How the far-right got out of the doghouse – POLITICO

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European far-right politicians just stormed to victory in Italy, after achieving historic results in France and Sweden.

“Everywhere in Europe, people aspire to take their destiny back into their own hands!” said Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s far-right National Rally Party. 

But if you think there is a new wave of right-wing radicalism sweeping Europe, you’d be wrong. Something else is going on.

Analysis by POLITICO’s Poll of Polls suggests far-right parties in the region on average did not increase their support by even one percentage point between the start of Russia’s invasion in Ukraine in February and today.

POLITICO looked at the median and average increase of all parties organized in right-wing European Parliament groups of Identity and Democracy, the European Conservatives and Reformists or unaffiliated parties with political far-right positions.

Overall, the results indicate that if an increase in support occurred for far-right parties, it happened several years ago.

The Sweden Democrats’ first surge happened after the 2014 election, when the party grew from around 10 percent to 20 percent, the same one-fifth share of the vote they received in this year’s election. The far-right Alternative for Germany AfD in Germany grew fast in 2015 and 2016 reaching 14 percent in POLITICO’s polling tracker. In Italy, the Northern League overtook Forza Italia for the first time in early 2015, and peaked in 2019 at 37 percent before starting a downward trend ending on 9 percent in last month’s election. In the Italian election, voters mostly switched between rival right-wing camps.

The far-right has moved from the fringes of politics into the mainstream, not only influencing the political center but also entering the arena of power. 

“There is a normalization of far-right parties as an integral part of the political landscape,” said Cathrine Thorleifsson, who researches extremism at the University of Oslo. “They have been accepted by the electorate and also by other, conventional parties.”

Cooperation between the center-right and the extreme-right has become less taboo. 

“The rise of far-right parties is only part of the story. The facilitating and mainstreaming of far-right parties as well as the adoption of far-right frames and positions by other parties is at least as important,” tweeted Cas Mudde, a leading scholar on the issue. 

This may risk destabilizing Europe even more than winning a couple of percentage points in the polls.

Italy’s far-right firebrand Giorgia Meloni is a clear-cut example. While her party draws its origin from groups founded by former fascists, she’ll now lead the EU’s third-largest economy.

Leader of Italian far-right party “Fratelli d’Italia” (Brothers of Italy), Giorgia Meloni | Pitro Cruciatti/AFP via Getty Images

In Sweden, the center-right party has started coalition talks for a minority government which would have to draw on opposition support, most likely from the far-right Swedish Democrats. Far-right parties have also entered governments in Austria, Finland, Estonia and Italy. Other countries are likely to follow. 

George Simion, the leader of Romania’s far-right party, Alliance for the Union of Romanians (AUR), celebrated Meloni’s win in Italy, saying his party is likely to follow in their footsteps.

Spain heads to the ballot box next year and socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez may have a tough time winning re-election. The conservative People’s Party is between five and seven points ahead of the Spanish socialists in all the published polls, but it is unlikely to garner enough votes to secure a governing majority outright.

That means it may have to come to an agreement with far-right party Vox, whose leader, Santiago Abascal, is an ally of Meloni’s. While the People’s Party previously refused to govern with Vox, last spring its newly elected leader, Alberto Núnez-Feijóo, greenlit a coalition agreement with the ultranationalist group in Spain’s central Castilla y León region. 

Tom Van Grieken, the right-wing Belgian politician, also pointed to Spain as the next likely example, especially because of the possible cooperation with the PP. “All over Europe, we see conservative parties who are considering breaking the cordon sanitaire,” he said, referring to the refusal of other parties to work with the far-right. “They are tired of compromising with their ideological counterparts, the parties at the left end of the spectrum.”

Chairman of Vlaams Belang party Tom Van Grieken | Stephanie Le Coqc/EFE via EPA

This didn’t happen overnight. The far-right worked hard to shrug off their extremist, neo-Nazi image.

“In some of the reporting on the Swedish Democrats, you’d think they’ll deport people on trains as soon as they’re in power. Come on, these parties have changed,” said one EU official with right-wing affiliations. 

The far-right invested in “image adjustment and trying to tread carefully with some issues, while unashamedly catering to others,” said Nina Wiesehomeier, a political scientist at the IE University of Madrid.  “This is particularly obvious in Italy right now, with Meloni sticking to the slogan of ‘God, homeland, family,’ as a continuation, while having tried to purge the party from more radical elements.”

