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Facebook Moves to Muffle Politics on Its Platform – The Wall Street Journal

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Barcelona Soccer Club Is Getting Caught Up in Politics – BNN

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(Bloomberg) — FC Barcelona calls itself “more than a club,” an affirmation that its Catalan culture and identity within Spain goes beyond soccer. That motto could be about to take on wider significance as it gets more deeply embroiled in the nation’s politics.

The biggest club in the world by revenue will hold elections on Sunday to pick a new president. The outcome may have a bearing on the future of Catalonia’s independence movement, whose fight with the Spanish government has dominated the country over the past three years.

Known internationally for stars like Argentina’s Lionel Messi, Barcelona is a flag carrier for Catalonia and was a lightning rod for resistance against the Franco dictatorship. On 17 minutes and 14 seconds at home games—before the pandemic emptied the stadium—a faction of the crowd chants for independence to symbolize the fall of the city in 1714.

But the team is still considered the last big Catalan institution that remains largely outside the influence of secessionists.

During the campaign to elect a new president, candidates have mostly avoided speaking publicly about the Catalan issue. Behind the scenes, though, efforts are being made to ensure that whoever wins will be firmly aligned with the separatist cause, according to a person familiar with the plan.

“In a country where politics is as voracious as it is in Catalonia, where there’s a vengeful and fratricidal behavior in so many things, it’s no surprise that Barca has become a disputed power,” said Ramon Miravitllas, author of the 2013 book called “Barca’s Political Role.” “To those who favor independence, Barca needs to be a striker that plays against other forces beyond football.”

The two main pro-independence parties—Esquerra Republicana and Junts per Catalunya—are currently negotiating to form a government in the region after elections last month. While Esquerra looks set to lead the administration, the more radical Junts appears to have the upper hand in the race for who will run Barcelona.

The party’s leader, former regional President Carles Puigdemont, is personally following every twist and turn of the election. He is in self-proclaimed exile in Belgium following the turmoil of the region’s failed bid for independence in October 2017, which also divided Spanish soccer as well as the nation.

Junts is interested in using Barcelona to develop television content, according to the person familiar with the party’s involvement. The club owns a television channel and has a content studio, Barca Studios, with capacity to build streaming services.

Puigdemont and his allies have been working with Joan Laporta, a former president and the frontrunner to get the post again.

People close to Puigdemont have been helping gather the necessary financial guarantees for candidates on the Laporta team. They need 100 million euros ($119 million)—or about 8.5 million each—and enlisted the help of an executive at one of Catalonia’s main banks, according to the person familiar with the situation. 

Should he prevail, Laporta faces the task of fixing a club in a mess, with debt of  about 1 billion euros and a cash crunch in May. Former President Josep Maria Bartomeu and three other directors were arrested earlier this week amid a prosecutor’s investigation into the previous administration’s use of the club’s funds.

In December, Laporta made an advertising splash when he put up a billboard outside the stadium of archrival Real Madrid in the Spanish capital. The slogan “Eager to see you again” referenced the rivalry, but the message was also that the independence movement is back, said a person familiar with the decision.

“Barca has been ‘more than a club’ since the dictatorship, but it can’t have the same role,” said Miravitllas. “Times have changed.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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‘We need the government’: Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief plan reflects seismic shifts in U.S. politics – The Washington Post

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A new Democratic administration facing down a massive economic crisis pushes an $800 billion stimulus package. A bloc of centrist Democrats balk at the price tag, and Republicans are thrown into a frenzy warning about the impact to the federal deficit.

A little more than a decade later, another new Democratic administration takes office facing a different economic crisis. This time, it proposes spending an additional $1.9 trillion, even though the federal deficit last year was $3.1 trillion — much larger than during the last crisis. Centrist Democrats unify behind passing the measure, and the GOP rejects it but in a more muted fashion.

The disparity between the reception to President Barack Obama’s 2009 stimulus plan and President Biden’s is the result of several seismic shifts in American politics — the most dramatic of which may be the apparent impact of the pandemic on attitudes about the role of government in helping the economy.

