The names were among the spreadsheets, memos, notes and other documents from September and October released by the House Oversight and Reform Committee.
The firms’ vetting came as political appointees planned to spend more than $250 million on a confidence-building campaign surrounding the virus, which has killed more than 227,000 people in the United States and is a core issue in the presidential race between Trump and Democrat Joe Biden.
While government public health campaigns are routine, the ad blitz planned by HHS was mired from the start by involvement from department spokesman Michael Caputo, a fierce loyalist and friend of Trump with little experience in the field. In September, a spokesman for Caputo said he was taking a medical leave from HHS as he battled cancer.
Trump, a Republican, has repeatedly minimized the dangers of the coronavirus, even as the nation is in its third wave of infections, with tens of thousands of cases reported each day.
According to one memo compiled by a subcontractor to Atlas Research, one of the firms hired by HHS, Caputo suggested a series of soundbites and taglines for the campaign, including “Helping the President will Help the Country.” The notes say that Caputo wanted the campaign to be “remarkable” and to rival Rosie the Riveter, the character who symbolized women who worked in factories and shipyards during World War II against Germany.
“For us, the ‘enemy’ is the virus,” Caputo said, according to the memo.
The documents also show pushback from some of the federal employees leading the work, who removed Caputo from an email chain and thanked one of the contractors for dealing with a “challenging” environment.
The Democrat-led Oversight panel said Caputo was overstepping his bounds, interfering in work that is supposed to be done by contract officers at the department and politicizing what is supposed to be nonpartisan.
“Of course, it is completely inappropriate to frame a taxpayer-funded ad campaign around ‘helping’ President Trump in the weeks and days before the election,” said House Oversight Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., and Reps. James Clyburn of South Carolina and Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois, both subcommittee chairmen, in a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar. “This theme also ignores the reality that more than 220,000 Americans have died from coronavirus — a fact that should not be whitewashed in a legitimate public health message.”
Azar put the entire project on hold earlier this month, telling the Oversight subcommittee led by Clyburn that it was being investigated internally.
“I have ordered a strategic review of this public health education campaign that will be led by our top public health and communications experts to determine whether the campaign serves important public health purposes,” Azar told the subcommittee, which is investigating the federal government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.
Because public health policy around the coronavirus pandemic has become so politically polarized, it’s unclear how well a confidence-building campaign from the government would play.
HHS officials acknowledge a major challenge to any campaign would involve finding trusted intermediaries to make the pitch to average Americans. On health care matters, people usually trust doctors first, not necessarily celebrities. And Trump has alienated much of the medical establishment with his dismissive comments about basic public health measures, such as wearing masks.
The 34-page “PSA Celebrity Tracker” compiled by Atlas Research and released by the committee does not say whether the celebrities were aware they were even being considered or if they had agreed to participate. The report says that no celebrities are now affiliated with the project but a handful did initially agree to participate.
Singer Marc Antony, who has been critical of Trump, pulled out after seeking an amendment to his contract to “ensure that his content would not be used for advertisements to re-elect President Trump.”
Actor Dennis Quaid also initially agreed and then pulled out, according to a document from Atlas Research. In an Instagram video post last month titled “No good deed goes unpoliticized,” Quaid said he was frustrated that a taped interview he did with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, for the campaign was portrayed in the media as an endorsement of Trump.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” Quaid said, noting that the interview was still available on his podcast.
Antony and Quaid were among just a few celebrities who were approved for the campaign, according to the documents. Others included TV health commentator Dr. Oz and singer Billy Ray Cyrus.
“Spokespeople for public service campaigns should be chosen on their ability to reach the target audience, not their political affiliation,” the letter from the Democrats reads. “Yet, documents produced by the contractors indicate that the Trump Administration vetted spokespeople based on their political positions and whether they support President Trump.”
Associated Press writer Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar contributed to this report.
Mary Clare Jalonick, The Associated Press
Politics Briefing: Liberals acknowledge missed target on clean water for First Nations – The Globe and Mail
During the 2015 election campaign, the Liberals promised to end long-term drinking water advisories on First Nations by March, 2021.
Today, after months of speculation, the government acknowledged that it was not going to meet that deadline.
In fact, there are still 59 advisories in 41 First Nations communities. The longest of which, in Neskantaga in Ontario and Shoal Lake No. 40 in Manitoba, have been in place since the mid-1990s.
Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said the government was still racing to provide clean water in those communities by March, but it was unlikely to get all of them in place in the next four months. The government is pledging $1.5-billion in the next fiscal year to that purpose.
