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Aline Chrétien, wife of former PM Jean Chrétien, has died at age 84

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By all accounts, Aline Chrétien was the quiet strength behind her husband, Jean.

An astute political partner — the former prime minister called her his most trusted adviser and his “rock of Gibraltar”— Aline Chrétien died peacefully Saturday morning at the age of 84.

“She was surrounded by family as the sun rose at her Lac des Piles residence, near Shawinigan,” said Bruce Hartley, a former executive assistant and long-time adviser to Jean Chrétien.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Saturday that Canadians “owe a great debt” to Aline Chrétien for her honesty, perseverance and work championing multiculturalism and bilingualism.

“As one of Mr. Chrétien’s most influential advisers, Aline was known for her tenacity, sharp intellect and acute sense of observation,” his statement read. “The life that she and Jean shared together, including their service to Canadians, was built on a foundation of trust, hard work and equal partnership.”

The couple met on a bus in the summer of 1951, when Jean Chrétien was 17 and Aline was 15.  The two married in 1957 in a ceremony that was squeezed in between Jean’s shifts working at the local mill and his university classes.

From the very beginning, Aline Chrétien said she knew the man who would go on to serve as prime minister for a decade was the one for her. The couple had three children together.

 

Former prime minister Jean Chrétien described his wife, Aline, as his “rock of Gibraltar” and his most trusted adviser. Aline Chrétien has died at age 84. 3:33

Shied away from the spotlight

Aline dropped out of school at 16 to help support her family through secretarial work, but her dreams were much grander. She longed to travel overseas and learn multiple languages.

Those aspirations became possible in part because of her husband’s political success — but Aline never felt entirely comfortable in the spotlight.

“If I hadn’t married Jean, no one would have seen me, ever,” she told Maclean’s magazine in 1994. “I like people, but I don’t like to be out in front.”

Aline wanted to keep her family life private and out of the public eye, especially when her children were young.

In Jean Chrétien’s best-selling 1985 memoir, Straight from the Heart, their daughter France was mentioned only briefly and their son Hubert and adopted son Michel were not mentioned at all.

 

The Chrétiens await the start of an Order of Canada ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa in 2011. Their daughter, France Chrétien Desmarais, was among the 44 Canadians to receive the honour. (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)

 

Frequent adviser to former PM

Throughout his time in office, Aline remained close to her husband’s work and frequently offered him advice.

“We are always talking, when I have lunch, breakfast, at night, sometimes I sit in his office and he says, ‘You know what, today I have a cabinet meeting to do,'” she said. “It’s like I’m a part of the team too and sometimes the team is there and I’m there so he will say, ‘Well what do you think about that?’ And I give him my advice. But since a long time it’s always been like that.”

In 1995, André Dallaire — who had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and was upset over the result of the 1992 referendum on the Charlottetown constitutional accord — broke into the prime minister’s official residence at 24 Sussex Drive in Ottawa and came face to face with Aline just outside her bedroom.

Aline went back into the bedroom, locked the door and woke her husband, who grabbed an Inuit carving of a loon to defend the couple as they waited behind the locked door for the RCMP to respond.

Dallaire was arrested by the RCMP — he never entered the Chrétiens’ bedroom. He was later convicted of attempted murder but found not to be criminally responsible due to diminished mental capacity.

“He had a jackknife, open, right at the door of our room. And I would like to say that my wife did not panic. She just locked the door and rushed to lock the other door and called the police and I think that I’m lucky that she was there and I’m grateful,” Chrétien told reporters afterward.

 

 

Known for treating staffers and volunteers like family

Aline dedicated herself to a number of causes, especially music. A pianist, Aline enjoyed playing for herself as much as she did for family and friends.

“She was an incredible person, not just as a political ally to the prime minister, but also as a friend of women,” recalled former deputy prime minister Sheila Copps.

“Mr. Chrétien was the first prime minister to name a woman to the head of the Supreme Court, to name a woman deputy prime minister,” Copps told CBC News. “The influence behind that was actually Aline Chrétien.”

Former interim Liberal Party leader Bob Rae — now Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations — called Aline a “very important anchor” in Jean Chrétien’s life.

“I don’t think he would have become prime minister without her by his side,” said Rae, who has known the pair since 1966.

 

Aline, centre, is congratulated by Haiti’s First Lady Geri Benoit-Preval, left, and Chile’s Marta Larracechea de Frei, right, after the signing of the Ottawa declaration at the closing of the Ninth Conference of Spouses of Heads of State and Government of the Americas at the National Art Gallery in Ottawa in 1999. (Reuters)

 

Known for her kind and welcoming nature, she treated Liberal staffers and volunteers as members of her own family and supported her husband through difficult times.

