Nel's New Day

February 19, 2021

Biden: Mundane Can Be a Relief

Tomorrow celebrates the one-month anniversary of President Joe Biden in the Oval Office, and the contrast to the four years of Deposed Donald Trump (DDT) in the White House is overwhelming. Before DDT, much news would have been mundane, reflecting ordinary governance—like now. News about DDT, however, usually reported his alienation of foreign allies, rejection of help for anyone except the wealthy and big business, and complete chaos as he rapidly changed his positions—sometimes before the end of a sentence.

Participating in the G7 summit, Biden pledged full commitment to NATO after DDT cursed it for four years. “Democracy doesn’t happen by accident,” he said. In a major address to the Munich Security Conference, he warned that “democratic progress is under assault” in many parts of the world, including the U.S. and Europe. The U.S. also officially rejoined the Paris climate accord and supports a global effort to equitably distribute COVID-19 vaccines, donating $4 billion over two years for the effort. After cancelation of the G7 summit, scheduled for the United States in 2020, the UK plans the 2021 summit in June at a Cornwall seaside resort. 

Biden also offered to join European nations in diplomacy with Iran and backed away from DDT’s attempt to restore UN’s sanctions on the country. Secretary of State Antony Blinken reported the U.S. plans to join them for the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran. EU’s deputy secretary general asked the other original signers—Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China—to bring back the agreement, possibly with the U.S. as observer or guest instead of participant to work with Iran. The U.S. hopes to expand the agreement to control Iran’s growing missile ability as well as the country’s support of terrorist groups and the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad.

After DDT violated the agreement, Iran compiled and enriched nuclear fuel over the 2015 limits. Biden started negotiations by withdrawing DDT’s demand of UN international sanctions against Iran. Other nations had dismissed insistence from former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for invoking the “snap back sanctions” because DDT had dropped out of the agreement. Biden is also lifting travel restrictions on Iranian officials allowing them to attend UN meetings in the U.S.

Biden plans to “recalibrate” the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia, communicating with King Salman instead of his son Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS). Next week, the U.S. will release the report of MBS’s torture and dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi, a U.S. resident and journalist, over two years ago. Biden also cancelled the arms sale to Saudi and criticized Saudi human rights abuses. DDT discounted his intelligence conclusions; protected MBS, a friend of DDT’s son-in-law Jared Kushner; and ignored a law passed by Congress in 2019 to submit an unclassified report about the Saudi involvement in the murder. DDT’s intelligence director John Ratcliffe’s excuse for violating the law was “a marginal ‘public interest’” in the declassification.  

In domestic issues, Biden will appoint Chiquita Brooks-LaSure to direct the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. As a senior CMS official for President Obama, she helped implement the Affordable Care Act’s coverage expansion and insurance-market reforms. Expanding insurance coverage is a goal of Biden’s administration. Brooks-LaSure also wants to improve health coverage and address high rates of maternal mortality, much worse than in other industrialized nations.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) promised Congress will approve the $1.9 trillion relief bill by March 14. The House plans to pass the bill next week and send it to the Senate perhaps Friday or Saturday, allowing that chamber to work through issues before returning it for final passage. Current $300 weekly emergency federal employment benefits expire on March 14, and the current bill would increase benefits to $400 until fall.

Also in the bill are $1,400 stimulus checks for those eligible to add to the $600 approved in December; $350 billion for city and states governments with massive revenue shortfalls; $160 billion for vaccines, increased testing and other health care assistance; approximately $130 billion to help schools reopen; food assistance and rent help; and an increased child tax credit. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) told GOP  House members to vote “no” and called it “Pelosi’s Payoff to Progressives Act,” referring to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). He accused the bill of keeping schools closed, bailing out blue states, and paying people not to work.

Although a split between the two parties in voting for the bill may seem to lack the “unity” Biden wants, the country is unified in supporting the relief. Earlier this month, 78 percent of people supported the stimulus checks, including 64 percent of Republicans. The entire bill has overall 68 percent support, and only 47 percent of Republicans oppose the bill. 

Republicans are suffering low polls compared to Biden’s 62 percent approval rating:

  • 19 percent: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
  • 27 percent: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA)
  • 26 percent: Congressional Republicans job performance
  • 23 percent: Approval of Republican Party direction 

Biden promised help for mayors in at least 17 large Texas cities and other county officials suffering loss of power because of the state grid’s failure and lack of potable water for almost half the state’s population. Republicans failed to get FEMA generators to hospitals so Biden is working with local governments to move them.

