The answer is 'In every way possible. It's global, dumbass.'
We got another reminder yesterday that grown-ups are running things again, this time in the form of — we hope you're ready for the shock of your life — a set of reports from 23 government agencies on how they'll be affected by the climate emergency and what they plan to do to meet those challenges.
We know, it's a lot to take in. We'll give you a moment to catch your breath.
But as you can imagine, it's very srs bns, because a warming planet with more frequent extreme weather events will affect just about every aspect of how we live, and how the government does stuff. As the New York Times points out, some of it sounds like the stuff of dystopian fiction:
Less food. More traffic accidents. Extreme weather hitting nuclear waste sites. Migrants rushing toward the United States, fleeing even worse calamity in their own countries.
Some of it may sound more mundane, but will require costly changes to deal with. F'rinstance, as the Department of Transportation report notes, more severe weather is going to lead to airport closures, flight cancellations and delays, and snarls in the air traffic control system. Even without storms, warmer average air temperatures mean planes will need longer takeoff runs, and they won't be able to fly as far or carry as much as they did in the cooler past. Not gigantic changes, but enough to have an economic effect.
The reports were required by Biden as part of an assload of executive orders he issued on January 28, when he announced his climate agenda and pledged to pursue a "whole of government" approach to the climate crisis, rather than shunting the issue off to agencies like the EPA or the Interior department. The 23 agencies include some that are obviously going to be dealing directly with climate and its impacts, like the departments of Agriculture, Defense, Interior, Homeland Security, and Transportation, as well as the EPA and NASA, along with other agencies that don't immediately pop into your head when you think "climate change," like the Department of Education or the General Services Agency.
But hell yes, they're all going to be dealing with climate: The Education Department's report points out that just in California, during the 2018-2019 school year, wildfires caused school closures that affected more than a million kids and their families. More powerful hurricanes are going to affect schools across a larger part of the country — kids in Puerto Rico lost an average of 78 school days after Hurricane Maria, for instance. And then there's the challenge of upgrading tens of thousands of schools to be more energy efficient, plus planning to do something about the more than 6,300 schools nationwide that are in flood plains. Those schools alone serve about four million kids.
And yes, the super-boring General Services Agency, which manages federal property, purchasing, and vehicle fleets, among other things, is revising its design standards to make sure government facilities are more resilient — that's a hell of a lot of office space. GSA also handles IT for government agencies, and there again, it has to plan for how to keep data systems working when there are wildfires and severe storms and coastal flooding.
There's even a report from the Smithsonian Institution, which has all those museums in flood-prone Washington DC. It would be a darn good idea if the "nation's attic" didn't literally have to move its collections upstairs and paint "HELP US" on the roof.
A little more, from NBC News:
Changes in temperature, increases in floods and droughts, more pests and disease will all affect America's food supply, according to the Agriculture Department, while the Department of Housing and Urban Development warned that affordable housing "is increasingly at risk from both extreme weather events and sea-level rise."
Health and Human Services said that not only are more people exposed to deadly heat and floodwaters because of climate change, but also that exposure to certain infections increases as the life cycles of ticks and mosquitoes change. Severe weather disasters contribute to anxiety, depression and other mental health impacts, they added.
In accordance with Biden's call for racial equity and justice, the reports all note what their departments can do in that area; HHS's report, for instance, says it'll fund grants to research health effects in frontline communities, which is a hell of a lot, given that some of the worst industrial sources of pollution have been built in minority and low-income communities. That's also why the Build Back Better reconciliation bill specifies that climate mitigation funding should go to environmental cleanup, adaptability planning, and building resilient infrastructure in the most hard-hit communities.
The Defense Department has long considered climate change a potentially "destabilizing force," causing international tensions and also creating logistical problems for the armed forces, as military bases in some areas get flooded or damaged by storms and equipment gets bogged down in wetter parts of the world. As the Times points out,
Water shortages could even become a new source of tension between the U.S. military overseas and the countries where troops are based. At DOD sites outside the United States, "military water requirements might compete with local water needs, creating potential areas of friction or even conflict."
