The Line: Latest US mass shooting

One of the better and most realistic, sadly so, commentaries on the Uvalde etc shootings:

Your Line editors have, between them, many decades of journalism experience. More than we honestly like to admit. And one of the types of stories that we have covered or in some way responded to more than any other is a catastrophic mass-casualty shooting in the United States.

We won’t bother recapping the details of the disaster in Texas this week, or the one in Buffalo just days before that. What point would it serve? They’re all basically the same. We really don’t have anything left to say that we haven’t said already. Worse, we’ve said it all many times. The towns, the pictures of the victims, the powerful statements by survivors … they’ve all blurred together. They blurred together years ago. 

Honestly, folks, we’re just plain out of helpful suggestions or novel insights or calls to action we think would have the slightest chance of actually working.  America’s problem with guns is not actually a gun-control problem. Now before you think we’re about to go on some NRA-inspired discussion about mental health or video games or a broken society or anything like that, you should know that we agree that the American status quo on guns is appalling. And your Line editors like guns a lot more than the average Canadian.

It’s not that guns aren’t a problem in the U.S. The access-to-firearms differential between the U.S. and everyone else is the only meaningful outlier, so yes, it’s clearly the guns. But the focus on gun control is misplaced not because the status quo is good, but because the gun dysfunction is a symptom of the actual problem: America’s political culture and systems are broken. 

Americans like their guns. A lot. Millions of them support the gun lobby for that reason. There’s no denying that, and probably no changing it. But the American policy status on guns is way, way to the right of where even the pro-gun, Second Amendment-loving population of the good ole U.S. of A want it to be.

This is often overlooked. A supermajority of Americans would support many reasonable limits on access to firearms. Just this week, for example, a poll found 88-per-cent national support for mandatory background checks before the sale of a firearm in the U.S. They’re not going to become Canada or Japan overnight, but again, an overwhelming majority of Americans would support at least some basic gun control measures that have absolutely zero chance of being enacted into law because the Republican party is captured by one of the more extreme factions of its base. 

This is an easy enough problem to identify. Doing anything about it is the hard part. The gun lobby in the United States has become something of a self-sustaining machine, and it is more than powerful enough to keep one of the two parties in a two-party system bent to its will.

Any conversation about how to prevent the next gun massacre in the United States that does not start from a position of understanding that this is fundamentally a problem within the Republican Party is a nonstarter. We don’t care about your memes comparing gun violence in America to gun violence in the rest of the Western world. Do not tell us about Britain after Dunblane or Australia after Port Arthur. Don’t inform us that all we need to do is get rid of the AR-15s. Withhold your video clips of Jacinda Ardern. All of these things are quite literally as useful as noting that we could zero out gun violence in America overnight if we just got Americans to be nice and stop shooting each other, because they all exist in a make-believe world where the GOP was not, 1. Powerful enough to impede meaningful change, and, 2. In the pocket of the gun lobby. The Brits, Aussies and Kiwis aren’t the United States, do not have the United States’ problems and specifically did not have the GOP blocking what a huge majority of Americans would want, at least in terms of basic things like background checks. If your bright idea doesn’t account for that, it ain’t that bright.

Your Line editors are worried about the United States, and our worry comes from a place of love. We love America, we love Americans. We are regular visitors there and have many friends and family in that country. We are admirers of its culture and especially its history. But it is a very sick place right now. And it is really hard to see how it is going to be able to begin to fix its problems without some kind of catastrophic system reset. We are not hoping for one (because we think it would have to be really catastrophic). Far from it. But we honestly don’t know what else would work.

Barring that, our friends to the south, whom we truly do care about deeply, are going to continue converting happy children full of all the potential of life into unrecognizable lumps of state evidence at an alarming rate, and it doesn’t matter how horrified anyone is by this or how earnestly you tweet about it, because until the Americans crack the political problem, it’s not that they won’t change, it’s that they can’t


We have different problems up here. In the aftermath of the San Antonio debacle, coming so quickly as it did on the heels of the Buffalo massacre, Justin Trudeau has said his Liberal party will be bringing out another round of gun control proposals shortly.

Because of course they are.

Friends, we don’t expect you to be experts in the various regulatory policies that, in combination, make up our gun-control regime. It’s really complicated stuff that the average person simply does not have any reason to know. But your Lineeditors do know it. Very well. And we can tell you, with all honesty and certainty, that most of what the Liberals have proposed in recent years, always in the aftermath of a high-profile tragedy, is entirely theatrical. Utterly and epically for show. A lot of what they announce is just re-announcing stuff they’ve already said they will do, or in some cases actually already exists. The rest is stuff that won’t actually address the factors that are the overwhelming contributor to firearms homicides in Canada (mainly mostly, smuggling of guns into Canada from the U.S.)…

Source: The Line Dispatch: Uvalde and other shootings

David: La sécurité imaginaire [Bill 96]

One side of Quebec commentary on Bill 96:

Quand on est en politique, où l’horizon ne s’étend guère au-delà de la prochaine élection, il devient parfois difficile de distinguer le compromis, qui facilite la victoire, de la compromission, qui sacrifie l’essentiel.

« Une grande journée pour le français », a déclaré le premier ministre François Legault après l’adoption du projet de loi 96. Il doit surtout se féliciter de la levée de boucliers dans la communauté anglophone et au Canada anglais.

