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The Big-Government-Conservative War on Masks – The Atlantic



Governor Greg Abbott of Texas is not only fighting a COVID-19 infection—he’s also on the front lines of a clash within conservatism. The Republican has declared his state “the Freedom Capital of America.” He has consistently prioritized cutting regulations on business, and in a 2018 opinion column boasted, “Innovation and self-reliance are deeply rooted in the Lone Star State, and when freed from the stranglehold of over taxation and overregulation, new ideas flourish. By limiting senseless government restrictions, the opportunity to succeed in business is as limitless as the land itself.”

The pandemic has given Abbott new avenues to push for freedoms. Abbott has, for example, barred state agencies and organizations that receive state funding from requiring vaccines for consumers. “We will continue to vaccinate more Texans and protect public health—and we will do so without treading on Texans’ personal freedoms,” Abbott said in a statement in April.

The public-health wisdom of this position is dubious, but it is consistent with the idea of limiting government restraints. What’s confusing is a bill that Abbott signed in June, which bans businesses from requiring customers to be vaccinated. With rising concern about, and case counts from, the Delta variant, the state Alcoholic Beverage Commission issued a warning on August 12 declaring that restaurants and bars that ask customers to show proof of vaccination might have their liquor licenses revoked.

Politicians who ban mask mandates and vaccine passports are not actually anti-government, as it might seem, but simply have a different view about how government should wield its power. Texas Republicans are caught between maximizing personal freedom (such as the freedom of patrons to vaccinate themselves, or not, and go to any business) and remaining opposed to government mandates on business (such as allowing private establishments to run their own affairs, “freed from the stranglehold” of regulation). Forced to choose between their stated commitments to individual and business freedom, Abbott and his allies in the state legislature chose individuals.

Although competing visions exist for where the conservative movement should be headed, they share a common bedrock: defending and expanding liberty. The tension that the coronavirus pandemic has uncovered is between what kinds of liberty to defend, and for whom—a conflict that pits the freedom of people to choose whether they are vaccinated against the freedom of others to avoid sharing private spaces with the unvaccinated.

“It’s wild to see conservatives hankering to place restrictions on private business,” Nicholas Bagley, a law professor at the University of Michigan (and an Atlantic contributor), told me.

The clash here is not merely a split between the traditional progressive focus on liberty as the ability to achieve one’s potential and the conservative emphasis on negative liberty, or the lack of restraints imposed by government on citizens. (Of course, the conservative movement has not always extended this devotion to negative liberty to everyone, especially LGBTQ people and those wanting an abortion.) Contemporary American conservatives have followed a small-government philosophy and have tended to treat negative liberty as something that applies equally to individuals and to groups of them: “Corporations are people, my friend,” Mitt Romney said in 2011. Conservative judges have issued rulings that have extended protection of religious freedom and free speech, in the guise of political giving, to corporations. COVID-19 has shown, once again, that individuals’ and corporations’ interests are not always aligned.

This split comes amid a broader tension between American businesses and conservative politicians. In recent years, a growing number of corporations have spoken out on social issues, including support for LGBTQ rights and voting access. These positions are not necessarily signs that big business has transformed into “woke capital,” as some conservatives claim; rather, they represent entrepreneurs making judgments about what is best for their bottom line, having considered the views of employees, investors, and companies. Republican politicians—most prominently Mitch McConnell—have howled with anger that companies are criticizing them after years of the GOP serving business interests.

But Texas’s anti-vaccine-passport law, and those like it in other states, show that the betrayals cut both ways. Seeing putatively hard-line conservative governments leap to place restrictions on businesses—especially regarding a question so fundamental as the health of entrepreneurs and their employees—could very well make business interests question the strength of their long-standing alliance with Republicans. Put differently, in the new paradigm, businesses might be sorted by their COVID-19 politics, not by the mere fact of being a business.

The pandemic has also sharpened an existing hypocrisy within the Republican Party over the importance of local control in government. As I wrote in 2017, growing GOP power in state capitals and more uniform liberal control in urban areas have created an inversion of traditional views about federalism. Liberals have come to view municipal government as a key center for progressive reform, while Republicans have become skeptical of their long-held devotion to local control and have enjoyed exercising state power to smack down city-level gun control, living-wage laws, fracking bans, and more.

COVID-19 has supercharged this tension. First came a round of clashes about mask mandates last summer. Liberal and liberal-leaning cities such as Atlanta, Houston, and San Antonio sought to require people to wear masks in public spaces. Conservative state governments passed laws or enacted executive orders preventing people from doing so. This is, once again, a valid exercise of governmental power, if not a wise one. But it is hardly a restrained one, and conflicts with the traditional conservative view that local populations know how to govern themselves best. Instead, these Republican officials once again decided that individual freedom was the more important value.