In Belgium’s northern region of Flanders, the right-wing Vlaams Belang (Flemish Interest) explicitly dismisses the label “extreme-right.” Just like his counterparts in Italy, Sweden and France, Van Grieken, the party’s president, denounced the more extremist positions of his group’s founding fathers and moderated his political message to make voting for the far-right socially acceptable. 

Overt racism is taboo. Instead, the rhetoric changes to criticizing an open-door migration policy. By carefully catering to centrist voters, the far-right aims for a bigger slice of the cake, while still riding on the anti-establishment discontent.

“There is a clear fault line between the winners of globalization and the nationalists,” Van Grieken told POLITICO. “This comes on top on the concerns about mass migration, whether it’s in Malmö, Rome or other European cities.”

Perfect storm

Now, the time is right to capitalize on that transformation.

As Europe is battling record inflation and Europeans fear exorbitant heating bills, governments warn about the political implications of a “winter of discontent.” 

“It’s a massive drainage of European prosperity,” Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo told POLITICO recently. “In the current situation, it’s hard to believe in progress, it’s very hard to make progress. So there’s a very pessimistic feeling.”

The current war in Ukraine is the latest in a succession of crises — in global finance, migration and the pandemic. Experts argue that this is key to understanding the rising support for the far-right. 

“Such existential crises have a destabilizing effect and lead to fear,” said Carl Devos, a professor in political science at Ghent University. “Fear is the breeding ground for the far-right. People tend to translate that fear and outrage into radical voting behaviour.”

Migration and identity politics are less prominent in the media because of the Ukraine war and rising energy prices, but they’re still key issues in right-wing debate.

In Austria, the coalition parties fought over whether or not asylum seekers should receive climate bonuses. In the Netherlands, the death of a baby at the asylum center Ter Apel led to a renewed debate over the overcrowded migration centers. 

The combination of those issues is likely to feed into more right-wing wins across the continent. “The far-right offers nationalist, protectionist solutions to the globalized crises, said Thorleifsson. “We see how the migration issue was momentarily off the agenda during the pandemic, but now it’s back.”

Aitor Hernández-Morales, Camille Gijs and Ana Fota contributed reporting.

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Brazil counting votes in historic presidential race

Fernanda Reznik, a 48-year-old health worker, wore a red T-shirt — a color associated with da Silva’s Workers’ Party — to vote in Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana neighborhood, where pro-Bolsonaro demonstrators often congregate, and had been waiting in line for 40 minutes.

“I’ll wait three hours if I have to!” said Reznik, who no longer bothers talking politics with neighbors who favor Bolsonaro. “This year the election is more important, because we already went through four years of Bolsonaro and today we can make a difference and give this country another direction.”

Bolsonaro’s administration has been marked by incendiary speech, his testing of democratic institutions, his widely criticized handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and the worst deforestation in the Amazon rainforest in 15 years.

But he has built a devoted base by defending conservative values, rebuffing political correctness and presenting himself as protecting the nation from leftist policies that he says infringe on personal liberties and produce economic turmoil.

Marley Melo, a 53-year-old trader in capital Brasilia, sported the yellow of the Brazilian flag, which Bolsonaro and his supporters have coopted for demonstrations. Melo said he is once again voting for Bolsonaro, who met his expectations, and he doesn’t believe the surveys that show him trailing.

“Polls can be manipulated. They all belong to companies with interests,” he said.

A slow economic recovery has yet to reach the poor, with 33 million Brazilians going hungry despite higher welfare payments. Like several of its Latin American neighbors coping with high inflation and a vast number of people excluded from formal employment, Brazil is considering a shift to the political left.

Da Silva could win in the first round, without need for a run-off on Oct. 30, if he gets more than 50% of valid votes, which exclude spoiled and blank ballots.

An outright win by da Silva would sharpen focus on Bolsonaro’s reaction to the count. He has repeatedly questioned the reliability not just of opinion polls, but also of Brazil’s electronic voting machines. Analysts fear he has laid the groundwork to reject results.

At one point, Bolsonaro claimed to possess evidence of fraud, but never presented any, even after the electoral authority set a deadline to do so. He said as recently as Sept. 18 that if he doesn’t win in the first round, something must be “abnormal.”

Da Silva, 76, was once a metalworker who rose from poverty to the presidency and is credited with building an extensive social welfare program during his 2003-2010 tenure that helped lift tens of millions into the middle class.

