Texas lifts all COVID restrictions, causing outrage from the Biden administration

Mask-wearing and gathering limits will no longer be enforced by state law

Texas Governor Greg Abbott lifted the statewide mask mandate and allowed all businesses to operate at 100 per cent capacity on March 10, while only one-tenth of Texans have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Texans are still encouraged to follow all of the necessary health guidelines, including social distancing and wearing a mask in indoor spaces. However, Gov. Abbott explained that his people “no longer need government running their lives.”

U.S. President Joe Biden called the governor’s decision “Neanderthal thinking” on March 3,  claiming that such measures are the last thing Americans need at this stage of the pandemic. This situation threatens Biden’s plan to have all Americans wearing a mask for the first 100 days of his presidency.

Mass sporting events and music concerts are also allowed to take place in Texas and may welcome over 10,000 spectators.

Despite receiving a green light from the state government, however, American businesses decided to further protect Texas residents from the spread of COVID-19.

Companies including Target, Best Buy, Toyota, and Macy’s will continue to require all of their employees and customers to wear a mask on their premises. The majority of retail stores, supermarkets, and pharmacies will not be cancelling their COVID policies across the state.

Gov. Abbott’s statewide changes have led to a political clash, as the Republican governor was met with resistance from Democrat mayors of Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, and Austin.

As the cities’ leaders have the authority to implement COVID restrictions on a local level, social distancing and mask-wearing will still be required in all municipal buildings including libraries and convention centres, as well as public transportation.

“We think that masking is so important. The doctors and the data all indicate that,” said Steve Adler, the mayor of Austin. “We’re going to stay on that course as long as we can. […] Now is not the time to take a risk.”

U.S. health officials have warned against lifting such restrictions, emphasizing the highly contagious variants and the lack of vaccination in the state. Despite the recent drop in daily coronavirus cases, Gov. Abbott’s decision directly goes against the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.

Houston became the first American city to record all the dangerous types of COVID strains, while Texas — a state of 29 million people — currently ranks 47th out of the 50 states in terms of per capita vaccine distribution.

As mask-wearing turns into a Republican-versus-Democrat debate rather than a health precaution, a political divide is inevitable on Texas’ path towards defeating COVID-19.


Poli Savvy: Keystone pipeline project stopped in its tracks

Biden administration revokes Keystone XL project permit despite consequences in Canada

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, a long-standing friend to the oil and gas industry, has spoken out in anger against the U.S. government’s decision to halt the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline project.

Alberta’s premier called upon Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during a press conference on Jan. 20 to impose economic and trade sanctions on the United States.

“Discuss this decision in the context of a way forward between Canada and the U.S. on environmental policy, climate policy and energy security. Surely that is the least that our closest friends and ally owes Canada,” Kenney said.

Trudeau simply said in a subsequent press conference, “While [Canadians] welcome the [U.S.] president’s commitment to fight climate change, we are disappointed but acknowledge the president’s decision to fulfill his election campaign promise on Keystone XL.”

Furthermore, Kenny mentioned the impact that this is having on Canadian jobs, with 1,000 construction jobs already held up by the news, and 58,000 more at risk.

Nevertheless, on Wednesday Jan. 20, President Biden made his decision, stating in the executive order found on the White House website that “The United States must prioritize the development of a clean energy economy, which will in turn create good jobs.”

Kenny failed to mention the dozens of Indigenous communities in Canada and the United States that are delighted to hear this news. There has been lots of controversy following the Keystone pipeline project, previously known as the TMX pipeline project.

Not only will the construction damage the Indigenous land that they build through, but the pipeline in turn can damage marine life and the water supply.

Cooper Price, an organizer with Climate Strike Canada, said in a statement to the Concordian, “The cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline was an environmental and political necessity. The Trudeau government must use the money saved by not building this frivolous pipeline to invest in renewable energy, a just transition for oil and gas industry workers, and support for Indigenous communities.”

