by the CAF members. Two military sources tell CBC's Vassy Kapelos that military members deployed to the facilities found instances of severe neglect. 
"We are going to ask the province to investigate the instances of neglect and do something about it," said one source. "We found no rules, a lack of staff training and medical equipment and instances of staff reusing syringes on seniors." 
"Members witnessed people dying and not being taken care of adequately and felt compelled to put it in writing," said a second source.
Sources told CBC military members deployed to long-term care homes saw cockroaches and residents left in dirty diapers or left unbathed for weeks.
The prime minister appeared genuinely troubled at what, in reality, is the worst-kept secret in Canadian healthcare - our disgusting nursing homes.

When I got my first reporting job in Ottawa in the early 70s, three seniors committed suicide in the course of one week. They were all men. They had all just been taken from their own homes, their independent lives, and consigned to the custody of nursing homes. They all found ways to end their lives with overdoses. Two swallowed massive amounts of over-the-counter aspirin which is not a very pleasant way to go.

I tracked down a psychiatrist who was on contract to assist nursing home inmates. He was very helpful as he described the enormous trauma the elderly can experience in this transition. He said he couldn't handle the needs of so many people at so many nursing homes all by himself and too many were left to fend for themselves. He painted a grim picture. I came to think of these people as prisoners, inmates.

I got a PR type to send me copies of Ontario's Extended Care Nursing Home Act and regulations. It struck me that even a home that met the provincial standards wasn't doing those inmates any favours.,

That made me wonder how the conditions in nursing homes compared to other custodial institutions. I contacted the Canadian Penitentiary Service and they sent me copies of their regulations governing physical and mental healthcare, recreation and such. I reached out to National Defence Headquarters and they sent copies of the relevant provisions of the Geneva Conventions pertaining to the treatment of prisoners of war.

It's hard to remember the particulars almost 50 years on but I do recall my conclusions. Were we to treat a prisoner of war in the standards prescribed for Ontario nursing homes we might have been liable under the Geneva Conventions. The levels of neglect could arguably be considered war crimes.

Then I found that we provided vastly better care to our penitentiary inmates than to our elderly. Inmates get occupational training, rehabilitation programmes, access to medical care and basic hygiene.

While I was putting this story together I snuck into a couple of nursing homes the psychologist described as really bad and were they ever.  They were dirty, filthy and, yes, I found "residents left in dirty diapers or left unbathed for weeks." Those who had no family that could speak for them or who had no family, they definitely got the worst of it. It was stressful when I spoke with some of them at their bedsides and they begged for help. Here we are almost half a century later and it seems little has changed.

I wrote a three-part series. Yes, Queen's Park said they were on this and would be announcing reforms soon. Right. I ended with a an idea that I had trouble shaking. Might it not be better, faced with consignment to the gulag, to just shoot somebody - a flesh wound would do it - and then, at trial, tell the judge to throw the book at you because otherwise if you got turfed out of prison you might have to do it all over again.

I'm glad that Justin Trudeau feels anger and sadness, frustration and grief.  I'm angry that it took a murderous pandemic to expose the worst kept secret in Canadian healthcare. And I think we owe a special thanks to those soldiers, our uniformed whistleblowers, more than 20 of which have contracted Covid-19 in those nursing pits.

BC's Covid-Free Villages

Every arrival took a toll. European settlement, measles, smallpox, Spanish Flu, Christian missionaries - decimated their numbers.

The survivors learned some brutally costly lessons but, when Covid-19 rolled around, BC's coastal first nations were ready to lockdown in their own way.  From BBC News:
The idea of Covid-19 entering the remote First Nation’s community of Bella Bella terrifies Marilyn Slett, chief councillor of the Heiltsuk Tribal Council. Located on British Columbia’s (BC) central coast, the water- and air-access only community of 1,400 is a gateway to Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest, a region the size of Ireland that’s famed for its eco-tourism opportunities.

“Our laws and traditions are oral,” said Slett. “They’re passed down by our Knowledge Keepers,” a group of Elders who have learned the Nation’s customs, traditions and protocols. “We only have 30 fluent Hailhzaqvla-speaking Elders left,” she added. “We’ll uphold Heiltsuk laws and do everything we can to protect them.” 
Slett is referring to the emergency measures her community has put in place. Like many Indigenous communities in coastal BC, and around the world, the Heiltsuk Nation has enacted a strict lockdown, opting to go well beyond the provincial guidelines by banning all non-essential travel in or out of their territory.