Même si les dispositions de la « nouvelle loi 101 » demeurent bien insuffisantes pour enrayer le déclin du français, la colère des anglophones, partagée tardivement par le Parti libéral du Québec, et la réprobation du pays apparaissent aux yeux d’une majorité de francophones comme autant de signes qu’elles vont dans la bonne direction.

Le sentiment de sécurité que peut procurer l’impression d’être en mesure de dicter les règles du jeu dispense d’envisager les moyens plus décisifs que nécessiterait la survie d’une société française en Amérique du Nord et permet de rationaliser le manque d’audace collective qui a causé la défaite du « oui » en 1995.

S’il a provoqué chez les représentants de la communauté anglophone des dérapages qui ont parfois frôlé le délire, le débat sur le projet de loi 96 n’a d’ailleurs pas eu chez les francophones l’effet galvanisant de celui qu’avait suscité l’adoption de la loi 101.
* * * * *
Dans un essai qu’il vient de publier sous le titre La nation qui n’allait pas de soi, Alexis Tétreault, doctorant en sociologie à l’UQAM, évoque la nouvelle « mythologie de la normalité » qui aurait remplacé la traditionnelle « mythologie de la vulnérabilité » dans la conscience politique québécoise.

L’Acte constitutionnel de 1791 avait pu donner pendant un temps l’illusion que la Conquête n’empêcherait pas l’ancienne Nouvelle-France de poursuivre son développement d’une façon à peu près normale. Après l’écrasement des patriotes et l’Acte d’Union, la conscience de leur vulnérabilité et la crainte de l’assimilation n’ont cessé d’habiter l’imaginaire de leurs descendants.

C’est toujours ce désir d’échapper au sort prévu par le rapport Durham et d’aménager un espace politique où leur situation majoritaire permettrait aux Québécois de retrouver cette normalité qui a largement inspiré la Révolution tranquille et le mouvement indépendantiste.

Malgré le coup de force constitutionnel de 1982 et l’échec du référendum de 1995, Alexis Tétreault constate le maintien « d’une hégémonie de l’imaginaire majoritaire et de la nouvelle mythologie de la normalité qui est, pour le moins, inconsciente du péril de la minorisation-assimilation ».

Son maître à penser, le sociologue Jacques Beauchemin, l’avait exprimé de la façon suivante dans Une démission tranquille : « À force de ne pas disparaître et de se maintenir, les Canadiens français et, après eux, les Québécois de la Révolution tranquille ont fini par intégrer la certitude de leur perduration. »
* * * * *
Il est sans doute heureux que les Québécois ne vivent plus continuellement dans la hantise de disparaître ni dans l’impression d’être « nés pour un p’tit pain », mais cette nouvelle sérénité ne doit pas se traduire en inconscience. La diminution du poids démographique du Québec au sein du Canada et celui des francophones au sein du Québec sont des réalités incontournables.

« Ce sentiment d’éternité fera-t-il long feu à mesure que s’effriteront cette stabilité démographique et cette rhétorique en inadéquation avec la tendance démographique et politique du Canada ? » demande M. Tétreault.

Les francophones acceptent volontiers, se réjouissent même de vivre dans une société diversifiée et acceptent, à ce jour, qu’elle s’inscrive dans le cadre fédéral canadien. Encore faut-il que les règles du vivre-ensemble soient compatibles avec la survie de cette « majorité minoritaire », qui marche elle aussi sur la ligne fine entre le compromis et la compromission.

Même ce que le premier ministre Legault estime « raisonnable », qu’on pourrait également qualifier de minimal, est remis en question. Le ministre fédéral de la Justice, David Lametti, a confirmé que le gouvernement Trudeau s’associerait à la contestation de la loi 21 sur la laïcité devant la Cour suprême, et ce n’est qu’une question de temps avant que la loi 96 se retrouve à son tour devant les tribunaux.

Il est clair que le grand débat sur l’immigration, que M. Legault annonce pour son deuxième mandat, provoquera un autre affrontement, qui pourrait être encore plus dramatique. Une sécurité imaginaire n’a jamais protégé qui que ce soit. Qu’ils le veuillent ou non, les Québécois devront un jour avoir le courage de regarder les choses en face.

Source: La sécurité imaginaire

ICYMI McWhorter: Too often, we fail to credit our political opponents’ morality

Where his arguments break down is with respect to the political tactics involved and the moral bankruptcy of some who are more concerned with abortion than supports and programs after birth. But valid points on the dangers of assumptions regarding those who one disagrees with, whether on the left or right:

One year, when I was a graduate student, I ate twice a day with a group of other students that included about a half-dozen Republican law students. What I learned that year informs my take on the looming overturning of Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court — assuming something close to the draft of Justice Samuel Alito’s opinion, leaked to Politico, becomes final — affecting my reaction to it, despite remaining pro-choice and being, in the grand scheme of things, alarmed by the impending developments.

As an undergraduate, I had been minted under the idea — as prevalent on college campuses then as it is now — that Republicans are just wrong about most things. Then and perhaps now, there were, especially, middle-class and affluent people who sneered at and about them, even if not knowing or caring much about partisan politics.

But some years later, after having spent hours on end listening to these law students discuss issues political, against my inclination I could not help starting to notice that they usually made a kind of sense.

Mind you, none of them were talking about taking their country back, nonexistent voter fraud or conspiracy theories about the basements of pizza shops. The late-Reagan-early-Bush-41 era was different from this one. These were earnest, intelligent people who simply processed the world through a different lens than mine.

