The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Tag: build back better

Hey, Democrats: Get Off 'Planet Woke' And Unite Behind Biden

Two tiresome realities about being president of the United States: first, everybody blames you for things over which you have little or no control: such as the worldwide price of oil, and international shipping schedules. Should there be too few electronic gee-gaws on store shelves to pacify American teenagers this Christmas, it will be Joe Biden’s fault.

Second, everybody gives you advice, whether you ask for it or not. Everywhere you look, Democrats and Democratically-inclined pundits are tempted to panic. “The cold reality for Biden,” writes New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait “is that his presidency is on the brink of failure.” A return to Trumpism, and essentially the end of American democracy, strikes Chait as altogether likely.

Everybody cites Biden’s “plunging” or “nosediving” poll numbers, although they’ve held steady at roughly 43 percent even since pretty much since the news media’s collective freakout over Afghanistan. Definitely not good, but still better than, well, Donald Trump’s, who hovered permanently around 40 percent. And that was before he raised a mob to sack the U.S. Capitol.

Chait mainly blames congressional Democrats, specifically the preening and posturing of the Democratic left, along with the stonewalling of “centrists unable to conceive of their job in any terms save as valets for the business elite.” In short, Senators Joe Manchin and Kirsten Sinema. He notes that when Manchin goes home to consult his West Virginia constituents, he meets the Chamber of Commerce at the Greenbrier golf resort.

When in Washington, Sen. Manchin lives aboard Almost Heaven, his 60-foot yacht —some distance from the coal mines. Sinema has shifted from campaigning as a trendy leftist to expressing tender concerns for the well-being of, yes, Arizona’s Chamber of Commerce. Between them, the two Democratic Senators have the capacity to cripple or kill President Biden’s “Build Back Better” plans to make life better for working Americans.

And if they do, Biden will get blamed. It comes with the territory.

By any rational measure, meanwhile, the U.S. economy is booming. In late November, for example, new unemployment claims fell to the lowest level in 52 years. If you’re like most Americans—Democrats, Republicans and Independents alike—that’s probably news to you. You may not even believe it.

“Given the U.S.’s steady job growth,” Chait comments. “nobody can ascertain exactly why the public has turned so sour so fast. Biden is like a patient wasting away from some undiagnosable disease.”

Actually, I think the all-too diagnosable psychological miasma of Covid lingers even among fully-vaccinated, for whom normal life has pretty much returned. But more about that later.

Expressing similar concerns from further left on the ideological spectrum is Ryan Grim of The Intercept. “IT’S NOT JUST WHITE PEOPLE,” Grim’s analysis is headlined, “DEMOCRATS ARE LOSING NORMAL VOTERS OF ALL RACES.” Basically, he too blames left-wing culture warriors speaking the other-worldly cant of academia. They’d do far better, he argues with “candidates who focus on…economic issues but don’t talk like juniors at Oberlin.”

No kidding. Maybe the dumbest political slogan in recent American history, as I’ve written before, is “Defund the Police.” Without exception, and nationwide, every Democratic candidate espousing the idea not only lost last November, but lost big. Buffalo, Seattle, Austin, Philadelphia, from sea to shining sea. Even in Minneapolis, where George Floyd was murdered.

And why? Well, imagine yourself a Black parent in an inner-city neighborhood. Bullying, condescending cops can be aggravating and worse. But well-armed street gangs shooting up whole neighborhoods are an existential crisis.

Existential as in: They are killing people in their own homes.

Defund the police? What planet do you live on?

Planet “Woke” in all too many cases. Or, as Grim puts it, “Democratic elites are creating conflict within the working class while protecting their own class and cultural interests.” Left-wing imagineers, fantasizing about a revolution that’s never coming. President Biden could do worse than to pick a fight with these Froot Loops—low-hanging Froot Loops at that.

Then there are the Republicans, a party rapidly morphing into a Jonestown-like death cult. Not figuratively, mind you. Literally.

Covid vaccine mandates, that is, public health requirements that citizens accept what’s essentially a miracle cure to protect themselves and their neighbors from a deadly, transmissible disease are deemed “tyranny” and “communism” by Republican politicians.

