Tupac Amaru Shakur, " I'm Loosing It...We MUST Unite!"
Showing posts with label Political News Top Stories. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Political News Top Stories. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

How the pandemic is forging a new consensus on globalization

The coronavirus crisis did what President Donald Trump’s protectionist trade wars could not for years. It did what anti-globalization advocates could not for decades.

The pandemic threw a harsh spotlight on the shortcomings of globalization, one so intense that it set off an urgent search for new approaches across the political spectrum — from Washington to Brussels to Beijing.

As recently as a year ago, the political effort to reshape global commerce was still unfolding under familiar political slogans that focused on the interests of exporters and workers: Trump called for a “better deal” with China while congressional Democrats demanded “fair trade” along with strengthened environmental and labor protections in trade agreements.

The coronavirus pandemic abruptly shifted the terms of the debate to one that is more visceral and practical to everyone who buys things.

From the White House and Congress to boardrooms and business schools, the debate is no longer whether the relentless march of globalization over the last three decades has led to an outcome that is “fair” or a “good deal” — but whether it has become simply too risky and unreliable to tolerate.

As countries around the world confronted abrupt shortages of everything from personal protective equipment and medicine to laptop computers for schoolchildren, the pandemic put on naked display just how dependent the world had become on imports for basic goods, particularly from China. No longer the stuff of economic texts, disruption to global supply chains became a matter of life and death.

The old debates about lowering prices by maximizing efficiency when the world is running smoothly — versus the vulnerability to shortages if far-flung suppliers are unable, or unwilling — to supply our needs, took on new fire.

The extent to which “vulnerability” has replaced efficiency as the key concern shaping the thinking of policymakers, business leaders and economists emerged in interviews for the new season of POLITICO’s Global Translations podcast series, which launches Wednesday.

“What Covid did was sort of focus people like a laser on this,” Tom Duesterberg, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and former assistant secretary for international economic policy at the Commerce Department under President George H. W. Bush, said on the podcast.

“At one point in time, 70 percent of the ports of entry around the world for shipping were affected by Covid. You couldn’t put stuff on a ship and get it going to where it needed to go. … Most countries, at one point during the height of the crisis, cut off supplies of critical materials, medicines, personal protective equipment and the like,” he said.

The notion that global supply chains have proven “highly vulnerable” and must be made “more resilient” — including by bringing production back to domestic soil — has become a key refrain rising from the crisis, spurring congressional hearings and campaign promises.

If pandemics are becoming more common and climate change is creating more frequent disruptions of other types — hurricanes, floods, and forest fires — “resiliency” is now becoming as much a concern for global supply chains as it has become for levees and building codes in flood- and fire-prone areas.

We didn’t get here overnight or by accident. A broad recognition has emerged that the vulnerability arose from companies chasing efficiency — the lowest price from a country that made a policy decision to build itself into a factory for the world. (“The China price, it was called in the 1990s. Everybody had to get the China price,” Duesterberg said.)

At the same time, advances in logistics and transportation allowed products to be sourced, assembled and transported half a world away. Meanwhile, businesses adopted a closely choreographed “just-in-time” approach to manufacturing and delivery that did away with inventories as another cost to be cut.

“We teach our students to basically to optimize supply chains — to drive cost efficiency in supply chains. And over the years, global companies — a lot of companies — have perfected this art. They know how to do this. Well, guess what? It has also made supply chains highly vulnerable,” said Adegoke Oke, an associate professor of supply chain management at Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business.

Oke, who got his first taste of supply chain vulnerability working as an engineer in Nigerian oil fields, compared supply chains to a game of tug of war: If one player falls down, everyone else on his or her team is likely to topple, too. “The weak link actually determines the strength of the chain,” he said, describing Chinese factory closures at the start of the pandemic as “the big guy [who] drops and brings everyone down with them.”

The pandemic has led Oke to overhaul his lesson plan to include resiliency in addition to efficiency. “How to do that will probably be one of my key focuses in my classes moving forward, how to be resilient,” he said.

While talk of supply chain resiliency may sound more like MBA-speak than a bumper-sticker slogan, it has major political implications. Across the ideological spectrum and around the world, policymakers are scrambling for ways to bring production back home and to diversify away from a single source. Such moves can involve everything from incentives and loan guarantees to more direct forms of subsidies and direct government procurement. In other words, it envisions a major course correction from the push for “free trade” and letting the invisible hand of unregulated market forces decide what is produced where.

In her first speech as the Democratic vice presidential nominee, Kamala Harris vowed to “bring back critical supply chains so the future is made in America.” The Trump administration has already started to use tools such as the Defense Production Act to do just that.

Vaccine supply chains, of course, are top of mind, but they are not the only area of concern. Among the areas drawing energetic political attention are the scarce natural resources needed to produce batteries for cell phones and electric vehicles — a stage on which, once again, China plays an outsized role. (Upcoming podcast episodes explore these areas, as well the policy options and tools that governments are embracing and envisioning.)

But what about big guy on the rope? With China’s trading partners feeling vulnerable, how is the conversation playing out inside Beijing? Chinese leaders are meeting later this month to hammer out their next five-year plan for China’s development.

One focus of the new plan: bringing more high-tech production to China, and lessening reliance on U.S. suppliers in particular.

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Canada readies to rumble with a President Biden

OTTAWA — After four years of trade clashes with the Trump administration, Canada would seem more than ready to lower its guard should Joe Biden win. Instead, it's preparing for a transition — and for the new risks a Biden White House could bring.

Canadian federal and provincial officials are quietly laying the groundwork for working with a Biden administration, far away from the floodlights of the U.S. election.

Business and labor leaders tell POLITICO that Biden's proposals around trade, procurement and climate have potential to create friction with Canada.

“We need to know where we stand and we need to prepare for what’s going to happen after the election,” a senior provincial government official told POLITICO. “We need to understand which battles we will absolutely lose and why, and which we think we can win and who to connect with immediately.”

A glimpse of the Canadian outreach: Provinces, with support from Canada’s embassy in Washington, are sharing notes on who to know around Biden in case he wins, the official said. The individual spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter in public.

A key strategy, the person said, is to target anyone they think might end up having an audience in a Biden White House — scholars, think-tank experts, human-rights advocates and government relations point people. The person declined to share specific names.

“As foreign governments cannot be in contact with [election] war rooms, we enlarge that to other influencers, people we think will be nominated in a future Biden government or operatives that we know out there who weigh in, who have a connection,” the official said. “And we seek intelligence and information.”

The person said the federal and provincial governments are helping some industries connect with these individuals to find out what might be around the corner — and to flag concerns, if necessary.

An objective is to develop plans on how best to inform these contacts why a U.S. decision — such as steel and aluminum tariffs, for example — could hurt both countries.

The potential trouble spots for Canada: After winning power, President Donald Trump threatened to rip up the North American Free Trade Agreement — a deal critical for the Canadian economy — unless Canada and Mexico agreed to its renegotiation.

Trump also slapped tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum in a move that drew retaliatory duties from Ottawa. His administration threatened to impose tariffs once again this year, but later backed away.

To counter this new level of intensity to American trade clashes, Ottawa and the provinces dispatched Canadian business and political figures to Washington and state capitals to sell American decision-makers on the importance of the countries' economic relationship.

Many Canadian stakeholders expect a Biden White House would generally have a friendlier tone towards Canada than the often bare-knuckle approach of the Trump administration.

But the combination of Biden’s “Buy American” campaign pledges and the Democrats’ tradition of being more protectionist is creating Canadian concerns, particularly around the integrated North American supply chains.

“If we think it’s going to be a revolution with Biden, I don’t think so,” said the official. “There are going to be some bad measures and bad policies out there — and we’ll need to be all over this.”

What business and labor experts say: Mark Agnew of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce said he expects a big advantage with a Biden presidency is that he’ll work more with Canada on shared problems, rather than trying to go it alone. But he said Biden’s made-in-America promises are worrisome.

Canada, which bought 17.9 percent of all U.S. exports last year, is America's number one trading partner. More than 30 states rank Canada as their top export destination. The automotive industry, with its deeply integrated North American supply chain, is a major component of the cross-border relationship.

“The headline, from our view, is this is not going back to some kind of free and open trade environment,” Agnew, the Chamber’s senior director of policy, said in an interview. “He still has quite a hard edge in what he said in the campaign platform.”

