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  • Admiring The Tyee’s quest to “Consider Changing the Name of British Columbia” in the wilds of central Canada

    Posted: June 24th, 2020 | No Comments »
    Relaxing in Stanley Park (“the world’s best park”) in Vancouver, BC.

    According to CTV News this past Monday : “Pandemic has provided chance to reshape Canada’s future, PM says.” At somewhat greater length Justin Trudeau urged :

    If this pandemic has been an unprecedented challenge for our country, it has also been an important opportunity to figure out what really matters in our communities, to have meaningful conversations about how we can take care of those around us, and perhaps above all, to think about what kind of future we want to build together.”

    Anticipating the PM’s words by six full days, on June 16, 2020 in the always interesting online magazine from Canada’s Pacific Coast known as The Tyee, Crawford Kilian urged “We Should Consider Changing the Name of British Columbia … Let the discussion, and your suggestions for a new name, begin.”

    Changing the name of BC (beyond just using the two letters, somewhat in the manner of some Canadian banks today, eg, “TD” for the musty “Toronto-Dominion”) is a concept that most of us in this counterweights global head office on the northwest shore of Lake Ontario have been quietly supporting for literally several decades (or more!).

    Ontario’s capital city today in photos of prize-winning Toronto artist Michael Seward, June 2020.

    As Mr. Kilian explains, the present name British Columbia “fails to acknowledge the Indigenous Peoples here before Europeans arrived, implicitly honours England’s racist colonizers, and explicitly lionizes Christopher Columbus. If ever there was a moment to rebrand, it is now.”

    On a very hasty survey of the comments to “We Should Consider Changing the Name of British Columbia” so far, we kind of like Dave Pollard’s suggestion : “I kind of like Klahanie. Chinook indigenous word meaning the Wild Land.”

    There is much precedent for Indigenous names in Canada today as well. As commentators on Mr. Kilian’s article note, “Canada” itself is almost certainly an Indigenous word. (Iroquoian more exactly — though as in many such cases the exact meaning seems frequently contested.)

    Yet just changing to an Indigenous name for a Canadian province is not enough for an altogether serious and (as the Constitution Act 1982 puts it ) “free and democratic” rebranding of the “kind of future we want to build together” in 2020.

    Gwaii Haanas legacy totem pole on Lyell Island in Haida Gwaii, BC. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck.

    Consider, eg, the Canadian provinces of Manitoba and Ontario — both of which are already Indigenous names (though, it appears, Algonquian rather than Iroquoian — or Chinook).

    Their current parallel problem is their provincial flags. They are each obsolete versions of the old British Red Ensign that used to serve as a flag for the old British Dominion of Canada — before the Canada of today gave itself its own independent flag in 1965.

    We might not quite say about the current Manitoba and Ontario flags what Crawford Kilian has said about the name “British Columbia” — that a flag of this sort “implicitly honours England’s racist colonizers.”

    It does nonetheless stand for what might in an older lexicon be called “British Supremacy” — a sub-species of the “White Supremacy” or even “European” or “Western Supremacy” that the global village is now suddenly and happily altogether abandoning (well hopefully …), in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 (and who knows how much beyond?). And rightly so!

    Current Manitoba flag.

    We’d agree that changing the name of British Columbia is a more important issue than changing the Manitoba and Ontario flags, as across Canada today we start to think again about what kind of future we want to build together, beyond COVID-19 and the lessons it is teaching us.

    We’d agree as well that (as also noted in the comments to Mr. Kilian’s BC article) politely waving goodbye to Canada’s old theoretical attachment to the British monarchy, in the Constitution Act 1867, is the very last and most crucial step in the wider “rebranding” exercise to which Mr. Kilian is at least implicitly pointing for Canada at large. (On models clear enough in the experience of such other former British dominions as Ireland and India.)

    More of Ontario’s capital city today in photos of Toronto artist Michael Seward, June 2020.

    Our counterweights website is replete with testaments to our thoughts on all this. But who knows? Maybe various things like changing the name of British Columbia have to happen first … ??

    Of course many still urge that none of the political symbolism involved in all such debates finally matters practically. We’d submit that the experience of COVID-19 shows just the opposite.

    Our governments — federal, provincial, and municipal — have worked as well as they have in this pandemic because they all know that at bottom the people who finally count are the people who elected them to office, in our free and democratic society of the 21st century.

    Such earlier steps forward as the Canadian flag of 1965 and the Constitution Act 1982 (with its accompanying Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms) have helped make this clear. But there is still more work to be done.

    “The Descent of the Fraser River, 1808, from a colour drawing by C. W. Jefferys.”

    The way to further strengthen our government institutions for the ongoing challenges ahead is to continue rebranding Canada with a more up-to-date political symbolism, that openly supports and sustains our modern federal parliamentary democracy, and the practical benefits it brings to all our diverse human communities today.

    For the time being it’s great to hear that Canada’s Pacific Coast is starting to “Consider Changing the Name of British Columbia.”

    To contribute seriously to this debate we Canadians who currently live elsewhere would at the very least have to move to BC. Meanwhile, as sympathetic fellow citizens from another province we can cheer the real participants on — a happy fresh breeze from the very far west, which welcomed Hawaiians to the multiracial Fur Trade in Canada in the first half of the 19th century.

    Now that summer’s here 2020 — Canada and China, Wente and Trotz, sort-of better-behaved Canadian politicians, Dylan’s new “Rough and Rowdy Ways”

    Posted: June 20th, 2020 | No Comments »
    The city today in photos of prize-winning Toronto artist Michael Seward, June 2020.


