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Purity Politics Makes Nothing Happen – The Atlantic

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U.S. Representative Charlie Rangel and William F. Buckley Jr. famously debated about the War on Drugs in 1991.Ray Howard / AP

Nearly 30 years ago, the PBS program Firing Line convened a debate about the War on Drugs, which has contributed more than any other criminal-justice policy to deadly street violence in Black neighborhoods and the police harassment, arrest, and mass incarceration of Black Americans. Revisiting the debate helps clarify what it will take to end that ongoing policy mistake.

Congressman Charlie Rangel led one side in the 1991 clash. Born in 1930, Rangel served in the Korean War, provided legal assistance to 1960s civil-rights activists, participated in the Selma-to-Montgomery marches, and represented Harlem for 46 years as a Democrat in the House. He was once arrested while participating in an anti-apartheid rally. Opposing him was William F. Buckley Jr., the conservative intellectual who founded National Review in 1955 and took the wrong side in some of the most significant racial-justice controversies of his day. In an infamous 1957 editorial, Buckley justified the imposition of white-supremacist racial segregation in the American South. He opposed federal civil-rights legislation in the 1960s. And he was an apologist for South Africa’s apartheid regime in the 1980s.

Rangel was Black. Buckley was white. Rangel had demonstrated a lifelong commitment to the full equality of Black people. Buckley had repeatedly stood athwart civil-rights advances, yelling “Stop!” Yet on debate night in 1991, the Democratic representative was the one arguing that the arrest and mass incarceration of Americans caught possessing or selling drugs should continue. And the Reaganite conservative was the one insisting that the human costs of a “law and order” approach were too steep to bear, citing roughly 800,000 Americans arrested that year.

“Let’s do what we can for those who are afflicted short of sending them to jail,” Buckley said. “I want to hear from you whether you want a society based on, say, the Malaysian or the Singapore model in which––and I’m not exaggerating––people get publicly flogged and they get hanged and they get their fingers chopped off. Is this what you want to do in order to accomplish your aims?” he asked Rangel. “If not, what is it that you want to do that we’re not doing already?”

Rangel acknowledged that the criminal-justice system “has not worked and has not been a deterrent to drug abuse in this country.” He added, “I still believe that it should be there, because in order to fight this war, you need all of these factors working together. We should not allow people to be able to distribute this poison without fear that maybe they might be arrested and put in jail.” In fact, Rangel clarified, if somebody wants to sell drugs to a child, they should fear “that they will be arrested and go to jail for the rest of their natural life. That’s what I’m talking about when I say fear.” Then he suggested that America should tap the generals who won the Gulf War to intensify the War on Drugs. “What we’re missing: to find a take-charge general like Norman Schwarzkopf, like Colin Powell, to coordinate some type of strategy so that America, who has never run away from a battle, will not be running away from this battle,” he said. “Let’s win this war against drugs the same way we won it in the Middle East.”

What insights can today’s War on Drugs abolitionists take from this story?

First, that in politics and policy making, neither all good nor all bad things go together. A person might care deeply about racial equality, as Rangel did, yet support a policy that fuels racial disparities. A rival might reject anti-racist politics, even siding with white supremacists on some issues, as Buckley did, while fighting to abandon a ruinous policy that has disproportionately harmed generations of Black people. “It is outrageous to live in a society whose laws tolerate sending young people to life in prison because they grew, or distributed, a dozen ounces of marijuana,” Buckley wrote to the New York Bar Association in 1995 as part of his ongoing advocacy. “I would hope that the good offices of your vital profession would mobilize at least to protest such excesses of wartime zeal, the legal equivalent of a My Lai massacre. And perhaps proceed to recommend the legalization of the sale of most drugs, except to minors.” In 1996, National Review joined him, editorializing “that the war on drugs has failed, that it is diverting intelligent energy away from how to deal with the problem of addiction, that it is wasting our resources, and that it is encouraging civil, judicial, and penal procedures associated with police states.”

Had the drug war ended back in the early 1990s, younger Millennials would have been spared a policy that empowered gangs, fueled bloody wars for drug territory in American cities, ravaged Latin America, enriched narco cartels, propelled the AIDS epidemic, triggered police militarization, and contributed more than any other policy to racial disparities in national and local incarceration.

