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  • COVID-19 America viewed from across the lake : remembering the 1960 US presidential election 60 years later

    Posted: April 26th, 2020 | No Comments »
    Skyline of the City of Toronto taken from across Lake Ontario in the small hamlet of Olcott, New York, one minute after sunset on August 19, 2017. Image Source: SpaceWatchtower Blog; Photographer: Pittsburgh-Area Free-Lance Photographer Lynne S. Walsh.

    My current favourite view of COVID-19 America from inside the USA itself came from a white-haired but otherwise quite young-looking Jay Leno, speaking on HBO TV from Bill Maher’s Los Angeles backyard this past Friday night.

    The retired talk-show host noted how Dr. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has said the fight against COVID-19 is a war. And when asked how this war is to be fought the doctor explained “by staying home and watching TV.”

    This, the still-active streetwise comic Mr. Leno concludes, has to make you optimistic about the future of the USA. Who is more qualified to fight this kind of war than Americans?

    As both Jay Leno and Bill Maher also took pains to stress COVID-19 is of course a deadly serious business, that has already caused too much human suffering in the United States and many other places (including where I live in Canada’s most populous province, just 42 miles or 68 kilometres across the lake from New York State).

    “Outer Limits” by prize-winning Toronto artist Michael Seward, April 2020.

    Meanwhile, last year Jay Leno “appeared on the third hour of the Today show and said he doesn’t miss being a late-night host, because nowadays, ‘everyone has to know your politics.’ Rather than offending both sides equally as he once did, Leno said, people now see late-night hosts as ‘one-sided,’ which makes the job tougher than it was in his day.”

    He went on to explain in more detail : “People say, ‘It must be easy to do jokes with Trump.’ No, it’s actually harder. Because the punch line of a joke used to be, ‘That’s like the president with a porn star.’ Well, now the president is with a porn star! Where do you go with that? How do you get more outrageous than that?”

    You might guess that whatever Jay Leno says on TV he will likely enough vote for Joe Biden this coming November 3, 2020. And Bill Maher regularly testifies to his intention in this direction, however much Mr. Biden may be “no one’s first choice.”

    Donald Trump and friends at Mar-a-Lago in Florida 1992.

    I am myself unambiguously in the far northern school of “practically all Canadians … vote Democratic in American elections.” And I agree with my wife and almost all my friends that Donald Trump is at the very least the most appalling US president in living memory, who could set Democracy (and much else) in America back for generations if he wins a second term.

    I take some slight heart as well from, eg, the current RealClear Politics findings : (a) that Trump’s average job approval on the past eight national polls is 45.8% compared to 52.0% disapproval ; and (b) that Biden beats Trump in seven of the past eight state polls, and all of the last four national polls.

    On the other hand, I am suitably sobered (and distressed) when I read that : “Biden Leads Trump in Key States. But Hillary Clinton Led by More” ; “Trump holds narrow lead over Biden in Texas” (well actually it’s Trump 49%, Biden 44%) ; and : “Nationally, Biden is now leading Trump by around six percentage points … a slight improvement over late January and February,” but “substantially down since the fall, when he was … 10 percentage points above Trump.”

    “Mythology” by Michael Seward, 2011.

    Most of the polling numbers since he took office, I think it’s fair enough to say, suggest that the democratic majority of Americans do not support the wild and crazy presidency of the Man from Mar-a-Lago (by way of Trump Tower, New York City).

    At the same time, they also suggest that — given the particular mechanics of the US electoral system — the majority against Trump is far from as large as it would need to be to make to make a Trump victory on November 3 even unlikely, let alone unthinkable or virtually impossible.

    When Trump’s media savvy and marketing instincts are at their sharpest, the divide between his Republican supporters and their Democratic, Independent, and anti-Trump conservative opponents is alarmingly close to half and half. The increasingly toxic partisanship of American politics today is closer to a non-violent (so far) civil war, than it is to a contest between some definitive last gasp of yesterday and an inevitable more progressive tomorrow.

    “President Donald Trump with former President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden during Trump’s inauguration. Photo: Paul J. Richards / AFP / Getty Images.”

    (Though I do myself believe that President Obama and Vice President Biden, and hopefully beyond, did happily — and even surprisingly — raise the manifestly destined head of a bright new American future, while Donald Trump and Vice President Pence speak for a dark past that is headed down a historical blind alley of ultimate irrelevance in the wider global village.)

    You can say that this is an unprecedented situation in American history — now only intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic which has all too quickly become mixed in with the toxic political partisanship. And there may be a little to this.

    But to me the longer the hopefully brief Age of Trump has gone on since November 2016, the clearer it has become that there has long been a recurrent great divide in American politics, economics, and culture. The largest example is the real and appallingly violent American Civil War of 1861-1865, to end slavery and at least start to bring democracy to all the American people.

    John F Kennedy (left) and Richard M. Nixon at September 26, 1960 US presidential debate.

    One hundred years later, there was the American Presidential Election of 1960 — won by the later-assassinated John Fitzgerald Kennedy, “the first Catholic President” and the political leader who arguably began the chapter of American history still in progress today.

    In 2020 I think what stands out most when you look back on the 1960 election — between the Democrat Kennedy and the Republican Richard Nixon (who would ultimately resign as a later president, to avoid being removed from office by Congress) — is just how close it was in the popular vote : Kennedy 49.72% and Nixon 49.55%.

    (Certain complexities here are nicely enough explained by the Wikipedia article on the subject : “Kennedy won a 303 to 219 Electoral College victory and is generally considered to have won the national popular vote by 112,827, a margin of 0.17 percent, though some argue that Nixon should be credited with the popular vote victory, as the issue of the popular vote was complicated by the presence of several unpledged electors in the Deep South.”)

    A further poignant fact strikes me as I ponder the map of the 1960 US election. Back then the geography of what the US political lexicon now calls red states and blue states was not what it is today, 60 years later.

    Probably the most striking difference is that in 1960 Texas was a blue state, and California was red (and the home state of Richard Nixon, born and raised in what is now the Los Angeles metropolitan area, where his presidential library and museum reside in 2020).

    In 1960 the entire Pacific coast of the USA was “red-state”— California, Oregon, and Washington State. Today it is all blue-state and an important regional seedbed for 21st century American liberalism. Political history does not stay static for all time. It changes and it moves.

    “After every night there has always been a morning” by Michael Seward, 2020.

    Whatever else, it does seem to me that the extreme right-wing conservatism the Republican party which has consolidated around Donald Trump’s leadership wants to lock into the American future for as long as possible cannot finally endure. It doesn’t know how to move with the changing world we all must somehow learn to inhabit in the 21st century.

    The only ultimate question may be whether this same Trumpist Republicanism can nonetheless destroy the American future for something that will make more sense — in a USA that continues to serve as a forward beacon for the free and democratic society in the wider global village.

    In any event, I am nervously looking forward to watching November 3, 2020 in my Canadian TV room, sheltering in place just 42 miles or 68 kilometres across the lake from New York State. And I certainly do hope Joe Biden wins.

    Are the natives really getting restless about COVID-19 restrictions in the United States (and Canada too)?

    Posted: April 20th, 2020 | No Comments »
    San Francisco Mayor London Breed.

    GANATSEKWYAGON, ON. MONDAY, APRIL 20, 2020.According to an editorial this past Friday in the Toronto Globe and Mail (Canada’s self-declared “national newspaper” in days gone by) : “We are now through our fifth week of business and school closings, self-isolation at home, and physical distancing when we venture outdoors.”

    South of the non-militarized but still currently “half-closed” Canada-US border, San Francisco’s latest intriguing mayor London Breed had announced a “shelter-in-place” protocol that took effect at midnight March 17. San Francisco was joined by five other Bay Area counties.

    Then Golden State Governor Gavin Newsom “ordered all Californians on March 19 to stay home and leave only for essential trips, mirroring the directives that local health officials already had in place.” Then on March 20 “New York, Illinois Governors Issue Stay At Home Orders, Following California’s Lead.”

    And then, by April 7 “at least 316 million people in at least 42 states, three counties, nine cities, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico” were “being urged to stay home.” Meanwhile, earlier urgings slated to end at about this point were extended into early May.

