Biden’s new climate orders to reshape U.S. energy policy

“In a sharp contrast to the Trump administration’s focus on increasing fossil fuel production, Biden’s orders will press pause on auctions of federal lands and waters to oil and gas companies, expand conservation protections for large swathes of federal land, create a new civilian conservation corps and promise to deliver economic help to coal-producing regions suffering from the industry’s decline.

Biden will still need Congress to accomplish his target of spending $2 trillion on climate change to help reach the goal of eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector by 2035 and across the economy by 2050. But the orders to be issued Wednesday show Biden taking aggressive steps to launch a government-wide effort toward tackling climate change.”

“Last week, on his first day in office, Biden signed an executive order calling for reconsidering methane emission rules from new oil and gas sources, reversing Trump rules that rolled back vehicles’ tailpipe carbon dioxide limits, and canceling a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, the subject of pitched political battles for a decade.
Wednesday’s orders fill in many of the details left out of last week’s orders, including setting the date that Biden will convene a promised climate change summit with world leaders for April 22, Earth Day.

The new orders will also address “environmental justice” issues, such as by establishing new commissions to address the concerns of so-called fenceline communities that are disproportionately people of color or low-income families that live near pollution sources. Biden is also directing agencies to weigh the climate change effects of all their decisions, a move that could affect procurement strategies for government vehicle fleets or electricity production.”

“The order that has generated the sharpest opposition from oil companies is one that promises to re-write the relationship between the industry and public lands. The Biden administration will order an open-ended freeze on offering public land for oil and gas drilling and coal mining, pending reviews of whether such leases were in the public interest. Under that review, the administration is expected to consider whether to add language to new government lease agreements to tighten standards on greenhouse gas emissions and increase the royalties that companies must pay for minerals they produce on public land.”

“Wednesday’s move will not affect production currently underway or the oil and gas leases and permits that companies had stockpiled under Trump administration in expectation of new restrictions. That means oil and gas production on federal land, which contributes about one-fifth of overall U.S. production, will not stop immediately, with activity likely to continue for at least another year, energy analysts have said.”

“a pause on new activity could come back to take major bite out of some state budgets, especially those with an out-sized dependence on oil production for revenue, such as New Mexico, which gets more than 10 percent of it revenue from the activity.

New Mexico Chamber of Commerce President and Chief Executive Rob Black said the moratorium would simply lead companies to shift their operations to neighboring Texas, a state with little federal property and a state oil industry regulator who has called concerns about greenhouse gas emissions “misplaced.”

“It won’t further our shared goals on carbon emissions,” Black said during a call with reporters. “It would just cause production to move a few miles down the road to private oil and gas leases [in Texas] or will incentivize it to go overseas to Saudi Arabia and Russia.””

McConnell is already sabotaging Biden’s presidency

“Twelve of President Ronald Reagan’s nominees were confirmed in his first two days in office, as were 13 of President Bill Clinton’s nominees, seven of President George W. Bush’s, and nine of President Barack Obama’s. President Donald Trump’s cabinet was confirmed more slowly, but the Senate still respected the tradition of holding confirmation hearings prior to Trump’s inauguration.
But so far, no hearings have been held on President-elect Joe Biden’s nominees — meaning Biden could face a serious delay in getting his administration ready to begin governing.

The Senate, which will still be led by Mitch McConnell for a little over a week, is currently out of session and will remain out of session until January 19, the day before President-elect Joe Biden takes office (technically, the Senate will hold brief “pro forma” sessions on the 12th and the 15th, but no business is conducted at these sessions).

As CNN’s Kylie Atwood notes, this is the first time in at least 10 presidential transitions where the incoming president’s nominee to be secretary of state won’t even have a confirmation hearing before that president’s Inauguration Day. And it’s unclear whether any hearings will be held before the Senate is scheduled to reconvene on January 19.”

4 looming foreign policy crises that could derail Biden’s agenda early on

“President-elect Joe Biden may want his administration to focus on long-term issues like the coronavirus pandemic, climate change, rebuilding alliances, and America’s relationship with China, but some key near-term foreign policy problems will likely require his attention first.

