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U.K. economic headaches pile up from inflation to energy crisis

By Reed Landberg and Marc Daniel Davies
U.K. economic headaches pile up from inflation to energy crisis
The Bank of England in the City of London on Aug. 5, 2021. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Hollie Adams.

Britain's economic difficulties are multiplying, threatening to erase the euphoria that accompanied the end of coronavirus lockdowns and leave policymakers with a delicate balancing act.

Households are facing painful price increases as a growing energy crisis collides with labor and goods shortages caused by Brexit and the pandemic. That's putting the pinch on family budgets at the moment the Treasury is scaling back support put in place to help those out of work during the crisis.

Those trends have already brought the recovery to a near halt and complicate calculations for Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey about when to rein in stimulus. It also raises difficulties for Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak, who has presided over an economy lagging the rest of the Group of Seven.

"We are seeing more vulnerabilities emerge within the recovery," said Yael Selfin, chief economist for KPMG U.K. "We have supply chain issues. We could also see higher unemployment in the short term."

Consumer prices surged 3.2% in August, far enough over the BOE's 2% target that Bailey will have to write a letter to Sunak explaining the divergence.

The central bank expects inflation to hit 4% by the end of the year, then fall back toward the target. Consumers in a recent survey said they're anticipating an upward drift in inflation, a perception the BOE must check to prevent higher prices feeding into wage demands.

"They really need to work out whether some of the upside risks to medium-term inflation -- because of what we're seeing now -- will be counteracted by some of the downside risks," said George Buckley, chief U.K. and euro area economist at Nomura.

Britain's economic recovery stumbled in July, with the weakest performance since the height of lockdown at the start of the year:

- Difficulty in hiring workers to fill jobs prevented companies from expanding as lockdown rules eased, forcing companies to boost wages.

- Supply-chain issues have emptied supermarket shelves and held back output across the economy.

- Covid-19 infections have risen enough to prompt the government to warn about the prospect of tighter restrictions in the winter, delivering a blow to confidence.

Those issues make it unlikely the economy will achieve the near 3% growth in the third quarter the BOE expects. Slower growth would curb tax revenues to the Treasury and reduce the pace that companies are able to absorb workers still off the job.

"The MPC will be able to cite the recent growth wobble as a justification to continue" with asset purchases, Allan Monks, an economist at JPMorgan Chase, wrote in a note.

The Treasury next week is closing the furlough program, which paid 80% of the wages to employees whose workplaces were closed during lockdowns. That will leave 1.6 million people still receiving the benefit at risk of joining the ranks of the unemployed.

At the same moment, the Treasury is ending a 20 pound-a-week ($27.30) temporary increase in universal credit welfare payments -- a sum that makes up about 20% of income for another 1.6 million people, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies. Starting in April, Sunak will raise taxes to the highest level on record to fund health and social care.

Together, those measures move the fiscal stance from boosting the economy toward cooling it at a time when workers across a variety of sectors are struggling to find a job.

"Key to the eventual timing of the first hike will be how the labor market responds to the end of the furlough scheme this month," Bloomberg economist Dan Hanson wrote. "If the BOE's forecasts are borne out and the unemployment rate remains broadly steady then market expectations for a rate rise in the first half of 2022 will likely prove correct. It may even come as early as February, if the pool of furloughed workers fail to alleviate demand and supply mismatches and upward pressure on wage growth persist."

Europe's natural gas market is heading into the peak winter demand season short of supplies. A fire knocked out a key path to electricity imports from France. The result is that the wholesale price of electricity more than doubled in the past three months, increasing the cost of home heating and fuel industry needs.

Steel and fertilizer produces that are most sensitive to energy prices warn they may have to curtail production. Utilities are boosting the cost consumers pay, which will add to inflation starting in October and again in April when the regulator Ofgem reviews tariffs.

"For the Bank of England, a third consecutive spike in the Ofgem price cap could prove harder to digest," Sanjay Raja, an economist at Deutsche Bank, wrote in a note. "On the one hand, growth slowed down markedly. On the other hand, the overwhelming public narrative on inflation is turning more hawkish."

Higher inflation is complicating Sunak's effort to plug a hole in the public finances. Debt interest cost the Treasury almost 19 billion pounds ($26 billion) in the latest three months because so many of the bonds the government sells are tied to the retail prices index.

RPI inflation is forecast to average 4.3% in the fiscal year that ends in March, according to the latest Bloomberg survey of economists. That potentially adds around 8 billion pounds to government spending.

The pandemic and Brexit dried up the pool of labor companies need to grow. Britain raised barriers to immigration after leaving the European Union, making it more difficult for millions of people to remain in the country. At the same time, millions more in hospitality, transport and tourism jobs hit hardest by lockdown looked for more secure work.

The result is a smaller population of workers and upward pressure on wages. Business groups are asking the government for looser immigration rules so they can hire essential workers in fields such as trucking and health. Ministers say companies should pay more for training for those who remain unemployed or on furlough.

Al Franken has a new comedy tour. His targets? Former Senate colleagues.

By Karen Heller
Al Franken has a new comedy tour. His targets? Former Senate colleagues.
Former senator Al Franken kicked off his 15-city standup tour Saturday at the Academy of Music in Northampton, Mass. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Marvin Joseph

NORTHAMPTON, Mass. - For more than eight years in the Senate, Al Franken largely stifled the funny, as though he coexisted with a powerful alter ego in desperate need of submission: Senator Franken and "Saturday Night Live" Al. He had to watch everything he said. He dared to be dull.

No longer. Now, everything is political roadkill for his new comedy tour.

The recovering politician visited this bucolic college town Saturday to launch "The Only Former U.S. Senator Currently on Tour Tour," which pokes fun at several of Franken's former colleagues. Actually, make that many.

This is his first extended standup stint since he resigned from the U.S. Senate in January 2018 after several women accused him of groping during photo sessions and inappropriate kissing, allegations he has vigorously denied. If he no longer sits in Congress, if he did not receive the due process that he sorely wishes he had, why, Franken can bite the hands that once amicably slapped his back.