    Along with the disturbing case of “the two Michaels,” headlines like “New nationwide polling conducted for the Macdonald-Laurier Institute reveals that 4-in-5 Canadians believe Ottawa must speak up about China’s human rights abuses” are telling us that it is time for even the Canada that is just David with a slingshot to get (a lot) tougher with the giant Goliath that is China today.

    (And see also : “’They are applying pressure,’ Bains says of China’s push for Canada to adopt Huawei’s 5G tech.”)

    Our growing sense is that over the past half century Canada has been a better friend to the People’s Republic of China than China has been to Canada. It’s time to stop being quite so naive.

    We don’t think that having the Prime Minister publicly attack the present government but not the people of China will do much good. (We are just David with a slingshot — and what is the slingshot anyway?) But far beyond Huawei, China today has many particular interests in Canada and Canadian-based projects. Someone in Ottawa should be drawing up a list, with notes on quiet ways the government of Canada might use this list to signal that it doesn’t intend to be kicked around by a newly resurgent China, anymore than anyone else.


    Alissa Trotz, Professor of Women & Gender Studies and Caribbean Studies at New College, University of Toronto.

    We aren’t sure just what to make of “Massey College’s only Black governing board member resigns over Margaret Wente appointment.”

    Unless it’s just more hard data on why we usually try to avoid Ms Wente’s writing — even though it is intermittently clever, often reflective of old upper middle class white suburbia, and often enough replete with “good copy” that attracts impressive numbers of readers.

    Kudos as well to “award-winning University of Toronto academic Alissa Trotz,” aka “Professor of Women & Gender Studies and Caribbean Studies at New College, University of Toronto.”

    And tks to the Georgia Straight on Canada’s Pacific Coast for Charlie Smith’s reporting on all this!


    Longtime Liberal strategist and Hill + Knowlton VP John Delacourt has an intriguing piece in the latest issue of Policy magazine. It’s nicely entitled “Crisis is the Mother of Collaboration: Federalism and COVID-19.”

    The city today in photos of Toronto artist Michael Seward, June 2020.

    The piece points out that, to the great surprise of students of Canadian federal-provincial politics in allegedly more normal times : “Despite all the systemic weaknesses revealed by the COVID-19 crisis, its public health and economic exigencies have proven that Canada’s governments are capable of working together.”

    Some would say that just among the federal politicians in Ottawa, or the provincial party members in Any Province, Canada, politics is already going back to the normal many of us were hoping to escape. Can the constructive good manners last longer between federal and provincial (and territorial) governments? Mr. Delacourt has some thoughts worth thinking about.


    Yesterday the Daily Beast caught our attention with “Bob Dylan Emerges from Lockdown with a New Modern Masterpiece.” (Or as the tweet we saw right at the start put it, the “humor and lyricism of Dylan’s latest album ‘Rough and Rowdy Ways’ … shines a light on our times.”)

    After all present here listened to the first two tracks in the office boardroom (“I Contain Multitudes” and “False Prophet”) someone from the group posted the lame but at least deeply felt tweet: “On a quick listen to first 2 tracks this does make us very old guys think it’s great to have Bob Dylan back — a real American voice that answers false prophets then and now.”

    What we can say with utter confidence at this exact moment (especially those of us who much admired “Nashville Skyline” way back in 1969) is that if Bob Dylan’s idea is to convince Canadians to vote for Joe Biden on November 3, “Rough and Rowdy Ways” succeeds without any doubt. What we are never too sure of up here in the reputed icebox (83 F just now) is whether enough turned-out voters in the USA will be like the “Canadians who mostly vote Democratic in American elections” to count on election day. (As so sadly did not happen in 2016, eg, or 2004, 2000, 1988, 1984, 1980, 1972, and 1968 etc.)

    Of course, Canadians do not actually vote in American elections. That is the way US Republicans like it. And so do we here. We will nonetheless keep wondering a little, right down to November 3. What stiffens our hopes most are the two Obama-Biden victories of 2008 and 2012. And Bob Dylan’s take on the latest “Rough and Rowdy Ways” in the USA can’t hurt the diverse democratic good guys’ still long enough journey ahead, to put Biden-?????? in office and “Make a Democrat President Again (M-A-D-P-A)” — 158 years after Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of September 22, 1862.

    If only police forces knew more about the black and red genius of Charles (Yardbird) Parker Jr 2020 might seem better

    Posted: June 16th, 2020 | No Comments »
    “Bird in Flight” : Charlie Parker at Birdland in New York City, 1949.

    The summer is in sight. We have just a few quick things to say, before settling down to a more rigorous holiday schedule of (more) regular (but more brief) reporting in these fascinating and intermittently near-overwhelming times. (That at least is the plan.)

    To start with, while diverse protests for equality and freedom in a multiracial universe bubble so wonderfully more or less throughout the global village, we have been giving our colleagues at birdhop.com what little help we can in their latest struggle to stay alive.

    The result, posted at last just a few days ago, is “Early recordings of Charlie Parker’s Cherokee — from the Trail of Tears to Ko Ko in NYC, November 26, 1945.” The argument is that this piece also supports the new temper of the times in late spring 2020 (which will hopefully last for many further steps down the road).

