Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Questioning those who feel they are Questioning Conventional Wisdom in the COVID-19 Crisis

Youtube recommended the following video to me, so I watched.  After watching I posted a public comment, as I felt the video didn't live up to its fairly sensationalist title.

I find it interesting that a traditional media style sensationalist "Questioning Conventional Wisdom in the COVID-19 Crisis" headline was used.

What I didn't see was much questioning of conventional wisdom. Sure, laypersons in the media and the general public who haven't spent much time trying to understand either the medical or economic issues may think they have wisdom, but that doesn't make it wisdom. There are even people who are commenting along the lines of "Ya, they were wrong -- thanks for correcting the record" as if this were some sort of political partisan issue. But those of us who have been thinking about these things seem to all be on a fairly similar page.

This pandemic, or one like it, has been predicted for decades. Viruses are a fact of life, and the interaction between globalisation and these types of pathogens are fairly well understood.

Rather than carrying out any type of emergency preparedness, short-term thinking politicians even reduced funding to previously existing emergency preparedness programs. The higher health and economic costs of this pandemic is largely due to these deliberate policy decisions. The fact we can't quickly get the numbers to make better projections of the impact is largely due to these deliberate policy choices. I don't see this as lives-vs-lives (economic vs pathogen), but lives-vs-bad-policy. I expect the costs in terms of lives will be quite high, and only a percentage directly attributed to people catching COVID-19.

I believe Dr. Jay Bhattacharya has incorrectly articulated the issue in an important way, which is the lack of emergency preparedness was pretty much entirely a matter of short-term dollars. It was largely politicians wanting to reduce government spending that reduced the funding towards emergency preparedness, so whether the result is deaths from economic or health harm doesn't make much difference when it was short-term thinking money focused policy decisions that were the primary cause.

What policy decisions are made after this specific pandemic subsides will determine if anything useful was learned, or if deliberate policy decisions will be made that will cost future lives. This pandemic isn't a one-off, and I expect for a variety of reasons that this will become a fairly regular occurrence.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Think globally to help reduce harm from global health issues

In my last post I offered a geopolitical reply to a geopolitical opinion I disagree with. I was told that I was ignoring the facts, even though I wasn't disagreeing with facts, only a political interpretation of current events.

I thought I'd offer some context for my thinking, in case it will help convince others to take a more positive approach to these global health issues.

While I have lived all my life within Ontario, a province of Canada, I consider myself to be a human being who happens to live in a specific geographic region. As much as I can I try to live by "think globally, act locally", and to understand the different context in which other people live when trying to offer any support.

The most critical issues we face as humans are not confined within the political boundaries drawn up by political entities (countries, provinces, etc), so trying to solve them cannot be confined that way.

When looking at disease outbreaks there are many reasons why certain regions are more statistically likely than other regions, but the largest factor is population and the many other issues that come with that such as poverty.

Another Worldometer page, population by region, is informative. If you divide the world into 6 regions, you'll find that almost 60% of the population is in Asia, 17% in Africa, less than 10% in Europe, 8% Latin America and the Carribean, less than 5% North America, and .5% Oceania.

It should come as no surprise that models that predict the source of viruses, such as what we now know as SARS-CoV-2, will predict the higher population areas.

So, if China contains a large portion of the predictions, why not "blame" them?

I consider that to be an example of "think local, act global" where there is a belief that some alleged solution to a problem that would be relatively simple to implement in a sparsely populated region such as Europe or North American can be directly applied to more populous and complex regions such as Asia and Africa.

While North America has a growing problem of "vaccine hesitancy", one of W.H.O's Ten threats to global health in 2019, more populous areas have far more issues to deal with. India doesn't have the funding to provide everyone who wants vaccines with vaccines, with the funding and distribution of medical supplies being an issue. In Africa we have examples of medical sites being blown up given there is ongoing warfare in the region.

China has been doing better on financing, with a huge push in recent decades in becoming a much larger player in the global economy. It is no surprise that their rise economically, which could lead to better health outcomes in the region, is seen as a threat from minority-world economies in Europe and North America. At a time when we need greater transparency and dialog between and within the different regions, some local governments are focused on trying to break existing ties with majority-world countries.

This is why I consider blaming the governments or individual people within the majority world for the start of inevitable outbreaks to be counterproductive, when we should be doing everything we can to support the local governments in the most populous regions in the world. As I said earlier, blaming will only cause governments to keep secrets which is itself a threat to global health. We need information to be more freely flowing, and that requires the help of local governments that must be seen and treated as allies, not opponents.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

"X lied and people died" - how to help reduce harm from this pandemic and future crises

While most people are taking this specific crisis seriously, and coming together as communities and global citizens, there are still people who are wanting to play political games.  While we are all stressed, and not all acting as logically as we could, we need to all do our best to direct our energy towards helpful rather than harmful pursuits.

Everyone needs to recognise that this pandemic isn't human-made, and should be treated as a war against an invasion of this planet. The country that was attacked first was China, and from this every other country had warning that the battle had started. You might expect from having the least warning that China would be doing worse than everyone else, but they aren't. China has taken the fight very seriously, and has reduced war casualties in their region of jurisdiction.  They have also been actively engaged in information sharing with scientists and healthcare workers across the globe.  We need this global information sharing to continue.

There are some people who still want to try to point fingers at their global neighbours, and seek to blame them for deaths from this current pandemic. While scientists have been warning about pandemics for decades, and politicians largely ignored the warnings, blame is most often being deflected away from those who ignored the warnings and made us more vulnerable.

If you want to get an idea of how well different countries are doing in this global fight, and how accurate some of the blame-games are, I suggest the following. Go to the Worldometers Coronavirus website, and do a sort on the "Deaths /1M pop".  The number of deaths and population are two numbers that have more certainty than the other numbers presented.