As a direct result, their constituents are dying. While fully-vaccinated Fox News celebrities broadcast denialist propaganda—the jab is a condition of their employment—data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that unvaccinated individuals are currently five times more likely to test positive from the virus and thirteen times more likely to die.

The omicron variant appears unlikely to make things better.

In a saner political time, you’d think a party doing everything to resist the president’s efforts to control a deadly disease outbreak would be ill-advised to expect Covid survivors’s support.

But that’s not the world we live in.

When Biden's Partisan Objectives Clash With His Urgent Climate Goals

The Biden administration, to its credit, never misses a chance to emphasize the importance of dealing with climate change. President Joe Biden calls it an "existential" threat to humanity. John Kerry, his special envoy on the issue, said in April: "That means life and death. And the question is, are we behaving as if it is? And the answer is no."

That was certainly true under former President Donald Trump, who championed coal, abandoned the 2015 Paris agreement on climate, and dismissed global warming as a hoax. Biden has brought a badly needed shift on policy. But his policies sometimes are at war with his rhetoric.

One crucial part of his agenda is speeding the transition from gasoline-powered vehicles to electric ones. Cars and light trucks account for 16 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and Biden wants half of all autos sold in this country to be electric or plug-in hybrids by 2030. That transition would significantly reduce carbon output.

But let's not get the idea that the administration is laser-focused on whatever it takes to curb climate change. Its enthusiasm for electric vehicles, it turns out, is not unlimited. In Biden's eyes, some electric vehicles are good and some are bad, and the difference has nothing to do with greenhouse gases.

The social spending and climate package recently approved by the House of Representatives would encourage Americans to buy electric vehicles by providing a tax credit of as much as $12,500 for each purchase, an increase over the existing $7,500 credit. That indirect subsidy is needed because these cars generally cost more to purchase than comparable conventional cars.

But Biden and his congressional allies are not enamored of all electric vehicles. They want to restrict the full tax break to those cars that are built by union workers in the United States and have batteries built by union workers in the United States. Buyers of other vehicles would get only a $7,500 credit — a $5,000 penalty.

That penalty would apply to almost all of the 50 electric vehicles currently sold here, including every model made by Tesla, the Ford Mustang Mach-E, the Nissan Leaf, the Rivian pickup, the Hyundai Ioniq, and more. The only exceptions are two Chevy Bolt models. It would also harm workers in U.S. plants operated by foreign automakers, which are nonunion and produce nearly half of all the vehicles sold here.

The discrimination is a giant favor to the United Auto Workers, a stalwart of the Democratic Party that has been weathering a major corruption scandal. "The union has stressed to the Biden administration that the country shouldn't sacrifice union jobs to meet its climate goals," reported The Wall Street Journal. A White House spokesman insisted that "jobs taking on the climate crisis must also be jobs that build the middle class."

There are some obvious flaws in the administration's logic. One is that given the monumental size of the battle against climate change, it is imperative to enlist every automaker, including nonunion ones.

To exclude nearly all electric cars from the full tax credit will make the national transition away from gas-powered vehicles — a hugely formidable undertaking under the best of circumstances — slower and more expensive. It's exactly the wrong strategy if you place a supreme priority on saving the planet from excessively high temperatures.

The UAW has repeatedly lost elections allowing workers at foreign-owned plants to decide whether to sign up with the union. Limiting the tax credit will hurt those workers. It will also encourage automakers to build electric cars abroad, where they can achieve lower labor costs — enough, perhaps, to overcome the tax disadvantage.

It will also be a boon to the internal combustion engine. As Jeffrey Schott, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, told me, "If you raise the cost of electric vehicles too much, people will buy gas-powered cars."

The Trump administration refused to require any sacrifice from fossil fuel companies and their employees merely to avert the worst-case climate scenario. The Biden administration is willing to act against climate change, but it too insists on protecting certain groups at the expense of the broad American public — and all humanity.

Denying the full tax credit to the vast majority of electric vehicles will mean more carbon emissions and warming of the planet. But hey — it's not like this is a matter of life and death, right?

Follow Steve Chapman on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at https://www.facebook.com/stevechapman13. To find out more about Steve Chapman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

The Costs Of War To America -- And Where Our Trillions Really Go

Reprinted with permission from TomDispatch

As a Navy spouse of 10 years and counting, my life offers an up-close view of our country's priorities when it comes to infrastructure and government spending.