"I have the freedom to do many things. It's very hard as a senator to do a comedy tour," he said in an interview a few days before the show. A previous tour ended early because of covid.

Unlike the Senate, Franken is bipartisan in his targets. Republicans such as Mitch McConnell, Chuck Grassley, Lindsey Graham and former member Tom Coburn are mocked, occasionally drubbed. Also, fellow Democrats Bernie Sanders, Dianne Feinstein and Charles Schumer.

But mostly, Ted Cruz.

What wife shtick was for Henny Youngman and drug humor for Robin Williams, the Texas Republican is for Franken. He can deliver a tight five minutes.

"I like Ted Cruz more than most of my colleagues like Ted Cruz. And I really hate Ted Cruz," Franken, 70, told the nearly sold-out crowd at the 803-seat Academy of Music, which listed decidedly toward fans who were old enough to enjoy the initial years of "Saturday Night Live" live.

For those fluent in the Frankenverse, this is a joke that he tells so often it's emblazoned on online merch, a mug or pint glass for $20 each. Franken's finest Cruz bit, his chef's kiss, involves fellow Minnesota Democrat Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a luxury ocean liner and an unprintable bodily function. It rarely fails to kill.

The 15-city tour draws largely from Franken's years in Congress and the greatest hits from his 2017 memoir "Giant of the Senate." The "SNL" years are dispensed with swiftly.

Two years ago, Franken told the New Yorker that he "absolutely" regretted his resignation. Today, what does he miss about the Senate? Almost everything.

"The job is so friggin' great," he said onstage.

Fans wish he was still there. "I think he got railroaded," Mark Thompson, a newly retired teacher of 33 years from Ware, Mass., said before the show. "I think we all should be rewarded with due process."

"I think he's a cool guy all around. He does comedy and politics, my two favorite things," said Levi Armstrong, 16, of Northampton. "The terms that he left on are distasteful. I feel bad for him." If Franken made no mention during the act of his former squash opponent, New York Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand, the first senator to call for his resignation, admirers did unbidden. Said Lyn Nolan, 69, of Springfield, a social services counselor, "I don't care for her at all."

During his Senate tenure, staff comic-sat Franken, employing what was dubbed "The DeHumorizer" to defuse temptations to lampoon colleagues and the absurdity of politics. Clearly, from the act, there were plenty. He learned to restrain his raucous cackle, a semi-seismic rattle that might cause clocks to stop. Instead, he embraced the gray-flannel solemnity of Washington.

Now, he is free to go Full Schlump, in worn jeans and newish Nikes, and play his beloved Grateful Dead to welcome audiences. He can swear like a sailor - or, more precisely, a comic - and call Cruz any invective he wishes.

Franken's standup routine is probably the only one to include a bit about Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a live rendering of the United States map from memory on a blank paper and an impersonation of McConnell.

"I've never heard anyone do a Mitch. But I do a pretty good Mitch," Franken said in the interview, slowing his speech to the velocity of an impaired turtle.

In 2010, Franken had to apologize for his mockery of McConnell (eye roll, gesticulating) during the Kentucky Republican's speech opposing Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan. Franken even delivered a handwritten note because that's what gentle folk of the Senate do. Now, apologies are unnecessary.

In the show Saturday, he divulged that Feinstein told him that because he previously worked in comedy, "when you first came here, I thought you were going to be stupid." (The California Democrat's office declined to comment.)

He shared a profoundly blue joke, not one of his own, about Willie Nelson and a specific sex act that cracked up Cruz and Utah Republican Mike Lee ("Ted's only friend in the Senate") but that Schumer failed to fully comprehend, deconstructing it to the point of absurdity.

Did he slam former president Donald Trump? Indeed, but not nearly as much as Cruz or the minority leader: "Mitch McConnell has systematically ruined the Senate."

Franken's fall was brisk. It began with accusations by broadcaster host Leeann Tweeden that "he kissed and groped me without my consent" on a USO tour, followed by allegations from half a dozen women, some anonymous. Nearly three dozen Senators closed ranks, including many in his party, and called for him to step down. It was three weeks from the first accusation to the resignation announcement.

Toward the end of his set, Franken addressed his departure quickly but creatively, in a bit involving the pandemic, dimmed lights and a prop that leaves little question as to how he feels about his colleagues' actions.

He also answered audience questions from handout cards, but if any mentioned those final days, Franken did not answer them. His public stance: See me, standing before you. I've moved on.

- - -

Consider the improbable, singular history of Al Franken, the only comedian to go from impersonating a senator (the late Illinois Democrat Paul Simon, on "SNL") grilling a Supreme Court nominee to doing the real thing.

Born in New York City, childhood in Minnesota. Harvard. Original writer and performer on "Saturday Night Live," famously as angora-clad 12-stepper Stuart Smalley. (Stuart is Franken's middle name.) Fifteen seasons, five Emmys. Co-writer of "When a Man Loves a Woman," a romantic drama about alcoholism, a tribute to his wife of now 46 years, Franni, who has long been in recovery. Host on liberal radio network Air America. Author, four books topping bestseller lists, almost all lampooning conservatives. Senate candidate in 2008. Winner by 312 votes. Swearing in delayed to July 2009, after recount and court challenges. Member of the Judiciary Committee, though not a lawyer. Re-election in 2014. Resignation four years later. Political podcast. Return to comedy.

On his weekly show, currently No. 15 on Apple's politics podcast list (right below Cruz's "Verdict" podcast), he interviews journalists, fellow liberals and former Senate colleagues.

"Every once in a while, I'm funny on the podcast," he said, "and, every once in a while, I'm serious on the tour."

Franken is still capable of generating news. Last week, he told a Massachusetts outlet that, when it comes to running for office again, "I'm keeping my options open."

Would he care to elaborate, given that both Minnesota senators, Klobuchar and his replacement, Tina Smith, are Democrats?

"I've just said it all along. It wasn't anything new," he told The Washington Post, offering a master class in equivocation. "And it's a pretty neutral thing."

So, Al Franken, still a politician - but pretty savvy at generating tour publicity.

