Our Leaders and the New Morality

Today we were witness in Canada to the sight of government and church leaders half-apologizing or non-apologizing for the mass unmarked graves of children who died at their institutes of learning.

These institutes, known as ‘residential schools’, were created with the explicit purpose of erasing the cultural identify of indigenous children by separating them from their families and strictly regulating their learning and behaviour.

Despite being told of the mass graves by witnesses during the Truth and Reconciliation hearings neither government nor religious leaders felt it would be important to search for the children’s remains and acknowledge their deaths.

Now everybody is shocked, but they shouldn’t be. It’s the same pattern of abuse that we’ve come to expect from today’s self-professed guardians of morality.

Police, for example, were first told of the decades of abuse of boys by the Christian Brothers at Mt. Cashel orphanage in 1975, but it was years before anyone heard about it and not until 1989 that some newspapers first began documenting the story.

The abuse by religious leaders was not one of a kind. The story of abusive hockey coaches is well known in Canada and one that continues to surface even this year. There’s missing and murdered Indigenous women. There’s a long list of excessive force incidents by Canadian police. Canadian military leaders have resigned in disgrace after presiding over a culture of sexual abuse.

None of this is meant to diminish the offensiveness of the mass graves and the residential school system. These are in a category of their own (at least in Canada) and are a complete and utter disgrace. It is only to point to a pattern.

It is long past time we stopped looking to government, corporate and religious leaders for any guidance on morality. They have shown us time and again how deeply immoral they have become.

Each time you think there is a line they couldn’t cross, they seem to find a way to sink to new depths of depravity. You would think that scenes of dozens of dead children would have deterred gun rights advocates in the U.S., but they didn’t even slow down. Similarly, the revelation of mass graves has done nothing to deter those who celebrate their authors today.

To be frank, I think the people complaining about ‘cancel culture’ and ‘political correctness’ and saying ‘history is history’ should just shut up.

I, for one, have had it with their fake moralizing. Go peddle your hypocrisy elsewhere. We know who the immoral people are, and it’s not the people calling for diversity, inclusion, equity and reconciliation.

It’s not worth much in the face of such tragedy, but to my Indigenous friends and colleagues, I would like to apologize on behalf of myself and any of my ancestors or compatriots who played any part in this outrage. I’m sorry. Sincerely, genuinely, deeply sorry.

I am committed to genuine truth and reconciliation. At the very least, we can begin with a full and proper investigation, and at the very least, we can stop celebrating the memory and morality of those who perpetuated these crimes. That, at least, would be a start.

Cancelled

Their accusations are their confessions.

Remember that. It’s how we need to consider the many and varied arguments we hear daily from conservative critics. It’s a common tactic. It’s what Freud called “projection”, where you identify your own faults, and ‘project’ them on to others, accusing them of the things you yourself are guilty of.

It was used to devastating effect by the previous U.S. president. Any time he was suspected (usually justifiably) of some form of corruption or malpractice, he would wrap up the suspicion in some new terminology (which Scott Adams called a “linguistic killshot“) and fling it back against the opposition as a direct accusation.

And we need to be clear that this is exactly what the term ‘cancel culture’ is. It’s an attempt by the people most likely to censor and silent opponents to accuse their opponents of exactly that sort of behaviour. It’s effective because it’s targeted at the audience least likely to stifle opposition, and therefore most sensitive to the criticism.

But remember: their accusations are their confessions.

The people accusing us of ‘cancel culture’ because we have decided to call an end to hateful and abusive behaviour are themselves the most likely to belittle, censor and silence opponents. That’s how they keep their power.

Despite their constant cries of censorship, conservatives dominate social media. Despite their accusations of left-leaning bias in newsrooms and on college campuses, conservatives exert a disproportional influence on both. Their cries of censorship in social media are baseless. And lets not forget the preponderance of conservative thought in organizations as varied as religious institutions, the police, military, schools of business and corporate boardrooms.

They would like us to believe that “we’re just the same, you and I.” They would like us to believe that if we were in the same position, we would do the same thing, that we would preserve our privilege, that we would take advantage of the weak, that we despise the poor and the marginalized just as much as they do. And their ‘proof’, they say, is cancel culture.

Except – no. The very same action, taken in the defense of the marginalized, is not the same as that action taken with the intent to oppress one. And this can be seen in the nature and character of the defense, how it is directed toward the action, and not the person, how it leaves even the attacker no weaker than when he started.

