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Microsoft Just Added 20 Bethesda Games to Xbox Game Pass

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Microsoft’s Game Pass has been around for a while, offering a range of reasonably popular games with a single monthly subscription. Game Pass is about to get a big boost in its game catalog courtesy of the Xbox maker’s recent acquisition of Bethesda Softworks. Starting now, you can get instant access to 20 popular Bethesda games on Game Pass

Game Pass starts at $ 10 per month, but new subscribers can get a $ 1 trial month right now. Before today’s additions, there were already about 100 games available on Game Pass, including ARK, Gears 5, and No Man’s Sky. Here are all the new Bethesda games coming to Xbox Game Pass. 

  • Dishonored
  • Dishonored 2
  • Doom
  • Doom 2
  • Doom 64
  • Doom 3
  • Doom Eternal
  • Fallout New Vegas
  • Fallout 4
  • Fallout 76
  • Prey
  • Rage 2
  • The Elder Scrolls 3: Morrowind
  • The Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion
  • The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim
  • The Elder Scrolls Online
  • The Evil Within
  • Wolfenstein: The New Order
  • Wolfenstein The Old Blood
  • Wolfenstein: Youngblood

Game Pass works on Xbox consoles, PC, and mobile. However, you won’t be able to play all of them everywhere. All of them work on Xbox and PC, but you’ll have to choose one or the other when you sign up for Game Pass at the $ 10 level. There’s a $ 15 version that includes both console and PC, as well as mobile access on Android. Only 16 of the games support mobile, which is accomplished via xCloud game streaming. As usual, Microsoft stresses that xCloud is still a beta product, and you’ll need a very reliable internet connection to play on your phone. When installed and played on the Xbox Series X or S, several of the titles will benefit from the new FPS Boost feature. 

There’s always the concern with “all you can play” services that something you like will end up leaving. We all know this pain from video streaming platforms like Netflix. But because Microsoft now owns these Bethesda titles, it’s unlikely they’ll ever leave Game Pass.

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Bianca Andreescu fell just as quickly as she rose — can she rise again?

Even in 2019, amid her remarkable rise, Bianca Andreescu’s availability was a constant question.

That was the year she won the prestigious Indian Wells tournament, the Rogers Cup on home soil and became the first Canadian to ever win a singles major title at the U.S. Open.

In between, she played just five matches. After the U.S. Open, a left knee injury knocked her out of the season-ending WTA Finals in November.

It was over 500 days before Andreescu would play again. She was upset in the second round of the Australian Open last month and lost in the fourth round of a follow-up tournament.

The Toronto native then announced she would miss the next three tournaments for health reasons. Here we go again?

“Physically it showed that she had all those matches under her belt and quite a few were close and long three-setters. … But it’s not a situation where her injuries resurfaced or new injury surfaced,” said Andreescu’s coach Sylvain Bruneau.

Andreescu’s elongated absence was not solely based on injury. Bruneau said in March the plan was for her to return for the Miami Open — until WTA play was suspended due to concerns over COVID-19.

Even with her return on the horizon, Andreescu was stuck in a Melbourne hotel room for two weeks after Bruneau contracted the virus. Other players were allowed out of quarantine for training ahead of the Grand Slam.

“The most important thing for me was that she was able to play those two matches at the Australian Open and then four more [in] the tournament right after and get the confirmation that the old injuries were behind us,” Bruneau said.

WATCH | Breaking down Andreescu’s Aussie Open performance:

Anastasia Bucsis and Vivek Jacob react to Bianca Andreescu’s abrupt exit of the Australian Open, discuss what they saw from her performance, and how they think she’ll perform in Tokyo. 3:03

Bruneau says those matches met his expectations for Andreescu. Her movement “was not perfect,” but there was reason for hope. There were times she arrived at the ball on time and balanced, and other times Bruneau noticed she was reaching.

“She couldn’t have been full confidence because she obviously felt she was not at the top of her game, but just playing those matches after the Australian Open, winning those close matches, knowing you’re not at the top of your game, but your fighting skills and dealing with them are still there,” Bruneau said.

“[That] should be a step in the right direction and in some ways a confidence booster for what’s next.”

NBC tennis analyst Mary Carillo agreed with Bruneau’s assessment of Andreescu’s Australian run, saying she thought the Canadian looked “fit and eager.”

Patience is key

Neither Bruneau nor Carillo expect Andreescu to immediately regain her dominance, instead stressing that it takes time after such a long layoff.

“She is clearly somebody who can win multiple majors, but the length of time she spent suffering from one injury after another reminded me of Juan Martin Del Potro,” Carillo said.

Del Potro won the U.S. Open in 2009 at 20 years old but injured his wrist the following year. That setback periodically flared up throughout the Argentinian’s career, and he never won another Grand Slam, despite a couple lengthy runs.

ESPN tennis analyst Brad Gilbert made the same comparison.

“I think she’s exciting and I think she’s got a fun game to watch. And fingers crossed that that’s all I say. It was the same for [Del Potro]. It was like, ‘God, such a great game to watch.’ But you don’t want to be stopped by being injured,” Gilbert said.

WATCH | Andreescu stunned in 2nd round of return:

Mississauga’s Bianca Andreescu made a second-round exit at the Australian Open on Wednesday, dropping a 6-3, 6-2 decision to Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-Wei. 4:48

Knee injuries can be debilitating for tennis players, but Andreescu’s game doesn’t solely rely on speed — it’s her varied approach that makes her tough to handle.

At her best, there are no weaknesses.

“When she is playing, I tend to only watch her half of the court,” Carillo said.

“Almost every other woman is fairly predictable in how they’re going to play strategically. With Andreescu, you don’t know what the hell is going on in her brain. And all of a sudden there’s this gorgeous lob or this sweet little dropshot or she’ll break open the point with a heavy forehand.”

Gilbert was more cautionary about how a knee injury would specifically disrupt Andreescu’s game.

“In ’19 at the Open, the way she was flying around the court, I thought she was the best mover — even better than [current world No. 3 Simona Halep]. … That’s something crucial to her game because she’s not six feet tall,” he said.

‘Great ambition, ridiculous talent’

With the right dose of practice, load management and tournaments, none of Bruneau, Carillo and Gilbert would be surprised to see Andreescu right back where she finished in 2019.

“I am not sure that it’s totally possible to try to get her to peak for the Olympics or for wherever, as we just need to go through a process and look for her game and everything to fall back into place,” Bruneau said.

Andreescu is just 20. The Del Potro path is the darkest timeline, but it is far from certain.

“The best ability is availability. And if you don’t have availability, you can’t post results,” Gilbert said.

“I know there’s great ambition and ridiculous talent. I think what we need here is some patience,” Carillo added.