Recently, my husband, a naval officer currently serving with the Department of Energy, spent a week with colleagues touring a former nuclear testing site about 65 miles north of Las Vegas. Between 1951 and 1957, the U.S. conducted more than 1,000 nuclear tests in those 680 square miles of desert and only stopped when scientists began urging that the tests be halted because of soaring cancer rates among the downwind residents of Arizona, Nevada, and Utah.

My spouse's trip was a kind of ritual Department of Energy personnel undertake to learn about nuclear weapons as they maintain our country's vast and still wildly expanding arsenal.

Meanwhile, unable to afford to take time off from my job as a therapist, I found myself once again working double shifts. After all, I was also watching our two young children (ages four and six), shuttling them to appointments and activities along the narrow roads of our rural town, handling a sudden school shutdown due to flooded roads that halted school buses, while working. And mine is really the usual story for so many of the partners of this country's 1.3 million active-duty military personnel when they are sent elsewhere on assignment.

My six year old typically woke me at night to ask whether his dad was shooting at people and started throwing the sort of tantrums that had become uncharacteristic since his father stopped serving months-long deployments on submarines. Once recently, he even conned his already overworked bus driver — our county, one of the richest in the country, has a deficit of such drivers, thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic — into taking him home rather than to his after-school program. He let himself into our house and appeared at my office door to "make sure you haven't left, too."

It was hard to miss the irony of being overstretched at home by poor infrastructure and gaps in care (even as I went into debt to pay for the most affordable childcare center in the area) at a moment when the government was perfectly happy to fund my spouse to tour a mothballed nuclear testing site. His trip came on the heels of two 14-hour days he spent at the Capitol displaying a collection of model warheads to members of Congress. They then chatted with one another and him in a rare bipartisan moment that we as a couple witnessed.

At that time, members of the House of Representatives had yet to even vote on the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill to fund our country's roads, bridges, buses, and electric grid, which to our relief would pass two weeks later. And when it comes to President Biden's shrinking Build Back Better bill, who knows if it will ever be passed?

It's about time! was all I could think when I heard that the first bill was about to be signed into law. I couldn't help imagining how useful so much of what's packed into both of them would be for people like me — not least of all things in the Build Back Better plan like universal pre-K and some paid family leave, four weeks of which I could have used over the past two months of my husband's military travels and my own late nights. And mind you, as someone with a great job and a relatively high family income, I have it much better than the vast majority of Americans, military or not.

Twenty Years Of War

Meanwhile, as I'm sure you know, Congress has been blindly supporting wars and counter-terror operations in dozens of countries globally from Afghanistan and Iraq to Somalia, Syria, Yemen, and beyond for two decades now. Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema, and other congressional representatives in the House and Senate have been quibbling for months over whether to allow Medicare to negotiate lower prescription drug prices or pay for dental and vision benefits on the premise that such expenditures might add to our high national debt.

Yet they've voted repeatedly and without quibble or question to fund a Pentagon that has run a failing $8 trillion (and counting!) war on terror financed on just such debt. In fact, both of our recent infrastructure bills could have been paid for at their original higher funding levels with money to spare, had we not decided to go to war after 9/11 in a big-time fashion or even stopped the fighting after killing Osama bin Laden in 2011.

Finally — can you hear my sigh of relief? — President Biden actually cited the more than $2 trillion cost of the Afghan War in his defense of his administration's decision to pull out of that country. That the cost of such a failed war wasn't common knowledge, even then, should be (but isn't) notable.

How could that be when "a trillion dollars" for infrastructure work here at home is a commonplace figure in debates everywhere, regardless of which side you're on? How can the cost of that bill be labeled as the "communist takeover of America" by Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and resisted tooth and nail by so many others like her when they say nothing about the costs of war?

The good news is that, whether you know those war figures or not, the difficult legwork of tracking down where those trillions of federal dollars have gone has actually been done and is available to anyone. In 2010, I was one of about two-dozen people — including social scientists, an Iraqi medical doctor, a journalist, and two human-rights lawyers — who started the Costs of War Project at Brown University's Watson Institute for International Studies.