Their acts of silencing and oppression have no beginning and, it seems, no end…

  • like when the state of Mississippi banned Sesame Street, calling it “too controversial” because it had black actors
  • like when @ForAmerica attacked the Macy’s Day Parade for “blindsiding parents” because it dared to show two girls kiss
  • like when conservative ‘free speech’ website Parler starts banning accounts for posting left wing ideas
  • like when a conservative government bans universities from teaching gender studies
  • like when Republicans in Georgia pass laws promoting voter suppression

You know and I know I could make this list longer and longer without much effort (but with more effort than it might seem, because conservatives has also flooded Google search with these accusations, making their own transgressions harder to find).

Every time a conservative complains about censorship or ‘cancel culture’ we need to remind ourselves, and to say to them,

“You are the one complaining about cancel culture because you are the one who uses silencing and suppression as political tools to advance your own interests and maintain your own power.

“You are complaining about cancel culture because the people you have always silenced are beginning to have a voice, and they are beginning to say, we won’t be silent any more.

“And when you say the people working against racism and misogyny and oppression are silencing you, that tells us exactly who – and what – you are.”

“Your accusations are your confessions.”

Image: CNN

Macroeconomics

Tyler Cowan offers what he calls are the “the four basic truths of macroeconomics” in a recent column in Bloomberg. It may be paywalled, so I’ll quote liberally here.

His first point is that “a strong negative shock to demand — a sudden decline, in other words — usually leads to a loss of output and employment.” This is just the law of supply and demand, reworded to spin it a bit, and with some riders attached.

Put more clearly, the principle is this: in a market economy, a reduction in demand leads to a reduction in supply. It doesn’t matter whether the result is a ‘negative shock’ or simply a global disinterest in the product.

The rider in this proposition the the further assertion that this leads to unemployment. Let’s hear Cowan explain: “Nominal wages are sticky, for a complex mix of sociological reasons, and so employers do not always respond to lower demand with lower wages for workers. Instead they lay some people off, and that can lead to a recession.”

OK, first, lower wages can also lead to a recession, so the choice between ‘lower wages or lay people off’ is a false choice. Additionally, when people are laid off, it is not usually a result of high wages for other people, but because there is nothing for them to do.

Cowan calls this “one of the most important discoveries in history”. This may be true of the law of supply and demand, but not of his restatement. And the other half of this ‘most important discovery’ is that it applies only to market economies.

Market economies governed by the law of supply and demand are subject to market failures. One such failure is a drop in demand for a given product. All else being equal, this leads to a collapse of the economy. What saves the economy is intervention from outside the market. In a large company, for example, financial reserves may be brought in to develop a new product line. In a national or global economy, financial reserves may be brought in to build infrastructure, fight a war, or explore and discover.

Let’s move on to Cowan’s second point. It is this: “well-functioning central banks can offset such demand shocks to a considerable degree — or even prevent them from arising in the first place.

This is Cowan’s version of the point I just made, but Cowan limits the sort of intervention needed to one conducted by central banks. It should be obvious, just on reflection of the point, that any intervention that replaces the loss of demand will apply equally well. Wealth does not exist only in central banks.

Cowan continues by narrowing the range of possibilities even further: “The bank can engage in complex financial transactions or simply print more currency to stabilize nominal demand and restore some measure of order.” Again, it should be clear by simple observation that there are many options in addition to ‘complex transactions’ or ‘printing money’.

This limited range of options is essential the set of constraints imposed in a set of responses known as ‘monetary policy’. The core idea of monetary policy is that economic fluctuations are addressed primarily by adjusting the money supply. But governments are more than merely central banks, and there is a range of options over and above monetary policy.

The obvious additional option, and the one we have actually taken, is to borrow money. Borrowing money isn’t the same as printing money, because the money still comes from somewhere – usually from places where it wasn’t being used to create demand, whether hidden in mattresses or stashed away in savings accounts. Another option is to tax this money – admittedly hard to do with cash stashed in the house somewhere, but much easier with unproductive wealth in futures markets or hidden in the Cayman Islands.

The other part of that strategy is, as I suggested above, giving people something else to do. During the pandemic, for example, no amount of money pumped into the economy is going to increase the demand for sit-down restaurants and seats in movie theatres. But there is an urgent and pressing need – one for which the market is not in a good position to address – in basic (but unprofitable) research in vaccines and personal protective equipment.