Then there's the Department of Homeland Security, which notes that the US is already dealing with climate refugees from Central America, a challenge that's only going to grow as farmland dries up and climate change causes even greater "population movements from Mexico, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean." Perhaps a bit ominously, the Times points out that
The department doesn't say how it plans to respond in the future as more people flee to the United States, beyond saying it "will focus on national security and balanced, equitable outcomes."
Sadly, we don't think that translates to abolishing ICE. Maybe we can send the agency to the poles, where ice is already in short supply.
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You can still hate Louis DeJoy. We sure do!
The US Postal Service seems poised to make a whole lot of good-government nerds very very happy with a four-city pilot program that will try out an old idea whose time probably never should have ended: postal banking. From 1910 until 1966, when you went to the Post Office, you could not only get stamps or send a package or dodge bullets, you could also put some money in your postal savings account, or withdraw some after it had grown by a whopping two percent interest rate.
At its height, postal banking served some four million Americans, and before the New Deal created the stabilizing force of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, postal savings accounts were especially attractive because, unlike a bank that could go bust, the deposits were backed by the full faith and credit of the USA.
The USPS got out of the banking business in 1966, but for decades, think tanks and policy geeks have said it would be a great thing to bring back, because there are millions of Americans who don't use banks, yes in 2021. Instead, far too many Americans are unbanked — about five percent of us — and pay too much to cash their paychecks at payday lenders, (some) grocery stores, or Walmart.
Starting last month, the USPS began testing out a new system where people can cash business checks up to $500 and receive the money in the form of a gift card that can be used pretty much anywhere. As David Dayen puts it at the American Prospect, this is a big effing deal: He calls it "the most far-reaching executive action that the Biden administration has taken since Inauguration Day."
The move puts the USPS in direct competition with the multibillion-dollar check-cashing industry, which operates storefronts to allow unbanked or underbanked residents to cash their paychecks.
And if you cash your check at the Post Office, nobody's going to try to interest you in a short term high interest loan, either.
The pilot program is starting out (very) small, with just a single post office location in each of the four cities of Washington DC, Falls Church, Virginia, Baltimore, and the Bronx. And it's new enough that when the American Prospect sent reporter Jandos Rothstein to try cashing a business check at the P.O. in Falls Church, the postal worker at the counter "said she didn't think she could take the check."
"But she read the check into her scanner and it went through." He didn't need to show identification or endorse the check. The post office charged Rothstein a flat fee of $5.95, for any amount up to $500.
Several larger check-cashing chains charge a percentage rate that comes out to $15 or more for a $500 check. Walmart charges between $4 and $8 for check cashing.
Post offices already sell single-use generic Visa gift cards that work like debit cards, either to buy stuff at a store or online, or to get cash at an ATM (for a fee, unfortunately). This made the check-cashing pilot fairly easy to put in place, from both a tech and legal standpoint:
Because the only innovation in the test pilot involves allowing gift cards to be purchased with a business or payroll check, no additional authority from Congress was required. Those who set up the product expansion are confident that it falls within their legal mandate. [...]
[But] officials have floated ideas for how it could expand. The card could be reloadable rather than single-use, used to store multiple paychecks over time. USPS could keep track of the card value, accounting for a user's balance in case it gets lost or stolen. Postal gift cards, currently branded for businesses like Barnes & Noble or Olive Garden as well as the generic Visa card, could be branded as coming specifically from USPS, with no-fee branded ATMs inside post office buildings.
Now, you may ask, how did something this smart happen under Louis Goddamned DeJoy, the schmuck who as soon as he became Postmaster General last year set to dismantling the USPS, slowing mail times, and in general monkeywrenching the mail just in time to make Americans worry their mail-in ballots might not arrive? If you can read past the business-speak bafflegab in this statement, it gets a little clearer:
"Offering new products and services that are affordable, convenient and secure aligns with the Postal Service's Delivering for America 10-year plan to achieve financial sustainability and service excellence," said USPS spokesperson Roy in a statement to the Prospect. "This pilot, which is in collaboration with the American Postal Workers Union (APWU), is an example of how the Postal Service is leveraging its vast retail footprint and resources to innovate."