    Toronto sign.

    So … it is not surprising that as of April 20 there are people in both the United States and Canada who have grown weary of the quite restricted everyday life that many or even most of us have been living through for the past five weeks.

    See, eg : “’Work conquers all’: Protests erupt in state capitals nationwide over coronavirus restrictions” (USA Today) ; and “Growing calls to re-open parks, expand streets to pedestrians amid COVID-19” (The Canadian Press).

    Without wanting to imply that there is very little vigorous sentiment against coronavirus restrictions in Canada, the particular far northern political culture, history, and institutions seem to be channelling this sentiment in less boisterous directions.

    See, eg, this April 14 article from the Hong-Kong-based South China Morning Post : “Vancouver protesters call coronavirus fake news and say distancing rule should be defied, appalling health authorities … Images on social media show about 15 people taking part in rally despite ban on people belonging to different households mingling.”

    San Francisco sign.

    Similar Vancouver ground is covered (along with a blip on “yellow vests in Calgary … rallying … in defiance of social distancing protocols and spreading conspiracy theories …”) in “People in Canada are gathering in the streets to protest the lockdown” on the freshdaily.ca website.

    The main thrust of my own sense of the more boisterous and widespread protests in the United States is summarized well enough in an April 20 Steve Benen piece on the MSNBC website : “Majority backs stay-at-home restrictions, despite economic costs … Those engaged in dangerous and misguided acts of civil disobedience are easily outnumbered by a sensible mainstream.”

    Others have noted a similarity between these acts of civil disobedience in 2020 and the (equally staged) 2009-2010 Tea Party protests “against President Obama’s agenda.” I offer a few samples of my own recent online reading as some slight further evidence :

    There is all too much more on this subject on my mind (and in my digital field notes). But I’ll mercifully rest for the moment with three still further observations :

    Michigan protesters …

    First, it is true enough that virtually all recent relevant polling data suggest the majority in both the United States and Canada is with science and public health officials, as opposed to the almighty dollar and aggressively right-wing conservative politicians. But especially in the United States there is still a substantial minority on the conservative side.

    The latest NBC News-Wall Street Journal survey, eg, did find that : “Fifty-eight percent of respondents said they’re more concerned about states loosening stay-at-home orders too quickly. Just 32 percent said they were more concerned about the US moving too slowly to reopen businesses.” At the same time, a Detroit Regional Chamber survey in Michigan “found that 57 percent of residents approved of [Democratic Governor Gretchen] Whitmer’s handling of the pandemic, while 44 percent said the same about Trump.” And : “ Approval for both political leaders was split along party lines.”

    Canadian protesters.

    (For the somewhat different situation in Canada see the latest Angus Reid finding that “Canadians have a palpable sense of apprehension at the prospect of their own provincial governments lifting the restrictions that have all but ended most public contact over the last six weeks. Indeed, three-quarters [77%] say it is too soon to begin relaxing social distancing requirements and business closures.”)

    Second, in the United States as COVID-19 drags on it is starting (for the time being at any rate) to noticeably damage support for conservatives and President Trump, in at least some degree. See, eg, two recent Gallup Polls : “Trump’s Job Rating Slides; US Satisfaction Tumbles” (April 16) and “US Economic Confidence Shows Record Drop” (April 17).

    US protesters.

    Finally, there is an intellectually (or “philosophically”?) respectable enough side to the conservative “libertarian” case about the COVID-19 pandemic — even if both President Trump and the stay-at-home protestors seldom if ever stray into this territory.

    A UK article by the Cambridge professor (and viscount in waiting) David Runciman, in the 2 April 2020 issue of the London Review of Books (“Too early or too late?”) has helped me get a grip on all this.

    I don’t at all agree with the conservative case myself. But there are moments when I think I do sympathize with some kind of “left-wing libertarian” perspective.

    The most prudent thing to do right now, I am at this point quite certain, is follow the “science” and the public health officials. The most valuable treasures we have in countries like the United States and Canada in the 21st century, however, are our free and democratic societies. And in the long run I think that’s what is most important to keep in mind.

    “Let us go forward together. The struggle continues” — maybe Bernie really has done the right thing at last?

    Posted: April 10th, 2020 | No Comments »

    [UPDATED APRIL 11, 14]. The news that Bernie Sanders has gracefully conceded to Joe Biden in the US Democratic presidential race, while still working hard to keep faith with his “revolutionary” progressive movement, would be welcome just for bringing something fresh to the relentless (albeit important) current media focus on COVID-19.

    Beyond this far from negligible virtue, however, the more I learn about the deed from my stay-at-home outpost in We the North next door, the more it seems that Bernie may also have done what he had to in (maybe) a way that could keep much of his movement at least enthusiastic enough about actually turning out to beat Trump like a drum on November 3.

    As initial evidence I’d submit a few quotations from both men on April 8, 2020.

    Starting with Bernie : “Today I congratulate Joe Biden, a very decent man, who I will work with to move our progressive ideas forward” ; “I will stay on the ballot in all remaining states … We must continue working to assemble as many delegates as possible at the Democratic Convention where we will be able to exert significant influence over the party platform.” ; “Let us go forward together. The struggle continues.”

    And then moving on to Joe : “Bernie has done something rare in politics. He hasn’t just run a political campaign; he’s created a movement” ; Bernie “didn’t just run a political campaign. He created a movement and that’s a good thing for the nation and for our future” ; “We can’t just return to an unfair, unequal economy that’s stacked against American workers.”

    For whatever they may or may not be worth, I just have two further notes on this broader subject for the time being.

    Hohenzollern controversy over the monarchical heritage in today’s democratic Germany

    Adolf Hitler and ‘Crown Prince’ Wilhelm, March 21, 1933. PHOTO : Georg Pahl/German Federal Archive, New York Review of Books.

    As still further evidence that the current great political clash in the USA also reflects broader trends throughout the same global village in which COVID-19 is causing so much trouble, I’ve enjoyed an article on recent efforts by the old German royal family of the Hohenzollerns to reclaim some of their former monarchical privilege in the free and democratic Germany of today.

    The article is called “What Do the Hohenzollerns Deserve?” It appears in the March 26, 2020 issue of the New York Review of Books (which has apparently now closed down its Hudson Street office in NY City and is more or less operating from various homes). And it’s by the London School of Economics (LSE) professor and Berlin Institute fellow, David Motadel.

    One intriguing and no doubt important feature of this piece is how it documents a clash of sorts between professional historians over, eg, the connection between the Hohenzollern “Crown Prince” of the 1930s and the rise of Adolf Hitler and his party.

    “4 Weimar Girls” by Michael Seward, April 2020.

    David Motadel summarizes the debate going on in at least some parts of present-day German society in his conclusion :

    “The Hohenzollern controversy is not only about the long shadows cast by the Nazi period, but also about the place of the monarchical heritage in today’s democratic Germany.”

    Some further debate and discussion appears in “Helping Hitler: An Exchange” in the April 9, 2020 issue of the New York Review of Books.

    Would it be useful for 2020 US Democrats to see Donald Trump as someone trying to revive the monarchical heritage in today’s democratic America?

    (And note how Bernie Sanders’s movement in 2020 has things in common with Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s crusade against what he called “economic royalists” in the 1930s.)

    Harry Truman on what Republicans really mean when they rant about “socialism”

    Harry Truman, who won the 1948 US election in his own right, despite many predictions and some contrary early media reports!

    Whatever else, if any gurgling Biden-Sanders rapprochement is going to carry over to November 3, the Biden moderates will have to give something to the Sanders revolutionaries at the Democratic Convention in Milwaukee — now moved from mid July to mid August.

    And this raises an early 1950s quotation from FDR’s Vice-President (and then US President in his own right 1945–1953), Harry Truman — an authentic figure from this world of ordinary people who became (and for a time remained) a retrospectively quite good American president, more or less by accident.

    Nancy Pelosi and Ayanna Pressley at Tufts University in Boston, May 2019. PHOTO ; Anna Miller.

