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Trump’s coronavirus conflict: Science vs. politics – POLITICO

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The coronavirus battle brewing inside the Trump administration is putting two urgent imperatives in conflict — showing credibility in tackling a global health crisis while calming unsettled investors and voters in an election year.

On Monday, one top White House official publicly disputed concerns about a market downturn while President Donald Trump commented directly on it. On Tuesday, health officials broadcast their expertise about the virus while Trump sought to squash such chatter. And on Wednesday, top aides debated publicly whether the administration would need a czar to coordinate a government response as the president announced a rare evening press conference and attacked the media.

Then Trump came striding out Wednesday night to the White House briefing room podium, attempting to clear things up. He tapped Vice President Mike Pence to helm the response and acquiesced to a bipartisan congressional demand for more emergency funding than the White House had previously requested. But his typical confidence and downplaying of the threat — he bragged that America was a top-ranked country for handling a viral outbreak and noted the seasonal flu was killing more people than the coronavirus — continued the administration’s occasional discordant messaging on the subject.

“We’re ready to adapt and do whatever we have to as the disease spreads, if it spreads,” Trump said, making only his second appearance at the briefing room podium during his time in office.

Widening fears about a potential health catastrophe are thrusting the Trump White House into a form of crisis management different from anything it has experienced in three years, pitting transparency against politics just as top officials hoped to be pivoting to the 2020 reelection fight and away from impeachment.

Now the White House is trying to project confidence about America’s ability to contain the coronavirus — now present in 37 countries, but about which much is still unknown — while appearing prepared for an outbreak in the U.S. It’s a tricky moment for any president to balance an image of both strength and caution, coming in a week when the administration’s political messaging has seemed disorganized and often in conflict.

In an effort to appear in control of the response, the president told aides on Air Force One during his return trip from India that he wanted to hold Wednesday night’s press conference. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar and other members of the coronavirus task force were expected to brief the president ahead of his appearance, which came hours after the stock market closed out another volatile day.

“President Trump realizes that people need to hear about the coronavirus from him,” said Jason Miller, senior communications adviser on the 2016 Trump campaign. “The media environment he is returning to is different than when he left for India.”

Miller said Trump needed to be surrounded by officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conveying basic concepts like who is at risk of contracting coronavirus and how Americans can avoid it.

“Even if the virus is not our fault, we will be the ones to solve the problem,” Miller said. “That is the message the American people need to hear.”

Trump’s decision to appear as the face of the coronavirus response came after the president and officials the White House were “livid” with the statements made Tuesday by Nancy Messonnier, the director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. Her warning that a coronavirus outbreak in the United States was “not a question of if, but rather a question of when” raised alarm bells and contradicted the public messaging from the White House that the situation was serious, but under control.

On the same day, the director of the National Economic Council Larry Kudlow said on CNBC: “We have contained this, I won’t say airtight but pretty close to airtight.”

The White House tried to project a sense of confidence, and pointed to the president’s early creation of a coronavirus task force, travel restrictions and a containment strategy.

But that was at odds with what federal officials have publicly warned could be a dire situation — messaging seen as credible by many lawmakers but slammed by the president’s aides and allies.

“I don’t understand how the CDC could make an announcement as important as yesterday without it being tightly coordinated with the [White House],” President George W. Bush’s press secretary, Ari Fleischer, said on Twitter. “There should have been an Oval Office meeting, a statement by POTUS about protecting people, and then a press avail by experts. Bizarre.”

With criticism over the messaging mounting on Wednesday, the White House sent out talking points to allies praising the president’s response as “aggressive and proactive.”

“The Administration is taking aggressive and proactive measures, working closely with state and local partners to protect the public health,” the document said. “President Trump has led the way in addressing the coronavirus and has allowed the U.S. to stay ahead of the outbreak as it has developed.”

Publicly, the president tried to show he had taken command and assured that Americans were safe.

“The risk to the American people remains very low,” he said. “We have the greatest experts really in the world.”

