AP News in Brief at 12:04 a.m. EDT

NYC virus deaths exceed 4,000, topping toll for 9-11 attacks

NEW YORK (AP) — New York City’s death toll from the coronavirus rose past 4,000 on Tuesday, eclipsing the number killed at the World Trade Center on 9-11. In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson lay in intensive care, believed to be the first major world leader hospitalized with the virus.

The twin developments came even as the crisis seemed to be easing or at least stabilizing, by some measures, in New York and parts of Europe, though health officials warned people at nearly every turn not to let their guard down. After 76 days, China finally lifted the lockdown on Wuhan, the city of 11 million where the outbreak began.

COVID-19’s toll in New York City is now more than 1,000 deaths higher than that of the deadliest terror attack on U.S. soil, which killed 2,753 people in the city and 2,977 overall, when hijacked planes slammed into the twin towers, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field on Sept. 11, 2001.

New York state recorded 731 new coronavirus deaths, its biggest one-day jump yet, for a statewide toll of nearly 5,500, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.

“A lot of pain again today for many New Yorkers,” he said.

___

Trump blasts world health group, defends early virus steps

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump on Tuesday threatened to freeze U.S. funding to the World Health Organization, saying the international group had “missed the call” on the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump also played down the release of January memos from a senior adviser that represented an early warning of a possible coronavirus pandemic, saying he had not seen them at the time. But he turned his anger on the WHO, first declaring that he would cut off U.S. funding for the organization, then backtracking and saying he would “strongly consider” such a move.

Trump said the international group had “called it wrong” on the virus and that the organization was “very China-centric” in its approach, suggesting that the WHO had gone along with Beijing’s efforts months ago to minimize the severity of the outbreak. The WHO has praised China for its transparency on the virus, even though there has been reason to believe that more people died of COVID-19 than the country’s official tally.

“They should have known and they probably did know,” Trump said of WHO officials.

Throughout his presidency, Trump has voiced skepticism toward many international organizations and has repeatedly heaped scorn on the WHO. In its most recent budget proposal, in February, the Trump administration called for slashing the U.S. contribution to the WHO from an estimated $122.6 million to $57.9 million.

___

China’s virus pandemic epicenter Wuhan ends 76-day lockdown

WUHAN, China (AP) — After 11 weeks of lockdown, people went outdoors and by the thousands boarded the first trains and planes leaving Wuhan as the last restrictions on movement were lifted Wednesday in the Chinese city where the coronavirus pandemic began.

Wuhan’s unprecedented lockdown was a model for countries trying to stop the coronavirus. With the restrictions ending, Hubei’s provincial capital begins another experiment: resuming business and ordinary life while preventing more illnesses.

The city’s 11 million residents are now permitted to leave without special authorization as long as a mandatory smartphone application powered by a mix of data-tracking and government surveillance shows they are healthy and have not been in recent contact with anyone confirmed to have the virus.

The occasion was marked with a light show on either side of the broad Yangtze River, with skyscrapers and bridges radiating animated images of health workers aiding patients, along with one displaying the words “heroic city,” a title bestowed on Wuhan by president and Communist Party leader Xi Jinping. Along the embankments and bridges, citizens waved flags, chanted “Wuhan, let’s go!” and sang a capella renditions of China’s national anthem.

“I haven’t been outside for more than 70 days,” said an emotional Tong Zhengkun, who was watching the display from a bridge. Residents in his apartment complex had contracted the virus, so the entire building was shut down. He couldn’t go out even to buy groceries, which neighbourhood workers brought to his door.

___

Wisconsin voters wait for hours, others stay home amid virus

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Despite federal health recommendations, thousands of Wisconsin voters waited hours in long lines outside overcrowded polling stations on Tuesday so they could participate in a presidential primary election that tested the limits of electoral politics in the midst of a pandemic.

Thousands more stayed home, unwilling to risk their health even as Republican officials pushed forward with the election amid a stay-at-home order. But many of the potential voters who remained in their homes complained that the absentee ballots they had requested never showed up.

Pregnant and infected with the coronavirus, 34-year-old Hannah Gleeson was still waiting Tuesday for the absentee ballot that she requested last week.

“It seems really unfair and undemocratic and unconstitutional,” said Gleeson, who works at an assisted-living centre in Milwaukee. “I think it’s voter suppression at its finest.”

Polls closed Tuesday night, but a court ruling appeared to prevent results from being made public earlier than next Monday to ensure absentee ballots are counted.

___

Trump upends virus oversight, removing key official

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is moving aggressively to challenge the authority and independence of agency watchdogs overseeing his administration, including removing the inspector general tasked with overseeing the $2.2 trillion coronavirus rescue package that passed Congress with bipartisan support.

In four days, Trump has fired one inspector general tied to his impeachment, castigated another he felt was overly critical of the coronavirus response and sidelined a third meant to safeguard against wasteful spending of the coronavirus funds.

The actions have sent shock waves across the close-knit network of watchdog officials in government, creating open conflict between a president reflexively resistant to outside criticism and an oversight community tasked with rooting out fraud, misconduct and abuse.

