Category Archives: Social Justice

Vaccine Justice

 

People are quick to criticize their political leaders when they don’t act firmly enough to get more vaccines into the arms of their constituents. I confess I have fallen prey to this weakness too, though I try to avoid this particular sin. Here in Canada, we are now vaccinating very low risk people, like children 12 years of age who have very little (but not none) risk of serious illness from Covid-19.  Partly we say that to justice protecting older people, even those who have been vaccinated once, but even those have a very low risk of serious illness.

 

Meanwhile in India health care workers on the front line of health services have no vaccine. As a commentator said on CBC radio, “We will have blood on our hands in Canada”.

If we don’t care about global justice—and it does seem like none of us care—perhaps we can care about new variants emerging in places like India which might make our vaunted vaccines less effective or even ineffective. When only about 1% of people in India have been vaccinated that leaves a lot of timber for the virus to work on and mutate into ever more dangerous variants. Should we not be sending vaccines to India for our own good?

Yet most of us, myself included want our second vaccine as soon as possible. Is our government not doing what we really want, just not what we feel good about wanting?

Ethics is complicated. Particularly when the disputants have a personal stake in the outcome of the debate.

Do you feel comfortable? I know I don’t. But so far, I haven’t done anything about it other than to post this blurb. Not much to be proud of.

 

Should we discriminate against Vaccine resisters?

 

I like Jimmy Kimmel. He is a funny. I don’t like vaccine resisters so much. Jimmy  had a funny rant on his show the other day. Here it goes as far as I got it:

“Now that the CDC has announced that with few exceptions vaccinated Americans don’t need to wear masks indoors, and since they did that there has a been a sharp increase in fake vaccination cases. Searches for fake vaccination calls are up more than 1,100% which is gross. Lets start calling these vaccine avoiders what they are—freeloaders! The only reason you are somewhat safe now is because other people got the shot. You’re the person who  who heads for the bathroom when the check comes in the restaurant. You’re the lady who takes home the centrepiece from a wedding you weren’t invited to.  You’re the guy that brings 5 napkins to a pot luck dinner. That’s you! You don’t know it, but that’s you.”

 

I agree with Jimmy. Now people claim vaccine passports discriminate against them, when they chose not to be vaccinated with free vaccine and let others take the risks of getting vaccinated. Some businesses for example, don’t want to let people in who have not been vaccinated. Why should they?  That’s not discrimination! That’s justice! We should discriminate against them.

Each of these people who declined to get vaccinated of their own choice increased the chances of the rest of us getting covid-19. Each of these vaccine resisters increased the chances of the coronavirus mutating into more dangerous variants of the virus even to the extent that the new variants might not be hindered by the vaccines we took. Each of them increased the risks of the coronavirus being passed on to us so that we could get sick (even very sick) and perhaps die because they were possibly going around without symptoms. In other words each of these vaccine resisters endangered the lives of all of us. Frankly, if they were just risking their own lives I wouldn’t care. Each one of these resisters also increased the chances that our health system would be overwhelmed which we are now experiencing in Manitoba. At least 18 Manitoba covid patients are now in hospitals s outside the province because people took unnecessary chances, such as not taking their vaccine. All of us are now paying a heavy price for that. Covid resisters are partly responsible for this. They took reckless chances and now are paying a price. Let them pay it.

We have the right to discriminate against these people just like we have the right to discriminate against drunk cab drivers and just like we have the right to take a ride from them no matter what the colour of their skin.

I say let them suck socks.

What is equitable Distribution of Vaccines?

 

Yesterday Chris and I got the first of our vaccine shots. Hooray! We didn’t ask if this was just or not. It was offered to us and we grabbed it.

 

No one asked whether the current system of vaccine distribution was actually fair or just. Such questions were off-side. This was an emergency. No one had time to think about justice. What an arcane concept. Every official concentrated on getting the medicine out as quickly as possible. Questions could be asked later when the job was done.

Now some interesting information is becoming available. Information is critically important in assessing actions. Good facts make good ethics. And there were some ethical issues.