After the assassination of its top nuclear scientist by an unknown attacker, Iran might be less willing to engage in diplomacy with America and instead seek revenge by targeting US officials. North Korea could test an intercontinental ballistic missile early in Biden’s term to try to gauge the new administration’s response. The last remaining nuclear arms control deal between the US and Russia is set to expire just over two weeks after Biden takes office. And the reduced number of American troops in Afghanistan could derail sputtering peace talks and worsen the country’s security situation.

Such a dilemma wouldn’t be unique to Biden. Every new president comes in with ideas on how to handle larger global problems, only to have the colloquial “tyranny of the inbox” monopolize their time. “If you assume that foreign policy is less than half, and maybe a quarter, of the president’s time, then that really shines a light on how serious this inbox problem is,” said Christopher Preble, co-director of the New American Engagement Initiative at the Atlantic Council think tank.

Once he’s in the Oval Office, then, Biden will likely find his hopes of tackling grander foreign policy challenges dashed by the effort he’ll have to expend cleaning up more immediate messes.”

How fake news aimed at Latinos thrives on social media

“Democrats are increasingly worried about the influence of misinformation on social media aimed at Latino voters in the runup to the election. The misleading narratives continue to spread on platforms like Facebook and Twitter, as well as in closed chat groups like WhatsApp and Telegram, in addition to the more traditional platforms like television, radio, and talking points coming directly from elected officials.

Several misinformation researchers told Recode that they’re seeing alarming amounts of misinformation about voter fraud and Democratic leaders being shared in Latino social media communities. Biden is a popular target, with misinformation ranging from exaggerated claims that he embraces Fidel Castro-style socialism to more patently false and outlandish ones, for instance that the president-elect supports abortion minutes before a child’s birth or that he orchestrated a caravan of Cuban immigrants to infiltrate the US Southern border and disrupt the election process.

“What I’ve seen during this election looks to be a multifaceted misinformation effort seeking to undermine Biden and Harris’s support amongst the Latino community,” said Sam Woolley, a misinformation and propaganda researcher at the University of Texas Austin. “I think that political groups understand that the Latino vote matters and they are showing they are willing to use any and all informational tactics to get what they want.””

“Some of the misleading messages — like that Biden is a radical socialist — aren’t uniquely aimed at the Latino community; Trump often made this claim during his campaign. But these comparisons take on a new intensity with some immigrants from countries like Cuba or Venezuela who have lived under socialist governments and may be deeply opposed to them.”

The debate over Joe Biden canceling student debt, explained

““No matter how it’s designed, student-debt forgiveness is very poorly targeted,” Bloomberg’s editorial board warned in November. “Even if relief could be better focused on the poor, severe drawbacks remain. For one, the vast majority of Americans who don’t have student debt would rightly feel left out. Many never had the opportunity to get a higher education; others put off financial goals (such as saving for retirement) to pay it down. Also, it would do little to improve the immediate cash flow of the many debtors who — because they’re in default or in income-based repayment plans — are making small or no monthly payments.””

“At the heart of the argument for canceling student debt, especially in the midst of the pandemic, is that it would be good for millions of people and, therefore, the economy. How good is where the disagreement resides — and because mass student debt forgiveness isn’t something we’ve seen in the past, the data on what could happen is relatively limited.
One 2019 working paper from Harvard Business School looked at what happened when students in default had their debt discharged because of a lawsuit. They found that borrowers reduced their overall indebtedness by a quarter and were also less likely to default on other accounts. That’s good for them and for the entities they owe money to.”

“People also demonstrated more mobility — they moved states, changed jobs, and took more risks that often translated to higher incomes.”

““If you give the same type of forgiveness to people that are not in that situation, one effect that we don’t capture is that your monthly payment is going down,” he said. The $300 people were putting toward loan payments every month could then be spent elsewhere.”

