Good morning, everyone, and welcome to the first issue of Bright Morning in 2021. We hope that you had good Christmas and New Year’s, and if possible, had the opportunity to spend some time with family and friends. We would also like to thank those of you who completed last week’s survey (click here to fill it out if you haven’t already). The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive and we seem to have landed on a formula that the audience enjoys. We appreciate your readership and look forward to continuing as the year progresses. Having said that, let us dive in, head first, into some stand-out stories from the week.
Ontario is shopping for a new Finance Minister
Last week, we wrote about some of the top “do as I say, not as I do” moments from politicians in 2020. Such a shame that we finished this list before the year’s end because, as fate would have it, the year closed with a story that arguably rivaled the hypocrisy of our favourite people, Eric Garcetti and Gavin Newsom. On December 31, Ontario Minister of Finance Rod Phillips resigned from his position as news broke out that he and his family had left for vacation to St. Bart’s on December 13, despite the interminable statements from the Ontario government to “stay home.” To rub salt in the wound, Phillips even went so far as to cover up his time sipping margaritas on the beach by posting a series of pre-recorded videos on his Twitter feed (including one uploaded on Christmas Eve where he is seated comfortably next to his fireplace) to give the illusion that he was, as he phrased it, “making sacrifices” by staying home. For its part, CBC has provided a good timeline of the scandal.
As can be expected in situations like this, Phillips was treated with kid gloves by his political friends. Premier Doug Ford admitted that he was aware of Phillips’ trip after he had already left the country, but did not approve of it. Ford later accepted Phillips’ resignation as Finance Minister when he returned home on December 31 (likely giving him the chance to step down to save face for the party), but Phillips will continue to serve as the MPP for Ajax. Toronto Mayor John Tory, the man whose permafrown makes him look like the father from Home Alone, even excused Phillips’ actions by stating that “everyone makes mistakes,” but that he “stands by his friends.” How heartwarming. Remember just a few weeks ago when Tory said that he hoped Toronto Police would “throw the book” at Adam Skelly for opening his restaurant in defiance of the Reopening Ontario Act? If only Tory could show the same level of generosity and forgiveness for a restaurant owner as he does for his millionaire political pal. But this is par for the course now. We mentioned this last week, but it is worth reiterating here: these leaders are not making mistakes. They are making conscious decisions to violate their own rules because they do not believe in their own rules. End of story. As Rex Murphy wrote in his column for the National Post, we are not all in this together and we never were. So why do we listen?
Conservatives vs. Conservatives: The COVID Relief Bill
The Nitty Gritty:
The United States congress passed a 1.4 trillion dollar spending bill that includes a 900 billion dollar stimulus package for COVID relief
At the 11th hour, President Trump suggested that the individual $600 stimulus checks going to families wasn’t enough and suggested $2,000 checks per person
This sparked much debate in the republican camp on what the actual solution to this “problem” is, while democrats were unsurprisingly overjoyed
Two weeks ago, we spoke about an ongoing debate between conservative camps. This debate is now manifesting in how these camps are responding to the infamous COVID relief bills that were recently passed by the United States Congress. The bills have been widely criticized for “wasteful spending” on foreign aid, most of which has absolutely nothing to do with COVID, while leaving American families with a mere $600.00 in relief. In his monologue on the issue, Tucker Carlson heavily criticized Republican Senator Lindsey Graham for being “really worried” about the state of gender programs in Pakistan (which the bill funds), yet having no concern whatsoever for the forced impoverishment of Americans via lockdown policies. If massive amounts of money from the federal reserve are going to be spent, why not spend it on Americans? Similarly, Senator Rand Paul questioned the long-term effectiveness of these bills. That is, what is the point of printing money and handing it out, whether it be to Americans or for foreign aid, while the economy continues to remain on hold? Is this not leaving behind a massive pile of debt for future generations to clean up? Why, exactly, is printing money the solution? Since we are all individuals capable of determining risk for ourselves, would reopening the economy and allowing businesses to operate not be a better solution? As the new year begins and issues like this continue to arise, this sort of political warfare shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, it will likely continue to grow as citizens become increasingly frustrated and disillusioned from the lack of attention given to their grievances.