    I bumped into this Harry Truman quotation from a reputable source on Twitter. But from professional habit I wanted to check its authenticity myself before passing it along. From this quest it has become altogether undeniable that on October 10, 1952, as part of that year’s US presidential campaign, Harry Truman did say, near the railway station at Syracuse, New York :

    Some Republicans “have explained that the great issue in this campaign is ‘creeping socialism.’ Now that is the patented trademark of the special interest lobbies. Socialism is a scare word they have hurled at every advance the people have made in the last 20 years

    “Socialism is what they called public power … Socialism is what they called social security … Socialism is what they called farm price supports … Socialism is what they called bank deposit insurance … Socialism is what they called the growth of free and independent labor organizations.

    “Socialism is their name for almost anything that helps all the people …”

    “Photograph by Olivier Douliery / Bloomberg / Getty.”

    Joe Biden of course will never qualify as any kind of “socialist” like Bernie Sanders, in some vague American sense. But in the immediate wake of Bernie’s graceful Democratic primary concession Joe has already declared : “We can’t just return to an unfair, unequal economy that’s stacked against American workers.”

    Barack Obama has recently declared as well that Elizabeth Warren “as she often does … provides a cogent summary of how federal policymakers should be thinking about the [COVID-19] pandemic in the coming months.” And the latest Quinnipiac general election poll shows Biden 49% to Trump’s 41%. Absolutely nothing is certain in these strange times, no doubt. Yet with an eye on November 3, 2020 things are far from hopeless for the likes of we Canadians, who as an old quip has it “almost always vote Democratic in American elections.”

    UPDATE APRIL 11 : I have just now got around to reading Fintan O’Toole’s retrospective on Bernie Sanders, also in the April 9 issue of the New York Review of Books (“An Outside Chance”).

    As explained by the NYRB, ”Fintan O’Toole is a columnist with The Irish Times and the Parnell Fellow at Magdalene College, Cambridge.” I delayed reading his piece on Bernie in the April 9 NYRB issue because I wondered how much someone with his background could really tell me about Senator Sanders that I didn’t already know.

    “Bernie Sanders; drawing by Anders Nilsen” (New York Review of Books).

    I can now report that my wondering was quite misplaced. I have learned a number of things I did not know from “An Outside Chance.” Its date of delivery to the NYRB is “March 12, 2020” (some time before Bernie officially conceded to Joe Biden). And its last paragraph is prescient as well as instructive (and interesting) :

    In 1996 Bill Clinton was running for reelection. Sanders disliked him and was strongly hostile to his politics of ideological triangulation. Sanders was asked to endorse the Green Party candidate Ralph Nader, whom he considered ‘a personal friend and an exemplary progressive.’ He and Nader agreed on almost everything. But Sanders didn’t endorse Nader. Albeit ‘without enthusiasm,’ he made public his intention to vote for Bill Clinton instead. He did it for the most obvious reason: Clinton could beat the Republican candidate, Bob Dole, and Nader couldn’t. Sanders cares about winning and knows as well as anyone that, when the cost of defeat is so high, the choices about how best to avoid it must be made ruthlessly.”

    “Interstellar Calculations” by Michael Seward, April 2020.

    UPDATE APRIL 14 : As explained by an Associated Press report posted on the CBC News site : “Bernie Sanders endorsed his former rival Joe Biden for US president on Monday [April 13] in a joint online appearance … ‘I am asking all Americans, I’m asking every Democrat, I’m asking every independent, I’m asking a lot of Republicans, to come together in this campaign to support your candidacy, which I endorse,’ Sanders said … Sanders did not immediately address Monday whether he would continue to fight for delegates at state conventions around the country or whether he’d simply use his new-found alliance with Biden to influence the nominee and the policy slate that he will present voters … But he cited ongoing work between the two camps on several policy matters as a reason for the endorsement. And he said the biggest priority was defeating Trump.” This strikes me as the ultimate icing on the cake. (O and btw this just in as well : “Barack Obama endorses Joe Biden for U.S. president.”)

    COVID-19 reflections on “Classified project; Nevada Desert” (turns out a lot of people like working from home?)

    Posted: April 6th, 2020 | No Comments »
    “Classified project; Nevada Desert” by prize-winning Toronto artist Michael Seward, n.d.

    Our spies in the Golden State North have sometimes lately alluded to a possible great trek east out of San Francisco along US Interstate Highway 80, in search of better ground.

    The concept is not unique. As long ago as March 22 the Los Angeles Times was reporting : “As the coronavirus pandemic tightens its grip on California’s largest cities, some residents are fleeing urban sprawl and seeking shelter in isolated communities in the Mojave Desert or rugged Sierra Nevada.”

    There is something similar afoot in Southern Ontario’s Greater Toronto Area (GTA), where I spend most of my own time. On March 30 Global News reported that “Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Ontario’s Muskoka District has seen an increase in human traffic from its seasonal residents, leaving some officials concerned that the region’s hospitals won’t be able to support the increased population.”

    Moving east out of San Francisco via US Interstate Highway 80.

    In Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti finally announced that residents are “forbidden from moving to or from vacation homes outside the city.” Many miles/kilometres east and north, “Ontario Premier Doug Ford” has “asked urban residents to avoid heading to their cottages during the COVID-19 outbreak.”

    My own somewhat different speculations on a move east from San Francisco, along US Interstate Highway 80 (or I-80 as the locals say), began a while ago, with an imaginary rental truck odyssey from the Embarcadero at the edge of the SF downtown to Cheyenne, Wyoming.

    I was subsequently informed that Auburn, California might make more sense. (It’s still within the “higher-order”service-sector of the Sacramento metropolitan area, which is also home to the state capital. And it’s still considerably closer than Cheyenne, Wyoming to the San Francisco Bay Area, where you might have to appear in person from time to time for business.)

    For me in any event the exercise has brought into clearer focus the fresh fascination of I-80 — which ultimately goes all the way from San Francisco on the Pacific to Teaneck Township, New Jersey on the Atlantic.

    According to Wikipedia, I-80 is also known as the Dwight D. Eisenhower Highway “in California, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming.” And Eisenhower did sign the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, which paid for what has become the Interstate Highway System — “a great web” of more than 46,000 miles of “federally funded freeways” that crisscrosses the USA today.

    Eastbound I-80 in the “Cowboy Corridor” through the Nevada Desert. Credit : jordanthomasphotos.

    The concept of this vast public works project apparently had its origins in Franklin Roosevelt’s 1930s New Deal. But the Republican President Dwight Eisenhower was helpfully enthusiastic in the 1950s, when work on the Interstate System finally began.

    (If the present-day bureaucrats at the Federal Highway Administration of the US Department of Transportation are to be believed : “President Eisenhower considered it one of the most important achievements of his two terms in office, and historians agree.”)

    In California construction on I-80 (just one long freeway in the great web that crisscrosses the USA today) began shortly after Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956. I-80’s ultimate route, however, crossed over the legendarily tricky Sierra Nevada mountains, between the California Central Valley and the Great Basin desert of Nevada. And : “Construction through the Sierra occurred mostly in the early 1960s. The highway was not completed until 1964.”

    “A Page from the Astronomer’s Sketchbook” by Michael Seward, April 2020.

    It’s at this point that I suddenly remember the great trek east out of San Francisco along I-80, to which our spies in the Golden State North have lately been sometimes alluding, probably has deeper motivations than the short-term quest for safety from COVID-19.

    The quickest way of summarizing all this may be a March 30-April 2 poll by the Gallup organization. It reports that “American workers are increasingly doing their jobs from home as a result of the coronavirus crisis, and the latest Gallup Panel data show that they are warming up to the experience.”

    The report goes on : “Sixty-two percent of employed Americans currently say they have worked from home during the crisis, a number that has doubled since mid-March.”

    Moreover : “Three in five U.S. workers [59%] who have been doing their jobs from home during the coronavirus pandemic would prefer to continue to work remotely as much as possible, once public health restrictions are lifted. In contrast, 41% would prefer to return to their workplace or office to work, as they did before the crisis.”

    Italian journalist Fabrizio Rondolino’s home office in the house that he and his wife, Simona Ercolani, built in the Nevada desert. Photo : Joe Fletcher for The New York Times.