I didn’t become a Republican, but I considered my immersion in their worldview a part of my education. I’m glad fate threw me into getting to know them, and, indeed, it was part of why I felt comfortable being a Democrat working for a right-leaning think tank, the Manhattan Institute, in the aughts. A major lesson I took from those law students was to avoid a tempting, all-too-common misimpression: that if people have views different from yours, then the reason is either that they lack certain information or are simply bad people — that they’re either naifs or knaves.

This assumption hobbles a great deal of exchange on college campuses and beyond. As sociologist Ilana Redstone notes, “when we fail to recognize the moral legitimacy of a range of positions on controversial topics, disagreements about these issues inevitably become judgments about other people’s character.” In “The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure,” Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt describe this as the wrongheaded view that “life is a battle between good people and evil people.”

In the late 1990s, I started coming out, if you will, with my views against certain tenets of the traditional civil rights orthodoxy, such as the continuation of racial (as opposed to socioeconomic) preferences, or the insistence that racism and economics are the only determinants of performance gaps, and that it is meaningless to discuss culture. As a result, assorted people in my orbit assumed that there must be something wrong with me.

First came the naïve part: In my grad school days, many at first thought that I must be unaware of certain truths. A concerned sociologist pointed me to books about the racial wealth gap, assuming that, after reading them, I would understand that this was the sole reason for the gap between Black and white kids in test scores and grades. A kindly administrator came by my office to explain how determined her immigrant parents had been to succeed in the United States, pushing her and her siblings “tiger mother”-style, with the goal of showing me that it was unfair to expect that kind of drive from American-born Black people. When conservative and libertarian think tanks started inviting me to speak, a friend’s spouse invited me for a beer, which turned out to be a casual teach-in, warning about the histories of some of the Republicans in the Bush 43 administration.

Then came the evil part: When I would let such people know that I was aware of what they were telling me and that my views were unchanged, they were often quietly appalled. Hence the idea out there that I and people of like opinions on race issues are just plain baddies, out for bucks and attention.

But so often, the real issue in these situations is less ignorance or ill will than differing priorities. Take the common idea that to be a Donald Trump supporter is to be, if not a racist, someone who tolerates racism. Yes, some polls reveal that Trump voters were more likely than others to harbor unfavorable views about nonwhites — a 2016 Reuters-Ipsos poll found that Trump supporters were more likely than supporters of Hillary Clinton to view Black people negatively. But the idea that anyone who’s ever pulled the lever for Trump carries the odor of bigotry is facile.

I have known too many Trump voters, of various levels of education, to whom the “racist” tag could be applied only in a hopelessly hasty fashion. Too many of them have worked for civil rights causes in the past or are married to or seriously involved with people of color or are of color themselves, for the racist label to make any real sense. They, rather, do not rank Trump’s casual bigotry as being as important as others do. To them, this trait is unfortunate and perhaps even off-putting, but not a dealbreaker in comparison to other things about him. I see nothing evil in that. It puts me off a bit. It often seems a little crude — I sense some people being swayed, purely, by Trump’s podium charisma. But that is not the same as malevolence.

I feel the same way about those who are opposed to abortion. I am disgusted that the Supreme Court seems poised to make it more difficult in many cases, and practically impossible in others, for American women to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. I am aware of how opposition to abortion has been entangled in the nation’s history of racism, classism and sexism. I understand the fear that the reversal of Roe could be a prelude to future decisions threatening other rights involving private life.

However, I am also aware that opposition to abortion is often founded on a basic idea that it constitutes the taking of a human life, with many seeing a fetus at even its earliest stages as a person-to-be that morality forbids us to kill. I know people of this view of all races, classes and levels of education. For them, all the negative effects of doing away with Roe may fade in importance. To them, those things are a lesser priority than preserving life.

I find the scientific aspect of this position a bit unreflective. I also sense, in many who take this view, less interest in how humans fare in their lives as children and adults than in the fate of humans as fetuses. I have to work to imagine prioritizing a fetus as a person in the way that they do.

But I think I manage it, and with a deep breath, even though it’s not where I stand, I cannot view the equation of abortion and the taking of a life — or even, as some suggest, a murder — as an immoral position. For many, including me, the priority is what a woman does with her own body. As such, many suppose that to be against abortion is to be anti-feminist. But for pro-lifers, a woman’s right even to controlling her own body stops at what they see as killing an unborn child. To many of them, being anti-abortion is quite compatible with feminism.

I deeply wish that we were not on the verge of Roe being overturned — a decision that, if it came to pass, would be opposed by a majority of Americansand would disrupt or even ruin lives. It would represent further and grievous evidence of our broken political system, with the Electoral College a keystone anachronism, having put Trump into a position to recast the Supreme Court according to priorities unshared by most of the population. However, I cannot see opposition to abortion, in itself, as either naïve or evil. As much as I wish it were not, it is a position one can hold as a knowledgeable and moral individual.

Source: McWhorter: Too often, we fail to credit our political opponents’ morality

How vaccination status might predict views on the Russian invasion of Ukraine

Of note. Too much watching Fox News or sites like Rebel Media and “True” North?

Unvaccinated Canadians are about 12 times more likely than those who received three doses to believe Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was justified, according to a new survey by national polling firm EKOS.

The poll found 26 per cent of those who identified as unvaccinated agreed the Russian invasion is justified, with another 35 per cent not offering an opinion. This compared to only two per cent of surveyed Canadians who said they had three doses of the COVID-19 vaccine and who supported the attack, and four per cent who offered no view.

