SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
A few acronyms to chew over this morning – hope it doesn’t make breakfast taste flat – MBS, CPAC, OMB, if we have the time. Joining us now to spell it all out, NPR senior Washington editor and correspondent Ron Elving. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.
RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good morning. Hope things are A-OK with you, Scott.
SIMON: (Laughter) Oh, I walked into that, didn’t I? Of course, MBS is what they call Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince. U.S. officials say that he approved the grisly murder of Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 – approved it, lied about it afterwards. Not clear if President Biden will do anything in response to this finding.
ELVING: You know, the role of MBS in this murder has been widely known, both inside and outside the intel community, for roughly two years. But the Trump administration was pursuing an ever-closer relationship with the Saudis, and especially and particularly MBS. And that had a lot to do with arms sales and Israel. So the report was not released, and there was a general refusal to acknowledge the known facts.
Now, the new administration is making more of the reports public but still not doing much about it, at least not yet. The White House says we should stay tuned but suggesting only that the Saudis are on some sort of probation now. And that seems to be the best judgment within Biden’s security team. It’s not good enough for a lot of Biden’s own voters who were expecting much more severe consequences for MBS and for the Saudi regime.
SIMON: It’s irresistible to point out – first military action of the Biden administration launched this week, an airstrike against Syria because Iranian-backed militias there had attacked American assets in the region. That gets an airstrike. Saudi Arabia gets a summary.
ELVING: Yes, President Biden said that strike was a message to Iran to, quote, “be careful. You can’t act with impunity,” unquote. And in substance, it was a far more consequential response than Biden made to the Saudis, a contrast that, as you suggest, made the slap on the wrist for MBS all the more troubling.
SIMON: Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC, this weekend in Orlando, the largest gathering of conservative activists. Apparently, it includes an inflatable golden bust of Donald Trump. Any room for Republicans like Liz Cheney of Wyoming or Adam Kinzinger of Illinois?
ELVING: Well, what’s the opposite of a welcome mat, Scott? Maybe skull and crossbones on the door? The obvious question is how big a tent the Republicans want. Will it be Reagan’s or Bush’s or Trump’s tent? And will those people who were not welcome at CPAC be part of the party’s campaigns in 2022 and 2024? We’ll stay tuned.
SIMON: A $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package has passed the House, and President Biden spoke about that today at the White House.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: We are one step closer to putting $1,400 in the pockets of Americans. We are one step closer to extending unemployment benefits for millions of Americans who were shortly going to lose them. We are one step closer to helping millions of Americans feed their families and keep a roof over their head. We are one step closer to getting our kids safely back in school.
SIMON: But, Ron, Senate rules won’t allow another thing that the president wanted, which is a hike in the minimum wage.
ELVING: The good news for the White House is that the rest of this relief bill seems remarkably popular, even with some Trump voters. So with the minimum wage issue set aside to be dealt with separately later this year possibly, the overall bill seems increasingly likely to be law.
SIMON: Finally, Neera Tanden is President Biden’s pick to lead OMB, the Office of Management and Budget. As a partisan political figure, she made some colorful observations about some U.S. senators whose votes she may not get now.
ELVING: One lesson here is that a 50-50 Senate truly empowers the individual senator. So losing one or two can cost you your power to act. And that’s a lesson we’re likely to learn over and over. And another lesson is that even in the age of Trump Twitter, what others say on social media can still come back to haunt them.
SIMON: NPR’s senior Washington editor Ron Elving, thanks so much.
ELVING: Thank you, Scott.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.
Politics Briefing: From drought to deluge: Canada flush with vaccine doses – The Globe and Mail
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There are now enough COVID-19 vaccine doses in Canada to fully inoculate everyone eligible, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on Tuesday.
The federal government hit the critical milestone two months ahead of schedule and after a rocky start to vaccine purchasing in the winter. Since March, the country has moved from drought to deluge in vaccine supply and the focus has shifted to whether enough people will stick out their arms and help avoid a fourth wave of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“These vaccines work and they’re safe and they’re also available,” Mr. Trudeau told reporters at an event in Moncton. “So with enough doses for everyone, there’s no more excuses to not get your shot.”
Reporter’s Comment, Ms. Walsh: “In the last four months (and just in time for a widely expected election call) Canada has moved from vaccine drought to deluge. Up to the end of March, the country had yet to hit 10 million doses, four months later it now has more than 66 million doses. That breaks down to enough shots to fully vaccinate all eligible people – an achievement hit two months ahead of the government’s self-imposed deadline. The milestone is a key box to check before a potential summer election call but with vaccination rates not yet at the levels needed to avoid overwhelming hospitals in a fourth wave, it’s not yet mission accomplished for the jabs.”