Instead, the War on Drugs continues as a bipartisan enterprise even today. And that brings us to a second insight: As in 1991, when Buckley argued on the same side as the ACLU, unexpected alliances are possible. Some proponents of decriminalizing drugs and cutting the DEA budget, such as Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, are in broad alignment with the left-identitarian approach to anti-racism. Other War on Drugs opponents, on the left and the right, reject that approach. For example, my colleague John McWhorter, who has argued that the drug war is “destroying black America,” believes that what he calls “third-wave anti-racism” is a quasi-religious dead end too prone to Manichaean perspectives.

What if all drug-war opponents joined forces, much as Christian conservatives, progressives, and libertarians have united in efforts to reform sentencing rules and reduce mass incarceration?

A majority may want to end the drug war. According to a 2019 Cato Institute poll, 69 percent of Democrats, 54 percent of independents, and 40 percent of Republicans support decriminalizing drugs. But it may take an alliance among people with different motivations, including anti-racism; a mistrust of the state; a principled love of liberty; a desire to do cocaine at parties; a quasi-religious interest in the mind-expanding possibilities of psychedelics; the experience of losing a loved one to impure drugs; and many others. Forging a right-left coalition may be the only way to finally succeed in ending the decades-long debacle.

Finally, that decades-old debate shows that cooperation among different kinds of drug-war opponents should be easier now than it was in 1991. Conservatives and libertarians today reject white supremacy and racism in ways Buckley and his fellow War on Drugs abolitionist Ron Paul did not. In practice, however, interacting with people on the other side of the culture wars may be more difficult today. Public support for politicians who compromise has fallen as negative polarization has increased. And social media makes it easier to rally people who seek to punish sin and enforce purity. If Buckley were still alive today, could a university get away with platforming him in a debate? The populist-right website The Daily Caller has advocated against the War on Drugs. Would its Trump-loving readers tolerate an alliance with Ocasio-Cortez?

But impure alliances are the path to success. Coalitions drawing from the whole political spectrum can’t coalesce and succeed if, say, drug-war critics on the left won’t work with anyone who flies a Gadsden flag, or drug-war abolitionists on the right won’t work with a member of Congress who says “Black Lives Matter” but won’t say “Blue Lives Matter.” Without progress, innocents such as Breonna Taylor, who was killed in a botched no-knock drug raid in Louisville, Kentucky, will keep dying.

Roughly 450,000 people in the United States are currently incarcerated for drug offenses. “Black Americans are nearly six times more likely to be incarcerated for drug-related offenses than their white counterparts, despite equal substance usage rates,” the Center for American Progress found in 2018. “Almost 80 percent of people serving time for a federal drug offense are black or Latino. In state prisons, people of color make up 60 percent of those serving time for drug charges.” If the War on Drugs ended today, racial disparities in raids, arrests, sentencing, and incarceration would likely shrink, as would adversarial interactions between the police and civilians, and much violence that U.S. drug policy fuels in Mexico, Colombia, and beyond. Cooperating to end the drug war is a moral imperative for the left and the right.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.

Conor Friedersdorf is a California-based staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil to step down after 17 years in politics

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Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil announced Thursday he will step down.

McNeil was first elected in 2003 as MLA for Annapolis and has been premier since 2013.

“Seventeen years is a long time,” he said at a media availability that was broadcast live following a cabinet meeting, “and it’s long enough.”

McNeil said he had made the decision to resign prior to the coronavirus pandemic, but he reconsidered when the virus arrived in Nova Scotia in March.

“All of those plans were put on hold, and I gave this my all. I spent five weeks here without ever getting home to my own property and my own home. [I was] away from my family because I was working with Public Health and with our team to try to get control of it.”

McNeil said he will continue to act as premier and Liberal Party leader until the party chooses a replacement. He said he expected a leadership campaign to take months. Nova Scotia does not have fixed election dates but is due for an election by 2022.

“We’re at a position right now where I felt the window for me to — I either had to say I was going, or I was too late.”

The long-serving politician is in his second term of a majority government. He said he feels two terms is a long time for one person to hold that responsibility and for the province to have the same leader.

 

McNeil makes a campaign stop at a farmers’ market in Bedford, N.S., in May 2017. (The Canadian Press)

 

‘This is not a lifelong career’

Before announcing his resignation, McNeil gave a seven-minute speech rounding up his time in office and took questions from reporters for more than 30 minutes.