Since the outset of the coronavirus pandemic, polling has found substantial support among Americans for providing more government aid for those in need. That is partially due to the nature of the current crisis, which for a time opened a deeper economic hole than even the Great Recession. But the shift is also the result of a reorientation on economic policy — on the left and on the right — that has transformed the political landscape.

On the right, congressional Republicans may still fret about higher deficits — but the most popular politician among their voters does not. As a candidate and as president, Donald Trump blew past Republican concerns about the deficit, pushing for trillions in additional spending and tax cuts and running unprecedented peacetime debt levels.

And on the left, Democratic lawmakers have increasingly learned to ignore fears about spending too much. Party leaders have said they suffered crippling political defeats in the 2010s precisely because they did not deliver enough meaningful economic relief under Obama — a mistake that they see an opportunity to correct under Biden. Democrats also repeatedly tout the 2017 Republican tax cut, which is expected to add approximately $2 trillion to the national debt, as a reason to be skeptical of GOP concerns about fiscal restraint.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) explained on March 7 why he stalled the coronavirus relief vote, a day after the Senate approved the package without Republicans. (The Washington Post)

“It’s been a major shift. People have gone from being anti-government, to beyond being even neutral on it, to thinking: ‘We need the government; it has to help us,’ ” said former congressman Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who helped craft Congress’s response to the last financial crisis and Great Recession.

“You have a new consensus in America — that the government has an important role, and that Ronald Reagan was wrong. For the first time in my lifetime, people are saying that the government has done too little rather than doing too much.”

The upshot is that Americans overall have appeared largely supportive of Biden’s stimulus blitz, which would push the total national debt beyond $23 trillion. This change has helped speed Biden’s massive relief package through Congress with relative ease, despite unified Republican opposition and last-minute changes pushed by moderate Democrats. Centrist Senate Democrats trimmed unemployment benefits but did not significantly reduce the overall size of Biden’s legislation.

After a roughly 24-hour, around-the-clock session, Senate Democrats passed a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan on March 6 without any Republican support. (The Washington Post)

“What happened in 2009 and ’10 is, we tried to work with the Republicans, the package ended up being much too small, and the recession lasted for five years,” Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in an interview. “People got sour; we lost the election.”

This emerging consensus is not without its detractors. Congressional Republicans widely panned Biden’s relief bill as providing far more funding than is necessary, arguing much of it goes to waste. A number of leading economists, influential Washington groups and Wall Street analysts have said key parts of Biden’s bill are poorly targeted to the specific needs of the crisis — particularly given the encouraging signs on vaccinations and the job market.

Although the bill is popular right now, congressional Republicans have also projected confidence that will change once its provisions become more widely known and they have a chance to campaign against it.

Every Republican in the House and Senate voted against the bill, undermining Biden’s campaign promises to work across the aisle and find common ground. The president’s difficulty at points securing the support of centrist Senate Democrats — a process that led to a nine-hour standoff with Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) on Friday — also suggests the challenges he is likely to face securing support for his next legislative effort. Moderate lawmakers of Biden’s party may be less likely to back a narrowly partisan effort again if it’s not responsive to an economic emergency.

“I think it’s important for the American people and our Democratic colleagues to recognize that when they’re going to propose spending money that’s not needed and that’s wasteful — and they lard up a piece of legislation — that we’re not going to just sit back and take it,” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) told reporters on Thursday. “We’re going to fight back.”

The bill’s $1.9 trillion cost — budget experts say the ultimate price-tag may be $1.8 trillion — makes it one of the most expensive pieces of legislation in terms of its single-year impact, particularly when considered in tandem with the approximately $900 billion bill approved in December. An analysis from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, which argues for lower deficits, found the package could ultimately cost $4 trillion if key provisions are extended.

Democrats are blowing past these concerns. Democratic lawmakers and aides say they have heard very few complaints from constituents about concerns the relief plan will drive up the deficit. Even senators representing states that Trump won by huge margins, such as Jon Tester (D-Mont.), have gone along with the bill’s price tag.

