Category Archives: CONGRESS WATCH

Updates from McKinsey

America 2021: Renewing the nation’s commitment to climate action
To America’s leaders, innovators, and changemakers; here’s how you can help build a low-carbon economy that is resilient, competitive, prosperous, and fair.
By Dickon Pinner and Matt Rogers – The new federal administration has arrived in Washington with ambitious plans to address the climate crisis—and in so doing, revitalize the US economy and reclaim a leadership position on the international stage. During their campaign, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris highlighted “the opportunity to build a more resilient, sustainable economy—one that will put the United States on an irreversible path to achieve net-zero emissions, economy-wide by no later than 2050 […] and, in the process, create millions of good-paying jobs.”

Their vision recognizes that the global transition to a low-carbon economy is well under way. The cost of many clean-energy technologies fell significantly during the past decade—as much as 90 percent for some renewable-energy projects. The capital markets are funding the use of these technologies at historically low costs of capital, thereby accelerating scale-up investments. A climate-friendly policy tilt is taking hold in many places. With China, Japan, and the European Union having announced targets to achieve net-zero emissions, more than 110 countries, accounting for more than 70 percent of global GDP, have made net-zero pledges. Of the US states, 23 have established emissions-reduction goals and 12 have instituted carbon-pricing policies. Groups representing prominent American companies have endorsed the use of market-based mechanisms to promote emissions reductions. Some large businesses, along with four former Federal Reserve chairs (including the new treasury secretary), have voiced support for a nationwide carbon tax. These trends are creating possibilities for American leadership, innovation, entrepreneurship, competitive advantage, and economic growth.

With the wind at their backs, government agencies and private-sector organizations can continue advancing the new national climate agenda that’s been set in motion already. The stimulus and government appropriations bill of December 2020, which received bipartisan support, set out tax incentives and funding for energy innovation and climate-related programs. And within days of his inauguration, President Biden signed executive orders initiating the process to reenter the Paris Agreement, positioning climate as a foreign-policy and national-security issue and calling on federal agencies to coordinate an all-government push to cut greenhouse-gas emissions, purchase clean-energy technologies, support innovation, conserve nature, and create economic opportunities across America. 1 Making good on these intentions will require new information, products, operations, and market innovations from public officials and business leaders. To inform their work, this memo highlights four sets of practices with notable potential to deliver the prosperity, security, and social-justice outcomes that the administration has prioritized. more>

Public Sees Black People, Women, Gays and Lesbians Gaining Influence in Biden Era

Half of Americans say evangelical Christians will lose influence
pewresearch.org – As Joe Biden navigates the first few weeks of his presidency, Americans have distinctly different views of which groups will gain influence – and which ones will lose influence – in Washington during his administration.

Nearly two-thirds of U.S. adults (65%) say Black people will gain influence in Washington with Joe Biden taking office. Just 14% say Black people will lose influence, while 20% say they will not be affected.

Large shares of adults also expect women (63%) and gay and lesbian people (60%) to gain influence over the next four years. Only about one-in-ten expect each of these groups to lose influence.

Other groups expected to gain influence include younger people (54%), Hispanic people (53%), poor people (50%) and unions (48%). Relatively small shares – no more than about quarter – say any of these groups will lose influence during Biden’s presidency.

By contrast, evangelical Christians are expected to lose influence with Biden as president: 50% say they will lose influence, while just 9% expect them to gain influence; 39% say they will be unaffected.

By sizable margins, more Americans also say business corporations and the military will lose than gain influence, though about a quarter (24%) say corporations will be unaffected and 32% say the same about the military. more>

Why Immigration Drives Innovation

Economic history reveals one unmistakable psychological pattern.
By Joseph Henrich – When President Coolidge signed the Johnson-Reed Act into law in 1924, he drained the well-spring of American ingenuity. The new policy sought to restore the ethnic homogeneity of 1890 America by tightening the 1921 immigration quotas. As a result, immigration from eastern Europe and Italy plummeted, and Asian immigrants were banned. Assessing the law’s impact, the economists Petra Moser and Shmuel San show how this steep and selective cut in immigration stymied U.S. innovation across a swath of scientific fields, including radio waves, radiation and polymers—all fields in which Eastern European immigrants had made contributions prior to 1924. Not only did patenting drop by two-thirds across 36 scientific domains, but U.S-born researchers became less creative as well, experiencing a 62% decline in their own patenting. American scientists lost the insights, ideas and fresh perspectives that inevitably flow in with immigrants.