Given the time off, Andreescu’s middling results in Australia were a signal that her previous dominance won’t just come back on its own. It takes real matches and consistent practice to get there.

In one moment, she was one of eight women invited to the WTA Finals. In the next — 16 months later — Andreescu was upset by an unseeded player in the second round of the Australian Open.

“When you feel that great with your game, with your confidence, with everything about your tennis and you’re forced to take 16 months off, that’s not where you want that to happen usually. When you’re getting [to] the top of the mountain, you want to keep going,” Bruneau said.

Now, Andreescu faces another climb.

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CBC | Sports News

Trudeau says Canada-U.S. relations need to rebuild. Just how bad did it get with Trump?

When Justin Trudeau met virtually with U.S. President Joe Biden this week, the prime minister suggested that relations between the two countries had taken a significant hit during Donald Trump’s administration, noting that “there’s a lot to rebuild.”

Tensions over trade culminated in tariff battles during Trump’s term in the White House, and his use of Twitter to blast the prime minister certainly put a chill on their relationship.

However, despite the often-tense relationship between Trudeau and Trump, tough deals were still forged, including a revamped NAFTA agreement, while the countries continued to co-operate on longstanding issues.

“The relationship between the United States is so deep and so broad that you can’t characterize it simply in terms of whether or not an individual president and a prime minister get along” said David MacNaughton, Canada’s ambassador to the U.S. from 2016 to 2019.

“Having said that, I think it is of huge value if they do,” he said. “There are times when having that kind of close personal relationship can make a difference. So I think it’s desirable, but it’s not essential.”

Yet MacNaughton said the reality was that Canada and U.S. continued to have a constructive relationship on the meaningful files.

David MacNaughton was Canada’s ambassador to the U.S. from 2016 to 2019. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

For example, the military and intelligence relationship between the two countries continued to be very strong, he said.

While negotiations for the new NAFTA agreement — the Canada–U.S.–Mexico Agreement (CUSMA) — were tough, an agreement was still hashed out, MacNaughton said.

“And frankly, I’m not sure if we were renegotiating NAFTA today, we would have an easier time with [the Biden administration].”

As well, key figures from Donald Trump’s administration were able to forge strong relations with Canada and members of Trudeau’s team. Sonny Perdue, the U.S. secretary of agriculture was a “great friend,” while former treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin and former finance minister Bill Morneau “got along really well,” MacNaughton said.

Governors and premiers

And as CBC’s Aaron Wherry chronicled in his book Promise and Peril: Justin Trudeau in Power, Trudeau’s chief of staff, Katie Telford, built a rapport with Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who was also a senior adviser to the president.

Even Trump’s controversial chief strategist Steve Bannon had said he had developed a good relationship with Trudeau’s Gerald Butts, Trudeau’s principal secretary from 2015 to 2019.

Then there are the on-going Canada/U.S. relationships between governors and premiers, MacNaughton said. On a regular basis, the Atlantic, Western and Great Lakes premiers get together with their New England, Great Lakes and Western governor counterparts.

Steven Mnuchin, right, treasury secretary in the Trump administration, and Bill Morneau, who served as Canada’s finance minister from 2015 to 2020, were said to have had a good relationship despite tension between Trump and Trudeau. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/The Associated Press)

As well, there are bilateral mayoral, business and union relationships, he said. 

“So to say the relationship was broken is putting too much emphasis on Donald Trump’s M.O.”

Chris Sands, director of the D.C.-based Wilson Center’s Canada Institute, said so much in the Canada/U.S. relationship is managed by unknown bureaucrats who continued working behind the scenes and were “getting important things done.”

That Canada was able to make a deal to keep the border restricted but not closed following the COVID-19 pandemic was a testament to the co-operation and trust we have [for] the Canadians,” he said.

‘Knows how to get things done’

“I don’t want to say that it was magic, but it was really good and it was a sign of a relationship that knows how to get things done,” Sands said.

“There were a lot of things that weren’t fun but they did get done in the Trump era and they’re still getting done now.”

Still, relations “did get pretty bad” as “trust was eroded over the last four years, particularly on the Canadian side toward the U.S,” said former American diplomat Scotty Greenwood, who spent four years as chief of staff of the U.S. Embassy in Canada.

“I do think that the relationship suffered. I do think the relationship between the leaders matters,” she said. “While there’s a certain inevitability of Canada/U.S. relations, there are still times when you really benefit from a good working relationship at the top to solve thorny issue or to create big opportunities.”

Some of the tension between Trump and Trudeau seemed to be sparked by Trump’s ire with Canada/U.S. trade deals and what he saw as Canada having an unfair trade advantage. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

On that front, relations at the top were at times tumultuous with the president. 

And some of that, at least, seemed to be sparked by Trump’s ire with Canada/U.S. trade deals and what he saw as Canada having an unfair trade advantage.

In 2017, Trump called Canada a “disgrace” for policies that he said hurt American farmers and would tweet a year later that “I love Canada but they’ve taken advantage of our country for many years!”

What eventually followed was the tense renegotiation of NATFA. But before that, Trump in June 2018, in the days leading up to the G7 leaders summit in La Malbaie, Que., slapped tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum imports.

This prompted a reportedly tense call between Trudeau and Trump over the tariffs. Trump reportedly at one point asked: “Didn’t you guys burn down the White House?” — a reference to the War of 1812.

‘Dishonest and weak’

The rhetoric became more heated after the summit, when Trump got word that Trudeau had said the tariffs were insulting and that Canada wouldn’t be pushed around. Taking to Twitter,  Trump lashed back that the prime minister was “very dishonest & weak.”

Later, Trump’s trade adviser, Peter Navarro, remarked there was “a special place in hell” for Trudeau, while Trump’s chief economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, said Trudeau had “stabbed us in the back.”

Such level of diplomatic vitriol prompted former prime minister Brian Mulroney to observe he had “never seen language like this. Least of all from subordinates of the president directed at the prime minister of their greatest friend and ally.”

WATCH | Trudeau caught complaining about Trump’s lateness:

PM Justin Trudeau, France’s Emmanuel Macron, UK PM Boris Johnson and other VIPs shared a few words at a Buckingham Palace reception Tuesday – and seemed to be talking about U.S. President Donald Trump’s lengthy impromptu press conferences earlier in the day. 0:25

A year later, however, there was another flareup. At a NATO summit reception in Buckingham Palace in London, Trudeau was caught on video complaining to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron that Trump was late because “he takes a 40-minute press conference off the top.”

Trump would later respond that while Trudeau was  “a very nice guy,” he’s “two-faced” and was just upset that he had challenged the prime minister to make a greater financial contribution to NATO.