    At birth on August 29, 1920, that is to say, the Charles Parker Jr. who would largely invent modern jazz was, in the words of biographer Stanley Crouch, “a brown baby, with a red undertone to his skin.” He was African American, but Native American too — from the Choctaw nation so grievously afflicted by the 1830s Trail of Tears, in the now somewhat problematic Age of Andrew Jackson (along with the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole).

    “JACKKEROUAC‘ONTHEROAD’” by prize-winning Toronto artist Michael Seward, June 2020. Kerouac was one of the early Charlie Parker aficionados and proselytizers in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

    All this must have had something to do with the young Charlie Parker’s obsession over a late 1930s pop tune called “Cherokee,” by the British band leader Ray Noble (as part of a larger work called “Indian Suite”). It reached # 15 on the 1939 USA hit parade (well at least #18 or #20 on some lists), in a version that later morphed into the theme song of the Charlie Barnet Orchestra.

    That at any rate is the thought pursued by “Early recordings of Charlie Parker’s Cherokee — from the Trail of Tears to Ko Ko in NYC, November 26, 1945.” Like all other African Americans Charlie Parker had his own never-ending struggles with racism, white supremacy, and/or whatever else you want to call it. But he had some memories of his Indigenous heritage as well. And this was arguably part of one of his greatest musical achievements, in a New York recording studio not long after the end of the Second World War.

    Dizzy Gillespie, trumpet (l) ; singer June Christy ; and Charles (Yardbird) Parker Jr, alto sax (r) : on tour with Stan Kenton’s Festival of Modern Jazz. Jet Magazine, September 4, 1952.

    Meanwhile, yesterday Brad Bannon — “a Democratic pollster and CEO of Bannon Communications” — was urging that : “Seismic shifts on race leave Trump in the dust … George Floyd’s murder on May 25 has been the catalyst for profound changes in public opinion.” We are praying every day in our main office boardroom that these shifts carry on into the US presidential election on November 3.

    Back in the home and native land, PM Justin Trudeau announced today that “CERB payments to be extended for 2 more months … Emergency aid gives $2,000 a month to people who can’t work due to the pandemic.” But anyone who worries that failure to act in ways that other parties urge could bring the current Trudeau Liberal minority government in Ottawa down might want to look at the latest (June 14) poll projections on Philippe J. Fournier’s 338 Canada website. These suggest that a fresh election held right now would most likely bring the Trudeau Liberals a majority government of 191 seats (where a bare majority is 170).

    The legendary “greatest jazz photo ever!” — July 26, 1953 at the Open Door, a bar (club) near Washington Square in New York City : Thelonious Monk on piano, Charlie Mingus on bass, Roy Haynes on drums, and Charlie (Bird) Parker on alto sax.

    What about the “seismic shifts on race” in US politics just next door, and the parallel recent anti-racism demonstrations in all parts of Canada? As explained by CBC polling guru éric Grenier (also on June 14) : “According to Abacus Data, the Liberals have the support of 52 per cent of decided voters among racialized Canadians, compared to just 22 per cent for the Conservatives and 20 per cent for the New Democrats. Among white Canadians, the Liberal lead over the Conservatives is just six percentage points.”

    So … when “Bloc Québécois leader Yves-Fran?ois Blanchet accuses the Liberals of acting as if they have a majority government” they may have their reasons. (And back on May 24, 2020 Maclean’s magazine polling guru Philippe J. Fournier himself was pondering “The case for a snap election … Should Canadians have the opportunity to vote on which party will lead them through the fiscal storm ahead?”)

    Finally, in yet another guess about just what the fiscal storm ahead might involve , on June 10, 2020 Martin Armstrong at statista.com published a 15-country list of “Projected change in GDP in 2020 compared to 2019 in a single-hit COVID-19 scenario,” based on data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s ”latest Economic Outlook.”

    On these “How Hard Will GDP Be Hit in 2020?” numbers the United Kingdom would be the hardest hit. China would be least affected (and then India). Canada is not as bad as Europe, but not quite as good as the USA (and both Canada and the USA are below the global average)!

    Of course if like us you are getting increasingly weary of endless numbers whose meaning is fundamentally uncertain, we once again advise turning to (we think) the greatest musician America has yet produced on our companion birdhop.com site : “Early recordings of Charlie Parker’s Cherokee — from the Trail of Tears to Ko Ko in NYC, November 26, 1945.”

    (And why not? Donald Trump should stop tweeting madly for a while, take a hint from Jack Kerouac and listen himself, several times a day, to the 22-year old Charlie Parker’s early 1940s recording of Ray Noble’s “Cherokee,” direct from the Vic Damon Studios in Kansas City.)

    George Floyd : at least some beginning of the end of the dream deferred may now be in sight (VOTE on November 3)??

    Posted: June 4th, 2020 | No Comments »
    “Rococo Contemporary; Homage to Fragonard” by prize-winning Toronto artist Michael Seward, May 2020.

    GANATSEKWYAGON, ON. MAY 31, 2020. 2:00 AM ET. I don’t yet know quite what to make of the protests against the Minneapolis police role in the tragic death of George Floyd (and much else) that have dominated cities across the USA for the past few days.

    (The parallel actions where I live in Canada have been at least somewhat different — for the most part without the alarming violence, eg.)

    I was in my early 20s in 1968 when riots in the likes of Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, Kansas City, Louisville, Newark, Washington (DC), and Wilmington followed the April 4 assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

    They were joined by protests over the February 1968 Orangeburg massacre at South Carolina State University, the July Glenville shootout in Cleveland, and the divisive Democratic National Convention at Chicago in August.