At the moment the "World" number is 7.8.

I find it important to note that the two most populous countries, India and China, are both below this number. China is currently at 2, with India below 1. With India there is massive community support to fight this battle, and in China there are both community and central government initiatives.  Given that together they represent 1/3 of the world's population, we should globally be doing all we can to support them.

Canada is currently at 6, so close but still below the world number.

Countries which have a high percentage of angry finger-pointing are higher on the deaths/pop scale, suggesting they should be focused on helping resolve serious problems within their own country.

  • USA is currently at 22.
  • UK is currently at 64

These countries are not the worst off, with other financially rich western countries having higher numbers.

Countries whose politicians have been reducing funding to core infrastructure such as public scientific research, education and health have been making us more vulnerable globally.  The richer the countries the greater their contribution to global public research, education and health should be, but far too often the opposite is the case.

I agree that Canadian PM Justin Trudeau took a long time to close the borders with problematic regions, but it wasn't flights from China that I was worried about but people wondering across the Canada/US border. After generations of politicians and partisan media making people into science skeptics, it's the harm caused by those skeptics -- in Canada and elsewhere -- that I am most worried about.

My hope is that the survivors of this specific pandemic will start to take warnings from scientists more seriously. I am saying this specific pandemic as this is not expected to be a one-off event, and pandemics are not the only life threatening crisis that scientists have been warning about. The warnings about the climate crisis have also not been taken adequately seriously by politicians. We need to aggressively build up infrastructure to handle these crises, including making our economic and social infrastructure more robust, and stop pretending that outdated thinking is reasonable.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Should it be easy to find candidates for a leadership election that probably shouldn't happen?

I've read several articles discussing how hard it is to find good candidates for party leadership races. The federal Green Party and Conservative party, as well as some provincial parties, are looking for replacements for people who stepped down or were unreasonably kicked out.

I wonder if it is finally time to discuss whether we should be having these party-run leadership races at all?

In her chapter in Turning Parliament Inside Out, Elisabeth May reminded us that it wasn't until the 1974 federal election that party affiliations appeared on the ballots. The law also indicated that party leaders authorized candidates to have that party affiliation on the riding ballot. It was only in the latter half of the twentieth century that Canada broke from the tradition of the leader being decided by elected caucus members as is the case in most Commonwealth countries, and adopting a more US style of having party members elect the leaders.

The changes for the 1974 election happened during Pierre Elliott Trudeau's time as PM.  His time is widely seen as the beginning of the centralization of government power within the Prime Minister's Office (PMO), as well as centralization within the Office of the Leader of the Official Opposition (OLO) and other party leaders offices.

I strongly believe these changes have been very unhealthy for Canadian democracy, as the system that Canadians use to govern ourselves is entirely different than the US.

In the United States they have separate ballot questions for the Presidency, members of the House of Representatives, and Senators. They also have ballot questions for many other positions and ballot initiatives.

In Canada, we do not elect the government, our executive branch that is comparable to the US presidency. We rarely have referenda.

What we elect are members of the House of Commons, currently in 338 separate electoral district elections (although we have used multi-member districts in the past). The House of Commons then determines which party leader will become the Prime Minister, and the PM then selects their cabinet and is able to appoint many other positions (including Senators) which are directly elected in the United States.

Treating the position of Prime Minister as if it were remotely similar to the US President, and treating members of the House of Commons as if they were merely participants in the US Electoral College, are extremely dangerous concepts.

The only elected body Canada has is the House of Commons. The job of every parliamentarian who is not in caucus is to hold the government to account.   This is true whether that member has the same party affiliation as the PM, of a different party affiliation.

This is true of other party leadership as well, and caucus members are unable to hold leadership to account if the leaders believe they have a mandate from other than caucus.

The Samara Centre for Democracy reports on many aspects of our parliament. In a recent report they indicated there was a herd behavior in that. "the average MP voted with their party 99.6% of the time. The most rebellious MP in the 42nd Parliament: 96.6%." This doesn't at all sound like parliamentarians holding the government or their party leadership to account.

The centralization of power in leaders offices that comes with being confused whether this is the Canadian or US system of government leads to an unaccountable government as a majority of the house are unable to do their jobs.

The confusion about whether we are electing a Canadian parliament or a Canadian President has also lead the media and other groups to focus reporting on the leaders and the extremely harmful concept of "party popular vote" during general elections. This further makes members of parliament less accountable as they do not get the scrutiny and perceived mandate they require in order to do their jobs as the only elected part of our system of government.

As we do not elect a President in Canada, and members of parliament are critical to the functioning of accountable government, Canadians must abandon this extremely harmful confusion of thinking that we have a similar system to the United States. What we end up with is a series of party leaders that believe they have a mandate to do anything they want, and that the members of parliament have less of a mandate than the party leadership.

I have a few suggestions to return our system of government to being more accountable.

  • Immediately stop entertaining the idea that the general public or party tourists should have a vote in the leadership of political parties.
  • Return to leaders being elected by caucus members.  Some parties need a spokesperson during elections as they don't have a caucus member willing or able to be that spokesperson, but the leader should be decided by caucus.
  • Elections Canada must stop reporting on the harmful and inaccurate concept of "party popular vote". It has never been true that every possible vote for a party nominated candidate is an endorsement of the party or its leader. Hopefully the media and various interest groups will follow suite and stop discussing this concept. Hopefully some of these interest groups will stop promoting harmful electoral reform which seeks to optimize parliamentary seats to "party popular vote".
  • We should amend the law such that it is not the leader of the party that signs nomination papers. An alternative is for officials within the party to confirm riding associations as being party affiliated, and it be the riding association officials who are able to attach any party label to that riding's ballot. Another alternative is to revert to the pre-1974 ballot which did not include party affiliation.