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The Atlantic Politics Daily: Of the People, by the People – The Atlantic

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It’s Monday, December 23. In today’s newsletter: Our best political profiles of the year. We’ll be back tomorrow with more stories worth revisiting.

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« TODAY IN POLITICS »

American politics can feel impersonal: Dominated by Washington-based institutions, run by, it can seem at times, flattened caricatures of well-known people. The wizened congressperson. The buttoned-up first daughter. The at-first reluctant force behind the House’s impeachment of President Donald Trump.

But their quietest accomplishments, their private insecurities, and the lesser-told details of their biographies help paint richer portraits of a politician, a person. Here are some of The Atlantic’s most memorable profiles from 2019—you’ll recognize in nearly all of them household names, but you’ll likely find in each story something you didn’t know about the subject.

1. Joe Biden: Is the former vice president fighting a lingering stutter? How should we understand Biden’s many public gaffes? My colleague John Hendrickson landed one of the few in-depth interviews that Biden has done this year as part of this highly personal, deeply moving profile of the 2020 frontrunner. If you haven’t already, you’ll want to set some time aside to process the stunning exchanges John and Biden have in this story.

2. Nancy Pelosi: The House Speaker oversaw the formal impeachment of Donald Trump. But she had long warned against getting roped up in the type of no-win, partisan impeachment, which is where she landed. Weeks before the official House vote on December 18, Todd Purdum took a look at what Pelosi might have been thinking about how the process unfolded.

3. Elijah Cummings: The veteran Democratic congressman, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee who passed away earlier this year, wasn’t the partisan warrior that media reports often made him out to be. Russell Berman tells the story of how in Washington, “appearances deceive, and public performances and private relationships often diverge.” In Cummings’s case, he’d once even humbled Trump.

4. Ivanka Trump: Can the first daughter (but not only daughter) of the president maintain her perfectly manicured image while remaining one of her father’s closest advisers? Ivanka Trump declined to talk to our reporter for this story. Her father did participate.

5. Mitt Romney: With the Senate gearing up for an impeachment trial in January, keep an eye on Mitt Romney, the 2012-presidential-candidate-turned-Utah senator who has refashioned himself into something of a Trump dissident. Somewhat. Our McKay Coppins has covered Romney for nine years: “I’ve never seen him quite so liberated,” he writes of the Romney he interviewed this fall.

6. Kamala Harris: The California senator was a political rockstar poised to become a 2020 heavyweight. And for a time, she seemed to shine in the Democratic race. But she didn’t even make it to the Iowa caucuses, choosing to drop out in early December as her torn staff engaged in an epic level of backstabbing and mudslinging. Now the questions start: Will she endorse someone else? Will she be a viable option as someone’s VP?

7. Marianne Williamson: It was a year of many surprisingly resilient candidates out of left field, each pitching their own case against Trump. The quirky self-help author is almost certainly not going to be the next president of the United States (we’ll never promise complete certainty). But she’s certainly one of the most unusual of her 14 other Democratic competitors. My colleague Elaine Godfrey followed her around at the Iowa State Fair, and took in her … aura.

8. Garry McFadden: Quick, think of a sheriff: Maybe you’re picturing the likes of David Clarke, the controversial former Milwaukee county sheriff who rose to national prominence for his outspoken support of Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign. 

Garry McFadden, the county sheriff in Charlotte, North Carolina, is precisely not that: He’s a black reformer, elected last November, who has defied ICE, much to the chagrin of his state’s Republican legislature. Where local politics meets national politics, sparks fly.

9. Eric Lidji: The Tree of Life Synagogue massacre, which left 11 Jews dead in Pittsburgh, was the deadliest attack on American Jews in modern history. And now it risks becoming just another entry on a long list of mass shootings in America. My colleague Emma Green sat with Lidji, an archivist in the city on a mission to preserve the community’s response to the shooting. This work is at times breathtakingly painful.

10. Juan Sanchez: Sanchez is the founder of Southwest Key, the largest network of shelters in America for detained migrant children (he has since left the company he built from nothing).

His Walmart facility had become a symbol of Trump’s industrial-scale separation policy, and he’d weathered months of criticism: that he was complicit in the destruction of migrant families, that his $1.5 million salary was unseemly for the operator of a charity, and that he’d failed to prevent sexual abuse in his shelters as Southwest Key grew into a massive operation. All along, however, Sanchez maintained that he didn’t change—the political climate did.

Jeremy Raff reported this complicated story from Austin.


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Today’s newsletter was written by Saahil Desai, an associate editor on our Politics team, and edited by Shan Wang, who oversees newsletters. You can reply directly to this newsletter with questions or comments, or send a note to politicsdaily@theatlantic.com.

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

Saahil Desai is an associate editor at The Atlantic, where he covers politics and policy.

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Plan to rebuild defence early-warning system means political, fiscal headaches for Trudeau government – CBC.ca

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It’s not the SHIELD you’re probably thinking of — the one with the super-spies and flying battleships from Marvel comics and movies.