WATCH| Trump responds to Trudeau:

U.S. President Donald Trump says PM Justin Trudeau ridiculed him last evening because he was upset that Trump called him out over low NATO spending. 0:41

Weeks later, Trump would take another shot at Trudeau when he learned his cameo in the film Home Alone 2: Lost In New York had been edited out of CBC’s broadcast. (CBC said it had cut the scene before Trump was president and did it to make way for commercials.) 

“I guess Justin T doesn’t much like my making him pay up on NATO or Trade!” Trump tweeted.

21-second pause

The relationship would come into focus again in June 2020 when Trudeau made headlines for his 21-second pause after being asked about Trump’s threat to use military force against protestors in the U.S.

WATCH | Trudeau’s 21-second pause:

Asked about U.S. President Donald Trump threatening the use of military force against protestors in the United States, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau paused for 21 seconds before saying “we all watch in horror and consternation.” He did not comment on Trump. 2:59

Relations would be tested a few months later when Trump again slapped a tariff on Canadian aluminum, only to back down after Canada was set to impose retaliatory measures.

Yet despite these tensions, Trudeau was still able to work out and maintain a relationship with Trump, said former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson.

“It was difficult, but every Western leader had difficult relationships with Mr. Trump.”

Robertson said while other Western leaders gave up, Trudeau kept trying.

Most important relationship

“He had to because it’s our most important relationship,” Robertson said. “The one relationship our prime minister has to get right is the relationship with the United States.”

Greenwood, the former diplomat, said in an ironic twist, Trump’s threats to tear up NAFTA and his disruption of the system made the U.S. much more aware of the importance of Canada.

“What happened was the awareness of the economic relationship between the United States is maybe at an all-time high in Congress,” she said. 

Greenwood, however, wondered if the new U.S. administration will be able to build from this new awareness.

“It seems to me the question is how will the prime minister, the president seize on the kind of awareness that now exists in the U.S … where policy makers appreciate more than ever our interconnectedness with Canada.”

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Phosphine Detected in Venus’s Atmosphere May Have Just Been Sulfur

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The potential discovery of phosphine in Venus’s atmosphere last year made headlines around the world. On Earth, phosphine is produced by living things. Any detection of it inside another planet’s atmosphere would be a strong potential indicator of life. One reason folks got excited about the possibility is that Venus’s upper atmosphere is a much friendlier place for life to exist than its lower cloud layers or the lead-melting temperatures on the ground. The conditions approximately 50km above the planet’s surface are reportedly the most Earthlike in the solar system, with a pressure of approximately 1 atm and temperatures ranging from 0 to 50C. Could life have evolved within those cloud layers, or even migrated from the surface to the atmosphere as Venus’s climate changed? The detection of phosphine suggested that it might have.

A new analysis of the initial data, however, finds that the Cardiff researchers who first reported the detection of phosphine may have mistakenly been picking up sulfur dioxide instead. The authors of this new paper, to be published in Nature, note that the original paper claimed 20ppb (parts per billion) of PH3 were detected in the Martian atmosphere. After some reassessment of their initial findings, the original Cardiff team asserted that the phosphine signal still remained, but at a much lower concentration of 1ppb, not 20pbb. Even one part per billion would still be interesting because phosphine is not thought to persist for any length of time in Venus’ atmosphere under any conditions, but it’s obviously a much weaker signal than initially thought.

The surface of Venus captured by a Soviet Venera probe.

Now, however, a further examination of the data argues that even that 1ppb is a measurement error.

“Instead of phosphine in the clouds of Venus, the data are consistent with an alternative hypothesis: They were detecting sulfur dioxide,” said co-author Victoria Meadows, a UW professor of astronomy. “Sulfur dioxide is the third-most-common chemical compound in Venus’s atmosphere, and it is not considered a sign of life.”

Meadows, lead author Andrew Lincowski, and the other researchers affiliated with this project created a radiative transfer model of the planet’s atmosphere and re-examined the data. Their paper suggests that the initial report erred by attempting to use ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter Array) to estimate the amount of SO2 in Venus’s atmosphere. The telescope may have missed as much as 90-95 percent of the sulfur dioxide actually present, greatly increasing the chance that the specific signal attributed to phosphine at 266.94GHz is actually being caused by sulfur dioxide instead. The initial findings were attributed to phosphine because the amount of sulfur dioxide in the atmospheric layer where the phosphine was detected was thought to be low.

This new research also claims that the signal was detected far higher in the Martian atmosphere than previously thought. Venus has a thick, dense atmosphere, dense enough to prevent smaller meteors from reaching the ground. If the phosphine signal was coming from the troposphere, there was a chance the upper layers of the atmosphere were shielding whatever life forms might be present. According to this team, however, the signal was actually being picked up in the mesosphere. Venus is much closer to the sun than Earth is, and the increased solar radiation at the top of its clouds would tear phosphine molecules apart almost as quickly as they could form. The chance of detecting phosphine in the upper levels of the atmosphere is very small, even if it’s produced by living things below.

The authors do not claim to have disproven the initial phosphine report and they call for other research teams to continue investigating Venus for any hint of phosphine. Even if the signal turns out to be a false positive, this process of claims and counter-claims is almost certainly how scientists will eventually prove we have discovered life on a different planet. Any fossil or purported living creature found within the sands of Mars or beneath the ice sheets of Europe will undergo extensive analysis to prove that it’s extraterrestrial in origin and not evidence of sample contamination from an Earth-based source.

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the reduction of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine shipments to Canada will be temporary and won't derail the government's long-term goal of getting everyone who wants a shot vaccinated by the end of September 2021.

Trudeau says Pfizer’s reduction in vaccine shipments to Canada is ‘just temporary’

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Trudeau says Pfizer's reduction in vaccine shipments to Canada is 'just temporary'

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the reduction of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine shipments to Canada will be temporary and won’t derail the government’s long-term goal of getting everyone who wants a shot vaccinated by the end of September 2021.

CBC | Health News

COVID-19 cases rise just months ahead of Olympics, Tokyo residents at odds with whether Games should proceed

Fifty-seven years ago, the 1964 Tokyo Olympics signified the rebirth of a nation that had risen from the ashes of the Second World War. Those Games helped launch the beginning of an extended expansion that turned Japan into an economic superpower. 

But with the rescheduled 2020 Games set to begin July 23, the story is much different. The contrast is ironic.

“Most people are against it because of coronavirus issues, restrictions, costs in economic downturn, etc. If no COVID-19, then the majority would be for it,” said Robert Whiting, a Tokyo resident and an author and journalist who specializes in contemporary Japanese culture. 

Back in the early 1960s, most Japanese were initially opposed to hosting the Olympics, but ultimately came to cherish the symbolism of the event.

