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On Politics: The Economy’s Biggest Threat Is … – The New York Times

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Good morning and welcome to On Politics, a daily political analysis of the 2020 elections based on reporting by New York Times journalists.

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  • What’s the bigger threat to the economy: a lack of government action to shore it up, or lockdowns that keep businesses closed? The Senate Banking Committee heard two different arguments from two different sources on Tuesday, when Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, and Jerome Powell, the chair of the Federal Reserve, testified in a joint appearance. Mnuchin warned of “permanent damage” to the economy if businesses weren’t allowed to reopen soon. Powell, on the other hand, has suggested repeatedly that Congress may need to spend more to confront the coronavirus’s effects; speaking to the committee, he emphasized the dangers of reopening too hastily. “The No. 1 thing, of course, is people believing that it’s safe to go back to work,” Powell said. “And that’s about having a sensible, thoughtful reopening of the economy.”

  • Bringing things back into operation mid-pandemic can be a halting process — especially when many major decisions about how and when to reopen aren’t being made at the federal level. Colleges and universities are deciding whether to hold in-person classes next fall, and students are waiting with bated breath, some of them wondering if it’s worth it to enroll at all. Meanwhile, some churches that had resumed in-person gatherings are developing a case of reopener’s remorse. Holy Ghost Catholic Church in Houston, for instance, closed again after a priest who had pneumonia died and five leaders tested positive last weekend for the coronavirus. At a single church in Arkansas, 35 of the 92 people who had attended over a six-day period later tested positive for the virus, and three died, according to a report released yesterday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  • President Trump this week has turned up his criticism of the World Health Organization, continuing his attempts to blame the U.N. agency, along with China, for the spread of the virus, which has now killed over 90,000 Americans. Trump sent a letter on Monday night threatening to permanently cut off the United States’ funding for the group unless it committed to “major, substantive improvements” within 30 days. But yesterday, at the organization’s annual meeting in Geneva, the leaders of other member nations basically called Trump’s bluff, all but ignoring his demands and instead saying they would begin an “impartial, independent” investigation into the W.H.O.’s response to the pandemic. In any case, Trump would need Congress’s approval to withhold funding from the organization, and many analysts say that’s unlikely to happen. Chinese, Russian and European Union officials have reproached Trump for his comments, again leaving the United States to stand mostly alone on the world stage.

  • Joe Biden also has his eyes on foreign policy. Sooner or later, in his dance between the center and the left, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee knew he would have to confront the party’s evolving stance on the United States-Israel relationship. And that’s what he sought to do Tuesday on a call with donors, as he affirmed his support of Israel (“unshakable,” he said) but criticized Benjamin Netanyahu, the country’s conservative prime minister, a close ally of Trump’s. Biden said Netanyahu had moved “so, so far to the right,” and he called on the Israeli government to “stop the threat of annexation” of the West Bank territories, according to a pool report. “It’ll choke off any hope of peace,” Biden said. Criticizing the Israeli government on the campaign trail was basically verboten just a few years ago. But as Israel’s policies have moved generally rightward, the average Democratic voter has grown markedly more liberal — and views on Israel are no exception. When asked last year in a Gallup poll whether they had more sympathy for the situation of Israelis or Palestinians, liberal Democrats were almost evenly split. That was the first time on record this has been true.


Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s testimony before a virtual hearing of the Senate Banking Committee was shown on televisions in the Capitol.


By

Eliot Engel, a 16-term Democratic congressman from New York, faces a primary challenge next month from Jamaal Bowman, a progressive educator.

Bowman faces an uphill battle, but he has received support from a number of national grass-roots groups ahead of the June 23 primary. Yet the Congressional Black Caucus PAC has decided to back Engel, who is white, over his black challenger — a move that has garnered some criticism. In a statement, Bowman called the decision “disappointing,” and allies said it was proof that the black caucus cared more about incumbency than increasing racial representation.

In a phone interview this week, Gregory Meeks, also a New York congressman and the chair of the black caucus’s political arm, defended the decision.

Gregory Meeks: Our criteria, when it comes to incumbents — it comes down to what they’ve done while they’re in Washington. How have they voted on issues that are important to the Congressional Black Caucus? What’s their relationship with African-Americans in their district?

Astead Herndon: And none of that calculus changes if the incumbent is facing a black challenger?

Just like I would if there was a black incumbent against a white challenger, we go by the merits of what they’ve done while they’re in Washington, D.C.

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So would it be fair to say that incumbency, in the eyes of the C.B.C. PAC, is a higher priority than the question of racial representation?