Specifically, Agnew said Biden’s pledge to spend more American tax dollars on U.S. content for investments like procurement is a concern for Canadian businesses.

Another measure that caught Agnew’s attention is tied to Biden’s carbon plan, which he said could create the risk of a “carbon adjustment” price being placed on Canadian goods going into the U.S.

Trevor Kennedy, director of policy for the Business Council of Canada, said it’s important for Canadian governments to emphasize with Americans the importance of the continental supply chain and how it supports both economies.

“There are a lot of competitive regions around the world manufacturing products like steel and aluminum and others; Canada and the United States are best positioned when they work together,” Kennedy said in an interview.

Hassan Yussuff, head of the influential Canadian Labour Congress, said in an interview that there’s always the fear Canada wouldn’t be exempt when it comes to Buy American provisions.

He said he would hope the issue gets resolved quickly, arguing Canada is not a low-wage country and doesn't take advantage of the American market.

“I don't think that it's going to be all roses — I think that there are challenges even with a Biden presidency with regard to how we’ll conduct our trading relationship,” Yussuff said. “I'm hoping a new administration would bring some stability. But I think as Canadians we are going to have to be prepared.”

He added that Canada needs to be ready to engage very quickly once the U.S. election is decided.

Flashback to Canada’s high-level outreach in 2016: Yussuff credited Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for inviting Biden, then vice-president, as a special guest for a two-day visit to Ottawa in December 2016, shortly after Trump’s election win.

The trip included a state dinner in Biden’s honor attended by former prime ministers and provincial premiers at the impressive, newly refurbished Sir John A. Macdonald Building facing Parliament Hill. In a speech that evening, Biden spoke of his family’s “deep ties” to Canada and his many visits to the country over the years as well as the fact his late wife’s family hails from Toronto.

“My boys grew up wanting to be — it was hard when I was a United States senator from Delaware — they wanted to be Mounties,” Biden said. “I kept saying, ‘You want to be state police.’ “

Yussuff, who attended the gala dinner, said the warm relationship that Biden had with Trudeau “certainly was very visible that evening.”

“I thought that showed smarts and recognition that this guy could become president in the future,” Yussuff said of Trudeau’s invitation.

Not just about Biden — prep needed for a Trump victory: The provincial official said some people in the Trump White House have tended to side more frequently with Canada's policy views during the past four years.

It’s important, they said, to understand who would stay and who would leave following a Trump re-election win. They added that Canada would then have to move quickly to engage with White House allies in case the administration is tempted to use protectionist measures for quick political gains that could hurt both countries.

Trudeau’s take on possible U.S. election results: Trudeau has been asked a few times to speculate on the U.S. election, including what might happen if the outcome is not immediately clear.

“I think we’re all watching the U.S. election with close attention because of its potential impact on the Canadian economy and on Canadians,” Trudeau told reporters on Oct. 8. “As we watch the American election unfold, we are of course going to be prepared for various eventualities, but we are certainly hopeful that all will proceed smoothly.”

Trudeau added that his government’s job is to be ready for all outcomes and stressed he won't “comment or weigh in on American political processes.”

A senior Trudeau government official declined to say much when asked about pre-election preparations underway.

The insider said the Canadian government obviously plans ahead for any potential outcomes, whether it’s issue-by-issue or on an overall basis.

“But there’s an election underway in the U.S. and the people of the U.S. are going to decide who’s going to be the next president,” they said. “And whoever that is, Canadians would expect their prime minister and their government to have a good, functional relationship with that administration and to be able to advance Canada’s interests.”

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Trump’s broadsides against science put GOP governors in a bind

Republican governors are pleading for basic public health precautions as their states face a new wave of coronavirus cases, even as President Donald Trump downplays the pandemic’s severity and tells people to move on with their lives.

The clashing messages come as large swaths of the country experience uncontrolled spread that state officials fear could swamp their already strapped health systems. They’re putting out calls for volunteers to help staff hospitals, placing new limits on public gatherings and urging, or in some cases mandating, the wearing of masks.

Ohio Republican Gov. Mike DeWine, whose state saw a record number of daily hospitalizations on Tuesday, predicted more school closings in counties where Covid-19 is “running rampant” if people don’t adjust their behavior. He urged attendees at an upcoming Cincinnati campaign rally headlined by Vice President Mike Pence to wear masks.

“These numbers will not change unless we change,” DeWine said Tuesday. “By more of us wearing masks, by more of us avoiding situations where there can be spread and just really being careful, we can turn this heat down and get back to a simmer of this virus instead of the flame that’s coming up.”

Tennessee Republican Gov. Bill Lee on Tuesday announced a new statewide ad campaign promoting face coverings, saying wearing a mask is the only way people can safely return to their routines. The number of Covid patients in the state’s intensive care units is up 40 percent since Oct. 1.

Mississippi GOP Gov. Tate Reeves on Monday said that hospitals in his state must be able to reserve at least 10 percent of their beds for coronavirus patients or cancel elective procedures. He also issued a mask mandate and limited indoor gatherings to 10 people and outdoor gatherings to 50 people in nine counties.

“We’re trying to prevent so many individuals from getting the virus at once that our health care system cannot respond,” Reeves said.

The push by Republican governors whose states are in danger of being overrun by a new wave of infections and hospitalizations reflects the disconnect between politicians who are fighting the virus’ real effects on the ground and Trump’s reelection campaign, which is trying to project optimism that the country is turning the corner on infections, even though the statistics don’t back him up.

Hospitals in Utah and Wisconsin are at or near capacity, while facilities in Texas and Indiana battle medical staff shortages. Nationally, the number of people hospitalized with Covid-19 has climbed 20 percent in the two weeks since Trump left Walter Reed National Military Medical Center after contracting the virus. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on Tuesday that the pandemic has resulted in 299,000 excess deaths from late January to Oct. 3 — a toll members of Trump’s own administration say is sure to sharply increase.

“We’re going straight up again with the number of cases happening each day,” NIH Director Francis Collins warned in an NPR interview Tuesday. “Hospitalizations are up ... and I'm afraid, inevitably, that is going to result in an increase in deaths, because that’s what happens every time with about a two- or three-week delay.”

But with less than two weeks until the election, the president has insisted that coronavirus concerns are exaggerated, called the government’s leading infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci an “idiot” and a “disaster” and relied more heavily on Scott Atlas — a coronavirus task force member who backs protecting vulnerable populations while loosening nearly all Covid-related restrictions and letting the virus spread unfettered among healthy people.

Collins said Tuesday that Trump has also stopped meeting with the rest of the task force even as cases and hospitalizations surge and as public health experts warn that the colder weather and approaching holiday season will send more Americans indoors, where the virus more easily spreads.

Trump’s message — delivered at closely packed, largely mask-free rallies — has left local health experts begging his campaign to skip their state.

With nearly 10 percent of Pennsylvania tests coming back positive as the state contends with new infections at a rate not seen since the spring, more than 75 local physicians implored Trump to cancel a Tuesday night rally in Erie, saying the event gives “a false impression that Covid-19 is no longer with us.”

And ahead of a rally Pence is holding in Cincinnati on Wednesday, DeWine pleaded with Ohioans to take precautions if they choose to attend.

“Cases are dramatically up in Southwest Ohio,” he said. “People really need to wear masks if they go to this event and keep some space. This is your life at stake. You don’t know who is going to be there. You don’t know if people may be there who don’t know they have it.”

The GOP governors’ warnings may be resonating with a public already increasingly fearful of the virus.

A Kaiser Family Foundation survey this week found about two-thirds of adults say they are worried that they or someone in their family will get sick from Covid-19, an increase of 13 percentage points since early April.

And more people now — about 42 percent — say the worst of the pandemic is yet to come, compared to the 33 percent who say the worst has passed. In September, the poll found an even split on this question.

Yet there remains a stark partisan divide on these fears, with just 42 percent of Republicans concerned they or a loved one will be infected, compared to 87 percent of Democrats.

With so much of the GOP base influenced by the president’s call for young and healthy people to return to their pre-pandemic lives, Republican governors have to walk a fine line, aware dropping precautions will exacerbate the strain on the health care system and, eventually, lead to higher death counts.

“Many people would like our lives to get back to normal,” said Marc Lipsitch, a Harvard epidemiologist. “The question is whether it can be done safely and whether there's some way to protect those who are at greatest risk while doing so. And I think the answer is very clearly, unfortunately, no, until we have a vaccine."