EKOS president Frank Graves said vaccination status strongly predicts views on the war, from seizing the property of Russian oligarchs to providing non-military aid to Ukraine. In each case, a vast majority of vaccinated Canadians agreed with measures to help Ukraine and oppose Russia, a view held by only a small minority of unvaccinated people.

Torstar was granted access to results of the EKOS data that show a correlation between vaccination status and attitudes toward a host of political issues, including the war in Ukraine.

The EKOS survey — conducted from March 9 to March 13 and using a random sample of 1,035 Canadians — concludes that a “plurality of vaccine refusers are much more sympathetic to Russia.” The survey has a reported margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Ten per cent of those surveyed, or about 105 people, identified as being unvaccinated. National vaccination statistics show around 11 per cent of Canadians five and up have not received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Of those Canadians who received three doses of COVID-19 vaccine, the study found 82 per cent agreed with imposing tougher sanctions on Russia even if it meant higher fuel and food prices at home. Only 18 per cent of unvaccinated people concurred.

Eighty-five per cent of vaccinated people agree the country should take in Ukrainian refugees versus 30 per cent of unvaccinated Canadians.

While 88 per cent of vaccinated Canadians agree Russia is committing war crimes during the widely condemned invasion, 32 per cent of unvaccinated people do.

The study concludes the results point “to the highly corrosive influences of disinformation.”

“This is definitely a new and bluntly insidious force that’s contributing to polarization and disinformation and poor decision-making. And it doesn’t seem to be going away. Things are getting worse,” said Graves. “I don’t think this is because those people had an ingrained sympathy to the Russians. They’re reading this online, they’re consuming this from the same sources that were giving them the anti-vax stuff.”

The EKOS survey comes out at a time when some of the loudest anti-vaccine voicesthat supported the Ottawa occupation are pushing disinformation about the Ukraine war over social media channels that reach tens of thousands of people.

The Line Canada — its distinctive flag, depicting a red line through a black circle, visible during the Ottawa protest — tweeted unsubstantiated allegations Tuesday that Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy is a “lunatic” courting a world war and Ukraine is producing illegal bioweapons. Awake Canada, a self-described “civil rights” group that opposes pandemic mandates and has more than 116,000 followers on Facebook and Twitter, compares NATO to Nazi Germany, while No More Lockdowns — the anti-COVID-mandate group associated with its de facto leader MPP Randy Hillier — pushed the conspiracy that the invasion is an attempt to stop a new world order.

“I saw it almost immediately, within days of the invasion, people supporting it and some quite stridently,” said Timothy Caulfield, a Canada Research Chair in health law and policy at the University of Alberta who has studied the rise and spread of conspiracy theories. “It was pro-Russia, pro-Putin, it was the same kind of dogmatic language you heard from the anti-vaxxers about the alleged harms associated with vaccines. And it was almost immediate and it was from the same crowd.”

Some of that amplification is also coming from Maxime Bernier, leader of the People’s Party of Canada, who has been a prominent figure at anti-lockdown and anti-vaccine rallies, as well as the Ottawa protest.

Bernier tweeted that he deplores the invasion but also shared on Twitter a March 3 video by Whitby PPC candidate Thomas Androvic, who said Putin was “doing us a favour” by invading Ukraine, and the country is a “money laundering industry” and “Trudeau is in on it.” Androvic did not respond by deadline.

Bernier told his 185,000 Twitter followers to watch the video, which he called “a very interesting analysis of the situation in Ukraine.”

The EKOS survey compares vaccination status with political attitudes on the pandemic, vaccines, government trust and the war to create what Graves called a “disinformation index” to better understand the influence of disinformation in Canada.

Graves said those with three vaccine doses rejected disinformation about vaccines, supported public health measures including vaccine passports, and expressed support for Ukraine.

He said the survey shows that with fewer doses, acceptance of disinformation grows, as does sympathy for the Russian invasion.

Unvaccinated Canadians are also more likely to have a profound distrust of government, science and professional health experts, Graves said, and are more likely to support the protest convoy that occupied Ottawa for nearly a month.

“So the pattern was really clear that disinformation was not just a curious feature. It was, I think, a causal ingredient of vaccine resistance.”

The population of unvaccinated Canadians is relatively small. Around 85 per cent of Canadians five years old and older have at least two doses of COVID-19 vaccine, according to federal data. Nearly half of Canadians 18 and older have received their booster.

But in recent years, the politically active elements of the anti-vaccine and anti-mandate community have proven to be adept at networking, organizing and fundraising through social media, said Stephanie Carvin, a national security expert from Carleton University. Millions of dollars were raised through crowdfunding for the Ottawa occupation, although much of that money is frozen as court cases and criminal investigations proceed.

“They aren’t going anywhere anytime soon,” said Carvin.

That organizational capacity may be attractive to mainstream politicians looking for support in tight election races, although wooing those sympathetic to Putin may carry its own political price.

“The convoy movement is going to have a long-term impact on Canadian political life, I think,” said Carvin.

Source: How vaccination status might predict views on the Russian invasion of Ukraine

Wolfson: In pursuit of a world-class health data system

Good arguments, challenge given complexity and jurisdictional issues. Some progress through programs like MyChart which makes managing my hospital-based visits and tests so much easier:

Canadians see new and increasingly powerful computerization in almost every facet of their day-to-day lives—everywhere, that is, except for something as fundamental as health care, where systems are too often stuck in the past.