The most recent act threatens to upend scrutiny of the $2.2 trillion coronavirus rescue effort now underway, setting the stage for a major clash between Trump, government watchdogs and Democrats who are demanding oversight of the vast funds being pumped into the American economy.

“We’re seeing since Friday a wrecking ball across the IG community,” said Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, a government watchdog group.

___

Navy boss resigns amid uproar over firing of ship captain

WASHINGTON (AP) — Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly resigned Tuesday, bringing to a climax an extraordinary drama that he advanced by delivering a profanity-laced upbraiding of the officer he fired as captain of the coronavirus-stricken USS Theodore Roosevelt.

In announcing the resignation, Defence Secretary Mark Esper said Modly quit on his own accord, “putting the Navy and the sailors above self,” so the Navy and the Roosevelt can move forward. The Roosevelt is sidelined in port at Guam as members of the crew are tested for the coronavirus and moved ashore.

“His care for the sailors was genuine,” Esper said.

Esper said he briefed President Donald Trump on his conversation with Modly, and with the president’s approval he is appointing James McPherson as acting Navy secretary. McPherson, a Navy veteran, is currently serving as undersecretary of the Army. He was confirmed in that position by the Senate last month.

Esper called McPherson a “smart, capable and professional leader who will restore confidence and stability in the Navy during these challenging times.”

___

Court drops rape, other charges against megachurch leader

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A California appeals court ordered the dismissal of a criminal case Tuesday against a Mexican megachurch leader on charges of child rape and human trafficking on procedural grounds.

Naasón Joaquín García, the self-proclaimed apostle of La Luz del Mundo, has been in custody since June following his arrest on accusations involving three girls and one woman between 2015 and 2018 in Los Angeles County. Additional allegations of the possession of child pornography in 2019 were later added. He has denied wrongdoing.

While being held without bail in Los Angeles, García has remained the spiritual leader of La Luz del Mundo, which is Spanish for “The Light Of The World.” The Guadalajara, Mexico-based evangelical Christian church was founded by his grandfather and claims 5 million followers worldwide.

It was not clear when he would be released.

The attorney general’s office said it was reviewing the court’s ruling and did not answer additional questions.

___

Celebrated singer-songwriter John Prine has died at 73

John Prine, the ingenious singer-songwriter who explored the heartbreaks, indignities and absurdities of everyday life in “Angel from Montgomery,” “Sam Stone,” “Hello in There” and scores of other indelible tunes, died Tuesday at the age of 73.

His family announced his death from complications from the coronavirus; he died at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee.

His wife Fiona said last month that she had tested positive for COVID-19 and she has since recovered, but her husband was hospitalized on March 26 with coronavirus symptoms. He was put on a ventilator and remained in the intensive care unit for several days.

Winner of a lifetime achievement Grammy earlier this year, Prine was a virtuoso of the soul, if not the body. He sang his conversational lyrics in a voice roughened by a hard-luck life, particularly after throat cancer left him with a disfigured jaw.

He joked that he fumbled so often on the guitar, taught to him as a teenager by his older brother, that people thought he was inventing a new style. But his open-heartedness, eye for detail and sharp and surreal humour brought him the highest admiration from critics, from such peers as Bob Dylan and Kris Kristofferson, and from such younger stars as Jason Isbell and Kacey Musgraves, who even named a song after him.

___

AP PHOTOS: Wuhan a city in slumber before the lockdown’s end

WUHAN, China (AP) — Wuhan was released from coronavirus lockdown on Wednesday, and it’s as if the Chinese city where the pandemic started late last year has awakened from a long slumber.

For more than two months, the once-bustling city of 11 million people was all but silent. Its borders were sealed, businesses closed and communities kept behind barriers.

During the 76-day lockdown, Wuhan’s residents seemed to live in a crepuscular world of neither night nor day, with time passing slowly, each day blurring into the next.

Now, residents of central China’s largest city are eager to reawaken and for life to flow back to its streets and factories.

It’s a cycle many places will experience as the coronavirus sweeps through.

___

Iconic sports cities turn eerie during coronavirus shutdown

They are cities defined by iconic sporting events.

When Augusta comes up, one instantly thinks of the Masters. If Omaha is mentioned, it’s often in the same breath with the College World Series. It’s hard to imagine Louisville without the Kentucky Derby.

In the coming weeks, The Associated Press will look at those cities and others like them — from Williamsport to Oklahoma City to Cheyenne — to examine how the shutdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic is an especially wrenching blow.

“This is who we are,” said Jason Fink, the chamber of commerce president in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, which has been synonymous with the Little League World Series since it was founded in 1947.

They can certainly relate to that sentiment in Augusta.

The Associated Press

@repost Spousal Support Guidelines

Via Family Divorce Lawyer

source https://toronto.citynews.ca/2020/04/08/ap-news-in-brief-at-1204-a-m-edt-235/

By The Wall of Law April 8, 2020 Off

Judge refuses to approve fire victims letter attacking PG&E

BERKELEY, Calif. — A federal judge has refused to put his stamp of approval on a letter to Northern California wildfire victims from attorneys who allege that Pacific Gas & Electric may be breaking its promises as it tries to preserve a plan for getting out of bankruptcy in an unraveling economy.