No. We want someone who is voting and listening to the African-American community, that’s what’s important. We look at the voting record, and if you’re an incumbent we can see that. Eliot Engel has voted in a way that’s beneficial to his African-American community.

I remember talking during the 2018 cycle, when the C.B.C. endorsed Representative Michael Capuano over Ayanna Pressley. You gave similar reasons at the time when, clearly, the people of color who voted in that race felt differently. Has any thought been given to these outcomes? Have you changed anything about the endorsement process now that more black challengers are running?

You pick one race. One race that went one way. But there’s many other races that went the other way and the incumbent won. When you looked at Michael Capuano’s record, he supported issues that were important to the Congressional Black Caucus. Otherwise, you’re telling members of Congress that even if they support issues that are important to the Congressional Black Caucus, we’ll have a blind eye to that.

We believe in trying to make sure that people of color have the best representation possible.

Is there anything a black challenger can do that would get the Congressional Black Caucus to endorse them or sit out the race? Or is it all about the incumbent?

It’s about the record of the person while they were in Congress. And the relationships they have with the African-Americans they represent. That’s what we think is important.

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Is there anything you think we’re missing? Anything you want to see more of? We’d love to hear from you. Email us at onpolitics@nytimes.com.

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OPINION | Alberta premier targets Ottawa in pivot to pre-pandemic politics – CBC.ca

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This column is an opinion. For more information about our commentary section, please read this editor’s blog and our FAQ.


Pandemic? What pandemic?

Watching Alberta politics these days is like riding a time machine into the past when COVID-19 didn’t exist or into a future where it’s been conquered. Or perhaps we woke up in a parallel universe.

Because Alberta politics is beginning to act as if the pandemic suddenly disappeared.

Last week, Premier Jason Kenney called the COVID-19 virus the flu, as in, “an influenza of this nature,” even though it’s a coronavirus that’s more contagious and more deadly than the flu and has no vaccine. He also announced — without first informing Alberta’s chief medical officer — that he would let the province’s public health emergency lapse June 15.

This week, he announced he’d like to fast-track phase 2 of the business reopening (that includes movie theatres and libraries).

But, most tellingly of all, he resumed his heated attacks against the federal Liberal government.

If nothing else, this signals a return to normality for Kenney who is no longer pleading for more pandemic financial relief from Ottawa.

Kenney once again on offensive

After 10 weeks of biting his tongue and smiling through gritted teeth whenever he talked kindly about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the federal Liberals, Kenney is once more on the offensive.

And there was no better target for him than the recent federal ban on 1,500 “assault-style” firearms.

On Wednesday, Kenney held a news conference with Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer where they wrapped themselves in the Alberta flag while taking shots not only at the federal government but at Central Canadians.

“While some people in faraway places like Toronto may not understand the reality, hundreds of thousands of Albertans simply use firearms as a part of everyday life,” said Kenney, who explained he was “defending law-abiding Albertans against a federal attack against their rights as law-abiding firearms owners.”

Not to be outdone in the outrage department, Schweitzer promised to stand up for “an Alberta-made justice system.”

“(Albertans) don’t want policy developed in downtown Toronto, they want policy developed right here in Alberta,” said Schweitzer, who added: “We’re going to have more Alberta and less Ottawa in our justice system.”

Picking fights with Ottawa

We haven’t heard the “more Alberta, less Ottawa” trope much the past 10 weeks as the Kenney government took what might be called a “less Alberta, more Ottawa” approach to emergency financial help.

But now the Alberta government is pivoting with all the subtlety of a dog running on linoleum suddenly trying to change direction. 

It’s clumsy but for Kenney it means he’s getting back on track. He’s picking fights with Ottawa, taking potshots at “faraway places like Toronto,” focusing on his rural base of support, and once again pushing an Alberta-first agenda that could include setting up an Alberta provincial police force and Alberta pension plan.

“Stay tuned for the Fair Deal panel (report),” Kenney said this week when asked if he’s in favour of cutting ties with the RCMP. Kenney has said the Fair Deal report will be coming out when the pandemic is over. You have to wonder if in Kenney’s mind this means “tomorrow.”

Kenney also said he is “seriously considering” launching a legal challenge against the federal government’s gun ban.

Never mind that firearms fall under federal jurisdiction.

Time machine to Klein days

Here’s where the time machine seems to have taken us back to the days of former premier Ralph Klein. Klein made something of a career launching lawsuits, or threatening legal action, against the federal government on a host of issues including the GST, social transfer payments and, coincidentally, the gun registry.

Klein’s legal fights were the political equivalent of tilting at windmills but he knew that for a populist politician winning was not crucial; it’s the donning of the armour and the spurring of the steed.