"I miss making a difference in the ways that I could," he said. Specifically, he didn't get to grill Trump's Supreme Court nominees Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. A former member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, he missed working on pandemic issues. He would have asked more members of Trump's administration to appear before the committee to challenge them on their response to the crisis.

"I don't think I would have let my colleagues get away with some of the bull they were spouting in hearings," he said. "I enjoyed sparring with some of my colleagues who were lazy, unknowledgeable, but, more than anything, just toed the party line or appealed to their base."

Franken's close friend, the congressional scholar Norman Ornstein, said, "This tour is all part of figuring out what you do for the next stage of life." Was he worried that Franken might face new criticism about the harassment allegations? "Of course, you're going to be judged. He's used to that at every phase of his life."

Franken practiced the show at a Queens comedy club Wednesday. He was reminded that it was the beginning of the Jewish calendar's holiest holiday.

"I'm asking God forgiveness that I'm sorry I'm entertaining people on Yom Kippur," he said.

- - -

Franken is a pronounced extrovert, someone who derives pleasure from being around other people. The resignation placed him in purgatory.

"It got pretty dark," he told the New Yorker's Jane Mayer in 2019. "I became clinically depressed. I wasn't a hundred per cent cognitively. I needed medication."

Now, he quibbles with "depressed." He told The Post: "I don't know if I said it, but anyway, yeah, it was a shock. I mean, look, it was just a shocking thing to have happen."

His former deputy chief of staff Ed Shelleby recalled that "the day he did his speech on the Senate floor, a bunch of his staffers were there, and almost all of us were crying. He's a crier. But he wasn't crying, and that worried me."

The New Yorker story was a vindication of sorts, noting that seven (and eventually nine) senators publicly regretted their decision to call on him to resign. It became the basis, in part, for a brief rehabilitation tour on late-night television, though it also led to additional criticism, including from The Post's Monica Hesse. "I think it's possible, though it depresses me to say it, that what Al Franken allegedly did would have merely been considered boorish until fairly recently," she wrote, adding: "It should have been considered harassment all along."

Friends report that Franken is doing much better. The podcast allows him to discuss political issues. He remains close with former Senate staffers, who joined him to celebrate turning 70 in May. Earlier this year, he left Washington and moved back to Manhattan to be closer to his son and two of his four grandchildren.

Even though his show is often caustic, he ended the evening with some hope. On Saturday, an audience member asked, "Can comedy be a bridge for the political divide in America?"

Franken gazed at the audience, and shrugged. "Why do you think I'm doing this tour?"

Determined migrants unfazed as deportations begin from Texas border

By Arelis R. Hernández
Determined migrants unfazed as deportations begin from Texas border
Migrant families wait at a bus stop Sunday in Del Rio, Texas, where thousands of migrants, mostly from Haiti, have recently gathered amid food shortages and deteriorating sanitary conditions. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Sergio Flores for The Washington Post

CIUDAD ACUNA, Mexico - The Biden administration Sunday began deporting people from the makeshift camp where nearly 14,000 migrants have gathered beneath a South Texas bridge amid food shortages and deteriorating sanitary conditions.

Three flights carrying hundreds of migrants landed in Haiti on Sunday, according to a U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information. In a midday news conference, Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz said the federal government had moved 3,300 individuals from the camp Sunday to migrant processing facilities. The government enlisted the help of the local school system to transport people on school buses to facilities in Texas in San Antonio, Laredo and Eagle Pass, he said.

"We are working around-the-clock to expeditiously move migrants out of the heat, elements and from underneath this bridge to our processing facilities in order to quickly process and remove individuals from the United States consistent with our laws and our policies," said Ortiz, adding it will be done in a "humane and timely manner."

The Biden administration is conducting the deportations under Title 42, the Trump-era public health order that President Joe Biden has kept in place to push migrants south of the border during the covid-19 pandemic.

The goal is to reduce the number of people waiting to be processed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel and improve conditions on the ground. It's also designed to break the momentum and determination of migrants who have been encouraged by their U.S. relatives to make the journey before the opportunity passes or their individual circumstances worsen.

Migrants attempting or considering the journey to the border, "should know we are still enforcing CDC Title 42 order and they will not be allowed to enter the United States. They will be removed and they will be sent back to their country of origin," Ortiz said.

But news of the deportation flights has not stopped or worn down the resolve of some migrants.

Near the encampment Saturday, Melisa Joseph ticked off the names of all the countries she and her family journeyed through on their way to the Rio Grande's steep, thorny embankment near Texas.

"Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Panama and Costa Rica. I think it was nine countries," the 24-year-old told another woman in her Creole-tinged Spanish, the fruit of three years living in Chile. "Maybe it was 10."

Deteriorating social and economic conditions - worsened by the pandemic - in the South American country became too hostile to bear for Joseph, forcing her, her husband and two young children to join a persistent exodus of her compatriots to the northern half of the Americas. Racism, perpetual deportation threats and tightening work restrictions on foreigners in Chile made the choice inevitable, but Joseph never imagined what she found at the river's edge in Mexico.

From the neighborhood alleyways of Ciudad Acuna overlooking the Rio Grande emerged a surreal sight: A highway of humanity, many of them fellow Haitians, crisscrossing the international boundary unfettered as if it were a New York City intersection during rush hour and not the heavily surveilled dividing line between two global powers.

No one was hiding. There was no hesitancy. Everyone - carrying cases of water, bags of food, mattresses and blankets - looked like they had somewhere important to be.

"I never expected any of this," the bewildered Joseph said as she prepared to make her own crossing, grabbing a bag of recently bought groceries. "We go with fear, but we go determined to make the sacrifices for our families. We got this far."

While it's not clear how or why thousands of specifically French-, Creole- and Spanish-speaking Haitians converged simultaneously on this isolated outpost of the U.S.-Mexico border, what is clear is that many of their migration stories began long ago. Theirs is an unending tale of displacement, discrimination and deportation that many had hoped would end in Del Rio, Texas, and lead to a permanent home.