The second point was only one paragraph in Cowan’s article, not because there wasn’t a lot to say, but because there was a lot to keep hidden.

Let’s move on to his third point: “if central banks go crazy increasing the money supply, the result will be high price inflation. This is the law of supply and demand applied to money. Increase the supply of money, and its value decreases, meaning you need more to obtain the same goods and services. This phenomenon is called ‘inflation’.

This is a ceteris paribus clause, which means, ‘all else being equal’. But all else is never equal, and is is important, because there is an important corollary: if the demand for goods and services is greatly increased, the value of money decreases. This is the cause of some classic market failures. If, say, electricity becomes scarce, but demand is stable, the price will shoot through the roof, resulting (again) in inflation.

This is all the theoretical basis for monetary policy: keeping the value of money more or less in accord with variations in demand, growing the money supply as the economy grows, and shrinking it as the economy shrinks. This approach might work well on the upswing, but it has devastating consequences on the downswing. Just when the economy needs more investment to produce more jobs and more demand, money becomes tight, sending the economy into a downward spiral.

Not surprisingly, this is the policy Cowan suggests will be most effective. “If central banks simultaneously act to decrease the velocity of money,” he writes, “that is, if they take measures to reduce borrowing and lending, then price inflation will be limited accordingly.” Yes it would. At the cost of sending the economy into a tailspin.

But there’s room for a more positive message: inflation happens only if the supply of goods and services remains static. But if that supply increases, especially for new sorts of goods and services (to, say, build fibre networks, develop vaccine programs, explore space, develop alternative energy sources) then increased money supply does not increase inflation.

This is important because the greatest danger of inflation doesn’t come from governments printing money. For the most part, governments don’t print money; they borrow. No, the greatest danger lies in the fact that something like half of all global wealth is concentrated and hidden away in banks in Panama and the Caymans and Switzerland by the globally wealthy, and if this money is unleashed on the economy, the value of money will drop.

Finally, let’s look at Cowan’s fourth point: “non-monetary shocks, if they are large enough, can also create recessions or depressions.” For examples he gives us “the oil price shock of 1973, the current pandemic, or bad harvests in earlier agrarian societies.” What he should have said, in my opinion, is that “shocks can produce market failures”.

That is because the market generally, and monetary policy in particular, are not well-equipped to adjust to sudden systemic changes or disruptions to central aspects of the economy. Each of the three examples he gives impacted the market in a different way, but what they all have in common was that there was no market-based means to respond to them.

If we look at the pandemic, then what we saw was that, in addition to killing half a million Americans, the pandemic sharply reduced demand for public activities, thus eliminating the incomes of a wide swath of the population, including especially some of the most vulnerable and, at the same time, the most essential. If we did not address this by borrowing money and replacing that income, and also by developing alternative essential services, and also spending to combat the vaccine, then the economy would collapse.

If we look at the oil price shock of the 1970s, a completely different calculus was at play. The high cost of oil and gas resulted in widespread disruption because so much of the economy – from car production to drive-in theatres – depended on cheap and available fuel. The cost of a wide range of goods and services rose sharply. The short-term cause was the Arab oil embargo, and the crisis was effectively ended with the end of the embargo, which was the result of political agreements with the Arab states and an Israeli withdrawal in Egypt and disengagement with Syria. Longer term, the crisis resulted in increased (and often subsidized) exploration for oil elsewhere.

If we look at the collapse of harvests in agrarian economies, the cause and effect are pretty obvious, since the loss of food results in a loss of demand for pretty much everything else. The term ‘economic collapse’ becomes somewhat meaningless when everyone is starving. The response is found in one of the first of many accounts of socialism in the Bible (Genesis 42): store grain during the seven years of good times, and dispense it during the seven years of hard times. Today we know this as Keynesian economics.

So what sort of conclusions do we draw from all of this?

Well, the first thing I noticed about the article was that it mentioned Clubhouse right at the top, making it part of the non-market interventions being used by wealthier interests in order to stimulate demand for a product. I don’t know whether Cowan was paid for this, or for his appearance there, but I’m sure this reciprocity would not go unnoticed. The wealthy know all about non-market intervention, as use it liberally to tip the scales, drawing on their previously mention half of all wealth in the world.