The decision issued late Tuesday by Bankruptcy Judge Dennis Montali bolsters PG&E’s efforts to hold together its plan.

Montali rejected the request from the committee representing wildfire victims after listening to nearly two hours of sometimes acrimonious arguments during a hearing held earlier in the day.

The four-page ruling left the door open for the wildfire victims’ committee to send out a letter outlining its concerns as the voting continues on PG&E’s plan for dealing with the death and destruction caused by its electrical grid. A request for comment from the victims’ committee after Montali’s rebuff wasn’t immediately answered.

PG&E’s lawyers had scoffed at the allegations as a desperate bid to renegotiate a $13.5 billion settlement reached with wildfire victims four months ago.

Tuesday’s courtroom wrangling focused on the real value of the $13.5 billion deal, and when the money will be available to help more than 81,000 people who lost family members, homes and businesses during 2017 and 2018 a series of wildfires that killed nearly 130 people and destroyed thousands of homes. PG&E plans to plead guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter for the 2018 fires.

The wildfire victims’ committee wanted Montali to take the unusual step of approving a letter raising red flags about the settlement in the midst of the voting on PG&E’s complex plan for emerging from bankruptcy. The plan envisions paying out more than $25.5 billion in settlements, including the one with wildfire victims.

But Montali concluded the committee squandered its opportunity to express its misgivings while a disclosure statement for PG&E’s plan was being hashed out during hearings held in February and March.

PG&E had fiercely opposed the attempt to send out a court-approved letter attacking its plan because it feared the missive would torpedo its frantic effort to get out of bankruptcy by June 30. The San Francisco company needs to meet that deadline to qualify for coverage from a wildfire insurance fund created by California to help utilities deal with future risks.

The wildfire victims’ biggest concerns centre on the rapidly declining value of PG&E’s stock amid the recent market turmoil as well as the possibility that the company might not raise all the money it needs to start paying people for its misconduct until late this year or early next year, said Robert Julian, a lawyer for the victims’ committee.

Half of the $13.5 billion settlement is supposed to be funded with PG&E stock, but the market turmoil has caused the company’s shares to lose half their value since Feb. 11. A veteran investment banker submitted a declaration last week in another court proceeding that the stock earmarked for the settlement is now worth $4.85 billion, a 28% reduction from the original target of $6.75 billion.

PG&E attorney Stephen Karotkin told Montali that it was always known the stock portion of the settlement could end up being worth more or less than $6.75 billion. He also pointed out that PG&E’s stock is currently worth more than its average price of $7.80 during the two months leading up to the Dec. 6 settlement. The company’s shares closed Tuesday at $8.57.

Another attorney for wildfire victims, Gerald Singleton, told Montali that he still thinks the current settlement is the best deal available. “There are risks here, but we believe the benefits outweigh the risks,” said Singleton, who represents more than 7,000 victims.

Robert Julian, an attorney for the victims’ committee, said worries about PG&E’s stock price are being compounded by uncertainty about when the victims will be allowed to sell their shares to get the money they need to rebuilt their lives. The victims will own a nearly 21% stake in the company, a chunk so large that it will have to be sold in periodic phases to prevent a collapse in the stock price.

The wildfire victims committee also had entered into the settlement believing PG&E would have lined up the financing for the cash portion by Aug. 29, according to Julian. He told the judge he now believes PG&E plans to hold off on securing some loans until late December or early January. Karotkin didn’t address that allegation in the hearing, but insisted the Aug. 29 date was never a concrete commitment.

The doubts about PG&E’s plan have reached the point where a growing number of victims “don’t believe anything PG&E has to say in these confirmation hearings,” Julian said.

Karotkin blasted Julian for trying to win court approval of a letter that’s “totally inappropriate” and “misleading.”

Michael Liedtke, The Associated Press

@repost Filing for Custody

Via Agreement to Keep Property Separate

source https://toronto.citynews.ca/2020/04/07/judge-refuses-to-approve-fire-victims-letter-attacking-pge/

By The Wall of Law April 8, 2020 Off

Mel Watkins: Engagement for the common good

Image: Mel Watkins

My dear friend, and close associate Melville (Mel) Henry Watkins (1932-2020), the celebrated Canadian political economist, passed away in Ottawa on April 2, 2020, with his beloved wife Kelly Crichton by his side.

The romance that led to Mel and Kelly marrying was not without unanticipated obstacles. 

When they began seeing each other, Kelly, a senior reporter for CBC’s flagship The National (she would later be its executive producer) judged it best to inform her superiors that she was dating Mel Watkins, former leader of the radical Waffle movement within the NDP. 

Mel was a national figure, an advocate of socialism, a outspoken critic of Canadian complicity in the war the U.S. was waging in Vietnam and a supporter of the right for Quebec to self-determination. 

The reaction at the CBC head office was: ‘Well alright, we are not going to interfere in your private life … just don’t marry him.’ 