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New teachers union boss fighting Trump, school reopening battles

Becky Pringle was among the many Black mothers in the mid-1990s having “that conversation” with her teenage son about getting stopped by police: what to say, where to keep his hands, how to stand up for his rights.

Pringle had seen how Black boys were disproportionately subjected to suspensions or expulsions while teaching science at Susquehanna Township Middle School in a suburb of Harrisburg, Pa. As her son prepared to get his driver’s license, she knew she had to talk to him “so that he could come home safely,” she said.

“Much of the country is just now paying attention to George Floyd and so many others,” she said during an interview. “But as a Black mother, I've always been paying attention. This is not new. This has been happening forever.”

As newly elected president of the 3 million-member National Education Association, the nation’s largest union, Pringle, 65, is now the highest-ranking Black female labor leader in the country. Only two other Black women have held the job before her, in the late 1960s and 1980s. Personal experience drives her work leading a national rebellion against President Donald Trump’s education policies and systems, which she says continue to marginalize students of color.

Pringle stepped into her role in September amid deep divisions nationwide about whether to reopen schools, pitting teachers afraid of returning to the classroom against the Trump administration and some governors and local officials calling for in-person classes. The crisis has led to budget cuts that have cost some teachers their jobs, has robbed others of their lives and has shined a bright spotlight on educational inequities across the country.

Pringle said a second Trump term wouldn’t stop the union’s work in states that are supportive of public education or its fight, for example, for the inclusion of ethnic studies in schools. And the union will keep pushing aggressively for safety and equity in schools during the pandemic through strikes, protests and sickouts — or by backing lawsuits, as it has in Florida, Iowa and Georgia, she said.

If Trump wins and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos continues in her role, Pringle said, “we will lift up all of the things that they are doing to destroy public education, to dismantle it, to hurt our educators’ rights to organize and have a voice to advocate at work for our students and for their community.”

DeVos, who has been pushing for reopening schools for in-person classes, took her own swipe at teachers unions at a recent forum, saying they are focused on “protecting adult positions, adult power” rather than “doing what’s right for students.”

The union, perhaps unsurprisingly, endorsed Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, whose wife Jill is a career educator and an NEA member. Pringle has said that Biden will listen to scientists and doctors when making public health decisions and educators and parents on how to support students during the pandemic.

The labor group is running a “massive” member campaign for Biden with digital organizing, phone banking, texting, virtual rallies and car caravans, said Kim A. Anderson, NEA’s executive director. More than 225,000 members are participating in 2020 election activities so far, almost doubling their numbers from 2016.

Pringle “reminds us every day that we need a new president and we need a pro-public-education United States Senate,” Anderson said.

She has also been speaking out against the Trump administration. Last month, Pringle called for the resignation of DeVos and HHS Secretary Alex Azar over reports of political meddling in school reopening guidance. She is also fighting the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett.

Pringle argues that students’ rights, which have been “dismantled” under DeVos — such as protections for transgender students — are at stake, along with collective bargaining rights and health care.

The disdain is apparently mutual. Responding to Pringle, Education Department spokesperson Angela Morabito stated: “What dismantles students’ rights is denying them the opportunity to effectively learn this school year and instead playing politics. Those are the policies of the union bosses.”

Conservatives question whether teachers unions are exploiting this moment with demands for reopening schools that are unrelated to ensuring safety during the pandemic. During the summer, a coalition including some local unions laid out demands such as police-free schools, a cancellation of rents and mortgages and moratoriums on both new charter programs and standardized testing.

Contracts that give teachers more flexibility or allow remote work are “defensible,” but provisions that sharply reduce the expected workday seem “much harder to justify,” said Rick Hess, director of Education Policy Studies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. “I’ve got to ask, are these contracts really about protecting staff or are there other demands ... for the convenience or preferences of members?” he asked.

But Pringle argued that local unions are seeking the safe and equitable reopening of schools. “I've seen no instances where they have gone too far,” she said. “Is it too far … to demand that all students have digital tools to learn remotely or in person? Is that going too far? Is it going too far to have class sizes at a level that allows individual attention?”

Pringle’s tenure begins during a national moment of reckoning on racial justice, which is the very reason she became involved in unions.

Lily Eskelsen García, who headed the union before Pringle, said her successor “changed the conversation” within NEA around racial justice issues in education and led that work as the union's vice president.

“As we talked about, ‘How do we get test scores up?’ And she’d say, ‘Shut up about the test scores. Why don't these kids have the resources, the staff, the class size?’” Eskelsen García recalled.

As president, Pringle said her mission is to “lead a movement to reclaim public education as a common good.” She wants to transform the system into one that is racially and socially just and equitable, ensuring teachers and students have the resources they need. The union is offering training on virtual learning but also on practices that focus on conflict resolution and improving school climate and culture so that students — particularly those of color — can feel safe and valued, she said.

Children are seeing and participating in protests for racial justice, and many expect schools to step up and work with them, Pringle said. “We're looking at ourselves first, and we're saying: ‘What do we need to do to build our racial justice muscle?’”

Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP, said Pringle “walked in the door with a level of empathy that's needed, while at the exact same time she's respected among her peers, both in rural and urban school districts.”

Eskelsen García said she and Pringle grew close during times that had “nothing to do with running a board meeting.” The two women cried together over losing husbands. And both have had similar experiences as parents of gay children. Eskelsen García’s son was interviewed on television when he and his husband were among the first gay couples to marry in Utah, and Pringle’s daughter and her wife were the first Black lesbian couple to appear on TLC’s “Say Yes to the Dress.”

Eskelsen García mentioned at the end of her term that she wanted a mariachi band at some point when the pandemic ends. Pringle made it happen, even with the crisis in full swing, surprising Eskelsen García and her second husband with the band playing in Pringle’s garage as it rained.

“One by one, her neighbors came out with their umbrellas,” Eskelsen García said. “We all danced, six feet apart, with umbrellas.

“You have to love this woman, because she is all business right until the minute that she’s not, and then it is all love and friendship,” she said.

Pringle’s all-business side was what caught the attention early on of Kelly Berry, who served as president of the Susquehanna Township Education Association in the 1980s. She remembers Pringle, back then, pushing for fewer students in her son’s kindergarten class during a school board meeting with her new boss, the superintendent. Pringle was a new teacher at the middle school after teaching for a short period in Philadelphia. Berry said she was both concerned and “in awe” of Pringle “because she was not mincing any words.”

After that meeting, Berry told Pringle she had a “big mouth” — in a good way — and then recruited her.

“We needed people who were going to speak truth to power, which she has been doing her whole life,” Berry said.

Racial justice issues also have been a part of Pringle’s life, even before she could understand them as a child growing up in Philadelphia.

She recalled how her class at Kinsey Elementary School “overnight was almost all Black” in the 1960s, when desegregation orders finally took effect in the city, spurring white flight.

Pringle qualified for admission to Philadelphia High School for Girls, a college preparatory school, “and even there, I felt I experienced the racism of a system that did not see my potential. And my dad had to fight for me to major in math and science,” she said.

Pringle’s great grandfather was enslaved, a fact that influenced her father, Haywood Board, who taught high school history and made sure his students — and daughters — knew what the Civil War was “actually” about, as well as the Reconstruction period, the Harlem Renaissance and the civil rights movement.

Despite his own career, Pringle’s father was initially “really disappointed” by her aspirations to become a teacher. It was a traditional career for a Black woman, she said, and he wanted her to be a scientist. “He already saw the lack of respect that he, as a teacher, was experiencing, and he wanted more for me,” she said.

But when she was elected secretary-treasurer of the NEA in 2008, he told her he had been wrong. “You have a chance to actually lead an organization that can make a difference in the lives of every student,” he told her.

“And I will never forget those words,” she said. “And I get up every day ... thinking about my dad and that responsibility.”

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Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Federal appeals court won’t lift North Carolina ballot-receipt extension

A bitterly divided federal appeals court has denied an attempt by Republicans to block an agreement by North Carolina state officials allowing absentee ballots in next month’s election to be counted if they are postmarked by Election Day and received up to nine days later.

The Tar Heel state typically counts absentee ballots that arrive up to three days after the election, but last month the State Board of Elections agreed to extend that window to nine days due to the increased ballot requests related to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, as well concerns about mail delays due to recent Postal Service changes.

In a ruling released Tuesday night, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals voted 12-3 to deny an emergency stay that GOP legislative leaders sought to reimpose the ordinary, three-day-after-Election-Day rule.

