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How to keep politics sane in 2021 – Washington Post



2020 must surely be in the running for the top five worst years in U.S. history, along with 1861, 1929 and 1968. Impeachment, pandemic, recession, nonstop assaults on democracy and truth, and the loss of heroic Americans such as John Lewis and Ruth Bader Ginsburg were all amplified by a 24/7 news cycle and social media. The year tested our collective mental health, patience, stamina and capacity for grief. The country is entitled to a measure of post-traumatic stress, but we can begin to put 2020 in perspective, if not behind us, for five reasons.

First, no more Donald Trump. Unless referring to a legal indictment or the “previous administration,” I will take the vow of silence on the former president and urge you to avert your gaze. No more obsession with Trump tweets or threats or rallies or announcements. It is not news, and covering such behavior would only distract from real news, of which there will be plenty.

Second, we have learned a certain segment of the electorate will buy into anything — or at least, that’s what these voters tell us. The temptation to “understand” people who are divorced from reality and who reject basic premises of democracy (e.g., truth, the sanctity of elections) should be quashed. What is critical is to distinguish those voters who are susceptible to reason and persuasion. We are “fortunate” in a peculiar way insofar as we can readily determine who is in the unreachable group and who is in the persuadable group: Ask them who won the presidential election.

Third, the public’s focus will be able to stray beyond the federal government and national politics. There are governors — both Democrat and Republican (e.g., Mike DeWine of Ohio, Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, Larry Hogan of Maryland, Gary R. Herbert of Utah) — who have acquitted themselves well during the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent recession. State legislatures generally are less partisan and more productive than Congress. And a slew of competent and courageous mayors have stepped into the leadership void following the killing of George Floyd and the subsequent nationwide protests. If we want to restore faith in government and to improve government services, more attention should be paid to politics and governance outside Washington. As a corollary, the incoming Biden administration might consider whether federalism provides an avenue around Republican obstructionism. The “laboratories of democracy” may never be more essential to our recovery.

Fourth, despite conventional wisdom that the “center has disappeared,” the centrist, bipartisan group of lawmakers who offered up a compromise spending plan provides a model for other initiatives. Certainly, there can be agreement with a Democratic president on reforms that recalibrate power between the executive and legislative branches. Republicans and Democrats likely can be persuaded to develop a reform package that includes excising “emergency” statutes, putting a sunset clause on memorandums authorizing use of force, enforcement and penalties for Hatch Act violations, transparency in presidential pardons, expedited enforcement of congressional subpoenas and rigorous rules to eliminate conflicts of interest and nepotism.

Finally, every effort should be made to repair the Voting Rights Act and eliminate barriers to voting. Expectations for such legislation should be tempered, given Republican senators’ assiduous objections to the enfranchisement of new voters. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) declared on Thursday, “I’m very, very concerned that if you solicit votes from typically nonvoters, that you will affect and change the outcome.” (At least he and his fellow Republicans are open about denying new voters — primarily nonwhite — the right to vote.) But in any case, voting-rights activist Stacey Abrams has showed in Georgia that despite efforts to skew the electorate, a concentrated voter outreach program that is well-funded can produce results over time. Aside from decrying Republicans’ aversion to democracy, Democrats should devote themselves to replicating Abrams’s success in other states. Perhaps Paul’s fear of Democratic control can become a reality.

Let’s move on from Trump-induced outrage and angst. Ignore Trump, herald federalism, encourage bipartisan reform and focus on voter outreach and engagement. Those will help make our politics more functional while improving our collective mental health.

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Josh Hawley’s political ascent stalls after US Capitol attack – Financial Times



When Josh Hawley ran for public office for the first time in 2016, the future US senator with TV looks and an impressive conservative pedigree put out an ad vowing not to be the kind of politician who used victory as a catapult to higher things.

“[Missouri] is full of career politicians just climbing the ladder, using one office to get another,” Mr Hawley said. “You deserve better.”

Less than a year later, after a successful run for Missouri attorney-general, Mr Hawley was gunning for his next job as a state senator. After winning that contest in 2019, he emerged as a potential Republican presidential candidate for 2024.