Meanwhile, following a divorce, Mel was in court seeking custody of his dear son, Kenny. The judge was convinced that this loving father had all that was necessary to bring up his son, and he granted Mel custody.

In a helpful spirit no doubt, he added: ‘would Mr. Watkins please regularize his relationship with Miss Crichton.’

Not many couples begin a life together heeding a judicial decision to marry, instead of obeying an employer saying the bride-to-be should not show up at the altar. 

Whatever the circumstances, nothing got in the way of the happy union. 

Nothing, that is, until I took it upon myself to suggest to Nancy Riche, then executive vice-president of the Canadian Labour Congress, that the CLC should bring Mel back from London to strengthen the labour movement in the battle against the Mulroney-Reagan trade deal. 

Mel had agreed to accompany Kelly to the U.K. on a CBC posting. It was a normal thing to do. Previously, Kelly and the family had agreed to spend a year with him in the far North. Mel had become an advisor to the Dene Nation, assisting in preparations for its response to the Berger Commission enquiry into the case for a Northern gas pipeline project.

Mel did come back to Ottawa for a number of months, with Kelly’s blessing. Her charge to the two of us was not to fail in our quest to stop the so-called free trade agreement from becoming law. Hélas!

The fallout from the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement preoccupied us at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Along with myself as president, successive executive directors, Jim Davidson, Sandra Sorenson and Bruce Campbell all turned to Mel for his assistance and counsel. 

His fine mind, and keen interest in the welfare of others, made it natural to turn to Mel for advice. He was a source of wisdom for his students, colleague, and friends throughout his life, but it was not simply a one way communication.

The development of his thinking as a “radical” emerged as Mel engaged with his students. He worked with them to organize an important teach-in on the Vietnam War, listened to their arguments about how to reform the authoritarian university, and responded to issues raised in his classrooms by taking students’ ideas seriously. Indeed he adopted some key ones, and made them his own, as he moved further to the left in his political views. 

As a child, Mel skipped three grades, yet claimed that his twin brother Murray, who also skipped three grades, was a better student, finishing first, with Mel second in every subject. By his own account Mel did do better at oratory competitions; Murray stuttered, added Mel. 

The brothers, who knew legendary Toronto Maple Leaf play-by-play announcer Foster Hewitt from summers working at a Georgian Bay marina, were his special guests to watch a Leafs game from the famed “gondola” above the ice surface at Maple Leaf Gardens on Carlton Street. 

As an undergraduate at the University of Toronto, where he would later make his academic career, Mel took a course with Harold Innis in Canadian economic history, a field he would enter himself, and dominate for years after. 

Innis, the only Canadian economist residing in Canada to be elected president of the American Economics Association, inspired Mel to research how exports of staple products like wheat, pulp and minerals linked back into communities, defining their character, and how government planning could promote industrial upgrading of raw materials, and improve production techniques. 

Following his undergraduate degree, Mel became the first holder of a new Massachusetts Institute of Technology major doctoral fellowship in economic development (the second went to Jagadish Bhagwati, who became a noted international trade theorist). 

At M.I.T., Mel co-wrote with professor Paul Samuelson the 4th edition of the instructor’s manual for Economics, the Samuelson introductory textbook that sold in the millions world wide.

Watkins would later remark that only economists from the currently hegemonic super power were allowed to contribute to economics. This was not said entirely in jest. British authors had dominated the profession in the U.K.’s two centuries as the world’s leading imperial power. After the Second World War, it was Americans who were being listened to.

Along with his University of Toronto colleagues, Abe Rotstein and Stephen Clarkson, Mel Watkins pointed out the dangers to Canada of using economic thinking developed in the U.S. — a large market economy — to govern a quite different mixed public and privately owned Canadian economy. North of the long border, prices were regularly imported from South of it, and certainly not automatically adjusted in an imagined competitive Canadian market. 

Unlike the U.S., which had the world using its currency, Canada had to pay attention to how capital flows impacted the supply of U.S. dollar reserves and the foreign exchange rate in formulating Canadian national policy. 

Innis had come up with concepts like margin and periphery, and staples exports. These were essential in understanding how the Canadian economy grew with rising commodity prices for staples exports, and faltered when they fell — as oil prices are doing now — and as wheat prices did in the 1930s, contributing to the depths of the depression on the Prairies. 

Walter Gordon, the Toronto Liberal friend to party leader Lester Pearson, had identified in a Royal Commission report, and two popular books, the dangers to Canada of foreign (U.S.) ownership of Canadian manufacturing capacity and resource projects. 

Gordon’s message was that when a country was dominated economically by U.S. corporations, it was inevitably subject to U.S. political influence as well. His argument favouring Canadian economic independence was getting a hearing in Canada as the centennial year revealed potential for the country many of its citizens had never imagined.

The Watkins Commission report, the 1968 royal commission study Gordon as president of the Privy Council in the Pearson government commissioned Mel (and a group of economists he assembled) to produce on foreign ownership, revealed appalling weaknesses. 

Foreign ownership typically took the form of American corporations establishing wholly owned Canadian branch plant operations. Canadians could not invest in these companies, which were occupying a growing share of manufacturing and resource extraction, except by buying shares in the parent U.S. company. 