But he is also remembered for his administration’s involvement in vast corruption scandals that entangled politicians and business executives.

Da Silva’s own convictions for corruption and money laundering led to 19 months imprisonment, sidelining him from the 2018 presidential race that polls indicated he had been leading against Bolsonaro. The Supreme Court later annulled da Silva’s convictions on grounds that the judge was biased and colluded with prosecutors.

Social worker Nadja Oliveira, 59, said she voted for da Silva and even attended his rallies, but since 2018 votes for Bolsonaro.

“Unfortunately the Workers’ Party disappointed us. It promised to be different,” she said in Brasilia.

Others, like Marialva Pereira, are more forgiving. She said she would vote for the former president for the first time since 2002.

“I didn’t like the scandals in his first administration, never voted for the Workers’ Party again. Now I will, because I think he was unjustly jailed and because Bolsonaro is such a bad president that it makes everyone else look better,” said Pereira, 47.

Speaking after casting his ballot in Sao Bernardo do Campo, the manufacturing hub in Sao Paulo state where he was a union leader, da Silva recalled that four years ago he was imprisoned and unable to vote.

“I want to try to make the country return to normality, try to make this country again take care of its people,” he told reporters.

Bolsonaro grew up in a lower-middle-class family before joining the army. He turned to politics after being forced out of the military for openly pushing to raise servicemen’s pay. During his seven terms as a fringe lawmaker in Congress’ lower house, he regularly expressed nostalgia for the country’s two-decade military dictatorship.

His overtures to the armed forces have raised concern that his possible rejection of election results could be backed by top brass.

On Saturday, Bolsonaro shared social media posts by right-leaning foreign politicians, including former U.S. President Donald Trump, who called on Brazilians to vote for him. Israel’s former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed gratitude for stronger bilateral relations and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán also praised him.

After voting Sunday morning, Bolsonaro told journalists that “clean elections must be respected” and that the first round would be decisive. Asked if he would respect results, he gave a thumbs up and walked away.

Leda Wasem, 68, had no doubt Bolsonaro will not just be reelected, but win outright in the first round. Wearing a jersey of the national soccer squad at a polling place in downtown Curitiba, the real estate agent said an eventual da Silva victory could have only one explanation: fraud.

“I wouldn’t believe it. Where I work, where I go every day, I don’t see a single person who supports Lula,” she said.

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Dem lead with Latinos halved in past decade, poll says

The question of party preference has slid fairly steadily in the past decade, with a 26-point gap in October 2020, a 34 point gap in November 2018 and a 38-point gap in October 2016.

President Joe Biden’s approval rating in the latest NBC News/Telemundo poll was 51 percent, and his disapproval rating was 45 percent. Latina women, as well as Catholic Latinos and older Latinos, were generally more supportive of Biden, according to the poll.

A majority of voters surveyed said they disapproved of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in June, signaling support for abortion rights. However, opinion on the decision varied widely by party, with far more Democrats signaling disapproval than Republicans — 75 percent to 22 percent.

Most Latino evangelical Christian voters said they approved of the decision that ended the constitutional right to an abortion, and most Latino Catholic voters disapproved of it, according to the survey.

In the largely religious, Hispanic region of South Texas, a handful of Democratic candidates have avoided campaigning on abortion to the extent of other Democratic candidates across the country, POLITICO previously reported. Republicans are looking to continue carving inroads with Latino voters in the same region.

More voters said they thought Democrats were better at handling abortion than Republicans, at 50 percent to 23 percent. But Republicans held a perceived advantage on handling the economy and crime, with a 4-point and 10-point lead on those issues, respectively.

Julio Vaqueiro, a Telemundo anchor, emphasized on Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that there wasn’t just “one Latino vote.”

“We talk a lot about that, but I don’t think it’s always understood,” Vaqueiro said. “Latinos are just like any other ethnic group. It’s important where they live, it’s important their age, where they come from, how they go to this country.”

The NBC News/Telemundo poll was conducted Sept. 17-26 among 1,000 Latino registered voters. The poll has an overall margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

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Biden to visit hurricane-ravaged Florida and Puerto Rico

Hurricane Ian devastated parts of Florida after making landfall on Wednesday. There’s a growing fear that search and rescue efforts will reveal a staggering death count as rescue teams continue to look for people trapped by flood waters. Ian has killed at least 44 people, according to reports from the state’s medical examiners.