This is the daily Politics Briefing newsletter, written by Chris Hannay. 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.
Trade between Canada and China is growing, despite the chilly diplomatic relations.
The Indian government expressed disapproval with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau supporting protests by farmers in India. (Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh have also voiced support for the farmers.)
More than half of women and men living in the territories have been the victims of physical of sexual assault since the age of 15, Statistics Canada reports.
Canada’s Competition Commissioner says he can’t make nearly the same moves against tech giants that other international watchdogs are making, because he doesn’t have the same powers.
Paul Rochon, the deputy minister of Finance, has resigned.
And the light at the end of the tunnel: Britain is set to begin administering COVID-19 vaccines next week after approving of the drug produced by Pfizer.
John Ibbitson (The Globe and Mail) on the Liberals’ fall economic statement: “The COVID-19 pandemic has savaged this country’s finances. You simply can’t slough off a deficit that will likely surpass $400-billion once we’ve struggled through the dark winter that awaits us. Years of previously unimaginable deficits lie ahead.”
Michael Geist (The Globe and Mail) on why the new broadcasting bill could lead to less Canadian ownership of content: “Yet the obvious trajectory of the new Canadian system is to shift away from the licensing system. Broadcasters in the licensed world will increasingly look at the unlicensed internet world that is free from foreign investment restrictions and conclude that they prefer the unlicensed system.”
The real reason more women should be in politics – TVO
I got a very short, provocative email the other day from a former Ontario finance minister, whose privacy I will protect here, since it was a personal note that he sent. He was responding to a piece I’d just written about what it’ll take to get more women into politics. His note simply said: “Why?”
I inferred from this that he wanted to know why we needed more women in politics. What possible difference could it make? Isn’t it more important to have the “best people” in public life, regardless of gender?
All great questions. Fortunately (and coincidentally), I had just watched a Zoom conversation, organized by Ryerson University’s Democracy Forum, featuring two of the most trailblazing women ever to serve in politics in Canada. So, to that former finance minister who emailed me, here comes your answer.
Kathleen Wynne and Rachel Notley both made history in their respective provinces during the past decade. Wynne became Ontario’s first female premier in 2013 and won a majority government in 2014. She was also the province’s first openly gay premier. In 2015, Notley became the first New Democrat to inhabit the premier’s office in Alberta. She learned her politics from her late father Grant, Alberta’s NDP leader from 1968 to 1984. Notley did her first campaigning as a child of three and a half and has a picture of herself on Tommy Douglas’s knee. (As a young girl, she famously once told federal NDP leader Ed Broadbent, “You have that same fake politician smile as my father.”)
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It seems both women inherited their partisan stripes from their parents’ generation. Wynne came from a Liberal family, and even in Grade 8 at MacKillop Public School in Richmond Hill, her colours were on display. At mock Parliament, there were 30 Conservatives, four Liberals, and one New Democrat. Wynne was one of the Liberals. Even then.
Five years ago, Wynne and Notley were two of six female premiers in Canada. That’s right: for the first time ever, the majority of the country’s premiers were female. They also represented the vast majority of Canada’s population, as they were serving in the biggest provinces (Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia, and Alberta).
And then the wheel turned. Within a few years, there’d be none. Today, there’s one (Caroline Cochrane in the Northwest Territories).
Did having more women in the premier’s offices of the country make a difference?
“It certainly did change the tone,” said Notley. “There’s a different tone when men replace women, especially if they don’t see elevating women as an important part of their approach.”
Notley added that women leaders are more willing to listen to contrary views — for example, around the cabinet table. “They don’t walk in with a pre-set view that they need to defend,” she said.
For her part, Wynne pointed to a Council of the Federation meeting (essentially, all the premiers) in 2013 at Niagara-on-the-Lake as all the proof you need that women in politics do things differently and achieve different outcomes. The issue of the Conservative federal government’s unwillingness to call a public inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women had come up for discussion.
“I can tell you categorically, it was the women at the table who structured the discussion so the men had to agree to support it,” Wynne said. “There was some shifting in their chairs, but they had to go along.”
She added: “It’s just very clear that, when there’s a critical mass of women at the table, it means different issues get discussed, and there’s a different commitment to substance.”