After internecine squabbling in the Liberal Party between supporters of Chrétien and his finance minister, Paul Martin, culminated in Chrétien stepping down sooner than he had planned, Aline told the CBC’s Peter Mansbridge in 2003 how she approaches conflict.

“If somebody has a chip on their shoulder, who has something against somebody, it shows,” she told Mansbridge. “Life is too short and I forgive, and in politics there’s a lot to forgive so I would be very miserable. I see people who don’t forgive and it’s not nice.

“Jean is the guy [who] forgives easily and I like him for that, too, because in life, if you are just a thing about the past, it’s no good. You just go forward and you’re happy.”

 

 

As much as Jean Chrétien was gregarious and hot-tempered, Aline was the calm and collected political partner who was happy to stick to the sidelines. But she took great pride in what they accomplished together in public life and believed Canadians would come to miss her husband and value his legacy when he left office.

“I would be just happy if they say he was working hard for his people and he was a good prime minister,” she told Mansbridge in 2003.

The success of their political partnership was surpassed only by their personal one. Aline and Jean Chrétien celebrated their 63rd wedding anniversary on Sept. 10.

Source: – CBC.ca

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John Roberts put the country before politics – CNN

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After sitting for a remarkable several weeks on a Pennsylvania election-law case — the longest the Court has taken with any election case this year — the Court in the end chose to say nothing at all. Instead, it simply released a 4-4 order rejecting the Republican Party’s effort to overturn a decision of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, a decision that permits absentee ballots to be counted even if received three days after Election Day.
The Court’s silence here is exceptionally wise. Often when divided 4-4, the justices do not write, but, at times, at least some of them do. Why did Chief Justice Roberts and the justices who voted with him not explain their reasons? Why did the other conservative justices, in dissent, not speak either? The reason, paradoxically, is likely precisely because the stakes were too high to say anything at all; the issues are too momentous; the election too imminent.
This case has a clear link to Bush v. Gore: It centered on an issue that Bush v. Gore had addressed but not fully resolved. That is almost certainly why the Court spent so long trying to figure out how to handle the case. And also why Roberts might have suppressed his probable agreement with the dissenters: to preclude the Court from deciding such consequential issues, implicitly or explicitly, on the eve of the election.
The monumental issue in the case was what the word “legislature” means in the Constitution. That might sound simple, but the answer has ramifications that reverberate throughout the Constitution. That’s because the term “legislature” appears in the Constitution 17 times. Each time it does, the legal question is whether “legislature” is best understood to mean (1) the ordinary lawmaking processes of a state or (2) only the formal institution of the legislature itself. That is a fundamental question of political power and who has it.
If the Constitution gives these powers to the formal institution of the legislature alone, that means state legislatures would be free of many of the normal constraints when they exercise these unique powers the Constitution assigns them. And these powers are central to control over the democratic process. The Constitution, for example, gives the state “legislature” the power to regulate national elections. It also gives the “legislature” the power to decide how to structure presidential elections. The question the Pennsylvania case posed is exactly how much power legislatures have to do that.
State constitutions normally, of course, limit a legislature. Suppose, though, a state constitution requires seven days of early voting in national elections. Yet, if only “the legislature” can regulate national elections, the state constitution would be of no effect; a legislature that preferred a different number of days of early voting would be free to impose that policy.
This was the claim of the Republican Party in Pennsylvania. The state’s election code as enacted by the legislature requires absentee ballots to be received by 8 p.m. on election night. But the state court held that in these unusual times the state constitution required that deadline to be pushed back three days. If only “the legislature” can regulate the presidential process, as the Republican Party claimed, the legislatively-chosen deadline of election night would have to prevail.
Here’s another example, from a case the Court has decided already. Arizona, like many states, permits voters to enact state law through what’s known as direct democracy. Through that process, voters in Arizona created an independent commission to draw congressional districts, rather than have the state legislature do so.
But the Constitution gives the “legislature” the power to regulate congressional elections. If that means the lawmaking process of the state, as the state defines it, then voters can regulate these elections, including by requiring that commissions draw districts. But if it means only the formal institution of the legislature, then voters have no power over these issues.
In a 5-4 decision that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote five years ago, the Court held that “legislature” means the general lawmaking process of a state. That meant a state can give voters the power to regulate national elections. But who wrote the impassioned, vehement, lengthy dissent for four Justices, arguing that “legislature” means just the institution? Roberts.
That is why he almost certainly believes, as a matter of first principle, that “legislature” means the institution, nothing more. And that belief would have led him to a 5-3 decision blocking the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision and re-imposing the legislature’s election night deadline for absentee ballots.
But a 5-3 decision doing that would have led Biden supporters to believe the conservative majority was aligning with the Republican Party, for partisan reasons, in favor of restrictive absentee ballot rules — in a critical swing state like Pennsylvania. On top of that, the Court might well have felt obligated to explain its reasons for such a significant action. That would have required the Court to resolve the meaning of “legislature,” with all the implications doing so would entail.
In suppressing his almost certain view about the proper meaning of the Constitution, Roberts chose to let these issues, like sleeping dogs, lie — at least for now. A 4-4 decision says nothing. It settles nothing. Surely a tough vote for the Chief Justice, but exactly the right call, on the eve of an election that is roiling the country like few others.