More than a half-century later, the population appeared ready to back staging the Summer Games again, only to have a pandemic derail the event and flip public opinion in the process.

“When Japan won the bid in 1959 most people were against the idea,” said Whiting, who in 2018 published “The Two Tokyo Olympics 1964/2020.” “The cost was too high and Tokyo had a lot of problems.”

Whiting noted a litany of issues that organizers were confronted with ahead of Japan’s first Olympics as the host nation.

“There was only one five-star hotel — the Imperial — which was falling into disrepair, no highway system, you couldn’t drink the tap water and only one fourth of structures in the city had flush toilets,” Whiting said. “But the city put up eight new expressways, two subway lines, five new five-star hotels, a monorail to and from Haneda Airport and a bullet train.”

The transformation of Tokyo in five years was nothing short of phenomenal.

An elevated expressway was built in the Akasaka-mitsuke area of Tokyo in preparation for the 1964 Olympics. (Getty Images)

1964 a ‘huge success’

“Life Magazine called it the ‘best Olympics ever’ [at the time] and the Games were a tremendous source of pride for Japanese, symbolized their re-entry into the global community after defeat in war,” Whiting said. “It was a huge success.”

In the leadup to the 2020 Games, most polls showed a majority of Japanese were in favour of hosting another Summer Olympics, but once the COVID-19 crisis began and persisted, the pendulum began to swing the other way.

On Thursday, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga declared a state of emergency for Tokyo and surrounding prefectures, the same day the city reported a record of 2,447 new cases of COVID-19. Japan has attributed over 3,500 deaths to COVID-19, relatively low for a country of 126 million.

But two polls in recent months illustrated the sentiments as the rescheduled Games draw closer. Sixty per cent of those who responded to an Asahi TV poll in November wanted the extravaganza postponed or cancelled outright, while a Kyodo News poll in July found that just 24 per cent supported holding the Olympics as scheduled.

The ever-increasing cost of staging the Games has soured many and made the athletic part of the Olympics almost an afterthought.

I am a little bit disappointed that more than 80 per cent of the people feel that the Olympics can’t be held.– Japan’s Kohei Uchimura, Olympic gymnastics gold medallist

Japan’s National Audit Board released a report in December that estimated costs for the 2020 Olympics would run to $ 28 billion, with only $ 5.6 billion coming from private funds. 

“I don’t believe this is an efficient use of taxpayer money,” said Sanae Tanaka, a Tokyo resident. “This could be spent in more useful ways. Do we really need to use it for the Olympics?”

“I am worried about holding the Tokyo Olympics in this situation,” added Yuriko Komiyama. “I wonder if the situation will get better before next summer.”

The negativity that has begun to envelop talk of the Games has even trickled down to the athletes. In a recent interview, gymnastics legend Kohei Uchimura, the 2012 and 2016 Olympic gold medallist in the men’s all-around discipline and a six-time world champion in the event, cited his concerns.

The opening ceremony of the 1964 Olympics. (AFP via Getty Images)

International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach (centre) wears a face mask as he visits the National Stadium in November. The venue is scheduled to host the opening ceremony on July 23. (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Caution and safety

“I am a little bit disappointed that more than 80 per cent of the people feel that the Olympics can’t be held,” Uchimura said. “I would like everyone to think, ‘What can I do?’ and change their mindset in that direction. I know it is very difficult, but I wonder if the athletes will be able to perform unless they have the same feelings.”

Two-time Olympic figure skater (1976, 1980) and TV personality Emi Watanabe thinks caution and safety should be prioritized with regard to the Games.

“I know the pandemic has changed training schedules and many athletes in the world are suffering because they are not able to practice because of lockdowns,” Watanabe said. “We all have to sacrifice what is best for the human race rather than rush to hold the Olympics until COVID-19 disappears from our planet. I think it should wait until the world is a safe place again.” 

The Tokyo-based anti-Olympic group Hangorin No Kai, which participated in a protest during a visit by IOC president Thomas Bach to Japan in November, made its feelings known in written responses to a series of questions submitted to them.

Rather than enhancing medical care and social security associated with COVID-19, a huge budget will be used to hold the Olympics and Paralympics.– Anti-Olympic group Hangorin No Kai

“Our mission is to stop the Tokyo Olympics and have the Olympics abolished,” the group, which was formed in 2013, wrote. “The IOC and Tokyo Olympics organizers have never tried to meet with us.”

Hangorin No Kai indicated that the overwhelming majority of the public they have conversed with are concerned about long-term issues and how hosting the Olympics will impact society.

“Rather than enhancing medical care and social security associated with COVID-19, a huge budget will be used to hold the Olympics and Paralympics.”

When asked if their views would be different if the Olympics and surrounding costs were entirely privately financed, the group didn’t hold back.

A Tokyo streetscape in 1964 heralds the Games. (Getty Images)

A large screen shows Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Thursday as he declares a state of emergency in Tokyo because of rising cases of COVID-19. (AFP via Getty Images)

Novelty worn off

“We have already lost public spaces and services, including the privatization of public parks due to privatization for the Olympics,” Hangorin No Kai said. “At present, the promotion of the Olympics has even invaded public education and has caused great damage like brainwashing and mobilizing students to support the Olympics. In addition to these, there is concern that the privatization of public education will be accelerated if the event is held with private investment.”

Whiting believes the novelty of hosting the Olympics, which the country has done three times previously (Tokyo 1964, Sapporo 1972, Nagano 1998), had worn off for the Japanese ahead of the Tokyo 2020 bid.

“Now, people are more blasé. Been there, done that,” Whiting said. “Many think the Games are too expensive and money should have been spent on the March 11, 2001, [earthquake and tsunami] recovery. Businesses were against it.”

Robert Whiting is the author of A Tale of Two Olympics, a comparison of the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo and the Games scheduled for this summer. (Courtesy Robert Whiting)

Whiting pointed out that despite several missteps early on, most people did support hosting the Games again after the bid was secured.

“When Japan won the bid in Buenos Aires [in 2013] attitudes began to change,” Whiting said. “People got behind it despite embarrassments like the flawed National Stadium design, vote-buying scandal, plagiarized logo, e-coli in Tokyo Bay, where water events were to be held, and holding the Games in the brutal summer heat. The 1964 Games were held in October because the [Japan Olympic Committee] said summer was too hot.”

Japan-Forward.com sportswriter Ed Odeven, who has lived in the country for 14 years and covered multiple Olympics, believes there is still hope for the 2020 Games.