On Wednesday, Bill Magness, president of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), said rolling blackouts started on Monday because the state’s entire power grid providing power to 90 percent of the state “seconds and minutes” from crashing. Without that action, Texas could have suffered uncontrolled blackouts for an “indeterminately long” crisis, possibly for months. Gov. Greg Abbott, who appointed members of the three-member ERCOT board, has called for their resignations. 

Biden has been replacing DDT’s incompetent, conservatively biased loyalists, and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) has two of them at the top of his list—Andrew Saul and David Black, Social Security Administration commissioner and deputy commissioner. Brown said they “cut the benefits that hardworking Americans have earned, attacked the Social Security Administration’s employees, denied beneficiaries due process, and needlessly increased disability reviews during the Covid-19 pandemic.” Current law protects them from firing except for “neglect of duty or malfeasance in office.”

To block unnecessary deportations, Biden signed orders and directives to reduce the excuses ICE agents use for deporting people and mandates greater oversight of ICE agents. The order is good for 90 days while the agency develops long-term guidelines, but ICE agents rebelled by attempting to release three men convicted of sex offenses against children, against Biden’s orders, until they were stopped. These orders lead into Biden’s immigration reform bill. 

President Ronald Reagan was responsible for the last big immigration reform bill in 1986 when Republicans believed in passing on “America’s triumph … into the next century and beyond.” Senate passed a bill in 2013 by 68 to 32 when, as Jennifer Rubin wrote, GOP Sens. Marco Rubio (FL) and Lindsey Graham (SC) “still sounded like Reagan.” Since then, Graham’s best friend Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) died, and Rubio decided he wanted to be president. And the House killed the Senate bill.

The paths to citizenship including not only Dreamers who arrived in the U.S. as children but also farmworkers and refugees fleeing danger in their home countries provide immediate eligibility for green cards and applications for citizenship after three years. Others will need to wait eight years. all need to have arrived in the U.S. before January 1, 2021. The bill also increases available diversity visas and assigns more funding to immigration courts and technology. Other provisions include “increased border technology to interdict drug traffickers and smugglers, higher penalties for employers who exploit undocumented laborers in the United States, and increased funding for immigration courts.”

The current administration rejected an anti-immigrant agreement signed by illegally appointed Ken Cuccinelli, acting DHS Deputy Secretary, on the day before Biden’s inauguration. The document gave the ICE union veto power over any changes and policies by the new administration. Biden had 30 days to “approve or disapprove” the directive; he denied it Tuesday, hours before the deadline. A whistleblower exposed the document as part of a complaint into Cuccinelli’s corrupt actions.

Biden told Congress the Equality Act has his full support. Adding sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation to protected classes in the Civil Rights Act, the bill provides complete anti-discrimination protections for the LGBTQ+ community in areas like housing, credit, employment, public spaces and services, and federal programs. LGBTQ+ people have no federal civil rights protections and can be denied the rights of heterosexual people in 29 states. The new bill is the fourth one with these protections since the first one was introduced in 1974. Last June, the Supreme Court ruled Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex in the workplace also covers sexual orientation and gender identity, but the ruling does not list other areas such as housing, healthcare, and education. The decision also lacks the power of a bill passed by Congress and signed into law by the president.

One of DDT’s actions in his last year was to remove conservation of water by passing new regulations against low-flow toilets and increasing water flow in many other household appliances and fixtures. Biden plans reviews of these regulations and other DDT’s energy-wasting rules such as using LED lighting, saving not only resources but also money in utility bills.

February 18, 2021

Faulty GOP Governance Destroying Texas, Killing People

U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) carries his luggage at the Cancun International Airport REUTERS/Stringer

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) went to the top of the news on Thursday, and not in a good way. His trip to the sunny, warm Ritz-Carlton in Cancún ($309 per night) roiled his constituents, many of whom were freezing—sometimes literally to death—in Texas with below-freezing temperatures and no electricity or water. Cruz claimed he was being “a good father” by taking his children on a well-deserved vacation because of a “tough week”; his wife’s texts give a different story of escape from their “FREEZING” house. Heidi Cruz invited friends to come along on their getaway. Not until photos of Cruz and stories of his runaway dominated the media did he decide to return on Thursday. Critical hashtags included “#FlyinTed” and “#FledCruz,” and he was called Ted “Cancún” Cruz. Winning his 2018 election against Beto O’Rourke with under 51 percent of the vote, Cruz has indicated a goal of again become a presidential candidate in 2024. Opponents will have lots of material for response.