On the roads and in the public ferry terminals leading into the normally tourist-friendly communities on BC’s coast, checkpoints have been set up, manned by Guardian Watchmen who typically act as friendly ambassadors and cultural interpreters. Out on the water, these Guardians are using AIS (Automatic Identification System) to identify, track and intercept any boat that arrives in their waters. Their role is to ensure the vessel should be there and turn it back if it’s not. Shifted to a new frontline, these traditional protectors, stewards and guardians of First Nations lands and waters have begun rediscovering the power of protecting a Nation’s greatest treasure: its people.
It’s not difficult to understand why the Heiltsuk have opted to manage the pandemic by following the advice of their own leaders and shutting off their community to outsiders. For 14,000 years, they have lived in balance within a territory that spans about 15,540 sq km and extends through the Great Bear Rainforest. Heiltsuk historians estimate that at their cultural peak, as many as 20,000 people lived in 50 summer and winter villages set in ancient forests of huge Sitka spruce, red cedar, western hemlock and Douglas fir.

European contact, dating from the 1780s, brought devastation. “We survived smallpox, we survived measles, we survived government policy,” Slett said. But the onslaught took its toll. In the 1880s, the remnants of the severely depleted Heiltsuk communities gathered into one village near Bella Bella: their population had been diminished to around 200 people.

...The rugged landscape and wildlife, which includes whales, coastal wolves, black bears, grizzly bears and the spirit bear, attracts visitors from all over the world and makes up a vital part of the local economy. Robinson says that closing their community in mid-March was a hard choice, but it was just in time. Just south, Heiltsuk Watchmen on the water reported they started turning back yachts. American and Canadian boaters trying to flee big cities and those who wanted to hunt or fish (which is considered essential in BC, but not by the coastal communities) had started heading for more remote, Covid-19­-free communities.

...As the Guardian Watchmen shift from scientific data gathering and land preservation to guarding the frontlines, they’ve encountered pushback from travellers who question their authority. While British Columbia’s Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation agree that First Nations have the authority to restrict travel into their communities, at the same time the province, like many places, has begun reopening, forcing Indigenous communities to protect themselves.
...In an effort to keep out outsiders, Haida Gwaii and the Central and North Coast, including the Heiltsuk and Kitasoo / Xai'xais Nations, have set up a coalition. They are working collectively to let visitors know that while they are valued and wanted, now is not the time to visit. The communities are simply too vulnerable to risk any loss.
...All along the coast, communities are relying more heavily on traditional marine foods like eulachon oil, smoked salmon, fresh herring eggs and roasted seaweed. Community gardens are being started and leaders are encouraging people to find strength in the power of looking after themselves. 
“If you look through our histories, I can’t imagine our ancestors or our leadership of 30, 40, 50, 100 years ago having the kind of confidence to determine our future this directly,” said Henry. While the financial implications of shutting down tourism will hurt communities, he added, the whole point of tourism all along has been to strengthen the culture: Nations making their own decisions does that.

I just got an email from a California company that organizes long-distance motorcycle tours. It was an invite to a ride from Anchorage into Yukon then meandering down the length of British Columbia and ending in Portland, Oregon. Mid-July to August. 2020, the Year of Covid, yeah. One of the advertised highlights is travel through remote First Nations villages such as the Nisga'a village of Gingolx.

They're apparently confident we'll have opened our borders to summer tourists by mid-summer and the the Nisga'a and other First Nations will greet them with open arms.  Being a thoughtful guy I sent them a link to this BBC report.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Trump Threatens to Pull GOP Convention Out of North Carolina

It was Donald Trump who chose Charlotte, North Carolina to host his year's Republican convention where his presidential nomination will be rubber stamped.

Now he's warning the state governor he'll take his convention elsewhere unless the state exempts the event from social distancing requirements.

"I love the Great State of North Carolina, so much so that I insisted on having the Republican National Convention in Charlotte at the end of August," Trump said in a series of tweets. "Unfortunately, Democrat Governor, @RoyCooperNC is still in Shutdown mood & unable to guarantee that by August we will be allowed full attendance in the Arena. In other words, we would be spending millions of dollars building the Arena to a very high standard without even knowing if the Democrat Governor would allow the Republican Party to fully occupy the space." 
The President's calls for a "guarantee" from North Carolina officials overlooks the uncertainty surrounding the summertime levels of the coronavirus and the challenges of hosting a political convention -- or any large event -- in the middle of an ongoing public health crisis. 
In an interview last week, Cooper said that data and science will guide his decisions on whether the state can hold large gatherings like the convention. He said the Republican convention, which he supported bringing to Charlotte, will be treated like any other event.
As for me, I'm with Trump on this one. What could be more fitting than to see so many prominent Republicans packed like sardines in a convention center with some of them shedding virus as they cheer and whistle in support of the Mango Mussolini?