    I remember watching the Watts Riots in Los Angeles on TV in 1965 as well. And I remember from the 1960s at large that “violence is as American as apple pie.”

    Bobby Kennedy tours 14th Street in the aftermath of Washington DC riots, April 7, 1968. Bob Schutz/AP. Senator Kennedy himself was assassinated in Los Angeles just two months later.

    So there are certainly historical precedents for late spring 2020 in Chicago, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New York, etc, etc — in the America that fought a breathtakingly destructive Civil War against slavery in the first half of the 1860s. I am also old enough to see big differences between 1968 and 2020. And on that note I turn off the TV and seek solace in sleep.

    MAY 31. 4:30 PM ET. We have just returned from a real-world outdoor walk along the east-end Beaches boardwalk on a beautiful, sunny Sunday afternoon.

    Even with the war on COVID-19, it is reassuring on the shores of a great lake first known in present-day Canada’s other official language as Lac de Frontenac.

    (The successor name “Ontario” is said to be an Iroquoian word that means any of just “Great” or “Shining Waters” or “Rocks Standing by Water.” Take your pick : the related political geography was then and is now a democracy, in one sense or another.)

    Back home on TV … 1669 arrests in 22 cities … And then later, according to Wikipedia’s “George Floyd protests” article : “As of June 1, there were protests in more than 200 cities … as of June 2, governors in 23 states and Washington, D.C., had called in the National Guard … From the beginning of the protests to the morning of June 2, at least 5,600 people had been arrested.”

    “Protesters are shot with pepper spray as they confront police over George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, Minnesota on May 27, 2020.BY STEPHEN MATUREN/GETTY IMAGES.”

    JUNE 1. 7:00 PM ET. Trump’s appalling Rose Garden speech this evening is crystallizing my own thoughts, whatever else. And I can’t be altogether alone.

    My wife, for one thing, is already there (as the polling statistics might suggest).

    Trump is posing as a defender of law and order. And the violent sidebar to the main attraction of peaceful protest may seem to give him some shaky ground to stand on … But, but, but …

    The Rose Garden speech — which in any serious real world would only fit in a Mel Brooks re-make of “Springtime for Hitler” — is pushing me deep into my wife’s camp.

    Yes there is some looting and vandalism along with the great mainstream of peaceful protest. And all forms of violence are always abhorrent in popular, democratic demonstrations — just like carrying assault rifles at right-wing protests against rules of law on COVID-19.

    But Trump’s “crypto fascist” speech on June 1, 2020 (along with the deeply disturbing police brutality used to clear some streets for his cynically hypocritical photo op at a boarded-up church) has expelled all concerns of this sort from my mind.

    Protesters at New York City hall, near the NY Police Department Headquarters, June 2, 2020. (Photo: Robert Deutsch , USA TODAY NETWORK via Imagn Content Services, LLC).

    JUNE 2. 11 PM ET. I watched Joe Biden’s response to all the madness on TV this morning. I was more impressed than I expected.

    I was equally happy that the great mainstream of peaceful protest broadened all day in many, many cities across the USA (and in Canada too) — while the reprehensible looting, vandalism, and violence was largely confined to the sidelines.

    JUNE 3. 2 PM ET : ON CULTURAL DIVERSITY AND AMERICAN DREAMS. My first thought at the end of Trump’s June 1 Rose Garden speech was that if he manages to get away with this, and even get re-elected on November 3, 2020, then Democracy in America really is in very grave danger of vanishing forever!

    If this happens then one of my favourite lines from the late great US “dean of counterculture comedians” George Carlin (1937–2008) will acquire a much deeper depth than it has right now : “It’s called the AMERICAN DREAM cuz ya have to be ASLEEP to believe it.”

    Protesters outside Oviatt Library in Los Angeles, June 2, 2020. Samantha Bravo.

    Yet hearing that even Republican televangelist Pat Robertson has attacked the June 1 speech — and accompanying police brutality to clear a path for a boarded-up church photo-op (“You just don’t do that, Mr. President”) — gives me some hope that “the Donald” will be a mercifully one-term US president.

    On this more hopeful assumption, the real American Dream has just been deferred, as in Langston Hughes’s great poem of the early 1950s, “Dream Boogie.” (Which so brilliantly begins : “Good morning, daddy! / Ain’t you heard / The boogie-woogie rumble / Of a dream deferred?”)

    The deepest message of the 2020 protests against the Minneapolis police role in the tragic death of George Floyd (and much else) is that the dream which has been deferred for African Americans since 1789 (or 1776) can now be deferred no longer.

    Protesters down the street from the White House in Washington, DC June 1, 2020. PHOTO : Mandel Ngan, AFP Via Getty Images.

    In the first instance of course deferring the dream no longer will and should most directly benefit African Americans.

    Yet one of the great forward-looking sides of the 2020 actions across the USA and beyond is how culturally diverse the peaceful protesters have been. There have been many “Whites” on the streets as well as “Blacks” — and “Asians” and “Hispanics.” (And in Canada we are also underlining Indigenous Canadians or Native Americans.)

    This is in fact like the “black and white together” that marked the best moments of the 1960s.

    And white people are involved in the 2020 protests as well, I’d submit, not just because they believe that black people must finally be recognized as the equal (and indispensable) participants in the American Dream they clearly are.

    Langston Hughes, “The People’s Poet,” on the steps in front of his house in Harlem, New York City, June 1958. LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images.