Here is what Lindsay Glassco said,

“With the reality of our global interdependencies laid bare, the race for mitigation has already begun. A recent study found that equitable vaccine distribution was about more than ensuring all countries have a line of defence against the health impacts of COVID-19 — it is also our best line of defence against economic devastation.

 

In the most extreme scenario, with most wealthy countries vaccinated by the middle of this year and lower-income countries largely excluded, the global economy would suffer losses exceeding US$9 trillion.”

 

Money has a tendency to sharpen judgment. With trillions at stake, where are the ethics? Was the rush to fill arms with vaccines the right approach? Not according to the World Health Organization:

This is why the World Health Organization is advocating for an equitable response through the COVAX global vaccine sharing initiative. While one country’s vaccination strategy may keep its citizens safe temporarily, the heightened risk for virus spread and mutation in unvaccinated countries can continue to grow, eventually crossing borders. Within a few weeks, or even days, we could find ourselves in the same situation we were a year ago — or worse.

 

It is only natural that all of us (except for the sceptics) want the vaccine as soon as possible. We want it for ourselves and our loved ones. That is only natural. And we won’t spend a lot of time thinking about whether anyone should get it before we do, or at the same time. As a result, neither will our governments. The politicians can see by our actions what we want. We want justice for ourselves and families immediately. Once we are all safely inoculated we can discuss what we should do for others. Not now.

Many Canadians have learned what it is like to live in a pandemic coupled with a severe loss of jobs. People are suffering. Either from the disease, or the economic costs of the lockdowns. It is understandable that people want their political leaders to look after these issues and keep their eyes on the ball at all times. This, to most Canadians, is a time for action, not a time for justice. As Lindsay Glassco said,

“As a result of COVID-19, for the first time in many of their lives, Canadians are experiencing some of the hardships that millions of people in other countries face every day — children out of school, economic disruptions, sickness and disease, and scarcity of resources — leading even to hoarding. While these hardships are experienced to varying degrees, their existence is eye-opening and powerful for many.”

 

Yet, at the same, many of us can see, that we are all in this together. None of us want to be seen as hoarders. We mocked hoarders of toilet paper. We felt sadness for hoarders of vaccines. We have deep empathy for “front line workers,” who are putting their lives on the line for the rest of us every hour of every working day. Some of us even feel a modest twinge of guilt. Not enough  to get us to change places with those “essential” front line workers we claim to cherish so deeply.  At least we want to say we feel connected to them, even if none of our actions show that this is true.

Personal interest does not usually sharpen our moral compass. Rather it often dulls it.

Flattening the Curve for Rich People: Wall Street, Main Street, or Willow Place?

 

Once again Wall Street is doing much better than Main Street. Th at should not surprise anyone.  And Wall Street is doing even much better than Willow Place. This is always an interesting phenomenon. In my view this will always happen in a system that permits plutocracy, and even worse in a system that encourages plutocracy. If we left the rich rule they would do what is in their best interests. It really is that simple.

As Scott Galloway said,

“As a nation we suffer from an idolatry of innovators. And we personify companies and believe that it all starts with the shareholders. The shareholder class is the premier class and as long as the economy is strong everything will fall into place. And we measure the economy’s health by these dangerous indices called the Nasdaq where 90% of the stock are owned by the top 10%. The Nasdaq and the Dow are not indicators of the health of our economy; they are proxies for how well the wealthy are doing. And–spoiler alert–they’re killing it.”

Again no one should be surprised by this. We have a system that is designed by the wealthy for the wealthy and inevitably such a system will deliver the goods to the wealthy. Our system does that well.

Another problem Galloway draws to our attention is that private power has been unleashed as a result deregulation. As he said, as a result of regulators doing nothing,