Before this, from 1850 to 1920, American innovation and economic growth had been fueled by immigration. The 1899 inflow included a large fraction of groups that were later deemed “undesirable”: e.g., 26% Italians, 12% “Hebrews,” and 9% “Poles.” Taking advantage of the randomness provided by expanding railroad networks and changing circumstances in Europe, a trio of economists—Sandra Sequeira, Nathan Nunn and Nancy Qian–demonstrate that counties that ended up with more immigrants subsequently innovated more rapidly and earned higher incomes, both in the short-term and today. The telephone, hot blast furnace, screw propeller, flashlight and ironclad ship were all pioneered by immigrants. The analysis also suggests that immigrants made native-born Americans more creative. Nikola Tesla, a Serbian who grew up in the Austrian Empire, provided George Westinghouse, a New Yorker whose parents had migrated from Westphalia, with a key missing component for his system of electrification based on AC current (Tesla also patented 100s of other inventions).

In ending the quotas imposed under the Harding-Coolidge administration, President Johnson remarked in 1964 that “Today, with my signature, this system is abolished…Men of needed skill and talent were denied entrance because they came from southern or eastern Europe or from one of the developing continents…” By the mid-1970s, U.S innovation was again powerfully fueled by immigrants, now coming from places like Mexico, China, India, Philippines and Vietnam. From 1975 to 2010, an additional 10,000 immigrants generated 22% more patents every five years. Again, not only did immigrants innovate, they also stoked the creative energies of the locals. more>

Was it a coup? No, but siege on US Capitol was the election violence of a fragile democracy

By Clayton Besaw and Matthew Frank – Did the United States just have a coup attempt?

Supporters of President Donald Trump, following his encouragement, stormed the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6, disrupting the certification of Joe Biden’s election victory. Waving Trump banners, hundreds of people broke through barricades and smashed windows to enter the building where Congress convenes. One rioter died and several police officers were hospitalized in the clash. Congress went on lockdown.

While violent and shocking, what happened on Jan. 6 wasn’t a coup.

This Trumpist insurrection was election violence, much like the election violence that plagues many fragile democracies.

The uprising at the Capitol building does not meet all three criteria of a coup.

Trump’s rioting supporters targeted a branch of executive authority – Congress – and they did so illegally, through trespassing and property destruction. Categories #2 and #3, check.

As for category #1, the rioters appeared to be civilians operating of their own volition, not state actors. President Trump did incite his followers to march on the Capitol building less than an hour before the crowd invaded the grounds, insisting the election had been stolen and saying “We will not take it anymore.” This comes after months of spreading unfounded electoral lies and conspiracies that created a perception of government malfeasance in the mind of many Trump supporters.

Whether the president’s motivation in inflaming the anger of his supporters was to assault Congress is not clear, and he tepidly told them to go home as the violence escalated. For now it seems the riot in Washington, D.C., was enacted without the approval, aid or active leadership of government actors like the military, police or sympathetic GOP officials. more>

Democracy’s biggest challenge is information integrity

By Laura Thornton – As the world watches the United States’ elections unfold, the intensity of our polarization is on display. This election was not marked by apathy. On the contrary – citizens turned out in record numbers, some standing in lines all day, to exercise their franchise with powerful determination and the conviction of their choice.

What is notable is how diametrically opposed those choices are, the divergence is not only voters’ visions for America but perceptions of the reality of America. It has long been said that Americans, like citizens elsewhere, increasingly live in parallel universes. Why is this? I believe quite simply it boils down to information.

While there are ample exceptions and complexities, in one universe, people consume a smattering of different news sources, perhaps one or two newspapers, some journals, television and radio broadcasts and podcasts. Many of the sources are considered left-leaning. These Americans tend to hold university degrees and vote for Democrats.

The other universe includes those who primarily get their news from one or two sources, like Fox News, and rely on Facebook and perhaps their community, friends, and family for information.  They lean Republican, and many are not university educated — the so-called “education gap” in American politics. The majority of Republicans, in fact, cite Fox for their primary source of news, and those who watch Fox News are overwhelmingly supportive of Republicans and Trump.  Both universes gravitate toward echo chambers of like-minded compatriots, rarely open or empathetic to the views and experiences of others.

