Recent Court Ruling Validates Two Public School Systems in Saskatchewan

While COVID-19 is dominating the news cycle, there are other stories out there. On March 25, for example, the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal ruled in a case involving a dispute between the public and separate school systems in Saskatchewan.

I’ve written on the case before in our print publication. It involves complex constitutional and practical issues that are beyond the scope of a simple blog post, but here’s a breakdown.

In 2003, a public school in Theodore was slated for closure by the local school board because of a declining student population. To avoid that happening, the town applied to join the separate system. That was subsequently done, and the school continues to operate today.

Continue reading “Recent Court Ruling Validates Two Public School Systems in Saskatchewan”

COVID-19: Houston, We’ve Had A Problem

Today’s post is only tangentially related to the COVID-19 outbreak.

If you check the calendar, this week marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 13 manned mission to the Moon. It launched on April 11, and followed two earlier Moon landings by Apollo 11 in July 1969 and Apollo 12 in November 1969. Unlike those missions, though, this one nearly ended in disaster.

In 1995, Apollo 13 was immortalized in a big-budget Hollywood movie directed by Ron Howard. Now, a researcher at NASA has put together a minute-by-minute audio-visual chronicle of the six-day mission. The chronicle features radio exchanges between the three-person crew and ground control at NASA, press conferences, even conversations between NASA officials and the astronauts’ families on Earth.

Continue reading “COVID-19: Houston, We’ve Had A Problem”

COVID-19: Will Political And Economic Interests Trump Health Concerns In The U.S.?

In a March 25 blog post, I touched on the Trump administration’s desire to restart the American economy by Easter. Fortunately, that idea was eventually shelved after intervention by public health officials who warned that loosening restrictions prematurely would cause the COVID-19 case count and fatalities to spiral out of control.

For now, that remains official government policy. But the idea of restarting the U.S. economy in the midst of the pandemic, as former Fox News “journalist” Bill O’Reilly might say, still has “legs”. Okay, that’s not exactly true. What O’Reilly actually did say on Sean Hannity’s radio show in arguing that the economy should be restarted is that many people who were dying were “on their last legs anyway.”

While definitely on the crude end of the spectrum, O’Reilly is far from the only Republican politician/supporter who has championed the idea of getting the economy up and running again. Desperate to repair damage being done to his re-election bid in November as criticism over his administration’s “handling” of the pandemic grows, Trump continues to tout the idea of re-opening the economy as soon as possible.

Continue reading “COVID-19: Will Political And Economic Interests Trump Health Concerns In The U.S.?”

COVID-19: Pandemic Puts Preppers In The Spotlight

So-called “preppers” are enjoying a moment in the Sun these days with their doomsday-style approach to life where they stockpile resources from food and fuel to guns/ammo (and maybe even toilet paper) in anticipation of societal breakdown where everyone is left to fend for themselves.

At it’s core, there’s obvious merit in people having some capacity to ride out a short-term disruption to normal life. From relatively minor upsets such as a weekend-long snow storm or an extended power outage to a more severe upset such as an earthquake or tornado, there are a range of events where people would benefit from having an emergency supply of food, water and other household items, along with some savings to draw on.

Many preppers, though, take that commonsense idea to a whole new level — one that accords more with apocalyptic fiction in the vein of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road where human existence essentially boils down to survival for the sake of survival.

Continue reading “COVID-19: Pandemic Puts Preppers In The Spotlight”

COVID-19: Make America Gracious Again

This is the third post in a row I’ve done on the United States, and fourth in five days. If I seem obsessed, it’s because it’s a big issue. It’s not every day that the world’s reigning superpower suffers an existential crisis.

What’s happening now is a wake-up call for the whole world. And we need to heed it! But it’s especially a wake-up call for the U.S. And for the sake of everyone else on the planet Americans need to heed it.

To put it simply, the U.S. has to join the 21st century. Step one is implementing universal healthcare and ensuring its citizens have a decent social safety net. It’s not charity, it’s just good public policy, so that in moments of crisis, like this one, people have the capacity to work together to keep their communities safe.

Continue reading “COVID-19: Make America Gracious Again”

COVID-19: Alt-Right Politics Finally Meets Its Match

Before Arizona Republican senator John McCain passed away from brain cancer in August 2018, he said one of his biggest political regrets was selecting Sarah Palin as his running-mate in the 2008 U.S. presidential election against Democratic nominee Barack Obama and running-mate Joe Biden.

