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How political symbolism brought down Keystone XL – CBC.ca

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The new president of the United States described his inauguration on Wednesday as a moment to move forward. But moving forward properly requires a reckoning with the past. In Joe Biden’s case, that reckoning came for the Keystone XL pipeline.

The project’s fate seemed to be sealed years ago, but it haunts us still. And now, with strident words from Alberta Premier Jason Kenney about a trade war, it could haunt Canadian politics indefinitely.

Or, Canadian leaders could decide that it’s time for them to move forward, too.

The executive order that rescinded Keystone XL’s permit on Wednesday states that “the United States must be in a position to exercise vigorous climate leadership in order to achieve a significant increase in global climate action and put the world on a sustainable climate pathway.”

If that sounds familiar, it’s because President Barack Obama said almost the same thing when he blocked Keystone in November 2015. “America is now a global leader when it comes to taking serious action to fight climate change,” Obama said. “And frankly, approving this project would have undercut that global leadership.”

John Kerry — secretary of state in 2015 and now Biden’s climate envoy — put an even finer point on the significance of Keystone in his own statement at the time. “The United States cannot ask other nations to make tough choices to address climate change if we are unwilling to make them ourselves,” he said.

A pipeline that became a referendum

In his remarks, Obama argued that the practical value of the pipeline had been wildly overstated — by both sides. Keystone XL, he said, would be neither “a silver bullet for the economy, as was promised by some, nor the express lane to climate disaster proclaimed by others.”

But the economic arguments in favour of the pipeline could not overcome the profound symbolic value assigned to it by environmental groups and climate-focused voters.

On its own, Keystone wouldn’t spell the difference between a green future and a “climate disaster.” But the pipeline became a referendum on the U.S. government’s commitment to combating climate change — a tangible thing on which American activists could focus their energies.

Trump, who actively sought to undermine attempts to fight climate change, revived the project. But the political frame that was placed around Keystone XL in 2015 never went away, while legal challenges to the project continued.

By the fall of 2019, most of the major Democratic candidates for the presidency had pledged to rescind Trump’s order on their first day in office. Last May, Biden insisted that he would kill the pipeline.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and then-U.S. Vice President Joe Biden walk down the Hall of Honour on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, December 9, 2016. (Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press)

After Biden’s victory in the presidential election, the Eurasia Group said that rescinding the permit was a “table stake” for the Democratic president and that backing away would risk “raising the ire of activists, their committed followers, and — importantly — the left wing of the Democratic party in Congress.”

“Rescinding KXL would be one area the Biden administration could act [on] and deliver a win to a key political constituency with no congressional interference,” the global consulting firm said.

Bill McKibben, one of the activists who led the campaign against Keystone, wrote in the New Yorker on Thursday that he was grateful for Biden’s decision and never doubted that the new president would follow through. “Even today,” he wrote, “Keystone is far too closely identified with climate carelessness for a Democratic president to be able to waver.”

So the second death of Keystone shouldn’t have surprised anyone. It might have seemed rude of Biden to not wait a day or two to allow Canadian officials to make a fuller presentation on the pipeline’s behalf, but that only would have delayed the inevitable.

The lingering costs of climate inaction

Perhaps Biden thought he was doing his neighbours a favour by ripping the Band-Aid off quickly.

What might have happened to Keystone XL had Canada and the United States taken more aggressive measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the years leading up to Obama’s decision? It’s an intriguing hypothetical. Keystone may have paid the price ultimately for decades of global inaction on climate change.

In the here and now, any debate about Keystone will have to consider whether its additional capacity is even needed at this point. In the meantime, Premier Kenney wants Justin Trudeau’s government to impose trade sanctions on the United States if Biden refuses to revisit his decision.

Stephen Harper could be ungracious in his defence of Keystone — he famously said that approving it was a “no brainer” — but his government doesn’t seem to have ever publicly threatened to impose sanctions if Obama rejected it. Nor does it appear anyone called for sanctions when Obama officially killed the project shortly after the Trudeau government came to office.

Sanctions out of spite?

This idea of reprisals seems to have originated recently with Jack Mintz, a Canadian economist, who also conceded that imposing tariffs could be akin to “cutting off our own nose to spite our face.”

Notably, Erin O’Toole’s federal Conservatives have not joined the premier in calling for sanctions. Kenney — whose government is polling poorly and whose party is being out-fundraised by the opposition — is spoiling for a fight. He has seized on the fact that federal officials did not respond to Biden’s decision in particularly strong terms — and the Liberals may not have struck the right tone for those listening in the Prairies.