Canadian governments have invested heavily to advance the use of health data, most often without a clear national vision. An incoherent approach for health data is hurting health outcomes, escalating sector costs and expanding inequities.

The health sector relies on data to guide almost every decision, from the choice of an antibiotic for treating an individual’s simple urinary tract infection, to national pandemic policies that affect millions of Canadians.  The challenge is that health and health-related data are so poorly organized and managed in Canada.

While health-care providers create and have responsibility for safe management of records of health care encounters, personal health information in Canada should be available to patients as well.

The reality is that patients continue to have limited access to or insight about data about them, as that remains under the de facto control of myriad and siloed health-service providers. The inevitable result of this scattered provider-centric rather than patient-centric approach is that patient data are typically spread among their various health care providers’ uncoordinated and unstandardized data systems. The result: both providers and patients have to work with incomplete and incoherent information.

The health sector has invested for years in digital technology in the mistaken belief it would immediately solve our health data woes. We have failed to realize the true obstacle to effective health data collection and use is not mainly technological, but a matter of policy and governance.

To realize its tremendous promise, health data in Canada must become centred around the individual. Services would be designed around people and by people. The “life flows” of patients and families would mesh with the “work flows” of providers and institutions. There would be one centrally accessible virtual digital record for each of us.

As patients move from home to care setting, and from provider to provider, data would remain seamlessly accessible for those in the patient’s “circle of care”; no need to repeat your health history for each new provider. Data flows about a person—who sees what—would be transparent to the person involved or to their proxy.

Health-care providers would continue to access personal information for the purposes of individual care, while a new role—health-data stewards—would be mandated to curate population-based data for public good while ensuring privacy and confidentiality.

How can we make this vision a reality in Canada?

This will only happen with a fundamentally reimagined approach to health data policy and governance for the digital age, grounded in mutual trust. Governments need to trust the public by providing clear and complete information, with people in Canada trusted to act for the good of the community. The public would be involved in policies regarding health data collection, sharing, use and communication. And governments need to make real their commitments to respect Indigenous data governance.

Governments must also trust each other and recognize the over-riding importance of coherent pan-Canadian data.  At present, each province and territory has its own health data policies, standards and governance, with very little active coordination across borders. Even in the area of death certification, where the vital statistics registrars have worked together for many decades, we have the current failure to agree on and report COVID-related causes of death in a standardized manner.

Accessing the routinely collected data that do exist is a marathon for fully authorized researchers, for example to study post-marketing drug safety and effectiveness. Even with all the available approval processes in place, it has still proven impossible to analyze these kinds of data for the country as a whole.

These pervasive blockages to generating coherent and timely pan-Canadian information seriously impairs our ability to respond to public health threats and generate insights that could improve health outcomes for all.

Ultimately, we need to rethink—not rejig—how we manage and use health data. The Pan-Canadian Health Data Strategy report, authored by an Expert Advisory group, points out the need for a culture shift in health data use. Public input has to be part of the transformation to person-centred health care and health data systems.

Of course, updating health data systems has costs. But given the tens of billions of health-care dollars the federal government is providing to the provinces through fiscal transfers, it is long past time the federal government leveraged this clout—using both carrots and sticks—so that people in Canada can finally have informed, accessible health data when and where they need it most.

Michael Wolfson is a former assistant chief statistician at Statistics Canada, and a current member of the University of Ottawa’s Centre for Health Law, Policy and Ethics. Vivek Goel is president and vice-chancellor of the University of Waterloo. Both are members of the Expert Advisory Group on the Development of the Pan-Canadian Health Data Strategy.

Source: In pursuit of a world-class health data system

Krugman: When ‘Freedom’ Means the Right to Destroy

Good commentary:

On Sunday the Canadian police finally cleared away anti-vaccine demonstrators who had been blocking the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor, a key commercial route that normally carries more than $300 million a day in international trade. Other bridges are still closed, and part of Ottawa, the Canadian capital, is still occupied.

The diffidence of Canadian authorities in the face of these disruptions has been startling to American eyes. Also startling, although not actually surprising, has been the embrace of economic vandalism and intimidation by much of the U.S. right — especially by people who ranted against demonstrations in favor of racial justice. What we’re getting here is an object lesson in what some people really mean when they talk about “law and order.”

Let’s talk about what has been happening in Canada and why I call it vandalism.

The “Freedom Convoy” has been marketed as a backlash by truckers angry about Covid-19 vaccination mandates. In reality, there don’t seem to have been many truckers among the protesters at the bridge (about 90 percent of Canadian truckers are vaccinated). Last week a Bloomberg reporter saw only three semis among the vehicles blocking the Ambassador Bridge, which were mainly pickup trucks and private cars; photos taken Saturday also show very few commercial trucks.

The Teamsters union, which represents many truckers on both sides of the border, has denounced the blockade.

So this isn’t a grass-roots trucker uprising. It’s more like a slow-motion Jan. 6, a disruption caused by a relatively small number of activists, many of them right-wing extremists. At their peak, the demonstrations in Ottawa reportedly involved only around 8,000 people, while numbers at other locations have been much smaller.