“There’s no one-size-fits-all opinion about the likelihood of Japan staging the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics,” Odeven said. “Plenty of people have doubts, but many observers within Japan can point to the successful completion of the Nippon Professional Baseball season, with gradual increases in maximum spectator capacity up to 50 per cent of venue capacity by season’s end.

“Other pro sports circuits, including soccer’s J. League and basketball’s B. League, and big competitions such as multiple Grand Sumo Tournaments have also adjusted to playing during the global pandemic, adhering to government health experts’ advice,” Odeven said. “This includes frequent COVID-19 testing for athletes, social distancing for fans in the overall seating setup and face masks for venue workers, media and fans.”

Olympic super-fan Kyoko Ishikawa in front of the National Stadium. The Tokyo resident has attended every Summer Olympics in the past 30 years and doesn’t plan on missing out on a Games in her home city in 2021. (AFP via Getty Images)

Odeven cited the recent approval of vaccines as being significant. 

“The COVID-19 vaccine now starting to be administered could reduce fears about international travel to Japan for the Olympics if the efforts show a significant reduction in coronavirus cases,” Odeven said. “And that viewpoint would spread considerably among Tokyo 2020 organizers, athletes, coaches, etc. if other nations can demonstrate that the vaccine is working.

“People don’t seem to be particularly enthusiastic about anything set for next summer,” Odeven said. “Everyone is just eager for [the pandemic] to end and for the massive impact of the pandemic on their lives — and all of the disruptions to normal routines — to go away as soon as possible.”

Odeven thinks the vaccines are the silver bullet that could restore faith in holding a massive sporting event in one of the biggest cities in the world in the wake of a pandemic.

“The vaccines are the real litmus test,” Odeven said. “If they can make a real impact in slowing down the spread of the coronavirus around the world, I think people’s expectations about the Olympics will rise.”

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CBC | Sports News

Stadia Could Have a Huge 2021 If Google Can Just Focus for Once

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Google launched Stadia just over a year ago to a distinct lack of cheers, and for good reason. There weren’t many games, the controller bundle was expensive, and the service was unreliable. Stadia has not been completely rehabilitated in the past year and change, but circumstances have given Google a boost. With more people than ever looking for a way to pass the time thanks to quarantine, Stadia has emerged as a surprisingly reliable and economical way to play the latest games. Maybe this cloud gaming thing isn’t so crazy after all. In fact, 2021 might be a huge year for Stadia, if Google can overcome its tendency to lose focus. 

Signs of Improvement

Stadia began life as a premium-only service, but Google opened it up to everyone as the pandemic lockdowns bloomed across the world. Reliability improved markedly over the course of the year — I’d say I have no issues about 90 percent of the time. That other 10 percent is usually thanks to the app on my phone needing a restart or (rarely) a problem with my network requiring a router reboot. Regardless, the latency and sharpness are both within spitting distance of game consoles. 

At several points, Stadia’s performance seemed to tank for days at a time. I can’t rule out something with my network, but the timing was suspiciously similar to Google’s Stadia bundle giveaways in late 2020. Google was throwing controllers at anyone who had subscriptions to services like YouTube Premium and YouTube TV. The spike in new users may well have contributed to my issues, but I still think this shows Stadia is working. A large user base is necessary for Stadia’s survival, and people are using those free controllers based on what I’ve seen around the web. 

Speaking of the controller, it’s even better than it was at launch. Initially, it only worked wirelessly with the Chromecast. Now, you can connect it to the Stadia cloud via Wi-Fi for smartphone gaming. The process is sometimes a little clunky in the app, but you get improved latency compared with a Bluetooth connection, which is how you play with other services like GeForce Now. 

The convenience of Stadia is starting to show as this never-ending year drags on. I can pick up the Stadia controller and be playing AAA games on my phone or TV in a minute. There’s no installation, no worrying about drivers, no hunting for sold-out game consoles or GPUs, and Stadia’s game catalog is getting competitive. 

Google launched Stdia with a few Pro freebies, but that program has expanded dramatically. Now, there are five or six free games every month, and there are some real gems in there. Google has also been running Steam-style holiday sales with prices on new-ish titles slashed by as much as 80 percent. You can even buy Cyberpunk 2077 on Stadia, and it runs flawlessly. That’s more than you can say for the current-gen Xbox and PlayStation. On the PC, it takes a $ 1,000 GPU to get the game even close to playable

Getting It Together

Stadia might be in a better place than I expected it to be, but there’s still a long way to go. Some of the remaining issues are all Google’s fault, but some are beyond even its control. 

There’s no way around the bandwidth requirements — even if your internet connection is far above the 10Mbps requirement, you might find your game pixelates or stops working as local network conditions impact your available bandwidth. Unlike regular streaming video, there’s nothing to buffer in a game that’s being rendered live. Google can’t just wave its magic wand and fix the sorry state of internet connectivity in the US. 

Stadia’s game catalog is an issue, too. Yes, it’s getting better with games like Cyberpunk 2077 launching alongside other platforms. However, the back catalog is very weak. Awesome games from just a few years ago like The Witcher 3, GTA V, and Fallout 4 don’t exist on Stadia, and developers can’t just flip a switch to add games as they can with GeForce Now (which is essentially a virtual desktop). It takes time to optimize for Stadia’s custom platform, and that might mean some of these last-gen games fall by the wayside. 

Ctrl+f is not an acceptable substitute for search, Google.

One thing Google can (and should) address is the Stadia app. Both the web app and the Android client are annoyingly barebones. Google, which is a search company, still doesn’t have a search function in the Stadia store. You can look at various categories or just see a full alphabetical list of games, which is not very helpful as the number of games has expanded to over 100. Some basic features, like pairing a controller, are also needlessly clunky. And heaven help you if you want to manage your screen captures. You can’t even zoom on screenshots. 

Google is not alone in trying to make cloud gaming workable; Microsoft, Nvidia, and Amazon are also in the mix. Google has a bit of a headstart, but now is not the time to rest on its laurels. Amazon’s upcoming Luna service could be particularly vexing for Google. Amazon has its AWS backbone that will no doubt help with Luna performance, and the service will be fully integrated with Twitch. Meanwhile, Google has barely talked about the supposedly revolutionary features of Stadia like Stream Connect.

Possibly the smartest thing Google could do is to keep giving away those controllers in 2021. Unfortunately, it keeps ending the giveaways too soon. The recent Cyberpunk pre-order deal ended ahead of schedule after just a few days, but it should be doing the opposite. It should look for excuses to give long-time customers Stadia bundles rather than ending the deal when some arbitrary number of units are claimed. Google One? Free Stadia bundle. Bought a Pixel? Free Stadia bundle. Play Pass subscriber? Yes, free Stadia bundle. That’s a lot cheaper than handing out free Xboxes.