RCMP PROBE ABUSE AT MANITOBA RESIDENTIAL SCHOOL – Manitoba Mounties say they have been conducting a large-scale, years-long investigation into allegations of sexual abuse at a residential school. RCMP said Tuesday that officers with the major crime unit began looking into the Fort Alexander Residential School, northeast of Winnipeg, in 2010 and a criminal investigation was launched the following year. Story here.
FEDS APPROVE WEAPONS SALE TO SAUDI ARABIA – The federal government last year approved a deal with Canadian business connections for the sale of nearly $74-million of weapons to Saudi Arabia, even as there were calls for Canada to stop arms transactions with the Saudis, one of the main combatants fuelling the war in Yemen.
SIMON READY TO BE G-G – Mary Simon says she is honoured, humbled and ready to be the first Indigenous person to serve as the Queen’s federal representative in Canada. Her official installation as Governor-General took place in the Senate on Monday.
ERIN O’TOOLE MAKES PROMISES IN ST. JOHN’S – In St. John’s, N.L., federal Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole promised changes to a fund intended to cushion province from sharp drops in revenue, CBC reports. The story is here.
PRIME MINISTER’S DAY
Private meetings in Moncton. Then the Prime Minister makes a vaccine announcement and holds a media availability. In Charlottetown, the Prime Minister meets with Premier Dennis King, and makes an announcement and holds a news conference with the Premier, federal Social Development Minister Ahmed Hussen and others.
Green Party Leader Annamie Paul holds a virtual roundtable discussion on the climate crisis and media availability.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh visits wildfire evacuees in Thunder Bay, Ont.
New data from the Angus Reid Institute finds half of respondents in Michigan (48 per cent) and Ontario (49 per cent) want the embattled Line 5 pipeline to stay open. In Quebec, the 72 per cent who have an opinion are split on what the pipeline’s fate should be. Details here.
The Globe and Mail Editorial Board on how Vancouver could change the rules of bidding for he Olympic Games: “Democratic countries are running out of voters who will expose themselves to a parasitic organization that nourishes itself on the tax dollars of its host, while raking in billions and leaving behind scars like Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, a white elephant that took the city 40 years to pay off. So, where does that leave a Vancouver 2030 bid? It could be a new type of Games for a new era, with all the sports drama and none of the financial pyromania. No additional infrastructure would need to be built; the existing facilities are barely a decade old.”
John Ibbitson (The Globe and Mail) on why Mary Simon may be the Governor-General that makes a difference for Canada: “The duties of a governor general are largely ceremonial, though they can also be quite significant. Ms. Simon will preside over and attend public functions. She will, most likely, read a Speech from the Throne after a new ministry forms following an expected fall election. She may be required, as governors-general Julian Byng and Michaëlle Jean were, to decide whether to grant the wish of a prime minister during a constitutional dispute. These are roles and powers of the Queen’s representative in Canada. But Ms. Simon has a greater duty as well: to help heal the hurt and anger of Indigenous Peoples over the discoveries of hundreds of children in unmarked graves at residential schools, along with the many other wounds that non-Indigenous Canadians have inflicted.”
André Picard (The Globe and Mail) on why the time for debating COVID-19 vaccine passports is over: “The most efficient way to stave off this scenario in Canada is requiring proof of vaccination in many public and commercial venues. So let’s dispense with the pointless rhetorical “debate” about whether vaccine certificates or passports are necessary, or represent some gruesome violation of rights and freedoms, and focus on how to make the rules as clear, simple and fair as possible. Canada has, to date, failed miserably on that count, with an incomprehensible jumble of wishful thinking, buck-passing and illogical public policies that vary by province and often by individual institution.”
John Boyko (Contributor to The Globe and Mail) on how Canada is making the same mistakes in Yemen that it did in Vietnam: “Brock University assistant professor Simon Black has led protests against continuing our involvement in the Yemen war through continuing our arms sales to Saudi Arabia. “Most Canadians don’t realize that weapons manufactured here continue to fuel a war that has led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people,” he has said. He’s wrong. We know. We knew in the 1960s when we were profiting from the immoral war in Vietnam. And we know now.”
Don Braid (The Calgary Herald) on a looming federal election that won’t shake Alberta’s Conservative landscape, but could come with some surprises: “NDP MP Heather McPherson already holds Edmonton Strathcona, the federal riding that includes provincial leader Rachel Notley’s own turf. McPherson is the only non-Conservative MP in the province. She could soon have company. An NDP breakthrough of even a few seats would be a genuine first in Alberta. And the Liberals would have themselves to blame.”