But behind the scenes, officials have prepared for scenarios where the virus could spread out of control — especially in densely populated and poor areas abroad. It’s not known exactly how many people are affected in Iran, but an unofficial report published by Canadian researchers was circulated among some officials inside the White House that predicted as many as 18,000 cases — a number seen as within the realm of possibility.

The NSC held a table-top exercise last week where officials went through potential scenarios and mapped out needs in the case of any spike in cases.

An administration official also said the White House was considering measures that included travel restrictions for Korea and Italy. The CDC already raised its travel advisory for South Korea to the highest level, recommending that travelers avoid all nonessential travel, but Italy still remains at the level below.

Trump on Wednesday took credit for an early decision to ban certain travelers from China shortly after the virus outbreak began.

“A lot of people thought we shouldn’t have done it that early,” he said.

Senior administration officials have stressed in recent days that the president’s decision early on to shut down flights between the U.S. and China gave the administration much-needed time to ramp up vaccine development, explore potential treatments and examine possible disruptions to supply chains for U.S. companies.

“Unfortunately what we are seeing is a political effort by the Left and some in the media to distract and disturb the American people with fearful rhetoric and palace intrigue,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement. “The virus remains low-risk domestically because of the containment actions taken by this Administration since the first of the year.“

“The global situation is serious and changing hourly, which is exactly why Secretary Azar continues to lead a whole-of-government response in partnership with state and local leaders that includes the best experts on infectious diseases,” Deere said. “It’s also exactly why the White House is requesting from Congress $2.5 billion in funding to accelerate vaccine development and further support preparedness and response efforts. The President is receiving regular updates, and is prepared to take additional action to protect the American people.“

White House aides have long wanted the public message on the coronavirus to delve into the public health concerns rather than the potential economic damage. But behind the scenes, aides have been running models of the possible impact on both the U.S. and global economy. The U.S. stock market took major tumbles Monday and Tuesday after the coronavirus spread to both Italy and Iran, then swung between gains and losses throughout Wednesday.

New analysis released by Moody’s Analytics chief economist Mark Zandi estimated the odds of the coronavirus turning into a pandemic was now at 40 percent — a development that Zandi said would result in a recession in the U.S. for the first half of 2020.

“The coronavirus has been a body blow to the Chinese economy, which now threatens to take out the entire global economy,” he wrote in a research note. “A global recession is likely if COVID-19 becomes a pandemic, and the odds of that are uncomfortably high.”

The White House is also trying to work with leaders at the state level on a possible coronavirus response.

“There are nuances of the messaging that may lead some to believe we’re saying something different,” said Michael Kilkenny, medical director for the Cabell-Huntington Health Department in Huntington, W. Va. “But we all have the same understanding that this is a serious threat to the public health of the U.S. and that when we talk about a disease that has the potential to spread asymptomatically, the reality is you cannot stop community spread.”

Kilkenny and other state and local health leaders met with administration officials including acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney at the White House Tuesday to discuss preparedness efforts for the coronavirus. He said he agreed with the CDC’s assessment that community spread is likely.

“That’s the prudent concept to grasp and we’re grasping that at the local levels across the country,” Kilkenny said. “To deny that would happen here would be foolish.”

Brianna Ehley contributed to this report.

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The politics of climate change | TheRecord.com – Waterloo Region Record

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In her brilliant 2019 article “The challenging politics of climate change,” Elaine Kamarck, a senior fellow with the Washington-based Brookings Institution, explores how “the lack of intensity around (climate change) is simultaneously incomprehensible and totally understandable.”

She offers four explanations: “complexity; jurisdiction and accountability; collective action and trust; and imagination.”

Our climate crisis is a political hot potato because it is complex and voters don’t like complexity. As well, it isn’t obvious how our actions impact the climate — for good or bad. We can’t see greenhouse gas emissions the way we can see water pollution from a chemical plant, or toxic smoke pouring out of a smokestack.