More than 1.1 million homes and businesses were still without power on Saturday. The state, with the support of federal and local responders, had performed more than 700 rescues, Florida officials said Friday. More than 1,300 search and rescue workers were looking for survivors on Saturday, officials said, including five teams from out of state.

“We’re just beginning to see the scale of that destruction. It’s likely to rank among the worst in the nation’s history,” Biden said Friday. “You have all seen on television homes and property wiped out. It’s going to take months, years to rebuild. Our hearts go out to all those folks whose lives have been devastated by the storm. America’s heart is literally breaking.”

The recovery efforts around Hurricane Ian have also threatened to overshadow the devastation wrought on Puerto Rico by Hurricane Fiona. That hurricane, which struck the island two weeks ago, has left more than 200,000 people still without power.

The Biden administration has faced criticism from community and nonprofit leaders on the ground, including frustrations that the federal government did not initially cover all of Puerto Rico in the president’s disaster declaration, as well as the slow transfer of federal aid to communities facing catastrophic flooding.

Some Puerto Ricans fear their recovery will become further stalled as the federal government turns its resources and attention to the destruction caused by Ian. Speaking at FEMA on Thursday, Biden said he remains focused on the “recovery of the island,” and he repeated his commitment to Puerto Rico on Friday.

“We’re going to stay with it, stay at it, for as long as it takes,” Biden said.

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‘Real People That We Care About Are Being Exploited’

But with federal decriminalization appearing unlikely this year, that leaves the burden of dismantling the demand for illegal marijuana on states and consumers.

Since November 2020, the number of legal states has jumped from 12 to 19, with Arizona, Montana, New Mexico, Vermont and New Jersey launching adult-use markets. Reducing demand for black-market weed has had an immediate effect on its production, economists say. In roughly the same timeframe, according to Whitney, Oregon’s illicit cannabis production declined from about 3.5 million pounds in 2021 to about 3.2 million pounds in 2022.

However, state legalization isn’t the magic solution. How a new cannabis market is regulated has almost as much impact as legalization itself. Illinois began selling recreational weed in January of 2020, but only 32 percent of cannabis sold in the state last year was legal, according to Whitney’s report. Montana, meanwhile, opened its doors in January — and already, Whitney says, 75 percent of the weed sold in that state is legal — similar to more mature markets like Washington and Colorado.

“Regardless of legalization, if the cost remains high for individuals — it remains a barrier to purchase — then they’re gonna go to the [illicit] route,” the White House’s Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy Rahul Gupta told POLITICO in September. “You could legalize it and it’ll still cost a lot.”

There are many reasons that the illegal market survives in any given state or city. Yet still, these states illustrate the impact of different regulations. Licenses to grow and sell marijuana are cheap and plentiful in states like Montana and Washington, while they are limited and expensive in Illinois. In Seattle, there is approximately one dispensary for every 15,000 residents. In Chicago, there is one dispensary per every 159,000 residents. Additional costs such as licensing fees and product testing are often passed on to consumers, and states with fewer cultivators enable producers and distributors to set higher prices.

New York, which legalized marijuana last year, will soon open its dispensary doors — but already in the gap between legalization and licensed sales, the gray market has flourished. You can buy marijuana at a New York City bodega — but none of it is licensed or regulated.

As the three women huddled under the plastic that August morning, law enforcement brought in bulldozers to clear the land of the tents, greenhouses and personal belongings abandoned by fleeing workers.

“When the policemen entered … we just ran away with whatever we were wearing,” Isabella said. “A lot of people ran away wearing pajamas, with whatever they had on and without shoes.”

As the equipment inched closer, Isabella remembers telling her sister: “We have to get out, otherwise they’re going to run us over with the machine.”

From their hiding place, they watched as two men emerged from a bordering river to retrieve clothes left behind. They followed them back through a tangle of thorny blackberry bushes and into the water.

“My entire body was scratched, because we were throwing ourselves against [the bushes],” Isabella said.

Later that day, a Hispanic man found the workers walking alongside a road and brought them back to his farm, where he explained the situation to his American boss and provided them with food and water.

That was the last time the women ever worked on a cannabis farm. Now, Isabella, Leticia and Maria share a studio apartment and earn a living in other industries.

“We work at vineyards,” and “sometimes we clean houses, and things like that,” Leticia said. “Sometimes we leave for the flower season” to pick tulips.