The payments going back to the U.S. of interest, dividends and profits on American ownership capital in Canada, had Canada borrowing in the U.S. to fund the outflow of money.  

Though nominally Canadian companies, Canadian governments were unable to require U.S. branch plants to report on their business activities. If ministers wanted to know what a U.S. company was up to in Canada, they had to seek answers in Washington D.C. 

Mel was an engaged intellectual. Moreover, he identified issues that needed to engage Canadians, political economists and his fellow New Democrats. 

He enjoyed working with like-minded people in small groups. For years, working with Rick Salutin, John Saul, Susan Crean and others, he was a central figure in the editorial meetings of This Magazine, where he wrote his monthly Harold Innis memorial column, and later was named editor emeritus. 

Mel saw clearly what others on the left missed. The Canadian working class cared about their country. “Capital is mobile, labour is not,” he explained. This working class patriotism was shamefully exploited by the political class — in the interest of the dominant class. Mel saw it could also be a force for political change, if the labour movement and the NDP could organize and mobilize regular wage earners and the precariously employed.

Mel was on the advisory committee of the Council of Canadians from its inception, and worked closely with its founder Mel Hurtig, and its long time honorary chair Maude Barlow.

In the 1980s, the central bank declared that unemployment could not go below 7.5 per cent without causing inflation, causing Mel to ask whether the governor of the bank intended to hand out buttons: “I’m not unemployed, I’m fighting inflation.”

The Canadian business class was clever politically. Liberals and Conservatives alike put corporate interests before those of workers, and the Bank of Canada simply followed suit.

Mel ran for the NDP in 1997 and 2000 in the Beaches-East York. In 2001, we went together to Winnipeg to support the New Politics Initiative at the NDP convention. The NPI resolution failed. But, at a small Winnipeg dinner gathering that included Libby Davies (later deputy leader to Jack Layton) Mel initiated a conversation about soliciting Jack Layton to run for leader. Mel tipped off Jeffrey Simpson, the Ottawa columnist for The Globe and Mail about Layton’s possible candidacy, and the campaign was launched.

Within the NDP, Mel had to tackle an unfortunate gambit by party strategists — to gain the esteem of those who would never support it — by adopting a “balance the budget” approach to federal fiscal policy.

Globe and Mail editorials, and C.D. Howe Institute studies denouncing government deficit spending never specified that limiting public borrowing denied Canadians needed Crown corporations, hospitals, schools, public transit, recreation facilities and infrastructure for amateur sport, and the arts. 

The business class kept the knowledge to themselves that public austerity left room for floating corporate bonds at better interest rates.

The ‘good governments balance budgets’ storyline that Mel opposed sank the 2015 NDP campaign. It was most recently debunked by the coronavirus pandemic, as the truth began to leak out: the federal government could create money, not just the chartered banks.

Mel’s audiences appreciated his exceptional wit, something he had in common with other well known political economists, notably the celebrated humourist Stephen Leacock, and the ex-patriot Canadian John Kenneth Galbraith.

In the academic world, people from very diverse fields of study come together to settle university business. How to decide who to defer to? What qualities gain one authority across disciplinary lines? 

Having a fine sense of humour can be persuasive; Mel routinely witnessed his views win his peers to his point of view, aided by a well placed quip. 

A student of nuclear power politics, and a fierce advocate of “swords into plowshares,” Mel was elected president of Science for Peace when he formally retired from the University of Toronto.

After he relocated to the Ottawa Valley, Mel continued his long standing association with the Carleton University Institute of Political Economy, encouraged by academic friends Wallace Clement and Rianne Mahon. 

A founding editor of the journal Studies in Political Economy, Mel took special pleasure in seeing Brendan Haley publish work Mel had inspired on how the staples approach to the build-up of investment in bitumen sands revealed the vulnerability of the Canadian economy to a downturn in prices, like the one currently being experienced. 

When Mel’s mentor Harold Innis died, his wife received a letter of condolences from then-prime minister Louis Saint-Laurent. 

Today, in the age of social media, Mel’s passing was marked by an unbelievable outpouring of respect, admiration and friendship online, a special display of affection for his person, and appreciation of his life and achievements. 

Mel was scheduled to be received into the Order of Canada this past March; it will now be awarded posthumously.

In addition to his wife, Kelly Crichton, Mel leaves his adored children Kenneth, Matthew and Emily, and his six grandchildren who brought him so much joy.

Duncan Cameron is president emeritus of rabble.ca and writes a weekly column on politics and current affairs.

Image: Mel Watkins

April 7, 2020

@repost Divorce Settlement Law

Via Uncontested Divorce Forms

source https://rabble.ca/columnists/2020/04/mel-watkins-engagement-common-good

By The Wall of Law April 8, 2020 Off

Mel Watkins: Engagement for the common good

Image: Mel Watkins

My dear friend, and close associate Melville (Mel) Henry Watkins (1932-2020), the celebrated Canadian political economist, passed away in Ottawa on April 2, 2020, with his beloved wife Kelly Crichton by his side.

