June 19, 2021

Biden turns attention to climate crisis with new executive orders today – live updates

President, who has already cancelled Keystone XL pipeline, will address nation on the environment

School closures have been disruptive for students across the United States but, for many students of color in Milwaukee’s public school system, the immediate impacts have been downright alarming.

In the long run, educators fear, Covid and a long history of segregation and discrimination have formed a toxic cocktail that could reverberate for decades to come.

“It’s not only a question of how we get these kids back to where they would have been had the pandemic not occurred, but how do we get them back to where they should be?” said Dan Rossmiller of the Wisconsin Association of School Boards.

“And that, of course, was the preexisting problem.”

Virtual instruction has been the norm in Milwaukee public schools since March, when schoolhouse doors were first forced to close because of Covid. And in few places are the concerns about its impacts more acute than on Milwaukee’s north side, a majority-Black area in one of the most segregated cities in the nation. In the neighborhoods surrounding Martin Luther King Jr elementary, a school on the city’s near-north side, 55% of children live in poverty – nearly four times the state average for children in poverty.

Angela Harris, a 41-year-old teacher at the school, recalled the distress among students when she told them in the spring they wouldn’t be returning to the classroom.

She remembers rushing to the stockpile of snacks she kept in the classroom for hungry students and how she had loaded them into children’s backpacks so they’d have something to eat if food at home was scarce. She recalls one student in particular, wearing a green and black jacket donated by a local NBA star, and the way his face tightened in devastation at the news he might not see his teacher again.

“I can just visualize his face, in that coat, in that moment, asking me, ‘Mrs Harris, but what do I do if mommy is mean to me again?’ And me not knowing how to help him,” Harris said.

Read more of Mario Koran’s report from Milwaukee: Milwaukee was already failing students of color. Covid made it worse

By the way, if you want to get a sense of the pace at which Joe Biden has been attempting to set his agenda for the next four years, NBC News have published a list of all of Biden’s executive orders to date. Elizabeth Janowski has gathered 40 so far – with more expected today.

Read more here: NBC News – Here’s the full list of Biden’s executive actions so far

There’s a markedly different tone in foreign relations coming out of the Biden administration already compared to his predecessor. This morning Joe Biden has published a clip of a call he had with Nato General Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, and he didn’t appear to complain once about how much money the US spent on defense in Europe.

Instead, Biden said “I intend to rebuild and re-establish out alliances, starting with Nato. I strongly, strongly, strongly support our collective defense based on mutual democratic values. I want to re-affirm the United States’ commitment to article 5. It’s a sacred commitment.”

Article 5 provides that if a Nato member is the victim of an armed attack, each and every other member of Nato will consider this an armed attack against all members. It was invoked for the first time after the 9/11 terror attacks.

You can view the clip here:

Investigators have found no evidence that terrorism, politics or any bias motivated the rampage of a 64-year-old Oregon man who witnesses said repeatedly drove into people along streets and sidewalks in Portland, Oregon, killing a 77-year-old woman and injuring nine other people, police said.

Police identified the driver as Paul Rivas of Oregon City. He was booked into the Multnomah county detention center on initial charges of second-degree murder, assault and failure to perform the duties of a driver, Portland police said.

Rivas is accused of striking the woman, who was dragged a short distance beneath the wheels of a small SUV, and then continuing to drive, hitting other people and vehicles. After the driver fled on foot, neighbors surrounded him until police arrived.

The Oregon state medical examiner determined that Jean Gerich died of blunt force trauma and ruled her death a homicide. Police released a statement from her family thanking the people at the scene who tried to help her.

“Jean Gerich was not a nameless victim. She was a loving mother of two. She was a proud grandmother of five, ages 4 to 16. She would have turned 78 in twelve days. She beat cancer five years ago. She received her first vaccination shot last week and was overjoyed to get out in the world again,“ the family said.

Read more here: Police say no evidence of terror motive in deadly Portland car attack

More than 10,000 people whom Ohio believed had “abandoned” their voter registration cast ballots in the 2020 election, raising more concern that officials are using an unreliable and inaccurate method to identify ineligible voters on the state’s rolls.