Their motivations for migrating are complicated yet similar. The routes they traverse are dangerous and unpredictable. But their crowding by the thousands - with many more reportedly on their way - onto a dusty piece of dirt bereft of proper sanitary conditions, medical resources or shelter, has provoked an overwhelmed government to threaten these immigrants with removal to homelands they hoped never to return.

Jorge Rios, 28, and his cousins have been guarding their family property in Mexico since early this week when the first cascades of migrants washed over this small town. Local police asked Rios's family to open a passage to the river embankment behind their home. Migrants, press and police are the only ones allowed through. Rios stopped a pair of Mexican teens warning them not to trespass on his property: "Mexicanos, no," he said. "Migrantes, si."

"I've never seen anything like this before," said Rios, whose family pulled out power strips from inside the home allowing migrants to charge their phones. "More than 10,000 people have walked through our backyard. And more are coming. These migrants have families en route, and they have families who already made it through weeks before them."

Mexican municipal police are monitoring the throngs. One bored officer stood at the mouth of a torn chain-link fence occasionally rebuking migrants to wear masks. At one point, the officer gave up saying anything.

The narrow dirt paths leading down the Mexican bluff are well-worn but susceptible to tumble. People step lightly as they carry giant bottles of water on their heads and babies in their arms. Some migrants tie their shoes together by the laces and wrap them around their necks. They roll up their pants up to their underwear before stepping down into the swift, knee-high water.

Walking across the concrete spillway is like trudging through goop, stepping slowly and warily so as not to fall victim to the deceptively swift current. It is not easy to avoid the clumps of algae and mysterious brown-colored muck the river carries. A group of fishermen and snorkelers cast spears and line into the river, unbothered and seemingly oblivious to the spectacle unfolding around them.

Before Saturday afternoon, law enforcement was largely absent from this river crossing. But after more state and federal officers surged to the border, a caravan of police vehicles and helicopters descended on the U.S. side of the spillway where people were bathing and washing out plastic bottles for reuse. As a lightning storm darkened the sky, Texas state troopers yelled at migrants to clear the spillway, cordoning off the area and closing river access to the itinerant camp residents.

Gusting winds ripped apart the new "No Trespassing" sign they had attached to the rope. Troopers secured and now guard the once-unrestricted byway.

The window for cross-river commerce appeared to have been suspended and possibly, over for good. Microeconomies had developed over days within the camp. Men bought boxes of food in Ciudad Acuna's plazas and food trucks to resell to desperate and hungry families. Women bought extra blankets and diapers to make an extra buck. Wherever there is people, there is money and the opportunity to make more, migrants said.

Cutting off access to Mexico could be problematic for the masses underneath the bridge. In the streets of the border city, Brenda Martinez of the local charity Bridge Builders for the Cross, handed out free masks, T-shirts and sanitary napkins to the migrants from the back of a pickup. It was important to her that the migrants obtain basic goods that may not be available at the camp. Their shirts said in Spanish, "Helping people is my passion."

Limiting migrants' ability to cross into Mexico or use the river to bathe would complicate matters at the camp where sanitation is largely absent. Migrants said the portable toilets are foul. The dust, dirt and sweat are ubiquitous and the river offers the only viable option to clean.

Before this latest mass of migrants, Haitians, Venezuelans and Cubans regularly opted for the Ciudad Acuna-Del Rio crossing point to surrender to Border Patrol. They had been told by other migrants, compatriots and family members who had gone before them that once in custody, there was a high likelihood they would be released. CBP data for the sector confirms their assumptions.

Upon reaching soil and contacting agents, migrants would insist on changing at the shore into their better clothes and shoes and cleaning up a bit. They knew they would soon be in an airport or on a bus to meet their waiting relatives within hours.

That is what Gerlin Dominguez, who traveled from Venezuela, expected before encountering the camp. The conditions surprised her. There are so many people and it is so loud that one can hear the drone of what sounds like a stadium full of voices from more than a mile away.

Buying things in Mexico, including soap and wipes, is a boon to the local businesses but its also imperative for the migrants because there is nothing at the camp. The food handed out by federal authorities runs out quickly and the chips and bread they hand out are not sustenance, she and other migrants said.

"There's no space. It's dusty, dirty and not at all what I hoped to find," said Dominguez while walking alongside her 5-year-old son, Ramses. The boy is sleeping on a piece of old cardboard beneath a crude hut made of bamboo-like cane and draped with blankets over top. "It's the children who are suffering the most."

While city and county officials fear agitation and restlessness could lead to violence or unrest, Dominguez said most migrants endure calmly, holding on dearly to their ticket numbers and are careful not to do anything to compromise their spot in line.

"We gave up everything we had to be here," the 30-year-old said. "We are not going to give up that easily."

- - -

The Washington Post's Nick Miroff contributed to this report.

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In Canada, challenges for both the right and left

By e.j. dionne jr.
In Canada, challenges for both the right and left

E.J. DIONNE COLUMN

Advance for release Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021, and thereafter

(For Dionne clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

For Print Use Only.

By E.J. Dionne Jr.

WASHINGTON -- The news from this week's Canadian election is Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's success in winning reelection, and his failure to achieve his real purpose in calling Monday's vote: A governing majority for his Liberal Party. Instead, the Liberals ended up with almost exactly the share of parliamentary seats they had going in.

But the most important questions -- and possible harbingers for U.S. politics -- revolve around the Conservative Party and its leader, Erin O'Toole. Why did his campaign begin with a bang and end with something of a whimper?

The big bang was created by O'Toole's effort to moderate his party's image. Having been elected its leader as a "true blue" conservative appealing to the party's right-wing, O'Toole turned around and rebranded himself as a centrist.

O'Toole's shift, said Darrell Bricker, CEO of the polling firm Ipsos Public Affairs, was all about picking up seats in the Toronto suburbs, where Canadian elections are decided these days. "It's not about moving to the center," Bricker quipped, "it's about moving to the suburbs." This, too, is relevant to the United States, because House elections in 2022 will depend heavily on outcomes in suburban districts.

For the first two weeks of the campaign, O'Toole "burned pretty brightly," said Garry Keller, a veteran of Conservative politics. O'Toole profited initially from a public backlash against Trudeau's calling an election that Canadians overwhelmingly felt the country didn't need during the middle of a pandemic.