Then, his ladder skidded.

As one of the leaders of the Republican attempt to block the certification of the November 2020 election results — which morphed into an attack on the US Capitol — Mr Hawley has faced widespread recrimination from some of his biggest supporters and financial backers.

Mr Hawley’s longtime mentor, the former Missouri Republican senator John Danforth, said that championing Mr Hawley’s rise was “the worst decision I’ve ever made in my life”. Two of his top donors have renounced him.

Hallmark, the greetings card company based in Mr Hawley’s state, has asked his campaign to return donations from its employees, while his hometown newspaper declared in an editorial that the junior senator had “blood on his hands”.

Carlos Curbelo, the former Republican congressman, suggested in an interview that Mitch McConnell, the top-ranking Republican in the Senate, might even strip Mr Hawley of his committee assignments or censure him, along with Ted Cruz, the other senator behind the certification campaign.

Mr Curbelo said Mr McConnell knew “these types of attitudes have to be purged from his conference” and that both senators were “extremely vulnerable”.

Friends of Mr Hawley said they had watched in horror as events unfolded.

“I’ve thought a lot about Macbeth: when you’re halfway through the river, you might as well go to the other side,” said one friend, referring to the Scottish general’s monologue in Act III when he describes being so deep in “the river of blood” that he is unable to turn back.

“Am I surprised by what happened?” asked David Kennedy, the Stanford history professor who mentored Mr Hawley as an undergraduate and has stayed in close touch with him over the years. “Yes. Am I disappointed? Yes.”

Mr Kennedy said he was perplexed by Mr Hawley’s decision not to use the “off ramp” taken by his Republican colleagues, who abandoned the challenge after the riot in the Capitol.

The senator’s press office did not respond to a request for comment.

Despite his populist leanings, Mr Hawley had the kind of opportunities that most Americans can only dream of. The son of a banker who grew up in small-town Lexington, Missouri, Mr Hawley was educated at a private Catholic boys school and then attended Stanford, where Mr Kennedy recalled him as among the “most gifted” undergraduates he had ever taught.

Under Mr Kennedy’s tutelage, Mr Hawley’s senior thesis on Theodore Roosevelt was eventually published as a biography on the 26th president when its author was just 28.

Mr Hawley enrolled at Yale. A prestigious clerkship under Chief Justice John Roberts at the Supreme Court followed. Ms Hawley’s future wife, Erin Morrow, was a fellow clerk.

A life-long conservative who was a member of the Federalist Society at Yale, Mr Hawley joined a conservative non-profit in Washington, then taught constitutional law at the University of Missouri before his election as the state attorney-general.

Josh Hawley has become a lightning rod for anger over the attack on the US Capitol, as evidenced by this placard at the old courthouse in St Louis, Missouri © Lawrence Bryant/Reuters

In the Senate, Mr Hawley made a name for himself as a populist conservative, becoming one of the biggest GOP critics against Big Tech, an issue that some friends linked back to his interest in the trustbusting Roosevelt.

He advocated for a second round of $2,000 relief cheques for Americans during the pandemic, a stance that aligned him with the likes of Bernie Sanders and eventually secured the backing of President Donald Trump.

Mr Kennedy, who contributed to Mr Hawley’s first campaign and attended his inauguration as state attorney-general, said he was dismayed when he saw Mr Hawley starting to align himself closely with Mr Trump during his Senate run, a trend that only accelerated. “He seems to not only have drunk the Kool-Aid but swam in it,” he said.

In interviews, some friends of Mr Hawley’s from Yale Law School and the Supreme Court recalled Mr Hawley not as a political climber but as an affable, mild-mannered conservative who was polite about his deeply held beliefs.

“I can name 10 conservative douchebags from his time at Yale Law, and he wasn’t on the list,” said one classmate, who donated to Mr Hawley’s first campaign.

But others have less favourable recollections of Mr Hawley. They remember him as condescending to those he deemed to be below his station or of little use on his path to success.