Their employers actually pay them. Yet the work is harder — and the pay isn’t as good, leaving them with next-to-nothing to support their relatives in Mexico.

“We simply want to earn money to send money to our families,” Isabella said.

Isabella, Leticia and Maria say they will never again work on cannabis farms — legal or illegal. But their places will be taken by scores of other undocumented workers, who will face the same exploitation.

“It’s not like you had to do more than scratch the surface to hear stories like that,” said Padilla.

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The war against superbugs caught in congressional quagmire

But a classic end-of-year congressional quagmire — a tight calendar, a heated election season, fights over spending, and inertia — threatens to stymie progress before the end of the year.

If they miss the moment, the bill will get pushed into the next Congress where it could lose momentum, leaving the country unprepared for a growing problem that already costs the U.S. health care system billions of dollars a year.

“We’re playing with fire if we don’t pass this fairly soon,” said Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.), one of the bill’s lead sponsors. “Every day that passes, we see more deaths on account of antimicrobial resistance, and this situation grows more challenging and more costly.”

For years, the handful of drugmakers developing new antibiotics that fight drug-resistant bugs have struggled to stay afloat. Several companies that have ushered lifesaving drugs through the long, expensive development process have gone bankrupt once they were approved, buckling under the financial pressure of selling a product that, by definition, needs to be used sparingly to preserve its power.

The string of failures has spooked investors, leaving an anemic supply of drugs in development.

The bill, dubbed the PASTEUR Act after French microbiologist Louis Pasteur, would create a “subscription” model for antimicrobial drugs that delinks payments to drug companies from how much medicine they sell, helping them survive financially and preserving the powerful new drugs for infections that don’t respond to any other drug.

Under the proposal, once the FDA approves a drug, the company would apply to the Department of Health and Human Services for a contract that would spread millions — or even billions — of dollars in payments to the firm over time. In exchange, federally insured patients would receive the drug free of cost.

Young and the bill’s other lead sponsors in the House and Senate are eyeing ways to attach the bill to a year-end legislative package — likely one to fund the government for the rest of fiscal 2023. But even they are unsure it will happen this year, citing the bill’s price tag of $11 billion over 10 years as a major stumbling block for lawmakers who have gone months without allocating new funding to Covid-19. A Senate aide familiar with discussions on the legislation said policymakers are working to whittle down the bill’s cost.

“We’re at this tipping point right now where we get this passed this year in this Congress or not,” said Aleks Engel, director of the REPAIR Impact Fund

If they don’t do it in time, PASTEUR — first introduced in 2020 — will get kicked into the next Congress, where some worry it won’t be a priority if Republicans control one or both chambers.

“We’re at this tipping point right now where we get this passed this year in this Congress or not,” said Aleks Engel, director of the REPAIR Impact Fund of the investment firm Novo Holdings, at the recent AMR World Congress. “If Republicans take over in January, I think there’s a risk they might not prioritize [it], and then it will take awhile.”

The bill’s advocates say that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, the frontrunner for speaker next year should Republicans win control of the House in November, has an interest in antimicrobial resistance and could be a champion for the bill. McCarthy spokespeople didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Experts on superbugs say the cost-benefit analysis should be obvious to lawmakers. Antimicrobial resistance is already a leading global cause of death, killing some 1.7 million people in 2019.

Not only do antibiotic-resistant pathogens result from the misuse of antibiotics, but also these so-called “superbugs” are becoming better at passing on their ability to resist common medicines, experts warn.

“It’s $11 billion over a decade — a billion and change per year,” said Kevin Outterson, executive director of CARB-X, a nonprofit group that invests in treatment, vaccine and diagnostics to fight antibiotic resistance. “Spread across 330 million Americans, it’s about three or four bucks — or a Starbucks latte per American per year — to preserve the most important drug class in human history.”

‘A third rail’

Between 2006 and 2014, the U.S. government invested $225 million in a small biotech company in San Francisco called Achaogen.

Achaogen was working on a promising antibiotic that federal officials thought had the potential to treat multiple health problems, including dangerous drug-resistant blood infections. The Department of Defense, the National Institutes of Health and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) all invested in Achaogen to help the firm get the drug through the exorbitant process of research, development and clinical trials.

They succeeded, and the FDA approved Achaogen’s groundbreaking drug in 2018. But within a year, the company went bankrupt, and it was eventually sold off for a fraction of the government’s investment to an Indian pharmaceutical company.