The worst is behind us
The Nitty Gritty:
Raw mortality data from Europe shows an initial spike in excess deaths from the beginning of COVID-19 epidemic
Thankfully, data from this winter suggests that COVID-19 is no more deadly than a moderately bad flu season
Moving on, aside from our opposition to lockdown policies, we have been fairly tight-lipped about COVID-19. However, we would now like to present you with some summaries of data on the virus that will hopefully brighten your morning (get it?), if not your outlook on the upcoming year. Towards the end of last winter (beginning in March 2020 and lasting until May 2020), there was a noticeable spike in worldwide deaths compared to previous years. However, this spike was not much larger than the spike that we see in normal winters. Now that we are into the second winter with COVID-19, the total number of deaths appears to be on a similar trajectory to previous years (and it is now even trending downwards). When this gets broken down to look at individual countries, we can see a different pattern. That is, after an initial spike in deaths, the total number of deaths is stable when compared with previous years, regardless of season. Furthermore, each of these countries have had different policies and approaches to the virus, ranging from no lockdown restrictions or masks (e.g. Sweden) to full-blown, red alarm lockdowns, masks, and restrictions on gatherings (e.g. UK). In other words, we are not seeing excess deaths anymore. The worst of it is over and it has been for quite some time, regardless of location. In an era of alarmist and sensationalist headlines that would have us believe we are all subject to impending doom, disease, and death, this is good news. Less people have died than we feared. As well, we encourage you to look at our sources to make up your own mind (Ivor Cummins on YouTube has been a particularly valuable resource). Nonetheless, this is something that we can all look at with some optimism.
A message for the New Year
The start of a new year always brings with it the promise of something greater. After a year such as the one we just lived through, where our societies reached industrial strength levels of hysteria, it is only natural for us to believe that the following year will be better. A quick scan through Twitter and Instagram will reveal countless posts about how much things will improve for all of us in 2021. We do not believe it is unreasonable to have a sense of optimism for 2021, but this expectation must be managed wisely.
Humans are adaptable creatures. We might not be conscious of this at all times and in all situations, but we are surprisingly effective at adapting to challenges. Although this is good because it means we are more resilient than we might expect, it also has the downside effects where we become quick to forget, even quicker to rationalize, and therefore are susceptible to complacency. This is why, in spite of the overwhelming evidence against the effectiveness of lockdowns, a large segment of the population demands more restrictions. There are those who believe that we somehow deserve to be locked down, using borderline paganistic language and referring to the virus as a “sign from mother nature.” Even stranger are those who obsessively monitor the number of COVID cases each day, see an increase, and use this as an excuse to lambast others whom they have never met (all without realizing the myriad variables that influence case counts such as false positives, seasonality, and crossover with other coronaviruses).
If 2021 is going to be better, then we need to remember who we are and how much more meaningful our lives can be. We need to remember all the good things we had, and how much we had taken them for granted. We must also learn to recognize what is in our control. The virus is not in our control, but how we respond to it is. If we keep going at each other’s throats over the number of COVID cases each day, then all we are doing is distracting ourselves from the source of the problem: bad leaders and bad policies. We gave up our sense of control to bad leaders who did not respect that transfer of power, and look how that turned out. Time and time again, we have seen leaders shamelessly excuse themselves from their own rules, make exceptions for others on the grounds of their political ideology, and constantly reimpose tried and failed policies. If things are going to be better, then we must reprioritize ourselves. We cannot continue outsourcing our sense of responsibility to leaders who do not have our best interests in mind. Therefore, the best way to usher in a better year is to practice developing our sense of courage. Learn to stand up and speak up. Demand a return to normalcy, or at the very least, better solutions. Demand accountability. Write to your local representatives and propose ideas. At the same time, perhaps it would be healthier for us all if we wean ourselves off the daily COVID updates. At this point, it seems that their only function is to dump gas on the fire of collective hysteria. Perhaps this time could be better spent reading, cooking, walking outside, or talking with friends on the phone. Who knows, we may even find a deeper sense of meaning as we learn to make our voices heard and exercise more control over our lives. After all, responsibility is what our lives, and our societies, are all about.
Until next week, thank you all for reading and Happy New Year.