The romance that led to Mel and Kelly marrying was not without unanticipated obstacles. 

When they began seeing each other, Kelly, a senior reporter for CBC’s flagship The National (she would later be its executive producer) judged it best to inform her superiors that she was dating Mel Watkins, former leader of the radical Waffle movement within the NDP. 

Mel was a national figure, an advocate of socialism, a outspoken critic of Canadian complicity in the war the U.S. was waging in Vietnam and a supporter of the right for Quebec to self-determination. 

The reaction at the CBC head office was: ‘Well alright, we are not going to interfere in your private life … just don’t marry him.’ 

Meanwhile, following a divorce, Mel was in court seeking custody of his dear son, Kenny. The judge was convinced that this loving father had all that was necessary to bring up his son, and he granted Mel custody.

In a helpful spirit no doubt, he added: ‘would Mr. Watkins please regularize his relationship with Miss Crichton.’

Not many couples begin a life together heeding a judicial decision to marry, instead of obeying an employer saying the bride-to-be should not show up at the altar. 

Whatever the circumstances, nothing got in the way of the happy union. 

Nothing, that is, until I took it upon myself to suggest to Nancy Riche, then executive vice-president of the Canadian Labour Congress, that the CLC should bring Mel back from London to strengthen the labour movement in the battle against the Mulroney-Reagan trade deal. 

Mel had agreed to accompany Kelly to the U.K. on a CBC posting. It was a normal thing to do. Previously, Kelly and the family had agreed to spend a year with him in the far North. Mel had become an advisor to the Dene Nation, assisting in preparations for its response to the Berger Commission enquiry into the case for a Northern gas pipeline project.

Mel did come back to Ottawa for a number of months, with Kelly’s blessing. Her charge to the two of us was not to fail in our quest to stop the so-called free trade agreement from becoming law. Hélas!

The fallout from the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement preoccupied us at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Along with myself as president, successive executive directors, Jim Davidson, Sandra Sorenson and Bruce Campbell all turned to Mel for his assistance and counsel. 

His fine mind, and keen interest in the welfare of others, made it natural to turn to Mel for advice. He was a source of wisdom for his students, colleague, and friends throughout his life, but it was not simply a one way communication.

The development of his thinking as a “radical” emerged as Mel engaged with his students. He worked with them to organize an important teach-in on the Vietnam War, listened to their arguments about how to reform the authoritarian university, and responded to issues raised in his classrooms by taking students’ ideas seriously. Indeed he adopted some key ones, and made them his own, as he moved further to the left in his political views. 

As a child, Mel skipped three grades, yet claimed that his twin brother Murray, who also skipped three grades, was a better student, finishing first, with Mel second in every subject. By his own account Mel did do better at oratory competitions; Murray stuttered, added Mel. 

The brothers, who knew legendary Toronto Maple Leaf play-by-play announcer Foster Hewitt from summers working at a Georgian Bay marina, were his special guests to watch a Leafs game from the famed “gondola” above the ice surface at Maple Leaf Gardens on Carlton Street. 

As an undergraduate at the University of Toronto, where he would later make his academic career, Mel took a course with Harold Innis in Canadian economic history, a field he would enter himself, and dominate for years after. 

Innis, the only Canadian economist residing in Canada to be elected president of the American Economics Association, inspired Mel to research how exports of staple products like wheat, pulp and minerals linked back into communities, defining their character, and how government planning could promote industrial upgrading of raw materials, and improve production techniques. 

Following his undergraduate degree, Mel became the first holder of a new Massachusetts Institute of Technology major doctoral fellowship in economic development (the second went to Jagadish Bhagwati, who became a noted international trade theorist). 

At M.I.T., Mel co-wrote with professor Paul Samuelson the 4th edition of the instructor’s manual for Economics, the Samuelson introductory textbook that sold in the millions world wide.

Watkins would later remark that only economists from the currently hegemonic super power were allowed to contribute to economics. This was not said entirely in jest. British authors had dominated the profession in the U.K.’s two centuries as the world’s leading imperial power. After the Second World War, it was Americans who were being listened to.

Along with his University of Toronto colleagues, Abe Rotstein and Stephen Clarkson, Mel Watkins pointed out the dangers to Canada of using economic thinking developed in the U.S. — a large market economy — to govern a quite different mixed public and privately owned Canadian economy. North of the long border, prices were regularly imported from South of it, and certainly not automatically adjusted in an imagined competitive Canadian market. 

Unlike the U.S., which had the world using its currency, Canada had to pay attention to how capital flows impacted the supply of U.S. dollar reserves and the foreign exchange rate in formulating Canadian national policy. 

Innis had come up with concepts like margin and periphery, and staples exports. These were essential in understanding how the Canadian economy grew with rising commodity prices for staples exports, and faltered when they fell — as oil prices are doing now — and as wheat prices did in the 1930s, contributing to the depths of the depression on the Prairies. 

Walter Gordon, the Toronto Liberal friend to party leader Lester Pearson, had identified in a Royal Commission report, and two popular books, the dangers to Canada of foreign (U.S.) ownership of Canadian manufacturing capacity and resource projects. 