Could the Novel Coronavirus Flush Out our Sclerotic Economy?

It's a form of natural selection, survival of the fittest. Covid-19 isn't just a human disease. It's also a catalyst for change.

Pier 1 is shutting its doors. Reitman's is gone. It's hard to know which companies will be standing when this pandemic is over.
As people stop flying, the head of Boeing has suggested a major U.S. airline may fail, and globally, many smaller carriers are at death's door. 
As the CMHC worries Canadian real estate prices will crash by as much as 18 per cent, the oil industry struggles to recover from negative pricing and unemployment rises toward Depression levels, it is hard to see the bright side. 
But according to the theory of creative destruction derived by Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter in 1942 from ideas proposed by Karl Marx, economic and technological progress demands that businesses must die and industries and paradigms must be swept away to make room for new ones.
Canadian economist Peter Howitt, recent winner of the Frontiers of Knowledge Award for his work proving Schumpeter's principles in the real world, said that while the creative destruction process is happening all the time, economic crises speed the process along. 
"When old firms or technology or skills or whatever are hanging on, they can last a long time until things get really bad," said Howitt. "It's typically during a recession that a lot of the destruction takes place." 
The implication is that while those in retail or the oil business or the real estate industry may insist that the COVID-19 lockdown has been the cause of their failure, the economic crisis may instead be a trigger, a catalyst for a process already underway.
Bye bye, Athabasca.
According to Stephen Williamson, an economist at Western University, it may be dangerous for governments to try to push too hard against the economic forces at work in dying industries such as the fossil fuel sector.

"It doesn't look like, at least the exploration and extraction part of the industry, is really viable a long time into the future," said Williamson. "It seems hard to justify a huge bailout for those guys."

Covid's Silver Lining. Canadians Want Government to Take Over Our Nursing Homes.

It's a lesson that came at a murderous cost but the Covid-19 pandemic opened Canadian eyes to the national disgrace of our nursing homes which accounted for 82 per cent of the death toll.

A survey out of the Angus Reid Institute finds that two-thirds of Canadians are fed up.  66 per cent of respondents said it's time for government to nationalize these care homes.

Opinions on this issue diverge primarily by political affiliation. Those who voted for the Conservative Party in last year’s federal election are a group divided, with 47 per cent favouring nationalization and 53 per cent opposing it. Among past supporters of the other major federal parties, at least three-quarters favour government control of privately owned LTCFs.

Canada is not the only country whose elderly have been exposed to devastating rates of death and endured terrible circumstances in long-term care facilities. According to the World Health Organization approximately half of the deaths attributed to COVID-19 in Europe and close to 40 per cent in the United States have occurred in LTCFs. 
The hardest hit provinces in Canada have been the most populous ones; Ontario and Quebec. In Ontario, more than 280 facilities have reported an outbreak, leading to nearly 1,500 deaths. In Quebec, more than 270 facilities were infected and more than 2,000 residents have died. 
While there are months of debate forthcoming about what went wrong, who is to blame and how to prevent it from ever happening again, there are already strong calls to overhaul long-term care. One of the most prominent suggestions for how to approach this, made by health officials and NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, among others, is to nationalize long-term care and extend it under the auspices of the Canada Health Act. 
While politicians debate the merits of such a change, it appears that most Canadians would welcome it as a start. Two-thirds (66%) say that they would support such a shift in policy while one-third (34%) say nationalization would be the wrong direction to pursue.
Everyone, it seems, has a clear opinion. For one third it's a definite thumbs down. But, fortunately, we still live in a democracy and 66 per cent is a super majority in anyone's books. This pandemic is shredding the notion that the "invisible hand" of the marketplace is the solution to what ails us.  The market serves capital, not the public interest. It doesn't nurture the public. It feeds off the public.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

One for the books. Mrs. Betty Bowers knocks it out of the park. Hell, she knocks it out of the pulpit!