In fact, the SHIELD at the centre of the upcoming evolution of NORAD — the six-decade-old North American defence pact — shares nothing with its fictional counterpart but the acronym. But those trying to sell pandemic-weary, deficit-swamped governments on the proposed Strategic Homeland Integrated Ecosystem for Layered Defense may be hoping for a little reflected glamour for their multi-billion-dollar idea.

The current Liberal government committed to the renewal of NORAD early on; it was the top item in the first meeting between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and now-former U.S. president Donald Trump in 2017. The proposal now presents a host of thorny political and financial problems for Canada.

The SHIELD concept is not your grandfather’s version of NORAD — which was simply a chain of radar stations across the North primed to warn of approaching Russian bombers and missiles.

A NORAD for now

The new strategy was first sketched out last fall in a paper written for the Wilson Center’s Canada Institute by the former U.S. NORAD commander, retired general Terrence O’Shaughnessy, and U.S. Air Force Brig.-Gen. Peter Fesler, the current deputy director of operations at the U.S. air defence headquarters.

Air Force Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy testifies during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, April 17, 2018. (Carolyn Kaster/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Fesler and O’Shaughnessy argued that, faced with a variety of new and improved weapons — everything from hypersonic glide vehicles to next-generation cruise missiles — North America needs a defence surveillance system that knits together space, air and land-based surveillance in real time.

Such a system “pools this data and fuses it into a common operational picture,” said the paper, published last September. “Then, using the latest advances in machine learning and data analysis, it scans the data for patterns that are not visible to human eyes, helping decision-makers understand adversary potential courses of action before they are executed.”

What they’re talking about is predictive analysis and artificial intelligence. The SHIELD concept envisions a “global sensing grid” that can sniff out threats as they develop by drawing on data from “traditional and nontraditional sources,” such as civilian air traffic control grids.

To an extent, the SHIELD concept is being put to work already by NORAD through operational testing of a cloud-based data fusion system called Project Pathfinder.

A hard sell

The U.S. Air Force signed off on the Pathfinder prototype and has ordered a production model through an $8 million US contract, according to Air Force Magazine.

The NORAD refurbishment was never costed in the federal government’s 2017 defence policy and it presents a host of challenges and tough decisions for the Liberal government now, ranging from the fiscal to the political to the military.

The arrival of the Biden administration in Washington seems to have made government-to-government negotiations more politically palatable in Ottawa. Many in Canada’s defence community were convinced there was little appetite among federal officials to haggle with Trump over NORAD after the bruising experience of re-negotiating the NAFTA trade deal.

One of the first challenges for government officials will be to present the NORAD renewal project to a Canadian public and political establishment overwhelmed by the pandemic, said one defence expert.

A crew bus leaves the the Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station complex — command centre for NORAD — outside Colorado Springs, Colo. on May 10, 2018. (Dan Elliott/The Associated Press)

An economic argument

“If you try to quickly sell this in the context of ‘the Russians are coming, the Russians are coming,’ that is politically problematic, I think, particularly for this government,” said James Fergusson, deputy director of the Centre for Defence and Security Studies at the University of Manitoba.

Framing it in economic terms — highlighting the opportunities for innovation and high-tech jobs — likely would help, he said, but the overall cost will be an issue given the damage done to the economy and government balance sheets by the pandemic.

Estimates of the cost of NORAD’s renewal range between $11 billion and $15 billion. Whatever it ends up costing, Canadian taxpayers would be on the hook for 40 per cent of the total.

The price tag is “the elephant in the room,” said Fergusson, adding that he’s skeptical about the assurances he’s heard from senior government officials that the money for NORAD will be in addition to already-promised defence policy funding.

Belt-tightening and BMD

He said he attended a conference in Ottawa a year ago that heard a senior Department of National Defence (DND) official state that the department had “been promised we’re going to get extra money for NORAD …”

“No, you’re not,” Fergusson added.

He said he believes it’s more likely that DND will be asked to cover Canada’s NORAD contribution within its existing budget — forcing the department to make cuts elsewhere.

The NORAD project also promises to drag a reluctant federal government back into a political debate over ballistic missile defence (BMD).

This image made from video broadcast by North Korea’s KRT shows a military parade with what appears to be a new intercontinental ballistic missile at Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea, Oct. 10, 2020. (KRT via The Associated Press)

The recent Liberal defence policy reaffirmed the 2005 decision by Paul Martin’s government to remain on the sidelines of any continental BMD effort, despite pleas from both the Senate and House of Commons defence committees to reconsider joining.

BMD is a non-starter for New Democrats and for some experts in the defence community who argue that missile defence merely contributes to the arms race.

Fergusson said recent advances in technology and military doctrine may force the government’s hand.

“The United States is moving very quickly to integrate air and missile defence into single units, rather than have them separated,” he said. “So that has big implications for us. We can’t simply do air defence without having to work with or having to do missile defence.”

And embedded in the concept of a “global sensing grid” is the expectation that threats — once identified — would be taken out.

Instead of focusing on the missiles — the “arrows,” to use NORAD parlance — the expectation is that a defensive network would focus its response on the “archers,” or the launch platforms. Russian bombers circling far outside of North American airspace, for example, would be targeted under the SHIELD strategy.