“I got glimpses of his Senate floor personality when we were in law school,” said one, who described Mr Hawley as “ideologically pure” but “personally unlikeable”.

In the days since he was photographed walking into the US Capitol on January 6 — giving a fist pump to the Trump protesters outside — Mr Hawley has defended his decision to object, arguing that “democratic debate is not mob violence”.

And he has lashed out at Simon & Schuster, which announced it was cancelling his forthcoming book in the wake of the riot, accusing the publisher of making a “direct assault on the First Amendment”.

But as a legal scholar, Mr Hawley will know that while the First Amendment protects free speech, it does not prevent private companies from deciding what to publish.

One law school classmate said he did not think Mr Hawley really believed the election was stolen. “He’s a smart person . . . articulating a [false] idea to curry favour with a certain part of the population.”

He added: “Everyone knew it was a dangerous, destabilising idea, and he was the first one to . . . throw caution to the wind because of political expediency.”

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Canada's trade and politics to change after Trump | Watch News Videos Online –



As the U.S. prepares for Donald Trump to leave the White House, and for Joe Biden to take the presidency, the transition of power will have a huge impact on Canada. David Akin explains how the transition will shake up everything from trade arrangements to the way politicians talk.

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Politics Crashes a $20 Billion Canadian Shopping Trip to Paris – BNN



(Bloomberg) — Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. founder Alain Bouchard hoped to salvage a $20 billion offer for Carrefour SA when he arrived at the French Finance Ministry, whose headquarters juts out over the Seine like a beached aircraft carrier in eastern Paris.

After being kept waiting for a brief audience with Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, Bouchard got the message: The proposed deal was dead on arrival, torpedoed by French political opposition.

The meeting Friday capped a tumultuous week for Couche-Tard and Carrefour. Bouchard, a self-made billionaire who had transformed an obscure Canadian gas-station operator into an empire of 14,200 retail sites through acquisitions, wanted to take the next step. Buying the French grocer would have turned Couche-Tard into a global retail giant, alongside the likes of Walmart Inc.

However, the overture ended only four days after it came to light, and the companies said they’ll seek a looser alliance instead. Ceding one of France’s biggest supermarket owners to foreign ownership was impossible at a time when Covid-19 lockdowns underlined the strategic importance of the country’s food supply, Le Maire said.

Couche-Tard is not the first foreign acquirer to be stymied by French concerns about economic sovereignty, but it underestimated flag-waving reflexes that have sharpened amid Covid-19. With regional elections looming later this year and a presidential vote set for 2022, allowing the country’s biggest private employer to fall into foreign hands could have given nationalist leader Marine Le Pen and leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon a new cause celebre to attack centrist President Emmanuel Macron.

Bad Timing

“It wasn’t the moment to do a deal like that,” said Fabienne Caron, an analyst at Kepler Cheuvreux. “The government had much more to lose than to win. The real reason is politics.”

The companies compounded their miscalculation by blindsiding Le Maire and Macron. The finance minister found out about the talks late Tuesday via a text message from Carrefour Chief Executive Officer Alexandre Bompard, according to a Finance Ministry official who asked not to be named, citing government rules. It came around the time a Bloomberg News report revealed the talks that evening.

This article is based on interviews with people familiar with the discussions and the government’s position, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter. Representatives for Carrefour and Couche-Tard declined to comment.

Talks between the two companies began in the autumn, after Couche-Tard failed in an effort to buy Marathon Petroleum Corp.’s Speedway gas station network. Previous acquisitions had built up Couche-Tard from a single store in a Montreal suburb into an operator of convenience outlets spanning from Texas to Hong Kong.

Carrefour, best-known for giant, out-of-town stores that sell everything from baguettes to T-shirts to grass seed, has been challenged by the rise of online shopping and the growth of discounters Lidl and Aldi. Under Bompard, it has scaled back its hypermarkets while investing in convenience stores, e-commerce and organic food, but the shares had fallen by more than one-third over his 3 1/2-year tenure before Tuesday’s news broke.