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The return of austerity politics – Washington Post

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Here is a prediction that you can take to the bank. I’m not in the business of handicapping, but if anyone offers to bet against the following proposition, don’t just take the bet. Double down on it.

Should Joe Biden win the election, the moment he puts his hand on the Bible on Inauguration Day, the Republican Party will suddenly remember that there is nothing more threatening to America than budget deficits.

Note that I label this the return of austerity politics, not economics. Although garments will be rended and dire warnings will be made, this isn’t about the economics of debt. At one level, it’s about blocking Democratic priorities. At a deeper level, it’s about kneecapping a Biden presidency before it has a chance to take off. (Disclosure: I informally advise the Biden campaign.)

This outcome must be avoided and not just because the evolving economics of fiscal debt — one of the most interesting, evolving and inherently progressive areas of economics — says so. The main reason the return of austerity politics must be resisted is its human cost.

The equation couldn’t be simpler: Austerity equals human suffering. And such suffering will not be equally distributed. It will fall on those most vulnerable to the coronavirus and the economic damage it has unleashed.

The new economics of public debt underscores the urgency of this equation. The old argument that public borrowing competes with private borrowing, leading to higher interest rates and slower growth, has lacked empirical support for decades. Right now, we have a historically huge budget deficit of 15 percent of GDP (over $3 trillion) and debt about the same size as the economy. Yet the yield on the 10-year Treasury bill is below 1 percent (its average since the 1960s is 6 percent). More to the point, because these are unusual economic times, interest rates on government debt have been uncorrelated to the magnitude of that debt for decades now, as I discussed in recent testimony on the topic.

In fact, this has been the case in most advanced economies, regardless of debt levels, with Japan as the most notable example (its public debt has long been multiples of its economy). One reason is that these economies have operated below capacity, with both low inflation and excess savings relative to investment putting downward pressure on rates. That dynamic has drawn central banks, like our Federal Reserve, into the mix, trying to close output gaps by aggressively holding down the benchmark rates they control.

Inequality also plays a role. When growth flows disproportionately to those who are already wealthy, they tend to save, not spend, marginal dollars relative to middle and lower-income households. This, too, has boosted savings and lowered interest rates, while restricting the spending and the living standards of lower-income families.

But whatever the reason, the fact of persistently low rates offers new opportunities for near-term relief to those who need it and longer-term public investment to meet the existential challenges we face right now, from climate change to racial injustice.

One strong piece of evidence for this contention of ample fiscal space is that the most recent Congressional Budget Office forecast of what it will cost the government to service its debt has gone down, not up, since its previous forecast. And that earlier forecast didn’t include that $3 trillion of new debt incurred to offset the pandemic. How can we have more debt yet pay less to service it? Lower rates, of course.

This doesn’t mean that deficits never matter. They do, not least because when we carry such high debt levels, we’re a lot more vulnerable to an unforeseen spike in interest rates. So piling on wasteful debt is as economically wrongheaded now as it has ever been, which is why the highly regressive, deficit-financed Trump tax cuts were such a mistake. This also implies that the suddenly hawkish Republicans will be guilty of two fiscal crimes: piling on bad debt while refusing to countenance good debt.

But isn’t bad and good debt in the eye of beholder? No, because good debt does three things that bad debt doesn’t: It promotes growth, relieves hardship and advances racial equity. Investing in affordable housing for racial victims of housing segregation: good debt. Cuts in capital gains taxes: bad debt. Enhanced benefits for the unemployed and nutritional support for the millions not able to meet this basic need: good. Tax breaks for profitable corporations: bad.

Still, even with low rates and the ensuing low debt service, it is essential to raise the necessary revenue to pay for permanent measures, such as lasting investments in clean energy, standing up an affordable child-care sector and providing universal pre-K and free college for those of limited means — all of which are Biden proposals. Especially as these programs are both growth- and equity-inducing, paying for them through deficit financing is better than not doing them at all, but to stop there would severely undercut their political sustainability.

Should the election outcome break our way, how can progressives achieve these goals in the face of the forthcoming fiscal flip?