Another is that in the discussion of economics and monetary policy, we never touch on the actual motivation for any of this, which is to increase human society and to alleviate suffering and hardship. When Cowan talks about, say, “the expected return of public investments,” he elides the point that a lot of government investment is made with no expectation of return – it is, indeed, the antithesis of market policy – because governments are addressing these very human needs. When you lose half a million people in a society, this is far more than an economic issue; it is a human tragedy.

That leads us to our final observation. Cowan says, as a result of these discoveries, that “the only thing worse than living with macroeconomics would be to try to live without it.”

I won’t deny the utility of macroeconomic theory (though I certainly have my doubts about unfettered market capitalism and the utility of monetary policy in a crisis). But it is also abundantly clear that tracking the flow of money, goods and services in an economy is only one small part of a much larger and more complex domain.

It’s like saying “the only thing worse for a human than living with the blood circulation system would be to try to live without it.” This is true – but it is far from the whole story. Focusing only on the blood supply leads to things like blood-letting as a part of medical theory. We need to look at many other things. We need to understand the human condition as a whole, not just as a set of numbers on a balance sheet.

Image: Macroeconomics.

Paying for News

I’m writing to oppose the recent call by Canadian newspapers to require by law that companies like Google and Facebook pay for news items they link to in their search or news feeds.

We are told “They are using their monopoly power to scoop up 80% of online advertising revenues and to free ride on the news content produced by hardworking journalists and publishers across Canada.”

The campaign is being depicted as a “David vs Goliath” battle between small scrappy local newspapers and global giants. But readers should not be misled. The news media in Canada is heavily centralized and owned by some of Canada’s wealthiest citizens and corporations. They don’t answer to their readers and they certainly don’t represent the interests of their readers.

We need only look at the example of the Irving-owned press in Atlantic Canada where competition not only in news but in many of Irving’s other interests – forestry, oil, trucking – is stifled at first mention. Or the example of the yellow front-page attack ad run across the PostMedia chain on the eve of a Federal election.

What we are seeing in the current campaign is just another example of that media domination. Canada’s corporate media are using their overwhelming voice to attempt to influence opinion and public policy for their own benefit. They are noticeably silent about the fact that these same companies charge Canadians some of the highest internet and mobile data fees in the world.

It’s true that the news industry in Canada is suffering, but it’s not because of the search engines. It’s because of a failed business model that depends on tolls on data, paywalls, tracking and spyware, and content that privileged the perspective of corporations and the wealthy. That’s still true of the news industry in Canada and it’s hard to see why we should pay to support this.

What the news media did not do that both Facebook and Google did was to give people a voice. They welcomed public contributions, linked people to each other, connected communities and families, and served the function that Canadian newspapers largely eschewed in favour of centralization and profit-taking.

Giving Canada’s corporate media legislated funding from Google and Facebook will further reinforce these trends. It would give established media outlets a financial subsidy that will disadvantage community newspapers, local social media, decentralized media, and even local bloggers, podcasters and video producers.

The news media in Canada are using the example of recent legislation being proposed in Australia to support their case. It should also be noted that the Australian government is also using the campaign as a means to defund the ABC, their equivalent of the CBC. Even though the CBC is the best and often the only source of local news stories in Canada, defunding the CBC is high on the list of priorities for Canada’s corporate media.

If Canada really wanted to support local news it would collect revenues from large corporate content producers (including Google and Facebook, but also Canada’s corporate media) and use them to fund individual and independent producers of Canadian news coverage, thus allowing local media to flourish it its original close-to-home grassroots environment.

Creating instead a special tax imposed on digital media payable directly to large Canadian corporations sets a terrible precedent and ought to be resisted at all levels.

The Snowbird

Ontario finance minister Rod Phillips should resign, but he probably won’t, and he won’t be asked to.

In Canada we have this tradition of the snowbird. That’s a person who enjoys our beautiful summer months (often at their cottage by the lake) and in the winter packs their bags and moves to a warmer climate for several month, migrating, just like a snowbird.

It’s thought of as a tradition, but of course, it’s also a status. Not everybody can move south for the winter; you have to have a certain level of privilege and wealth. Most of us can’t move south for the winter.

And this winter, especially, the fiction has been that you’re not allowed to move south to escape the snow. The fiction has been (along with “we’re all in this together”) that unessential travel is prohibited, that we shouldn’t be taking a winter vacation at all. Heck, I can’t even go to Quebec, which is about 50 kilometers from here.