Kamarck says climate change and cybersecurity are “two of the stickiest problems of the 21st century … because it’s so difficult to nail down jurisdiction.” Who is responsible for what? Where does the buck stop? And do we trust our government and politicians to do the right thing?

A half-credit of Civics in high school is not enough for most of us to untangle the Gordian knot of responsibilities in the multiple levels of government impacting our lives.

The politics of climate change is about government action, or the lack of it, but it’s also about navigating the strategies we use to tackle the issue. Since we politicized climate change in the 1970s, our response has been highly divisive. This has to change because everyone is affected and a vigorous and collaborative political response is essential.

Despite the sound science, we still have climate deniers and liars, who come in many forms. The Guardian’s environment editor, Damian Carrington, categorizes them as “the shill, the grifter, the egomaniac and the ideological fool.”

In a Scientific American interview, climate scientist Michael Mann, famous for his hockey stick graph showing the exponential growth in carbon dioxide in our atmosphere from human activity, said that climate deniers have been replaced by inactivists. The deep pockets from the fossil fuel industry are now funding “legislative efforts blocking clean-energy policies” through “deflection, delay, division, despair mongering, doomism.”

Both the oil and tobacco industries share the same devious strategy to shift the blame and responsibility from the corporation to the individual. In 2005, British Petroleum created a marketing campaign for people to calculate their personal carbon footprints. There is no question that we each bear responsibility for our own actions to live sustainably, but who is holding corporations to account?

For the past 10 years, Ottawa-based Gerald Kutney has taken on the climate denialists, bots and trolls to clean up the Twitter-verse. His goal is to stop the propaganda and lies being repeated by the “denial-saurs” from becoming the truth.

Kutney picked Twitter because it’s “the best, ongoing teaching ground about climate denialism in the world, day in and day out.” To counter the piling on from followers of the biggest climate deniers, Kutney introduced #climatebrawl. Just like the bat signal in Batman’s Gotham City, the hashtag alerts an international support system prepared to do battle, armed with the truth about our climate crisis.

We have to trust the evidence-based solutions from our best climate scientists and not the ramblings and rants of disbelievers. Denial-saurs, like most of the contenders for the Canadian Conservative party leadership, are treating our future like a political football.

Kutney’s best advice is “Vote. Just vote,” and hold our elected officials to effective climate-action plans. We cannot afford to be silent in our winner-take-all electoral systems unless we want to be governed by the choices of a minority of climate denialists.

This goes for municipal politics as well. There will be many new faces on councils after this fall’s municipal elections. Our future depends on their commitment to climate action.

Susan Koswan is a freelance contributing columnist for The Record, based in Waterloo Region. Follow her on Twitter: @SKoswan

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Afghans are suffering and dying while Canada plays politics, says aid worker – CBC.ca

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Aid worker Samira Sayed Rahman was in eastern Afghanistan recently, where she met a woman struggling to survive in a one-room mud structure that she shared with her six children.

“If she is able to get food on the table, it is because she’s picking from the garbage. And if she can get enough of the hair and dirt off, she brings it home for her six children,” said Sayed Rahman, a Canadian who has been in Afghanistan for seven years, and works with the NGO International Rescue Committee (IRC). 

“Otherwise [they] go days without eating,” she told The Current’s guest host Michelle Shephard.

The IRC was in the area to provide economic training to locals; this particular woman learned how to make pickles, as a source of income for her family.

Sayed Rahman said her story of deprivation is the story of millions of Afghans, who are having to resort to “horrific means to survive” since the Taliban’s resurgence in the country sparked a humanitarian crisis. And she added that it’s fuelled by an economic crisis that “is a direct result of the decisions of the international community.”

Afghans are resorting to “skipping meals, taking on debt, pulling children out of school — and … extreme measures, such as selling daughters into marriage or selling organs,” she said.

WATCH | Afghanistan gripped by humanitarian crisis

One year after Taliban takeover, Afghanistan gripped by humanitarian crisis

2 days ago

Duration 3:00

Afghanistan is marking a year under Taliban rule. While the repressive regime is celebrating the anniversary, the country is now facing a humanitarian crisis with millions of ordinary Afghans struggling to find food, while women and girls have been stripped of their basic rights.