Gordon’s message was that when a country was dominated economically by U.S. corporations, it was inevitably subject to U.S. political influence as well. His argument favouring Canadian economic independence was getting a hearing in Canada as the centennial year revealed potential for the country many of its citizens had never imagined.

The Watkins Commission report, the 1968 royal commission study Gordon as president of the Privy Council in the Pearson government commissioned Mel (and a group of economists he assembled) to produce on foreign ownership, revealed appalling weaknesses. 

Foreign ownership typically took the form of American corporations establishing wholly owned Canadian branch plant operations. Canadians could not invest in these companies, which were occupying a growing share of manufacturing and resource extraction, except by buying shares in the parent U.S. company. 

The payments going back to the U.S. of interest, dividends and profits on American ownership capital in Canada, had Canada borrowing in the U.S. to fund the outflow of money.  

Though nominally Canadian companies, Canadian governments were unable to require U.S. branch plants to report on their business activities. If ministers wanted to know what a U.S. company was up to in Canada, they had to seek answers in Washington D.C. 

Mel was an engaged intellectual. Moreover, he identified issues that needed to engage Canadians, political economists and his fellow New Democrats. 

He enjoyed working with like-minded people in small groups. For years, working with Rick Salutin, John Saul, Susan Crean and others, he was a central figure in the editorial meetings of This Magazine, where he wrote his monthly Harold Innis memorial column, and later was named editor emeritus. 

Mel saw clearly what others on the left missed. The Canadian working class cared about their country. “Capital is mobile, labour is not,” he explained. This working class patriotism was shamefully exploited by the political class — in the interest of the dominant class. Mel saw it could also be a force for political change, if the labour movement and the NDP could organize and mobilize regular wage earners and the precariously employed.

Mel was on the advisory committee of the Council of Canadians from its inception, and worked closely with its founder Mel Hurtig, and its long time honorary chair Maude Barlow.

In the 1980s, the central bank declared that unemployment could not go below 7.5 per cent without causing inflation, causing Mel to ask whether the governor of the bank intended to hand out buttons: “I’m not unemployed, I’m fighting inflation.”

The Canadian business class was clever politically. Liberals and Conservatives alike put corporate interests before those of workers, and the Bank of Canada simply followed suit.

Mel ran for the NDP in 1997 and 2000 in the Beaches-East York. In 2001, we went together to Winnipeg to support the New Politics Initiative at the NDP convention. The NPI resolution failed. But, at a small Winnipeg dinner gathering that included Libby Davies (later deputy leader to Jack Layton) Mel initiated a conversation about soliciting Jack Layton to run for leader. Mel tipped off Jeffrey Simpson, the Ottawa columnist for The Globe and Mail about Layton’s possible candidacy, and the campaign was launched.

Within the NDP, Mel had to tackle an unfortunate gambit by party strategists — to gain the esteem of those who would never support it — by adopting a “balance the budget” approach to federal fiscal policy.

Globe and Mail editorials, and C.D. Howe Institute studies denouncing government deficit spending never specified that limiting public borrowing denied Canadians needed Crown corporations, hospitals, schools, public transit, recreation facilities and infrastructure for amateur sport, and the arts. 

The business class kept the knowledge to themselves that public austerity left room for floating corporate bonds at better interest rates.

The ‘good governments balance budgets’ storyline that Mel opposed sank the 2015 NDP campaign. It was most recently debunked by the coronavirus pandemic, as the truth began to leak out: the federal government could create money, not just the chartered banks.

Mel’s audiences appreciated his exceptional wit, something he had in common with other well known political economists, notably the celebrated humourist Stephen Leacock, and the ex-patriot Canadian John Kenneth Galbraith.

In the academic world, people from very diverse fields of study come together to settle university business. How to decide who to defer to? What qualities gain one authority across disciplinary lines? 

Having a fine sense of humour can be persuasive; Mel routinely witnessed his views win his peers to his point of view, aided by a well placed quip. 

A student of nuclear power politics, and a fierce advocate of “swords into plowshares,” Mel was elected president of Science for Peace when he formally retired from the University of Toronto.

After he relocated to the Ottawa Valley, Mel continued his long standing association with the Carleton University Institute of Political Economy, encouraged by academic friends Wallace Clement and Rianne Mahon. 

A founding editor of the journal Studies in Political Economy, Mel took special pleasure in seeing Brendan Haley publish work Mel had inspired on how the staples approach to the build-up of investment in bitumen sands revealed the vulnerability of the Canadian economy to a downturn in prices, like the one currently being experienced. 

When Mel’s mentor Harold Innis died, his wife received a letter of condolences from then-prime minister Louis Saint-Laurent. 

Today, in the age of social media, Mel’s passing was marked by an unbelievable outpouring of respect, admiration and friendship online, a special display of affection for his person, and appreciation of his life and achievements. 

Mel was scheduled to be received into the Order of Canada this past March; it will now be awarded posthumously.

In addition to his wife, Kelly Crichton, Mel leaves his adored children Kenneth, Matthew and Emily, and his six grandchildren who brought him so much joy.