Fans and followers of the satire group, Mrs. Betty Bowers, will agree she's just taken it to a whole new level. Betty body slams right wing evangelicals.

Trump Boasts About Donating His $400,000 Presidential Salary.

Donald Trump is a showman. So he donates his $400,000 annual salary and regularly reminds us of his generosity.

What he doesn't mention is how he has turned Washington and the federal government into his personal money machine. has produced an interactive look at how Trump and his gang have milked most federal departments and the depth of his corruption since he took the reins of power.

This is Tammany Hall scale graft by the world's most powerful grifter.

Ultimately Trump is just the culmination of a rot that spread through Washington for decades. It began with legislative "capture" when the McCain/Feingold "Hail Mary" attempt at campaign finance reform was crushed. This ensured that big money donors would control Congressmen and Senators who need huge campaign budgets to win and keep their seats.

Once the legislators were beholden to big donors they were as powerless as a guy who can't pay back his loan shark. This happened at both federal and state levels. It spawned ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, where the "bought and paid for" are invited to attend an annual information session at which the donors' lobbyists hand them pre-drafted legislation that they're expected to introduce and pass. That's corruption.

I recall watching a clip of then Republican House Leader John Boehner strolling the aisles in the House dropping white envelopes here and there. It later emerged that was just before the House vote on that year's tobacco industry subsidies. The cheques were campaign contributions from tobacco industry lobbyists.  One GOP Congressman, now long gone, denounced this as outright graft. According to Boehner it wasn't strictly illegal but he conceded it looked bad. That's corruption.

The next step was regulatory "capture." This is where the boards of regulatory tribunals are stacked with individuals from the regulated industries themselves. Without so much as a 'by your leave' the regulated become the regulators. In Canada we did that with our National Energy Board. That's corruption.

Trump has ushered in judicial capture, deliberately stacking federal courts, including the US Supreme Court, with judges chosen for their political bias and reliability. This rapidly puts paid to judicial independence and equality before the law. It creates a judiciary in service to one side and not everyone. The Republicans have been pressuring older judges to retire so they can be replaced with really young guys who will ensure justice in America will be bent for decades to come. That, too, is corruption.

The United States government is being transformed into a perpetual Republican bastion for America's white population that so deeply fears the demographic rise of non-white voters. It is why they'll defend the Electoral College to their last breath. It works - for them. Voting against their own interest is a reasonable price to pay so long as the Senate and state houses remain a bastion of white privilege. Look at how the Republican Senate managed to thwart just about every legislative initiative Obama tried to introduce. Many who criticize Obama for achieving so little forget how he was hamstrung by McConnell and his cronies. It was said that, if Obama really wanted bipartisan support for anything, it would have to be the repeal of the 14th Amendment, the abolition of slavery.

Trump, with the collaboration of a hopelessly corrupt Congress, has neutered America's vaunted system of "checks and balances." Every branch of government - executive, legislative and judicial - has been corrupted.

This looks eerily like the final century of Rome and its empire. Rome succumbed to transactional governance. It lost the confidence and support of the citizens who suffered enormously as their Senators came to own most of the arable land and used slaves to displace ordinary Romans causing their impoverishment and suffering.

The connection between those that governed and those whom they governed was irreparably broken. SPQR lost all meaning as the legitimacy of the state faltered. The big difference is that what took Rome a couple of centuries is unfolding in the United States over a span of a few decades.  And it's all playing out before our own eyes.

Trump Unmasked

Last week I wrote a post slamming Donald Trump for his persistent refusal to wear a facemask in public. What made it egregious was that a president is supposed to set an example for his people. He's their role model. His conduct was failing the American people.

I was wrong.

As Maureen Dowd argues in today's New York Times, unmasked Trump is setting an example. He is a role model.
While you know Barack Obama would have been all about the mask, showing the nation the proper example, Trump is afraid his followers will think he’s a wimp if he wears it, that he’s conceding the danger of a pandemic many in MAGA-land think is exaggerated or some sort of hoax.

The mask should be a medical signal, not a political one. But Trump rejects the mask because of a misbegotten image of masculinity and power. In denying the mask, he denies reality, science and the fact that the country is in a crouch. Trump has proved that people wearing a mask can present more truth than people not wearing a mask.
Trump said he had been wearing a mask - in the back as he was shown Ford's collection of GT-40s. He claims he took it off so the press wouldn't have the 'pleasure' of seeing him masked. The truth is this had little to do with the White House press corps.