    It is also because this kind of diverse “free and democratic society”of the 21st century will be better for the white, “Asian” and “Hispanic” people who live and work within it too.

    (See, eg, Norman Mailer’s imperfect but still interesting 1957 essay “The White Negro: Superficial Reflections on the Hipster.”)

    They (a Canadian can’t quite say we) will all achieve new freedoms in a new era of Democracy in America that includes everyone — and that finally lives up to Thomas Jefferson’s promises in the Declaration of Independence.

    (And that President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden gave us all a first look at for eight remarkable years after the 2008 US election.)

    As some ultimate irony, in the very end this is also what will really make America great again, at last.

    Dual citizens of Canada have as much right to become prime minister as any other kind of Canadian citizen

    Posted: May 22nd, 2020 | No Comments »
    Untitled by prize-winning Toronto artist Michael Seward 2004.

    Before the issue vanishes altogether from the daily news I just want to quickly unburden myself of my quite certain and crystal clear views on dual citizenship and full-bore participation in Canadian democratic politics.

    My media texts are “Scheer didn’t follow through on renouncing US citizenship” by Rachel Aiello on the CTV News site (May 17), and “Scheer says he won’t renounce US citizenship because he won’t be prime minister” by Peter Zimonjic on the CBC News site (May 19).

    To summarize the background, during the last federal election campaign (the actual vote was on October 21, 2019 for those of us who are already having trouble remembering) it became clear that Conservative leader Andrew Scheer held dual citizenship in Canada and the United States.

    Then-Conservative Leader Stephen Harper seen with Andrew Scheer during the announcement of the Young Conservative Caucus in 2005. PAT MCGRATH, THE OTTAWA CITIZEN.”

    This seemed at least hypocritical since Conservatives (including Andrew Scheer) had previously raised doubts about Canadian public officials who held dual citizenship in Canada and France.

    As a 2019 campaign gesture Mr. Scheer indicated that he would renounce his US citizenship (bequeathed by the US birth of his father). More recently, towards the middle of May 2020 assiduous investigative reporters have discovered that Mr. Scheer is in fact still a dual citizen of Canada and the United States.

    Mr. Scheer has finally clarified that : “The reason for renouncing it was part of my effort to become prime minister and once that rationale was no longer there I just discontinued the process.”

    Or, he had indicated he would renounce his US citizenship as prime minister of Canada. He has not become and (with his resignation as Conservative leader) will now never be prime minister. And he has discontinued the process of renouncing his US citizenship (out of respect, he seems to imply, for his father).

    Governor General Michaelle Jean with President Barack Obama in Ottawa, February 19, 2009.

    So … here is my take on the finer points (for whatever it may or may not be worth).

    First, if they are going to ignore the dual Canadian-US citizenship of their own leader, it was at best hypocritical for Conservatives to raise questions about the dual Canadian-French citizenships of former Governor General Michaelle Jean (who did renounce her French citizenship after being appointed Governor General of Canada), former federal Liberal leader Stéphane Dion, and former federal New Democratic Party leader Thomas Mulcair.

    The much more critical point in my mind, however, is that the questions raised in both cases (Canada and France or the United States) are not seriously appropriate or just worth bothering about. In the Canada that has now almost entirely grown beyond its earlier origins on The Middle Ground between European colonialism and the Canadian First Nations, holding dual citizenship in Canada and any other current UN member state is not and certainly ought not be any kind of disqualification for the highest offices in our 21st century parliamentary democracy.

    Illustration for Pauline Johnson poem “The Song My Paddle Sings” — “August is laughing across the sky … A fir tree rocking its lullaby …”

    Unlike our friends and neighbours to the south of us (who “must south of us remain,” in the early 20th century words of the British Canadian Mohawk poet Pauline Johnson or Tekahionwake) we do not constitutionally require that our head of government be born in Canada.

    The (understandably heavy-drinking) first prime minister of the fractious Canadian confederation of 1867 was not born in Canada. And, rushing down to the much more recent past, Mr. Zimonjic reports : “A CBC News investigation found at least 56 parliamentarians from the 2015-19 Parliament — 44 MPs and 12 senators — had been born outside Canada. At least 22 of them have citizenships from other countries.”

    I should quickly confess that those who already know about my own California-and-Hawaii-born grandchildren can quite rightly point out that my views on this subject are self-serving.

    But to me they are self-serving in a way that can also make some slight claim on serving Canada. (As when my wife’s grandfather called his birthday “A Great Day for Canada” — another tradition we are still trying to conserve for the future. )

    Untitled by Michael Seward 2000.

    I was myself, that is to say, born in Canada where I have lived all my life, with only intermittent visits elsewhere in the mass market mode. Especially at the present juncture in the history of planet earth, I think Canada is a more or less terrific place, with a democratic political system that works — not perfectly but close enough for jazz (in the lexicon of an earlier generation).

    Just in case they may wish to choose them, for whatever reasons, I want my grandchildren as joint citizens of Canada and the United States to have the same potential opportunities of living freely and agreeably that I have enjoyed here in the home and native land, all my life. (And again there have been moments over the past few years when that has seemed at least a little more important than it may have once appeared to be.)

    NDP leader Thomas Mulcair with wife Catherine Pinhas who was born in France, just before 2015 Canadian federal election.