Because of regulations at the private school where Cruz’s daughters attend, they are not permitted into the classroom for a week after international travel unless they take a COVID-19 test three to five days after returning. Either way, they cannot go back to school next week. Before Cruz left on his trip, he said as many as 100 people could die this week. His advice before his departure:  

“This storm is dangerous, and there’s a second storm expected to hit this week, which will make things even worse, so if you can, stay home. Don’t go out on the roads. Don’t risk the ice… We could see up to 100 people lose their lives this week in Texas. So don’t risk it. Keep your family safe and just stay home and hug your kids.”

Cruz also commandeered Houston police to get him to and through the airport as he headed out on his vacation.

Exhibiting the attitude among millions of far-right Republicans, Tim Boyd, the now-resigned mayor of Colorado City (TX), posted on Facebook about people with no power:

“The City and County, along with power providers or any other service owes you NOTHING! I’m sick and tired of people looking for a damn handout!… If you are sitting at home in the cold because you have no power and are sitting there waiting for someone to come rescue you because your lazy is direct result of your raising! [sic]…. This is sadly a product of a socialist government where they feed people to believe that the FEW will work and others will become dependent for handouts…. I’ll be damned if I’m going to provide for anyone that is capable of doing it themselves!… Bottom line quit crying and looking for a handout! Get off your ass and take care of your own family!” “Only the strong will survive and the weak will parish [sic].”

After loss of electricity and running water came boiling advisories for seven million Texans, empty grocery shelves, and canceled deliveries to food banks and schools. According to Austin resident Jeff Goodell, “People wandering around with handguns on their hip adds to a sense of lawlessness.” Lack of power made ranchers and farmers destroy tens of millions of dollars of goods. Fruit and vegetables have frozen in the Rio Grande Valley, and dairy farmers daily pour $8 million worth of milk down the drain because they can’t get the milk to dairies. Hospitals face deadly horrific conditions, and last Monday, Harris County, including Houston, reported over 300 carbon monoxide poisonings.

Even with a thaw in Texas, which isn’t happening for a few days, people will suffer from lack of running water. Disruption in about 590 public water systems in almost 60 percent of the state’s counties affect almost 12 million people of the state’s population of 29 million. Houston asked people to not run water because “it is needed for hospitals and fires,” according to the city’s mayor. Earlier in the week, people were told to leave faucets dripping to keep pipes from freezing, but now they are asked to turn them off, leaving pipes to burst. Only 135 labs in the state can test water to determine when people should stop boiling it, if they are fortunately enough to have power to boil water.

For losing presidential candidate Rick Perry, death is better than have federal government involved. He reassured people that “the sun will come out.” Texas conservatives find regulation unacceptable, but they asked for charity from U.S. taxpayers for the disasters they personally cause. President Joe Biden sent generators, diesel, blankets, and water to Texas “at their request,” according to Jen Psaki, Biden’s press secretary.

Publicity probably forced Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to stop blaming the loss of wind power—seven percent of the missing energy from the big freeze. Of the total power shortfall of over 30,000 megawatts, only 2,000 came from wind. Instead, Abbott moved on to attacking his own energy department who maintain the missing energy comes from lack of winterizing power-generating systems, primarily from fossil fuels. The state refused to provide any fiscal incentives to power plant operators in preparation for winter: the state’s power companies get more money if they don’t weatherize all their plants and shut down some of them in winter.  

According to Texas Democratic Party chair Gilberto Hinojosa, Abbott is following a “pattern” of “lack of foresight and inability to manage.” Hinojosa cited lack of action for displacements during Hurricane Harvey, no planning for the coronavirus crisis, and “abysmal” handling of vaccine distribution. The loss of energy supply is being compared to the fallout from Hurricane Katrina. Lack of deregulation, i.e., mandating electrical equipment upgrades or weatherization, comes from reliance on free markets.