We’re now witnessing a reprise of this battle, especially centered on school districts. Education is another complicated space for federalism. Across the U.S., some choices are typically left to local authorities while others are controlled by the state. For example, all 50 states have laws requiring vaccines for some illnesses. In Texas, a legal battle is ping-ponging among courts over Abbott’s ban on mask mandates, and local officials in San Antonio have announced that they will mandate masks and require teachers and staff to be vaccinated, notwithstanding the governor’s orders. In Florida, some school districts say they will attempt to mandate masks, despite a ban from Governor Ron DeSantis, also a Republican. The DeSantis administration threatened to defund districts that defy the ban and dock the pay of superintendents and school-board members who impose mandates, but later acknowledged that the state has no such power.

Progressive responses to the loosening conservative commitment to local control and business deregulation have varied. President Joe Biden said Wednesday he would authorize the Department of Education to take legal action against states that block COVID-19 precautions. The liberal law professor Laurence Tribe wants to see the federal government step in to sue states on behalf of parents—a classic exercise of federal power.

In other cases, liberals find themselves in the unusual position of defending business against government interference. That is an outlier in recent political history, during which liberals have more often wanted government to force businesses to accept customers, as in the Masterpiece Cakeshop Supreme Court case, which involved a baker who declined to provide a cake for a same-sex wedding, citing religious views. Yet though religious-freedom carve-outs and vaccine-mandate opposition appear to flow from a similar sense of conservative persecution by the culture at large, the comparison is superficial. Businesses are legally permitted to discriminate among customers all the time—for example, against patrons not wearing shirts or shoes—and are barred from discrimination only along certain lines, such as race. The case for treating people who decline COVID-19 vaccines as a protected class, alongside historically disadvantaged groups, is flimsy, especially because transmission of the virus, unlike gender or sexual orientation, is a threat to others’ health.

Meanwhile, some conservatives are having second thoughts about the decisions they made earlier in the pandemic. This month, Governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, a Republican, said he regretted signing into a law a ban on local mask mandates. “Whenever I signed that law, our cases were low, we were hoping that the whole thing was gone, in terms of the virus, but it roared back with the Delta variant,” Hutchinson said. The governor and Republican legislators ignored a core principle of conservative political philosophy: to beware of changes to government that might have unforeseen consequences.

Hutchinson publicly pleaded for courts to invalidate the law. In early August, he got his wish when a judge blocked enforcement of the mask ban, saying it infringed on the rights of the governor, local health officials, and the state supreme court. If conservatives have to depend on the courts to restrain their own hands from unwise government impositions, what claim do they have on being conservatives?

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Meng Wangzhou believed to have left Canada after B.C. court drops extradition case –



A plane believed to be carrying Chinese tech executive Meng Wangzhou took off from the Vancouver airport on Friday, marking a new stage in a legal saga that ensnared Canada — and two of its citizens — in a dispute between the U.S. and Chinese governments.

A B.C. court decided on Friday that the extradition case against Meng would be dropped after the Huawei chief financial officer reached a deferred prosecution agreement with the U.S. government.

Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, the two Canadian citizens who were detained in China just days after Meng’s arrest in Vancouver, are now on their way back Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed on Friday evening.

Meng’s deal with U.S. prosecutors resolved the charges against the Huawei executive.

The agreement set in motion Meng’s departure from Canada after she had spent nearly three years under house arrest. The plane that departed Vancouver is an Air China charter destined for Shenzhen, the southern Chinese city where Huawei has its headquarters.

As part of her arrangement with U.S. prosecutors, Meng pleaded not guilty in a court Friday to multiple fraud charges.

The Huawei chief financial officer entered the plea during a virtual appearance in a New York courtroom. She was charged with bank fraud, wire fraud and conspiracies to commit bank and wire fraud more than two and a half years ago.

David Kessler, an attorney with the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, told the court the deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) will last four years — from the time of her arrest on Dec. 1, 2018, to Dec. 1, 2022.

Kessler said that if Meng complies with her obligations, the U.S. will move to dismiss the charges against her at the end of the deferral period. If she doesn’t, she can still be prosecuted.

WATCH | Meng Wangzhou speaks following her B.C. court apperance

Huawei chief financial officer makes a statement after leaving the B.C. Supreme Court

5 hours ago

Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou spoke to reporters outside a courthouse in Vancouver after extradition proceedings against her were dropped. Meng had earlier appeared by video in a U.S. court and pleaded not guilty to charges of fraud as part of a deferred prosecution agreement with the U.S. government. 3:32

The agreed statement of facts from Friday’s U.S. court appearance said that Meng told a global financial institution that a company operating in Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions was a “local partner” of Huawei when in fact it was a subsidiary of Huawei.