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America’s vaccination woes cannot be blamed only on politics – The Economist
ARKANSAS, LIKE many other American states, is in the middle of another wave of the covid-19 pandemic. Its only health-sciences university hospital, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS), is near capacity as it battles severe covid-19 infections, mostly among the unvaccinated. Across the state, covid-19 infections are worryingly high: the positivity rate, the percentage of all tests that are positive for covid-19, is five times the national average, according to a UAMS report. And vaccination rates are low: only 41% among people aged 12 and older, compared with the nationwide average of 58%, the Arkansas Department of Health said on July 26th. UAMS researchers describe the situation as “a raging forest fire”.
Meanwhile restaurants in Little Rock, the state capital, are packed with diners, most of them unmasked. (The state’s Republican governor, Asa Hutchinson, signed a law in April banning public institutions, but not private businesses, from requiring masks.) Customers chatter away inside air-conditioned restaurants, ignoring the patios outside. Some establishments post signs encouraging face coverings: “Consistent with CDC guidelines, unvaccinated guests and customers should wear masks,” says one sign in a hotel lobby. But that same lobby was filled with unmasked visitors. Many employees at these places wear face coverings, though not all.
The contrast between the situation inside hospitals and life elsewhere in Little Rock is striking. “The truth is, walking around here, you should be seeing people who are masked up,” says Cam Patterson, the chancellor of UAMS. “What you’re seeing is actually part of what is causing this forest fire to rage.”
Throughout the United States covid-19 is spreading rapidly, mostly owing to the highly contagious Delta variant. According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the seven-day moving average of daily new cases on July 23rd (40,246) increased by 47% compared with the average a week earlier . This is 251% higher than the lowest average in the past 12 months, recorded on June 19th.
Areas with the lowest vaccination rates are being hit the hardest. Arkansas has had 367 new cases per 100,000 residents over the past week. About 45% of its adults are fully vaccinated. Louisiana has 306 new cases per 100,000 people and a 47% vaccination rate among adults. By contrast, Vermont, with a vaccination rate of 78%, has only 13 new cases per 100,000 residents, and New Hampshire, where 68% of adults are vaccinated, has 15.
Many Democrats have been quick to blame Republican politics for the soaring infections. Republicans are less likely than Democrats to get vaccinated. They were also less likely to comply with social distancing last year.
Prominent Republican leaders have long politicised the jab and other covid-19 prevention methods, such as masks and social distancing. In Texas, where new cases are running at 120 per 100,000 residents, the governor has decreed that people cannot be obliged to wear masks in public spaces. Several Republican governors and state legislatures, including Arkansas and Florida, have some form of ban on vaccine passports. Republican legislators in Tennessee pressed their state health department to stop outreach to teens for any vaccinations, covid or otherwise.
Fox News, America’s most-watched cable news outlet, has been a forum for vaccine scepticism for months, though it recently began encouraging the jab during prime time. Former President Donald Trump hid his vaccination status for weeks before touting inoculation.
But the problem goes beyond that disinformation and poor leadership. The barrage of scepticism would have been much less effective had people been equipped with a better understanding of health and science. “We have really struggled with health literacy over the years, this is not new,” explains Jennifer Dillaha of the Arkansas Department of Health. “People struggle with how to get good health information and apply it to their lives. And this existed as a problem in our state, long before the previous administration.”
Covid-19 is not the only health epidemic raging across the United States. The states struggling the most with covid-19 infections also have the least healthy populations. About two out of five American adults are obese, according to the CDC. One in four young adults is too heavy to serve in the military, and America is the fattest country in the OECD, a club of mostly rich countries. Heart disease accounts for one in four deaths. Almost half of Americans have high blood pressure, and 12% have high cholesterol. About one in ten has type 2 diabetes. For all of these diseases, states with the highest prevalence also tend to have the lowest vaccination rates.
Many Americans have trouble staying healthy because they lack access to resources. Only 23% of people get enough exercise and only one in ten eats enough fruit and vegetables, says the CDC. But more than half of Americans do not live within one mile of a park, and 40% of all households do not live within a mile of shops where they can buy fresh produce.
For many, illiteracy is also part of the trouble. Less than half of Americans are proficient readers, and only 12% are considered by the country’s health department to be “health-literate”. Over one-third struggle with basic health tasks, such as following prescription-drug directions. Couple this widespread illiteracy with a lack of access to consistent health care (one in eight adults reports not going to a doctor in the past year because of the cost), and America was bound to have a vaccination problem.