    So … suppose you ordinarily work at your hi-tech job in San Francisco or Palo Alto or Mountain View or Oakland in the Bay Area. But you’re still having trouble finding housing that can accommodate your growing family at prices you can afford (even with your hi-tech job!).

    Maybe … if enough of those who want to can keep working at home most of the time once the current COVID-19 crisis is over, they could also move further away from their company offices, where housing is more affordable … And maybe the new post-coronavirus economy will finally work better, be more efficient, and even make more money …

    For now of course we just have to keep dreaming about the better life on the other side. But maybe the end this time will be at least somewhat like Joseph Schumpeter’s “creative destruction” — as the great driver of economic progress. (Only better, for the great majority of we the hard-working people … from California to the New York island, and from the Great Lakes waters to the Arctic Circle too …)

    How serious are different political moods on COVID-19 pandemic in Canada and the United States?

    Posted: March 28th, 2020 | No Comments »
    At the Ambassador Bridged between Windsor, Ontario and Detroit, Michigan, March 18, 2020. Rebecca Cook / Reuters.

    Andrew Cohen’s “Why Canada’s response to COVID-19 is so different from that of the US,” from the Ottawa Citizen this past week, won applause from many Canadians.

    Zach Carter’s “Coronavirus Is A Defining Test And American Government Is Failing It … It’s not just Trump. Our politics are unfit for this calamity,” from Huffington Post, seemed to confirm the argument from the American side.

    It could simply and not entirely inaccurately be said that the United States has a more diffuse political system, especially at the federal level. Canada’s parliamentary democracy is more focussed.

    Or the US system (by quite deliberate design of the 18th century founders) makes it harder for government to do things. The Canadian system (more like the UK and Western Europe) makes it easier for government to act when a parliamentary majority wants to.

    “Facial Recognition # 9” by prize-winning Toronto artist Michael Seward, March 2020.

    At the same time, the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic may be at least somewhat more complex. The Economist magazine’s special intell unit has just predicted that “nearly all G20 nations will be pushed into a recession by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

    The latest Economist estimates of GDP this year suggest three different groups. In the first GDP declines by -7% in Italy, -6.8% in Germany, -5.4% in Mexico, and -5% in the UK and France. In the second group it declines by -2.8% in the US and only -1.3% in Canada. In the third group it actually increases by +1% in China!

    Pete Evans at CBC News yesterday reported in more detail on “How bad will Canada’s COVID-19 recession be? … 2 million jobs could be at stake, and the economy could shrink by more than it did in 2009.”

    (Note as well that the Canadian dollar, hovering around 76–77 cents US from the fall of 2019 to the end of January this year, fell to just below 68 cents US this past March 21, though it had risen back to 71 cents US by March 27.)

    It is also worth noting, I think, that according to the Gallup organization, for all President Trump’s palpable foolishness on the COVID-19 pandemic, his approval rating has risen from 44% of US adults March 2–13, 2020 to 49% March 13–22.

    Moreover, Gallup also suggests : “Trump’s response to the novel coronavirus pandemic may be behind his higher overall approval rating. Americans give the president generally positive reviews for his handling of the situation, with 60% approving and 38% disapproving. Ninety-four percent of Republicans, 60% of independents and 27% of Democrats approve of his response.”

    “Facial Recognition in Paint” by Michael Seward, March 2020.

    My own sense is that Trump’s recurrent scepticism about the ultimate wisdom of health officials and medical professionals in their views on how to best combat the COVID-19 pandemic still strikes a responsive chord with much of the US public.

    I do myself finally prefer our Canadian political leaders’ broad support for the health experts’ strategy (“go home and stay home” as Justin Trudeau has advised all of us who are not working in some essential service). This is the most prudent path to follow in our current circumstances. But it does also seem to me that much remains uncertain about current public policy on all fronts.

    Trump is voicing this uncertainty. And until it becomes altogether clear that following what the health experts are saying very rigorously and absolutely really will mean more lives saved, there will no doubt be an appetite for President Trump’s scepticism among many Americans.

    At the same time again, as someone over 70 with an underlying respiratory condition from too many (now bygone) years of smoking, I am increasingly finding TV reports about COVID-19 from medical professionals on the front lines in, eg, New York City, disturbing. There are clearly much better ways of dying.

    Born-in-Canada US comedian Samantha Bee, from her home during the coronavirus crisis : “I feel like Sam Bee from 14 days ago is a completely different person from Sam Bee today … I don’t even feel particularly certain that an election will happen.”

    I take heart from such current news as “101-year-old Italian man released from hospital after recovering from coronavirus.”

    And I was at least agreeably amused by a joke an artistic friend passed along via email yesterday morning : “Well, it’s come to the point where I’m giving up drinking for a month … That came out wrong … I’m giving up! Drinking for a month.”

    Finally, I should duly note, of course, that virtually no one in the USA today is really interested in what Canada may or may not be doing differently, about COVID-19 or anything else.

    As the “strategic adviser to the US government,” Edward Luttwak, nicely explained in a recent London Review of Books, there is always “the inherent self-absorption of all very large polities” to take into account.

    Canada has not quite 38 million people today. The United States has more than 327 million. (Even if Canada is actually slightly larger than the USA geographically — and is in fact the second largest country in the world geographically, after Russia!)

    Citizen X on COVID-19 update north of the lakes — “How Deep is the Ocean?” .. “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore”

    Posted: March 24th, 2020 | No Comments »
    Canadian forces put on streets of Montreal by PM Pierre Trudeau during the October Crisis of 1970.

    GANATSEKWYAGON, ON. MARCH 24, 2020. I want to stress that I like the Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who comes on TV somewhat before lunch these days, from the porch just outside his current democratically ordinary-looking residence in “Rideau Cottage,” to tell us where our Canada-wide fight against the COVID-19 pandemic stands.

    I’m not averse either to the latest gunslinger version of a PM Trudeau broadly hinted at yesterday (and alluded to again today). As CBC News reported : “Go home and stay home, Trudeau tells Canadians as government warns of COVID-19 enforcement measures … Random inspections, hotlines could be on the way to enforce rules to limit spread of virus.”

    “Facial Recognition # 1” by prize-winning Toronto artist Michael Seward, March 2020.

    CTV News was slightly more restrained (surprisingly?) : “‘Enough is enough’: PM says people must follow COVID-19 health measures, commits funds for vaccine.” The CTV report also underlined an especially provocative remark by the 2020 edition of Prime Minister Trudeau : “Listening is your duty and staying home is your way to serve.”

    All this can remind we aging Canadians of an earlier Prime Minister Trudeau’s steely 1970 response to an earlier human (if rather more political) disaster, when “Troops, tanks roam Quebec streets during the October Crisis.” Pierre Trudeau had his critics on his tough October Crisis action, among elites in both official languages. But we in the great masses admired his backbone.

    Yet, having said all this, like many ordinary citizens, taxpayers, and voters I also find myself wondering about many things these days, as I stay home and ponder the historic trials and tribulations of humanity in our time.

    This morning, no doubt in response to all the unsettled thoughts that sleep had not dispelled, I woke up with two classics from the Great American Songbook (1920s to 1950s) stuck in my mind : “How Deep Is the Ocean” and “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore.”

    Irving Berlin at the piano (bottom left) with friends in Hollywood, 1936. In front row right, singing together, are Chico and Harpo Marx. AP Photo.

    “How Deep Is the Ocean” was invented in 1932 by Irving Berlin — born in Russia, moved to New York City with his family when he was 5 years old in 1893, and died at 101 in 1989 at 17 Beekman Place in Manhattan. As Wikipedia explains : “The song was written at a low point in Berlin’s professional and personal life.” It was a huge hit in 1932, “and brought Berlin back to the top again.” Like so much he wrote its melody and lyrics are simple but beguiling and powerful: “How much do I love you? / I’ll tell you no lie / How deep is the ocean? / How High is the Sky?”

    If the year 1932 proved good for Irving Berlin, others were not so lucky. It marked the depths of the US Great Depression, with a December unemployment rate of 23.6%. It was also the year that Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt defeated Republican President Herbert Hoover in a landslide, and began the New Deal that would do so much for the modern US welfare state, such as it is. (Democrats won control of both the House and Senate in 1932 as well.)