We were nearly a decade into the U.S.-led wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan, initiated in response to the September 11, 2001, attacks by President George W. Bush and being carried on at the time by President Barack Obama. Anthropologist Catherine Lutz, political scientist Neta Crawford, and I were then concerned that Americans weren't paying enough attention to what those wars were costing in lives and dollars.

Nor was the government helping. Costs of War economist Winslow Wheeler found that the Pentagon frequently failed to keep track of the money it spent, while its officials often entered made-up numbers in logs supposedly tracking supplies (like weaponry) to make budgets balance more comfortably and so influence future congressional funding. As we were soon to discover, the Department of Defense routinely failed even to keep track of whom it owed money to, no less how much.

What's more, congressional funding for additional expenses unrelated to overseas wars, while stuffed into the Pentagon base budget, was regularly justified by this thing called "terrorism" that was everywhere (and nowhere) at once. Those terror wars of ours increased that base budget by at least $884 billion from 2001 to 2022.

We relied on all kinds of sources from government watchdog agencies like the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) to local doctors and journalists in the distant lands our country was disrupting to fill in our gaps in knowledge until we gained a clearer picture of just how much those wars of ours had cost.

Some 10 years after the Costs of War Project's initial launch, the project, now led by Stephanie Savell, Catherine Lutz, and Neta Crawford, is 50-people strong and has tracked so many things, including the more than 929,000 people killed in those wars of ours, almost half of them civilians, and the $8 trillion spent on them. That figure, however, doesn't even include future interest payments on war borrowing, which we have estimated may total $6.5 trillion by the 2050s.

Yep, you got it! The interest alone that this country will fork over for those wars would have undoubtedly been more than enough to fund both infrastructure bills in their original forms.

Spent On America?

But it's all for a good purpose, right? After all, in a Congress in which the two parties are now eternally at each other's throats, the Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act managed to pass in January by an overwhelming margin of 377-48 in the House and 86-8 in the Senate. That act authorized $731.6 billion, including $635.5 billion for the Department of Defense, $26.6 billion for Department of Energy national security programs (which presumably includes pilgrimages to ancient nuclear testing sites), $69 billion for overseas military operations, and $494 million for other "defense-related" activities. Included in that bill, to be sure, were some modest increases in military health care for families, including a few hours of "respite care" for military family members supporting someone with a developmental disability. But essentially none of that money went to improving the American quality of life. Want to guess if Senators Manchin and Sinema supported it? No need to even ask, is there?

Under the circumstances, I'm sure you won't be surprised to learn that the Pentagon's total assets, as measured by its ships, aircraft, buildings, vehicles, computers, and weapons, have risen steadily since 2000 even as government investment in non-military infrastructure continued at a paltry rate — unchanged since the 1970s. Of course, those hundreds of billions of dollars "invested" in military infrastructure during just the first decade of the war on terror would have led to strikingly greater capital improvements if invested in education, health care, and green energy at home.

If you take a closer look at how our money has been spent on infrastructure in these years, everything just gets uglier and uglier. For example, more than half of the money the U.S. government spent on what were called "reconstruction efforts" in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan actually went to funding and arming local security forces. In Afghanistan, we recently saw just how well that turned out.

Beyond that, examples abound of so-called development money poorly spent or not accounted for. As a 2011 SIGAR report made all too clear, for example, one federally funded project in Afghanistan, the Commander's Emergency Response Program, was tasked with building roads in that country. The investigation found that of 11 road projects surveyed, nine lacked plans or resources for future maintenance.

Similarly, according to a paper by Costs of War Project co-director Lutz and grassroots organizer Sujaya Desai, a 2012 SIGAR report revealed that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers could not account for 95% of the materials it purchased that year to construct roads and other infrastructure in Iraq, including, for example, $1.3 billion in fuel that it had theoretically paid for. In 2011, the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan estimated that $31 billion to $60 billion were squandered in both war zones in incidents of waste, fraud, and abuse. Even the lower estimate would have covered about a year of paid family leave for working Americans.

Nor has all of this war spending made us safer. Stephanie Savell, for instance, did a case study of the U.S. war on terror security assistance to the African country of Burkina Faso. What she showed was how our ongoing security operations in the name of counterterrorism actually tend to do just the opposite of keeping us or anyone else safe. According to Savell, security assistance to foreign governments in just 36 of the 79 countries where we've recently conducted such operations cost the U.S. a total of $125 billion between 2002 and 2016. Yet the effect of such assistance, as she made all-too-vividly clear in one country, has been to bolster an authoritarian government, repress minority groups through violence, and facilitate war profiteering, while failing to provide needed humanitarian aid of any sort in the contested areas.