Trump was setting an example, the unmasked, defiant spectacle his base wants to see. He is a role model - for his lunatic fringe and a nation whose arteries are plugged with conspiracy theorists. Trump doesn't serve the American people. He serves just some of them.

It's Not a Magic Bullet But Who Says No to The Next Best Thing.

At a time when medical experts are questioning whether there will ever be a vaccine to defeat the Covid-19 virus there's good news on the anti-viral front.

Anti-virals alleviate some of the damage caused by the novel coronavirus. They can improve the chances of survival, speed up recovery times, and sometimes moderate some of the damage even survivors sustain.  People will still die, just not so many.

One of the most promising is Remdesivir.  Now, finally, the test results have been released.
The long-awaited study, sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, appeared on The New England Journal of Medicine website on Friday evening. It confirms the essence of the government’s assertions: Remdesivir shortened recovery time from 15 days to 11 days in hospitalized patients. The study defined recovery as “either discharge from the hospital or hospitalization.”

The trial was rigorous, randomly assigning 1,063 seriously ill patients to receive either remdesivir or a placebo. Those who received the drug not only recovered faster but also did not have serious adverse events more often than those who were given the placebo.

It was an international trial, although most sites were in the United States. Patients were assessed daily, and those administering the evaluations did not know whether a patient had been given remdesivir or the placebo.

A monitoring board reviewed the data at specified intervals and called for a halt to the study when there was clear evidence that the drug was effective.

On April 29, N.I.A.I.D. issued a news release stating as much. But infectious disease doctors were frustrated, because they did not have access to the findings, which might have affected how patients were treated.

“For God’s sake, this is a pandemic — we need some data,” said Dr. Judith Feinberg, vice chair of research at West Virginia University School of Medicine.

Publication of the paper has brought some relief. Doctors had been wondering, for instance, whether they should give remdesivir to patients with the most serious Covid-19 cases or to those who weren’t as sick, especially if there were not enough to go around.

Dr. Andre Kalil of the University of Nebraska, a principal investigator of the study, noted that not only do sicker patients fare as well on remdesivir, but their average time to recovery is also slightly faster.

He added that Hispanics, black people and white patients all derived equal benefit from the drug, as did men and women as well as adults in every age group.
The results were the same for patients regardless of whether they had received the drug treatment before or after 10 days of symptoms, said Dr. Helen Chu, of the University of Washington, who was also an investigator of the study.
Are anti-virals the answer to Covid-19? Of course not. They can, however, make the disease more survivable and reduce the lasting damage sustained by those survivors. They don't eliminate the need for precautionary measures either. Think of them more like airbags and seatbelts. If you're old enough to remember driving around with drum brakes and bias-ply tires, you'll understand what I'm getting at.


Update:  Japan has been using Remdesivir in its hospitals since May 11th.
Japan has begun treating severely ill Covid-19 patients with Gilead Sciences Inc's Covid-19 remdesivir drug, a health ministry official said, just days after giving the drug emergency approval as it seeks to curb the coronavirus outbreak.

With no other approved treatments for COVID-19, interest in the drug is growing around the world. Administered by intravenous infusion, it was granted authorisation on May 1 by the US Food and Drug Administration for emergency use.
While the drug, first developed to treat ebola, appears promising there remains some controversy whether it improves survival rates. There is also concern about potential side effects for those with already compromised liver or kidney function.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Exploiting the Virus as a Smokescreen

The Tyee's great petro-scribe, Andrew Nikiforuk, reveals how Alberta is exploiting the Covid-19 pandemic to suspend environmental monitoring of the Oil Patch.

On the very day Premier Jason Kenney deemed it safe again to play hockey in Edmonton, the Alberta Energy Regulator released two more decisions basically saying the tribulations of COVID-19 meant it wasn’t safe to do environmental monitoring. 
That, added to previous pronouncements, means Alberta has now suspended all environmental reporting and monitoring in its oil patch. Most of the orders provide no timeline for resuming such obligations. 
It’s the new normal in Kenney’s troubled petro state. The rollbacks started with the suspension of requiring companies to submit environmental reporting on mine sites and the like. But they didn’t stop there. 
Now companies don’t even have to do any bothersome environmental monitoring.
[Alberta environment minister, Jason]Nixon had earlier announced the closing of 20 provincial parks and removal of another 164 protected areas from the parks list out of budget concerns. Apparently Alberta is so broke, it can’t afford parks anymore. 
This logic is contagious: if the province can’t afford parks, it only follows that the industry can’t afford environmental reporting. 
In three separate ministerial orders, Nixon suspended reporting requirements contained in the Water Act, the Public Lands Act, the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act, and the Technology Innovation and Emission Reduction Regulation.
And so Alberta joins the rogues gallery of individuals and institutions gaming the pandemic. When the cat's away the rats will play.