In the short term, policymakers are implementing pandemic-mitigation measures. California and New York City are requiring public employees to be vaccinated or tested regularly. The Department of Veterans Affairs announced vaccination requirements for its medical employees on July 26th. The next day President Joe Biden said the federal government was considering a similar requirement for its employees.
Masks are also returning for the vaccinated. Los Angeles county reimposed its mask-wearing requirement on July 22nd, and the CDC advised on July 27th that everyone (jabbed or not) should wear masks indoors in areas with high covid-19 transmission. In Arkansas the mayor of Little Rock is prepared to defy the state’s ban on mask mandates. “I took an oath to serve and protect the public health, safety, and welfare of every resident of Little Rock,” explains Frank Scott junior, a Democrat. “And so if it gets to the point that we need to do something, we will. Even if it means we go against the state.”
But in the longer term, education and trusted information—along with access to better health care—will be vital in overcoming disinformation, raising vaccination rates and improving America’s overall health.
“I’m not finding that blame is very useful,” says Dr Dillaha. “No one is choosing to not get vaccinated because they’re wanting to make a bad decision for themselves.”
The politics of judging our judges – Toronto Star
“Representation matters” is the refrain I have heard repeatedly since the appointment of Mahmud Jamal, a person of colour, to the Supreme Court of Canada. His appointment has been almost universally celebrated for this reason, by lawyers, politicians and the media.
My mom (a nonlawyer) even texted me the day of the announcement to express her excitement. She, similar to Justice Jamal, is an Ismaili Muslim born in Uganda, who came to Canada as a refugee (Jamal, born in Kenya and raised an Ismaili Muslim, later became a Baha’i).
But I can’t say I share my mom’s excitement. After all, “Brown faces in high places” doesn’t mean better outcomes for most Brown people, or for that matter, most Black and Indigenous peoples, or other groups who are disempowered and marginalized through the legal system. If anything, “Brown faces in high places” is a testament to the durability of colonialism and white supremacy, insulating existing power relations from critique by diversifying their hue.
A good example is Clarence Thomas, the only current Black Supreme Court judge in the United States and notorious for his right-wing judgments. Just two summers ago, the United States Supreme Court overturned the conviction of a Black man tried six times by juries that were all or almost entirely white, because the prosecutor was deliberately removing Black jurors. Justice Thomas dissented and would have upheld the illegitimate conviction.
While our legal system is no doubt different than the United States, judging remains an inherently political exercise. Judges don’t just “call balls and strikes” in applying the law. Judges are human. They decide cases based on their own view of what “justice” entails.
That’s hardly a secret; one of the most influential appellate judges in Canada, the now-retired John Laskin, put it this way: “we are powerfully influenced by the equities of the case, by the needs of real people. If we have to, we will bend the law to reach a fair result.”
But if judges decide cases based largely on what they perceive to be a fair and just result, that asks the question, how does a judge define fairness and justice? That principle becomes even more pronounced at the Supreme Court, where judges are not constrained by precedent and better able to shape the law in their own vision.
As Justice Thomas demonstrates, racial identity does not determine world view. For this reason, I care very little that Jamal is a person of colour — I’m more interested in what he thinks about the law. In my view, the greatest insight comes from his 23-year career in corporate law.
Because our legal system is adversarial, it often requires lawyers to decide which group of “adversaries” they wish to represent, which is a choice driven primarily if not exclusively by a lawyer’s politics.
For example, some lawyers decide to work for unions rather than management, tenants rather than landlords, criminal defendants rather than the prosecution, and non-citizens rather than immigration enforcement. Some lawyers don’t care who they represent and work for “all sides.” Relatedly, lawyers often differentiate clients through ability to pay — some prioritize working for low-income people on legal aid, rather than the wealthy who can afford exorbitant hourly rates.
As a corporate lawyer, Jamal worked predominantly for the powerful. Reported cases show that he represented banks, mining companies, accounting firms, and the energy industry, i.e. entities responsible for the exploitation and oppression of the vast majority.
If Justice Jamal’s chosen legal career — i.e. his decades-long commitment to furthering the interests of Canadian capital — gives some insight into his views about the law, what does that mean for people of colour, especially Indigenous peoples residing within and outside of Canada? It is they who are often on the other side of the courtroom, and on occasion, were facing off against corporations represented by Justice Jamal.
All of this is to say, it’s difficult to celebrate mere representation, when a diverse Supreme Court is not necessarily any more just. Perhaps the more pertinent question is whether reforming a colonial institution can ever be an anti-racist victory, or we should instead focus our efforts on supporting social movements in their fight for a more just world.
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