The dramatic failure of Achaogen and a few other high-profile companies like it have sent investors fleeing from antibiotic development.

“There’s been an almost complete exodus of private investment in new antimicrobials,” said Henry Skinner, CEO of AMR Action Fund, a nonprofit that invests in new antibiotics. “They won’t touch this space. This is a third rail.”

Groups like AMR Action Fund, the REPAIR Impact Fund and CARB-X have cropped up to put some money into the companies working on new drugs, but their leaders don’t see nonprofit investment as a long-term fix.

Since 2010, BARDA, one of the major financial backers of CARB-X, has invested close to $2 billion in antimicrobial resistance, a problem it sees as both a threat to national security in the event of a bioterror attack or a natural disaster and to public health as critical antibiotics’ effectiveness wane.

After Achaogen’s failure, the agency has started supporting some of the companies that it has backed in the challenging post-approval phase. It’s not fixing the root of the problem, but it’s better than doing nothing, said Chris Houchens, director of BARDA’s division of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear medical countermeasures.

“We’re providing a lot of funding to get products to the point of that FDA approval,” he said. “We keep developing these products to approval and then they risk going off the cliff into financial insolvency.”

Congress wades in

Congress first tried to tackle the antibiotics market problem in 2012, passing legislation to promote the development of new antibacterial and antifungal drugs by creating a fast-track review program for “qualified infectious disease products.” Drugs granted that designation qualify for five extra years of marketing exclusivity, allowing them more time to make more money off the drugs.

Lawmakers went further in 2016, creating another tool dubbed LPAD — the Limited Population Pathway for Antibacterial and Antifungal Drugs — focused on promoting development of medicines for small numbers of patients with life-threatening infections.

Drugs approved under either program can also qualify for new technology add-on payments under Medicare — a three-year bonus payment to hospitals providing those innovative treatments.

But companies were still going out of business even after taking advantage of those programs, said Jocelyn Ulrich, deputy vice president of policy and research at PhRMA, the trade association for the pharmaceutical industry, which supports the PASTEUR Act.

“The effectiveness of those kinds of ‘push’ incentives didn’t address what turned out to be the root cause of the issue in antimicrobial drug development, which is the market failure aspect,” she said.

PASTEUR’s proponents say lawmakers and staff tend to grasp the gravity of the problem when they learn more about it. But getting members to put another expensive health bill at the top of their to-do list before the end of the year will be challenging, they admit.

“Somehow, we’ve got to work that deal through,” retiring Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), who has championed the bill in the House, told POLITICO. “But that’s probably too complex for the waning days of this Congress.”

The bill’s lead sponsors said they aren’t giving up on finding a way to attach it to legislation that advances in the post-midterms lame-duck session. There could be an opening for health care legislation to be attached to a year-end omnibus spending bill — the continuing resolution, H.R. 6833, unveiled late Monday would reauthorize a handful of FDA programs until Dec. 16, creating an incentive for members to revisit other policy riders that didn’t make it into the final user fee agreement.

But it’s an open question whether congressional leaders will feel the same pressure that the bill’s advocates do to enact fundamental changes to the payment system for novel antimicrobial drugs sooner rather than later.

“Congress does a pretty good job of responding to immediate crises or responding after the fact to high-cost crises,” Young said.

The Covid-19 pandemic, he said, is “ a very close analogy to what we’re trying to avoid.”

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A shaken Supreme Court returns to chambers

“We get to the head table … there he is with his lovely wife and I said, ‘My God, my God, it is him.’ And I look on the program and he was giving the keynote,” the professor said.

Alito’s appearance at the University of Notre Dame-organized conference flew under the radar for a week as he was omitted from the list of speakers made public in advance.

The atmosphere of secrecy around Alito’s appearance in Italy and his short-lived beard — gone by the time the justices reconvened last week — were just two indicators of the unusually tense times for the court, which returns to chambers to take up cases Monday.

The normally relaxed season for heading to vacation homes and teaching abroad was marked by the most intense security footing ever for the justices, along with uncommonly public internecine strife among the court’s members, unleashed by the 5-4 decision in June overturning the federal constitutional right to abortion.

Added to that fraught mix was a heaping dollop of suspicion in the each of court’s rival ideological camps about who was responsible for the unprecedented disclosure to POLITICO of a draft opinion in the high-stakes abortion case and uncertainty about an investigation Chief Justice John Roberts ordered into the breach.