Deregulation in the 1990s created a grid emphasizing cheap prices instead of good service. Last summer, Cruz said California couldn’t “perform even basic functions of civilization, like having reliable electricity.” Now he tried to run away from the disaster in a state with the highest rate of uninsured, double the U.S. average in child poverty, and a greater unemployment rate than the federal rate.

Mayors in Texas cities are lobbying for the Democratic stimulus plan, writing Congress about “budget cuts, service reductions, and job losses. Sadly, nearly one million local government jobs have already been lost during the pandemic. … The $350 billion in direct relief to state and local governments included in President Elect Biden’s American Rescue Plan would allow cities to preserve critical public sector jobs and help drive our economic recovery.” Cruz opposes “blue-state bailouts” even for his red state and voted in December against the stimulus package.

Texan GOP leadership so adamantly refuses any involvement with Democrats that the 60 generators and fuel stays at the airport because Republican officials refuse to distribute them.

Proving that governments can manage reliable energy with regulation, the ten percent of the state not under the control of the mis-named GOP-appointed Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) has had minimal outages despite also being hit by the storms. For example, El Paso, at the extreme left side northwest of Alpine, had about 3,000 outages, 1,000 of them for about five minutes. Outside ERCOT, regions invested in cold-weather upgrades after the 2011 big freeze while ERCOT assumed that cold weather wouldn’t return. The GOP control in Texas opposes regulations, but almost 70 percent of people in El Paso voted Democratic.

Fox network’s Tucker Carlson was an early spreader of the lie about Texas being “totally reliant on windmills” because “the Green New Deal came to Texas.” The much maligned “Deal” was only a proposal pushed to a 2019 vote in the Senate by Republicans so they could vote it down. Carlson may end up in court over his falsehoods: Bloomberg News is calling for lawsuits like the ones for Fox’s lies about the 2020 election.

More information about the Texas debacle. 

August 10, 2013

Larry Summers, Disastrous for the U.S.

With Ben Bernanke’s term as chair of the Federal Reserve expiring at the end of this year, President Obama has floated the names of two people for replacement: Janet Yellen and Larry Summers. As usual when the people of both genders have been suggested, sexism enters the discussion. CNNMoney is currently the most blatant, surveying 45 female economists about their preference for the position. As of yet, I haven’t heard about a survey of male economists. Others have said that selecting Yellen would be a choice “driven by gender.”

The differences between these people, however, go much farther than gender. Jen Sorensen’s cartoon outlines some of  these differences:

Yellen v Summers Summers comes with very heavy, smelly baggage. He sided with Ken Lay and Enron during the California energy crisis. While Chief Economist of the World Bank, he displayed a dismissive attitude toward climate change and subsequently opposed the Kyoto Protocol. He also opposed the Volcker Rule that would keep banks from speculative investments that hurt their customers; his recommendation regarding the stimulus seriously underestimated the amount of funding needed for this. Summers is a hothead with a record of deregulating institutions, an approach that exacerbated the financial crash before President Obama took over.

During the 1990′s he led the way in overturning Glass-Steagall Act that separated commercial and investment banking. The resulting recession in 2008 was called the Summers Bubble. He has had no regrets in his fight to deregulate the banks and fought against any banking regulations, culminating in his paid position at Citigroup for over a year. He also consulted for venture-capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, asset-management and advisory firm Alliance Partners, and stock-exchange operator Nasdaq OMX Group Inc. His healthy income from speaking includes more than $100,000 earlier this year for a single speech to a conference organized by Drobny Global Advisors.

Summers accepted $135,000 for a one-day visit to Goldman Sachs only a few months before he became Obama’s chief economic advisor, money that one commentator described as “basically an advanced bribe.” While president of Harvard and a member of the board making investment decisions for the endowment fund, Summers consulted for hedge fund D.E. Shaw and then made $5.2 million from the company the year after he left the university.

This one comment from his 1998 testimony before Congress should keep him from chairing the Federal Reserve: “To date there has been no clear evidence of a need for additional regulation of the institutional OTC derivatives market, and we would submit that proponents of such regulation must bear the burden of demonstrating that need.”