Wynne is adamant that most women get into politics to advance a cause, whereas men look to wield authority or exercise power. Her first foray into politics was half a century ago, when she tried to convince her high school in Richmond Hill to repeal a ban on girls wearing pants. Later, after having kids of her own, she became an educational activist, which led her to run for school-board trustee and eventually Queen’s Park. She’s still the MPP for Don Valley West, although she’s announced she will serve out this term, and that’ll be it.
“When you have 50 per cent women at the cabinet table or in caucus, you talk about different issues and solve them in a different way,” Wynne insisted.
“It also sends an important signal,” added Notley. “It says we’re going to make sure that women, who are half the population, are also half the decision makers.”
Both women have also bemoaned the fact that, for much of the public, political leadership still has to look big and strong. Wynne has mentioned in the past how hard it was to project a presence of strong leadership when she campaigned in the 2018 election against Doug Ford, who physically is just much bigger than she is.
“We’ve got to change the criteria of what a good leader looks like,” Notley said. “And, left to their own devices, all political parties will leave women behind. Even my party operates in a very combative, partisan field. It makes it harder for women to participate fully.”
Wynne even fessed up to the fact that, when she was premier, she’d drop a curse word “strategically” every now and then to project a more traditional sense of strength.
“I may not be one of the boys, but I know how to hold my own,” she joked.
“I swear excessively,” added Notley, to bigger laughs.
Notley, meanwhile, is still leader of the opposition in Alberta and hopes to get back into the premier’s office. She still has a chance to break one of the worst curses in Canadian political history: no female first minister has ever been re-elected. Notley’s NDP is currently seven points up on the governing United Conservative Party. “I’d like to break that pattern,” she said.
There’s been considerable debate as to why, so far, no women leaders have been able to do it. Some say the barriers to winning and getting re-elected are bigger for women. Toronto Star columnist Martin Regg Cohn, who moderated the session, suggested that “women only get a chance to be leader at the end of a dynasty. As men run for cover, women step up. They’re braver. They get an opportunity to become leader because often the best men won’t run.”
“That’s why the odds are stacked against us,” added Wynne. “So, Rachel, no pressure, but it’s all on you.”
So, to the former Ontario finance minister who wrote me the shortest email I’ve ever received, I hope this answers your question.
Turkey's Ambitious Greens Aim to Colour Country's Politics – Balkan Insight
“Turkey is an ecocidal country. It struggles with ecological problems across the country,” Urbarli said. [“Ecocide] is a term created by merging the terms “ecology” and “genocide”.]
“The government continuously gives licences to mining companies which destroy nature. The North Marmara Motorway and Kanal Istanbul projects have had tremendous effects on nature. The Marmara Sea is already practically dead and the Black Sea could also die because of these projects,” Urbarli claimed.
The motorway, which will be almost 470km long when complete, is designed to connect European Turkey with the rest of the country, skirting Istanbul and relieving congestion in the city.
Meanwhile some 79 per cent of the Kaz Mountains, on the Aegean coast, which has the country’s cleanest air and is home to many endemic species, is being licenced for mining by the government, despite popular opposition.
According to Northern Forests Defence, NFD, an advocacy organisation set up to protest the forests between the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea, at least 3.7 million trees have been cut down to make way for the construction of the North Marmara Motorway.
More will be cut down if the Kanal Istanbul project is actualised. The proposed canal is set to be 43 kilometres long and 400 metres wide and will connect the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara.
Its construction would involve the destruction of a natural lagoon and a reservoir, which is one of Istanbul’s largest water reserves. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has described the project as his “dream”.
“The government thinks nature can be spent and destroyed … forests are being destroyed, and they think that they can replace them with landscaped designs next to motorways. The ecosystem is not what they presume,” Urbarli said.
Urbarli cited Istanbul’s water problem as an example of the government’s destructive projects. “The government had been warned many times that these forests and the area for the motorway are the water reservoir of Istanbul but all objections were overruled. Now Istanbul faces a great water shortage,” Urbarli continued.
According to the Istanbul Municipality, only 24 per cent of the city’s reservoir dams are full of water and some dams near North Marmara Motorway are empty. “If this situation continues like this, Turkey will have an unprecedented ecological problem,” Urbarli warned.
The only way out from these crises is Green thinking, he says.
Turning to future political alliances, he said: “We are not currently part of any political alliances but we are talking about this with other parties.
“Whether or not we take part in the next elections, we believe Green thinking will shape these elections; a Green discourse has started to appear on other opposition parties’ agendas,” he added.
“Other parties will need Greens because of their knowledge and experience of green politics – and the Green Party needs other parties so it can enter political alliances,” he concluded.
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