Speaking at a judges’ conference in Colorado last month, Roberts sounded exhausted by it all.

“The last year was an unusual one and difficult in many respects. It was gut-wrenching every morning to drive into a Supreme Court with barricades around it,” Roberts said. “I think, with my colleagues, we’re all working to move beyond it.”

Roberts is clearly craving a return to normalcy as the court’s new term opens Monday with arguments on federal powers to regulate water pollution and Delaware’s right to unclaimed MoneyGram checks issued in other states.

However, the stresses of the past year remain evident and won’t be erased simply by the justices throwing themselves back into their work or by welcoming their newest colleague, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, as they did last week.

For one thing, all the justices remain under much tighter security than in previous years. During a recent trip to Chicago, Justice Elena Kagan was accompanied by about a half-dozen security personnel. Longtime court watchers said that’s a much more substantial detail than justices used to get on trips out of Washington. Indeed, some often traveled with no bodyguards at all.

Before Kagan’s appearance at Northwestern University’s law school last month, security personnel swept through the room, ordering those standing in the rear and aisles of the auditorium to take seats or proceed to an overflow area.

“The Secret Service won’t allow anyone to be standing,” one organizer announced. (Security for justices is provided by the U.S. Marshals Service and the Supreme Court Police.)

The directive was quickly defied as the audience jumped to its feet when Kagan entered.

The justices remain under 24-hour guard at their homes, some of which continue to see raucous protests over the court’s June ruling wiping out the federal guarantee of abortion rights. In early July, the court also sent unusual letters to officials in Maryland and Virginia, urging them to crack down on the demonstrations under local laws and regulations.

People close to the justices say some have chafed at the increased security, while others have complained that aspects of the protection arrangements are too lax or ham-handed.

When a California man stepped out of a taxi in front of Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s Chevy Chase, Md., home in June at 1 a.m., deputy U.S. Marshals stationed on Kavanaugh’s lawn spotted him but did not confront him, according to court documents. The man, Nicholas Roske, then made his way to a home on a nearby street close to Kavanaugh’s home and was arrested only after he called his sister to say he was planning to kill the justice.

When police arrived, they found in Roske’s bags a pistol and ammunition, a tactical knife, pepper spray, various tools and padded hiking boots that may have allowed him to move around a home in near-silence.

Despite the continuing threat, the court is set to partially re-open to the public Monday after a two-and-a-half-year closure spurred initially by the coronavirus pandemic but prolonged by anger over the abortion ruling. Members of the public will be admitted to the court’s arguments this month, but the building remains closed to the thousands of tourists who typically throng its halls and frequent the gift shop and cafeteria. No date for a broader reopening has been announced.

Even as the term opens, two of the justices show no sign of backing away from a public quarrel that broke out following the abortion ruling. Kagan has used at least four speaking engagements in the last few months to charge that the Supreme Court’s declining stature in opinion polls is a result of perceptions that the justices are indulging their personal policy preferences rather than sticking to recognized principles for interpreting the Constitution and federal statutes.

“When courts become extensions of the political process, when people see them as extensions of the political process, when people see them as trying just to impose personal preferences on a society irrespective of the law, that’s when there’s a problem — and that’s when there ought to be a problem,” Kagan said during her remarks at Northwestern.

Kagan’s comments about the Supreme Court’s legitimacy seemed to draw a rebuttal from Roberts, who contended that unpopular decisions shouldn’t cast doubt on the legitimacy of the court.

“I don’t understand the connection between opinions people disagree with and the legitimacy of the court,” Roberts said at the Colorado conference last month, without mentioning Kagan by name. “Simply because people disagree with an opinion is not a basis for questioning the legitimacy of the court.”

Last week, Alito fanned the flames by publicly countering Kagan.

“It goes without saying that everyone is free to express disagreement with our decisions and to criticize our reasoning as they see fit. But saying or implying that the court is becoming an illegitimate institution or questioning our integrity crosses an important line,” he said in a statement to the Wall Street Journal.

The justices often respond to questions about their polarization with banal anecdotes about shaking hands before arguments or eating lunch together at the court while talking about subjects other than the pending cases. But Kagan suggested last week that a willingness to engage in small talk about family events or baseball isn’t a substitute for more substantive engagement she believes is eroding at the court.