In August, Ohio’s Republican secretary of state, Frank LaRose, released a list of 115,816 people who were set to be purged after the November election because the election officials in each of Ohio’s 88 counties flagged them as inactive. Voters could remove their name from the list by taking a number of election-related actions, including voting, requesting an absentee ballot, or simply confirming their voter registration information.

Last week, LaRose’s office announced that nearly 18,000 people on the initial list did not have their voter registration canceled, including 10,000 people who voted in the November election. About 98,000 registrations were ultimately removed from the state’s rolls, LaRose’s office announced last month. There are more than 8 million registered voters in the state.

In a statement, LaRose said the fact that so many people prevented their voter registrations from being canceled is a success of the state’s unprecedented efforts to notify voters at risk of being purged. But voting rights groups say the fact that Ohio nearly purged thousands of eligible voters is deeply alarming and underscores the inaccurate and haphazard way the state goes about maintaining its voter rolls.

Read more of Sam Levine’s report here: Ohio nearly purged 10,000 voters who ended up casting 2020 ballots

President Joe Biden is expected to sign an executive order tomorrow to reopen the HealthCare.gov insurance markets for a special sign-up opportunity geared to people needing coverage in the coronavirus pandemic.

Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar reminds us for the Associated Press that although the number of uninsured Americans has grown because of job losses due to the economic hit of the coronavirus, the Trump administration did nothing to authorize a “special enrollment period” for people uninsured in the pandemic.

Former president Trump’s repeatedly promised a new healthcare plan, but in his four years in office did not produce it. Meanwhile his administration continued trying to find ways to limit Obamacare or unravel it entirely. A supreme court decision on Trump’s final legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act is expected this year.

Biden’s plan will not re-open the market immediately. Instead, the White House wants to provide time for the Department of Health and Human Services to mount a marketing campaign, and for insurers to get ready for an influx of new customers.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki signaled Tuesday that Biden is also looking at limiting or reversing Trump administration actions that allowed states to impose work requirements for able-bodied low-income adults as a condition of getting Medicaid. Such rules are seen as a way to cull the program rolls.

“President Biden does not believe, as a principle, it should be difficult … for people to gain access to health care,” she said. “He’s not been supportive in the past, and is not today, of putting additional restrictions in place.”

President Joe Biden’s nominee for energy secretary, Jennifer Granholm, is expected to face questions on the administration’s push to compete with China on electric vehicles at her Senate confirmation hearing later today.

While governor of auto-manufacturing Michigan from 2003 to 2011, Granholm led a charge to secure $1.35 billion in federal funding for companies to produce electric vehicles (EVs) and batteries in the state.

Granholm, 61, who is expected to be confirmed by the Senate in days after the hearing, wants to steer the department to help the United States compete with China on EVs and green technologies like advanced batteries and solar and wind power.

“We need to be the leader, rather than passive bystanders, or otherwise we’re going to allow other countries like China and others we’re fighting to be able to corner this market,” Granholm told ABC News last month.

She would be the second female US energy secretary after Hazel O’Leary served in the 1990s. Granholm has done few media appearances since being nominated by Biden, but said on Twitter this month she was doing a “deep dive” into the department and was awed by the work of its lab scientists.

Timothy Gardner of Reuters reports that Granholm is likely to be asked about the department’s Loan Programs Office, or LPO, founded with stimulus funding in 2009 during the Obama administration. The office has loaned money and been paid back by successful businesses including Tesla, but has been slammed by some Republicans for support of Solyndra, a failed solar company.

The LPO has more than $40 billion available for loans and loan guarantees for advanced technologies that went unused by the Trump administration. Nearly $18 billion can go to direct loans for green cars, which could spark Biden’s support for the industry, though the department would likely need Congress to approve more money to make sweeping changes.

Energy secretaries traditionally promote the interests of the fossil fuels industry but with Biden’s promise to make curbing climate change one of the pillars of his administration, Granholm will almost certainly focus less on oil and gas than her predecessors.