Trudeau, Keller added, had "no compelling message about the election," and was hurt by the chaotic troop withdrawals from Afghanistan. In the meantime, O'Toole looked like a new kind of conservative as he embraced substantial public spending.

But the Conservative leader had a problem that will also confront Republicans who -- one can hope -- eventually try to disentangle their party from the far right: O'Toole's pivot to the center "really alienated" some of his party's core voters, said pollster Frank Graves, and these discontented souls had a right-wing alternative in the anti-vaccine People's Party of Canada (PPC). At various points during the campaign, Graves said, the PPC seemed poised to win up to 10% of the vote. (They ended up at about 5%.)

O'Toole, Graves noted, was "caught trying to straddle" his two imperatives of gaining in the center and holding the right. And Trudeau pounced on his opponent's ambiguities, hitting O'Toole hard on the Conservative's opposition to gun control (broadly popular in Canada) and vaccine passports.

It was the beginning of Trudeau's comeback, and a key to his success in solving his own coalition problem.

The paradox of Canadian politics, said Liberal pollster David Herle, is that in the last two elections, the Conservatives have run narrowly ahead of the Liberals in the popular vote -- by piling up huge margins in the prairies, particularly Alberta -- even as a majority of voters supported progressive parties. Among them, the Liberals, the New Democratic Party (NDP) and the Greens won just over 52%, the Conservatives and the People's Party 39%. (The rest went to the Quebec nationalists in the Bloc Quebecois.)

"There's a center-progressive majority in Canada," said Marcella Munro, a longtime strategist for the NDP, a social democratic party to the left of the Liberals. Unusual cross-border endorsements this year highlight the left-center divide. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., backed the NDP while Trudeau's Liberals won support from former president Barack Obama and from Hillary Clinton.

Munro described the key dynamic: "A wide swath of centrist/progressive voters who are open to voting for the New Democrats can be brought back to the Liberals if they see a real threat of a Conservative government."

O'Toole was just strong enough to be such a threat, but not strong enough to win. The Liberals' closing ads focused on core progressive issues: gun control, climate change, health care, abortion rights and vaccines. They helped pull over the voters Trudeau needed in the right places -- particularly Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia.

If Canada offers cautionary tales for Republicans, there is one for Democrats, too. It arises from the spread of the delta variant, which not only aggravated the public's sense that this was the wrong time for an election, but also undercut Trudeau's core rationale for reelection.

Graves's polling helps explain why Trudeau's hopes for a majority based on his successful handling of covid-19 evaporated: In June, 87% of Canadians thought the worst of the pandemic was behind the country. By the time the election was called, that figure had dropped to 60%.

Trudeau's experience is a tutorial for President Joe Biden and the Democrats. Getting the virus back under control is, of course, a public health imperative. But it's a political priority, too.

- - -

E.J. Dionne is on Twitter: @EJDionne.

Behind the corporate silence on abortion laws

By megan mcardle
Behind the corporate silence on abortion laws

MEGAN MCARDLE COLUMN

Advance for release Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021, and thereafter

(For McArdle clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

For Print Use Only.

By Megan McArdle

Major corporations used to keep mum about controversial social matters - until relatively recently, when they began tackling LGBTQ issues, voting rights and racial inequality.

In 2015, after the Indiana legislature passed a Religious Freedom Restoration Act that could have allowed business owners to refuse to serve LGBTQ customers for religious reasons, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff immediately spoke out. "We are forced to dramatically reduce our investment in IN based on our employee's & customer's outrage over the Religious Freedom Bill," he tweeted.

The next day, after then-Gov. Mike Pence signed the bill into law, Benioff escalated to a boycott: "Today we are canceling all programs that require our customers/employees to travel to Indiana to face discrimination," he tweeted.

Benioff was not alone in this fight. Apple CEO Tim Cook blasted the law in a Washington Post op-ed. More than 70 other tech executives, including from Microsoft, Netflix and Intel, signed an open letter decrying "proposed bills and existing laws that would put the rights of minorities at risk."

"The transparent and open economy of the future depends on it," they declared, "and the values of this great nation are at stake."

The full-court press worked: A week later, the law was revised to explicitly forbid discriminating against LGBTQ people. That campaign became a template for corporate pushback over future issues, notably trans "bathroom bills" and voting rights.

And then came abortion.

Conservative states have been teeing up restrictive abortion laws in the hopes that a conservative-majority Supreme Court will finally overturn Roe v. Wade or, at least, dramatically narrow its scope. The left is outraged, and pressure has been mounting for corporations to weigh in. Yet now corporate America seems once again rather muted.

The first big open letter debuted Tuesday, weeks after a controversial Texas law took effect, and emphasizes mainly that restricting abortion will be economically costly, preventing businesses from deploying the best possible workforce. The list of signatories shows a few big names, including Lyft, among a lot of smaller ones, with a noticeable tilt toward brands that sell to affluent women.

As for Benioff, Salesforce has offered to relocate any employee who is concerned about access to reproductive health care. But its corporate memo declined to take a position on the law, saying: "We recognize and respect that we all have deeply held and different perspectives. As a company, we stand with all of our women at Salesforce and everywhere." As of this writing, Salesforce has not signed the open letter.

Why does corporate America suddenly seem eager to stay on the sidelines of one of the major issues of our time? Longtime critics of "woke capital" might suggest this is proof that these campaigns are less of a sincere moral crusade than an elaborate marketing scheme.

That strikes me as unnecessarily cynical; the CEOs who led those earlier charges were clearly outraged. But it's also fair to say that companies want to choose their battles - with one eye on their bottom line. Notice how many protest American injustices while maintaining a polite silence about much larger abuses by the Chinese government.

Same-sex marriage, transgender bathroom access and even voting rights were relatively easy battles to choose. They all integrate smoothly into a free-market liberal paradigm where individual choice is sovereign and no customer - er, citizen - should ever be unwanted, uncomfortable or unheard. The left has framed abortion the same way: "My body, my choice." But most people never quite forget that there is another body involved, however small.