There are obvious exceptions and variations. The New York Times-reading, educated Republican holding his nose but counting on a tax break. Or the low-information voter who votes Democratic with her community.

In the two big general universes, sadly the divide is not just about opinions or policy approaches.  They operate with different facts.  As Kellyanne Conway, former Trump advisor, famously put it, “alternative facts.” more>

5 Ways Joe Biden’s Presidency Will Affect Your Money – and How to Act Now

By Farnoosh Torabi – As with any new President, Joe Biden will have his work cut out for him when he takes the oath of office in January. And while his “build back better” plans are already laid out, it’s yet to be seen how much of an impact his administration can actually make on your finances.

The COVID-19 pandemic’s not behind us, so the recovery will be slow, which Biden has been clear about. Not to mention, with a very possible Republican Senate majority, many of the new administration’s initiatives could face serious pushback, if not a total squashing. The outcome will be determined in a couple months when Georgia’s two Senate run-off races happen.

In short, we can’t read far into what Biden is proposing and use it as a playbook for our personal finances today. “I’m not a big fan of people overhauling their finances or making moves on a presumption of something passing, simply because there are just too many unknowns,” Greg McBride, Chief Financial Analyst at Bankrate.com, told me on my podcast.

Here’s a breakdown of some of the major economic initiatives proposed by President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, and how to interpret them for the sake of our financial well-being. As always, personal accountability will be just as — if not more — important than matters of policy. more>

Do social media algorithms erode our ability to make decisions freely?

Social media algorithms, artificial intelligence, and our own genetics are among the factors influencing us beyond our awareness. This raises an ancient question: do we have control over our own lives? This article is part of The Conversation’s series on the science of free will.
By Lewis Mitchell and James Bagrow – Have you ever watched a video or movie because YouTube or Netflix recommended it to you? Or added a friend on Facebook from the list of “people you may know”?

And how does Twitter decide which tweets to show you at the top of your feed?

These platforms are driven by algorithms, which rank and recommend content for us based on our data.

As Woodrow Hartzog, a professor of law and computer science at Northeastern University, Boston, explains:

If you want to know when social media companies are trying to manipulate you into disclosing information or engaging more, the answer is always.

So if we are making decisions based on what’s shown to us by these algorithms, what does that mean for our ability to make decisions freely?

An algorithm is a digital recipe: a list of rules for achieving an outcome, using a set of ingredients. Usually, for tech companies, that outcome is to make money by convincing us to buy something or keeping us scrolling in order to show us more advertisements.

The ingredients used are the data we provide through our actions online – knowingly or otherwise. Every time you like a post, watch a video, or buy something, you provide data that can be used to make predictions about your next move.

These algorithms can influence us, even if we’re not aware of it. As the New York Times’ Rabbit Hole podcast explores, YouTube’s recommendation algorithms can drive viewers to increasingly extreme content, potentially leading to online radicalization.

Facebook’s News Feed algorithm ranks content to keep us engaged on the platform. It can produce a phenomenon called “emotional contagion”, in which seeing positive posts leads us to write positive posts ourselves, and seeing negative posts means we’re more likely to craft negative posts — though this study was controversial partially because the effect sizes were small.

Also, so-called “dark patterns” are designed to trick us into sharing more, or spending more on websites like Amazon. These are tricks of website design such as hiding the unsubscribe button, or showing how many people are buying the product you’re looking at right now. They subconsciously nudge you towards actions the site would like you to take. more>

Staying Focused on the Big Picture

U.S. election-related uncertainty may persist a while longer, but the relatively optimistic longer-term economic outlook hasn’t changed.
By Lisa Shalet – Now that former Vice President Joseph Biden is President-Elect, much of the election uncertainty has dissipated. Markets have factored in Biden’s win as well as the apparent lack of a Congressional Democratic sweep, but headlines concerning the transition of power could contribute to volatility.

We encourage investors to ignore short-term price swings based on the headlines and stay focused on the bigger picture. We still believe that investors should emphasize global stocks over bonds. Morgan Stanley & Co. strategists forecast that the S&P 500 Index, a broad measure of the U.S. market that is now trading around 3500, may reach 3700 by the middle of next year.