This is political theatre and Kenney is such a master at it he should have his own show at the Edmonton Fringe Festival (if only the festival hadn’t been cancelled because of the pandemic).

Kenney would also like to put the pandemic behind him because it hasn’t given him a popularity boost, unlike just about every other political leader in the country.

An Angus Reid poll about premiers released last week ranked Kenney as second last, with a 48-per-cent approval rating, whereas Ontario’s controversial Doug Ford, for example, enjoyed 69 per cent approval.

This week, a poll by Research Co. indicated that 56 per cent of Albertans said their province would be better off with a different premier in charge, the highest level of disapproval in the country.

Consequently, Kenney has dusted off his Captain Alberta cape that had sat forgotten the past 10 weeks, perhaps under a mound of applications for federal aid. He is proudly wearing it into battle once more against the Trudeau Liberals.

The pandemic might not be over medically, but in Kenney’s mind it seems to be over politically.

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Trudeau takes a knee at anti-racism protest on Parliament Hill – CBC.ca

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made an appearance at an anti-racism protest on Parliament Hill today, showing up unannounced to hear speeches from activists demanding fairer treatment from police for minorities.

Trudeau joined the large crowd in kneeling for eight minutes and 46 seconds — which is how long a Minneapolis police officer held down George Floyd with his knee on his neck before he died. The African-American man died while in police custody on May 25; all four officers at the scene now face charges.

Protesters in other cities have asked police officers to kneel to show respect for black people who have been killed in police custody. Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders also took a knee during a protest in that city today.

Former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick launched the kneeling gesture some years ago by dropping to one knee during the national anthem to protest violent police treatment of African-Americans. His critics accused him of showing disrespect for the anthem and the American flag.

Trudeau tried to blend into the crowd Friday — but TV cameras and the RCMP security detail made his presence known to the roughly 4,000 activists gathered around the Centennial Flame on the lawn at Parliament Hill. Trudeau told his security detail to stop pushing people as he made his way closer to the stage where the speakers were addressing the crowd.

Trudeau initially was met with chants of “Stand up to Trump!” and “Go away!” from some in the crowd. The yelling died down as local black leaders started speaking about their calls for an end to racial injustice at home and abroad.

WATCH | Justin Trudeau takes a knee during anti-black racism protest

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made an appearance at an anti-racism rally on Parliament Hill in Ottawa Friday. He was met with chants of “Stand up to Trump!” from the crowd and kneeled for eight minutes and 46 seconds to remember George Floyd. 1:47

The Trump chant was a reference to the prime minister’s reluctance to condemn U.S. President Donald Trump by name over his handling of the protests.

Trudeau was asked this week to respond to the president’s threat to deploy active duty military personnel on protesters in U.S. cities — a question that Trudeau answered after a 21-second pause.

The prime minister clapped Friday as the assembled speakers chanted “black lives matter” and called on those in power to do more to address systemic racism.

Someone in the crowd handed the prime minister a T-shirt with that slogan emblazoned on the front.

Trudeau was accompanied by Families Minister Ahmed Hussen, a Somali-Canadian who has spoken out about the racism he has faced in Canada.

“I think it’s powerful when you have the head of government taking a knee and clapping when people say ‘black lives matter,'” Hussen said. “It’s incredibly powerful for him to come and be part of this.”

The crowd on hand for the Parliament Hill protest was a multi-racial cross-section of the city, something Hussen said gives him “a lot of hope in the future.”

WATCH | Ahmed Hussen says the PM’s action were ‘pretty powerful’

Families Minister Ahmed Hussen spoke with reporters after attending the anti-racism rally on Parliament Hill with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau June 5. 1:29

After the speeches, the protesters moved down Wellington St., which runs right in front of the Prime Minister’s Office in downtown Ottawa.

NDP Jagmeet Singh also took part in similar anti-black racism protests in Toronto. He marched with the activists to that city’s Nathan Phillips Square.

“We need to be heard. People need to be heard,” Singh said in a video post on his Instagram page. “People want justice, they want systemic change and an end to racial profiling.”

Watch: The Power Panel discusses Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s attendance at a protest against anti-black racism and his government’s record on that issue:

The Power Panel discusses Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s attendance at a protest against anti-black racism and his government’s record on that issue. 8:57

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The politics behind how governments control coronavirus data – SaltWire Network

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Anton Oleinik, Memorial University of Newfoundland

COVID-19 has affected almost every country around the globe. The World Health Organization has confirmed cases in 216 countries and territories, a total that represents more than 85 per cent of 251 entities recognized by the United Nations. Yet each government has responded differently to the coronavirus pandemic — including how data on the disease have been shared with each country’s citizens.