“… we end up with a lot of private power that has now overrun government. There are now more full-time lobbyists from Amazon that are living in Washington D.C. than there are sitting US Senators. There are more people manicuring Sheryl Sandburg and Mark Zuckerberg’s image in the communications department of Facebook than there are journalists at the Washington Post. So, we now have a situation where if you look across the market at the S&P 500, the 50 biggest companies are up for the year, the companies in the middle are down in the high single digits and the smallest 15 companies are down in double digits. We have decided that companies are either big tech monopolies, or too big to fail. That is our priority. And the wealthiest cohort in America small business owners have received one of the largest bail-outs. There will be very well publicized examples of the owners of a cupcake bakery that made it through the other end, but mostly what PPT has done is two things. Not giving  bridges to small business but giving  them piers where they are still going to go out of business, but we have just kicked the can down the road. This economy is reshaping. It’s coming down differently. And two, we have flattened the curve for rich people. Small business owners are millionaires typically, and there was no reason they needed a bailout. The big mistake here, looking back, will be we should have protected people not companies. We should have put money in the hands of people and then let them decide  what businesses survive and what perish. Capitalism and rugged individualism on the way up and cronyism and bailouts on the way down is just cronyism. It doesn’t help the economy. And money is nothing but the transfer of time and work and all we’ve decided is that we want our kids and grand kids to spend less time with their loved ones such that wealthy people now can stay wealthy.”

 

Keep the wealthy being wealthy. That is what is happening with cronyism. Is this what modern capitalism is all about?

Lessons from e-commerce

 

 

In e-commerce it took years for the kind of growth we have seen lately. It is astonishing. I hate what Amazon is doing to small businesses around the world. I hate the thought of giving any more money to the richest man in the world (or second richest) whose employees have to wear diapers to work because they are not given enough time to go to the washroom.

Before the pandemic Jeff Bezos was earning $1 million every 50 minutes now he is doing much better than that and I have helped him out, as have millions of others. We have done that because we came to realize how convenient it was to shop from Amazon. For many things we don’t really have to go to a store to look them over. Ordering them from our homes for some of us is just easier, simpler, and cheaper.  Other businesses will have to learn that we have learned something during this pandemic and if they don’t change, we will change where and how we shop. Not for everything but for many things. Capitalists had better innovate or they will be left on the dust heap. Capitalist always say that is what they are good at. Let’s see if that’s true.

That does not mean all has been rosy. As Hari Sreenivasan pointed out to,

“It has been a boon for those who could afford it. There has been a blue collar pandemic and a white collar pandemic. For the white collar people it was great.  I can get everything from Instacard and Amazon. But if you’re an essential worker that doesn’t really apply to you.’

For others not so much. And some of us still care a little bit about fairness. Fairness and competition.

Scott Galloway is a professor Marketing who was interviewed by Sreenivasan on Amanpour & Company and he agreed completely:

“If you’re in the top 10% of income earners there is no change in employment. It means you’re no more vulnerable than you were before the pandemic. There’s a 60% likelihood you can work from home. You can spend more time with your family. You maybe got 10 hours back a week. If you make less than $40,000 a year, 40% of those people have lost their jobs and less than 10% can work from home. You don’t like to say this out loud, but if you’re in the top 10% and you’re blessed with good health you’re most likely spending more time with Netflix, your kids, and less time commuting, and by the way your stocks are probably up and I would argue that a lot of the stimulus unfortunately hasn’t been about arresting the pandemic, and helping our neediest, it’s been about flattening the curve for rich people. The savings rate in American has never been higher. The Nasdaq has never been higher. If you do a google search for covid and markets you’ll find more articles than if you do covid and mortality. It’s as if as a nation our priorities are reflected in our spending. The velocity of death is unprecedented. More people are dying every day from this than any crisis in history! And that’s meaningful. But what would be profoundly tragic would be if the Nasdaq declines! At least that’s what our spending seems to indicate. We want to save restaurants but not keep schools open. We seem to want to ensure that the markets are washed in liquidity and people are wanting stimulus, but we aren’t protecting people. We see infection rates rise. And we see our health professionals wanting for PPE equipment. It does definitely seem that we have decided that corporations are people and they are the ones that we have to save.”

 

And remember all of this is not coming from some crazy leftwing extremist. This is coming from a self-described enthusiast for capitalism. He is an insider. He likes the system. Perhaps not as much as Zwaagstra does, but he is no bleeding socialist. He just thinks the current system sucks. It sucks because the rich people are swimming in cash while those who are not are taking their chances serving the rich people. They are called essential workers, but they are not paid like it.