$8 Trillion (And Counting)

Our problem in this country, folks, isn't lack of funds, no matter what the Republicans, Manchin, and Sinema may claim. Our problem is that we're not paying attention to where our money actually goes or truly thinking about how it might be better spent.

As Pentagon experts William Hartung and Mandy Smithberger explained recently, even an exceedingly modest reduction in Pentagon spending of $1 trillion, or 15 percent of total current expenditures over the next decade (as recommended recently by the Congressional Budget Office), would still leave the Pentagon with a staggering $6.3 trillion to spend in those same years. Unfortunately, everything's moving in the other direction. As those two authors remind us, only recently the Biden administration requested $750 billion for the next Pentagon budget and for nuclear weapons development at the Department of Energy. The Democratic-controlled House promptly responded (with, of course, strong support from the Republicans there) by voting to add $25 billion to that already stunning sum, even as the arguments only continued about how little to spend on us here at home.

If there's one thing that's reminiscent of overseas adversaries like Russia from which we theoretically seek to defend ourselves, it's a tendency to spend increasing amounts of money on military assets at the expense of the general population, while demonizing those who would dare challenge that way of cutting up the national pie.

Every American should check out the Costs of War Project website to see how much money we're still spending on military operations and decide for themselves whether it might not be better spent domestically. And if you think it might, Hartung and Smithberger's article on cutting fat from the Pentagon budget is an excellent place to start. Send it to your elected representatives and ask them why we've spent $8 trillion on these endlessly failing wars of ours when we could have been building a social safety net here at home instead.

In the meantime, let me tiptoe into my son's bedroom and make sure he's truly sound asleep and then catch a few winks myself.

Copyright 2021 Andrea Mazzarino

Andrea Mazzarino, a TomDispatch regular, co-founded Brown University's Costs of War Project. She has held various clinical, research, and advocacy positions, including at a Veterans Affairs PTSD Outpatient Clinic, with Human Rights Watch, and at a community mental health agency. She is the co-editor of War and Health: The Medical Consequences of the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.


​Manchin's Vote May Depend On Weird Coal-Crypto Conflict Of Interest

Reprinted with permission from DailyKos

The fate of the Build Back Better legislation, including the future of U.S. participation in attempts to limit the impact of the climate crisis, may depend on one of the weirdest phenomena of the modern world. It's a trend that crosses an outdated technology from a dying market with a still-growing craze which baffles much of the public. And it all comes down to putting money in the pocket of one man.

The outdated industry is coal-powered electrical plants. The growing craze is cryptocurrency. And the man is, of course, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin.

Stitch that all together, and you get a Politico report on how the Grant Town power plant near Morgantown, West Virginia has put forward a proposal to turn itself into a giant, coal-powered, cryptocurrency "mine." If that proposal moves forward, it could ensure that the lone contract that defines Manchin's "coal brokerage firm" will continue to hand him over $500,000 a year for doing very close to nothing. Then maybe we can all have nice things. Or, if the crypto-plant proposal fails, Manchin could still hold the entire bill hostage to his personal interest in fossil fuels.

Not only does all of this represent a massive conflict of interest, the timing of events serves to showcase what may be the height of placing individual greed above the greater good.

Cryptocurrency is a still a phenomenon that leaves many people scratching their heads. Whether it's a Bitcoin or a Sol, cryptocurrency doesn't exist as a block of gold in a vault, a physical coin in a drawer, or a promissory note backed by a government. It's a series of numbers embedded in a blockchain, which is itself a kind of storage system for these numbers that makes it very difficult to falsify or alter information. The numbers can't be guessed, and don't follow a regular pattern. They can only be calculated using a laborious set of equations that can discover the next sequence in a process popularly called "mining." Through mining, new "blocks" of verified transactions are added to the blockchain. Those blocks are owned by the miners.