    So I cannot agree with our former Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper (as most recently explained by Peter Zimonjic) : “When asked about Mulcair’s citizenship, Harper said in 2015 it was up to Mulcair to decide whether to keep the French passport or give it up. ‘In my case, as I say, I’m very clear. I’m a Canadian and only a Canadian,’ Harper said.”)

    The alternative big idea is simple enough. There is only one kind of Canadian citizenship. It doesn’t matter how you get there ; it’s getting there that counts. Born-in-Canada, Canadian by Citizenship Oath, Dual Citizen, or whatever else are all the same.

    All adult Canadian citizens similarly qualify for the high offices of Governor General and Prime Minister of Canada. And that I think is where the question should be put to rest. Forever.

    (Now as for Mr. Scheer’s latest demand that Parliament be declared an “essential service” during the coronavirus pandemic, the Conservative Party of Canada he is still leading for the moment would need a parliamentary track record much less dominated by excessively toxic partisan rhetoric for this to carry any serious weight at all.)

    Does COVID-19 have anything to do with international and regional financial centres/centers, etc … etc?

    Posted: May 18th, 2020 | No Comments »
    “Life without a Present Tense” — Collage by prize-winning Toronto artist Michael Seward, May 2020.

    It is not easy to be humourous about COVID-19. But that is my assignment here and I will try, more or less. (While still being half-serious between the lines … maybe?)

    My point of departure is a May 13, 2020 article in the venerable UK publication NewStatesman, by Jerome Roos who “teaches political economy at the London School of Economics, and is currently writing a history of global crises for Jonathan Cape.”

    The article is called “How plagues change the world … Could the coronavirus pandemic have an effect as lasting and profound as the Black Death?

    The plague of Florence, 1348; a scene from Boccaccio’s Decameron. Etching by L. Sabatelli the elder after G. Boccaccio.

    To elaborate briefly, Mr. Roos writes : “Throughout the ages, infectious diseases have left an indelible mark on the future course of world history … But if we had to single out one epoch-making pandemic, it would be the Black Death of the mid-14th century … that heralded the ‘waning of the Middle Ages’… While Covid-19 is a different kind of disease … could the crisis end up playing a similar role for the late-modern world as the Black Death did for the late-medieval one? … Will this pandemic, too, remake the world as we know it?”

    As an at least very slight and possibly somewhat humourous early half-stab at this kind of question, I thought I would briefly ponder any possible ties between COVID-19 in the early 21st century and the history of financial centres.

    The New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street, New York City, Fourth of July 2014.

    Strictly for convenience I am anchoring my understanding of the subject in two accessible websites — the Wikipedia article on “Financial centre” and an article called “The World’s Leading Financial Cities” on the Investopedia site.

    As Wikipedia explains : “A financial centre is defined by the IMF [International Monetary Fund] as encompassing … International Financial Centres (IFCs) … Regional Financial Centres (RFCs) … and Offshore Financial Centres (OFCs).”

    According to both the Global Financial Centres Index and the Xinhua–Dow Jones International Financial Centers Development Index, the two most highly rated International Financial Centres right now are New York City and London.

    According to Investopedia, New York is “commonly regarded as the finance capital of the world … famous for Wall Street, the most happening stock market and the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), the largest stock exchange by market capitalization.” (A historian of the longer term might note that New York started to replace London in this role in the earlier 20th century.)

    Madrid, Spain financial district today.

    Examples of regional financial centres include Milan in Italy, Madrid in Spain, Toronto in Canada, and Sydney in Australia. (A historian might also note that in Canada Toronto started to take over from Montreal about the same time as New York started to take over from London.)

    Setting this very hasty sketch beside the recent international COVID-19 numbers, as reported online by the “worldometer” as of May 18, 2020, 05:19 GMT, is at least intriguing.

    The half dozen countries with the largest number of total COVID-19 cases include the USA (1), Spain (3), the UK (4), and Italy (6). New York City has the largest number of cases inside the USA and London plays a similar role in the UK. (And then regional finance centres Milan and Madrid are in Italy and Spain.)

    London’s financial centre, 2014. Photograph: Andrew Holt/Getty Images.

    The half dozen countries with the largest number of total COVID-19 deaths include the USA (1), the UK (2), Italy (3), and Spain (5).

    I turn briefly to the case of Canada (which currently has more reported COVID-19 deaths than China!?) partly because I am Canadian, and partly because it underlines how whatever pandemic-financial connections there may be can have considerable subtlety.

    Though Toronto some time ago succeeded Montreal as both Canada’s most populous metropolis (1976) and leading financial centre, in 2020 Montreal’s COVID-19 statistics are more harsh than Toronto’s. And the only related argument I can think of is that, while airplane journeys are comparable, the drive from Montreal to New York is about two hours shorter than the drive from New York to Toronto. (And by city the current global financial capital in New York does seem to have become, at this point in any case, the global epicenter of the 2020 COIVID-19 pandemic as well.)

    Early morning view of Toronto Financial District skyline in the Age of the Internet, April 2019. By “Forum contributor Razz.” Tks to Urban Toronto.

    To conclude for now, in the broadest global perspective as of mid May 2020 it also seems that Asia (including Australia and New Zealand, along with China, South Korea, Singapore, and Japan) has apparently done much better than Europe and North America fighting COVID-19.

    Bringing the intellectual quest back to North America, it could similarly be said that such Pacific coast places as California and British Columbia seem to have done better with COVID-19 at this point than such more Atlantic-oriented places as New York State and Ontario.