So it takes a certain about of hubris to do it anyway, and of course there’s a lot of nodding and winking all around because as we all know the rules about the pandemic don’t really apply to the sort of people who have the privilege and wealth to be snowbirds. No doubt Rod Phillips is just one member of a very large flock.

But he is also the finance minister for the government of Ontario, the same government that has instituted those restrictions, and more recently, even more severe restrictions, as the pandemic has worsened. Yes there’s a vaccine, but just as we saw with masks and personal protective equipment in the spring, it takes a certain amount of time to produce and distribute these. And meanwhile, people die if we don’t follow the rules.

So when the finance minister doesn’t follow the rules, he is showing a certain disregard for the people who die. And it leads us to suspect that this disregard applies to other aspects of his work and life as a finance minister, the sort of disregard that would, say, cause him to wait until after Christmas to implement a much-needed lockdown, instead of two weeks before, when it was apparent to everyone that otherwise we would see the record levels of new cases we are seeing today.

That’s bad enough. But the finance minister knew it was wrong to fly south for the winter, did it anyway, and then covered it up with a series of tweets and videos designed to make it look like he was still living and working out of his home in Ajax. We can see him patronizing local vbusinesses, participating in interviews, even sending a Christmas message from in front of his fireplace – all while he relaxed on the beach in St. Barts.

So he should resign. If he had any sense of decency and propriety he would resign. The last thing we need is that sort of deception in a finance minister.

But he won’t resign, and he won’t be told to resign, because despite what he said as the story broke, the Premier of Ontario, Doug Ford, knew all along his finance minister was a snowbird, just as he knew when his finance minister also took a vacation to Switzerland in August. Ford says, “I can tell you I’m very upset. I’m very frustrated with the situation. I stand out here every single day and tell people to stay at home,” he said.

But who is he frustrated with? Phillips? Well, no, because he knew Phillips was on vacation and was fine with it. If he’s frustrated with anything, it’s that Phillips got caught. And now he will have a “tough conversation” with Phillips, probably along the lines of “you got caught, you can’t do it again.” And we’ll go back to the same sort of decision-making that puts the interests of his and Phillips’s business friends above the lives of the people of Ontario.

Overall, Ford has done a good job with the pandemic. But the cracks are beginning to show.

Rod Phillips’s Web of Deception. Huffington Post.

Update: Phillips resigned a few hours after I posted this.

The Greenbelts

It’s getting harder and harder to follow issues like this with most of the news media retreating behind paywalls or advertising barriers. Governments count on that.

Just so, it was a struggle to find out just why half the province’s Greenbelt Council (along with its president) resigned this week. The CBC article on this is a convoluted mess (which is unusual for CBC). The double-negative in the headline makes it clear how much they’re trying to tiptoe around political sensibilities.

The Canadian Press is clearer, and here’s the story: “the bill would strip power from local conservation authorities and expand ministerial authority on zoning and other potentially sensitive environmental issues.”

Now why would the province need to do this? Sure, there’s that whole argument about red tape blocking development, but these are conservation lands. They’re not supposed to be developed. So let’s be clear: the province wants to develop conservation lands.

Now as the CBC article (ever so tactfully) says, “Premier Doug Ford’s government has vowed, repeatedly, to not allow development in the Greenbelt — a permanently protected area of green space that surrounds the Golden Horseshoe area.”

But who believes that? More to the point, if the conservation authorities are stripped of all authority, who is there to stop them? In today’s dearth of news coverage, who would even notice? Once the decisions are taken from public bodies and put into back rooms, nobody will know the decision has been taken until the bulldozers roll through.

And that’s a problem. As David Crombie says, as we wipe out these natural areas, we’re less and less able to deal with natural disasters like flooding, which leads to greater costs in the future. We also lose habitats for wildlife, and we lose the green space urban dwellers need in order to rest and relax.

The government can dance around this all they like. But decisions on protected land belong in the public spotlight, where the interests of the entire community can be heard, and not only those of developers looking for a windfall.

Greenbelt forest scene in winter. Photo by the author.