In the early days, discovering these sequences was relatively easy and could even be done on generic desktop computers. But finding new crypto "coins" rapidly becomes more difficult, and the equations aren't really optimized to work on the kind of generic microprocessors at the heart of most laptops and desktops. Systems expanded to allow many computers to work together in discovering a block. Then computer gamers and graphic artists found that the dedicated graphics cards they needed were simply unavailable, because cryptocurrency miners had discovered that the type of processors on these cards was much better suited to digging up that next coin.

That's still true today to some extent, but in large part, crypto mining has moved on to even more specialized hardware, designed expressly to deal with the particular equations involved in uncovering a new transaction. This dedicated hardware has taken crypto mining well beyond the limits of what many early adherents of Bitcoin or other currencies thought to be practical.

Over time, the real cost of mining a new block has become defined by one thing: power. Anyone trying to mine a Bitcoin at home these days is almost certain to spend more money on the power it costs to mine that coin than the coin is actually worth. At the other end of the mining spectrum, rooms full of specialized mining machines, all digging away at the blockchain, consume a lot of energy, but the cost of the power is still lower than the profit that can be returned—especially when the crypto market is surging.

Rather than the cost of power, the availability of power has become a constraint on these high-end mining operations. There are systems out there that need more power than a mid-sized town to handle their ongoing search for that next transaction. So where do they get it? They buy a power plant.

There are some rather ingenious alternatives being put forward—including solar-powered EV charging stations that would use all solar power to mine for cryptocurrency using any excess energy—but all too often, the easiest form of power for the crypto-hungry to find can be defined in one word: coal.

Across the nation and in many parts of the world, coal power plants are closing for the simplest reason: They cost too much. The cost of operating a coal-powered plant is now so far above adding new power in the form of solar or wind, that systems are finding it cheaper to overbuild renewables and close down the aging coal plants. Some plants are being converted to burn natural gas instead. Others are just being shuttered.

A plant that's about to be written off and remaindered is a great target for a crypto operation. Using that dedicated hardware, they can afford the higher cost of the coal-based power. That's led to crypto miners buying up multiple plants in Pennsylvania and in New York. That New York plant had been used as a "peaker" plant, filling in when there was high demand on the grid. Its continuous use in powering crypto mining has reportedly made a nearby glacial lake used to cool the plant "feel like a bathtub."

In the case of the Grant Town plant in West Virginia, operating it for power no longer makes any sense. It's a relatively small power plant, only 80 megawatts. It's also the only plant in the state that still burns "waste coal."

Coal mines often generate a spoil pile of mostly non-coal material that is picked off the conveyor belt, often by hand, and pitched aside. Before the coal is sent to the power plant, it is often sent through a "prep plant," where the coal is crushed to a more uniform size and sent through a series of chemical baths in which the lighter coal floats, while heavier minerals—especially those rich in sulfur—sink. This leaves behind a second spoil pile of waste material.

Producing waste coal requires going back through the spoil piles for coal that was missed the first time. That coal is worse in almost every way than what was produced on the first pass. It contains more non-coal material, lowering the energy output and increasing the amount of ash. It also contains more sulfur and heavy metals, creating toxins that either go up the smokestack or into the coal slurry at the plant.

All coal is dirty, but waste coal is the dirtiest form of coal. Waste coal is what Joe Manchin sells.

Using waste coal made a tiny amount of sense in 2008, when the coal market was at its peak and supply was having a hard time keeping up with demand. It makes no sense now, when a majority of mines have been idled and there is still enormous overcapacity. But Manchin has a contract, and that contract has netted him over $5 million in the last decade.

The result of all this is that Grant Town isn't just the dirtiest plant using the dirtiest fuel, it's also the most expensive plant in the state, in terms of dollars per megawatt. That plant has lost $117 million in just the last five years while paying Manchin $500,000 a year—not even for the waste coal itself, but just to manage the contract that delivers the waste coal.

Joe Manchin is almost singularly responsible for removing $1.8 trillion in funding from the Build Back Better legislation. Thanks to Sen. Manchin's refusal to support the bill as it was originally proposed, dozens of major programs have already been reduced in scope or eliminated completely. Some of the things that were removed—including two years of free community college—seemed like complete no-brainers which would have not only decreased the debt students now face upon emerging from college, but given the U.S. a competitive advantage by creating a more educated work force.