A Preview of a Dangerous Future and How a Damaged Society Responds

Donald Trump has forced us to see the bilious side of American society - the shamelessly racist, misogynistic,  xenophobic, fearful, angry, paranoid and downright stupid half of the public that today controls the Republican Party and keeps their president within striking distance of re-election.  Foot soldiers of a culture war they do not grasp is not on their side.

It was probably inevitable that, apparently motivated by provocateurs and twitter bots, the mob would  rise up in angry protests, some toting assault rifles as they stormed their State Houses.  The mob brought the culture war to the time of pandemic.
...pushback against the lockdowns was inevitable, even if there's good reason to believe these "grassroots" demonstrations have been concocted by well-funded conservative groups rather than grassroots organizers and have more than a touch of the Alex Jones-influenced evidence-free conspiracy paranoia
What's striking is that this pro-Trump "liberty" movement is so stridently embracing deliberately disruptive protest and open defiance of the law.
Eager to keep the mob inflamed, the rightwing media cartel and twitter bots, Congressional Republicans, and the president himself stoked the embers with fabulous tales of the contagion being a hoax or a coup to topple the president or an attack on the mob's constitutional rights and liberties.

There followed angry confrontations when the mob's constitutional freedoms were purportedly impinged by stores requiring that customers wear masks. There were many cases of individuals retaliating by coughing on store staff and security guards. In one case a guard was shot in the head.

Now some merchants are embracing the culture war, refusing service to anyone who dares to show up wearing a mask.
In the last few weeks a spate of American stores have made headlines after putting up signs telling customers who wear masks they will be denied entry. On Thursday, Vice reported on a Kentucky convenience store that put up a sign reading: “NO Face Masks allowed in store. Lower your mask or go somewhere else. Stop listening to [Kentucky governor Andy] Beshear, he’s a dumbass.” ...Another sign was posted by a Californian construction store earlier this month encouraging hugs but not masks.  
Anti-lockdown protesters have argued that it is anti-American for the government to curtail people’s freedoms in order to reduce deaths as a result of Covid-19. Meanwhile, store owners tell customers what they can and cannot wear before entering, and customers cough in the faces of workers in the name of freedom.
“A warped freedom obsession is killing us,” said the writer Anand Giridharadas, in reference to those coughing in the faces of others in the name of freedom. It is, of course, a minority of people willfully misinterpreting what freedom means – freedom to choose, until the choice is one that they do not like; meanwhile, most Americans don’t want to return to business as usual during this pandemic.
Is this a glimpse of what awaits when the next grave threat arrives to catch us once again unprepared?

How will the mob react when a second, potentially far more lethal, wave appears, perhaps as soon as this fall?  Will their already simmering anger boil over into something far worse than we're seeing now?

We know that Covid-19 won't be the last pandemic we'll experience. The science types have long warned us to prepare for a succession of these contagions and other equally jarring impacts such as food insecurity, climate breakdown and mass migrations.  They've been telling us that for years yet we got caught largely unprepared.

Everything I've read suggests this decade will show us the real face of climate breakdown. Once ignored as something that targets black and brown people in distant lands it will begin moving northward. Drought, sea level rise, heatwaves and severe storm events of increasing frequency, intensity and duration may introduce the US to the reality of IDPs or internally displaced populations that will have to be relocated to more livable regions. The ripple effects will be far-reaching.  Studies show that the Red States are more vulnerable than Blue State America. How will this play out in the context of a society already deeply fractured across so many fault lines, a population divided into camps hostile and suspicious of each other?  How will the heavily-armed mob react?

Here we are living next door to the most powerful nation on Earth yet one so poorly positioned to withstand what is coming.  A nation that cannot pull together even in the face of a pandemic. A nation in which a pandemic is just another convenient battlefield on which to wage their culture war.


British Columbia's media gem, the National Observer, has posted columnist, Linda Solomon Wood's interview with New York Times deputy editor,  Matt Purdy, about being on the front lines of  "a pitched battle for truth in the time of Covid."