A Clean-Energy Hatchet Job

Re: Quebec Ink: As Hydro-Québec expands into cleantech, entrepreneurs cry foul
https://thelogic.co/news/quebec-ink/quebec-ink-as-hydro-quebec-expands-into-cleantech-entrepreneurs-cry-foul/

This is a hatchet job, with no pretense of being objective. It reads as a screed from the far right, depending on the argument that government-owned companies shouldn’t be in a market competing against private enterprise. This common argument is used repeatedly in other sectors to undermine essential services, and in this case, it’s being used to undermine Quebec’s substantial investment in clean energy.One one point of view is presented in this article.

Now while I’m no fan of balance for the sake of balance, it does appear that there is a very legitimate second perspective here that the author hasn’t even tried to represent. I representative from Hydro Quebec would probably point out that the people of Quebec are entitled to the best return on their investment, an investment all the more notable because it came at a time when almost all private investment was pouring (still!) into hydrocarbons.

And this is exactly why we need public investment in the energy sector. Entrenched private sector interests lobbied hard, and continue to lobby, against clean energy. They show little interest in doing the research and investment necessary, preferring to rely on profits from oil and gas, no matter how harmful they are to the environment. To the extent that they do invest, they do so in order to undermine competition from clean energy.

This is why I won’t be renewing my subscription to the logic. As I have pointed out elsewhere, this publication is practicing advocacy journalism, pushing a pro-business perspective while ignoring interests and issues that represent the broader concerns of the community.The Logic

On Justice and Open Debate

I support free and open debate. I support what the authors of A Letter call “good-faith disagreement without dire professional consequences.” What I don’t support are threats, harassment and abuse. And I oppose people who use their power and privilege to oppress the less powerful and less privileged.

I don’t think it’s too fine a distinction. Arguments are not hard to spot; they are based on reasons, ideally on evidence, and they support some point of view. The other sort of discourse looks nothing like this. It is – at best – dogma supported by more dogma. More often, it’s just a stream of verbal attacks. It is a pernicious form of dialogie, and it ought quite rightly to be censured.

Let’s just for the moment take the following as a given:

“Our cultural institutions are facing a moment of trial. Powerful protests for racial and social justice are leading to overdue demands for police reform, along with wider calls for greater equality and inclusion across our society, not least in higher education, journalism, philanthropy, and the arts.”

Let’s think about what this means. Voices that have been silenced, often violently, in the past have now finally reached the point where they are being heard, and where some of the reforms they are proposing are actually being enacted. These arguments are based on concrete evidence, not the least of which was video of a man being murdered in broad daylight by the police.

But there’s always a ‘but’, isn’t there?

“But this needed reckoning has also intensified a new set of moral attitudes and political commitments that tend to weaken our norms of open debate and toleration of differences in favor of ideological conformity.”

I think we can agree that it has awakened a new set of moral attitudes, among them including things like “‘driving while black’ is not a crime”, “it is wrong to simply look away from sexual abuse and rape”, and “advocating for white supremacy is not acceptable”. From my perspective these are long past due, but in some circles of society, they have taken a lot longer to take root.

But these new norms, and others like them, do nothing to weaken our norms of open debate. There are and always have been many many things you simply cannot advocate and expect to keep your job or your publishing contract. Try selling some child pornography and see how your career fares, for example. Advocate for the use of hard drugs, and see what the reaction is. Support and campaign for communism. Call for the defenestration of the wealthy. Deny the Holocaust. You get the idea – nobody does or would support any of these things, and we would not be surprised if people did not vigorously respond, if not throw you in jail outright. And for good reason.

In recent years there has been enough evidence to convince people that this list should be extended, if for no other reason than that the right has been acting as though no such rules apply. From the Bush doctrine that (among other things) legitimized pre-emptive war and sanctioned torture, to the Trump doctrine of sanctioned racism, extrajudicial violence, recognition of Nazis as “good people” and a “grab her by the pussy” ethic, it has become clear that a fundamentally immoral set of values has taken hold in our elite.

I think the case against invasion, torture, racism, fascism, sexism, and LGBT rights opposition has advanced far beyond “ideological conformity”, because I think there are no longer (if there ever were) any good faith arguments to be made in favour of those positions. What the events of the last few years have shown is that support for them is based in nothing more than blunt assertion of power and privilege, and not reason and argument at all. And that opposition to them is an equally blunt – and morally just – rejection of them.

Jessica Valenti offers a nice recap of the behaviours that are being defended by the authors of the Letter. The professor who was investigated was a white teacher at UCLA who used the n-word repeatedly in class. The editor who lost his job ran a piece advocating the use of military force against peaceful protesters. An author published bigoted ideas and debunked myths about trans women. Another editor published an essay by Jian Ghomeshi, who has been accused by more than 20 women of sexual assault.