Speaking of abortion thus unavoidably arouses more negative associations than offering gauzy tributes to "love" or "democracy." It would be understandable if corporations were leery of attaching those negative emotions to their brands. Especially since that extra body's stubborn presence has kept Americans from "evolving" on abortion the way that the bien-pensants of 1973 no doubt imagined we would - and the way we actually have done on racial equality and gay rights.

On abortion, our views remained remarkably stable and also muddled: Most Americans say they want to keep Roe and that abortion should remain legal in at least some circumstances. But if you ask them to specify circumstances, the ones that command majority support are relatively few - and suggest a much more conservative set of laws than the no-restrictions-until-the-point-of-viability dictums imposed by the Supreme Court.

The CEOs who jumped into a dispute about LGBTQ rights in 2015 could be confident that they were swimming with the tide of public opinion, particularly among the most desirable consumer demographics. But CEOs who speak out on abortion can't be sure that their efforts will place them on the "right side of history," much less the upside of their own balance sheet. It's not surprising that so many refuse to expend their reputational capital on a campaign with no clear winners - and a lot of potential losers.

- - -

Follow Megan McArdle on Twitter, @asymmetricinfo.

In a galaxy far, far away, the Parliamentarian is our only hope

By alexandra petri
In a galaxy far, far away, the Parliamentarian is our only hope

ALEXANDRA PETRI COLUMN

Advance for release Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021, and thereafter

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By Alexandra Petri

WASHINGTON - The twin suns set over the Senate chambers, and the leadership sighed. The legislative nights were long and cold on this desert planet where no compromise had flourished for a long time, just banthas and the partisan Rancor.

"We have important legislation containing lots of policy priorities we have got to get through," Grief Schuuma, leader of the Narrow Majority, said. "But there is just no way we can do it using regular order."

"Well, we could," a voice murmured from the corner, cloaked in shadow, "if we were willing to sacrifice the filibuster."

The filibuster looked up from where it was sitting on the floor, contentedly chewing through a voting rights bill that was everyone's last hope to keep democracy functional. It was frustrating that the filibuster was doing that, but the filibuster was very cute and had big ears, and some people were inexplicably fond of it, even if it was almost 200 years old, had a not-uncheckered legacy and often devoured pieces of legislation that had done nothing wrong.

"No," Schuuma said firmly. "It mustn't come to that. We love the filibuster. Fortunately, there is one person we can call."

Everyone in the chambers fell silent. "You don't mean -" said someone, trembling. A plaintive series of notes played, out of nowhere, on a bass recorder.

"The Parliamentarian." Schuuma nodded. "In fact, I've already summoned her."

"Who is the Parliamentarian?"

"The Parliamentarian is the last adherent to an ancient way," the majority leader explained in a hushed, awed tone. "In accordance with their Code, they wield more power than any of us can ever hope to wield. If a thing can be gotten through in obedience to the Byrd rule, a Parliamentarian will get it through. They enlighten us on points of precedent and procedure, and they conduct themselves, always, in perfect obedience to it. That is why we have never glimpsed the face of the Parliamentarian."

"I have," the voice in the corner said. "Several times, and it's on the website."

"Even Dan Quayle fears the Parliamentarian," said a Mon Calamari, D-R.I., reverently. "According to a recent book, when Mike Pence telephoned Dan Quayle to ask whether he had any leeway to overturn the results of the election, Dan Quayle said, 'You listen to the Parliamentarian. That's all you do. You have no power.' Dan Quayle's respect for the Parliamentarian was the only thing that saved our democracy."

"Utinni! [The Parliamentarian is what helped get Obamacare passed!]" said a Jawa from the corner.

"Doe publiko sa bantha poodoo [The parliamentarian also stopped us from including a minimum-wage increase in the covid-19 relief bill]," murmured a Hutt, an independent who caucused with the majority. "[Such is the Parliamentarian's arcane power.]"

"Why would one figure have so much power?" asked a nervous young Rodian. "Is the Parliamentarian a Jedi?"

"Not actually," Grief Schuuma said. "In fact, their interpretations are not even technically binding."

"Utinni! [I am surprised by that!]" the Jawa exclaimed.

"I mean, the fact that . . . " someone started to say. "The fact that the vice president was in a position to consider overturning the election, and respect for the Parliamentarian stopped him - that doesn't mean the Parliamentarian is a great hero, that just means we're living in a deeply broken system."

Just then there was a rustling outside the door of the chambers. Everyone turned and saw a helmeted figure in a set of heavy beskar armor with a cool little cape. The bass recorder sounded again.

"We have a job for you, Parliamentarian," Schuuma said. "A legislative priority. We would like to get it past the Minority, and unless we kill the filibuster, we can't do that except through a way that only you know."

The Parliamentarian nodded solemnly. She looked at the priority, then picked it up and slung it over her shoulder. She jetted off into the sky and was gone.

"And now what happens?"

"We wait," Schuuma said. "If the Parliamentarian can't see a way to get it through, then no one can."

Fifteen seconds later, the Parliamentarian jetted back. "It can't be done."

Everyone sighed and bowed their heads.

"Dank farrik," the voice in the corner said. "Is this really what we're going to do every time we get a majority? We need to reform immigration, protect voting rights. I'm not saying the Parliamentarian doesn't serve an important function. They were great during the impeachment. I'm very glad Dan Quayle respects them so much. But we're supposed to legislate. Aren't we?"

"No," the Senate majority leader said, shaking his head sadly. "This is the way."

- - -

Follow Alexandra Petri on Twitter, @petridishes.

Leaderless Republicans rush headlong toward default

By dana milbank
Leaderless Republicans rush headlong toward default

DANA MILBANK COLUMN

Advance for release Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021, and thereafter

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By Dana Milbank

(BEG ITAL)"Unfortunately, Congress consistently brings the government to the edge of default before facing its responsibility. This brinkmanship threatens the holders of government bonds and those who rely on Social Security and veterans benefits. Interest rates would skyrocket, instability would occur in financial markets, and the federal deficit would soar. The United States has a special responsibility to itself and the world to meet its obligations."