WATCH: Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says Ottawa ‘folded’ on Keystone XL

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says the federal government ‘folded’ in response to U.S President Joe Biden’s decision to revoke the Keystone XL pipeline. 2:14

But before launching a trade war against this country’s closest ally and its new leader, one should consider the potential results and opportunity costs.

Would a trade war convince President Biden to brave the wrath of his supporters and reverse a campaign promise? Or would a renewed fight over Keystone XL simply consume political and diplomatic capital that could be put toward other things?

Kenney has said sanctions might discourage the Biden administration from intervening against two other contested pipelines that originate in Alberta — Line 5 and Line 3. Writing in the New Yorker, McKibben did identify Line 3 as a target. But there’s also a decent chance that sanctions would only inflame existing tensions around those projects.

Threats and futility

In May, 2015 — nearly six years ago — former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson wrote that it was time for the Canada-U.S. relationship to move on from Keystone XL. Robertson argued that there were too many other important things to talk about. Six years later, that list of important things includes fostering collaboration on clean energy, fending off ‘Buy American’ policies and combating China’s aggression.

Still, Kenney warned that if the Trudeau government does not do more to defend Keystone, “that will only force us to go further in our fight for a fair deal in the federation.”

But if the battle for Keystone was effectively lost more than five years ago, should the federal government’s willingness to keep fighting it have any bearing on Alberta’s relationship with the rest of the country?

The death of Keystone XL will have a real impact on those Albertans whose jobs depended on it. There are real anxieties and questions that need to be addressed, not least by the federal government.

But the question now is whether fighting over Keystone will do anything to address those concerns — or whether it’s time to put that political energy toward other purposes.

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How Giving Up Ableist Insults Can Help Heal Our Politics – Forbes

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The long struggle to unlearn ableism may have an unexpected side benefit. It could help us make today’s politics and public discourse a little less toxic.

American politics were never as friendly as we like to think they once were. But they have felt particularly nasty for quite a few years now – that’s not just our imaginations. Most of us have a vaguely-defined but strong and understandable desire to “go back” to a kinder, less tense and corrosive dialog with our neighbors and fellow citizens – in person, on social media, and especially in politics.

How do we achieve civility when real issues divide us? Our conflicts are more than just rudeness and pointless rivalry, although we have more than enough of those, too. Real grievances need airing, and real injustices cry out for accountability. Does civility mean compromising on our own or other people’s humanity and worth? Should human rights be open to debate? Is bipartisan harmony really better, if we simply agree on who will remain oppressed and precisely how much? When the stakes of political argument are real and life-altering, harmony and bipartisanship for their own sakes seem a little less important.

Still, we aren’t wrong to crave a bit more mutual respect and a more chill atmosphere in politics. The trick is figuring out how to get there without simplistic difference-splitting or unilateral surrender. How do we make our politics more polite and respectful, while still standing firm for our beliefs and working on real solutions to our difficult problems?

One way we might start rebuilding respect without backing down on substance is to give up one specific and popular rhetorical style. We might stop calling our political opponents “stupid” and “crazy.” It seems like a small thing. But we might find that kicking the habit of insulting people based on intelligence and sanity is a remarkably low-cost way to lower the temperature of politics, and turn us away from petty name-calling so we can focus on the conflicts that really matter.

It’s not just about banning two words, “stupid” and “crazy.” It’s about weaning ourselves off the entire approach of criticizing opposing political views by calling those who hold them unintelligent or irrational. It’s taking care to stop calling people “idiots,” “morons,” and “dummies” – or calling them “nuts,” “certifiable,” and “insane.”

It’s what most of us seem to do when we are so frustrated by “the other side” that we can’t even describe exactly what’s wrong. We slap a label of “stupidity” or “insanity” on it, and rely on deeply ingrained, fundamentally ableist contempt and fear to do our arguing for us. We know it’s not the most noble form of debate. But it’s so common and, frankly, often so emotionally satisfying that giving up the practice won’t be easy. We will need good reasons to give up this easy and seductive brand of name-calling.

First of all, it really is ableist. “Stupid,” “crazy,” and their equivalents may or may not insult a particular disabled person in any given situation. But these terms always support the core ableist assumption that intellectual impairments and mental illnesses are inherently bad and invalidating. We use intelligence and rationality this way in political arguments because of the widespread belief, or maybe just a habit of thinking, that intellectually disabled and mentally ill people don’t have ideas worth listening to – that they are worthless and dismissible. If those ableist assumptions really weren’t there, the words wouldn’t have the same power and effect, and we wouldn’t be so in love with using them against our political foes.