First, we must ignore the phony caterwauling of the deficit chicken hawks. One rule to be aggressively enforced is that anyone who voted for the Trump tax cuts has zero credibility on deficits and should be summarily ignored, if not ridiculed.

Second, we must help politicians with austere muscle memory understand these new dynamics. Here again, that’s not just an economic argument; it’s a political one. If conservatives ignore austerity when they’re in power but Democrats embrace it when they take control, then conservatives will consistently meet the demands of their constituents in the donor class while Democrats consistently fail to meet the needs of their constituents.

That is a not just a recipe for facilitating reckless fiscal policy and wasteful debt. It’s also a recipe for losing progressive support and political power — something no Democrat should want.

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The Real Divide in America Is Between Political Junkies and Everyone Else – The New York Times

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The common view of American politics today is of a clamorous divide between Democrats and Republicans, an unyielding, inevitable clash of harsh partisan polarization.

But that focus obscures another, enormous gulf — the gap between those who follow politics closely and those who don’t. Call it the “attention divide.”

What we found is that most Americans — upward of 80 percent to 85 percent — follow politics casually or not at all. Just 15 percent to 20 percent follow it closely (the people we call “deeply involved”): the group of people who monitor everything from covfefe to the politics of “Cuties.”

At the start of the year (i.e., pre-pandemic), we asked people to name the two most important issues facing the country. As expected, we found some clear partisan divides: For example, Republicans are more likely than Democrats to cite illegal immigration as an important issue.

But on a number of other issues, we found that Americans fall much less neatly into partisan camps. For example, Democrats and Republicans who don’t follow politics closely believe that low hourly wages are one of the most important problems facing the country. But for hard partisans, the issue barely registers.

Partisan Republicans were most likely to say drug abuse was the most important problem facing the country. But less-attentive Republicans ranked it second to last, and they were also concerned about the deficit and divisions between Democrats and Republicans.

Among Democrats, the political junkies think the influence of wealthy donors and interest groups is an urgent problems. But less-attentive Democrats are 25 percentage points more likely to name moral decline as an important problem facing the country — a problem partisan Democrats never even mention.

These gaps extend beyond issues to feelings about the other party. Hard partisans are twice as likely as people who pay less attention to politics to say that they would be unhappy if their child married someone of the opposing party.

Hard partisans are also more likely to speak out about these political likes and dislikes. Almost 45 percent of people who are deeply involved say they frequently share their views on social media — in some cases, daily. It’s only 11 percent for those without a politics habit. To put this in perspective, a Pew study finds that 10 percent of Twitter users are responsible for 97 percent of all tweets about politics.

This gap between the politically indifferent and hard, loud partisans exacerbates the perception of a hopeless division in American politics because it is the partisans who define what it means to engage in politics. When a Democrat imagines a Republican, she is not imagining a co-worker who mostly posts cat pictures and happens to vote differently; she is more likely imagining a co-worker she had to mute on Facebook because the Trump posts became too hard to bear.

We see this effect in a study we did with three other political scientists, James Druckman, Samara Klar and Matthew Levendusky. We asked a group of over 3,000 Americans to describe either themselves or members of the other party. Only 27 percent of these people said that they discuss politics frequently; a majority consider themselves moderates. But nearly 70 percent of these people believe that a typical member of the other party talks about politics incessantly and is definitely not moderate.

For partisans, politics is a morality play, a struggle of good versus evil. But most Americans just see two angry groups of people bickering over issues that may not always seem pressing or important.

How can politics better match the opinions of a majority of Americans? The fact is, it’s not an easy problem to solve. We can try to give the hardened partisans less voice in the news. Featuring people who exemplify partisan conflict and extremist ideas elevates their presence in politics (though of course by definition, it is the partisans who are most closely watching the news who are also most likely to give their opinions). This is particularly true of social media: What a vocal minority shares on social media is not the opinion of the public. Yet such political tweets, as the political communication scholar Shannon McGregor finds, are increasingly making their way into news coverage as stand-ins for public opinion.

There might be an advantage for politicians who focus less on the demands of partisans and more on tangible issues. Yes, hard partisans are more likely to reward ideological victories, but they are also a minority of the electorate.

Each day, partisan Democrats wonder whether that day’s “outrage” will finally change how people feel about President Trump. Partisan Republicans wonder the same thing about Joe Biden. But most “regular” voters are not paying that much attention to the daily onslaught. It turns them off.

And the major scandals that do break through? Well, to many of them, that is “just politics.”

Yanna Krupnikov (@ykrupnikov) and John Barry Ryan (@ryanbq), associate professors of political science at Stony Brook University, are the authors of a forthcoming book about polarization and disengagement in American politics.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: letters@nytimes.com.

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook, Twitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram.

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