This executive order will surely have some lasting effects on the Canada-U.S. relationship, as this exploit will surely not die with the end of the Trump administration. However, it also highlights the beginning of a new relationship between Canada and the U.S.: one that is more politically aligned with the new Biden administration, despite the consequent economic impact.

On the contrary, some Canadians may be ready to take the economic plunge that drifts alongside the need for new sources of renewable energy.


MPs unanimously vote to designate the Proud Boys group as terrorist organization

Stand back and DON’T standby

On Jan. 8, leader of the New Democratic Party Jagmeet Singh tweeted a petition calling on the Trudeau government to ban the Proud Boys and designate them as a terrorist organization. On the NDP’s website, the petition claims that the Proud Boys were present and involved in leading the assault against the US Capitol building earlier this month. They declared that this was an act of domestic terrorism. In Canada, there was a brawl that took place in Toronto’s Eaton Centre in 2019 following an anti-Muslim event that was attended by Proud Boys members.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated the Proud Boys as a hate group. The group was established in the midst of the 2016 United States presidential election. They describe themselves as western chauvinists and a fraternal organization.

Members of Canada’s parliament passed by unanimous consent a motion introduced by Singh to designate the group as a terrorist organization on Monday. The federal government has yet to officially designate the group as a terrorist entity.

There are three degrees to membership in the Proud Boys. The first is to declare that you are a western chauvinist and that you will not apologize for “creating the modern world.” The second is to give up masturbation and endure a beating from fellow Proud Boys until you can name five breakfast cereals in order to demonstrate “adrenaline control.” The third is to get a Proud Boys tattoo. The group reached another level of infamy during the recent U.S. presidential debates when Donald Trump told the Proud Boys to “stand back and standby.”

The Proud Boys was founded by Gavin McInnes who also co-founded the popular media platform VICE. In the NDP website’s petition they refer to McInnes by stating “Alarmingly, their founder is from Canada.” McInnes was born in England, raised in Ottawa and moved to Montreal where he co-founded VICE in 1994 before moving to New York.

In the United States, there is a petition calling on newly inaugurated US President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Counter-Terrorism to declare the Proud Boys as a terrorist organization. At this time, there are almost 500,000 signees.


Graphic by Rose-Marie Dion


100 seconds to midnight

What does the Capitol Hill siege mean for us?

It’s 100 seconds to midnight. Last year, the symbolic Doomsday Clock assessed that we are closer to a global man-made catastrophe than ever since the clock’s creation in 1947. The decision was made on account of the climate emergency, rising nuclear tensions, growing distrust in governments all around the world, weaponization of technology… and all this before the whirlwind that was 2020.

The evening of Jan. 6 saw “As a Canadian” trending on Twitter, as so many of us bemocked America’s fate, yet again turning a blind eye to our own run-ins with white supremacy in favour of our ‘it’s not as bad here’ façade. All of a sudden, we forgot that the founder of the Proud Boys is a Canadian man, or that there was a group of Montrealers who organized to participate in the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in 2017.

So let’s get this straight: the civil unrest in the US is especially concerning to us as Canadians.

Civil wars are started when a population loses trust in its government, and feels strongly enough that their issues can’t be solved by other means than organizing and taking arms. Statistically, poorer countries are more at risk of entering wars because of their inability to improve the economy, and financial and political inequality also often spark conflict.

Far-right groups have invented all kinds of conspiracies to discredit the media, Democrats, and basically anyone who doesn’t worship Donald Trump. They believe he’s the only one who can properly handle the American economy and save them from the looming threat that is socialism. They have expressed their anger at the dilution of (white) American culture through the apparent invasion of immigrants.

From what we’ve witnessed through their behaviour in recent years, which culminated with the attack on the Capitol, these far-right groups have shown that they aren’t scared — and are in fact proud — to take arms and uphold their views through violence.

On the left, the increasingly vocal contenders for the Black Lives Matter movement have shown their persistence to take to the streets and protest — rain or shine, through tear gas and pandemic. Left-wing groups have also demanded universal healthcare, erasure of student debt, more money towards climate action, and defunding the police and the army in the last few months.