But these insults and labels aren’t just offensive to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, or those with mental illness. And they aren’t just harmful in the way they uphold ableist assumptions about people with those disabilities. Labels and insults based on intelligence and mental illness also add more pointless rancor and incivility to our politics and public discourse. These kinds of insults further foul our already hateful political discourse this without any compensating benefit to anyone, including those of us who use them.

They make political conflicts personal, distracting us from real issues and ideas of consequence.

They aren’t in the least persuasive or helpful to better understanding, because they short circuit real discussion of substantive issues.

Instead of helping us explore the outlines and contours of our disagreements, they signal superiority, contempt, and dismissal.

Using mental illness diagnoses for political and ideological purposes also has a dark history, including in Soviet Russia where political dissidents were often branded as “mentally ill” and detained, based partly on the idea that only an “insane” person could disagree with approved doctrines.

Meanwhile, calling actual cruel, bigoted, violent people – and both extreme anarchists and authoritarians too –“insane” or “stupid” lets them off lightly. It also distracts us from more serious and specific problems like racism and other forms of bigotry, and from political violence which brings literal harm and suffering, and threatens the core of democracy itself. It’s much easier to call racists and terrorists “idiots” and “lunatics” than to contend with the deeper things that actually drive their thinking and actions.

Over several decades, intelligence and mental illness insults, both explicit and implied, have also fueled two of the key narratives of our current political divide:

First there is the perceived conflict and unbridgeable cultural gulf between “elite” liberals who think conservatives are ignorant, unintelligent, or mentally ill, and “heartland” Americans who feel disparaged and looked down upon by “costal, liberal elites.” Like all stereotypes, these are often exaggerated. But judging by rhetoric alone, at least some of the Left’s contempt for the Right really does seem based on perceptions of intelligence and sanity.

It’s a theme heard loudly and explicitly in pretty much every speech at a Trump rally, and further illustrated by numerous stories on Fox News and other conservative media outlets. And it’s a narrative heavily reinforced from both Left and Right through whole sectors of popular culture, from music to comic books, and from movies and TV shows to comedy acts and beer commercials.

Then there is a kind of mirror version of this conflict, in which a certain strain of conservative or libertarian believes themselves to be the smart ones, grounded in a more logical, objective, and honest form of intelligence and rationality that overly emotional, hopelessly indoctrinated liberals lack. They don’t believe that they just happen to be smarter and more rational than liberals. A particular type of intelligence and rationality is at the heart of their own perceived political identity, as is the supposed “stupidity” and “irrationality” of their opponents.

This is most notable in the niche popularity of “rational” or “skeptical” communities on social media and especially YouTube, much of which in the last several years has moved to the Right politically and is driven by contempt for “social justice warriors” of the Left. Again, their core argument is that they are smart and rational, while left-wing “Social Justice Warriors” are “dumb” and “illogical.”

In both cases, intelligence and rationality are championed as the ultimate validations, while stupidity and insanity are the ultimate put-downs. Roughly speaking, “both sides” really do seem to do it, though it’s rarely an even match. The point is that there seems to be a broad consensus across the political spectrum that it’s both a fact and a strong argument to call your political opponents “stupid” or “nuts.”

This specific brand of rhetoric is just one of many factors fueling incivility. Giving it up won’t solve everything. But it is a factor, and moving away from it may be one of the easiest ways to foster a better political atmosphere, because it doesn’t involve any real concessions from anyone.

By at least trying to move to less ableist rhetoric, we may find that we are contributing to civility. If we stop insisting that we are smarter, mentally healthier, or fundamentally better people than our opponents, it won’t undo our substantive conflicts. But it could remove part of what makes our natural divisions wider: contempt for the other, and the feeling that the other holds us in contempt.

Unlike other changes and trade offs, this one should be relatively easy, or at least simple. We really can stop calling our political opponents “stupid” or “crazy,” or any words for judging intelligence and sanity. Instead, we can refocus on criticizing ideas, actions, and arguments, with evidence and compelling counter-arguments.

It won’t end ableism, and it won’t create total harmony in politics. But it could reduce the sum total tonnage of both ableism and political rancor in everyday life. It seems worth a try on both counts.

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'It's a Minefield': Biden's Pick For Health Secretary Faces Abortion Politics – NPR

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Xavier Becerra, President Biden’s nominee for secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, contended with critics of abortion rights on the first day of his confirmation hearings Tuesday.

