Biden’s Cuba policy is suddenly in the spotlight

“Cuba’s economic problems largely predate the pandemic, but the coronavirus sharpened them. It decimated Cuba’s tourism industry, a huge slice of the island’s economy. Trump-era sanctions — which the Biden administration has not rolled back — have added to the pressure. And the pandemic itself is taking a toll: Cuba is currently experiencing a record surge in cases and deaths.”

“Biden said the US supports Cuba’s “clarion call for freedom and relief.” Both Democrats and Republicans have backed the protests, but US lawmakers are split over how to approach the demonstrations and acute humanitarian crisis on the island.
Biden promised during his 2020 campaign to roll back Trump’s sanctions on Cuba, but he hasn’t acted. Now, the issue is urgent — both for those who want to see the sanctions gone and for those who feel Biden must keep them in place to continue pressuring the regime.

Biden’s best-laid plans on foreign policy didn’t include Cuba as a priority. But now a crisis in Cuba is here. What the US should do is always a complicated decision, but it’s clear Biden can’t just ignore Cuba.”

“After the protests, Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel blamed much of the unrest on the United States, claiming US-backed mercenaries caused the unrest. He called on supporters to also go to the streets and “defend the revolution.” About 100 people were arrested, according to human rights groups.”

“The specter of United States interference remains powerful in Cuba, given, well, a very long history of US intervention there. Fast-forwarding to the Cuban Revolution in 1959, communist revolutionary Fidel Castro overthrew the US-backed dictator and began to pursue closer ties with the Soviet Union — an absolute no-no for the US during the Cold War.

The US tried to overthrow Castro during the Bay of Pigs invasion in the 1960s, but after that failure, the US strengthened an economic embargo that largely blocked Americans from doing business or trade with Cuba. There have been tweaks on the margins since, but the embargo has long outlasted the Cold War.

In 2014, then-President Barack Obama began a historic diplomatic opening with Cuba, and as a result of the process, rolled back some economic restrictions tied to the Cold War-era US embargo and opened up travel.

Trump, as president, vowed to reverse those policies; he did throughout his time in office, significantly stepping up the pressure starting in 2019. He imposed renewed travel restrictions and other sanctions, including designating Cuba as a “state sponsor of terror” in his final days in office. A key pillar of Trump’s sanctions severely limited remittances to the island, which cut off another economic spigot.

As experts said, Cuba’s problems are deeper than US sanctions alone, but the Trump-era policy, especially coming during the pandemic, is adding to the strain. And that is creating a dilemma for Washington.”

Republicans Really, Really Dislike Biden. But It’s Not Just About Him.

“Members from the other party were once more willing to give a new president some benefit of the doubt early on — or at least, their opposition was not quite so baked in, as the figures for both Bush and Barack Obama suggest. What’s more, there hasn’t been a corresponding change in how strongly the president’s own party feels about him. Members of the president’s party overwhelmingly support him, but there hasn’t been an uptick in those who say they strongly approve of him.

This lack of crossover support for presidents in their first term in office points toward one of the most animating forces in American politics today: Increased disdain and hatred of one’s political opponents, known as “negative partisanship.” As the chart below shows, opinions about the other party have become far more unfavorable since the late 1970s.”

“Such hostile sentiments reflect a world in which each major party increasingly believes the other poses a threat to the country’s well-being.”

“such deep dislike will likely keep Republicans opposed to Biden regardless of his administration’s actions. It also means that like Trump, Biden will likely have to rely on his own party’s support to buoy his overall numbers.”

Biden’s Green Agenda Meets Environmental Red Tape

“One test is unfolding in Nevada in a fight over a planned lithium mine and a rare desert wildflower. A mining company, ioneer Ltd., has proposed building a large-scale lithium-boron mine in western Nevada (the first of its kind in the United States) to supply materials for electric vehicle batteries, wind turbines, and other clean-energy technologies. If approved, the mine could quadruple domestic lithium production and help build 400,000 electric cars each year, according to the company’s estimates, helping to advance Biden’s goal “to win the EV market.”

But a rare plant may stop the project from breaking ground. The site is also home to Tiehm’s buckwheat, a pale yellow wildflower that is only found on a 10-acre patch of lithium-rich soil within the project area. Last year, the Center for Biological Diversity, a litigious environmental group, sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, demanding emergency protections for the buckwheat to block the mine. On Thursday, in response to a court order, the service proposed listing the buckwheat under the Endangered Species Act. The Biden administration now has until September 30 to issue a proposed rule to protect the plant, which could all but doom the lithium mine.

It’s a familiar story: A tangled web of environmental laws and regulations gives litigious groups ample opportunities to stall development projects or thwart them altogether. That strategy works well when environmentalists’ goal is to stop things from happening, but it’s likely to be a major obstacle to building the infrastructure and technological capacity to achieve Biden’s clean-energy vision, which will require many new mining operations, solar and wind farms, transmission lines, and other forms of development.”

Why Biden’s team didn’t go all-in on Israel-Gaza

“Secretary of State Antony Blinken had a choice to make. It was mid-May, and in a few days he’d travel to Europe for talks with allies on the Arctic and climate change, and to meet with his Russian counterpart ahead of a presidential-level summit in June.

But a fight broke out between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, threatening to explode into a larger, bloodier conflict.