What the Yellen choice means for Biden and the economy

“In picking former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen to serve as his first Treasury Secretary, Joe Biden is leaning on a well-known figure who is trusted and beloved by most Democrats, respected by many Republicans, acceptable to Wall Street and aligned with the no-surprises approach expected to be a hallmark of the incoming president’s tenure.

Yellen, widely seen as the obvious choice when Biden teased last week that he had made his pick, is slightly untraditional for Treasury. Her pre-government background came largely as an academic economist and monetary policy expert. The top Treasury slot often goes to people — until now all men — with extensive corporate backgrounds and high-profile international experience.”

Joe Biden’s Team of Careerists

“Perhaps the closest equivalent is George H.W. Bush, who relied on decades-old relationships in Washington to fill his administration. The next four successors —Clinton, George W. Bush, Obama, and Trump — all arrived from outside Washington or after a very short tenure here, and had to integrate personal loyalists into the Washington firmament. In Biden’s case, these two groups are exactly the same.

What’s also notable is how much endurance his team has shown. In most cases they started their Washington careers as prodigies, with impressive jobs at young ages. Now, most are deep into middle age, toiling for a boss who is well past it, as they finally grasp top prizes.”

Trump Didn’t Win the Latino Vote in Texas. He Won the Tejano Vote.

“Donald Trump became the first Republican presidential candidate to win Zapata County’s vote in a hundred years. But it wasn’t its turn from a deep-blue history that seemed to be the source of such fascination but rather that, according to the census, more than 94 percent of Zapata’s population is Hispanic or Latino.

Zapata (population less than 15,000) was the only county in South Texas that flipped red, but it was by no means an anomaly: To the north, in more than 95-percent Hispanic Webb County, Republicans doubled their turnout. To the south, Starr County, which is more than 96-percent Hispanic, experienced the single biggest tilt right of any place in the country; Republicans gained by 55 percentage points compared with 2016. The results across a region that most politicos ignored in their preelection forecasts ended up helping to dash any hopes Democrats had of taking Texas.”

“The shift, residents and scholars of the region say, shouldn’t be surprising if, instead of thinking in terms of ethnic identity, you consider the economic and cultural issues that are specific to the people who live there. Although the vast majority of people in these counties mark “Hispanic or Latino” on paper, very few long-term residents have ever used the word “Latino” to describe themselves. Ascribing Trump’s success in South Texas to his campaign winning more of “the Latino vote” makes the same mistake as the Democrats did in this election: Treating Latinos as a monolith.

Ross Barrera, a retired U.S. Army colonel and chair of the Starr County Republican Party, put it this way: “It’s the national media that uses ‘Latino.’ It bundles us up with Florida, Doral, Miami. But those places are different than South Texas, and South Texas is different than Los Angeles. Here, people don’t say we’re Mexican American. We say we’re Tejanos.””

“Nearly everyone speaks Spanish, but many regard themselves as red-blooded Americans above anything else. And exceedingly few identify as people of color. (Even while 94 percent of Zapata residents count their ethnicity as Hispanic/Latino on the census, 98 percent of the population marks their race as white.) Their Hispanicness is almost beside the point to their daily lives.

In the end, Trump’s success in peeling off Latino votes in South Texas had everything to do with not talking to them as Latinos. His campaign spoke to them as Tejanos, who may be traditionally Democratic but have a set of specific concerns—among them, the oil and gas industry, gun rights and even abortion—amenable to the Republican Party’s positions, and it resonated. To be sure, it didn’t work with all of Texas’ Latinos; Trump still lost that vote by more than double digits statewide, and Joe Biden won more of the nationwide Latino vote than Hillary Clinton did in 2016. But Trump proved that seeing specific communities as persuadable voters and offering targeted messaging to match—fear of socialism in Miami-Dade’s Venezuelan and Cuban communities, for example—can be more effective than a blanket campaign that treats people as census categories. And in the end, it was enough to keep Florida and Texas in his column.”