The White House has pointed to a range of economic analyses showing that without dramatic federal intervention, it could take as long as two years for employment to fully recover. Economists have also pointed to low interest rates as enabling historic borrowing at relatively low costs. The U.S. jobs report showed the economy added close to 400,000 jobs in February, but the number of Americans out of work is still over 9 million more than it was pre-pandemic.

Biden is in some ways the ideal messenger for their spending blitz. A septuagenarian who spent four decades in Congress, the president is hard to portray as a socialist or radical leftist — even as he advances some ambitious expansions of government spending, including a major new child tax benefit.

“Biden’s style and his persona have allowed him to be heard as pragmatic on policies that if articulated by other people would sound ideological,” said Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster who advised Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign. “Just by temperament and culture and background, Joe Biden seems less ideological and more pragmatic.”

That has also appeared to contribute to a more muted reaction to Biden’s spending plans than Obama’s. Reports from the Conservative Political Action Conference, held this year in Florida, indicated that the debt and deficits were not major themes energizing the conservative base.

The shift has been accelerated by the party’s leader. Trump has so far largely avoided critiquing Biden’s stimulus plan. He did recently blast Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for refusing to support his and Democrats’ push for $2,000 stimulus payments in December, a decision that Trump said cost the GOP the Georgia runoff elections that determined control of the Senate.

“In the background leading to the Obama era, $300 billion deficits were considered a crisis, and in that context an $800 billion stimulus was an enormous sticker shock even among Democrats,” said Brian Riedl, a former aide to Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) now at the libertarian-leaning Manhattan Institute. “It has been a massive shift toward the view [that] almost no level of borrowing will have negative consequences. Billions just became trillions.”

Dave Hopkins, a professor of political science at Boston College who studies the Democratic Party, said the Republican base is no longer “stoked” by criticisms of overspending.

“Moderate vulnerable Democrats feel a lot more freedom to vote for a big spending bill in the current moment — because the polls suggest it’s popular, and because the case against Democrats is being made on Dr. Seuss and Mr. Potato Head, not the debt,” Hopkins said.

Beyond the shifting politics, Democratic lawmakers have themselves shifted in their beliefs.

In the 1990s, Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), now vice chair of the House’s Joint Economic Committee, supported the Democratic presidential candidates who most seriously campaigned on closing the national deficit.

Beyer’s thinking has changed. He cited conversations with a range of economists on wonky issues such as the relationship between employment and inflation, as well as watching the impact of covid aid as it was sprayed across the American economy.

Beyer sits on the House Ways and Means Committee, which writes the nation’s tax laws.

“We’re always doing things like the Employee Retention Tax Credit,” he said of a refundable credit to reimburse businesses hit by covid for keeping employees on the payroll. “I don’t want to diminish those kinds of things, but they don’t feel real to people the way the $600 check does.”

Beyer added: “I was knocking doors for Joe Biden in Pennsylvania [last fall], and the most memorable conversation I had was with a guy who said, ‘I just want to know who will send me the checks.’ . . . Covid has given us the opportunity to provide very meaningful benefits to these folks.”

Democrats were not always so concerned with the marketing of their plans.

In 2009, Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D) went to the White House and begged Obama officials to have the treasury secretary send letters to millions of American households explaining how they would benefit from a $1,000 tax cut in Obama’s stimulus. The administration refused.

“If you went to the streets of Philadelphia in 2010 and asked every man and woman if they got a tax cut from Obama’s stimulus, they would have said no,” Rendell said.

The White House is now aiming for the opposite. In remarks on Saturday, Biden emphasized the cash that the plan will send to millions of Americans — in direct stimulus payments, new child benefits, and unemployment assistance, among other provisions.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday the administration would aim to do a much better job than Obama’s team had in ensuring that people saw how they were being helped by the government.

“Quite frankly, without the overwhelming, bipartisan support of the American people, this would not have happened,” Biden said after the Senate passed the measure. He touted the “real, tangible results” delivered by the package. Americans, he said, “will be able to see and know and feel the changes in their own lives.”

Tony Romm contributed to this report.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the federal deficit for 2008, which was $469 billion and projected to grow significantly in the next year. This version has been corrected.