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In 2020, athletes around the world refused to shut up and just play

Normally when we reflect on a year in sports, athletes hoisting shiny trophies are the lasting memories — overtime goals, buzzer-beaters and breathtaking photo finishes.

Sometimes etched in our minds, too, are images of heartbreak. 

Sports is for many an anchor, a place where unscripted joy and disappointment play out and fans collectively revel in it. A sweet escape. A distraction. 

But 2020 was anything but normal. 

The notion that athletes should just shut up and stick to sports and leave politics out of it has for too long seemed outdated. But the show does always have to go on and often, athletes do in fact just have to shut up. Because money. 

This year, though, in the uncertainty of the chaos and the tedium of the pandemic, the pendulum swung and sporting heroes found their voices and used their platform in an unparalleled way.

WATCH | Devin Heroux on the year that was:

Athletes around the world raised a collective voice in an unprecedented show of power. 5:03

It has changed the games forever. 

Halting the Olympics

It began during those turbulent 48 hours in mid-March, when, almost simultaneously, the world and sports shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The seriousness of what was unfolding was clearly articulated in March by Canadian hockey superstar Hayley Wickenheiser, who sent out a post on social media that was heard around the world.

With the Summer Olympics looming in Tokyo in July, Wickenheiser provided the reality check the sports world so badly needed.

“I think the IOC insisting this will move ahead, with such conviction, is insensitive and irresponsible given the state of humanity. We don’t know what’s happening in the next 24 hours, let alone the next three months,” she wrote. 

The IOC wasn’t happy with Wickenheiser. But not long after, in an unforgettable move, the Canadian Olympic Committee said it would not be attending Tokyo if the Games went on.

Shortly after, the Olympics were postponed. 

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, wearing a face mask, visits an empty National Stadium, main venue for the postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, in November. (Getty Images)

Anti-racism statements

In those waiting and wondering months of April and May, words like “bubble” and “hub city” became part of everyday sports lingo. But in the background, leagues were plotting their triumphant return. And many did. 

The pandemic put sports on pause and athletes at all levels were suddenly in the same place as everyone else. 

But the atmosphere became charged in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police in the first half of the year. Protests rose up across North America night after night in the spring, and many sports superstars showed they had had enough. 

In August, in another unforgettable 48 hours, the NBA again shut down, this time after players refused to play in continued protest, while WNBA players walked onto the court wearing T-shirts with bullet holes in them — and then left. 

Benfica supporters wear face masks and keep a social distance before a UEFA Europa League match in October in one of the few sporting events around the world that even permitted fans. (AFP via Getty Images)

A united front for a social cause like never before.

Coaches and players cried at podiums, their pain spilling over in a way we’ve never seen.

“We’re the ones getting killed. We’re the ones getting shot. We’re the ones … denied to live in certain communities. We’ve been hung. We’ve been shot. And all you do is keep hearing about fear,” L.A. Clippers coach Doc Rivers said, tears rolling from his eyes in late August. 

In the same way the pandemic swiftly and simultaneously halted sports, athletes shut down the game together. 

It made sports commentators and casual fans pause. Reflect. And, in a lot of cases, sit in the discomfort of challenging social issue conversations

The concern going into all of these bubbles and resuming play for many athletes was that their voices would get lost in nightly game highlights. And on many nights, they did. And so they stopped. 

It forced powerful, mostly white sport owners to have conversations that for too long just weren’t being had. 

Stadiums and arenas became voting stations. Players put pressure on politicians. 

Doc Rivers, centre, then head coach of the L.A. Clippers, gave a heart-felt plea for social justice in the wake of the police shooting of Jacob Blake. (Getty Images)

Ademola Lookman of Fulham takes a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement prior to his team’s Premier League match in October. (Getty Images)

2020 triumphs

But even in our mourning, sports found a way to make us smile.

The Houston Dash of the National Women’s Soccer League captured the first championship in a bubble setting. 

Soccer prodigy Alphonso Davies became the first Canadian men’s player to win a Champions League title. 

Lightning struck in the form of a Stanley Cup win in a hockey bubble. And a Zamboni driver helped lead the Hurricanes to a victory over the Leafs. 

The Lakers and LeBron added another title. The Dodgers are baseball champions.

Canadian tennis continues to surge, with Denis Shapovalov, Leylah Annie Fernandez, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Vasek Pospisil leading the way — all while Bianca Andreescu works in the background, plotting her return. 

Bayern Munich’s Canadian midfielder Alphonso Davies celebrates with Champions League trophy after his team defeated Paris Saint-Germain in August. Davies is the first Canadian to play on a UEFA championship team. (Getty Images)

We the North went south, and took the lead on social issues, rolling up to the Florida bubble in buses with Black Lives Matter plastered on the side

The Blue Jays flew south, too — a young and exciting team that surprised many by making the playoffs, even if it was a short-lived run. 

Fledgling sports leagues Canadian Elite Basketball League and the Canadian Premier League successfully took to the court and pitch and cemented themselves in the country’s sporting landscape. 

The Canadian Football League did not play — and the Grey Cup was not awarded for the first time since 1919. 

A Masters in November without fans making for majestic views. And The Last Dance, a documentary series about Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, that, for a week weeks at least, entertained us. 

Canada’s Christine Sinclair, front left, celebrates with teammates after scoring against St. Kitts and Nevis during a CONCACAF women’s Olympic qualifying game on Jan. 29, 2020, setting the international record for goals scored. (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Before the shutdown, Canadian soccer star Christine Sinclair broke the record for the most international goals scored by any player ever to take to the pitch. 

Curlers Kerri Einarson and Brad Gushue won the Scotties and Brier, respectively, only to have their opportunity to represent Canada at the world championships taken away due to the pandemic. 

The world and sports will discover its new normal. And the Olympic Games will eventually go on.

We endure. But 2020 has changed us. 

Too much and too many lost.

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After death of father, long break, Mikaela Shiffrin grateful just to be racing again

Set for a return to ski racing after 300 days away, Mikaela Shiffrin is looking for the answer to a question she has been asking herself since March.

How will it feel to compete again?

“Hopefully it is a positive experience. And I don’t mean, `hopefully I win,’ but hopefully it is a positive experience to be a ski racer, still, and hopefully that will be the driving force,” Shiffrin said Thursday, two days before the longest break in her decade-long World Cup career is expected to end at a slalom in Levi, Finland.

“It didn’t really feel it was that long of a break,” she said. “This spring, summer, fall, this period since I last raced has been the busiest, most stressful time of my life. … I feel like racing is actually going to be like going on a vacation. Right now, I am just so grateful to be here.”

The two-time Olympic gold medallist and three-time overall World Cup champion is approaching her first race since Jan. 26, when she picked up her 66th career win at a super-G in Bulgaria.