Giovanni Russonello’s On Politics newsletter for the New York Times today has an interesting exchange with their chief Washington correspondent Carl Hulse on the calculation in the Senate around the filibuster.

As it stands at the moment, debate in the Senate on a measure can only be cut off if at least 60 senators support doing so, giving ample opportunity for Republicans to delay Biden’s legislation. Hulse says:

Reuters report that Russia’s upper house of parliament, the Federation Council, has voted to ratify an extension of the New Start nuclear arms control treaty, a move towards preserving the last major pact of its kind between Russia and the United States.

The Kremlin said yesterday that the two countries had struck a deal to extend the pact, signed in 2010 and set to expire next week, which limits the numbers of strategic nuclear warheads, missiles and bombers that Russia and the US can deploy.

The lower house of Russia’s parliament, the State Duma, earlier voted to ratify the extension.

By the way, if you haven’t been following the extraordinary stock market developments over the last few days involving GameStop, then Edward Helmore has a report on it here. It’s well worth a read:

Investors on the WallStreetBets subreddit forum have been promoting GameStop aggressively, with many pitching it as a battle of regular people versus hedge funds and big Wall Street firms.

“This is quite the experience for my first month in the stock market. Holding till infinity,” posted one user on the thread. Another user said: “We’re literally more powerful than the big firms right now.”

In some cases, they’ve been right, with larger investors like Citron Research taking a sharp lesson in what can happen when “herd investors” squeeze a stock higher.

Citron’s founder, Andrew Left, called GameStop a “failing mall-based retailer” in a report earlier this month and then predicted that the stock would plunge to $20 in a video he posted to Twitter on Thursday. According to CNN, Left has now given up on shorting the stock, citing harassment by the stock’s backers.

About 71.66m GameStop shares are currently shorted – worth about $4.66bn. Year-to-date, those bets have cost investors about $6.12bn, which includes a loss of $2.79bn on Monday.

“As someone who started trading stocks in the late 90s in college, I would always remember watching when the small retail trading groups would get crushed by hedge funds and savvy short-sellers,” Oanda market analyst Edward Moya said in a report. “What happened with GameStop’s stock is a reminder of how times are changing.”

Read more here: How GameStop found itself at the center of a groundbreaking battle between Wall Street and small investors

Andrew Gawthorpe, host of the podcast America Explained, writes for us today that the Democrats’ priority in power must be to stop minority rule:

The case for the Democratic Party to commit itself to a radical pro-democracy agenda is simple. The last four years have shown the horrors of minority rule. Political institutions like the Electoral College, the Senate and gerrymandered House districts reward Republicans for appealing to a narrow minority of the population. They take this easily-won power and use it not for the good of the country as a whole but to push through extremist policies and fight culture wars. When they abuse their power, as Donald Trump did, little can be done to stop them.

As inheritors of this situation, it is the duty of Democrats to do what they can to alter it. This is no time for incrementalism. Only a radical program aimed at strengthening American democracy and preventing the return of rightwing minority rule in the future will rise to the moment.

The specifics of such a program have already been spelled out. Many of them are contained in the For The People Act, a bill passed by the Democratic House in 2019. This bill would create apolitical committees to draw House district boundaries, create a national voter registration program, remove barriers to voting enacted by states, enforce transparency in campaign finance, and much more besides. It died in the Senate when Mitch McConnell declined to bring it up for a vote – but the Senate is now under new management.

Democrats should not stop there. Though important, these reforms would not alone save America from minority rule. There is a need to be bolder still – firstly, by admitting new states to the union, and secondly, by abolishing the Senate filibuster.

Read more here: Andrew Gawthorpe – The Democrats’ priority in power must be to stop minority rule

Alexander Bolton at The Hill has rounded up some of the key Republican reaction to yesterday’s impeachment developments in the Senate, in particular that of Alaskan Senator Lisa Murkowski.

Read more here: The Hill – Senate GOP boxes itself in on impeachment