Summers opposed Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) to head the new Consumer Finance Protection Bureau because he supports the corrupt Wall Street perspective, whereas Warren criticized the White House policy on bank regulations. As Matt Viser wrote in the Boston Globe about Warren’s interview in March 2010 on PBS’s The Charlie Rose Show:

“[Warren] said some of Obama’s economic advisers—especially Summers and Geithner—were beholden to Wall Street interests. ‘I think we have different world-views,’ she said…. ‘It will not save us if a handful of Wall Street banks prosper and the rest of America fails,’ she said. ‘Our focus, our energy, our heart has to be on the rest of America.’”

Summers has a long history of disparaging women’s abilities. While president of Harvard, he said that women do not succeed at math and science simply because they lack the “aptitude” in these areas. Luckily most people have paid attention to his sexism rather than noting another probably reason for losing his job at Harvard, his protection of friend Andrei Schleifer.

In 1992 Schleifer became head of a Harvard project directing U.S. government money to help develop the Russian economy through privatization. Tens of millions of dollars in noncompetitive U.S. contracts flowed to Harvard for Shleifer’s Russian work, and his team directed the distribution of hundreds of millions more. Schleifer invested money through his wife in a mutual fund, stopping others from setting up their own funds and violating the project’s conflict of interest policy.

The U.S. government sued, finding that Schleifer and another investor, Schleifer’s friend Jonathan Hay, had tried to circumvent the conflict-of-interest rules. Using false claims, Schleifer engaged in self-dealing, and Hay tried to launder $400,000 through his girlfriend and father. In a civil settlement, Schleifer paid $2 million and Hay between $1 million and $2 million. Harvard paid $26.5 million in addition to the legal fees of between $10 million and $15 million. No one admitted liability.

Before the settlement, Shleifer maintained his friendship with Summers and lobbied for him to become president of Harvard. After Summers achieved this post, he made arrangements to keep Schleifer at the university. “Conflict of interest issues should be left to the lawyers,” Summers told Dean Jeremy Knowles in his pitch for Schleifer. He said he was sensitive to “ethics rules,” but testified that “in Washington I wasn’t ever smart enough to predict them . . . things that seemed very ethical to me were thought of as problematic and things that seemed quite problematic to me were thought of as perfectly fine. . . .”

Summers and Schleifer maintained a close relationship, talking on the phone an average of more than once a day. No one knows which budget was responsible for the approximately $40 million that Harvard was required to pay, but Summers told members of the faculty of arts and sciences that the money did not come from the budget of the faculty of arts and sciences. A spokesman for the university said that the settlement came from “university funds available for these purposes.”

Although Summers seems to recognize the serious issue of economic inequality, his prescriptions for fixing that problem have nothing to do with being the head of the Federal Reserve. Summers believes that the income inequality comes from technology and globalization and has nothing to do with finance—which is the area of the Federal Reserve. As chair, he would have nothing to do with the tax system rewards, equal access to the educational system, or the entrenchment of the social classes.

Yellen has a good track record of economic problems and knows that the most important concern regarding economic stability is employment. Internal Fed transcripts show that Yellen spoke up many times between 2005 and 2007, warning about the looming housing crisis, credit crunch, and eventual recession. That compares with Summers who sneered at claims in 2005 that deregulation and securitization could lead to a full-blown financial crisis.

Yellen, Vice Chairperson of the Federal Reserve, seeks greater transparency for the Federal Reserve. An accomplished economist, she has spent her career in public service, part of the Fed Reserve since 1977. Her focus is on the public good, not the personal good that describes Summers’ goal.

Ezra Klein wrote that Yellen would have to be more qualified than male competitors “to be competitive for the job.” If Yellen is chosen, the reason is that she worked much harder to reach her place at the top, and her choice will be seen as “gendered.” As Jen Sorensen wrote: “It’s symbolic of every time a highly-qualified woman hits the glass ceiling when forced to compete with a loud, arrogant blowhard with a strong sense of self-entitlement and undeserved mystique of greatness.”

The Federal Reserve not only regulates the money supply but also acts as a principal regulator of America’s largest banks. As a lackey of the banks, Summers will allow them to drive the United States into a deep depression, perhaps worse than the one over 80 years ago.  As Rick McGahey wrote, “America needs a Fed leader who will protect small businesses, ordinary investors, and the economy from misbehavior by big banks and financial corporations. We need a fierce regulatory watchdog, not a lapdog of the banks.”

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