The funds for climate change included in the legislation that just passed the House are much smaller than those included in the original proposal that came from the White House. However, they do include over $500 billion in funds dedicated to expanding the use of renewable energy and electric vehicles. Funds for the creation of the Civilian Climate Corps are also still in there, which would create jobs dedicated to restoring and maintaining lost areas of forest and wetland.

Also still included is a program that will give utilities a bonus for the switching production to renewable power. As Popular Science explains, that program could be a massive game-changer when it comes to transitioning not just coal plants, but also natural gas-powered plants, to solar or wind. Manchin has specifically opposed that program, saying, "Why pay the utilities for something they're going to do anyway, because we're transitioning?"

This is why. Because the program supporting those increased payments is expected to speed the transition by four precent a year. And that adds up.

A 4 percent yearly increase would get the energy mix to about 70 to 80 percent in 2030, whereas business as usual would put Americans around 48 percent by the same date.

If the U.S. is even going to come close to meeting the goals that must be met to ward off the worst of the climate crisis, it needs Manchin to vote for inclusion of the Clean Energy Performance Program as part of Build Back Better.

And getting that vote may depend on whether or not the Grant Town plant gets turned into a dedicated crypto mining plant … all so that Joe Manchin can continue to sell the dirtiest coal, to the dirtiest plant, to line his pocket with the dirtiest money.

Exclusive: Rating Agencies Say Biden Spending Plans Won't Spur Inflation

By Kanishka Singh

(Reuters) - President Joe Biden's infrastructure and social spending legislation will not add to inflationary pressures in the U.S. economy, economists and analysts in leading rating agencies told Reuters on Tuesday.

Biden has spent the past few months promoting the merits of both pieces of legislation -- the $1.75 trillion "Build Back Better" plan and a separate $1 trillion infrastructure plan.

The two pieces of legislation "should not have any real material impact on inflation", William Foster, vice president and senior credit officer (Sovereign Risk) at Moody's Investors Service, told Reuters.

The impact of the spending packages on the fiscal deficit will be rather small because they will be spread over a relatively long time horizon, Foster added.

Senator Joe Manchin, a centrist Democrat, has previously raised inflationary concerns in relation to Biden's social spending plan, with a report earlier this month suggesting he may delay the passage of the Build Back Better legislation.

"The bills do not add to inflation pressures, as the policies help to lift long-term economic growth via stronger productivity and labor force growth, and thus take the edge off of inflation," said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics, which operates independently from the parent company's ratings business.

Zandi said the costs of both the infrastructure and social spending legislation were sustainable.

"The bills are largely paid for through higher taxes on multinational corporations and well-to-do households, and more than paid for if the benefit of the added growth and the resulting impact on the government's fiscal situation are considered", he said in an interview.

Charles Seville, senior director and Americas sovereigns co-head at Fitch Ratings, said the two pieces of legislation "will neither boost nor quell inflation much in the short-run."

Government spending will still add less to demand in 2022 than in 2021 and over the longer-run, the social spending legislation could increase labor supply through provisions such as childcare, and aid productivity, Seville told Reuters.

The House of Representatives passed the $1 trillion infrastructure package earlier this month after the Senate approved it in August. Biden signed the bill into law on Monday.

The Build Back Better package includes provisions on childcare and preschool, eldercare, healthcare, prescription drug pricing and immigration.

"The deficit will still narrow in FY 2022 as pandemic relief spending drops out and the economic recovery boosts tax revenues", Seville said. "But the legislation [Build Back Better] does not sustainably fund all the initiatives, particularly if these are extended and don't sunset, meaning that they will be funded by greater borrowing."

The Congressional Budget Office anticipates publishing a complete cost estimate for the Build Back Better plan by Friday, November 19. Biden said on Tuesday he expected the Build Back Better legislation to be passed within a week's time.

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; editing by Dan Burns and Lincoln Feast.)

What The Media Gets Wrong About The Centerpiece Of Biden's Agenda

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet

Last week's election results, which showed modest Republican gains across the nation, set off alarm bells in America's pundit class about the power of progressives in the Democratic party.

Democrats promised change, the Times contrarian Maureen Dowd complained, and instead offered "wokeness" and infighting. Bloomberg's Ramesh Ponnuru warned that even though the Virginia governor's race normally means nothing, former Democratic governor Terry McAuliffe's loss was a "portent" and "bad news" for the national party as it moved forward on a human infrastructure package.