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Opinion | In Canadian politics, Erin O'Toole might be the pandemic's biggest loser – Toronto Star

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It was not so long ago — a bit less than a decade — that Canada was the scene of a heated debate as to whether the NDP and the Liberals needed to come together under a single roof or form a coalition of some kind.

Back then, the thinking was that the division of the country’s progressive forces between the federal parties could only lead to the dominance in government of the Conservatives.

And while Justin Trudeau’s 2015 majority victory combined with the second-best New Democrat score in that party’s history seemed to put the issue to rest, doubts lingered as to whether that result was mostly the product of circumstances.

Voter fatigue with the Conservatives after a decade of Stephen Harper’s rule combined with the eclipse of the Bloc Québécois certainly played a part in the election of Canada’s first majority Liberal government in 15 years.

From that angle, the 2019 election could have been construed as a correction of sorts. The Conservatives won the popular vote, the Bloc made a comeback, and had the NDP not underperformed to the degree that it did, Trudeau could be in political retirement today.

Then came the pandemic, an event of such profound consequences that it has the potential of altering — at least for a time — the political calculus.

Never have so many Canadians had to rely on governments for so much and for so long as they have over the past 12 months.

Given that, it should come as little surprise that the pool of progressive voters and the ranks of those who support government activism seems to have expanded over the course of the COVID-19 episode.

Consider the following:

A year into the pandemic, the Conservatives are the only federal party that is consistently falling below its last election score in voting intentions.

Even as a debate has raged over the federal delivery of vaccines, the Conservatives, who — based on their seat count — are best positioned to replace the Liberals in government, have failed to hang on to their 2019 audience, let alone add to it.

Every national poll published since Feb.1 has Conservative support hovering around the 30 per cent mark. That’s down four points from the party’s election finish.

It would be tempting to put the decrease mostly down to a failure to launch on the part of Erin O’Toole. Admittedly, it is a challenge for an incoming opposition leader to make an impression in the midst of a pandemic.

Still, the notion that the shoes Andrew Scheer left behind were so big that his successor is at a loss to fill them borders on mind-boggling.

The Green Party has also changed leaders over the course of the pandemic and, in the process, it has traded down on the profile front. Over the years, Elizabeth May had become a national fixture. Her successor, Annamie Paul, is still relatively unknown. Yet, the Greens sit at or around their 2019 score in the polls.

As support for the Conservatives has shrunk, that for the NDP has expanded. In all but one of the last six national polls, the New Democrats have scored better than in the last election.

That is not to say Jagmeet Singh is necessarily on a roll. Historically some of the NDP’s best polling results have been achieved between elections.

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In the summer before the 1988 campaign, Ed Broadbent seemed to be on the way to becoming prime minister.

At the start of the 2015 campaign, the polls gave Thomas Mulcair the inside track to beat Harper.

In each of those cases, the NDP’s polling gains were essentially achieved at the Liberals’ expense. But so far this year, Trudeau’s party is either holding its own or improving on its last election score.

The two — at least at this juncture — are not communicating vessels.

At the same time, a trend favourable to activist governments is emerging at the provincial level.

Among the premiers of the larger provinces, François Legault and John Horgan stand out for the high marks their management of the pandemic is earning them.

In last week’s Léger poll, satisfaction with Quebec’s Legault ran at 73 per cent, while 65 per cent of British Columbians approved of Horgan’s performance.

Despite political labels that could lead one to conclude the two premiers hail from opposite sides of the left/right divide, the fact is that Legault is every bit as much of a believer in government interventionism as his NDP counterpart.

Meanwhile, over on the Conservative side, the reviews range from decisively mixed in the case of Ontario’s Doug Ford and Manitoba’s Brian Pallister to outright negative in the case of Saskatchewan’s Scott Moe and Alberta’s Jason Kenney.

Even in the Conservatives’ heartland, the pandemic is doing the Canadian right no favours.

Chantal Hébert is an Ottawa-based freelance contributing columnist covering politics for the Star. Reach her via email: chantalh28@gmail.com or follow her on Twitter: @ChantalHbert

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