Sarah Silbiger/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Sarah Silbiger/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

As President Joe Biden works to overhaul U.S. health care policy, few challenges will loom larger for his health secretary than restoring access to family planning while parrying legal challenges to abortion proliferating across the country.

Physicians, clinics and women’s health advocates are looking to Xavier Becerra, Biden’s nominee to run the Department of Health and Human Services, to help swiftly unwind Trump-era funding cuts and rules that have decimated the nation’s network of reproductive health providers over the past four years.

But Becerra’s in the middle of confirmation hearings this week. And though he fought the Trump administration’s family planning restrictions as California’s attorney general, he will, if confirmed by the Senate, face a U.S. Supreme Court dominated by Republican appointees, plus other increasingly conservative federal courts that have backed efforts to restrict reproductive health services.

The leader of Biden’s Health and Human Services team will also have to contend with an energized anti-abortion movement — a movement eager to leverage political power in red state legislatures to finally achieve its decades-long quest to ban abortion outright.

Any Biden administration efforts to preserve the right to an abortion and other family planning services could set up new legal battles between the federal government and states.

“It’s a minefield,” says Mary Ziegler, a law professor at Florida State University who has written extensively about the history of the nation’s abortion debate.

“Expectations on both sides are extremely high,” she says. “And the Supreme Court may force the issue to the top of the agenda if it does something aggressive to restrict abortion.”

The outlines of the brewing showdown came further into focus Tuesday as Becerra faced opposition from a number of Republicans on the Senate health committee on the first of two days of confirmation hearings.

“For many of us, your record has been … very extreme,” Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., told Becerra at the hearing, accusing him of being “against pro-life.” More than three dozen groups opposed to abortion rights have urged the Senate to reject Becerra, who has been a longtime advocate for abortion rights and federal support for contraceptives.

By contrast, Becerra has drawn strong support from abortion rights groups, which have applauded his efforts challenging Trump restrictions on family planning services. “He will be a great partner,” says Alexis McGill Johnson, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Becerra, whose wife, Dr. Carolina Reyes, is an obstetrician, is scheduled to appear before the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday, after which his nomination is expected to move to the floor of the Senate next week for consideration by the whole body.

Successive presidential administrations since the 1980s have restricted or expanded federal support for family planning, depending on which party controlled the White House.

But tensions between the two sides intensified under President Donald Trump, making the task before Biden and Becerra that much more delicate.

Trump, who relied heavily on political backing from religious conservatives, moved more aggressively than his GOP predecessors to curtail access to abortion and clamp down on federal funding for clinics that provide reproductive care.

Organizations such as Planned Parenthood that long received federal money through the half-century-old Title X program were forced out of it when the Trump administration effectively barred recipients of federal aid from providing abortions or counseling women about the procedure.

That move, in turn, led to widespread staffing cutbacks at clinics across the country and huge drops in the number of people able to get family planning services, according to health care providers.

“We’re seeing so many fewer clients,” says Brenda Thomas, chief executive of Arizona Family Health Partnership, which coordinates the state’s Title X program. Thomas said the number of patients in Arizona’s program dropped 24% in 2019 after the Trump administration issued the new rules; it then declined an additional 40% in 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic further hampered services.

In Missouri, a provider operating three family planning clinics left the program, leading to a 14% decrease in patients getting services through Title X, according to the Missouri Family Health Council.

And in California, the Title X restrictions led to a 40% reduction in patients in 2019, says Lisa Matsubara, general counsel at Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California.

Like many other family planning advocates, Matsubara says Biden needs to do more than just reverse the cuts. “We don’t want to just, like, go back to what it was before the Trump administration,” she says. “We’re really looking and hoping that the administration really takes the necessary steps to expand access.”

Biden has pledged to rewrite the family planning regulations so clinics providing reproductive health services can return to the program.

Within days of taking office, Biden issued an executive order to reverse other family planning restrictions imposed by the last administration, including rescinding what’s come to be called the global gag rule that prevented international aid groups that receive U.S. funding from counseling pregnant patients about abortion.

Rolling back some federal policies, like the restrictions on international aid, are relatively simple. Biden and Becerra likely also could quickly reverse Trump-era restrictions on mifepristone, a pill used to induce abortion early in a pregnancy.

But rewriting rules on funding for family planning or reissuing other complex regulations could be considerably more fraught, experts say.

“Both sides have really learned how to maximize use of courts,” says Alina Salganicoff, who directs women’s health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, a health policy nonprofit. (Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of KFF.)

“If anyone understands the legal challenges, it’s Becerra,” Salganicoff says. “But these are thorny issues. There are questions about how the Biden administration can move forward and how fast. And there’s no question they are going to be sued.”