    “Facial Recognition # 3” by Michael Seward, March 2020.

    Two original 1932 recordings of “How Deep Is the Ocean?” can be sampled on YouTube today. One is by the Paul Whiteman Orchestra with vocal by Jack Fulton. The other is by “Rudy Vallee and His Connecticut Yankees,” with vocal and C melody saxophone solo by Mr Vallee himself.

    Some 14 years later, in 1946, in the wake of the Second World War (“the deadliest military conflict in history” in which an “estimated total of 70–85 million people perished”), a somewhat more hip version of “How Deep Is the Ocean” was recorded by a 30-year-old Frank Sinatra “with Axel Stordahl arranging and conducting.” It “was released as a 78 RPM single by Columbia Records.” Sinatra recorded the tune some 14 years later again in 1960, in his mid 40s and “with Nelson Riddle during his Capitol period.”

    Wikipedia lists 16 other recordings. My personal favourite is the very hip instrumental from the alto saxophone jazz giant Charlie Parker, late in 1947 (not long after the first Sinatra vocal). The power of the melody comes through in Parker’s playing, just decorated by his astonishing pyrotechnics. Two takes from the 1947 session can be sampled on YouTube today. Both include a trombone solo by J.J. Johnson, and a concluding chorus by a youthful Miles Davis on trumpet, playing in his lyrical later style and not trying in vain to match Parker’s phenomenal technique. As an added wrinkle 1947 was also the year Irving Berlin and his family moved into the five-story house on Beekman Place, where he would finally pass away at 101 in 1989.

    Charlie Parker at Carnegie Hall in New York, 1947.

    Finally, to me at least the relevance of the question “How Deep Is the Ocean” in the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic ought to be obvious. What everyone would like to know but no one clearly does is just how deep the pandemic will be. When will those of us following the official advice to “Go home and stay home” be able to go back to work, theatres, sports events, restaurants, bars, and on and on and on? (And when, many already exhausted parents are no doubt wondering, will the children be going back to school?)

    Meanwhile, Duke Ellington’s 1943 classic “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” is also bound to mean something to all of us who are, again, following the official advice to “Go home and stay home.” Ellington was born in Washington, DC in 1899 and passed away in New York City in 1974, at the age of 75. He wrote remarkably urbane and sophisticated American popular music. As Wikpedia explains : “A master at writing miniatures for the three-minute 78 rpm recording format, Ellington wrote more than one thousand compositions … the largest recorded personal jazz legacy … many of his pieces” have “become standards.”

    “Duke Ellington at the piano with his band in 1945. (Michael Ochs Achives / Getty Images).”

    “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” was “originally entitled ‘Never No Lament’ and … first recorded by Duke Ellington and his orchestra” in 1940. It became a hit as “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” after “Bob Russell wrote its lyrics in 1942.” Two different recordings, “one by The Ink Spots and the other by Ellington’s own band, reached No. 1 on the R&B chart in the US in 1943” (a year or so after Franklin Roosevelt’s New-Deal USA finally joined the Second World War). The Ink Spots version can be sampled on YouTube today. It includes Bob Russell’s verse, as well as the better-known chorus : “When I’m not playing solitaire / I take a book down from the shelf / And what with programs on the air / I keep pretty much to myself.”

    This tune from the Second World War in the first half of the 1940s can also mean something to some of us in the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, as we go home and stay home, following the advice of various governments (federal, provincial, and local in Canada, and no doubt similar locations in other democratic federal systems around the global village).

    Meanwhile yet again, back in the real world of early spring 2020, I have been struck and even somewhat surprised by one of yesterday’s headlines : “More than a million Canadian citizens and permanent residents returned home last week … Repatriation flights headed to Peru, Morocco, Spain, Honduras, Ecuador, El Salvador and Guatemala.” (The editors have also asked me to mention that this site will be trying to keep pace with this very fast-moving story over the next several weeks, at least more often than over the past few weeks. We do suddenly seem in a strange new era that begs for further thought, while at least many of us remain obediently at home, with time on our hands!)

    “If you want to know what a panic looks like this is it” (while Biden “has won in states where he barely made an effort”??)

    Posted: March 12th, 2020 | No Comments »
    Kriti Gupta, raised in Dallas, now works in New York, contemplating the latest upheavals in global financial markets.

    [UPDATED MARCH 13, 17]. 3/12/2020. TORONTO, ONTARIO, CANADA [all Indigenous North American words]. I awoke this northern morning to the wisdom of Kriti Gupta from New York on our local Bloomberg Business News, explaining the latest stock market meltdown in the wake of the coronavirus, low oil prices, and on and on.

    (Ms Gupta succinctly advised : “If you want to know what a panic looks like this is it.”)

    Meanwhile, back at Democracy in America, for the second Tuesday in a row Joe Biden (“the moderate progressive”) has almost decisively moved ahead of his one remaining opponent Bernie Sanders (“the revolutionary progressive”) in the 2020 Democratic primary season.

    It is no surprise that Bernie will soldier on somewhat longer. There is a debate ahead (Sunday, March 15, in Phoenix, Arizona, “without an audience,” in deference to the “coronavirus pandemic sweeping across the nation.”) Bernie might well look better than Joe in this contest between two almost dead white males.

    “Digital World 1” by prize-winning Toronto artist Michael Seward, March 2020.

    And then there are Democratic primaries on Tuesday, March 17 in Arizona, Florida, Illinois, and Ohio. Current polls show Biden leading in all four cases. But from the standpoint of almost all the smart money less than a month ago, it is a miracle that Joe Biden is where he is now! [UPDATE : As of early in the morning, March 17, Ohio seems to have backed out of its primaries. See “Ohio governor announces polls will be closed Tuesday over coronavirus .”]

    So Bernie is bound to hang on until at least March 17, hoping for another miracle in his direction this time. And exit polls from the last two contests apparently do suggest that Biden is finally winning as older Democrats make up their minds. But Bernie still commands the young and does well among the middle-aged.

    The problem remains (in a stronger than usual case of a broader trend?) that more older voters are showing up to vote. The weight of the smart money at this exact moment says Biden is, after all, going to be the Democratic man who will face the Republican Wizard of the White House on November 3 this year.

    According to Frank Bruni in yesterday’s New York Times, already “it’s not too soon to imagine what Biden’s general-election campaign would ideally look like.”

    “Digital World 2″ by Michael Seward, March 2020.

    The part of Mr. Bruni’s early imaginings that lingers clearest in my mind is : “Americans aren’t looking for a superhero, and Biden’s success in the Democratic primary has shown that campaign events and retail politics aren’t the be-all and end-all. He has won in states where he barely made an effort, and that’s because his brand transcended traditional campaign mechanics.”

    It may just be me. But I think this sounds a little like the political methodology of Donald Trump. Traditional experts are even more often wrong in politics than in other walks of life. And the experts who specialize in traditional campaign mechanics are no exception.

    You could say of Trump as well that his brand transcends traditional campaign mechanics. (I am old enough myself to find this use of the adman word “brand” not very helpful in talk about politics, but I of course concede I’m in a minority here in 2020.)

    In any case does this mean that after much wandering in the wilderness lately the US Democrats finally have come up with the best candidate to face Donald Trump on November 3 — even if he is someone who much smart money was rejecting less than a month ago?

    Or is this just more wishful thinking? In the spirit of : If Joe Biden is now almost certainly going to be the Democratic candidate for the November election, all of us in the good guys’ camp (even in Canada, where we don’t actually vote in American elections) might as well believe he is the Democrat best able to beat Donald Trump like a drum?

    In any case again, Donald Trump is not really a serious political philosopher like Bernie Sanders at all. But there do seem a few senses in which Trump and Biden have almost too much in common in their populist appeal. (While the good thing about Biden is that it seems easy to believe he will nonetheless hire and listen to staff who have the devil that lies in the details covered — and/or phone Barack Obama when truly in doubt about the very deep weeds.)

    Whatever, right now we live at a time when Canadian PM Justin Trudeau is “self-isolating as wife Sophie awaits result of COVID-19 test.” [UPDATE : As of early morning March 13 Sophie Gregoire Trudeau has in fact tested positive for COVID-19. PM has not yet been tested because he is still not showing symptoms.]