Her father, Jeff Shiffrin, suddenly died a week later following an accident at the family’s home in Colorado.

A heartbroken Shiffrin took a five-week break before attempting a comeback at mid-March races in Sweden, having lost her lead in the overall rankings to Federica Brignone and in the slalom standings to Petra Vlhova. However, the event in Sweden was cancelled, as was the remainder of the season amid the coronavirus pandemic.

WATCH | Shiffrin made history with 41st World Cup slalom win:

American Mikaela Shiffrin won her 41st World Cup slalom in Levi, Finland, surpassing Swedish great Ingemar Stenmark. 1:47

“In February, after several weeks at home, I felt like skiing would be therapeutic,” Shiffrin said. “If possible, I wanted to try to race before the end of the season. But we got to Sweden and we tried, and I was like ready to step into the starting gate. Even if it was cancelled, that was a really big step.”

While the pandemic limited training opportunities, much of her time over the summer went to taking courses on finance, taxes and bookkeeping in order to keep the family business running, a task previously handled by her father.

In October, a second attempt at a comeback also failed, as Shiffrin tweaked her back a week before the season-opening giant slalom in Austria.

“I haven’t got a whole lot of training in,” she said. “I have only been able to train slalom with the back injury. We narrowed the focus down and did one hour at a time.”

Balancing expectations

Having been the dominant force on the women’s World Cup over the last few years, expectations will naturally be high when Shiffrin returns to the start gate. The American herself doesn’t really know what to expect, though.

“I try to keep expectations really low,” she said. “But my standards for the level of skiing that I want to bring are high. I want to ski well, which includes skiing fast.”

While she has racked up 43 career wins in slalom, more than any male or female skier in the history of the sport, records have never been her focus.

“No matter what, if I ski well, if I put in a good effort but it doesn’t go as I hoped, it is hard to be disappointed with that after everything,” Shiffrin said about her approach to Saturday’s race.

Shiffrin held a big lead in both the slalom and overall World Cup standings last season before her break, but she insisted that losing out on those titles didn’t make her angry.

So, Saturday’s return “is not about settling scores.”

“I am incredibly angry, but not about the way last season ended. I am angry that my dad died, I am angry how lonely I feel most days,” she said. “But on the flip side, I am incredibly grateful that I have my mom here with me so often. I have never been a person to be motivated by anger. … If I learned something over the last 300 days, it is that you really have to take what life serves you. It might not taste good, but you have to eat it anyway.”

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The fight over U.S. voting rights is nothing new — it’s just got a pandemic twist this time

A drumbeat of legal battles unfolding during this year’s U.S. presidential election is a modern chapter in an old American struggle over access to the ballot box.

The number of lawsuits over voting rights leading to the Nov. 3 election has exploded this year, with hundreds of cases related to casting ballots during a pandemic — and U.S. President Donald Trump in the thick of it.

“Trump is pulling out all the tricks,” Milwaukee pastor Larry Jackson said in an interview.

Jackson grew up on a plantation in the Jim Crow South, where his family didn’t even bother trying to vote; while it was technically legal for Blacks to vote, it was rendered nearly impossible by absurdly complex and discriminatory rules.

He says today’s discrimination is less blatant than the old South’s poll taxes, literacy tests and guessing games about the number of jellybeans or soap bubbles in a jar.

Nowadays it’s voter roll purges, ID rules, gerrymandering, polling place closures and disenfranchisement of ex-prisoners — which all disproportionately hurt Black voters.

“It’s more covert [nowadays],” Jackson said. 

Hundreds of court challenges

By one estimate, this is the most-litigated U.S. election in decades. Each day brings new court decisions in different jurisdictions, with Democrats currently winning more of them than Republicans.

There are fights over the deadline for returning mail ballots; the packaging requirements for ballots; the financial donations cities can receive to help process mailed votes; and the number of ballot drop-box locations allowed in each county.

WATCH | What is a ‘naked ballot’?:

City Commissioner of Philadelphia Lisa Deeley demonstrates how easily ballots can be excluded if they are ‘naked,’ or not packaged correctly. 0:59

These battles fit a familiar historical pattern, pitting whiter, more rural, more Republican areas against more diverse, Democratic-leaning cities. 

Underlying these fights is the new electoral reality that more Democrats intend to vote by mail during this pandemic and are fighting in court to make it easier, while the Trump campaign is fighting to make it harder.

This means the rules for handling mail ballots could prove decisive, a fact acknowledged by the Republican president. 

Trump has called losing these lawsuits the “biggest risk” to his re-election. He’s already been declaring fraud, in claims repeatedly shown to be misleading.

Claims of voter fraud have been used as an excuse for further restrictions, even though they have been found to be exaggerated or downright wrong, again and again and again.

Lawsuits have erupted as many Republicans want mail voting made more difficult, while Democrats want it made easier. (Scott Galley/CBC News)

These numerous disputes are made possible by a unique attribute of the head-spinningly complex American electoral process, which has more than 10,000 different election administration systems.

Voting is administered differently across thousands of cities and counties — which handle federal, state and local races on their ballots.

That’s the opposite of other countries, such as Canada, where a national election is a stand-alone event, with one set of rules for ballot access coast to coast to coast.

‘I know my rights’

A recurring pattern throughout American history is new rules popping up that cause disproportionate harm to minority voters.

A famous recent example is photo ID laws, such as the one in Wisconsin, which may (or may not) have clinched that state for Trump in 2016.

Larry Jackson, a church pastor, lives in Milwaukee but was born on a Mississippi plantation in the Jim Crow South. He says voting discrimination is more subtle now than it was then. (Alex Panetta/CBC News)

Jackson, the pastor, shared a story about struggling to help a churchgoer register to vote under that law for the 2018 midterm elections. 

He accompanied Tony Carter to a Department of Motor Vehicles branch to help him obtain a voter ID card required in Wisconsin, but Carter couldn’t qualify: His bus pass was insufficient and his birth certificate was rejected.

“The name on my birth certificate had my mother’s maiden name,” said Carter, 65, a former restaurant worker.

Tony Carter of Milwaukee, 65, was told in 2018 that he didn’t qualify for a voter ID card. The rules disproportionately hurt Black voters. (Alex Panetta/CBC News)

Also in Milwaukee, in 2018, Angela Lang had to fight to be allowed to vote.

A poll station worker tried turning her away because she’d just moved to a new apartment in the same building and her photo ID showed the previous unit address.

Lang managed to vote after demanding to speak to a manager. She works as a community activist and knew that the law was being applied incorrectly.