The humanitarian crisis is being fuelled by economic sanctions levied by the international community after the U.S. and its allies pulled out of Afghanistan last summer, and Kabul quickly fell into the hands of the Taliban. Funding and aid to the country was widely suspended in line with international policies around interacting with the Taliban, designated by many countries as a terrorist organization.

The UN estimates that of Afghanistan’s population of 38 million, roughly 25 million people are living in poverty, in need of humanitarian assistance. That number has risen from 14 million in July 2021, just before the Taliban’s takeover. 

Some countries have created exceptions to their laws, to allow the delivery of aid to ordinary Afghans — but Canada’s strict policies remain in place. Last week, Canada-based aid agency World Vision cited the ban when it cancelled a large shipment of food to Afghanistan, which the charity said could have fed around 1,800 children

“Aid organizations in Afghanistan that are heavily dependent on Canadian foreign aid are now struggling,” said Sayed Rahman, adding that policies intended to “isolate the Taliban” have instead “punished the Afghan people.”

“We are punishing 38 million people just because a few hundred are in power.”

WATCH | Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland discusses Afghan refugees

Deputy prime minister answers questions about Afghanistan

6 days ago

Duration 2:23

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland says Canada’s priority is to focus on the women and children of Afghanistan ‘who have suffered real setbacks.’

Taliban ‘remains a terrorist group’: GAC

In an emailed statement to The Current, a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada (GAC) said that “Canada remains committed to facilitating life-saving assistance to vulnerable Afghans.”

“In 2022, Canada has allocated $143 million in humanitarian assistance to support vulnerable populations in Afghanistan and neighbouring countries,” the statement read.

But the statement added that “although the Taliban has taken over as the de facto national authority of Afghanistan, it remains a terrorist group and is a listed terrorist entity under the Criminal Code.”

Departments across the federal government are “working to identify a solution that upholds Canada’s national security interests while facilitating the effective delivery of assistance to the Afghan people in this unprecedented situation,” it said.

The Taliban’s early assurances that it would not row back progress for Afghan women and girls have not been borne out in the last 12 months. In March, the group decided against reopening schools to girls above the sixth grade.

GAC said that “Canada continues to engage with international partners to hold the Taliban to account for its horrific treatment and discrimination of women and girls.”

Last year, Canada’s then-minister of foreign affairs Marc Garneau said Canada could exert economic leverage over the Taliban, citing international aid earmarked for the country.

WATCH | Afghans urgently need help, says UN co-ordinator

Afghans urgently need help, says UN co-ordinator

2 days ago

Duration 8:26

The world should find ways to get more medicine and food deliveries into Afghanistan, says Ramiz Alakbarov, the UN humanitarian co-ordinator based in a country where he says people are selling their belongings to survive.

Speaking to The Current on Tuesday, former member of Afghanistan’s parliament Fawzia Koofi said the Taliban too was exerting leverage, by weaponizing the rights of women and girls in their quest for international legitimacy.

“They are bargaining our rights for their political interests,” said Koofi, who was the country’s first female deputy parliamentary speaker.

Sayed Rahman agreed that the issue of girls’ education is important, but the humanitarian crisis is “a matter of survival for the Afghan people.”

She argued that Afghanistan’s population has relied on international aid and funding for years, only to have it suddenly removed in the last 12 months.

“Are we going to let more Afghans die in the meantime while we play our politics?” she said.


Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Samira Mohyeddin and Niza Lyapa Nondo.

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Politics Briefing: Trudeau says approval of U.S. Inflation Reduction Act 'is good news for Canadians' – The Globe and Mail

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Hello,

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is praising the approval of major new climate-focused legislation south of the border, calling it “good news” for Canadians.

U.S. President Joe Biden signed the landmark Inflation Reduction Act on Tuesday, which is a watered-down version of the Democrats’ original “Build Back Better” plan.