Why? As the editorial board of the New York Times warned, with Joe Biden's $1.75 trillion Build Back Better framework, Democrats were moving too far to the left. "The concerns of more centrist Americans about a rush to spend taxpayer money, a rush to grow the government," the Times wrote, "should not be dismissed."

Indeed, a recent Gallup poll argues that 52 percent of Americans prefer a smaller government, up an alarming 11 percent since last year. But does this mean Biden should scale back his aspirations?

No.

It means Americans are radically underinformed.

In every industrialized country but the United States, government programs perform an essentially moderate task. By supporting workers, they support business. They create vital economies that support well-paying jobs. They keep workers healthy, and vulnerable family members safe. They lower tuitions, train workers so that employers don't have to, and make it possible for students to pay back modest loans at affordable rates.

And best of all — if you are one of those centrists — government programs keep people at work. There is no more graphic example of how the United States has failed at this than the number of healthy Americans who cannot, or will not, return to their jobs.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of mid-October, 10.4 million jobs are unfilled. More than 1 million of those workers are mothers who cannot find, or afford, childcare. Some missing workers — 80,000 truck drivers, for example — mean American consumers face shortages of everything from paper towels to covid tests as container ships bob offshore. And prior to the pandemic, school districts in the United States were already short 110,000 teachers.

Republicans, and some centrist Democratic senators, such as Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, argue it won't. Government "giveaways," we are told, will only make Americans dependent and cripple the economy with higher taxes.

Manchin complains the US will move "toward an entitlement mentality" if Americans who can care for themselves without government help don't. And Sinema, who has raised almost $1 million in donations from lobbying groups, has given a thumbs down to higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy, making Build Back Better even harder for deficit hawks in the Democratic Party.

But it isn't clear what Republicans know that conservatives in other countries don't. The United States is the only industrialized country that does not offer paid family leave, and universal childcare, healthcare, and eldercare. In the United States, not only new parents, but sick and injured workers, are back on the job long before they are ready and able to work. And those who can't pay someone to care for family members have to cut back on consumption: experts estimate that American business may be leaving $28.5 billion a year on the table when families re-budget to account for a lost salary.

There is no question that all these policies are moderate because they benefit business. They keep families consuming, and they bring valued workers back on the job rested, healthy and focused. Similarly, knowing that elders and children are well cared for, at an affordable cost, means that families can plan for the big items that drive a healthy economy: houses, cars and appliances, and the thousands of skilled jobs the market in durable goods support.So how would Build Back Better make American business stronger?

But perhaps the biggest categories of government spending that could drive the United States economy are healthcare and education. These economic categories are not only a leading cause of national consumer indebtedness, but also of corporate spending. The cost of college doubles every nine years, and medical debt is currently pegged at $140 billion. Worse, healthcare costs are expected to rise almost six percent through 2028, well above the projected GDP of 4.3 percent.

Why is this bad for business? Because the employers who offer healthcare coverage for over 23 million American workers spent almost $14,000 per employee in 2020. That's over $3.2 trillion.

That number is only slightly less than President Biden requested to pay for a capacious package of universal programs, a number that has been whittled down to half that amount. And corporations spend billions more to administer these programs.

Last Friday, the House finally passed the $1.2 trillion hard infrastructure framework: it had yes votes from Manchin, Sinema — and even Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Mitt Romney, 17 other conservative senators and 13 House Republicans. Why?

Because it was bold in its scope but moderate in its vision. Businesses know they can't compete in a global economy without modern transportation, roads, technology and data security, and that only federal spending and coordination makes national projects possible.

Human infrastructure — healthcare, eldercare, childcare, education and family stability — is also good for business.

It's not progressive. It's just common sense.

Claire Bond Potter is a political historian at the New School for Social Research. She is executive editor of Public Seminar and was the author of the popular blog Tenured Radical from 2006 through 2015. She lives in New York City.

GOP Leadership Opposes Paid Family Leave In Biden Bill

Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday released a memo laying out their opposition to Democrats' efforts to include paid family leave in the $1.75 billion Build Back Better spending plan, saying that protecting businesses is more important than letting people have time to recover from birth or take care of their infants.

Read Now Show less