Despite their lack of numbers, however, the protesters have been inflicting a remarkable amount of economic damage. The U.S. and Canadian economies are very closely integrated. In particular, North American manufacturing, especially but not only in the auto industry, relies on a constant flow of parts between factories on both sides of the border. As a result, the disruption of that flow has hobbled industry, forcing production cuts and even factory shutdowns.

The closure of the Ambassador Bridge also imposed large indirect costs, as trucks were diverted to roundabout routes and forced to wait in long lines at alternative bridges.

Any attempt to put a number on the economic costs of the blockade is tricky and speculative. However, it’s not hard to come up with numbers like $300 million or more per day; combine that with the disruption of Ottawa, and the “trucker” protests may already have inflicted a couple of billion dollars in economic damage.

That’s an interesting number, because it’s roughly comparable to insurance industry estimates of total losses associated with the Black Lives Matter protests that followed the killing of George Floyd — protests that seem to have involved more than 15 million people.

This comparison will no doubt surprise those who get their news from right-wing media, which portrayed B.L.M. as an orgy of arson and looting. I still receive mail from people who believe that much of New York City was reduced to smoking rubble. In fact, the demonstrations were remarkably nonviolent; vandalism happened in a few cases, but it was relatively rare, and the damage was small considering the huge size of the protests.

By contrast, causing economic damage was and is what the Canadian protests are all about — because blocking essential flows of goods, threatening people’s livelihoods, is every bit as destructive as smashing a store window. And unlike, say, a strike aimed at a particular company, this damage fell indiscriminately on anyone who had the misfortune to rely on unobstructed trade.

And to what end? The B.L.M. demonstrations were a reaction to police killings of innocent people; what’s going on in Canada is, on its face, about rejecting public health measures intended to save lives. Of course, even that is mainly an excuse: What it’s really about is an attempt to exploit pandemic weariness to boost the usual culture-war agenda.

As you might expect, the U.S. right is loving it. People who portrayed peaceful protests against police killings as an existential threat are delighted by the spectacle of right-wing activists breaking the law and destroying wealth. Fox News has devoted many hours to fawning coverage of the blockades and occupations. Senator Rand Paul, who called B.L.M. activists a “crazed mob,” called for Canada-style protests to “clog up cities” in the United States, specifically saying that he hoped to see truckers disrupt the Super Bowl (they didn’t).

I assume that the reopening of the Ambassador Bridge is the beginning of a broader crackdown on destructive protests. But I hope we won’t forget this moment — and in particular that we remember it the next time a politician or media figure talks about “law and order.”

Recent events have confirmed what many suspected: The right is perfectly fine, indeed enthusiastic, about illegal actions and disorder as long as they serve right-wing ends.

Source: When ‘Freedom’ Means the Right to Destroy

Kaplan-Myrth: Health-care workers have your backs. Please protect us too

From our family doctor:
Those of us who have been the recipients of harassment and intimidation over the last two years — who have experienced the overlap between antivax/antimask rhetoric and anti-semitism, racism, homophobia and misogyny — were overcome by a sense of foreboding as trucks rolled into downtown Ottawa more than a week ago. These events, now spreading to the rest of Canada, are a warning to us all.By now everyone has seen the photos of Nazi and confederate flags on the backs of trucks. Residents of downtown Ottawa are powerless against trucks honking their horns all night, diesel fumes wafting into their windows. Food was taken from the Shepherds of Good Hope shelter. Women survivors of violence, traumatized, cried out for help, unable to safely walk outside the Cornerstone shelter. An employee at a local business was physically assaulted. LGBTQ community members were confronted with transphobic placards; a shop window with a rainbow flag was broken. In a virtual townhall meeting led by Ottawa Centre MPP Joel Harden, the chat was disrupted at one point because of anti-Black, racist comments.

The mayor has declared that downtown Ottawa is “under siege,” in a state of “emergency.” As the hate spreads across the country, health-care workers in Toronto and Vancouver were warned not to dress in scrubs in the streets, to avoid being a target for hate. In response, Dr. Lisa Salamon-Switzman, an emergency room physician in Toronto, posted on Twitter that she would wear her scrubs, that as a granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, she would not cower from those espousing hate.

Source: Kaplan-Myrth: Health-care workers have your backs. Please protect us too

Cohen: Truck convoy — An American-style protest, a limp Canadian response

Good commentary, money quote:
The prissy city that issues parking tickets on Christmas Eve and makes kids shut down lemonade stands is afraid to ticket truckers blocking downtown, because, you know, they might get angry.”
It is easy to talk of the Americanization of Canada, particularly in our political institutions. We now set fixed election dates, we ask appointees to the Supreme Court to appear before Parliament, we embrace attack advertising in elections.

More than anything, the tone of our politics has changed. Parliament does not have the congeniality or collegiality of a generation ago. Members clash in raw personal terms. Parliament sounds like Congress.

The Conservative Party is no longer the Progressive Conservative Party. Increasingly, it is what was once the now-defunct liberal wing of the Republican Party. It has acquired a hard-edged social conservatism, which makes winning hard in a moderate, centrist country.

Source: Cohen: Truck convoy — An American-style protest, a limp Canadian response

Nicolas: Libres de quoi? [on Neo-liberalism]

Strong critique:

On sait que la malbouffe et le trop-plein de sucre, c’est mauvais pour la santé. Se demande-t-on pourquoi les principaux commerces de proximité vendent surtout des chips, des jujubes, des boissons gazeuses et autres aliments surtransformés ? Non. Mais on nous conseille de faire des choix individuels santé.

