It’s Tuesday, February 22nd, and this is your Morning Wire. Listen to the full podcast:
1) Did The Truckers Win?
The Topline: The streets of Ottawa were cleared of the Freedom Convoy trucker protest over the weekend after police arrested nearly 200 demonstrators on the streets outside of Parliament, ending a three-week standoff in the Canadian capital that captured the world’s attention.
Quote Of The Day: “We are already seeing positive results including the freezing of 206 financial products…bank accounts, corporate accounts, the disclosure of 56 entities, vehicles, individuals, companies, the addresses of 253 bitcoin shared with virtual currency exchangers; and the proactive freezing of an account of a payment processor for a value of $3.8 million by financial institution.”
– Mike Duheme, Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) deputy commissioner of federal policing
COVID restrictions were significantly curtailed across Canada, even though the government claims this wasn’t because of the protest. Additionally, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s invocation of the Emergency Act for the first time ever has received widespread criticism.
The act empowered police to act more aggressively in dispersing the protest on the streets of Ottawa, which was done quickly, and mostly peacefully on the side of the protesters, though some were injured by police. More broadly, the Canadian government can now seize the bank accounts of protesters and their supporters without a court order — which they’ve already done repeatedly.
Because these emergency powers are new and untested, no one seems to understand the limits, which has led to fierce criticism of Trudeau, even from some in the Canadian news media, which is largely controlled by the government.
The country’s conservative party kept the protests at arm’s length, but they are firmly opposed to the use of the Emergency Act and have criticized the prime minister.
2) Controversies Rock CDC
The Topline: As Americans wait to hear about renewed guidance on masking and school policies, the CDC is facing heightened scrutiny – even from those who have been defenders of the agency.
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been quick to make recommendations throughout the pandemic, their reluctance to update masking and school guidance is sparking criticism. Governors and school districts across the country are relaxing their rules, but the CDC hasn’t moved yet.
However, perhaps the most significant issue is the CDC’s transparency with their own data. A new report from The New York Times highlights important COVID-19 data the CDC has been withholding from officials and the public.
The Times reported this week that the CDC has gathered data for COVID hospitalization in the U.S. for over a year – and categorized it by race, vaccination status, and age – but it hasn’t publicized most of the data. They’ve also not generally educated the public on key questions, often leading to mass confusion.
A few weeks ago, the CDC put out data on boosters in adults younger than 65, but it didn’t include figures for 18 to 49 year-olds. Since that is the age group least likely to need a booster, it looked suspicious to many. Outside experts had to use figures from Israel to provide advice on the boosters.
Spokeswoman for the CDC Kristen Nordlund said the agency has been slow to put out different data “because basically, at the end of the day, it’s not yet ready for prime time.” She said the CDC’s “priority when gathering any data is to ensure that it’s accurate and actionable.” She also said they are afraid the data could be misinterpreted.
Last year, the CDC was criticized because they weren’t looking into breakthrough infections in all vaccinated Americans, and only seemed to focus in on people who got sick enough to be in the hospital or die from COVID. They didn’t put that hospitalization data into groupings by age, sex, race and vaccination status in a timely way, but instead made it more of a discussion about the risk compared with unvaccinated adults.
An official told the Times the CDC has been gathering data since the COVID vaccines were first launched last year, but they don’t want to make those numbers public because people might think the data means the vaccines don’t work.
Nordlund confirmed this, per the Times. She also said the data only make up 10% of the U.S. population, but the Times pointed out the CDC has used that same sampling amount to record influenza for years.
3) How California Homelessness Became A Crisis
The Topline: In late January, President Joe Biden appointed Jeff Olivet as his new homelessness Czar. In the past, Oliver has described homelessness as an issue of “structural racism,” and is a strong supporter of Housing First policies. Critics are raising red flags about the model, pointing to the growing homeless crisis in California.
In the past three years, California’s homelessness has increased by 25%. Today, more than one out of every four homeless people in the country live in California. Nationwide, the vast majority of homeless are in shelters, but in California, 70% of the state’s homeless are on the streets.
Homelessness is now tied with high housing costs as the number one issue among Californians.
The crisis appears to have worsened after California turned two specific ideas into mandates. They pushed the Housing First philosophy, an idea that there should be an attempt to get every homeless person on the street a free home with no strings attached, and increased tolerance of camping on the street.
California is the only state in the nation to mandate a Housing First philosophy for all spending, which they did in 2016, and they have put considerable state and local funding behind the idea.
The same year as the state mandate, Los Angeles voters passed a referendum – HHH – to spend $1.2 billion on Housing First apartments, but the same regulatory burdens that make housing difficult to build anywhere in California have slowed these funds. Today, that money has only built 1,000 apartments, at a cost of more than $500,000 each.
In 2006, LAPD Commissioner Willie Bratton, started a program called “Safer Cities” which cleaned up L.A.’s infamous Skid Row. The L.A. Mayor at the time, Antonio Villaraigosa, was a former ACLU lawyer but he supported Bratton and helped clean up the district.
After 2014, when new mayor Eric Garcetti came into power, he pulled back the program, leading to more tents on Skid Row. The recent City of Boise decision from the 9th Circuit makes it effectively illegal for cities to enforce many camping bans.
A study by two academics found that the Safer Cities program reduced homelessness and cut violent crime on Skid Row by 40%, but they didn’t find any spillover of homelessness and crime into nearby communities. Many of the homeless returned to shelters and went back to their homes and families.
Mental illness, along with addiction, is another major factor. California is unique in that it makes it difficult to commit someone for treatment. Recently, a bill was passed that forced someone who had been picked up for a psychotic break at least six times in a year to get mandatory mental health treatment. The bill reduced the previous standard from eight times in a year.
Other Stories We’re Tracking
Ukraine Crisis Escalates
On Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he would recognize two breakaway republics within Ukraine and then sent what he called “peacekeeping” troops into those regions. The Biden administration responded by ordering sanctions against the pro Russia republics, but not Russia. This led to a flurry of diplomatic activity aimed at avoiding a full Russian invasion.