Though I don’t mean to sound like an alarmist, this seems to me a clear recipe for civil war.

Our economy, national security, military strength, foreign relations, everything down to the results of our elections depend on how the United States is feeling. There’s a reason people say “When America sneezes, Canada catches cold.” Nine days after Trump was sworn in as president, six Quebecers were killed in a Sainte-Foy mosque, a clear message that we haven’t been able to escape Trump’s anti-Islam rhetoric.

Many have also wondered how Justin Trudeau will be expected to handle this. Will officially recognizing the Proud Boys as a terrorist group give the federal government reason to increase our military budget? As political unrest becomes inevitably more violent in the US, will it allow our federal government to take preventive, but invasive measures like increased surveillance and armed law enforcement?

For the past two years, I’ve been saying that I predict a civil war in the United States by 2025, and that I’d be surprised if it didn’t happen in the next three years. I think this is the most sinister ‘I told you so’ moment I’ll ever have.


Feature graphic by James Fay @jamesfaydraws


Poli Savvy: How did an insect steal part of the spotlight

A fly that landed on Vice President’s Mike Pence’s head during Vice Presidential debates makes headlines

The hurricane of news erupting less than a month ahead of the U.S. presidential elections can leave anyone with a serious case of whiplash.

Some of the news circulating before and after the 2020 United States Vice Presidential debate: President Trump delayed an economic relief bill to help Americans until after the election; new revelations that former Attorney General Jeff Sessions requested that children be taken away from migrant families at the border in 2018; President Trump refused to participate in a virtual town hall to debate Biden; Trump changed his mind and requests an in-person debate…

But even with the incessant stream of must-read news flooding news feeds and timelines everywhere, this is what everyone seems to be talking about: a fly resting on Mike Pence’s head for two minutes during the Vice Presidential debate.

“The fly” was trending on Twitter before the debate had even finished, with hundreds of thousands of mentions and dozens of Twitter accounts created attempting to impersonate the insect. Etsy shops now sell Pence’s fly apparel, and Biden’s campaign issued a quickly sold-out “Truth over flies” fly swatter.

Why all the focus on such a small matter, compared to all the other much more serious matters that are being published?

During the debate, many more important news-worthy moments happened. For example, Pence discussed the Trump administration’s take on several hot topics, including the Rose Garden ceremony for Amy Coney Barrett.

According to Pence, “It was an outdoor event, which all of our scientists regularly routinely advise.”

This comes after Trump and 22 members of his administration tested positive for the virus following the meeting, described as a “super-spreader” White House event. Attendees did not wear masks nor social distance, and pictures show they also gathered indoors.

In the current climate, a situation like this just becomes a needle in a polluted haystack of controversies. There’s too much to keep up with. To focus on the fly isn’t about getting immune to corruption, or about having a short attention span.

It’s more about being fed up. It is a way to showcase the perfect visual for how some feel about the administration without having to air out all the grievances on a list.

Maybe that’s how the fly got so big.


Can Justice Ginsburg RIP?

Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away last week and, in a recent discovery, the internet has no patience for human grief.

Do political figures deserve peace in death?

They gave up a lot to acquire the power they wielded in life. Many sacrifice their families, their retirements, their privacy. After their death, the consequences of their actions live on — in legislature, public opinion and history books. Do public figures, especially those in politics, get to rest in peace?

This conversation, most recently stoked by the passing of United States Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, is a heavy dispute shaping the landscape of our collective values and standards.

Does Ginsburg deserve a quiet, private passing, despite the public and political consequences of her death? Since her passing last Friday, with her public and personal life on display, the progressive-leaning corners of the internet have taken to criticizing Ginsburg’s policies and values, and her impact on society and law. That must be nice for her family in mourning.

It is important to critically assess the decisions made by those in power. It is important to celebrate successes and openly discuss failures. In life and in death, our policymakers weave the fabric of our society, and it is our duty to use our right to think and speak freely.