Duncan Cameron is president emeritus of rabble.ca and writes a weekly column on politics and current affairs.

Image: Mel Watkins

April 7, 2020

@repost Family Divorce

Via Divorce Real Estate

source https://rabble.ca/columnists/2020/04/mel-watkins-engagement-common-good

By The Wall of Law April 8, 2020 Off

Fear and exhaustion: Working as a PSW in long-term care during the coronavirus

Personal support workers (PSWs) make up about 85 per cent of the staff at long-term care homes for the elderly in Canada, says Miranda Ferrier, president of the Canadian Support Workers Association. Hired to do such intimate personal tasks as bathing, dressing, lifting and feeding, they are unregulated. Few have full-time positions or benefits. They typically earn $20 an hour or less. Many juggle two part-time jobs to make ends meet. Most are women. 

At least 600 seniors’ residences in Canada have staff or residents who have tested positive for the novel coronavirus responsible for COVID-19. That means PSWs are on the front lines of the pandemic. As a result, Ontario recently designated them essential workers. 

Maclean’s spoke with Monique Langlois, 47, on April 2, 2020, right after she finished her shift at a 96-bed long-term care facility in Windsor, Ont. Three other facilities in Windsor-Essex had just confirmed the first outbreaks of the virus in that area. Since then, three more outbreaks have been reported. Two staff members at Langlois’ facility have tested positive, and have been in isolation since March 23. This interview has been shortened and edited.

How have things changed?

In long-term care, we are used to outbreaks of different kinds and also to using personal protection equipment (PPEs). But we’re not used to being in a situation where something we bring in could actually knock out an entire floor. 

Some of the residents’ family members tried to hide [in the home] when they were told they couldn’t come in anymore. They were mad. They’re scared for their family members. They’re used to being there for their loved ones every single day. 

Because there are no family members, there are no volunteers, and we really need to pick up the slack. We do, and willingly, but it’s just getting harder and harder because there’s fewer staff. 

We’re losing some of our workers, temporarily, because they had to pick one job or another. We were guaranteed if we stayed with [Revera, the company that operates the home where Langlois works] we would get enough hours to cover a full-time shift, so you wouldn’t have to work part-time in two places.

Monique Langlois. (Photo courtesy of Monique Langlois)

Why did you choose to stay?

I was in office administration for 25 years and I was never happy. This is a calling, a passion for me. I took a cut in pay and got the worst hours possible [when I started], but I’ve never been happier. And that’s the attitude of most PSWs. It’s not a friendly job. I mean, cleaning bums and vomit, it’s not the prettiest job. 

How are you coping?

I’m going to be moving into the camper this weekend in my driveway because Windsor is getting so bad. I need to be prepared to keep my husband safe. 

Our management is there. Their doors are open 24/7. If we need to vent, if we need to cry, if we need to just let it out, we can. We’re allowed to, and it’s to be expected. It’s hard because you can’t even hug anybody right now. We can’t hug each other and say: “We got this.”

If there’s any chance that you’re not feeling well, they’re sending you home for 14 days. They’ve guaranteed our pay no matter what. We can come back healthier afterwards and pick up the slack from the next group that’s exhausted. They might need a break and feel like they’re losing it. So we switch out. ‘You had your 14-day quarantine, you’re fine, you get your butt in here. I need to go now.’ You know what I mean?

How do you manage the emotional strain?

I am actually not letting myself feel it completely.

It hasn’t hit us in our long-term care facility. But you’re on pins and needles waiting for it. We know that we’re always putting ourselves in a situation because of all the diseases that come into our building, but not at this level. It’s always been our job to give quality of life to our seniors—not save their lives. There’s a difference there. We’re there to help them live, and be comfortable, and die in peace, not suffocate because they can’t breathe and there’s no ventilator and their family can’t be there to hold their hand and neither can you because you’ve got to look after three other people. That’s the scary part. That’s the part that we are all dreading. 

To all of a sudden have to try and save everybody—at least feel like you have to save everybody—it’s a lot on your shoulders. Not everybody can do that. And not everybody is willing to take that risk for their own family because they have kids and spouses. Some [PSWs] are quitting because of it. 

Even veterans of war—and they suffered way more because they weren’t even in their own country— got training before going into war. They had their helmet, they had their gun, their camouflage uniforms, and their boots given to them, right from day one. 

How are the residents coping?

Some are really lost and confused and don’t understand why their families aren’t coming. No matter what we say to them, it doesn’t click in their heads. They’re more depressed. They might be less compliant to get up in the morning. They might not be smiling as much or start wandering a bit more, they might show a little bit more aggression. We’re dealing with a lot of crying with the ones [who don’t have dementia], because they’re watching the news and they’re worried about their loved ones.

What worries you the most?

Not being able to save any of them. Not being able to help any of them.

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@repost Family Law Divorce Property Settlement

Via Separation Lawyer

source https://www.macleans.ca/society/fear-and-exhaustion-working-as-a-psw-in-long-term-care-during-the-coronavirus/

By The Wall of Law April 8, 2020 Off