    And “Florida Sen. Rick Scott in Self-Quarantine After Potential Contact With Brazilian Official … who tested positive for the new coronavirus, also posted photo with President Trump.”

    With recent decisions by major sports organizations in mind, you may even be wondering if the November 3, 2020 US presidential election will somehow finally be called off too (well …).

    Just when the Democrats have finally landed on the guy who really can beat the current Republican Wizard of the White House like a drum!

    (And of course all this is quite crazy … but we increasingly do seem to be passing through a glut of even crazier times than what we have already been living with for longer than is no doubt healthy … and at the moment no one really seems to know just how much longer they will last!)

    Our quick and dirty report on the Ontario Liberal leadership convention, Saturday, March 7, 2020 ..

    Posted: March 9th, 2020 | No Comments »
    “astronomical/biological interface” by prize-winning Toronto artist Michael Seward, March 2020.

    We watched the Ontario Liberal Party’s Saturday, March 7, 2020 leadership vote — in the International Centre in Mississauga — at our more easterly Ganatsekwyagon headquarters, some 150 yards from Lake Ontario’s soothing waters on a sunny day.

    In the main 2nd-floor boardroom we had the excellent cp24 coverage on the big-screen TV. In the nearby chief editor’s back office, looking out the window at still leafless trees, we had Steve Paikin’s excellent video coverage from the TV Ontario site.

    The long and short was explained by CBC News : “About 3,000 people attended the two-day leadership contest, co-chaired by federal Liberal MP Chrystia Freeland and interim provincial leader John Fraser.”

    The event started Friday night with a tribute to former provincial Liberal leader and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne. Speeches from the six leadership candidates and then the final vote took place on Saturday.

    Ontario Liberal leadership candidates 2020, l to r : Winner Steven Del Duca, Brenda Hollingsworth, MPP Mitzie Hunter, Alvin Tedjo, Kate Graham, MPP Michael Coteau.

    In the end, as widely predicted, former Wynne cabinet minister Steven Del Duca “won in a first ballot landslide with 58.5 per cent of the vote at a delegated convention … Current Liberal MPP Michael Coteau was Del Duca’s closest rival, taking 17 per cent of the 2,140 votes cast.”

    Whatever else, our widely agreed-on counterweights impression from both cp24 and TV Ontario was that this is certainly not a political party about to subside into the dust of Ontario political history. At one point Steve Paikin himself alluded to the “spirit in the room.”

    As far as the speeches from the half dozen candidates go, many on both cp24 and TV Ontario were impressed by the self-confessed “small-town girl from southwestern Ontario” Kate Graham. She gave an unusual speech which (Mr. Paikin underlined) included the word “bullshit” and ended with a song. In conversation with Mr. Paikin, both Deb Matthews and Kathleen Wynne had good things to say about Ms. Graham’s future in the Liberal party.

    “Les Fleurs de Temp” by Michael Seward, March 2020.

    Our own counterweights editors group at our more easterly Ganatsekwyagon headquarters was somewhat more impressed by Michael Coteau’s speech, with its recurrent allusions to Ontario political history, going back 200 years. With us as well Mitzie Hunter’s enthusiastic panegyric on the Ontario Liberal future came in a very strong second (or in one or two cases first).

    Ultimately we also think Kathleen Wynne was right, as well as suitably diplomatic, when she told Steve Paikin that all six candidates had made strong speeches, including Ottawa lawyer Brenda Hollingsworth and even the much predicted winner Steven Del Duca.

    Mr. Del Duca won in the end because he managed to recruit by far the largest number of voting delegates to the convention. He proved himself “a good organizer.” And that may do the Ontario Liberals as much good as anything else between now and the 2022 provincial election.

    At the same time, as many have noted Steven Del Duca does lack “charisma.” In some ways the six leadership candidates together were more impressive than any single individual. And as the world looks right now, the prospects of the Ontario Liberals under Mr. Del Duca’s leadership depend a lot on the current “vulnerability” of the Ford Conservatives, and the current somewhat listless state of Andrea Horwath’s New Democrats.

    Federal Liberal and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, who co-chaired the March 7 Ontario Liberal event with interim leader John Fraser, added some further weight and heft to the proceedings.

    Meanwhile, federal Liberal MP Judy Sgro’s daughter told Steve Paikin that the Ontario Liberals’ big mistake in 2018 was not “listening” hard enough. Convention delegate Don Matheson, a Del Duca supporter, told cp24 that the“Liberal Party wasn’t listening to what the needs of the people of Ontario were” in 2018.

    Whatever else, the March 6–7, 2020 Ontario Liberal leadership convention finally looked better than almost anything else about the race. (And the co-chairing by federal deputy prime minister Chrystia Freeland added to this look.) Meanwhile again, our guess is that Steven Del Duca does have to prove himself over the next two years. His organizing talents may finally compensate for his charismatic deficit … or not!

    Meanwhile yet again, an EKOS poll published January 23, 2020 showed Libs 36%, Cons 31%, NDP 21%, Greens 9%. But a Campaign Research poll that appeared February 11 reported Cons 30%, Libs 30%, NDP 26%, Greens 11%.

    Green Party leader (and sole MPP) Mike Schreiner may be onto something when he says about Mr. Del Duca : “I am not sure that someone associated with the old guard of [the] Liberal establishment and embroiled in past controversies can deliver the leadership that Ontario needs.” (It is also a problem of sorts that the new Liberal leader does not have a seat in the legislature at the moment.)

    This kind of thought was echoed by Conservative and NDP partisans as well. At the same time again, as we saw the universe electronically in our office board room, there was something about March 6–7, 2020 in Mississauga that suggested it would be a serious mistake to write the Liberals off for 2022 — despite their historically worst-ever performance in 2018. And as CBC poll tracker Eric Grenier noted just before the March 7 vote, as matters stand right now the legendary Ford Nation Conservatives are vulnerable indeed.

    Deep winter in Ontario 2020 : COVID-19 in global village, Democratic race in US, Bojo in UK, Indigenous blockades across Canada, etc, etc, etc ..

    Posted: February 29th, 2020 | No Comments »
    “Dreams and Memories” by prize-winning Toronto artist Michael Seward, February 2020.

    GANTSEKWYAGON, ON. 29 FEB 2020. [UPDATED MARCH 1, 4]. Serious snow fell two nights ago, as the TV promised. It is still on the ground, and my deep winter thoughts here are a follow-up to “Just watching TV in early January can fill you with foreboding about the year ahead” — posted on Tuesday, January 7, 2020.

    I can of course report that the early January foreboding seems more than justified some seven and a half weeks later.

    COVID-19 in global village

    On Wednesday, February 26, 2020 in the world at large CBC News was telling us “WHO reluctant to declare COVID-19 pandemic as coronavirus spreads to more countries.”

    Next day the Daily Beast carried on with :“Dow Plunges 700 Points Over Coronavirus Fears.”

    Oh and btw : “The S&P 500 is at trading levels not seen since October and the Nasdaq also plunged at the opening bell … making this the worst week for Wall Street since the 2008 financial crisis.”

    (And, from the same source, same day : “Gasps of horror greet Larry Kudlow’s placement on coronavirus team: ‘Might as well inject the virus into our veins’.”)

    Democratic race in US

    Hunter S, Thompson (l), author of Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72, talks with George McGovern (r), who lost to a second term for Richard Nixon in 1972.

    Meanwhile, there’s good and bad news if you’re hoping Democrats in the USA today will choose a November 3, 2020 presidential candidate who can prevent a second term for “Trump’s Running US Like Bush Ran Iraq. What Could Go Wrong?

    If Bernie Sanders were considerably younger and, say more like JFK (or still better Barack Obama) in dress and manners, I might warm more to the argument that “This Is Not McGovern’s America: Crazy Bernie Can Win It All.”

    When President Trump is getting 49% Gallup Poll approval ratings the USA today is already so crazy that … hey why not? If Trump with his mindlessly ideological right-wing agenda can win by electoral college magic, why not Bernie with his mindlessly ideological left-wing etc. And then there would at least be some kind of US movement in progressive new directions.