Looking at his agenda and the events in the Middle East, Blinken consulted with his staff and the White House on what he should do. There were discussions about having him drop everything to shuttle back and forth between Middle Eastern capitals and help broker a ceasefire. Instead, Blinken decided he should keep his long-planned commitments in Europe but, along with other administration officials, get on the phone with key players in the brewing war.

He made that choice, the opposite of what previous secretaries of state had done during recent Israel-Gaza conflicts, for two main reasons.

The first was that he could still engage in “telephonic diplomacy” while in Europe, in the words of a senior State Department official, without the risk of having to potentially fly home empty-handed and embarrassed.

The second reason, though, speaks to the Biden administration’s view of foreign policy writ large: Less is sometimes more.

“I find that in the current moment in Washington, although it’s been true for a long time, the answer is to do more. Everyone wants more, more, we should be doing more,” said a senior State Department official who, like two others, spoke to me on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal deliberations. “Of course, more of everything is not a strategy.”

Blinken and others in the administration simply don’t believe solving a regional crisis requires top officials like Blinken to drop everything and fly to the hot spot, especially if there are larger, more consequential, longer-term issues to focus on elsewhere.”

“It’s not that the US was disengaged from the Israel-Gaza conflict. Top administration figures made more than 80 calls to world leaders during the conflict — with Blinken on the phone for at least 15 of them while in or traveling between Denmark, Iceland, and Greenland — in service of the ceasefire reached after 11 days of fighting.”

“it’s never a good idea to send your top diplomatic official by themselves to solve thorny problems. “The secretary of state doesn’t always have to be the desk officer of the crisis of the moment,” Conley told me.”

“Martin Indyk, who served as the US special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations from 2013 to 2014, recapped for me the last two times a secretary of state flew to the region during a flare-up.

Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to Egypt and other nations in 2012 when calls to counterparts weren’t working. Her efforts helped secure a ceasefire, making it seem like that should be the playbook: When there’s a crisis, send the secretary.

But the new secretary of state, John Kerry, wasn’t as successful two years later. Despite drafting a ceasefire document for Israel and Hamas to work from, he came back to Washington “really humiliated,” Indyk said.

Watching those events from within the Obama administration was Jake Sullivan, now Biden’s national security adviser. What he took away from both cases, per Indyk, was that the nation’s top diplomat should travel to the area only to finalize terms that could make the ceasefire a success. Otherwise, the chances of in-person engagement working remained low, leading to inevitable embarrassment for the secretary and the administration.”

““A premature intervention would’ve prolonged the crisis, it wouldn’t have ended it,” said Indyk, now at the Council on Foreign Relations. “The way to move Israel forward is to put your arm around them, reassure them that you’re in their corner, and push them in the direction you want to go.”

Threatening to place conditions on arms sales or call for a ceasefire early, as some critics from the left wanted, likely wouldn’t have worked. “The Israelis would dig in their heels and say, ‘Screw you, we’ve got rockets falling on our people and we’re going to respond,’” Indyk continued. Plus, he and others said, Hamas surely would’ve defied the US by launching more than the 4,500 rockets they did.

That a ceasefire came together after 11 days, and that Blinken was welcomed by both warring parties shortly after the fighting, has led Biden administration officials to consider their efforts a clear success.”

America’s asylum system is broken. Here’s how Biden could fix it.

“The US can anticipate these spikes, which are symptoms of the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Central America’s “Northern Triangle” — Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. For years, these countries have suffered from gang violence, government corruption, extortion, and some of the highest rates of poverty and violent crime in the world. The pandemic-related economic downturn and a pair of hurricanes late last year that devastated Honduras and Guatemala, in particular, have only exacerbated those longstanding problems. Many of the migrants arriving on the southern border, sometimes in large caravans, likely felt they had no choice but to seek refuge elsewhere”

“The US doesn’t have a system in place to ensure that migrants are treated humanely and in accordance with federal law when these spikes occur. Children have consequently been kept in jail-like holding facilities operated by US Customs and Border Protection beyond the 72-hour legal time limit. That is why the Obama administration, the Trump administration, and the Biden administration have been condemned for keeping “kids in cages.””

“several immigrant advocacy groups and think tanks have devised potential frameworks to improve migrant processing. Republican Sen. John Cornyn and Democrat Sen. Kyrsten Sinema have also drafted a bill that would implement related reforms, though it’s not clear whether the legislation will draw significant support from members of either party. Those strategies will become all the more important as the Biden administration begins to lift pandemic-related restrictions at the southern border and resumes processing migrants en masse.”

Billionaires are racing to sidestep President Biden’s plan to raise their taxes

“The new president wants the rich to pay much more in taxes, in order to finance a $1.8 trillion plan to invest in things like child care, education, and tax cuts for the poor that are meant to reduce inequality.

But standing in the other corner of the ring is a sophisticated wealth management and accounting industry that is ready to fight, eager to temper every aggressive proposal and exploit every loophole to please their clients who pay them big bucks to defend every dollar.

Over the next few months — and over the next few years, if Biden’s plan manages to pass in some form or another — these forces will collide. Passing the tax bill is only the first step. The execution could be harder. No matter Democrats’ intentions, they may find that their plan lets tech billionaires off the hook.

And so the wealth management industry is brimming with a cocksure optimism that they can outsmart the bureaucracy.”