McNeil said he didn’t pursue politics with the ambition to become party leader or premier.

“I ran in the first case wanting to change the community and help support the community I live in, one that I was raised in and one where our kids were raised,” he said.

Before being elected as MLA for his rural community, McNeil owned and operated a small appliance repair business.

When he was first elected, the Liberals were the third-ranking party in the province behind the governing Progressive Conservatives and opposition NDP.

McNeil was leader when the party became the Official Opposition in 2009, and then defeated the governing New Democrats in 2013 to form a majority government.

 

McNeil at his campaign headquarters in Bridgetown, N.S., on election night in 2013 after winning the provincial election. McNeil is joined by his children, Colleen and Jeffrey, and his wife Andrea. (Mike Dembeck/The Canadian Press)

 

“I spent the last six years doing what I think is in the best interest of all Nova Scotians,” he said Thursday.

McNeil touched on some of the polarizing decisions he and his government have made, including imposing contracts on several public-sector unions.

“Of course we all remember the unions rallying around Province House. That wasn’t an easy time. We asked our public-sector unions to take less — not take nothing, just take less.”

He connected those spending decisions to his government’s track record for balancing the budget, which is a point of pride often touted by McNeil. His government’s latest budget, passed in March, was balanced at the time before being blown apart by COVID-19.

 

 

Health care was a hot-button issue in Nova Scotia even before the pandemic, with constant criticism from opposition parties about McNeil’s handling of a shortage of physicians and scrutiny of plans to redevelop the province’s largest hospital system.

In his remarks Thursday, McNeil highlighted that his government is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on the hospital project.

McNeil said he celebrated his 17th anniversary in elected office on Wednesday.

“I love this job. I’ve enjoyed every day of it, and every day I’m inspired by the people of this province. But this is not a lifelong career.”

McNeil said he doesn’t have any plans lined up for when he steps away from public office.

 

McNeil at a recent COVID-19 press briefing. (Communications Nova Scotia)

 

A ‘historic day’

Leaders from both of the province’s opposition parties offered well wishes to McNeil in statements after his announcement.

“The premier and his family deserve thanks for their sacrifices during a life dedicated to public service. Seventeen years is a long time at any job. Seventeen years as an elected official serving our province is a remarkable accomplishment,” said Tim Houston, leader of the Official Opposition Progressive Conservatives.

NDP Leader Gary Burrill said Thursday marked a “historic day.”

“I have valued the opportunity to debate Premier McNeil on the issues that matter most to people in our communities. Although we have frequently differed over the path forward for our province, we have enjoyed a relationship of mutual respect.”

Once McNeil officially steps down, the 55-year-old will immediately qualify for a $120,000-a-year pension.

 

McNeil gets a kiss from a supporter at his election night celebration in Bridgetown, N.S., in 2017. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

 

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It’s not about politics, but it should be about respect – Sarnia Observer

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WASHINGTON, DC – AUGUST 05: Committee Chairman Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) removes his face mask before the start a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on “Oversight of the Crossfire Hurricane Investigation” on Capitol Hill on August 5, 2020 in Washington, DC. Crossfire Hurricane was an FBI counterintelligence investigation relating to contacts between Russian officials and associates of Donald Trump. (Photo by Erin Schaff-Pool/Getty Images)

I don’t often hear “Dad you got that right”, but when I do, I’m often overwhelmed with a sense of smug satisfaction.

Last week it was involving a variety of a derangement syndrome that I’ve known about for some time. It usually involves left-leaning Canadians, obsessed with something going on in the United States and making their observations known in the snarkiest manner possible. I call it the shadow side of the overly-polite Canadian cliche.

Last weekend, one of my daughters posted a photo of my granddaughter on social media. She wasn’t wearing a mask because she didn’t need to. But a troll apparently appeared out of the Great White North announcing: “Stupid American!”

My other daughter posted a photo of a doctor’s visit, and she was wearing a mask. Someone on social media responded: “One of the only intelligent Americans.”

The author of these insults was no one we cared to hear from. Before she decided to lob these barbs toward my grandchildren, we hadn’t spoken for the better part of 20 years.