The Richmond-based appeals court issued no majority opinion explaining its decision, but backers and opponents of the ruling filed 45 pages of opinions jousting and wrangling over the legal issues, often in a vitriolic tone not commonly seen in such courts.

While many liberals have decried the concerted campaign by President Donald Trump and Senate Republicans to fill the federal appeals courts with conservative appointees, the line-up in Tuesday’s decision contained some surprises.

Although all three dissenters were Republican appointees, the 4th Circuit’s three Trump appointees voted with all the court’s Democratic appointees to deny the relief sought by North Carolina GOP officials: Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore.

The judges in the minority said the extension — backed by a state-court consent decree — threatened “chaos” and deprived the North Carolina legislature of its constitutionally mandated role. The dissenters also issued an unusual plea to Berger and Moore to urgently take the fight to the Supreme Court.

“This case presents a clean opportunity for the Supreme Court to right the abrogation of a clear constitutional mandate and to impart to the federal elections process a strong commitment to the rule of law. Allowing the Board’s changes to go into effect now, two weeks before the election and after half a million people have voted in North Carolina, would cause yet further intolerable chaos,” Judges J. Harvie Wilkinson and Steven Agee wrote in an opinion joined by Judge Paul Niemeyer.

“We urge plaintiffs to take this case up to the Supreme Court immediately. Not tomorrow. Not the next day. Now,” the dissenting judges added.

The dissenters said that, without a clear signal from the Supreme Court, a flood of litigation threatens to mire the upcoming election in confusion. Many of the case seek to persuade state judges or executive officials to extend ballot deadlines or waive requirements like witness signatures on account of the pandemic.

The dissenting judges argued that those moves usurp the power the Constitution gives to state legislatures to set rules for federal elections in their states.

“Endless suits have been brought to change the election rules set by state legislatures,” the dissenters wrote. “This pervasive jockeying threatens to undermine public confidence in our elections. And the constant court battles make a mockery of the Constitution’s explicit delegation of this power to the state legislatures.”

Two judges in the majority, James Wynn and Diana Motz, accused the dissenters of wildly exaggerating the impact of the ballot-receipt extension at issue and ignoring Supreme Court precedents governing election litigation.

“Reading the dissenting opinion … one might think the sky is falling,” Wynn wrote. “The change is simply an extension from three to nine days after Election Day for a timely ballot to be received and counted. That is all.”

Wynn noted that the North Carolina elections board often intervenes to adjust ballot receipt deadlines, having done so twice for hurricanes in the last two years.

Wynn, an appointee of President Barack Obama, also took aim at the dissenters’ stance by invoking states rights’ rhetoric more often heard from conservatives. He also accused the dissenting judges of twisting a 2006 Supreme Court decision, Purcell v. Gonzalez, that advises federal judges not to make last-minute changes in state election procedures.

“Our colleagues justify federal court intervention — the one thing Purcell clearly counsels against — based on their own notions of what the Supreme Court should have said in Purcell,” Wynn wrote. “We cannot agree with such an expansion of federal court power at the expense of states’ rights to regulate their own elections.To do so would amount to inappropriate judicial activism.”

Wynn also said his dissenting colleagues’ claim that voters would be befuddled by the changes was unfounded in a case about how to treat ballots postmarked by Election Day.

“It is difficult to conceive what chaos our colleagues can possibly be envisioning here,” he wrote. “Voter behavior cannot be impacted by our decision one way or another … The deadline extension only changes two things: more votes cast by mail will be counted rather than discarded because of mail delays, and fewer voters will have to risk contracting the novel coronavirus by voting in person. Only a grotesquely swollen version of Purcell would consider this ‘voter confusion,’ or in any way harmful.”

On Monday, a deadlocked U.S. Supreme Court let stand a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling that extended the ballot-receipt deadline in that state until three days after Election Day. Four GOP-appointed justices would have blocked the order, but Chief Justice John Roberts voted with the high court’s liberals to deny a stay. The result left the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision in effect, at least for now.

Many of the legal arguments in the North Carolina case are similar, although its route through the state and federal courts was more byzantine.

The Supreme Court’s deadlock on the election-related issues could be broken as soon as Monday, when the Senate is expected to vote on President Donald Trump’s nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to fill the vacancy created by the death last month of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

It is unclear which election-related emergency applications will be pending at the high court if Barrett is sworn in next week and whether she or the broader court will be reluctant to make interventions in the election process with just days to go before the Nov. 3 vote.

An attorney for the North Carolina GOP leaders who unsuccessfully sought intervention from the appeals court, Berger and Moore, did not immediately respond to a message Tuesday night asking if the legislators plan to take up the dissenters’ suggestion of an immediate plea to the Supreme Court.

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France’s Macron steps up fight against radical Islam (and his critics)

The French president promises action after the beheading of teacher Samuel Paty in Paris.

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Trump, in Pennsylvania, faces an old foe: Obama

ERIE, Pa. — For nearly four years, Donald Trump has blamed Barack Obama for everything: for a lack of coronavirus equipment, for an alleged spying operation targeting Trump’s campaign, even for a faulty White House air conditioning system.

And on Tuesday night, Trump, the current president, finally got his chance to face off almost directly with Obama, the former president, in the swing state of Pennsylvania.

For once, he didn't take the bait. Regardless, Trump's presence at the rally in Erie was symbolic, as it represented one of a trio of counties in the state that backed Obama in 2012 before swinging to Trump in 2016. His remarks also came hours before Obama was set to speak on Wednesday at a socially distanced car rally in deep blue Philadelphia.

And while Obama’s upcoming appearance didn’t get a Trump mention Tuesday night, the president has been publicly musing about Obama's event ever since it was revealed the ex-president would be hitting campaign trail for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. During a Friday night rally in Georgia, Trump recalled the moment aides told him Obama would be rallying for Biden, much as he did for Hillary Clinton in 2016.

“They said, ‘Sir, we have bad news,’” Trump said recently. “‘What’s the bad news?’ Obama’s going to start campaigning for Sleepy Joe. I said, ‘Is that good or bad? Why is it bad?’ Because he campaigned harder for Hillary than she did. He was very ineffective as a campaigner. … So I think that’s good news.”

Tuesday night, while Trump avoided an Obama mention, he didn’t spare his other enemies during the chilly outdoor rally at the Erie airport. Thousands of supporters bundled up in coats and hats — about half wearing masks — chanted “four more years!” as Trump walked down the steps of Air Force One.

Once Trump took to the podium, he swiftly blasted Biden’s son, Hunter, accusing him of earning millions of dollars in China and Ukraine while his father was vice president — vague allegations that have not been substantiated with concrete evidence. And when Trump’s microphone abruptly cut out, the president quipped that the brief outage was likely caused by "crooked Hillary."

It’s no surprise Trump and Obama are both appearing in Pennsylvania. The northeast state has become critical in the race to claim the White House on Nov. 3. In 2016, Trump became the first Republican to win the state since 1988 when turnout was higher than expected. But recent polls show Biden, who spent part of his childhood in the state, could win it back.

“If we win Pennsylvania, we win the whole thing,” Trump told the crowd Tuesday before mocking Biden for leaving the state and trying to claim Pennsylvania as his own.

“It's not his home state. He left you when he was nine, right? I'm not blaming him for that,” Trump said. “But you know he likes to go, ‘Oh yeah, yeah it's my home state.’ It's not his home state. I actually went to college in Pennsylvania.”

In 2016, some white working class residents who had grown frustrated with the Democratic Party were drawn to Trump by the way he talked about bringing back jobs to the state. But Trump’s promises have not necessarily materialized. While the state added manufacturing jobs in 2017 and early 2018, it has been shedding them since October 2018. And with the pandemic-driven economic decline, the state has 600,000 fewer jobs overall than when Trump took office.

Still, Trump aides and allies say they feel confident the president can win the state a second time, even during the coronavirus pandemic, by touting economic policies like tax cuts and trade deals. On Tuesday night, Trump hit those points. He unveiled a video package on a massive screen behind him meant to make the case that Biden would eliminate fracking — a method for extracting oil and gas used in Pennsylvania — even though Biden has explicitly said he would not take such a step.

“Since 2016, Donald Trump has not changed one bit,” said former Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.). “He is the same person that he was in 2016 when he won Pennsylvania. But the Democrat party has changed since then. Their far shift to the left does not resonate with the Kennedy Democrats that are here in Pennsylvania.”