- President Ronald Reagan, Sept. 26, 1987(END ITAL)

WASHINGTON - This is not Ronald Reagan's Republican Party.

Neither is it the party of the Republican Revolution of '94, the tea-party-infused GOP of 2010, nor even the Republican Party that surrendered to Donald Trump in 2016.

No, this new version of the GOP is at once so radical and so lacking in responsible leadership that it is plunging headlong and unified toward forcing default on the full faith and credit of the United States. Congressional Republicans are inviting economic calamity.

Reagan presided over 18 increases in the debt ceiling during his presidency. George W. Bush's treasury secretary, Paul O'Neill, compared those who opposed raising the limit to "terrorists." Former Republican House speaker John Boehner called it "insanity" to hold the debt limit hostage -- and those who did it "crazies."

There have been squabbles over the debt limit for decades, including some near misses, but the United States has never defaulted on the debt its two parties have jointly accumulated. Though crazies threatened default, grown-ups in the GOP -- Bob Dole, Boehner, an earlier incarnation of Mitch McConnell -- pulled them back from the abyss.

Until now. The crazies are in charge. McConnell, the Senate GOP leader, says flatly that he won't vote to increase the debt ceiling, and he isn't even negotiating. "That's their problem," he says of the Democrats. And Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Tex., has threatened to filibuster any debt-ceiling increase, which means Democrats can't avoid default unless 10 Republican senators agree.

If Republicans don't budge, they would leave the U.S. economy hanging by a thread, potentially forcing Democrats to raise the ceiling by rewriting and passing a massive (and filibuster-immune) budget reconciliation package in a matter of days. It's the legislative equivalent of passing a camel through the eye of a needle.

As The Post's venerable congressional correspondent Paul Kane notes, Republicans have entirely invented this new standard that Democrats alone are responsible for increasing the limit: "Almost every time the debt ceiling has been lifted, it has been done in bipartisan fashion under the regular Senate order that requires at least 60 votes to end debate on the legislation."

The hypocrisy is stunning. McConnell has voted to increase or suspend the debt limit 32 times, including thrice under Trump, who added $7.8 trillion to the debt, The Post's Jeff Stein reported. About 97% of the current debt existed before Joe Biden's presidency; McConnell and his GOP colleagues are refusing to finance the debt they already incurred because they object to other spending that has merely been proposed.

How did Republicans get to this sorry state?

It began with Newt Gingrich, who as House speaker in 1995 led his party to suspend the "Gephardt Rule," which automatically increased the debt limit with each year's budget. Gingrich threatened default if President Bill Clinton didn't agree to spending cuts. "I don't care if we have no executive offices and no bonds for 60 days," he said. But ultimately, he settled for relatively minor concessions.

When Republicans regained power in the House in 2011, they repealed the Gephardt Rule for good, guaranteeing perpetual debt-limit brinkmanship. Boehner pleaded with Republicans to be "adults" and told them to "get your ass in line," but his crazies refused to budge, and finally, on the cusp of default and after a downgrading of the U.S. debt rating, President Barack Obama agreed to Republicans' spending cuts. McConnell concluded he enjoyed playing chicken with the nation's credit. "It's a hostage that's worth ransoming," he said then.

So Republicans held the debt limit hostage again in 2013. Then, newbie senator Cruz forced a government shutdown in a doomed attempt to get Obama to agree to a repeal of Obamacare. It was a political disaster for Republicans, and as the shuttered federal government approached a default deadline, Boehner ordered Republicans to surrender. The following year, only some last-minute arm twisting by McConnell thwarted another Cruz attempt to block yet another debt-limit increase.

"Nobody was proud of the fact that we had to keep voting to raise the ceiling," Boehner later wrote in his memoir. "But not voting to raise the ceiling meant that government would stop running. The country wouldn't be able to pay its bills and would risk going into default on the money we owed."

Now, Boehner is long gone, and McConnell rivals Cruz in his reckless handling of default. With the government now teetering on the edge of default and shutdown, there is simply nobody left to stop Republican crazies from sabotaging Americans' prosperity.

- - -

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.

Xi Jinping's disturbing Maoist turn

By david ignatius
Xi Jinping's disturbing Maoist turn

DAVID IGNATIUS COLUMN

Advance for release Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021, and thereafter

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By David Ignatius

WASHINGTON -- Anyone who has visited China over the past several decades has heard anguished stories from Chinese friends about the results of Mao Zedong's social engineering in the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. China spent 40 years recovering from those disasters to become a great, modern nation.

So, I can almost hear the gasps inside China, from the generation that lived through the nightmare years, as President Xi Jinping has moved down a Maoist path this year toward tighter state control of the economy -- including "self-criticism" sessions for Chinese business and political leaders whose crime, it seems, was being too successful.

Xi's leftward turn represents a major change in the management of the Chinese economy, in the view of a half-dozen experts I've consulted over the past week. It has the idealistic goal of "common prosperity" and a fairer distribution of China's new wealth. But Xi will drive these changes using the ruthless instrument of an authoritarian, one-party state -- and you can already see the purges and figurative "dunce caps" for those he views as obstacles.

The Chinese leader speaks internally of "amalgamation" of the public and private sectors, according to Christopher Johnson, a former top CIA China analyst who now heads the consulting firm China Strategies Group. Johnson describes an explanation often heard in elite circles: "Xi wants the state sector to have more market discipline, and the private sector to have more party discipline." The result is a severe squeeze on what Xi views as "undisciplined" entrepreneurs.

The best account I've read of Xi's plans was an article Monday in the Wall Street Journal by Lingling Wei, the paper's senior China correspondent. She described a campaign that has included more than 100 regulatory and policy directives over the past year that have shattered the power of the companies that had dominated China's new economy -- the Internet giants Alibaba and Tencent, and a real estate behemoth called Evergrande. Xi has also attacked gaming and education companies that he thought were skewing the values of Chinese youth.