What that effectively did was legitimize an emerging strain of virulent populism that was formally codified with the founding of the Tea Party in 2009. Backed by the conservative advocacy group Americans For Prosperity bankrolled by Texas oil barons David and Charles Koch, the Tea Party quickly infiltrated the Republican party at the state and federal level.

The supposed focus of the Tea Party was to shrink the role of government in American life. That’s in line with traditional Republican ideology. But the actual movement championed a renegade mix of policy positions that can be summed up in six words: God, guns, gays, abortion and fossil fuels. Gays and abortion, it presumably goes without saying, were verbotten, while the other three were regarded as indispensable to American society.

Continue reading “COVID-19: Alt-Right Politics Finally Meets Its Match”

COVID-19: American Snapshot

As of April 7 at 1 p.m. CST, the U.S. had recorded 388,421 COVID-19 infections and 12,393 deaths. New York and New Jersey are still the country’s viral hotspots, but Michigan, California, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Florida, Massachusetts and Illinois have all exceeded 10,000 infections. In the next few days, Georgia and Texas, and possibly Washington State, will join them.

In many ways, the U.S., with its fanatic mix of rugged individualism, evangelical Christianity where belief trumps science, and hyper-devotion to a capitalist ideal of personal enrichment and privilege without regard for the consequences to social unity, the environment and global cooperation between nations, is the perfect breeding ground for the virus.

The American attitude is epitomized by the months-long “strategy” of denial and deflection that the Trump administration has employed to deal with the pandemic (aided and abetted by the broader Republican party at the federal and state level, and their backers in right-wing media led by Fox News).

Continue reading “COVID-19: American Snapshot”

COVID-19: Animals May Be Vulnerable To The Virus Too

On Friday, I did a blog post offering some context on the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic and its relationship to the environmental challenges humanity is currently facing.

As was noted in the post, COVID-19 is part of the coronavirus family which exists in mammals and birds. If the right conditions are present, these viruses, along with many other viruses and bacteria that can cause serious illness, can transfer from animals to humans.

The official term for that zoonotic. Just as humans can fall ill from contact with infected animals, viruses that cause illness in humans can transfer to animals. And in recent days, we’ve seen indications that COVID-19 may be doing just that.

On Sunday, it was reported that a Malayan tiger at the New York Zoo had tested positive for the virus. Other tigers and lions at the zoo are also showing signs of illness.

Continue reading “COVID-19: Animals May Be Vulnerable To The Virus Too”

COVID-19: Evangelicals Put “Faith” Ahead Of Public Safety

Last Sunday, evangelical church leaders in several American states went ahead with services despite the potential threat of spreading the virus.

Back then, the Trump administration was still touting the fantasy of churches being full at Easter. The administration made an abrupt about face on Monday, when they were presented with stark projections that between 100,000 to 240,000 Americans could die from the virus in the next few months.

At that point, Trump extended the physical distancing guidelines to April 30. At the state level, though, some governors have undermined those efforts by exempting church services from the guidelines.

Generally, the governors that have done so head states where evangelical Christians are a major support base. And evangelicals have aggressively pushed back against any restrictions on their “freedom” to hold services.

Continue reading “COVID-19: Evangelicals Put “Faith” Ahead Of Public Safety”

COVID-19: Canadian Snapshot

Last Saturday, Canada’s COVID-19 infection  total stood at 4,757. Seven days later, that number has increased to 12,537. So far, 214 fatalities have been recorded.

Quebec remains the case leader with 6,101 infections, with Ontario in second spot with 3,255 infections. Ontario received some stark news yesterday, with the provincial government releasing projections that COVID-19 could lead to between 3,000 and 15,000 fatalities in the next 18 to 24 months.

British Columbia (1,174 cases) and Alberta (1,075 cases) both had relatively high totals compared to other provinces. Of course, those four provinces are the most heavily populated, and also have major international airports where Canadians flying home from the United States and other locations were being directed once the outbreak began to escalate.

As for Saskatchewan, our case total currently sits at 220. You can find a province-by-province breakdown at this Government of Canada website.

COVID-19: Pandemics ‘R Us

With the COVID-19 pandemic, the Chinese government has been criticized for attempting in the early days of the Wuhan outbreak to downplay its significance. Some of the criticism is fair, but the root cause of the pandemic goes much deeper than that. And if we’re to safeguard ourselves from future pandemics we need to be aware of what the cause is. Here’s a quick overview.

The COVID-19 virus is part of a family of viruses known as coronaviruses. They typically reside in mammals and birds, and are zoonotic, which means they can transfer from animals to humans.