    “Liquid Time” by Michael Seward, February 2022.

    It may just be that I am myself too old — unlike the somewhat younger Californians I know best who help explain why Bernie is popular enough right now to put him at the head of a still tight race. But while I agree today is Not McGovern’s America, I lived just next door in the early 1970s too.

    Despite remarkable moves ahead in certain sectors over the past several decades (culminating with President Barack Obama, 2008–2016), America does not seem all that different today.

    To me at my age, the Bernie Sanders who grew up in Brooklyn and wound up in Vermont does not finally look like a Democratic leader the USA — or the 55–58% of its adult citizens who have actually voted recently — will elect in November 2020.

    Like others, I have lately been thinking that Joe Biden is not quite the right fit either. If he does win the South Carolina primary today (Saturday, February 29) by a very strong margin (helped by a warm endorsement from “Congressman Jim Clyburn, representing South Carolina’s Sixth Congressional District”), I might think again — one last time?

    TV stars Hannah Simon (l) and Zooey Deschanel ( r) stress importance of voting in 2016 US election — a message that ought to ring even louder for Democracy in America in 2020!

    I similarly had some enthusiasm for Elizabeth Warren earlier. But, as just one case in point, I now see her through my local Ontario eyes as too much like our former Premier Kathleen Wynne, who led her Liberal party to its worst defeat ever in the 2018 provincial election. (And, I should add, despite my personal enthusiasm and support for Premier Wynne’s quite progressive government, and her almost surprising earlier win in the 2014 Ontario election.)

    In the end I was pleased to see that the late-entry billionaire populist “Mike Bloomberg” did better in a February 26, 2020 Town Hall than he has so far done in two debates with his fellow candidates. (“Bloomberg finds his footing in town hall format.”)

    Like others on this site, I’m starting to think (so far at any rate) that everything considered, Mike Bloomberg (especially with an African American running mate) just might be the right guy in the right place at the right time. But a week is a long time in politics … and the US Democratic Convention is not until July 13–16, 2020, at the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

    UPDATE MARCH 1: Joe Biden has in fact taken the South Carolina Democratic primary quite decisively.

    In round numbers : Biden 48%, Sanders 20%, Steyer 11%, Buttigieg 8%, Warren 7%, Others 5%.

    Personally I still don’t know just what I think of this at the moment.

    I’ll probably wait and see just how well Mike Bloomberg does in the big Super Tuesday Democratic primaries this coming March 3.

    Meanwhile, both Tom Steyer and Pete Buttigieg have now withdrawn from the race.

    Stay tuned. More to come on Tuesday … and far beyond. As at least the progressive and somewhat less crazy side of the USA today struggles to somehow grow beyond the current too crazy fake-news Wizard in the White House.

    UPDATE MARCH 4, 2:30 AM ET : The Globe and Mail in Toronto has summarized the results of the March 3 Super Tuesday Democratic primaries in the USA quite succinctly : “Super Tuesday: Biden has big night, Sanders takes California as Democratic race narrows.”

    For the New York Times report see “Super Tuesday 2020 Live Updates: Polls Close and Winners Are Called.” Broadly, as it looks right now, Biden has taken Alabama, Arkansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and probably Maine. Sanders has won in California, Colorado, Utah, and Vermont.

    Bloomberg has taken only American Samoa! My own immediate conclusion is of course that he is clearly no longer the guy to watch, largely because Biden has suddenly come back to life. The race now is between “moderate” Joe Biden and “revolutionary” Bernie Sanders, with Biden once again the most likely Democratic candidate on November 3.

    Who would have thought this could happen as recently as a week ago? I confess I have no idea whether it all may change again, though that seems unlikely. I’m waiting to hear more from both Bloomberg and Elizabeth Warren — and from Bill Maher this coming Friday night!

    Bojo in UK

    Boris Johnson celebrates massive majority he won in House of Commons with less than 44% of the popular vote in December 12, 2019 UK election.

    Meanwhile, it’s not just the United States in the midst of change and god knows what else — and that’s part of what makes so many parts of planet earth so fascinating if also intermittently discouraging right now.

    My first of two further quick notes is from the United Kingdom that the current conservative-majority “colonial” Legislative Assembly of Ontario has recently bowed dutifully to, with its “step backwards” decision to start singing God Save The Queen again, after a long absence.

    My recommended text here is “Après Brexit … Ferdinand Mount on the new orthodoxy” in the 20 February 2020 issue of the London Review of Books — which strikes me as well worth reading in detail (and with real literary pleasure), several times and so forth.

    To start with, try the Wikipedia article on “Sir Ferdinand, as he is formally styled … regarded as being on the … ‘wet’ side of the Conservative Party,” who “succeeded his uncle, Sir William Mount, in the family title as 3rd baronet in 1993, but prefers to remain known as Ferdinand Mount.”

    Ferdinand Mount’s “liberal Toryism” (his own words) — inherited from, whatever else, some genuinely brilliant British aristocrats who for a time in the 19th century ran “the greatest empire since Rome” with some success — is critical of Boris Johnson’s right-wing “simplifying of democracy,” which may be generating “a sort of low-tar fascism which you don’t actually have to inhale.”

    Indigenous blockades across Canada, etc, etc, etc …

    “Geological Quandry” by Michael Seward, February 2020.

    Finally, living where I do I can’t leave this current moment without at least noting the recent wave of Canada-wide Indigenous protests, ostensibly over a natural gas pipeline in British Columbia through territory claimed by the hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en first nation.

    (And note that the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs in Canada’s Pacific Northwest have been especially strongly backed by Indigenous activists from the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory reserve on the Bay of Quinte in southeastern Ontario — who for a time blockaded considerable railroad traffic in central Canada.)

    Like many others again, I believe there is more to all this than meets the eye. And I hope I live long enough to say more about it sometime, for myself at least. Meanwhile I just note that my views generally are similar to those of my colleague on this site, Randall White, in his recent contribution to the Ontario News Watch site, “Indigenous Peoples Were “Fundamental to the Growth of Canadian Institutions.”

    I’d add to that Thomas Walkom’s “Blockades have exposed the contradictions of Justin Trudeau’s ambitious reconciliation agenda” in a recent Toronto Star. On a very last note see also the Vancouver-based Angus Reid Institute polling organization on “Half of Canadians call for patience; half support use of force to remove anti-CGL blockades.” And, of course, of course, stay tuned for further foreboding news about the year whose lion’s share still lies ahead.

    UPDATE MARCH 1. See today’s ambiguous but still interesting report on the CBC News site : “Wet’suwet’en chiefs, ministers reach tentative arrangement over land title but debate over pipeline continues … Wet’suwet’en hereditary leader says they remain opposed to the Coastal GasLink pipeline.”

    Will Michael Bloomberg unmask the fake Wizard of Oz in the White House at last?

    Posted: February 10th, 2020 | No Comments »

    [UPDATED FEB 19, 20]. One particular strange thing about Steve Bannon’s appearance on “Real Time with Bill Maher,” Friday, February 7, 2020, was his portrayal of Boris Johnson’s Brexit- at-last on January 31 as an achievement of Donald Trump.

    In a similar vein I do not at all agree with the Daily Beast assessment that “Steve Bannon Outduels and Embarrasses Bill Maher on ‘Real Time’.”

    Bannon is a bright guy with some talent. But he lives in a political fantasyland, where Donald Trump in the White House can somehow magically move Boris Johnson at 10 Downing Street, 3500 miles across the Atlantic Ocean.

    (In another region of the global village Steve Bannon also seems to think that Jared Kushner’s Middle East Peace Plan has been a success. And I’d agree with President Trump himself that Bannon’s downscale casual clothing is terminally vexatious.)

    Donkey party in trouble …

    Panel on Real Time with Bill Maher, February 7, 2020.

    As an objective political analyst, Bill Maher agreed with Steve Bannon that “your boy had the best week so far.”

    (For as hard as the evidence can get, try the almost latest polling on Trump’s approval rating at, eg, FiveThirtyEight, especially the Gallup Poll, and/or Real Clear Politics.)