After taking office, Biden said his administration would review the Title X restrictions, which are also under review by the Supreme Court.

As California attorney general, Becerra sued to stop the Trump administration rules. The case was rejected by lower federal courts, though a separate lawsuit in Maryland challenging the rules was successful, setting up the case for the Supreme Court.

Last month, the court issued its first abortion-related decision since Trump appointee Amy Coney Barrett replaced Ruth Bader Ginsburg, upholding a Trump-era rule that blocked mail delivery of mifepristone.

Many legal experts see more substantial court fights on the horizon as conservative-leaning states pass increasingly restrictive abortion laws.

Just last week, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, a Republican, signed a bill barring abortions as soon as a fetal heartbeat can be detected with ultrasound, or about five or six weeks after a pregnancy begins.

The South Carolina law was temporarily blocked by a federal judge after Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit.

The Supreme Court has never upheld a law as restrictive as South Carolina’s. But the high court is the most conservative it has been in decades, raising the prospect that justices may reconsider the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which recognized the right to an abortion.

That could force Biden — and potentially Becerra — to step much more directly into efforts in Congress to safeguard abortion rights, says Ziegler, the Florida law professor.

“There will be huge pressure on the Biden administration to do big, bold things,” Ziegler says.

KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a nonprofit news service covering health issues. It is an editorially independent program of KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation) that is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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Is Political Discrimination In The Workplace Legal? – Forbes

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A picture has been making the rounds on social media, showing a sheet of paper, presumably posted at a place of business, which states the following:

“Job Applicants Please Note:

We do not hire LIBERALS. (emphasis original)

This is not because we disagree with their political views.

It is because working here requires superior reasoning, logic and reading comprehension skills, and in our experience, Liberals are deficient in those areas.

We have found that they make decisions based on their emotions, not logic. This would be very detrimental to our business.

We regret any inconvenience this may cause.”

It looks like this first made its appearance on social media a few years ago, but seems to have resurfaced recently.

It’s unclear if this was really posted by an employer or if it’s just a political meme placed online to cause some trouble. Either way, it presents two interesting questions about employment discrimination law.

We’re on the heels of one of the most partisan eras of politics in our country’s history. So when it comes to the workplace, can an employer go so far as refusing to hire someone just because they’re a “liberal?”

Workplace Discrimination Based on Political Views

To a large extent, private employers may discriminate against their employees and job applicants based on political beliefs and some political activities. This is because political behaviors and beliefs are not protected classes under the major employment anti-discrimination laws, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Also, First Amendment protections do not apply in the private employment setting.

And because most employees are employed at-will, their employers can fire them for any reason at any time, without notice. Two major exceptions to at-will firings are when they are illegal or against public policy.

Public employees have a few more rights in regards to political activity protections, as the First Amendment comes into play. However, these rights are not absolute and government employers can still fire or discipline employees for their political behavior in some situations.

Many states and local jurisdictions have enacted anti-discrimination laws that provide varying degrees of political protections in the employment setting. California’s laws are among the most robust, prohibiting employers from discriminating against employees and job applicants based on their political activities or affiliations. 

In contrast, a few other states have laws that don’t directly offer political protections. North Dakota prohibits employers from discriminating against employees or job applicants based on their lawful, off-duty activities that occur away from the employer’s premises.

One thing to note is that while most states have some sort of law that provides employees or job applicants some degree of protection against politics-based discrimination, they are usually very specific in their application. For instance, they may not apply to political beliefs or views, but instead, a limited range of political activities like making a political campaign contribution or running for office.

Yet a select few jurisdictions may apply their politics-based anti-discrimination laws more broadly. Examples include Seattle, Washington, where discrimination based on “political ideology” is prohibited and New Mexico, where discrimination based on political beliefs or views is unlawful.

Therefore, in most states, an employer can legally refuse to hire someone because they are a “liberal.” But one of the risks for employers is that discriminating against someone because they are a liberal could be a pretext for illegal discrimination.

An employer who wishes to only hire men may believe that liberals are more likely to include women. So instead of discriminating against women, they just say they have a hiring policy against liberals. If this is what’s really happening, then a “no liberals need apply” hiring policy would likely be an example of an unlawful pretext.

The Bottom Line

While it may be true that employers have a fair degree of flexibility to hire or fire their employees based on political disagreements, there exist some contextual protections for employees against this behavior depending on where they live; moreover, companies who exercise this right too readily may find themselves in legal hot water for other types of discrimination in turn.

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