In his wide-ranging speech, Trump touched on a variety of accomplishments and didn’t shy away from talking about the coronavirus pandemic, telling the crowd that the country was rounding the corner of the pandemic with a vaccine on its way and that Pennsylvania had been shut down long enough.

“You know what we want? Normal life,” he said.

National Republicans boast about their presence in Pennsylvania since 2016, contacting more than 11.5 million voters, holding 4,300 training sessions and holding 5,400 MAGA meet-ups with 50,000 attendees. In the last four years, Republicans have registered more than 200,000 more voters, closing the registration gap with Democrats to 700,000, the lowest margin in two decades.

Yet Democrats recently scored a win in the state on voting rules after the Supreme Court decided not to block a Pennsylvania court ruling allowing mail-in ballots postmarked by Election Day to be counted even if they arrive up to three days later. Mail-in votes are expected to favor Democrats in the state.

And Biden has also traveled to every media market in Pennsylvania, including areas that Trump won by more than 30 points, according to a Biden campaign official.

“Our strategy hinges on turning out our base voters in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, while also building on Democratic gains with key voters like women and seniors, while also shrinking the margins and winning back voters in places Trump won in 2016,” the official said.

Separately, Biden’s wife, Jill Biden, has visited the Philadelphia suburbs twice in the last month. And Biden’s running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, visited Philadelphia last month. The campaign has also focused on reaching labor union members, hiring a labor outreach director to try to reach the 700,000 Pennsylvania union members with literature drops and phone banks, the official said.

Yet with Biden laying low in the run-up to his debate Thursday with Trump, the campaign trail in Pennsylvania is essentially Trump vs. Obama.

Trump likes to say Obama didn't want to endorse Biden because Obama “knows he’s mentally shot." But while he largely stayed out of the Democratic presidential primary, Obama has vocally endorsed Biden during the general election, urging voters to support Biden because "our democracy" is at stake.

"He made me a better president," Obama said during his speech at the Democratic National Convention. "He's got the character and the experience to make us a better country."

Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey, a Democrat, said Obama will be a crucial surrogate for Biden. Obama, Casey said, can explain how he worked with Biden to restore the economy following the 2008 recession, and show how that work will apply to resurrecting the post-pandemic economy.

“No one can validate Joe Biden’s experience and his ability to do the job better than Barack Obama can,” Casey said in an interview Tuesday.

With Obama’s emergence, Trump has stepped up the attacks on his predecessor.

Trump has criticized Obama for joining a nuclear agreement with Iran; for allowing immigrants to cross the southern border illegally; and for entering what he calls unfair trade deals. He’s also made more personal comments accusing Obama of undeservedly winning a Nobel Peace Prize. (Trump has long mused that he should win the award)

And Trump often cites a Gallup poll from this month showing 56 percent of Americans saying they are better off today than they were four years ago, when Obama and Biden were in charge of the country.

Last month, a crowd at Trump's rally in Nevada even chanted "lock him up" after the president baselessly accused Obama of "spying" on the 2016 Trump campaign — a riff on the 2016 Trump rally chant aimed at Clinton.

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Judge tosses lawsuit challenging DeVos’ sexual misconduct rule for schools, colleges

A federal judge on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union that aimed to block Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ rule dictating how colleges and K-12 schools must respond to reports of sexual misconduct.

Judge Richard D. Bennett sided with DeVos and the Education Department, ruling that the four plaintiffs listed in the lawsuit lack standing to sue. Bennett said the advocacy group leading the lawsuit, Know Your IX, “has not adequately alleged facts to establish its standing to bring this action."

The judge also cited a ruling from SurvJustice Inc. v. DeVos, a lawsuit that failed in challenging DeVos’ temporary Title IX guidelines, to back his decision.

Background: The ruling comes as a major victory for DeVos, whose Title IX policies will be a key part of her legacy as secretary. She has said the rule officially codifies protections to hold schools accountable by ensuring survivors are not brushed aside and no student’s guilt is predetermined.

The ACLU had charged that DeVos’ Title IX rule, which took effect in August, violated the Administrative Procedure Act because the provisions “were arbitrary and capricious and an abuse of discretion.” The lawsuit had sought to vacate the rule.

On behalf of four plaintiffs, the ACLU argued that the rule will reduce the number of sexual assault and harassment complaints requiring a response from schools.

The lawsuit took aim at the rule's definition of sexual harassment, as well as provisions that allow institutions to use a “clear and convincing evidence standard.” The groups that brought the lawsuit also take issue with the fact that DeVos' rule only holds institutions accountable under Title IX for “deliberate indifference" and only requires a school or school official to respond to sexual harassment if there is “actual knowledge.”

Other legal challenges: The lawsuit was one of four ongoing cases challenging the Title IX rule. The other three are still pending but have been largely unsuccessful. All argue that the Education Department violated the law with its new rule by acting beyond its authority, and that the rule is arbitrary and capricious.

A circuit court judge in the District of Columbia denied a request from attorneys general in 17 states and the District of Columbia to stop the new rule and to block it as legal action continues. Another judge also denied a motion to block the rule from taking effect in New York while the litigation is ongoing. Southern District of New York Judge John G. Koeltl said state officials failed to show they are likely to win in their argument that the Trump administration acted “arbitrarily and capriciously” when it finalized its rule.

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Why breaking up (Google) is so hard to do

The Justice Department's suit against Google marks the first time in more than 20 years that the government is looking at splitting up a company for quashing competition. And if the judge decides that Google is an illegal monopoly, the case could be the first time in more than 100 years that a court actually orders a company breakup.

But there’s a reason why the government hasn’t forced a company to break up since 1911: Antitrust cases require judges to make complicated predictions about the future and they're often afraid of making things worse.

“Historically courts have seen [breakups] as intimidating,” said William Kovacic, who served as Federal Trade Commission chairman under President George W. Bush. “They are being asked to perform surgery and they want confidence the surgery is not going to kill the patient. They want assurances that a break-up will make things better and not worse.”

DOJ’s complaint does not say exactly what fixes the administration will pursue, but it mentions "structural relief" — a remedy that could include separating business lines or selling off parts of its operations. If Google has to put parts of its business on the market, that would be the nation’s biggest breakup of a corporate giant on antitrust grounds since AT&T was dismembered in the 1980s as part of a negotiated settlement.

“Everybody from legislators to the antitrust leaders on both sides of the political spectrum have tended to view break ups as a radical remedy,” Rory Van Loo, an antitrust law professor at Boston. “The idea of the government coming in and breaking up a company is seen as some extreme violation of autonomy.”

Van Loo and other antitrust experts, though, said splitting up companies isn't as radical as some suggest. Both the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission frequently require companies to sell off pieces before approving mergers.

In 2017, for example, the U.S. and European antitrust authorities required Dow and DuPont, two of the world’s largest agriculture and chemical giants, to sell off more than $100 million in assets. The pair are in the process of splitting into three firms that will focus on agriculture, plastics and specialty products.

“The agencies have had a huge amount of experience with divestitures in merger cases,” said Kovacic, now a professor of antitrust law at George Washington University and a director of the U.K.’s Competition and Markets Authority. Breakups “should not be seen as a dangerous or intimidating remedy.”

Still antitrust cases where a company accused of anti-competitive conduct is split up tend to be rare. In 1911, the Supreme Court ordered John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil broken up into 34 pieces. Chevron, ExxonMobil, BP and Marathon Petroleum can all trace their corporate history back to that breakup.

The other major U.S. antitrust case that led to a split involved Bell Telephone, which reached an agreement with the Justice Department in 1982 to divide into seven regional firms, often referred to as the “Baby Bells.” Today’s AT&T, Verizon and CenturyLink are descendants of those companies. AT&T agreed to the breakup in exchange for the DOJ lifting restrictions imposed during earlier antitrust battles that prevented the telecom company from expanding outside the telephone industry, including into computers.

The Justice Department originally sought to split up Microsoft as part of the antitrust suit in the 1990s, and a trial court agreed, ordering the company split into "Baby Bills" focused on the Windows operating systems, software applications and internet and e-commerce. That decision was overturned on appeal, and Microsoft eventually agreed to a settlement that imposed conditions on the company without any requiring any parts be sold off.

Michelle Meager, senior policy fellow at the University College London and co-founder of the Inclusive Competition Forum, said regulators and courts should push back on the idea that there exists a “divine right to operate a company.”