From a Canadian perspective, the most significant change to the bill is the fact that the final version removed an earlier provision that would have excluded vehicles made outside of the U.S. from qualifying for generous new consumer tax incentives. The final version allows those incentives to apply to North American-made vehicles, which was a big win for Canadian officials and industry leaders who had lobbied Congressional decision makers for the change.

“It’s official: @POTUS signed legislation that will include Canada in a new tax incentive for electric vehicles purchased in the US,” Mr. Trudeau tweeted Tuesday evening. “This is good news for Canadians, for our green economy, and for our growing EV manufacturing sector.”

The U.S. plan is widely viewed by climate advocates as a serious effort to reduce emissions, but its incentive-focused approach is very different from Canada’s plan, which is based on imposing a growing price on carbon emissions via a patchwork of provincial programs and federal backstops.

The Globe and Mail’s Adam Radwanski recently wrote a detailed analysis of what the new U.S. bill means for Canada’s climate plans.

“What the breakthrough south of the border does demand is swift movement on policies that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised but not yet acted on, especially to use public dollars to attract private capital for clean technology,” he wrote. “It also requires a sharpening of existing programs with that aim. And it underscores the need to plug major gaps in Canada’s current climate strategy – especially when it comes to the cleanliness and reliability of the electricity grid, which is by far the biggest focus of the U.S. package.”

The Globe also recently reported that the substantial tax changes in the U.S. bill that will be imposed to cover some of the cost of the new incentives present tax policy challenges for Canada.

While the U.S. changes are substantial, they are not currently in line with OECD-led efforts to forge a common front on corporate taxation, especially with respect to large multinationals in the technology sector.

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland has said Canada strongly supports the OECD plans, but is prepared to go it alone in 2024 with a digital sales tax on foreign multinationals if the global talks are not finalized by then.

This is the daily Politics Briefing newsletter, written by Bill Curry, who is filling in for 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.

TODAY’S HEADLINES

MOUNTIES STAND BY POLITICAL-INTERFERENCE ALLEGATIONS: Nova Scotia Mounties have told Parliament that RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki put politics ahead of policing after Canada’s deadliest mass shooting when she pressed her investigators to make disclosures about firearms in a bid to reinforce the Liberal government’s gun-control agenda. Story here.

PROPORTION OF FRENCH SPEAKERS IN DECLINE: CENSUS – The proportion of Canadians who predominantly speak French at home declined in all provinces and territories except Yukon between 2016 and 2021, according to the latest census release. That includes Quebec, where a provincial election is scheduled for Oct. 3. Story here.

WASHINGTON POST FEATURE DESCRIBES STEVEN GUILBEAULT AS “CANADA’S ONETIME ‘GREEN JESUS’ WHO OKAYS OIL MEGAPROJECT”: “Guilbeault, now 52, is under fire for his decision in April to greenlight the Bay du Nord deep-sea oil drilling project off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador, finding that it is ‘not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects.’ He says that — to his knowledge — it will be the lowest-emitting project of its kind in the world.” Feature story on the federal environment minister is here.

INTELLIGENCE REPORT FLAGGED POSSIBLE ‘VIOLENT REVENGE’ AFTER OTTAWA CONVOY PROTEST SHUTDOWN: Newly disclosed documents show federal intelligence officials warned decision-makers that the police dispersal of “Freedom Convoy” protesters in Ottawa last winter could prompt an “opportunistic attack” against a politician or symbol of government. Story here.

ANTI-TERROR LAW CAUSING PROBLEMS: Humanitarian groups say the federal government should exempt their on-the-ground work in Afghanistan from its anti-terror law, warning that Ottawa’s current policies are preventing them from delivering crucial aid to people in desperate need. The law also hinders the work of groups helping evacuate Afghans to Canada. Story here.

CARDINAL OUELLET ACCUSED OF SEXUAL ASSAULT: A prominent Vatican cardinal from Quebec, long considered a top candidate for the papacy, is one of dozens of clergy members facing allegations of sexual assault as part of a class-action lawsuit against his former diocese. Story here.