Billionaires do Great; Poor people suffer

 

While billionaires like Jeff Bezos have seen their wealth explode (again) during the Covid—19 pandemic, poor people have suffered the most (again). Poor people are feeling the brunt of the ill effects of the pandemic. Funny how that happens.

I recently  heard a very interesting interview with Mariana Mazzucato Professor of Economics at University College in London. She  wrote a book called The Value of Everything. I assume the title is a reference to a famous  quote by Oscar Wilde, that “a cynic knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing.” I actually have used that line to describe some conservatives I know. With some justification I might add.

 

At the time she was speaking on the television show she said that just as 8 million case of Covid-19 have been experienced in the US, 8 million people have dropped down below the poverty line. At about the same the average wealth of billionaires had gone up by 25%. More than a million people had died and 38 million people infected (at the time of the interview). Many more since then, of course.  According to the Gates Foundation at the time 37 million people around the world had been pushed from poverty into extreme poverty! That means they earned less than $1.90 per day. Meanwhile the rich are getting much richer. Meanwhile conservative politicians think everything is fine and no changes are needed. That is what my own member of Parliament, Ted Falk believes.  with enthusiasm he believes that. In fact any suggested changes must mean the crypto-communists are trying to turn our country into a communist hell.  

Why does it have to work that way? The short answer is that it doesn’t have to work that way, it works that way only because we allow it to work that way.  We keep electing politicians like Ted Falk. That is the system the well to do, together with their political minions, want to conserve. That is the essence of modern conservatism. Everything is fine for us, so everything is fine.

Don’t listen to smug Conservatives

 

The Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, has been severely criticized by conservative politicians including even my own Member of Parliament, Ted Falk, for suggesting that we should take advantage of the Covid-19 crisis to reset our economy and make it fairer. To conservatives, who by definition love the status quo because it has allowed them and their cronies to prosper, they ask ‘why change what is perfect?’  Any contrary suggestions are viewed by them with deep suspicion for it can only mean those nasty liberals and socialists want to use Covid-19 as an excuse to take over the economy.

Here is a statement by Trudeau that triggered hysteria from my political representative. It was a statement by our Prime Minster Justin Trudeau as follows:

“This pandemic has provided an opportunity for a reset…This is our chance to accelerate our pre-pandemic efforts to reimagine economic systems.”

 

Here is the response of my fear filled Member of Parliament to such a suggestion:

“For Justin Trudeau, COVID-19 is an opportunity to impose his radical “reset” agenda. Mr. Trudeau’s speech seemed a clear indication that Canada was on board with whatever the UN was recommending…  Justin Trudeau’s consistent willingness to sell out Canadian sovereignty to unelected UN bureaucrats should be a cause for great concern for all Canadians.   With our economy in tatters, it is almost unfathomable the level of delusion it would take to think that following the UN’s lead into some sort of global eco-socialist utopia is the answer to our economic woes—unless of course, you’re Justin Trudeau.”

 

Falk of course dredges up old tropes that the Conservatives in the US see as dastardly.  We could ignore that, but there is a larger question here that should be addressed. Are the economy and social system  so great that they  cannot be improved upon? Let’s take a look how others besides comfortable white businessmen, like Ted Falk are doing.

First, and most important, is the stunning impact of Covid-19 on seniors in long-term care facilities. For now, I will look at Manitoba, but the issues occur everywhere in Canada. In fact, I want to look at one main facility—the Maples—a privately owned and operated facility in Winnipeg. It was the scene of a horrific outbreak of Covid-19 that shocked our province. In a private long-term care facility of about 200 residents, in November of 2020 the outbreak led to the severely short-staffed facility asking Health Manitoba for help to deal with the critical outbreak. At first that call went unheeded. That led to 56 residents dying before it was adequately dealt with.  That is more than 25% of their residents who lived there! In fact, at one time 8 residents died in 48 hours! 26 died in 28 days! For years in Manitoba the care of senior’s has been outsourced to companies like Revera Inc., the private operator of the Maples, to presumably save on costs so that the province could avoid increases in funding for about a decade. Does that really save money? Is it worth the savings if they are real?

Then there are indigenous people in Manitoba. The indigenous people in Canada are typically the ones hardest hit by any widespread catastrophe. Canadians have come to expect that.