“We should really question whether any company has a right to exist in its current form,” said Meager, whose recent book explores how to use antitrust and corporate law to rein in big companies. “They are given the privilege to incorporate and that’s for the public interest. If you are not serving the public interest, you should be subject to some kind of regulation.”

Today, the corporate world abounds with experts on restructuring companies, both Van Loo and Kovacic noted. Last year, accounting firm EY found that 84 percent of companies it consulted for its annual report on corporate strategy planned to sell off some part of their business in the next two years. Most of the executives surveyed said those self-imposed divestitures would help streamline operations at the company and reinvest in growth areas.

Van Loo, who worked as a McKinsey consultant and a DOJ antitrust prosecutor before moving to academia, pointed out that the alternatives to a breakup also have downsides. In the Microsoft case, the company agreed to a settlement that included changes to its business practices and software to make it easier for rivals to compete and for users to use alternative products. The Windows-maker’s settlement, approved in 2002, was overseen by a committee of independent experts and would be extended several times before it finally expired in 2011.

In the EU, where the competition authority also investigated Microsoft, the company would pay an initial 497 million euro fine, and then additional fines totalling 1.2 billion euros for failing to fully comply with the EU's orders.

Without a breakup, “you need to impose on this company an enduring monitor or restraint on a large company that’s continually changing and innovating,” Van Loo said. “That just creates more of a mess in the medium-term to long-term than a break up might.”

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MAGA world, GOP unite on social-media bias after Hunter Biden story

MAGA world is uniting with mainstream conservatives to whip up a frenzy over social-media bias in the final weeks of the election, convinced that the handling of a New York Post story about Hunter Biden has presented a validating example of years-old MAGA complaints.

Twitter and Facebook’s attempts to limit sharing of the Post story, citing policies meant to throttle the distribution of hacked materials and fact-challenged articles, is being used as proof positive in MAGA world that social media firms have a liberal agenda, and are using whatever means necessary to censor conservatives and protect liberals. And Republicans across the ideological spectrum are agreeing.

The incident has fueled Republican plans to vote on subpoenas that would force testimony from the CEOs of both Twitter and Facebook on the issue. That hearing would come on top of another one already planned for next Wednesday, when Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will face a grilling over liability protections the tech industry enjoys for content posted on their platforms. Other Republican lawmakers, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, have signaled shifts in how they wanted to regulate social-media platforms. And at the White House, chief of staff Mark Meadows has threatened to sue the two companies over the issue.

The flurry of activity caps a summer of anti-Big Tech maneuvering among conservatives, from anger over Twitter’s decision to post disclaimers on President Donald Trump’s tweets, to Attorney General Bill Barr’s rush to file an antitrust case against Google just two weeks before the election.

But now, in a matter of days, the handling of a single New York Post story has pushed long-simmering MAGA complaints about social-media bias to the top of Republicans’ talking points.

“They proved that all the lunatic ravings of the right were correct, and that there's no objectivity [on social media platforms] whatsoever,” said Ron Coleman, a prominent conservative lawyer known for his work on tech censorship and free speech issues.

For nearly a decade, conservatives have accused social media companies of deliberately silencing them through a variety of subtle means — claiming their videos don’t always show up on their subscribers’ Facebook feeds, or that their accounts don’t show up in searches or that the platforms inappropriately label their content as promoting violence or misinformation. Researchers say such claims have never proven any intentional discrimination and note that some of the most widely shared content on social media platforms comes from conservative voices and outlets.

And notably, efforts to limit distribution of the Post story have not prevented the piece from circulating broadly on social media. The report generated 2.59 million interactions on Facebook and Twitter last week, more than double the next biggest story about Trump or Biden, even as national security specialists warned the information bore the hallmarks of a Russian disinformation campaign.

Still, anti-social media conservatives felt the handling of the story offered them a concrete, game-changing example of the type of silencing they have long claimed.

“The Rubicon was crossed [last] week, for sure,” said Rachel Bovard, a senior director of policy at the Conservative Partnership Institute, who focuses on social media and free speech issues.

Years ago, the issue of internet free speech was popular among the more populist wing of the conservative movement — specifically, people and publications that drew influence from an online presence, and that were more likely to be targeted for violating platforms’ terms of service by sharing inflammatory content.

Throughout Trump’s presidency, Republicans have increasingly paid lip service to this constituency, echoing the complaints in hearings.

And Trump himself has repeatedly used his presidential platform to bemoan social-media companies’ behavior, hosting events about conservative censorship at the White House and signing a legally toothless executive order. As the November election neared, the White House pressured key Senate Republicans to hold hearings on alleged bias.

On Capitol Hill, competing Republican bills have appeared that would drastically revise Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which stipulated that digital platforms were not legally liable for content others had uploaded.

“The objection for some on the right always was, ‘Well, these platforms don't engage in viewpoint censorship, they're not politically biased, this all a crock of crap,’” Bovard said.

But now, the handling of the Post story — which offered unverified emails claiming Hunter Biden had arranged a meeting between his father, then-Vice President Joe Biden, and a Ukrainian business contact — has pushed more of the GOP into MAGA’s anti-social media camp. The timing (days before the election) and subject (Biden’s alleged corruption) likely helped. Some Republicans, such as McCarthy, started calling for the repeal of Section 230, while others wondered whether Twitter had taken on even more responsibilities other than simple bias.

“Is Twitter an ‘in kind donor’ to the Biden campaign? A ‘publisher?’” tweeted Kentucky Republican Rep. Thomas Massie last Thursday.

Trump was more insistent.

“If Big Tech persists, in coordination with the mainstream media, we must immediately strip them of their Section 230 protections,” he tweeted Friday. “When government granted these protections, they created a monster!”

Shoshana Weissmann, a fellow at the free market-oriented R Street Institute focused on Section 230 and licensing reform, sees the current outrage on Capitol Hill as far more political than policy focused. She argued that there are valid reasons for Section 230 to exist, saying digital platforms aren’t capable of policing all posts.

“If I threaten the president online, then Twitter’s not liable for that,” she said. “It would be me liable for that, or whoever made the threat or did something illegal online is liable for it. And it makes sense because there's billions and billions of posts.”

And repealing Section 230 wouldn’t actually assuage conservative complaints, Weissmann insisted.

“It wouldn't fix the partisan moderating,” she said. “These things are totally unrelated. It's just kind of punishing them, because they're there.”

Regardless of the policy implications, however, the handling of the Post story has played right into the hands of MAGA’s political arguments. Coleman, a prominent legal voice in the anti-social media world, said he was surprised at how Twitter and Facebook handled the story.

“For the people who control so much of the media complex now, and who understand so well what virality is about, they completely failed to make any accounting whatsoever for the Streisand effect,” he said, referencing the phenomenon where an attempt to hide something actually draws it greater attention.

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White House looks at cutting Covid funds, newborn screenings in ‘anarchist’ cities

The White House is considering slashing millions of dollars for coronavirus relief, HIV treatment, screenings for newborns and other programs in Democratic-led cities that President Donald Trump has deemed “anarchist jurisdictions,” according to documents obtained by POLITICO.

New York, Portland, Ore., Washington, D.C., and Seattle could lose funding for a wide swath of programs that serve their poorest, sickest residents after the president moved last month to restrict funding, escalating his political battle against liberal cities he’s sought to use as a campaign foil.

The Department of Health and Human Services has identified federal grants covering those services, which are among the nearly 200 health programs that could be in line for cuts as part of a sweeping government-wide directive the administration is advancing during the final weeks of the presidential campaign and amid an intensifying pandemic Trump has downplayed.

Trump in a Sept. 2 order called on federal agencies to curtail funding to jurisdictions that “disempower” police departments and promote “lawlessness.” The memo argued that the cities haven’t done enough to quash riots stemming from this summer’s protests over systemic racism and police violence.

The HHS list offers the most detailed picture yet of the administration’s efforts to quickly comply with the Trump directive and the potentially large cuts facing these cities even as the pandemic strains local budgets. It isn’t immediately clear what criteria the budget office will use to evaluate the grants — or how or when cuts may be made.

But while the White House pores over existing funds, at least one department has already moved to implement Trump’s directive for new funding. The Department of Transportation earlier this month said Trump’s “anarchy” memo would factor into the department’s review of applications for a new $10 million grant program supporting Covid-19 safety measures.