The most chilling detail in Wei's account involved Vice Premier Liu He, a market advocate who has over the past decade been China's most important contact with the West. The article noted that Liu offered "self-criticism" for allowing the ride-sharing company Didi to float a $4.4 billion IPO this summer. This humiliation of a senior official was an echo of Mao's Cultural Revolution, which eviscerated China's educated middle class in the 1970s.

Xi is a cunning and ruthlessly successful politician; since taking power in 2013, he has purged a generation of leaders in the Communist Party, the military, and the intelligence and security services to gain absolute control. His hubris is that, like Mao, he now seeks to become a man-God, whose thoughts are holy writ.

Xi's unabated hunger for power is evident in his drive for a third term as party leader. That would break the two-term rule that has prevailed in China's modern history and provided the checks and balances of group leadership. "China had solved the major problem of a one-party state -- succession. Now they are un-solving it," argues a former top-level U.S. national security official.

To drive his internal revolution, Xi has his own vanguard organizations. One is the party's United Front Work Department, which earlier organized campaigns against Uyghurs, democrats in Taiwan, foreign critics in the West and other "threats." Another is the party's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, which organized the purges of the past decade under its chief, Wang Qishan, who may be Xi's most decisive deputy.

When Wang left that post in 2017 and became a vice president without portfolio, an intelligence source tells me, he was assigned the job of breaking dissent in Hong Kong; now, ominously, it's said he has been assigned the Taiwan file.

Xi's crackdown has rocked the Chinese economy. The top six technology stocks have lost more than $1.1 trillion in value over the past six months, according to Kevin Rudd, a China expert and former Australian prime minister. Jack Ma, the brilliant founder of Alibaba, has been humbled, and prevented from making public comments. Most destabilizing is the fragility of Evergrande, the debt-laden and wildly overexposed real estate developer. Fears that it might default on tens of billions of dollars in debt spooked global financial markets this week.

Xi's campaign to remake China -- from the video games people play to the ways children are educated -- was explained in a Sept. 9 report by The Post's Lily Kuo. The warning lights are blinking red, so to speak.

Xi is animated by what he has called his "China Dream," of a nation of unparalleled wealth and power -- and also the egalitarian ideals of socialism. His problem is that, like Mao and other visionaries, he has a messianic streak that could prove destabilizing for the world and downright toxic for China.

- - -

Contact David Ignatius on Twitter @IgnatiusPost

The needs of Haitian immigrants in Del Rio seem to match our own

By kathleen parker
The needs of Haitian immigrants in Del Rio seem to match our own

KATHLEEN PARKER COLUMN

Advance for release Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021, and thereafter

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By Kathleen Parker

NOTE: Kathleen Parker will be on vacation for the next week. Her next column is expected to move Thursday, Sept. 30, for release Sunday, Oct. 3.

WASHINGTON -- Driving across the country this summer with my son and his trusty pit bull Leo (only a mother ...), I learned that America is large and full of jobs.

Everywhere we went, we saw "Now Hiring" signs -- posted in shop windows, restaurants, Walmarts, gas stations and on the sides of trucks -- everywhere, in other words, except perhaps for Ludlow, California, population, 10; temperature, 116; gas pumps, two. (A ghost crossroads in the Mojave Desert, Ludlow was so hot, I walked over to a bush and congratulated it.) But everywhere else along our route, and probably where you are today, help is wanted. Badly wanted.

For some reason, Ludlow popped into my head as I watched the disturbing video of mounted Border Patrol agents galloping toward Haitian migrants stranded along our southern border. Maybe it was the heat, or the agents vaguely resembling cowboys, or the dusty travelers desperate for water.

But there was something else -- all those unfilled jobs and all those people, 16,000 primarily young men in Del Rio, Texas, and 20,000 more reportedly on the way, escaping the violence, food shortages, unemployment and political instability of Haiti. Eighty percent of the people in the Western Hemisphere's poorest country live on less than $2 per day. And yet we are turning these folks away?

There must be a better way. When U.S. restaurants close because there are no cooks and servers; when contractors can't build houses and apartments because there are no laborers or craftsmen to be found; when we have to call out the National Guard to drive school buses; and by the way, who the heck is going to execute this massive infrastructure bill anyway? That is, if it ever makes it through the legislative gantlet.

The border fiasco suggests an obvious supply-and-demand solution, but there's no accounting for the lack of imagination in Washington, where two plus two always equals zero. An orderly, humane immigration process is what everyone wants. It is what we need. But we haven't found enough votes to get it done for more than 20 years.

So, let's do it. Rule of law is what we demand. But let's make the laws work for us. Let's do whatever is necessary to fix this brutal, disgusting human crisis.

I'm not being naive. I hear all the rage from the right and it's justified, even if it's aimed at the wrong people. When we see foreigners, if I may use that word, scrambling across borders with women and children in tow -- and no destination in mind except the benevolent lap of President Joe -- it can sometimes be hard to see their individual humanity. We can't project ourselves into their circumstances, nor imagine trudging through jungles and deserts, forging rivers and risking death on a slender bet for something better for them and their kids.

The best argument conservatives can muster goes something like this: "Those people" disrespect our laws from the get-go, so how can they become good citizens? It's a point. But people who have never known anything but lawlessness, who've been hostage to violence and corruption in their own countries, may not get the point right away. First, we eat.

Liberal arguments for leniency are equally unconvincing and a touch manipulative. As a rule, I dislike sentimentality and treacly appeals to our softer hearts. Some images -- this time the little girl in a green dress dodging the terrifying horseman -- are horrific if also familiar.

But the constancy of such images should tell us something: They're not going to stop, not as long as we have what others want -- freedom to be and the opportunity to become. We can either export the magic of democratic freedom and capitalist prosperity, which history proves we do badly. Or we can accept that the needs of today's would-be immigrants seem to match our own. It's time to reimagine our borders and our policies.

This go-round, obviously, the sheer numbers of people overwhelmed our ability to process them in an orderly fashion. But the alternative can't be what we've witnessed the past several days. Where, oh where, are the visionaries and doers?

I can tell you this much: the entire route from South Carolina to California is screaming for help. Why not make a virtue of necessity?

- - -

Kathleen Parker's email address is kathleenparker@washpost.com.

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