None of these constitutes a good faith argument. They are all, respectively, attacks on their targets of hate. They are incitements to violence, to social reprisals against the victims of these attacks, simply because the victims pushed back. As Valenti writes, “The only speech these powerful people seem to care about is their own: They want to be able to say whatever they want without consequence, and to paint themselves as the victims even as they wield more institutional and systemic power than anyone criticizing them.”

The push-back is not against dialogue or discussion, but instead against a wall of hard-right propaganda that seeks to undermine the fundamental principles of democracy. There’s no reason why we should accept that in a democratic society; being offensive isn’t the same as offering an argument in favour of it. It’s not that the proponents are arguing in favour of fascism, they are fascist, and expecting us to recognize that as acceptable. They are racist, they are misogynist, they are intolerant. And when we run up against them in the office or on the street, we won’t turn away, but we will confront them, and refuse them the power and the privilege they desire.

And let’s be clear, also, that none of the so-called ‘reprisals’ against those referenced by the authors of a Letter come close to actual illiberalism. Look at what the responses are – an editor loses his job, a writer doesn’t get a book published, a journalist is told not to write about something, professors are investigated, a researcher is fired, heads of organizations are ousted. These pale in comparison to actual illiberalism practiced by their ilk as recently as, well, this week.

The writers of the Letter cannot have it both ways. They cannot argue that they should have carte-blanche to write and behave in any way they please, without regard to the people they harm, while at the same time saying that the people being harmed should not write and behave in ways that defend themselves against that harm. If they really think illiberalism is the danger, then perhaps they should look in the mirror. They are the danger.

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The Logic

I think there should be some way to respond to stories in the Logic.

Today’s drone story is a case in point. Why is it even being covered? As one person quoted states, “These cybersecurity concerns are being artificially created by the U.S. government.” Why is the stance taken by the author that we are not complying with U.S. policy?

It actually feels to me – given the Canadian government’s currently active RFP for additional drones – like an attempt to influence the government’s selection process, with the threat of creating a ‘made in China’ issue behind it.

I wouldn’t normally leap to such a paranoid conclusion, but the Logic’s journalism in general has exhibited a significant bias toward a specific industry perspective. This disappoints me, as I had been hopeful that the substantial subscription fee might be a guarantor of a more objective stance.

But that’s why there should be a way to respond to stories. The Logic’s authors need to be held to account, and right now there is no obvious way – other than this relatively obscure and unused Slack channel – to do that.

drone_080418gn_lead

The Covid Response

In these early days of the Covid pandemic in Canada my estimation is that our government has been doing the right things, taken the right tone, and made the right response. It has been a stellar example of good government.

I am relieved that we have competent even-handed people running the key instruments of public policy.

As the pandemic has progressed from a few cases in China to breakouts in Korea, Italy and Iran to widespread community contagion in the U.S., day after day sees evidence of a carefully considered emergency plan being rolled out in this country.

It has not just been a medical response. It has been a multilevel response.

When two presumptive cases hit our building, some of the earliest in the city, we had already taken the steps that we needed to ensure we could work online. Not just me – I’ve always been ready. But everybody.

When it began to look like people would be forced to stay home, immediate measures were taken to make sure they could collect unemployment insurance without delay. Finance minister Bill Morneau has been announcing progressive emergency financial aid packages.

A wave of panic buying on Friday barely dented our supply chains, as as people realized that the shelves weren’t going bare things quickly returned to normal. If you’re running your economy right at the limit of sustainability, that doesn’t happen, but we don’t do it that way in Canada.

Our Prime Minister is in isolation as his wife has the virus. He walks out, calmly delivers a press conference, still clearly on top of things, still clearly able to manage his responsibilities.

Our deputy prime minister Chrystia Freeland has excelled, working with the provinces and various departments making sure everybody has the information they need and that everybody is working in the same direction.

Now this could change. The conservative opposition could prevail when the economic downturn really hits, convincing the government to cut back expenditures and remove the supports for workers both inside and outside of government. It could change as foreign-owned companies like Tim Horton’s apply foreign employment practices – no sick leave, no sick pay – on Canadian workers.

But for now, it has been the right response at the right time.

covid