Long ago, my father was at a business dinner near Toronto. One of the other guests decided to lecture dad on

American politics. Vietnam, Nixon, whatever. This guy was an expert and truly looked down on his American neighbours. For the hell of it, and since it was Election Day in Canada, my dad asked the guy who he voted for.

Stammering a bit, the man had apparently forgotten to vote. As improbable as it sounds, my dad swears it was true.

I see this fixation more than a bit. We call it Trump Derangement Syndrome. It’s where hatred of the president is so intense that one’s judgement gets completely distorted. I’ve known for a while that there is a Canadian strain. As a result I’ve opted out of communicating with a number of Canadian relatives when they won’t back off. When they start insulting the president, I ask them whether they don’t have enough problems in Ottawa to worry about Washington.

Indeed, Prime Minister Trudeau has made enough gaffes on the world stage to get the attention of many Americans.

The weird thing is that, in Southern California where I live, we don’t think about Canadian politics at all. And we don’t learn much about Canada. We know Canada has been a good ally to Americans. Many of us don’t know that Canada went to war in 1939. And many don’t realize that the initial population of Ontario and New Brunswick were Loyalists who sided with Britain in the American Revolutionary War.

Many don’t know that troops from Canada burned the White House during the War of 1812.

Many Americans don’t know that 20,000 or more Canadians joined our fight in Viet Nam, while other Canadians provided a sanctuary for American draft dodgers.

And many Americans may not realize that, immediately after the Sept. 11, 2001 attack on New York City and elsewhere in the U.S., Canadian troops joined Americans in Afghanistan.

But it works both ways. When the horrible Halifax Explosion occurred during the First World War, Boston was Johnny on the spot with help.

It’s not about politics. It’s about respect.

Americans don’t care about what you think of our politics, and most of us could care less about Canadian politics.

Greg Scharf was born in Sarnia and lives in Southern California

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How politics, personalities and price tags derailed Covid relief talks – POLITICO

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What a difference five months make in the middle of a pandemic.

In March, as the coronavirus was beginning to hammer the United States, President Donald Trump and congressional leaders from both parties were able to quickly pass a $2.2 trillion relief package providing a financial lifeline to millions of workers and tens of thousands of small businesses facing an apocalyptic economic slowdown.

There were some bitter partisan disputes inside the Senate as the bill was crafted, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin wore out a path trodding between the offices of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) as they put together the final deal. In the end, though, one of the most expensive pieces of legislation in history sailed through Congress without a single “no” vote.

Fast forward to August. More than 160,000 Americans are dead, unemployment has soared to levels not seen since the Great Depression, while federal payments to laid-off workers have expired, millions more face possible eviction, and coronavirus cases continue to spike nationwide. Meanwhile, Congress and the White House are mired in their ancient, all-consuming gridlock.

Two weeks of closed-door talks — with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Schumer facing off against White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and Mnuchin — failed to lead to a breakthrough on a new coronavirus relief package. The two sides remained hundreds of billions of dollars apart on overall spending for the new package, and even more important, were separated by a huge ideological chasm over what role the government should play at this point in the calamity.

“It would be nice to do [a deal] with Democrats, but they’re just interested in one thing — and that’s protecting people who have not done a good job in managing cities and states,” Trump said on Friday night during a news conference at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J.

Amid the deadlock, Trump said he would issue a series of executive orders in the coming days to address the economic fallout from the pandemic. The orders are likely to divert tens of billions of dollars in congressionally approved funds to reinstitute federal unemployment payments, reimpose an eviction moratorium, continue the suspension of student loan payments and defer federal payroll tax payments. The unilateral moves could easily draw challenges in court.

Pelosi and Schumer expressed dismay at Trump’s expected executive orders, which had been telegraphed by Meadows all week.

“It doesn’t cover [the] opening of schools. It doesn’t cover testing,” Schumer complained. “It doesn’t cover dealing with rental assistance. It doesn’t cover elections. It doesn’t cover so many things. There’s a long list, I could go on and on and on.”

But the massive failure by the nation’s leaders to find a consensus only months after a major bipartisan success comes down to a number of factors, both personal and political.

The elections are only 88 days away, and both sides are gambling that they’ve got more to gain from a stalemate than a deal. Personality clashes also infused the talks, with the presence of the conservative Meadows having a huge impact on the outcome. Many Republicans in both chambers didn’t want any deal in the first place, citing the growing national debt and arguing unspent money from March’s CARES Act should be pushed out before additional funds were approved. And then there was the growing emotional and psychological fatigue with the crisis itself, spurred on by a president who wants to see the country reopen as fast as possible to help his own political prospects.