    Fred Willard (right) and Martin Mull on Fernwood 2-Night, 1977. The “first fake talk show.” Too “completely subversive” (John Cusack) to last on US TV?

    And this raises the prospect that in dealing with the evolving new world economy Hawaii-born-and-raised Barack Obama’s “pivot to Asia” made a lot more sense than anything the present US administration has done.

    Can this kind of policy be somehow revived if God or Allah or the Great Scientist in the Sky looks favourably on humanity, and Joe Biden and his female vice-presidential nominee finally win the US election on November 3?

    Of course we will just have to wait and see.

    Meanwhile RIP and many rounds of buoyant applause to the ongoing spirit of the late great US comedian Fred Willard! He has been one of the things that has really Made America Great Again in my lifetime. I especially remember him on SCTV and Fernwood 2 Night. Sometimes just the expression on his face could make you laugh.

    Is “re-opening the economy” in early May a hinge of fate for mid-term future of the United States (and Canada)?

    Posted: May 7th, 2020 | No Comments »
    “There is Life Out There” by prize-winning Toronto artist Michael Seward, May 2020.

    Will we finally look back on the early May days of 2020 as a hinge of fate that determined the early November US election, and set the direction for politics and economics in the Western World (as in J.M. Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World) for at least a while to come?

    Maybe, maybe not. But just in case we do, one event that has helped us up here ?get woke? to what is really going on is the Saturday, May 2 breaking news that “Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway reports nearly $50 billion loss.”

    The only slightly deeper story is that “Warren Buffett’s company reported a nearly $50 billion loss on Saturday because of a huge drop in the paper value of its investments, though it is still sitting on a big pile of cash.”

    Neither Mr. Buffet nor his shareholders need to worry too much, in other words. Berkshire Hathaway is still a company with “more than $137 billion cash” more or less sitting in the bank.

    But you know the economy is really getting bad when the King of Main Street blows $50 billion goodbye?

    UK writer Jacqueline Rose, who has recently published a provocative piece on Albert Camus’s 1947 novel The Plague in the London Review of Books. Copyright : DONALD MACLELLAN.

    Whatever else, for us the dramatic fact that the King of Main Street investing in the USA has just lost $50 billion does bring home the extent of the damage the aggressive fight against the coronavirus COVID-19 has suddenly brought on bài baccarat Cá cược bóng đá miễn phí.

    Parallel recent economic losses among business investors, managers, operators, and owners (and contributors to political parties) have apparently put some fierce pressure on politicians of all stripes and at all levels of government to start “re-opening the economy.”

    It is time, strong voices are telling us, to start making good on the dramatic losses that have already been sustained by Warren Buffet and many other big and small economic actors — from the heights of corporate power to the mom-and-pop stores around the corner (and, eg, the understandably all-too-worried owners of many excellent bars and restaurants in both big cities and small towns).

    There is of course something of an ideological tilt to all this. Polling shows that progressives are more likely to support government restrictions to combat COVID-19. And conservatives are more likely to oppose restrictive governments, especially in the name of the economy.

    Regardless of political philosophy, however, a great many of us (“left libertarians” especially?) can appreciate the attractions of freely going to bars and restaurants, and so much more. Some of us staying at home have bills to pay and not enough money coming in to pay them much longer.

    This past Friday, May 1 on TV even Bill Maher, from his backyard in an upscale Los Angeles neighbourhood (Sherman Oaks?), seemed to be supporting some rational (if also cautious and gradual) re-opening of the economy, starting soon or even more or less now.

    On being happy enough in Canada

    Untitled by Michael Seward, 2000.

    In this as in so many other respects the 10 provinces of Canada have things in common with the 50 states of the USA. Canada intimately shares so much of the particular 21st century anglophone culture (or lack thereof) in North America north of the Rio Grande.

    At the same time, many usually forgotten Canadians will be happy to see Zack Beauchamp’s May 4 vox.com article, “Canada succeeded on coronavirus where America failed. Why? … Canada beat the US … because its political system works.” And we are among them.

    We here in this space can also happily enough (if quite surprisingly) say that we support the particular approach to cautiously and gradually re-opening the economy, while still working hard to combat COVID-19, that seems to have been adopted by Doug Ford’s at last (maybe?) seriously “Progressive Conservative” government in our Canadian home province of Ontario.

    (We’d also note under a similar but more rigorously progressive banner : “British Columbia’s health system can handle a cautious restart to social activity, provincial officer says” — in “Canada’s Pacific Province” or just BC, also once known as British California, under the flag of the setting sun and now some kind of social democratic/green government as well.)

    Untitled by Michael Seward, 2010.

    Like Doug Ford and other provincial premiers, we similarly continue to support the “costliest cash redistribution program in Canadian history,” that is being developed and operated in transit to support individual Canadians and the Canadian economy, by Justin Trudeau’s Liberal federal government in Ottawa. With the help of the BQ, the Greens, and especially the New Democrats.

    All this having been duly considered, we have two final notes that we think are worth some attention in what may or may not prove to be these crucial early May days of 2020.

    (And possibly not just in the Western World but in the entire Global Village, especially if the current world economy really does lean on the US dollar as its ultimate reserve currency!)

    Mass Middle Class puts staying safe first in both Canada and USA

    “Kristen Wiig stars in ‘Welcome to Me,’ Shira Piven’s giddily imaginative psychological comedy, which is available to watch on Crackle, a lesser-known streaming site run by Sony.Photograph from Bron Studios / Alamy.”