“In entering into the deferred prosecution agreement, Meng has taken responsibility for her principal role in perpetrating a scheme to defraud a global financial institution,” Acting U.S. Attorney Nicole Boeckmann said in a statement.

‘Sorry for the inconvenience caused,’ Meng says

Later Friday afternoon, B.C. Supreme Court Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes officially ended the Canadian proceedings, signing an order to discharge the U.S. extradition request and vacate Meng’s bail conditions.

She addressed Meng directly before ending a hearing that lasted less than 15 minutes.

“You have been cooperative and courteous throughout the proceedings and the court appreciates and thanks you for that,” Holmes said.

Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou reads a statement outside the B.C. Supreme Court following the conclusion of her extradition hearing. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Outside the court, Meng read from prepared remarks while flanked by her legal team. She thanked Holmes for her “fairness” during the proceedings.

“I also appreciate the court for their professionalism and the Canadian government for upholding the rule of law,” Meng said.

“I’m also grateful to the Canadian people and media friends for your tolerance. Sorry for the inconvenience caused.”

‘Meng Wanzhou is free to leave Canada’

In a media statement issued this evening, the federal Department of Justice confirmed that “Meng Wanzhou is free to leave Canada.”

“Canada is a rule of law country,” says the statement. “Meng Wanzhou was afforded a fair process before the courts in accordance with Canadian law. This speaks to the independence of Canada’s judicial system.”

U.S. prosecutors also credited the Canadian justice system for its commitment to the legal process.

“We are enormously grateful to Canada’s Department of Justice for its dedicated work on this extradition and for its steadfast adherence to the rule of law,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Mark J. Lesko.

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Renzo to Head KCL's Centre for Politics, Philosophy and Law – Daily Nous



Massimo Renzo has been appointed as the new Yeoh Tiong Lay Chair and Director of the Yeoh Tiong Lay Centre for Politics, Philosophy and Law at King’s College London (KCL).

Professor Renzo, previously a professor of Politics, Law, and Philosophy at KCL and the acting director of the Yeoh Centre, was selected for the endowed chair and directorship following an open search to fill the position. He works in legal, moral and political philosophy, and has written on topics such as political authority, just war, humanitarian intervention, human rights, philosophy of criminal law, consent, and manipulation, among others. You can browse his writings here.

The Yeoh Centre was founded in 2014 with the aim of exploring “major issues in law and politics through the lens of philosophy.” Its previous director was John Tasioulas (Oxford). You can learn more about it here.

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Politics Briefing: Quebec introduces legislation to ban pandemic-related protests near hospitals, other facilities – The Globe and Mail




Quebec’s Premier says he is taking a cautious approach to proceeding with legislation to outlaw COVID-19-related protests within 50 metres of hospitals, vaccination sites and testing centres, among other facilities.

“It’s never easy to say you cannot go on the street,” Premier François Legault told a news conference on Thursday, responding to a media question about why he had decided to proceed now with Bill 105.

The legislation, with details on prospective fines, was tabled Thursday by the province’s Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault in response to recent anti-vaccine protests outside such facilities.

“It’s not something that you can do every day. You have to be careful. We want to make sure that people will not win, trying to say that the law is unacceptable, and we cannot enforce it,” said Mr. Legault.

“We wanted to do it correctly and I think that also we need to have the support of all the other parties, and I think that it’s the right time.”

Provisions of the bill will cease to have effect when the public health emergency declared in March, 2020, ends.

More details on the legislation here.

This is the daily Politics Briefing newsletter, written by Ian Bailey. It is available exclusively to our digital subscribers. If you’re reading this on the web, subscribers can sign up for the Politics newsletter and more than 20 others on our newsletter signup page. Have any feedback? Let us know what you think.


TRUDEAU FACES CABINET CHALLENGES – Justin Trudeau will have to contend with the defeat of three female cabinet ministers as he crafts his senior leadership team in what’s expected to be a quick return to governing. Two senior government officials told The Globe and Mail Mr. Trudeau will outline his government’s next steps once Elections Canada has finalized the seat counts, which could be as early as Thursday. Story here.

QUESTIONS RAISED ABOUT O’TOOLE LEADERSHIP – In the first public challenge to Erin O’Toole from within his own ranks, a member of the Conservative Party’s national council says the Tory Leader should face an accelerated leadership review for “betraying” members during the election campaign.