Angela Lang, a community activist in Milwaukee, said she was almost turned away the last time she tried voting, in 2018, but she knew the poll worker was applying the law incorrectly. (Alex Panetta/CBC News)

“I was like, ‘I know my rights. I’m on the board of the ACLU. I’ve been doing voter suppression and voter rights for a while,'” she recalled in an interview. 

Lang said the poll workers later apologized. But she said another voter, less certain of the law, might have been discouraged from voting and gone home.

150 years of voter suppression

The American history of voter suppression is charted in the book One Person, No Vote by Carol Anderson.

It describes how, soon after the Civil War, when newly freed slaves were being elected to Congress, Mississippi enacted a barrage of rules: registration requirements, poll taxes, literacy tests.

The stated rationale? Limiting fraudulent votes.

Black voter participation rates in Mississippi plummeted, from 67 per cent in the 1860s to just 4.3 per cent in 1955. Other southern states followed. 

A number of court fights involve how many drop boxes like this one, in Washington, D.C., are allowed per county, with Democrats seeking more and Republicans seeking fewer. (Alex Panetta/CBC News)

Then the Voting Rights Act of 1965 set federal standards that restored ballot access — but, as the book describes, southern election authorities responded with new tactics.

Contemporary Republicans have used a similar approach, massively exaggerating evidence of fraud to justify broad crackdowns on election organizing.

“The devices the Republicans used are variations on a theme going back more than 150 years,” Anderson wrote. 

Voters lined up on Oct. 12 at the Bell Auditorium in Augusta on the first day of advance voting in Georgia. Black voters in the state are going to the polls by the thousands and waiting in line for hours to vote early. (Michael Holahan/The Augusta Chronicle via The Associated Press)

“They … soak the new laws in racially neutral justifications — such as administrative efficiency or fiscal responsibility — to cover the discriminatory intent. Republican lawmakers then act aggrieved, shocked and wounded that anyone would question their stated purpose for excluding millions of American citizens from the ballot box.”

  • What do you want to know about the U.S. election? Your questions help inform our coverage. Email us at Ask@cbc.ca

Blunter explanations occasionally bubbled to the surface.

The founder of the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, which crafted voter suppression laws that have spread through the U.S. since the early 2000s, once said in a speech: “I don’t want everybody to vote.”

Forms of suppression

A U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2013 stripped down the Voting Rights Act, opening the floodgates to new laws affecting the vote.

These laws have taken different forms:

  • Polling location closures. Hundreds of polling stations were closed soon after the Supreme Court decision, one study reported. That exacerbated a long-standing disparity, in which lineups to vote were worse in Black areas. Georgia’s governor ordered such closures in 2018 — in a race he was running in
  • Voter roll purges. Updating voter lists is normal in any democracy. But some recent efforts in the U.S. have been found to eliminate exponentially more legitimate voters than illegitimate ones, especially members of minority groups. More than 10 per cent of Georgia’s voter list was deleted from 2016 to 2018, according to research from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University. In Florida, hundreds, and potentially thousands, were wrongly removed from the voter rolls before the 2000 election, a number larger than the 537-vote victory margin that made George W. Bush president. 
  • Felon disenfranchisement. Millions of voters have been stripped of their voting rights because they served time in prison. Florida is one state that had a lifetime ban on ex-felons voting — disenfranchising more than 20 per cent of Black people in the state. The rule dates back to 1868, a few years after the Civil War ended. It was struck down in 2018, but this year the state diluted the effect of the change by requiring ex-convicts to pay off fines before they could vote again. Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg has donated to a fund to help a portion of those people pay their fees.
  • Gerrymandering: This is an issue in legislative districts, not presidential races. Most states allow partisan politicians to draw up election maps, leaving some bizarrely shaped districts in the U.S. and state congresses. Across the country, in a number of Republican-controlled states, the maps are drawn in a way that limits the number of districts where Black voters can make a difference. When a key architect of Republican map-drawing efforts died in 2018, his daughter released his secret files that showed he used racial data in his work. Analysis from The Associated Press found that Republicans controlled seven more state legislatures and 16 more U.S. House of Representatives seats than warranted by their vote share. 
  • Voter ID: A study by University of California researchers found that the gap in voting participation rates between white and minority voters nearly tripled in states with strict ID laws, like Wisconsin, Texas, Georgia and Ohio. Several of these laws allow use of ID — like gun or driver’s licences — disproportionately held by older, white, more Republican-leaning groups, but not student or public-housing ID. 

In tossing out North Carolina’s law, a U.S. appeals court found that members of the legislature, as they designed the law, literally went through data to determine which ID forms were less commonly used by Black people. In its ruling, the court said North Carolina lawmakers had targeted Black voters with near surgical precision. A new ID law is tied up in court and will not be used in this election. 

Backlash to disenfranchisement

What’s less clear is the cumulative effect of all these rules.

For example, one expert on how election law affects voter behaviour, Michael Hanmer, a government and politics professor at the University of Maryland, cited different research that concludes that strict voter ID laws can trigger a backlash effect, encouraging people to organize.

WATCH | How Americans living in Canada can vote in the U.S. election:

Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse has been a leader off the court in the off-season — pushing Americans here in Canada to register to vote in the upcoming U.S. presidential election. And for those who haven’t, our own dual citizen and meteorologist Colette Kennedy shows you how to do it. 2:24

“That can charge people up and make them want to go out and vote,” he said. 

“Or if you tell people, like they did in Florida, that they might be purged from the rolls, they have psychological reactions to that. It makes them more motivated.”

Hanmer said he expects a chaotic election, unless there’s a clear and resounding result. He said he’s not sure there’s a precedent for a sitting president sowing doubt about the integrity of American elections.

Barry Burden, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who specializes in the effect of election law on vote results, said he fears ballot access problems will be worse this year. For example, he said, any problems people had in the past getting the proper ID could be compounded if government offices are operating at reduced pandemic capacity.

“I think it’s more of a concern this year,” Burden said.

In 2016, a U.S. appeals court tossed out North Carolina’s voter ID law, finding that lawmakers had designed the law using data to determine which ID forms were less commonly used by Black people. A new ID law is tied up in court and will not be used in this election. (Chris Keane/Reuters)

Count political science professor Trey Hood as more of an optimist. The University of Georgia specialist on ballot access laws said states are actually expanding voting options.

Indeed, suppression may have peaked. The Brennan Center reports that this year, five times more bills were introduced in state legislatures to make voting easier than bills to make it harder.

There are now weeks of advance in-person voting in most states and automatic registration in numerous states, and vote by mail is widespread, despite court fights over the rules.

“Let me sort of step back [for perspective],” Hood said.

“We had a poll tax [in Georgia]. We had a literacy test. We had a white primary…. It’s a completely different world now.”

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