"My Administration will do everything in its power to prevent weak mayors and lawless cities from taking Federal dollars while they let anarchists harm people, burn buildings, and ruin lives and businesses,” Trump tweeted shortly after releasing the Sept. 2 defunding memo.

Almost three weeks later, Attorney General Bill Barr labeled New York City, Portland and Seattle as “anarchist jurisdictions.” The White House budget office also instructed departments to also scrutinize funding for Washington, D.C.

The HHS list, which was sent Friday to the White House budget office, represents the 1,500-plus funding awards that have gone to the four cities since 2018. Each federal department also faced a Friday deadline to submit their own lists to the Office of Management and Budget, which will make the final decisions about funding.

HHS compiled the list with input from at least 12 agencies it oversees. The list includes 185 programs that touch on everything from Trump’s own initiative to end HIV transmission by the end of the decade to the opioid crisis and research into lung diseases. The list also includes funding for other programs, like $423,000 for universal hearing screenings for newborns in the District of Columbia, housing for people in addiction recovery in Seattle, and services providing nutrition and mental health counseling to elderly New Yorkers.

A spokesperson for HHS declined to comment. OMB declined to comment on the details of the review while pointing to two agency memos issued last month.

The White House budget office has previously said the administration will use the data to determine whether to bar cities from being eligible for new federal cash. A senior administration official did not rule out the possibility that cities could lose their existing funds.

“As the data comes in, OMB will collect it and make a decision,” said the official, who requested anonymity. The review is in the preliminary stages, and the official said the administration will make decisions about each grant individually.

“We need to review the information with agencies before we know,” according to the official. “Grant programs all have different authorities so it’s going to be case by case.”

According to OMB’s own guidelines, just a small fraction of the grants flagged by HHS may be protected from cuts. A Sept. 21 memo from OMB Director Russ Vought instructed agencies to assess whether grants supported law enforcement activities, indicating those would be less vulnerable to elimination. “[S]uch programs and activities, when properly designed and implemented, can help prevent the deterioration of municipalities into lawless zones,” Vought wrote.

HHS identified that just six of the 185 grant programs directly or indirectly have a connection to law enforcement, including some public health measures, hospital emergency preparedness and child support enforcement.

Programs that don’t meet the law enforcement exception include a two-year $4.6 million grant to D.C.’s Department of Health Care Finance that funds addiction treatment and recovery services through next September. Another includes $850,000 through 2025 to King County, which includes Seattle, to support the HIV initiative Trump announced at his State of the Union address last year.

A $1.8 million grant for Oregon’s Multnomah County, which includes Portland, and a $880,000 grant to King County, both to help community and migrant health centers care for Covid-19 patients, are also under review.

Public health advocates and city officials panned the administration's review, warning that the consequences of pulling funding from these cities — especially during the pandemic — could be dire.

“The bottom line is there's no extra money lying around, and this is not a time to be playing politics with people’s health,” said Chrissie Juliano, executive director of the Big Cities Health Coalition, a national group that represents health departments in major U.S. cities — including the four targeted by Trump.

Officials from New York City and Seattle — as well as the United States Conference of Mayors — have already threatened legal action if the administration moves to block funds.

“This is nothing more than political retribution,” said Laura Feyer, a spokesperson for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Caitlin Emma contributed to this report.

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Monday, October 19, 2020

Hunter Biden story is Russian disinfo, dozens of former intel officials say

More than 50 former senior intelligence officials have signed on to a letter outlining their belief that the recent disclosure of emails allegedly belonging to Joe Biden’s son “has all the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation.”

The letter, signed on Monday, centers around a batch of documents released by the New York Post last week that purport to tie the Democratic nominee to his son Hunter’s business dealings. Under the banner headline “Biden Secret E-mails,” the Post reported it was given a copy of Hunter Biden’s laptop hard drive by President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who said he got it from a Mac shop owner in Delaware who also alerted the FBI.

While the letter’s signatories presented no new evidence, they said their national security experience had made them “deeply suspicious that the Russian government played a significant role in this case” and cited several elements of the story that suggested the Kremlin’s hand at work.

“If we are right,” they added, “this is Russia trying to influence how Americans vote in this election, and we believe strongly that Americans need to be aware of this.”

Nick Shapiro, a former top aide under CIA director John Brennan, provided POLITICO with the letter on Monday. He noted that “the IC leaders who have signed this letter worked for the past four presidents, including Trump. The real power here however is the number of former, working-level IC officers who want the American people to know that once again the Russians are interfering."

The former Trump administration officials who signed the letter include Russ Travers, who served as National Counterterrorism Center acting director; Glenn Gerstell, the former NSA general counsel; Rick Ledgett, the former deputy NSA director; Marc Polymeropoulos, a retired CIA senior operations officer; and Cynthia Strand, who served as the CIA’s deputy assistant director for global issues. Former CIA directors or acting directors Brennan, Leon Panetta, Gen. Michael Hayden, John McLaughlin and Michael Morell also signed the letter, along with more than three dozen other intelligence veterans. Several of the former officials on the list have endorsed Biden.

Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe said on Monday that the information on Biden’s laptop “is not part of some Russian disinformation campaign,” though the FBI is reportedly conducting an ongoing investigation into whether Russia was involved.

The New York Times raised questions on Sunday about the rigor of the Post’s reporting process, revealing that several of its reporters had refused to put their name on the Biden stories because they were concerned about the authenticity of the materials. The Post stood by its reporting, saying it was vetted before publication.

But the release of the material, which POLITICO has not independently verified, has drawn comparisons to 2016, when Russian hackers dumped troves of emails from Democrats onto the internet — producing few damaging revelations but fueling accusations of corruption by Trump. While there has been no immediate indication of Russian involvement in the release of emails the Post obtained, its general thrust mirrors a narrative that U.S. intelligence agencies have described as part of an active Russian disinformation effort aimed at denigrating Biden’s candidacy.

“We want to emphasize that we do not know if the emails, provided to the New York Post by President Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, are genuine or not and that we do not have evidence of Russian involvement,” the letter reads. But, it continues, “there are a number of factors that make us suspicious of Russian involvement.”

“Such an operation would be consistent with Russian objectives, as outlined publicly and recently by the Intelligence Community, to create political chaos in the United States and to deepen political divisions here but also to undermine the candidacy of former Vice President Biden and thereby help the candidacy of President Trump,” the letter reads.

National Counterintelligence and Security Center Director Bill Evanina said in August that Russia has been trying to denigrate Biden’s campaign, specifically through a Ukrainian lawmaker named Andriy Derkach who has met with Giuliani at least twice to discuss corruption accusations against Biden. Derkach was sanctioned by the Treasury Department last month for allegedly acting as a Russian agent and interfering in the 2020 election.

Giuliani brushed off concerns about Derkach in an interview with The Daily Beast this week, saying “the chance that Derkach is a Russian spy is no better than 50/50.” And he told The Wall Street Journal of the purported Biden email trove: “Could it be hacked? I don’t know. I don’t think so. If it was hacked, it’s for real. If it was hacked. I didn’t hack it. I have every right to use it.”

The former officials said Derkach’s relationship with Giuliani and fixation on the Bidens, along with Russia’s reported hack on Burisma — the Ukrainian energy company that gave Hunter Biden a board seat and is at the center of Trump and his allies’ corruption allegations — “is consistent with” a Russian operation.

“For the Russians at this point, with Trump down in the polls, there is incentive for Moscow to pull out the stops to do anything possible to help Trump win and/or to weaken Biden should he win,” the letter says. “A ‘laptop op’ fits the bill, as the publication of the emails are clearly designed to discredit Biden.”

Top Biden advisers who staffed him during his vice presidency, citing their own recollections as well as a review of Biden’s official schedules, have sharply rejected suggestions that Biden ever met with a representative of Burisma in 2015 or has otherwise been involved in Hunter Biden’s business interests.

"Investigations by the press, during impeachment, and even by two Republican-led Senate committees whose work was decried as 'not legitimate' and political by a GOP colleague have all reached the same conclusion: that Joe Biden carried out official U.S. policy toward Ukraine and engaged in no wrongdoing,” Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates said last week. “Trump administration officials have attested to these facts under oath.”

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California's $100M dialysis battle comes with ancillary benefits for labor union

OAKLAND — In initiative-happy California, one set of ads stands out — those involving dialysis clinics, an industry that's historically been a lower-profile player in politics.