Friendly Talks

Later that evening after the leak, both companies confirmed the discussions, emphasizing that the negotiations were friendly. The next day, Carrefour’s stock surged, with Couche-Tard confirming it was weighing a price of 20 euros per share.

In government quarters, however, opposition was welling up. On Wednesday afternoon, Le Maire spoke with Bompard as well as key Carrefour investors such as LVMH Chairman Bernard Arnault, who holds a 5.5% stake. Late in the day, the finance minister went on television to say he opposed the deal.

A representative for Arnault did not respond to a request for comment.

Carrefour’s advisers and some analysts saw an element of posturing in Le Maire’s hard line, figuring the finance minister would eventually yield. They had reason to believe that this deal might be seen differently from a 2005 approach by PepsiCo Inc. to French yogurt maker Danone SA, which was blocked on grounds of sovereignty.

After all, Macron is a former Rothschild banker who entered office four years ago with a vow to shake up a French economy held back by state interventionism. Couche-Tard hails from Quebec, which shares close linguistic, cultural and business ties. And Carrefour could use a deep-pocketed partner to finance its incomplete turnaround.

In 2019, France led European countries in a ranking of foreign investment projects by accounting firm EY. Its companies have also stepped up overseas expansion, with LVMH recently completing its $16 billion purchase of Tiffany & Co. Some French champions have stumbled of late, however — notably drugmaker Sanofi, whose Covid vaccine project faces a months-long delay after a dosing problem during tests.

Couche-Tard was ready to respond to French concerns with commitments to pump 3 billion euros ($3.6 billion) into Carrefour while guaranteeing jobs and pledging to maintain the retailer’s headquarters in France, as well as listing the combined companies’ shares in both countries.

‘Major Difficulty’

Le Maire appeared to open the door slightly at a conference Thursday when he described Carrefour being acquired by a foreign entity as a “major difficulty.” By Friday morning, he attempted to clear up any ambiguity, declaring in a morning TV appearance that his position on the Couche-Tard approach was a “clear and definitive no.”

On the other side of the Atlantic, the strident French reaction left little room or time for behind-the-scenes lobbying. The effort was led by Quebec, which deepened its economic ties with France last year, when Bombardier Inc. agreed to sell its rail unit to Alstom SA. The province also owns 25% of the A220, the former Bombardier jet project now controlled by Airbus SE, headquartered in Toulouse, France. That’s a relationship the French-speaking province expected to go both ways.Quebec Economy Minister Pierre Fitzgibbon first reached out for information to Roland Lescure, a former top official at Quebec’s pension fund who, in his current job as head of the French National Assembly’s economic affairs committee, has regular contacts with Macron’s and Le Maire’s teams. Fitzgibbon also spoke to Bouchard on Thursday evening before the Couche-Tard chairman flew to France, and was about to go on a call with Le Maire when he briefed journalists on Friday morning, Canadian time.The economy minister said he understood concerns about food security, a recurring topic at home, too. In speaking with Le Maire, he intended to promote Couche-Tard’s track record, and to tout the links between France and Quebec, he said. He struck a hopeful tone.“The dust has to settle a bit,” Fitzgibbon said. “Nothing’s going to get decided in the next 24 hours.”

He was proven wrong a few hours later.

Ministry Visit

Bouchard’s visit to the French Finance Ministry was the second of the day by Couche-Tard officials, some of whom had spent part of the week in Paris. Earlier Friday, CEO Brian Hannasch met with Le Maire’s chief of staff, Bertrand Dumont.

Between both meetings, the Canadians huddled with their bankers and advisers at Rothschild & Co.’s headquarters on Paris’s elegant Avenue de Messine. Bouchard and Bompard strategized that day, working on the best arguments to win over the government, a person familiar with the men’s day said.

Their efforts were fruitless, as the finance minister made it clear in the hastily arranged meeting that his opposition was unconditional.

With any hope for a deal dashed, Couche-Tard and Carrefour say they’re focusing on the proposed alliance. The companies will consider how to work together on fuel purchases, branding and distribution where their networks overlap.

Meanwhile, however, the Canadians had to return home empty-handed.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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