LAFLAMME’S CTV NEWSCAST ONE OF CANADA’S MOST POPULAR, RATINGS SHOW: Before her ouster as anchor of CTV National News this week, Lisa LaFlamme presided over one of the most-watched newscasts in Canada, whose ratings significantly outpaced competitors – raising questions about the rationale presented by CTV’s parent company, Bell Media, which referred to the abrupt change as a business decision. Story here.

CANADIAN PARLIAMENTARIANS HEADING TO TAIWAN: Liberal MP Judy Sgro, who chairs the standing committee on international trade, told CBC News that a group of MPs and Senators may visit Taiwan this fall. Story here.

NORTHERN NURSES GET A BOOST: Indigenous Services Canada will nearly triple incentives for nurses who work on remote Manitoba reserves, the Winnipeg Free Press reports here.

NEW PASSPORT OFFICE LOCATIONS ANNOUNCED: The federal government is adding new passport service locations across Canada as a backlog in processing applications continues. Story here.

THIS AND THAT

The House of Commons is not sitting again until Sept. 19. The Senate is to resume sitting on Sept. 20.

RBC CEO SAYS EMPLOYEES SHOULD BE IN THE OFFICE MORE OFTEN: Dave McKay says in an internal memo to staff that more frequent office attendance is needed. He said technology can’t replicate the “energy, spontaneity, big ideas or true sense of belonging” that come from working together in person. He added that mentorship and skills development, critical parts of the bank’s culture, are challenging when done through video screens. Globe story here.

THE DECIBEL

The Globe’s Asia correspondent James Griffiths is on the show to talk about how Taiwan came to dominate the semiconductor and microchip industry and why it’s crucial to the delicate geopolitical situation today. A link to Wednesday’s podcast, as well as earlier episodes, can be found here.

PRIME MINISTER’S DAY

The Prime Minister’s public itinerary says he is in private meetings Wednesday in the National Capital Region.

OPINION

Andrew Coyne (The Globe and Mail) says the proposed Alberta Sovereignty Act places the province on the verge of the constitutional abyss: We are potentially seven weeks away from a constitutional crisis, the likes of which this country has not seen. Because the front-runner for the UCP leadership is Danielle Smith, and because the centrepiece of her campaign is a wholly unworkable, flagrantly unconstitutional and massively destabilizing proposal called the Alberta Sovereignty Act.

Matt Gurney (TVO) wades into Toronto’s Car vs. Bike debate raging in High Park and concludes it’s time for widespread photo radar: Put a robot on every corner. In every park. Or at least have enough of them that they can be rotated through all of the city, ensuring coverage in all areas on a regular basis. I really wish this weren’t necessary. Really. But no one can spend any time at all on Toronto’s roads and walk away unconvinced that they are necessary. Toronto drivers are terrible. The police have more important stuff to do than hand out tickets. Neighbourhoods need help controlling reckless drivers. And we have a ready-made, proven technological solution that will eventually pay for itself. Not every problem in life has such a clear solution. This one does. What the hell are we waiting for? Bring on the robots.

The Globe and Mail’s editorial board says Canada’s Conservative Party should not be drawing inspiration from U.S. Republicans: What happens in Vegas may stay in Vegas, but what happens in American politics does not remain in the United States. It drifts across the world’s longest undefended intellectual border, and it falls like acid rain. Prolonged exposure – too much MSNBC or Fox News – can lead to hallucinations, delusions and loss of contact with (Canadian) reality. Voters and politicians are both susceptible to infection … But the party most at risk from cross-border emissions these days is the Conservative Party. There’s a lot of crazy in American politics right now, and the majority of it is coming from the people that Conservatives think of as their American cousins. The Republican Party is increasingly going off the deep end.

Got a news tip that you’d like us to look into? E-mail us at tips@globeandmail.com. Need to share documents securely? Reach out via SecureDrop.

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