    Like other Democrats on US TV lately, Maher believes the followers of the historic donkey party are in trouble. He thinks they have to start aggressively re-thinking and re-organizing, with the November 3, 2020 election foremost in mind. (Or so at least his February 7 message struck me.)

    I think Bill Maher effectively used his February 7 interview with Steve Bannon to make this point — which was then taken up on “Real Time” by a stimulating panel of Andrew Gillum, Sarah Isgur, and Ezra Klein, joined by Fareed Zakaria at the end.

    But … “Trump slammed the phone down on Boris Johnson”

    Donald Trump and Boris Johnson walk to a working breakfast at the G7 Summit in Biarritz, France, August 25, 2019. (Photo by Erin Schaff / POOL / AFP).

    I am myself as worried as any non-right-wing fanatic who lives in Canada and does not vote in American elections can reasonably be.

    Yet I do think as well that there are potential upsides for the cause of the free and democratic society in today’s American political turbulence. One of them is the headline : “Trump slammed the phone down on Boris Johnson after an ‘apoplectic’ call with the prime minister.”

    In fact, that is to say (and contrary to the political thought of Steve Bannon), Donald Trump cannot get Boris Johnson across the sea to just do what Trump wants, in the depths of his possibly even religiously inspired leadership of the free world (or at least that part of it inside the USA today).

    According to the Business Insider account by “Adam Bienkov Feb 7, 2020, 5:21 AM” : “President Donald Trump reportedly hung up on UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson after what officials described as an ‘apoplectic’ call last week …

    “Trump ended the call by ‘slamming the phone down,’ a source told the Evening Standard … The call, which one source described to the Financial Times as ‘very difficult,’ came after Johnson defied Trump and gave the Chinese telecoms company Huawei the rights to develop the UK’s 5G network …

    “Trump’s fury was triggered by Johnson backing Huawei despite Trump and his allies’ threats that the United States would withdraw security cooperation with the UK if the deal went ahead … The Sun reported on Friday that Johnson had pushed back a planned trip to Washington to March, adding that it ‘may be pushed back still further.’”

    Has Trump just peaked prematurely for November 3?

    Even the lovely Bernie Sanders supporter AOC would vote for “Mike Bloomberg” on November 3 if he became the Democratic presidential candidate? Right?

    Adam Bienkov’s report in full is worth looking at (as above or CLICK HERE) — for various intriguing details of life at two intermingling tops.

    But the larger significance of this particular US-UK/Trump-Johnson dispute may be that the not-at-all-insignificant political forces in American society Donald Trump has so successfully managed to appoint (anoint?) himself leader of have peaked too early in 2020.

    The self-willed optimistic note I’ve finally left my understanding of February 3–7, 2020 in American politics on is that I can somehow magically see signs the Democrats are in fact finally going to rise to the challenge Bill Maher and others on US TV have been raising.

    Maher nicely ended his starting Steve Bannon interview with “I Wish We Had Someone On Our Side As Evil As You.” Yet the rest of his February 7 show with Andrew Gillum, Sarah Isgur, Ezra Klein, and Fareed Zakaria (to say nothing of the host himself) showed that our Democratic or just democratic side — bolstered by various anti-Trump Republicans and Independents — has lots of good people ready to play hardball (as Chris Matthews might say etc).

    Is Michael Bloomberg one way ahead?

    Donald Trump speaks to Michael Bloomberg during a memorial service in New York on 11 September 2016. Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images.”

    Maybe they are just starting to play in earnest now. And maybe they finally will choose Michael Bloomberg (who will choose Andrew Gillum as a VP running mate, say).

    And the fact that seems so obvious in California today, eg — that Democrats in the end really are smarter and do have more money than Republicans — will on November 3 finally defeat Donald Trump (who doesn’t really have that much money at all, etc).

    Steve Bannon thinks all this is something to make jokes about. But that’s because he does live in a political fantasyland. In fact, President Trump’s track record since he took office early in 2017 has been light years from one uninterrupted success story. He inherited a growing economy from the Obama administration — which he has not yet managed to sabotage. Beyond this virtually nothing he has done has made ultimate sense or shown any serious staying power (except his right-wing judicial appointments and impressive mass media savvy — and possibly NAFTA 2).

    Mike Bloomberg on the Dallas Morning News in Texas, January 11, 2020.

    Michael Bloomberg (who is so much richer than Trump in the real world) could be the guy to dramatize just how profoundly Donald Trump has failed on the issues that matter most to most Americans. Bill Clinton’s labor secretary Robert Reich (who now teaches at Berkeley) has reservations about Bloomberg (not unlike those that Steve Bannon finds amusing). But he also agrees that : “If the choice comes down to tyrant or oligarch, we must choose the latter.” [UPDATE FEB 19 : Reich has now come out as altogether opposed to a Bloomberg candidacy.]

    Evolution of US-UK relationship between now and Democratic Convention in July

    The ongoing development of the relationship between the Trump administration and the new Johnson government in the UK — between now and the July 13–16 Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee, Wisconsin — may also say a lot about just how good shape the Trump Republicans are really (NOT) in for November 3.

    President Trump in the past, eg, has at least briefly suggested that getting rid of the UK’s National Health Service could be one price of the kind of new US-UK trade deal that would make Brexit a practical success. (To level the playing field in both countries etc.)

    Similar politically insane notions (from Boris Johnson’s point of view) may gradually start to drive home the point that even a Conservative UK today really does have more in common with the European Union than with Donald Trump’s USA. (And, more importantly for November 3, they could take some useful message to the US domestic electorate as well.)

    Boris Johnson promoting his novel, Seventy-Two Virgins, some 15 years ago.

    Geoffrey Wheatcroft’s analysis of Boris Johnson in the February 13, 2020 issue of the New York Review of Books (“The Opportunist Triumphant”) is far from laudatory. And no doubt the political constituencies of “Bojo” and “Trump” do have a few things in common. But my guess at the moment is that, as opportunistic as he may well be, Boris Johnson is not really very much like Donald Trump at all. (Johnson, eg, has actually written a novel — called Seventy-Two Virgins. As best as I can make out Donald Trump has never even read one.) [UPDATE FEB 19 : Bojo has more recently come under further fire from the Trump administration over Huawei — and from critics in Australia and even within his own party in the UK! I continue to wonder how worried he is about all this myself.]

    Still much room for concern, of course …

    I end on the note that there of course remain a good many reasons for me (and so many others like me) to be as worried as any non-right-wing fanatic who lives in Canada and does not vote in American elections can reasonably be.

    But, in the midst of all the obvious sorrow surrounding the partisan impeachment of President Trump in the US House followed by his opposite partisan acquittal in the Senate, the underlying vibe I seem to be getting is that Democracy in America is far from dead yet!

    UPDATE FEBRUARY 20 : A half-dozen key current articles online suggest a number of recent related developments. (I also understand the counterweights technical support experts in California currently seem to think Bernie Sanders is the man. I myself and a few others I know up north in Canada, where most of us don’t vote in US elections, are still thinking more seriously about the testy non-populist billionaire Mike Bloomberg.)

    In more or less chronological order the articles are : “72% OF DEMOCRATIC VOTERS BELIEVE BERNIE SANDERS WOULD BEAT TRUMP IN 2020 ELECTION, NEW POLL SHOWS” (Newsweek) ; “Poll: Trump edges out all top 2020 Democratic candidates except Sanders” (The Hill) ; “‘MIKE WOULD HAVE DINNER PARTIES AND PISS ALL OVER OBAMA’: WHY OBAMAWORLD IS MAD ABOUT BLOOMBERG’S OBAMA” (Vanity Fair) ; “A VERY BAD NIGHT FOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG IN A CHAOTIC DEMOCRATIC DEBATE” (The New Yorker) ; “Winners and losers from the Democratic debate in Las Vegas … Make no mistake about it, Bloomberg had a dreadful night” (The Hill) ; Maybe Michael Bloomberg wasn’t as awful as he looked” (Raw Story).

    My parting thoughts at almost 6 PM ET Feb 20 on the northwest shore of Lake Ontario are “It’s not over till it’s over” and (with apologies to Winston Churchill) : “the Americans finally do the right thing, after they’ve tried everything else first.”