Several key points in our economic outlook are unlikely to change due to election results. Here are three reasons why:

The V-shaped economic recovery is on solid ground. October’s nonfarm payroll data was a solid upside surprise, with the unemployment rate falling and the labor participation rate rising. Consumer sentiment is holding up, and manufacturing and services indicators continue to show expansion. Housing and durable goods orders support the capital spending narrative of the new business cycle. In 2021, U.S. GDP could grow at an annualized pace of 5% to 6%—in part because the recession this year enhances the year-over-year comparison, but also given the midyear return to growth. Such economic expansion could power double-digit increases in corporate profits.

The Federal Reserve remains ultra-dovish. The central bank has stayed firm on holding its key short-term fed funds rate near zero through December, 2023. Low interest rates can stimulate growth by facilitating more borrowing, allowing consumers and businesses to spend more. The Fed has yet to define metrics or time frames for “average inflation targeting,” which will likely allow inflation to trend higher without rate intervention to check its rise. Under a policy known as quantitative easing, the Fed also continues to buy government bonds at a significant pace, a direct injection of liquidity across fixed-income markets that can also contribute to economic growth.

The COVID-19 trajectory is unlikely to lead to national lockdowns. The recent surge in new infections is unfortunate and concerning, however, as was the case in the summer, the U.S. economy remains resilient in the face of localized shutdowns. We believe that public health measures and vaccine availability will drive the pandemic’s economic impact. Hopefully by January, we could be past the peak of new cases and closer to available vaccines. Drug development pipelines remain on track to deliver some scaled vaccine distribution by summer, 2021. more>

Here’s how Biden could undo Trump’s deregulation agenda

Biden could use Trump’s playbook to reverse his regulatory moves on pollution, worker safety, health care, and more.
By Sarah Kleiner – Cutting workplace safety inspections. Allowing subpar health insurance plans to be sold to Americans. Permitting tractor-trailer drivers to blow past previous driver-fatigue limits. Waging war on birth control.

These deregulatory actions and others taken by President Donald Trump’s administration have adversely impacted the health and safety of Americans, as revealed in reporting for System Failure, an investigative series produced by the Center for Public Integrity and Vox.

Trump’s actions may not stick. Now that President-elect Joe Biden is set to take office in January, he has a few tools at his disposal to undo some of Trump’s regulatory maneuvers. Some could be more difficult to quickly put to use with a split Congress, however.

If Democrats take control of both houses of Congress, they’ll be able to quickly wipe out regulations pushed through in the last 60 legislative days of Trump’s term, because of the Congressional Review Act, part of the Contract With America that Newt Gingrich and House Republicans campaigned on in 1994.

But, while Democrats maintained control of the House, it’s still unclear which party will hold the majority in the Senate. All eyes will be on Georgia’s runoff for two Senate seats, which will happen in early January. Neither of the Republican incumbents, Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, garnered a majority of the votes in last week’s election, forcing a runoff with Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, respectively.

If Ossoff and Warnock ultimately prevail, it won’t be clear until January when the Congressional Review Act’s 60-day period began — because it all depends on how many days Congress meets between now and January 3, when its current term ends — but experts predict it started sometime during the summer. more>

America’s Foreign Enemies Mostly Hope for a Joe Biden Win; Allies Are Divided

Neewsweek – Nations around the world are watching the U.S. election with almost the same intensity as Americans at home, and while they can’t vote, they have passionate rooting interests.

During his four years in the White House, President Donald Trump has been accused of having a soft spot for the dictators of America’s enemies. Do those countries return the love? As the 2020 election looms, the leaders and citizens of both America’s allies and rivals are hoping for outcomes that may be surprising.

With the exception of North Korea, most U.S. adversaries such as Cuba, Iran, China and Venezuela are hoping for a Joe Biden win, while America’s allies are split. Germany, Japan and Australia would like to see Biden in the White House; India, Saudi Arabia, Israel and the U.K. hope Trump remains in power.

The former vice president’s chief asset appears to be his predictability: with few exceptions, even the nations hoping for a second Trump term think they can work with a Biden administration. And for some countries, like Russia, the optimal outcome is neither Biden nor Trump, but chaos. more>

Related>