LIMITED DIVERSITY IN TORY CAUCUS – CBC has crunched the the numbers, and concluded that the vast majority of the MPs making up the new Conservative caucus — nearly 95 per cent — are white, even as the country’s racial makeup is diversifying. Before this election, 9 per cent of Tory MPs were BIPOC. Story here,

LPC CANDIDATE ACCUSED OF TAKING RIVAL PAMPHLET – A Calgary resident says he has doorbell security camera footage showing Liberal candidate George Chahal, the night before the election, approach his house in the Calgary Skyview riding and remove an opponent’s campaign flyer before replacing it with one of his own. He posted the footage to Facebook, which has now received thousands of views. Story here.

FORMER LPC CANDIDATE TO SERVE AS INDEPENDENT – Kevin Vuong, who won the Toronto riding of Spadina-Fort York as a Liberal candidate, said he will serve as an Independent MP, days after his party said he will not sit as a member of the caucus. Story here.

TWITTER BERNIER BAN – Twitter restricted People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier’s account, preventing him from posting any new messages for 12 hours after he used the platform to encourage his supporters to “play dirty” with journalists covering his campaign. From CBC. Story here.


KENNEY FENDS OFF LEADERSHIP CHALLENGE – Jason Kenney appears to have quelled another challenge from within his own caucus. A non-confidence vote against the Alberta Premier was withdrawn on Wednesday, but he committed to an earlier-than-planned leadership review, to be held well in advance of Alberta’s 2023 general election. Don Braid of The Calgary Herald writes here on how Mr. Kenney survived this fight against his leadership.

NEW CHARGES AGAINST FORMER SNC-LAVALIN EXECS – SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. and two of its former executives are facing new criminal charges related to a bridge contract in Montreal nearly 20 years ago, plunging the Canadian engineering giant into another legal maelstrom as it tries to rebuild its business after years of crisis. Story here.

FORD LOOKING FOR CHILDCARE DEAL – Ontario Premier Doug Ford says he wants to make a child-care deal with the federal government. The province has acknowledged it was in discussions with Ottawa about a potential agreement into the last hours before the federal election was called in August.


“Private meetings,” according to an advisory from the Prime Minister’s Office.


No schedules released for party leaders.


Andrew Coyne (The Globe and Mail) on whether this is the end of majority governments in Canada:But in Canada, for one reason or another, the grip of two-party politics has been broken – irrevocably, it seems. As a result, something else that is not supposed to happen under first past the post has been happening, with remarkable frequency: minority governments. This is not just the second straight federal election to produce a Parliament without a majority party: it is the fifth in the past seven, 11th in the past 22.”

Lawrence Martin (The Globe and Mail) on why, if any federal leader should be stepping down, it’s the likeable Jagmeet Singh: ‘Strange business, politics. While a bit short of a majority, Justin Trudeau wins a third successive election by a large margin in the seat count. Yet some critics say he should be put out to pasture. NDP leader Jagmeet Singh suffered a drubbing in the 2019 election, losing almost half his party’s seats. With much higher expectations, he did badly again in Monday’s vote, electing (pending mail-in vote counts) only one more member. Yet hardly anyone says a word.”

Robyn Urback (The Globe and Mail) on why the knives are out for Erin O’Toole, but not Jagmeet Singh: “Theoretically, Mr. O’Toole and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh should be in the same boat. Both failed to channel national frustration over a pandemic election call and turn it into material support; both delivered underwhelming results. But Mr. Singh, who led a campaign that saw the party claim 25 seats as of this writing – just one more than it held before – doesn’t appear to be in immediate jeopardy of losing his job. The saga of former NDP leader Tom Mulcair, who was turfed by his party when the NDP won 44 seats in 2015 (that is, about 75 per cent better than it did on Monday), offers an explanation for why.”

Jen Gerson (Maclean’s) on why Tories should not “do that stupid thing” they’re thinking of doing: “If you dump your affable, moderate, centrist leader at the first opportunity because he didn’t crack the 905 on his first try, and you replace him with someone who will chase Maxime Bernier’s vanishing social movement like a labradoodle running after the wheels of a mail truck, you will wind up confirming every extant fear and stereotype this crowd already holds about you and your party.”

Steve Paikin (TVO) on advice for Justin Trudeau, inspired by the political experiences of former Ontario premier Bill Davis: I think if Davis were still alive, he’d tell the current Prime Minister: “A lot of people are underestimating you right now. They think you’re damaged because you called this snap election, and it didn’t work out as you’d hoped. Well, I’ve been there. My advice, Prime Minister, is to reach out. Be more collegial and less ideological and adversarial. Establish a good working relationship with your opponents.”

Send along your political questions and we will look at getting answers to run in this newsletter. It’s not possible to answer each one personally. Questions and answers will be edited for length and clarity.

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