On sait que la sédentarité augmente le risque de maladies chroniques. Réglemente-t-on l’étalement urbain et densifie-t-on les villes pour endiguer la dépendance à la voiture ? Veille-t-on à ce que les quartiers où le transport actif est possible restent abordables ? Non. Mais c’est à chacun de faire le choix de l’exercice physique quotidien.

On sait que l’anxiété et la dépression sont en hausse depuis des années, sous l’effet du stress croissant des études et du travail. Met-on en place la semaine de quatre jours ? Non. Mais on télécharge une appli de méditation ou on fait du yoga. À chacun d’entraîner son « mental » pour mieux endurer le quotidien.

L’idéologie néolibérale a tellement imbibé le discours populaire dans le domaine de la santé qu’il est devenu difficile d’en expliciter le fonctionnement. Tentons-le. Le néolibéralisme croit qu’une société bonne est une société libre, et que cette liberté passe par des institutions qui tentent de laisser le secteur privé exempt de réglementations, et les individus libres de leurs choix.

Dans une société néolibérale, il est donc inapproprié de trop encadrer les compagnies dont le modèle d’affaires rend carrément malade, que ce soit en invitant la population à ingérer des calories vides bon marché, en polluant l’air ou les cours d’eau, ou en exploitant des employés au statut précaire. Les entreprises doivent rester le plus libres possible dans leurs activités, et nous, en contrepartie, sommes libres d’y travailler ou pas, de consommer leurs produits ou pas.

Dans une société néolibérale, les professionnels de la santé nous parlent de changer nos choix de vie, de prendre des habitudes plus responsables. Mais il est incongru qu’un groupe de diététiciennes fassent une sortie commune contre l’abondance de malbouffe dans les chaînes de dépanneurs et la persistance des déserts alimentaires ; il est presque tabou que des médecins se mobilisent pour une réforme du Code du travail ; et il est impensable que la direction d’un CIUSSS demande plus d’espaces verts sur son territoire.

Dans une société néolibérale, le tout est fait d’une somme d’individus auxquels il faut séparément enseigner à choisir des aliments et des loisirs qui maximisent l’espérance de vie. Les membres du personnel soignant qui voudraient « prescrire » des lois, des politiques, des réglementations, des réformes institutionnelles pour améliorer la santé de toute une collectivité passent pour des hurluberlus. Celles et ceux qui préconisent l’action à la source, c’est-à-dire sur les déterminants sociaux de la santé, sont le plus souvent à la marge de leur ordre professionnel.

Dans une société néolibérale, l’individu est un agent rationnel, responsable de ses choix. Les individus qui font les moins bons choix sont donc moins rationnels, et moins responsables. Les inégalités sociales, notamment sur le plan de la santé, sont donc légitimes : les populations les plus amochées n’ont qu’à faire de meilleurs choix. Ces meilleurs choix sont surtout accessibles aux mieux nantis ? Il fallait aussi faire les bons choix de vie pour arriver à ce niveau de confort matériel qui permet de choisir le bio, de choisir le week-end en nature au chalet, de choisir de se renseigner sur les aliments bons pour prévenir le cancer. Il y a les gagnants, et il y a les perdants. Dans une société néolibérale, il y a de bonnes chances de tomber sur un médecin qui te soigne, certes, mais en te jugeant intérieurement de t’être rendu malade, avec tes choix de perdants.

Dans une société néolibérale, le rôle du gouvernement en santé publique, c’est au mieux de sensibiliser les individus à l’importance de faire les choix les plus gagnants possibles. Ce n’est certainement pas — un exemple comme ça — de réglementer plus sévèrement la qualité de l’air dans les écoles comme dans les usines, et de rendre l’environnement public et privé moins propice à la maladie.

Dans une société néolibérale aux prises avec une crise sanitaire, une partie de la population aura intériorisé ce gospel de la liberté individuelle et (surtout) d’entreprise. Des gens, donc, se braqueront contre une mesure sanitaire ou un vaccin parce qu’en les recommandant, le gouvernement outrepassera son étroit petit rôle de protection des choix des individus et (surtout) de la liberté des business. On s’insurge, en bref, contre le spectre menaçant d’un « gouvernemaman ».

Dans une société néolibérale aux prises avec une crise sanitaire, il y aura aussi des gens déjà critiques de la logique néolibérale qui se demanderont si les institutions obéissent trop au capital pour agir dans l’intérêt public. On a donc un groupe qui peut rejeter une mesure sanitaire non pas par dégoût de la solidarité sociale, mais parce que face à des institutions jugées « vendues », on préfère se fier à son propre jugement, à ses sources « alternatives », et se démerder seuls.

Avec ce deuxième groupe, on peut absolument parler de santé publique, parce que le souci du bien-être collectif est présent et partagé. Mais avec lui, il ne suffira pas de déplorer la désinformation ou de ressasser les dernières connaissances scientifiques pour rebâtir la sacro-sainte confiance à l’égard des institutions. Il faudra aussi admettre les failles du système, nommer ce qui n’y tourne pas rond, en altérer la logique. Non pas tenter de convaincre les individus, un par un, de faire des « choix » plus centristes, mais plutôt « prescrire » des changements institutionnels profonds. En commençant par un examen de ce néolibéralisme et de ses conséquences.

Source: Libres de quoi?