The chief and council of Pauingassi First Nation shut down their band operations, closed schools, prohibited public gatherings and required residents to stay home after they declared an outbreak of COVID-19 earlier last month. The small and remote First Nations community has less than 500 people living on the reserve. Recently almost a quarter of them, 118 people, tested positive for covid-19. After they tested positive many of them had to leave for Winnipeg where they could get treatment unavailable on the reserve.

This shows what has been happening in northern Manitoba as during the past few weeks regularly more than 50% of the new covid-19 cases were discovered on northern First Nation reserves even though only 10% of Manitoba’s total population is indigenous! As of February 19, 2021, 2/3rds of Manitoba’s total Covid-19 sufferers were indigenous. As well 1/3rd of Manitoba’s Covid-19 patients in Manitoba were indigenous and 1/3rd of Manitoba’s patients with the most severe effects in Intensive Care Units were indigenous.

Why is that?  Probably the cause of this disparity is that so many indigenous people are poor in comparison to average Manitobans. As a result, they have less access to quality care and live in housing that is frequently severely overcrowded. In Manitoba, there is almost a 20-year difference between the average age of people who die from Covid-19 that are indigenous and those who are not. Indigenous people die younger from Covid-19 and in comparison to non-indigenous people, they die in droves.

Yet at the same time 2/3rd of Manitoba First Nation communities were Covid-19 free. Imagine what would happen if more contracted it. In my opinion the reason so many are Covid-19 free is that they are so remote. If they were not so remote more of them would have Covid-19 and then inevitably, the consequences would be disastrous in each of those communities. These are troubling statistics and point to some serious inequities in Canadian society. Inequities that smug politicians like my Parliamentarian Ted Falk are loath to notice. He is worried instead about the UN leading us to eco-socialism thanks to our leftie Prime Minister.

Conflicting Stories; Colliding Freedoms

 

We are hearing a lot of conflicting stories about Covid-19 and its variants and the vaccines. In Europe it seems like the pandemic has fresh legs that make it spread widely again, with more raging force than ever before. Yet in Manitoba we are “cautiously” opening up according to our Chief Medical Officer Brent Roussin. Is this really cautious? Why does he not think the same thing that is happening now in Europe won’t happen here too? I hope he is right, but I fear he is wrong. I hope he is not feeling the pressure from religious people like those in the Church of God Restoration outside of Steinbach, and others, that want to open up faster.

Yet the Winnipeg Free Press today reported,

“CANADA’S chief public health officer said Sunday that the collective efforts to fight COVID-19 are paying off, even as the country sits at a “critical juncture” in the fight against fast spreading variants.

Dr. Theresa Tam said on Twitter that COVID-19 disease activity continues to decline and vaccination is heading in the right direction.

“Our collective effort has begun to tip the balance in our favour,” she wrote. But she said Canadians need to maintain COVID-19 precautions to protect each other, especially as cases of more contagious variants are mounting across the country.”

On the other hand, the same article reported that “The faster-spreading COVID-19 variant first discovered in the United Kingdom has made its way into some schools in British Columbia, health officials announced late Saturday.”

 

Is that not concerning, considering what we know about the new variants of Covid-19?  I know vaccines help, but frankly not many Canadian arms have received it. I would feel a lot better if they did.

Of course, as we all know Covid-19 is amplifying existing inequities. That same article reported on this issue as follows:

” In a message published Sunday, Tam noted that COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on racialized communities. She said cases are 1.5 to 5 times higher in racialized communities in Toronto and Ottawa, while people living on First Nations reserves have a 69 per cent higher rate of infection compared to the general population.

“These disproportionate impacts among racialized and Indigenous communities are not due to biological differences between groups or populations,” she wrote.

“Rather, they reflect existing health inequities that are strongly influenced by a specific set of social and economic factors — things like income, education, employment and housing that shape an individual’s place in society.”

She said it’s imperative to work to fight racism in workplaces, education and health and social services systems, which she said has contributed to vaccine hesitancy in some communities and helped to create the inequitable living and working conditions that make some groups more susceptible to COVID-19.”