Coronaviruses aren’t the only viruses/bacteria that have that capability. Rabies and the plague are two historical examples of diseases that transfer from animals to humans. More recently, there’s been Lassa fever (1969), Ebola (1976 and 2014-16), HIV (c. 1980) and assorted avian and swine flus — most recently, H1N1 in 2009. Then within the coronavirus family, we had SARS in 2003 and MERS in 2012.

Continue reading “COVID-19: Pandemics ‘R Us”

COVID-19: Global Infection Total Approaching One Million

Some time today, it’s likely that the number of COVID-19 cases in the world will exceed one million. We have a global population of 7.8 billion, so the total, in and of itself, isn’t especially remarkable. But what is remarkable is how the number has grown by leaps and bounds in recent days. And that trend, unfortunately, will only gather steam in the days and weeks to come.

As of April 2, the top ten countries for infections are the United States, Italy, Spain, Germany, China, France, Iran, United Kingdom, Switzerland and Turkey.

Canada currently sits at #15 on the list of infections, but several spots lower when it comes to fatalities. The global top ten there are Italy, Spain, the United States, France, China, Iran, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Belgium and Germany.

Brazil and Portugal have been “climbing the charts”, so to speak, so they will likely start appearing in the top ten soon. You can find updated totals for infections, fatalities, new cases and per capita figures here.

COVID-19: Conservative Governments Push Agendas While People Suffer

If I’d done a blog post last April 1 on all the gnarly stuff that is going on right now, it probably wouldn’t have passed the sniff-test for a moment before people dismissed it as an outrageously overblown April Fool’s Day prank.

I wish the same could be said about this April Fool’s Day post about how two reckless and irresponsible governments are using the pandemic as cover to further gnarly agendas that, in both instances, are major contributors to crisis we currently find ourselves in. Unfortunately, it’s all too real. Here’s a breakdown.

In a March 27 post, I noted how the Trump administration had taken the unprecedented step of waiving the need for U.S. corporations to observe Environmental Protection Agency regulations governing pollution. Yesterday, Trump and his Republican supporters doubled-down on their disdain for the environment by rolling-back fuel economy standards brought in by the Obama administration to help the country meet its Paris climate targets and reduce air pollution.

Continue reading “COVID-19: Conservative Governments Push Agendas While People Suffer”

COVID-19: Federal Relief Program Update For Workers And Businesses

When our blog coverage of this pandemic got going on March 20 it was noted that government responses were coming fast and furious. That’s remained true to this day.

On the federal front, the government is close to rolling out its promised programs to help workers and businesses cope with the economic fallout from the virus control measures that have been put in place.

Canada Emergency Response Benefit

This broad-brush program applies to anyone who has been laid off, is sick and is in quarantine, is at home caring for children and self-employed people who find themselves unable to earn income during the crisis.

To apply, you have to be over 15 and have earned $5000 plus in 2019 or the last calendar year (ie. March 2019 to March 2020). People who are currently on Employment Insurance are not eligible to apply, and if you’ve recently applied for EI your application will be folded into CERB.

Continue reading “COVID-19: Federal Relief Program Update For Workers And Businesses”

COVID-19: This Pandemic Is Exposing The Folly Of Magical Thinking

When I was growing up, one saying I remember hearing is “Opinions are like assholes, everyone has one.” The takeaway for me was that opinions were… whatever. What really mattered in deciding a question was real evidence, expert insight and logical conclusions.

What a difference two decades of alt-right and social media makes. Now, in the minds of some people anyway, a person’s “opinion” should carry equal and even greater weight than actual evidence collected, analyzed and vetted by well-educated scientists using state of the art instruments.

“I’m entitled to my opinion,” is how that sentiment is typically expressed. For a group that usually rages against “entitlement”, it’s especially ironic.

If we still lived as we did… oh, in Biblical times, or even the early 1950s, it maybe wouldn’t be a problem —at least, as big a problem as it is now. But we don’t live in Biblical times. Or the early 1950s. We live in 2020. And in our fast-paced technological world, we simply can’t afford to ignore what the scientific evidence  is telling us about our current reality on Earth.

Continue reading “COVID-19: This Pandemic Is Exposing The Folly Of Magical Thinking”

COVID-19: Self-Isolation and Physical Distancing

With all sorts of restrictions in place to promote self-isolation and physical distancing to reduce the spread of COVID-19, people are having to brainstorm new ways of passing time and engaging with family, friends and the broader community.