With this in mind, our society also has customs, and our customs guide our collective moral compass, behavioural norms and cultural taboos. We have undressed a lot of customs over the last century and determined that some no longer serve us, and we have fortified others that remain relevant today.

In death, people of the Jewish faith have a custom called “sitting shiva,” shiva meaning seven in Hebrew. Sitting shiva is when the intimate family of the deceased mourn their loss over seven days by inviting loved ones and mourners to their home to fortify community and support throughout their grieving process. It is a time to come together. It is a time to lay loved ones to rest.

It’s barely been a week since Ginsburg’s passing. Those closest to Ginsburg, who was Jewish herself, have not yet concluded the tradition of shiva. Meanwhile, Ginsburg’s work and legacy are in violent dispute. Can people have a moment to grieve?

Ginsburg was not perfect, and should not be deified — nobody should be. I find it distressing that we have two options for celebrities in our society: hero or villain, us or them, perfect or disgraceful. Neither life nor people have to be absolute and binary.

Beyond that, singular thinking like this hinders connection, productivity, and mobilization, which are major factors in democracy’s inefficiency. Why is Ginsburg, after a career championing women’s rights, in death labeled the image of “white feminism?” Can’t those who support gender equality bridge the gaps between our differing visions, and celebrate the victories when we do reach them?

We spend so much time arguing amongst ourselves how to accomplish gender equality that we create more obstacles for the movement.  Ginsburg made many mistakes, such as the Atlantic Coast Pipeline crossing the Appalachian Trail, located in Virginia, that she voted to pass. She also made a lot of progress. Can’t we talk about, during this week of mourning, all of the beautiful ways she contributed to the gender equality movement?

This idea is not about censorship. It is the custom of North American society, and the custom of Jewish society, and I believe it serves our society today. It is a question of dignity to allow Ginsburg’s grieving family to celebrate and love her in peace.

I want to hold hands. In her long career as a lawyer, and member of the Supreme Court Justice of the United States, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was instrumental in passing laws that support abortion rights, same sex marriage rights, prevent gender and reproductive discrimination in the workplace, include women in jury duty, ensure equality with social security and tax exemptions, enable those assigned female at birth (afab) to own credit cards and take out mortgages — the list goes on.

While notorious for her guts, her grind, and her relentlessness, RBG does not deserve to be deified. Her family deserves a week of mourning. Her critics deserve a chance to reflect on her complicated legacy. Her supporters deserve a chance to learn more about her shortcomings. Ruth Bader Ginsburg deserves to rest in peace.


Graphic by Taylor Reddam

Poli Savvy: The clock is TikToking

There’s trouble in paradise as Americans’ beloved entertainment app is threatened to be banned

It seems like every week, the U.S. government is threatening to ban TikTok, everyone’s favourite entertainment app.

Though the removal of the app was originally set to happen on Sept. 20, the confusing ebb and flow of Chinese-American politics has unsurprisingly decided against it, pushing it back to this Sunday.

Unsurprisingly though, after weeks of suspense, the ban was finally suppressed by a federal judge.

As of now, we don’t know if the Trump administration will go through with this decision, or if it will be pushed back (yet again).

But the restraints applied to TikTok go beyond preventing young Americans from watching and making viral videos: it has implications with censorship, data privacy, discrimination, and economic relations as well.

A quick 15 second recap

In recent months, the Trump administration has grown increasingly suspicious of TikTok’s soaring popularity, with members of each major party questioning the security of the app, especially after a long investigation into Russian involvement in the American elections.

Though its U.S. headquarters are in Los Angeles, TikTok’s mother company, ByteDance, is Chinese-owned. The same is true of multi-purpose app WeChat, which is owned by China-based Tencent.

Right now, TikTok has an estimated 100 million monthly American users, to WeChat’s more humble 3.3 million (though the latter has recorded around 1.2 billion monthly users across the world).

With a combined usership equating to a third of the US population — or almost three times the population of Canada — the proportions and allegations concerning this decision are huge.

What’s going on with the apps?