 

Often, I think William Faulkner was right: “We can never catch up with injustice.” But, I wish our religious people would not divert the attention of our health officials from fighting Covid-19 to dealing with their demands that they deal instead with their dubious claims of infringement on their religious freedom. I wish those religious zealots instead spent more time working to eradicate social injustice. Would that not make God happier?

You will never catch up with Injustice

 

William Faulkner once said ‘you will never catch up with injustice.’ Truer words have never been spoken.

 Kyle Hiebert had some important things to say in a recent opinion piece in the Winnipeg Free Press. Here is the opening paragraph of that piece:

“With numerous national COVID-19 vaccine programs underway, the world has potentially entered the final chapter of the pandemic. That is, however, if you are lucky enough to be living in a country that has access to a vaccine. For billions of people around the world, that is not the reality.”

 

In the west we worry that our political leaders have not scrambled hard enough, quickly enough, and with enough ferocity to get our “fair share” of the vaccines. Of course in each country or each jurisdiction “fair share” means gross excess. No one is satisfied with fair. This attitude is spreading around the world like a pandemic. Funny how that happens.

Africa has been warned that they may not see the vaccines until the latter part of 2021.  According to Hiebert, here is the harsh reality and we should look at it, even though we may hate to do that:

“…advocacy groups warned that in more than 60 of the world’s poorest nations, nine in 10 people will be denied a vaccine before 2022. Other assessments say the wait could be as long as until 2024. Instead, wealthy nations representing a mere 14 per cent of the world’s population have snatched up billions of doses of different vaccines through pre-purchase agreements with a range of manufacturers, accumulating stockpiles grossly disproportionate to their population size.”

 

As has been happening over and over again during this pandemic we are seeing the existing inequities in our societies repeatedly exposed if not magnified. What shocked me though is which country is the worst offender? USA? Russia? Turkey? No. Canada!

As Hiebert said,

“The world’s worst offender: Canada, which — while failing at developing its own domestic vaccine production capacity — pre-purchased enough jabs to inoculate its population five times over. The Trudeau government has now belatedly announced that Canada would donate $485 million to COVID- 19 mitigation efforts in developing countries.”

 

Now in fairness to Canada, our federal government took the initiative and risk and ordered vaccines from a number of corporations on speculation hoping that some would work out well, but expecting that not all would work out at all. It spent a lot of money contractually agreeing to buy vaccines that might have turned out to be worthless. It did that to protect Canada who lacks the capacity to produce its own vaccines. We Canadians are likely happy they did that. But now—perhaps—we have too much. I hope we do the right thing now and help less advantaged countries get their fair share too.

Countries like Canada must do their part to bring about justice. Attitudes of Canada First or America First have their dark sides that ought not to be ignored and should be limited. We have to remember that we actually are in this together. Until the poorest country tackles this disease it can come back to haunt those countries that thought they survived the worst. As well, all world economies now rely on international trade and if poor countries suffer they won’t be able to buy good from rich countries and as a result all economies will suffer.

Kyle Hiebert summed the issues up well this way:

“The end of the pandemic may be within sight — for some. But even in the post-pandemic era, the myopic outlook of rich countries in terms of security and prosperity will continue to threaten the world’s ability to become a safer, more equal and more sustainable place.”

May be then we can at least see injustice and do something about it, even if we can’t run it down.

Economic Nonsense

 

There is one person in our family—and only one—that as soon as she is required to go for a Covid-19 test, she will get it immediately. She moves to the head of the line. And she gets her results the same day. She gets that benefit because she is important. The work she does is important. She is a care worker in a long-term private care facility for mentally challenged adult men. I agree with that. This is important work. If no one is on the job these men can’t survive. If she is not on the job it is not that easy to get a replacement.  Who wants to do such work? Who wants to change the diapers of adult men? Who wants to work shifts often through the night for low wages? I believe she also has the longest seniority of anyone in our family. She has worked there for many years.

Yet—and this is the interesting part—she is nowhere near the highest earner in our family. Rather she is woefully under paid. This is totally unfair. Our health care system recognizes her importance. Our economic system does not. That is also woeful. We bad. This is nonsense!