Cut off from touring, for example, Canadian musicians have been live-streaming performances to entertain fans. Likewise, galleries and museums have been inviting people to take virtual tours of their collections.

Various artists have been reaching out too, both to express solidarity with people going through tough times and to share their talent with the world. Patrick Stewart (a.k.a. Captain Picard from Star Trek: The Next Generation), for instance, has been doing online readings of Shakespeare’s sonnets. The choice is particularly appropriate given that in the year the sonnets were first published, 1609, London was in the grip of bubonic plague and theatres were closed.

One home-based activity I’d like highlight with this post is tied to citizen science. I did an article on it back in November 2015 and the important role ordinary citizens can play in helping professionally trained scientists to collect and analyze data to advance research projects.

Continue reading “COVID-19: Self-Isolation and Physical Distancing”

COVID-19: Canada In A Global Context [Updated]

As of this morning, the global number of COVID-19 infections has exceeded 620,000. With the virus just beginning to make inroads into heavily populated countries in Africa, Central and South America, and south-east Asia that number is expected to soar in the days to come.

The total number of cases in Canada currently sits at 4757, which puts us at #16 on the global list for infections. A major wild card for Canada is the border we share with the United States, which has surpassed China and Italy in recent days to become the world leader in infections. With tens of thousands of Canadians having recently rushed home from winter getaways in Arizona, Florida and other “snowbird” locations, and the virus having a 14 day incubation period, our numbers will surely jump.

At present, Quebec has the most infections at 2021 2498 — which is over twice as many as Ontario which currently has 993.

Continue reading “COVID-19: Canada In A Global Context [Updated]”

COVID-19: U.S.A. Now Leads The World With Most Infections

It’s probably not the “America First” that Donald Trump had in mind when he was on the campaign trail in 2016 — or maybe it was, at this point, who really knows?

As had been forecast for weeks, the United States has now surpassed China and Italy as the global hotspot for COVID-19 infections. When comparing the performance of different countries in combating the pandemic, as was noted in an earlier blog post, different geographic and cultural factors do come into play.

Regardless of where a country falls on the spectrum between personal freedom and collective responsibility, though, there has to be a balance. And that’s where the U.S. fails grievously in comparison with the rest of the developed world. Instead of providing a decent social safety net with proper health, education and material supports for its citizens, it’s this weird hybrid of a First World/Third World country.

And with COVID-19 in full-swing there, the nation’s inadequacies are on full (and shameful) display.

Continue reading “COVID-19: U.S.A. Now Leads The World With Most Infections”

COVID-19: Changes To Government Response Plans [Updated}

A few days ago we did a post about different actions governments have taken to grapple with the challenge of coping with the chaos caused by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Some of those measures, such as the GST and Canada Child Benefit top-ups,  the Indigenous Community Support Fund, income and property tax deferrals at the federal and municipal level, and a 10 per cent wage subsidy for businesses to keep people on the payroll*, are still in place. But some other measures have been updated.

Federal Government

On March 25, the federal government, with all party support, passed a revised $107 billion emergency package to provide relief to Canadian workers and business owners whose lives have been disrupted by the outbreak.

Continue reading “COVID-19: Changes To Government Response Plans [Updated}”

COVID-19: Cold Calculation

In addition to the toll the virus has taken on peoples’ physical and mental health, it’s exacted a huge economic toll. Around the world, stock markets have cratered and business has ground to a halt: putting many millions of people (small business owners and workers alike) at risk.

To provide short-term relief for Canadians, the federal Liberal government has stepped up with a $82 billion package to support business owners, families and workers who have had their employment impacted by the slowdown.

South of the border, U.S. Congress agreed Tuesday night to a $2 trillion stimulus bill after several days of political wrangling. The Democrats were concerned the bill focused too much on corporate interests and didn’t do enough to help ordinary Americans and provide support for much needed healthcare services.

The bill gives a one-time payment of $1200 to every American earning less than $75,000, and $500 per child. There is also $367 billion in support for small businesses to help make payroll, and $130 billion for hospitals.

The primary area of contention between the Democrats and Republicans was a $500 billion subsidized loan package for big business. As originally proposed by the Republicans, the hotels and golf resorts owned by U.S. president Trump would have been eligible for assistance. But the Democrats won a concession that businesses controlled by members of Congress and top administration officials — including Trump and his family — would not be eligible.

Naked self-interest aside, politics are also in play with this stimulus package. With November’s election looming, Trump is desperate to kick-start the economy to boost his re-election bid.

How desperate?

Continue reading “COVID-19: Cold Calculation”