Legally, the government of China is entitled to all the data owned by Chinese companies.

For a while now, the U.S. government has been concerned about ByteDance sharing private information, including location and contacts with the Chinese government, which earned them a lawsuit last year.

This comes after other scandals involving TikTok in regards to censorship: leaked documents about their algorithm policies showed they removed videos that were considered “controversial,” including any post which referred to the liberation movement in Tibet, the camps of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang province, or the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre.

On another occasion, some of the apps’ discriminatory policies were also exposed, showing that their algorithms tended to hide the content of “unattractive, disabled, or poor users.”

For some time, the only way for the Trump administration to let TikTok off the hook was to sell it to an American company, which would solve its information-sharing habit.

The top contenders have been Microsoft — but the deal fell through a few weeks ago — Walmart, and Oracle, who are now in talks to buy huge amounts of shares in TikTok, but not enough to please Trump, who won’t rule the ban off the table until the app cuts all ties with its Chinese owners.

Ultimately, prohibiting the operation of these apps seems to be a proxy for the friction in the U.S. and China’s relations.

With constant quarrels about trade, national security, and just the general values of each country’s leader, it is clear that TikTok and WeChat have found themselves at the forefront of yet another political conflict.



The real reason behind gun violence in the U.S.

Blaming mental illness for shooting massacres is offensive and misleading

Blaming mental illness for gun violence is not okay, and I believe President Donald Trump is only causing more harm when he encourages the use of guns to supposedly prevent gun violence.

On Nov. 5, a gunman opened fire at a Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, reported The New York Times. The shooter was later found dead in his car and identified by authorities as Devin Patrick Kelley. He killed 26 people.
Trump, who was in Japan at the time, blamed the shooting on mental illness. He called the tragedy “a mental health problem at the highest level” and described the shooter as a “very deranged individual,” according to The New York Times. I believe Trump is using mental illness as a scapegoat for acts of violence. He also specified that “this isn’t a guns situation,” according to the same source. This further proves his incompetence as president.

In my opinion, Trump is unable to tackle this nationwide issue in an objective fashion. He is turning away from the real issue destroying the lives of many Americans each year. According to the not-for-profit corporation Gun Violence Archive, approximately 13,286 people were killed in the United States by firearms in 2015.

Not only is blaming gun violence on mental illness largely false, it is also offensive and misleading. Doing so increases the stigma around mental illness and perpetuates the incorrect assumption that mentally ill people are violent. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the majority of people with mental illness are no more likely to be violent than anyone else. Only three to five per cent of violent acts in the United States can be attributed to individuals with serious mental illness, according to the same source.

Not only does Trump fail to assign fault where it is due, I believe he is promoting gun violence. Two days after the Texas shooting, the president praised another man in the church who shot Kelley. “If he didn’t have a gun,” Trump claimed, “instead of having 26 dead, you would have had hundreds more dead. That’s how I feel about it,” reported NBC News. With his pro-gun stance, Trump is fostering the view that gun ownership helps prevent massacres, and gun misuse is due to mental illness.

While I do believe mental illness and the availability of psychological services in the United States needs to be addressed, I think it is clear that gun control is what will prevent so many mass shootings from happening. The best way to prevent these tragedies is to ban the weapons that are used to hurt so many rather than promote equally violent retaliation. In the aftermath of the 2006 Dawson shooting here in Montreal, the college built a garden to promote a peaceful, safe space and began offering a non-violent communication course for students to take as an elective. I strongly believe this is the type of attitude the American president needs to have if there is any hope of lessening the number of tragedies his country regularly faces.

Following Trump’s response to the Texas shooting, the hashtag #LivingWithMentalIllnessIs began trending on Twitter. This is a positive step towards something bigger. This hashtag gives people who live with mental illness a platform where they can share their stories and disprove Trump’s views of why gun violence takes place. I also hope this hashtag promotes peaceful communication between people and ends the stigmatization of mental illness as a dangerous or violent disorder.

Graphic by Zeze Le Lin

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