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 the economy which supports us all.

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.”)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charlie Parker at Carnegie Hall in New York, 1947.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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