“To be a truly collegial court, you have to be talking about more than, ‘Do they talk about baseball together?’ You have to be talking about, ‘Can they engage on the real work that they are doing in collegial and collaborative ways?’“ Kagan declared at Salve Regina University in Rhode Island.

Amid the numerous signs of a fractious high court, some of the justices kept to their routines this summer, while others stayed largely out of public view. Justice Amy Coney Barrett spoke at a business conference in Big Sky, Mont., while Kavanaugh attended judges’ conferences in Kentucky and South Dakota, according to CNN.

Roberts spent much of the summer at his second home on an island off the Maine coast.

“He was up here for a good eight weeks,” said a neighbor who asked not to be named. “I think that he found some restorative rest here … He led a very normal life, came to the mainland every day, went to the coffee shop, played golf periodically and went out on the boat.”

But, for some, the court’s contentious decisions were never far behind.

Videos of the Rome event Alito popped up at show him joining in some of the tours with other attendees like West and attending other panel discussions and speeches.

However, the left-leaning West said he declined to join in when the rest of the attendees gave Alito a standing ovation at the black-tie gala dinner. The professor, now with Union Theological Seminary in New York, said he also alluded to the abortion decision and the threats Alito now faces.

“I couldn’t give him a standing ovation. We’re in serious battle,” West said. “I shook his hand and said, ‘God bless you and your precious family. You know that you and I are in struggle?’ And he said, ‘Yes.’”

Erin Smith contributed to this report.

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Scott declines to condemn Trump statement about McConnell’s ‘death wish’

“What I want to make sure is what I can do. I can try my best to bring people together,” Scott said when asked about the post, before pivoting to issues of inflation, spending and comments by Vice President Kamala Harris.

Trump also mocked Elaine Chao — McConnell’s spouse — as “his China-loving wife Coco Chow.” Chao served in President George W. Bush’s Cabinet as secretary of Labor and in Trump’s Cabinet as secretary of Transportation.

“The president likes to give people nicknames,” Scott initially said in response to the comment, on CNN’s “State of the Union.” Pressed further by host Dana Bash, Scott said, “It’s never, ever OK to be a racist,” and added that he hopes no one says anything racist or inappropriate.

Chao resigned from her position in Trump’s Cabinet shortly after the riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

McConnell has criticized Scott for the agenda he put forth for Republican Senate candidates. The Kentuckian has also swiped at the “quality” of Senate candidates on the ballot in crucial upcoming midterm elections.

“Sen. McConnell and I clearly have a strategic disagreement here … We have great candidates,” the National Republican Senatorial Committee chair told POLITICO this summer.

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CPAC deletes tweet that used pro-Putin language

“Vladimir Putin announces the annexation of 4 Ukrainian-occupied territories. Biden and the Dems continue to send Ukraine billions of taxpayer dollars. Meanwhile, we are under attack at our southern border. When will Democrats put #AmericaFirst and end the gift-giving to Ukraine?”

The tweet also featured an image of a Russian flag and described the annexation as “official” in an accompanying image that listed the territories.

The reference to “Ukrainian-occupied territories” seemingly suggested that the Russians — rather than the Ukrainians — had the rightful claim to the areas Russia annexed. The United States has condemned Russia’s recent annexation attempts as illegal.

Russia held referendums last week to annex Ukrainian territory, which President Joe Biden called fraudulent and a sham. A group of nine European countries that were either once part of the Soviet Union or part of the Soviet bloc condemned the annexations Sunday.

CPAC, a conservative organization, hosted Viktor Orbán, the pro-Russia, hard-right Hungarian prime minister, at a conference this summer.

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Austin stops short of endorsing Biden’s vow to defend Taiwan

Zakaria noted that Biden went beyond what has been stated U.S. policy. He asked Austin: “Is the American military prepared to do that?”

“The American military is always prepared to protect our interests, and live up to our commitments,” Austin said.

He added: “I think the president was clear in providing his answers as he responded to a hypothetical question. But, again, we continue to work to make sure that we have the right capabilities in the right places to ensure that we help our allies maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

American policy toward Taiwan has been fuzzy in many areas since the 1970s, when the U.S. belatedly recognized China, which claims Taiwan as part of its territory. Taiwan is where nationalist forces fled to at the conclusion of Mao Zedong’s victory in China’s long civil war in 1949, and China has always made it clear it wants Taiwan back.

“We don’t want to see a unilateral change to the status quo,” Austin told Zakaria.

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