    Despite all the quite-orchestrated-feeling political noise of the past few weeks, two recent polls strongly suggest that the (as Trudeau Liberals might say) “middle class” mass of we the people in both the United States and Canada continue to rank doing what’s needed to stay safe in the fight against COVID-19 as public policy priority number one.

    In the United States a Gallup poll released on April 30 suggests that both the political noise and the rational case for some start on re-opening have helped raise the percentage of US adults who answer “Right now” to “how soon would you return to your normal day-to-day activities” after all government restrictions are lifted. It’s up from 13% Apr 2-6 to 21% Apr 20-26, 2020.

    At the same time, even in late April and with all government restrictions said to be lifted, 36% of US adults would return to normal activities only “After number of new cases in your state declines significantly.” Another 31% would return to normal only “After no new cases in your state.” Still another 12% claim they will wait as long as “After vaccine developed.” (And this is actually up from 7% in early April!)

    A Leger poll for the Association of Canadian Studies released on May 4 showed comparable results for both Canada and the United States. Over the period May 1-3, eg, samples in both countries were asked “Do you feel that your provincial/state government should accelerate, maintain, or slow down the pace at which it is relaxing social distancing/self-isolation measures to allow a gradual return to normal activities?”

    Untitled Toronto street scene by Michael Seward, 2000.

    In Canada 11% said “Accelerate the pace,” 63% said “Maintain the pace,” and 27% said “Slow down the pace.” In the United States 21% said “Accelerate,” 51% said “Maintain,” and 28% said “Slow down.” (The greater if still far from majority percentage favouring “Accelerate” in the USA could in some degree reflect the comparative dearth of vast mountains of cash in Canada, to pay for quite so much orchestrated political noise in favour of re-opening the economy.)

    Two further sets of Canadian numbers may prove of particular interest to Canadians.

    First when asked about “your federal government” the Canada-wide results were very similar to those for “your provincial government” — Accelerate the pace 12%, Maintain the pace 64%, and Slow down the pace 24%.

    Second, when the Canadian results for “your provincial government” are broken down by province, the most strikingly different results are in Alberta. And they reflect less not more enthusiasm for aggressively re-opening the economy — Accelerate the pace 7%, Maintain the pace 44%, and Slow down the pace 50%!

    Is the right wing blowing the coronavirus crisis in both USA and Canada?

    Untitled by Michael Seward, 2004.

    The crux of the hinge of fate argument is that what finally happens with the current re-open-the-economy policy — and COVID-19 policy more broadly — will have some decisive bearing on exactly who wins and loses the November 3, 2020 US election, by how much and so on.

    In this connection we’ve been intrigued by Tom Boggioni’s May 5 article on the Raw Story site : “Trump doomed as re-election bid turns into the ‘coronavirus election’: former Bill Clinton political director.”

    In slightly more detail, “former President Bill Clinton’s highly regarded political director,” Doug Sosnik, is arguing that “Donald Trump has an uphill battle to stay in the Oval Office after the coronavirus pandemic and associated fall-out upended his campaign’s re-election plans.”

    More exactly, there are “three factors” working against Trump — “(1) Sen. Bernie Sanders, the presumed nominee” in earlier Trump plans, “won’t be his opponent”; “(2) Trump’s failure to prepare for and manage the pandemic” ; and (3) the “resulting economic crater.”

    We certainly hope that Trump Republicans lose big time and all over on November 3. But like so many others we’ve learned since 2016 not to under-estimate the political tenacity and media skill of Donald Trump.

    Untitled by Michael Seward, 2008.

    His enthusiasm for re-opening the economy aggressively now, in hopes of stimulating some quick revival he can take credit for on November 3 may actually be crazy (as various eminent economists and epidemiologists suggest). But in a world where no one really knows just what is likely to happen, it seems foolish (and even unwise) to write anything off.

    On the other hand, for the most part it also seems that some considerable geographic diversity of state governors and even local politicians will have considerable influence over just how fast the American economy will be re-opened, and what government restrictions where may or may not be lasting well into the fall or beyond.

    Untitled by Michael Seward, 2000.

    In Canada we do seem broadly committed to a quite cautious and gradual re-opening, which honours the popular “mass middle class” commitment to staying safe in the fight against COVID-19 as public policy priority number one.

    Federally we have already elected a Justin Trudeau Liberal minority government last year, dependent on the Bloc Québécois, the Green Party, and (especially?) the New Democrats to the Liberal left to remain in office.

    The Conservative Party of Canada that Stephen Harper invented not all that long ago has been becalmed (or has rather becalmed itself) — as in the kinder and gentler conservative Don Martin’s critical May 5 report “Conservatives down to Scheer follies and hopeless hopefuls.”

    “Landscape at Dawn with Red” by Michael Seward, May 2020.

    Meanwhile, we applaud Tristan Bradley’s May 5 contribution to the much valued (and needed) political humour at thebeaverton.com : “Conservatives worry federal benefits may discourage some Canadians from going back to indentured servitude.”

    (As we try to forget the concluding sentences in Don Martin’s May 5 report : “If the Conservatives fail to sacrifice base instincts for broader appeal, they won’t have the power to do anything but sulk in opposition after the next election … Then the party will go shopping for another new leader. Conservative Leader Doug Ford, anyone?”And the premier of the most populous province who was rejected by his federal party in the last federal election must at least be smiling broadly on this account now, in the merry month of May 2020!)

    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 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.”)