The selectiveness with which governments release information about the number of confirmed cases and the deaths caused by the coronavirus suggest techniques of “bio-power” may be at play.

French philosopher Michel Foucault invented the concept of bio-power in his lectures at the Collège de France in 1977-78. He defined bio-power as a “set of mechanisms through which the basic biological features of the human species became the object of a political strategy, of a general strategy of power.”

Foucault found an early example of bio-power in the smallpox vaccine developed by the end of the 18th century — one of the first attempts to manage populations in terms of the calculus of probabilities under the banner of public health. While a COVID-19 vaccine is still in the making, the concept of bio-power may help make better sense of how we see governments deal with the ongoing pandemic.

Our perception of the probability of contracting the virus and the chances to recover is shaped by the relevant statistical figures released by our respective governments. Those figures feed the entire spectrum of our own reactions to COVID-19 — including fear and negligence.

A balanced take on COVID-19 and a proper course of action to deal with the pandemic means the information provided by governments must be complete, valid and reliable. Unfortunately, that is not happening in many cases.

When examining how some countries have responded to the pandemic, bio-political factors should be taken into account. This includes how governments are collecting and sharing data about the coronavirus. Let’s look at three countries in particular.

The United States

In the U.S., COVID-19 information is disseminated by government agencies, universities, the media and even search engines. Various levels of governments remain the ultimate source of the reported figures, but how accurate are those figures?

The U.S. now has the most confirmed cases and deaths caused by COVID-19. While this can be explained by a late response to the pandemic and the lack of universal health care coverage, the political stakes in the COVID-19 crisis are also very high for the U.S.

The social and economic crisis caused by the pandemic will be a major factor in this year’s elections. In an effort to shift attention from his administration’s response, U.S. President Donald Trump has indicated China should be blamed for the crisis. The high number of infections and deaths contribute to a feeling of fear and insecurity — which from a bio-power perspective may actually help Trump sell his message.

Russia

In addition to being the only source of information about COVID-19, the Russian government also makes every effort to protect its monopoly on the production and dissemination of the relevant data. Anyone who attempts to collect and disseminate COVID-19 figures without having a “licence to inform” may face criminal charges for being an agent provocateur.

A group of medical doctors in Chechnya, the previously rebel region in the Caucasus now under the tight control of the central government, attempted to complain about the lack of preparedness to COVID-19. They were promptly accused of “provocations” and forced to deliver public apologies.

According to government data, Russia has one of the lowest COVID-19 mortality rates in the world, less than one per cent. (The U.S. reports a six per cent mortality rare; Italy, France and the U.K. are in the range of 14-15 per cent). Either the Russians have an exceptionally strong immune system or something is wrong with the way the government counts the deaths.

As well, the regular monthly statistics of deaths released by some regions shows an anomalous hike in April — numbers that are out of line with the officially approved figures of COVID-19-related deaths.

The gap between the number of officially acknowledged COVID-19 cases and deaths may have political explanations.

Similar to the U.S., the pandemic interferes with the political agenda in Russia. The constitutional referendum engineered to extend Vladimir Putin’s term as Russia’s president was originally scheduled on April 22, but was eventually postponed until July 1.

Putin is trying to make the gambit of accepting high (but not necessarily accurate) figures of COVID-19 infections and simultaneously doing everything possible to under-report the true number of COVID-19-related deaths. If successful, he would be able to claim credit for handling the crisis better than other world leaders.

Canada

Canada’s figures do not look controversial at first sight. The country has neither an exceptionally high number of COVID-19 cases nor an exceptionally high mortality rate (7.5 per cent). But that doesn’t mean there aren’t potentially some elements of bio-power at play.

Canada’s government chose to complicate the task of comparing the COVID-19 figures across its provinces and territories. The federal government’s website dedicated to COVID-19 reports the aggregate data only. No death statistics are included. Comparing the responses of each province requires an examination of 13 different provincial websites, which have various formats of reporting the relevant figures.

Access-to-information requests are not of great help here either, despite the fact that there are access-to-information acts both at the federal and provincial levels. It takes an average of one month to get a response to an access-to-information request under normal times. But now governments have full discretion in deciding what information on COVID-19 to release, as well as when and how to do it.

This means that in Canada, bio-politics manifests itself through the fuzziness of information and, in the absence of clear information, the public is expected to uncritically accept the actions of their governments.

The Conversation

Anton Oleinik, Professor of Sociology, Memorial University of Newfoundland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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