The ads are unusual not only because of their unlikely topic but their volume, which is high because industry opponents of a labor ballot measure are spending more than any group opposing the other 11 proposals California voters must decide on.

The massive spending gap between the $100 million opponents, including DaVita Inc., have raised and the $8.9 million by supporters led by SEIU United Healthcare Workers West means that the dialysis industry has flooded airwaves as it defends itself against organized labor. The same chain of events played out two years ago, resulting in a resounding defeat for the union's ballot initiative.

California's ballot wars have escalated in recent years as industries see little problem spending more than $100 million — and nearly twice that amount in the gig industry's case — to persuade the electorate. Businesses and organizations that don't get their way in the state Capitol often use the ballot to change state laws or as leverage to pressure lawmakers and other powerful interests. Proposition 23 is the third most expensive ballot initiative in 2020, according to data compiled by POLITICO.

While SEIU-UHW says it is committed to passing Prop 23, political strategists suggest that labor backers may simply be playing the long game by placing an initiative on the ballot every two years challenging the industry. Win or lose, the union is putting pressure on dialysis companies to spend gobs of money each general election.

“The threat of a ballot measure is something UHW has used strategically,” said Brian Brokaw, a Democratic strategist in Sacramento who is not involved in the Prop. 23 campaign. “In order for a threat to actually be credible, sometimes you have to put it on the ballot. But appearing on a ballot and actually running a campaign to support something are two different things.”

Proposition 23 faces long odds not just because of the industry's $100 million war chest, but also because it involves a regulatory matter on a crowded ballot — a perfect recipe for voter rejection.

Two years ago, Californians voted 60-40 to reject Prop. 8, another SEIU-UHW-backed initiative that would have capped dialysis profits. But to get that win, the dialysis industry, led by the dominant franchises DaVita Inc. and Fresenius Medical Care, invested about $111 million to defeat it, or nearly six times what the proponents spent.

One day after that Nov. 6, 2018 election, the union vowed to refile the initiative in California and other states. SEIU-UHW did file another initiative, but Prop 23 looks dramatically different, focusing on requirements that clinics must meet such as staffing one doctor on site.

John Logan, director of labor employment studies at San Francisco State University, said unions have long used non-traditional tactics like ballot-box campaigns to get companies to the negotiating table.

“They don’t have to invest any of their money to support it, but the other side has to spend tens of millions because it would be a disaster if it were to pass,” he said.

That David-and-Goliath theme is playing out again this time. The industry has amassed more than $104 million so far to defeat the initiative, compared to nearly $9 million on the yes side.

SEIU-UHW knows it's going to be vastly outspent by the industry, but says it is not part of a strategy to get the dialysis companies to bargain with them. Union officials acknowledged they want to organize the clinics, but say it's an uphill battle and that they haven’t spoken with the clinic operators in more than five years. They say they're in this to improve patient care.

"We have our sights set on them," SEIU-UHW President Dave Regan said. "Part of what we view our mission, our charge and our work is we want to be an organization that puts a spotlight on the worst actors in the health care industry and, frankly, DaVita and Fresenius are at the front of that line."

SEIU-UHW and other health care unions, including the California Nurses Association, have long used patient care as the centerpiece of campaigns against health care entities — both at the ballot box and through legislative efforts.

“The whole idea of using non-traditional tactics to achieve greater leverage in unionizing has been around for years,” SF State’s Logan said. “SEIU, in particular, is one of a number of unions that have used corporate campaigning very extensively and quite successfully over a number of years.”

SEIU-UHW, since 2012, has filed some 23 local and state initiatives. In recent years, they’ve launched a flurry of measures, targeting a number of California hospitals to limit prices and impose executive salary caps, though many failed to qualify or were abandoned.

Still, the union counts as victories its campaign to increase the minimum wage, which in 2016 helped spark a legislative deal. And the failure of Prop. 8 led to a 2019 law authored by Assemblymember Jim Wood (D-Santa Rosa), which was designed to control health costs by deterring dialysis clinics from encouraging their patients to enroll in health plans that offer higher reimbursement rates.

But the new law, which was supposed to go into effect this year, is on hold while an industry lawsuit winds through the courts.

The dialysis industry has come under scrutiny for its relationship with the nonprofit American Kidney Fund, which has steered patients toward higher-paying commercial insurance instead of Medicare, resulting in higher clinic reimbursements. DaVita and Fresenius have provided the bulk of funding for AKF, according to an audit of the nonprofit.

That financial situation led to the Wood legislation and fueled the union's 2018 ballot initiative drive targeting dialysis revenues.

The Yes on Prop. 23 campaign, endorsed by the California Democratic Party and the California Labor Federation, now contends the multibillion-dollar industry has put the lives of California's more than 70,000 dialysis patients at risk through substandard care and staffing.

The No on Prop. 23 campaign refutes those claims, emphasizing that the “special interest proposition” would increase health care costs by millions and force clinics to close, jeopardizing access to care most acutely in low-income communities. It notes that no other state requires a doctor to be on site during dialysis treatment.

Brokaw described the dialysis industry as a “non-traditional boogie man."

“These dialysis clinics literally provide a life-saving service so it’s not like you’re taking on the tobacco industry,” he said. But, nonetheless, the campaign is a tactic of “extracting many, many pounds of flesh from your opponent at a smaller cost to yourself. And there is some value strategically in doing that.”

Regan didn't rule out a run at the industry again if Prop. 23 falls short.

"We’ll see what we do in 2021, but this is an industry that needs to be reformed, to modify their business practices and to improve," he said, adding that SEIU-UHW has cost the dialysis industry about a quarter of a billion to fight back. "The reason they’re willing to spend it is this business is so lucrative for all the wrong reasons, and it’s obviously in their interest to do this."

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Fauci: Trump ‘equates wearing a mask with weakness’

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, suggested in a new interview that President Donald Trump is reluctant to cover his face in public amid the coronavirus pandemic because he “equates wearing a mask with weakness.”

In an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” that aired Sunday, Fauci said the president’s frequent refusal to model the personal mitigation measure is “less an anti-science [position] than it’s more a statement.”

“You know, a statement of strength,” Fauci added. “Like, ‘We’re strong. We don’t need a mask.’ That kind of thing. He sometimes equates wearing a mask with weakness.”

Asked whether it made sense to him to view mask-wearing through such a lens of strength or weakness, Fauci responded: “No, it doesn’t. Of course not.”

Still, Fauci said he thought that “deep down, [Trump] believes in science,” because “if he didn’t, he would not have entrusted his health to the very competent physicians at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.”

Trump was treated at the Maryland military hospital for three days earlier this month after contracting Covid-19. But even after being discharged, he has continued to decline to wear masks at many public events.

In fact, upon his return to the White House after his stay at Walter Reed, the presumably still-contagious president ascended the steps to the Truman Balcony and removed his mask to pose and salute for the cameras before entering the executive mansion.

Trump has resumed his campaign schedule in the final weeks of the presidential race, headlining packed rallies in swing states attended by mostly maskless crowds and urging Americans to go about their normal lives with little regard for the pandemic.

Trump was pressed on his failure to more forcefully advocate mask-wearing at an NBC town hall event last Thursday, during which he only expressed approval of masks and did not encourage their use.

Presented with the results of a University of Washington study from July that predicted the nation’s daily death toll could be reduced by more than 66 percent with universal mask-wearing, Trump said there were “other people that disagree” and mentioned Dr. Scott Atlas — the White House’s controversial new health adviser.

“Scott Atkins, if you look at Scott, Dr. Scott,” Trump said, apparently misremembering Atlas’ name. “He's from — great guy. Stanford. He will tell you that. He disagrees with you.”

Atlas is a physician with no expertise in infectious diseases or epidemiology, known for his rosier assessments of the pandemic’s threat and resistance to coronavirus restrictions. He has reportedly been urging the White House to embrace a strategy of herd immunity through mass infection to quash the public health crisis, but has denied advocating such an approach.

Trump also distorted data from a study published last month by the CDC to assert that 85 percent of people who wear masks become infected — a false claim he made on several occasions last Thursday.

Trump noted that Fauci did not endorse mask-wearing in the initial stage of the U.S. coronavirus outbreak. But neither did other administration officials at the time, and the CDC began recommending the use of cloth masks when outside the home by early April.

Fauci acknowledged in June that the administration was slow to promote mask-wearing because of concerns among the public health community regarding a shortage of personal protective equipment in the U.S.

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