“That will be unpalatable to the Canadian government,” said Fergusson, pointing out that the Canadian military doesn’t have the long-range capability to conduct those kinds of defensive operations.

It’s a conversation Canada can’t avoid for much longer, he said, because much of the existing North Warning System reaches the end of its operational life by 2024.

“The United States cannot defend itself without Canada and we can’t defend ourselves without the United States.”

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Politics Podcast: The Lawmakers Who Will Determine What Gets Through Congress – FiveThirtyEight

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Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux and Maggie Koerth join the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast to discuss their reporting on partisan discord and violence in the United States. They discuss the factors that have contributed to Americans not just disagreeing with each other on policy, but actually seeing each other as “evil.” The crew also looks at the dynamics in Congress that will determine whether or not President Biden can pass his agenda.

You can listen to the episode by clicking the “play” button in the audio player above or by downloading it in iTunes, the ESPN App or your favorite podcast platform. If you are new to podcasts, learn how to listen.

The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast is recorded Mondays and Thursdays. Help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a rating and review on iTunes. Have a comment, question or suggestion for “good polling vs. bad polling”? Get in touch by email, on Twitter or in the comments.

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So long to these Canadian politicians only Donald Trump could be proud of – Toronto Star

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It appears to be sweeps week in Canadian politics — when troublesome political players get swept right out of the action.

Justin Trudeau’s Liberals tossed an MP out of caucus on Monday amid controversy over conspiracy theories, just a few hours after Sen. Lynn Beyak decided to shut down her racism-infused political career, effective immediately.

These exits come hot on the heels of last week’s resignation of governor-general Julie Payette and the ouster of a neo-Nazi funded MP, Derek Sloan, from the Conservative caucus.

One is tempted to give Donald Trump credit for kicking off this cleansing trend that’s spread north of the U.S. border. Just as Americans are getting ready to shake off the hangover of the Trump years, Canadian politics seems to be going through its own detoxifying exercise as 2021 begins.

The idea of this being a co-ordinated effort, though, would veer toward being a conspiracy theory all on its own. No great political huddle has taken place to de-Trumpify Canadian discourse, appealing as that scenario would be to many here — especially after the Jan. 6 rampage on Capitol Hill.

It was the news release issued by the Liberals about now-ousted Brampton Centre MP Ramesh Sangha that hinted most strongly of an effort to be more zero-tolerant about the brand of politics practised by Trump and those Capitol Hill rioters.

Sent out as a succinct, “he’s fired” missive by Chief Government Whip Mark Holland, it said Liberals were shutting down that kind of trouble in its tracks, within its own ranks.

“We all know where this can lead,” the statement said in its denunciation of the “conspiracy theories” and “dangerous and unfounded rhetoric” that Sangha had been found to be spreading. Details were sparse in the news release, but the picture it painted was not. “Trump politics not welcome here,” might well have been the headline.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole has been drawing some sharper lines too; not just with his own ouster of Sloan last week for taking donations from a neo-Nazi, but also with some subtle nuance to his criticisms of Liberals. “We want the government to succeed,” is one such phrase cropping up now in O’Toole’s remarks about the pandemic — intended to demonstrate, one presumes, that opposition is more than a tear-down-the-Liberals exercise.

Of course, later on Monday, one of O’Toole’s Conservatives, Kerry Diotte, was standing up in the Commons to call Trudeau “wimpy” and Calgary MP Michelle Rempel Garner was being chided for shouting “what the hell” in the direction of the government. So this is clearly a work in progress.

Meanwhile, no one was lamenting the surprise announcement of Lynn Beyak’s self-imposed retirement, which she billed as a promise kept to serve only eight years in the Senate. While the senator’s nerve seemed to be limitless, apparently her time in public service was.

Beyak is the Conservative-appointed senator who gained fame for defending the legacy of residential schools and then digging herself deeper into the mire by refusing to apologize and allowing anti-Indigenous comments to remain on her website.

She had become an embarrassment to the Conservatives long ago, losing her place in caucus, and she was a standing advertisement for Senate-appointment reform. Her farewell statement was wholly unrepentant.

“Some have criticized me for stating that the good, as well as the bad, of residential schools should be recognized. I stand by that statement,” Beyak wrote. “Others have criticized me for stating that the Truth and Reconciliation Report was not as balanced as it should be. I stand by that statement as well.”

Trump might well be proud of the ex-senator’s ability to see the good people on both sides of the racist divide, as he did with the “very fine people” he said were involved in the deadly riots incited by the far right in Virginia in 2017.

As mentioned, Beyak won’t be missed.

Three weeks ago, with the U.S. capital in a riot lockdown and North America reeling from the post-Christmas surge of COVID, it was easy to imagine how politics in Canada might make some New Year’s resolutions to up its game here.

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A flurry of personnel departures in the past week, all greeted with relief, would seem to point to steps taken in that direction. A bad boss at Rideau Hall is gone, a regrettable (but sadly regretless) senator has retired, Conservatives and Liberals have given the boot to MPs who have flirted with extremist ideas.

It’s not a total sweep in the Canadian political world, but it’s a good start.

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