“by pursuing the coveted “Latino vote” nationally, the Biden campaign created a massive blind spot for itself in South Texas, where criticizing Trump’s immigration regime and championing diversity just does not play well among a Hispanic population where many neither see themselves as immigrant or diverse.”

Biden Must Craft a Foreign Policy for a World the U.S. Doesn’t Rule

“the world Biden will inherit is a far cry from the one he occupied when he was the vice president, or during the 1990s when he chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. America’s unipolar moment has long been relegated to the dustbin of history. China, in the Pentagon’s parlance, is a peer competitor. Other powers, both large and small, including Russia, Iran and North Korea, can easily frustrate U.S. ambitions. Rarely has the environment for international cooperation seemed more challenging.
The president-elect has said repeatedly that his primary goal abroad is to put American back at “the head of the table” because “the world won’t organize itself.” But the shape of that table has changed profoundly. A global pandemic has laid bare the limits of globalization and multilateral diplomacy and accelerated the demise of the liberal international order that America created and that sustained its primacy; it has also exacerbated preexisting trends toward renewed geopolitical competition and heightened sensitivities about national sovereignty on issues from border security to the economy and health care. A powerful China and a declining yet still determined Russia have conspired successfully to oppose Pax Americana.”

“The Trump administration has failed to realize any of its objectives with China and has driven the bilateral relationship into a ditch by demonizing China and blaming Beijing for Trump’s own failures in responding to the pandemic; hyperventilating about the Chinese threat; hinting at a goal of toppling the regime and recognizing Taiwan as an independent country; and embracing reckless trade and technology policies that hurt the U.S. more than China and threaten to “decouple” the world’s two largest economies. Not surprisingly, Trump imagines that the U.S. and China are locked into a zero-sum game and that U.S. cooperation on issues of mutual concern is for suckers and losers.

Some of China’s behavior—its predatory trade and technology policies and repression at home, are two examples—warrants a more muscular American response. And Trump deserves credit for raising political consciousness of these obnoxious Chinese practices. But the Biden administration, notwithstanding its hard-line rhetoric during the campaign, will need to hit the reset button with Beijing. There are several steps the new administration can take to halt the downward spiral in the U.S.-China relationship.”

“should end the feckless and counterproductive tariff war with China, which according to several studies cost U.S. businesses $46 billion and the U.S. economy 300,000 jobs and roughly 0.5 percent of GDP growth.”

“The Trump administration’s policy of applying “maximum pressure” on Iran has also been a complete bust. Iran has not agreed to renegotiate an agreement with more stringent restrictions on its nuclear program, and it now possesses 12 times the amount of weapons grade material it had when the nuclear deal with Iran was signed in 2015. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard has not reduced its “malign” activities in the region nor curtailed its ballistic missile programs; sanctions have not hastened the collapse of the regime; the U.S. is more isolated diplomatically than ever from its allies; Iran has been able to increase oil revenues by evading sanctions; and the administration’s unsuccessful efforts to isolate Iran have handed both China and Russia a golden opportunity to forge closer relations with Tehran.”

Mitch McConnell and Several Other GOP Senators Finally Acknowledge Biden’s Victory

“Rep. Paul Mitchell (R–Mich.), a retiring congressman who congratulated Biden on November 7, announced yesterday that he was “disaffiliating from the Republican Party” out of disgust at its humoring of Trump’s increasingly desperate explanations for losing the election. “The president and his legal team have failed to provide substantive evidence of fraud or administrative failure on a scale large enough to impact the outcome of the election,” Mitchell wrote in a letter to Republican Nation Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel. “It is unacceptable for political candidates to treat our election system as though we are a third-world nation and incite distrust of something so basic as the sanctity of our vote….If Republican leaders collectively sit back and tolerate unfounded conspiracy theories and ‘stop the steal’ rallies without speaking out for our electoral process, which the Department of Homeland Security said was ‘the most secure in American history,’ our nation will be damaged….With the leadership of the Republican Party and our Republican conference in the House actively participating in at least some of these efforts, I fear long-term harm to our democracy.””