Speer: Let’s not prolong this pandemic for the sake of the expert class

An uncomfortable insight and a reminder how we all need to be aware of the incentives and motivations that affect our behaviour and positions:

I saw a fascinating tweet last week that reflected something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. University of Waterloo labour economist Mikal Skuterud wondered aloud whether the experts whose influence and profile have risen over the past twenty-four months or so may be consciously or subconsciously inclined to prolong the pandemic. 

Skuterud’s question doesn’t attribute malice or ill-intent. He’s not questioning whether academics or public servants would purposefully manipulate data or intentionally provide misleading advice. He’s making a far more subtle yet important point.  

He’s asking if our pandemic-induced emphasis on expertise may inadvertently create a powerful set of incentives in which these same experts may eventually find it challenging to surrender the sense of power and purpose that they’ve been given over the past two years. It’s a question worth asking.

As he rightly notes, the pandemic has necessarily elevated certain experts in our society. We’ve seen doctors, epidemiologists, and other public health experts come to have unprecedented influence over government policymaking and uncharacteristic prominence in the mainstream media and on social media. 

That’s somewhat natural in light of the circumstances. It’s to be expected that policymakers, the media, and the general population would come to value infectious disease experts in the face of a novel coronavirus. 

The result though is that a number of hitherto obscure academics and bureaucrats have never mattered this much before and probably never will again. It’s not normal for them to appear on television each day or increase their Twitter followings tenfold. 

Such a surge of influence and profile can bring with it a powerful set of incentives. It can contribute to a loss of perspective and an inflation of one’s ego. It can encourage individuals who may usually be scholarly and taciturn to be more quarrelsome and vehement. It can preference 280 characters over nuance. It can turn little-known academics into political actors. 

Skuterud’s question is therefore a good and honest one. How might this extraordinary yet temporary increase in the role of certain experts influence how they think about the pandemic and advise on pandemic-related policies including the continuation of public-health restrictions?   

The answer may lie in Public Choice theory, which the Nobel Prize-winning economist James Buchanan famously defined as “politics without romance.” Public Choice came about in the second half of the twentieth century under the intellectual influence of Buchanan, his regular collaborator, Gordon Tullock, political economist Mancur Olson, and various others. 

The basic idea is that our understanding of one’s motivations in the private economy ought to extend to his or her involvement in government, politics, and public policy. As economist Pierre Lemieux has succinctly put it: “He does not metamorphose into an altruist angel.” 

Most economic analysis starts with a basic premise: the market is comprised of rational actors pursuing their own self-interest. Yet these same assumptions about human behaviour aren’t always applied in the political sphere. The underlying presumption can be that activists, bureaucrats, and politicians are somehow beyond self-interest and are instead capable of making judgments about government policy without accounting for their own personal interests. 

Public Choice theory challenges this notion. It uses modern economics to analyse politics and political decision-making. It starts from the premise that different actors in the political process are self-interested agents who will seek to maximize their own utility function just like individuals do in the marketplace. 

In practice, it means that politicians may offer voters popular measures to get elected, public servants might conceive of new programs to obtain more funding and greater resources for their departments, and special interest groups—including unions and corporations—invariably lobby government to obtain new benefits such as tariffs to protect their businesses or laws or regulations that advance their own interests. 

This hardly seems like a revolutionary idea now. Public Choice theory has become a well-respected school of economic thought with a number of prolific exponents and a wide range of applications. But, at its infancy, it was seen as a radical proposition that brought into question the capacity of government to make collective decisions in the public interest.  

The consequence of Public Choice isn’t to challenge government’s basic legitimacy or reject it altogether. It’s instead a call for a clear-eyed assessment of the impulses and motivations behind different actors involved in politics and public administration. This extends to the experts and journalists who form part of the overall system and must be similarly understood as influenced by a broadly defined notion of self-interest. It’s not narrowly about monetary reward either—though financial gain may be a factor for some. It can extend to other rewards including influence, profile, or the sense of meaning and purpose that the pandemic’s emphasis on expertise has granted. 

It’s important to emphasize that this isn’t a description of moral failing. Recognizing the pull of self-interest isn’t a judgement of particular people in positions of authority. It’s an observation about human nature and the fact that government and politics are fundamentally comprised of humans and their inherent fallibilities. 

Which brings us back to Skuterud’s question. There’s no reason to think that most experts haven’t acted in good faith during the pandemic and sought to make a positive contribution to solving the extraordinary public health crisis. But, as Public Choice tells us, it’s also quite possible that at some level these incentives are shaping the questions that they’re asking, the data that they’re collecting, the analysis that they’re bringing to bear, or how they’re engaging in the public sphere.

The risk, of course, is that these forces come to obtrude collective decision-making and in turn prolong the pandemic. It’s hard to know the magnitude of the risk. But it’s presumably not zero. It must be something that we are cognizant of—especially as the policy choices become more complex and the subject of greater debate. 

The ultimate solution to the COVID-19 pandemic is imperfect: it will require a combination of critical thinking and judgement calls without any altruistic angels. This pandemic’s end will necessarily involve a series of trade-offs, calculated choices, and second-best options. It must in short be an exercise in a politics without romance. 

Source: https://thehub.ca/2022-01-20/lets-not-prolong-this-pandemic-for-the-sake-of-the-expert-class/?utm_source=The%20Hub&utm_campaign=dd5b5eb714-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2022_01_19_06_47&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_429d51ea5d-dd5b5eb714-475403886&mc_cid=dd5b5eb714&mc_eid=7832dd2817