Meadows, in particular, was singled out by Democrats as a major roadblock to any deal. Democrats point out that they were able to reach earlier agreements with the White House when Mnuchin was the point man and say Meadows’ presence in the talks has proven an unwelcome addition.

“[Meadows’] positions are quite hardened and noncompromising, more so than Mnuchin,” Schumer said of the co-founder of the hard-line House Freedom Caucus. Democrats assert privately that Meadows was brought in “to blow up a deal,” while Mnuchin is there “to get something done.”

Meadows, however, wasn’t having any of it. The former North Carolina lawmaker — who became Trump’s fourth chief of staff in late March — said he and Mnuchin offered “many concessions” during the seemingly interminable round of face-to-face discussions, only to run into unreasonable Democratic resistance.

“I think it’s interesting just to hear the comments from Sen. Schumer and Speaker Pelosi saying that they want a deal, when behind closed doors their actions do not indicate the same thing,” he countered.

Pelosi, meanwhile, lashed out at McConnell for beginning negotiations only in July. Pelosi noted that the House passed the $3 trillion HEROES Act in May. McConnell, though, scoffed at that legislation as nothing more than a Democratic wish list, and he repeatedly said the Senate would come up with its own plan.

“Mitch McConnell said pause, he pushed the pause button,” Pelosi said. “If we had acted in a closer time then so many lives and livelihoods would have been saved.”

In an interview with POLITICO this week, McConnell defended his decision to wait, arguing that a significant amount of the money from CARES had yet to be spent.

And McConnell also acknowledged that March’s political environment can’t be replicated now.

“It’s a lot harder now than it was four months ago,” McConnell said. “We’re that much closer to the election.”

At the end, though, the biggest problem was the price tag of a new deal.

Republican lawmakers and the White House wanted to keep the cost of what was likely to be the year’s last round of coronavirus relief legislation to $1 trillion. Pelosi and Schumer pushed a Democratic alternative that would cost well over $3 trillion, although they told reporters on Friday that the pair offered to cut a trillion dollars off that total in order to reach a deal. Schumer said he was dismayed when Mnuchin and Meadows didn’t leap at his proposal.

“And you should have seen their faces,” Schumer exclaimed.

With the election three months away, the political stakes of the impasse are high and it’s not yet clear which party will suffer most from the botched negotiations.

Trump is sinking in the polls and the GOP-controlled Senate is in play. Unlike when he was pushing the March CARES Act, McConnell now leads a deeply divided caucus, including incumbents facing reelection who want something to campaign on and fiscal hawks who want to see federal spending drastically cut back. If the economic misery increases, the party in power is likeliest to be blamed.

But Democrats are taking a risk too in rejecting any type of short-term agreement and could face some heat for the lapsed unemployment benefits in particular if they come to be seen as the roadblock.

The federal payments that expired at the end of July were $600 per week. The most recent White House offer was $400-per-week for five months, or state agencies would be allowed to determine a payment of up to 70 percent of a worker’s lost income with a $600 weekly cap. Pelosi and Schumer rejected the offer, saying they wanted $600 per week into 2021.

Democrats are also seeking $915 billion in financial aid for state and local governments over two years, a staggering amount of money that the White House and Senate Republicans said was unreasonable. Republicans offered $150 billion for one year. That huge gap was a major area of disagreement.

There were other important policy disputes — election security funding, money to reopen schools and aid to renters and homeowners, among others.

“I said come back when you’re ready to give a higher number,” Pelosi said.

Perhaps lost in the whole partisan dispute, however, was a sense of the scale of government aid being talked about here. The late Sen. Everett Dirksen (R-Ill.) was famous for his line, “A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon, you’re talking real money.” That’s a mere pittance in the current crisis.

“We come down a trillion from our top number which was $3.4 [trillion.] They go up a trillion, from their top number which was $1 [trillion], and that way, we could begin to meet in the middle, Schumer said after the negotiations had collapsed. “Unfortunately, they rejected it. They said they couldn’t go much above their existing $1 trillion, and that was disappointing.”

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