Firstable, there's some revenue in it, and DeJoy desperately wants USPS to make some money. But that bit about the union is key, it turns out: It seems that the union had insisted on postal banking pilot programs as part of its 2016 contract with USPS. The postmaster-general prior to DeJoy, Margaret Brennan (hired during the Obama administration), didn't do a damn thing to move on those pilot programs. And then DeJoy came along, and the postal workers appealed to his desire to raise revenue:
[The] union engaged him personally in a series of meetings, pitching the postal banking idea again. In a sign that DeJoy was interested, those meetings soon became weekly events, involving technical staff.
"They listened, they didn't shut us down," said one APWU source involved in the negotiations. "They have made the analysis that the future of the USPS lies not in letters but in packages, and they see the expansion of financial services as a companion to the package market."
So it was kind of a package deal, ha! ha!
Now, there's no love lost between the union and DeJoy; they still want him gone, baby gone. But hey, postal workers, having to get all those letters and packages to fit in a pokey little van, know all about compartmentalization. So they were happy to collaborate on the postal banking while still calling for DeJoy go the way of the hated three-wheel Cushman Mailster, which had a habit of falling over while cornering and getting stuck in even a little bit of snow.
In conclusion, fuck Louis DeJoy, fuck payday lenders, Fuck the Cushman mailster except for people who collect 'em, hooray for the union, and let's have postal banking again, yay!
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Also 11,000 new jobs in Kentucky and Tennessee.
Ford Motor Company announced yesterday that it's partnering with South Korean energy firm SK Innovation to build two new factories in Tennessee and Kentucky to manufacture electric vehicles and the batteries that go in 'em. The two complexes — wait, they're "hubs!" — will employ some 11,000 workers total when they open in 2025.
"vertically integrated ecosystem" consisting of a vehicle assembly plant, a battery plant jointly operated by Ford and SK, as well as facilities for suppliers and battery recycling operations. Ford says the new assembly plant will be carbon neutral with zero waste to landfill when it's fully operational in 2025.
Ford says it will be "among the largest auto manufacturing campuses in US history."
Ford and SK will also construct two battery factories in Kentucky, which will produce batteries to be used in Ford and Lincoln EVs built at other assembly plants around North America. An industry insider we just made up right now said the Kentucky and Tennessee sites were "chosen deliberately to fuck with Doktor Zoom," who can never keep the two states straight.
In a press release, Ford kvelled that the company's $7 billion share in the joint venture will be "the largest ever U.S. investment in electric vehicles at one time by any automotive manufacturer," and that the company intends to "lead America's transition to electric vehicles and usher in a new era of clean, carbon-neutral manufacturing," according to Executive Chair Bill Ford.
The press release said the new plants are part of a more than $30 billion investment in EVs, and that it "expects 40% to 50% of its global vehicle volume to be fully electric by 2030."
Jim Farley, Ford's president and CEO, said that the company's EV offerings will aim at expanding the market for EVs beyond wealthy early tech adopters and granola-munching greenies, albeit not in those exact terms: "We are moving now to deliver breakthrough electric vehicles for the many rather than the few." We aren't sure if that was a Star Trek reference or not.
Marketing bafflegab aside, Ford's green bafflegab about the Tennessee plant sounds pretty darned impressive:
Through an on-site wastewater treatment plant, the assembly plant aspires to make zero freshwater withdrawals for assembly processes by incorporating water reuse and recycling systems. Zero-waste-to-landfill processes will capture materials and production scrap at an on-site materials collection center to sort and route materials for recycling or processing either at the plant or at off-site facilities once the plant is operational.
That sounds pretty good, as does the goal of "localizing the supply chain network, creating recycling options for scrap and end-of-life vehicles, and ramping up lithium-ion recycling," which Ford says is vital to making EVs a sustainable business. Seems like a good idea to focus on. You certainly wouldn't want to have too many lithium ions in the fire.
Also too, the artist's rendering of Blue Oval City in Tennessee looks pretty nifty, what with the employee parking all covered with solar panels.
Ford Motor Company
You know what would be pretty damn nice? For Congress to pass the Build Back Better reconciliation bill and get a bunch of EV recharging infrastructure and grid upgrades built, plus tax credits for people buying all those EVs.
If we get to feeling all socialisty, we can even fantasize about future legislation that would make it easier for lower-income folks to trade their gas guzzlers for an EV. Like Obama's cash for clunkers, but juiced. Eventually, all those cars out there running on Direct Current might even demand DC statehood.
And that's all for your current news.
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COVID, Build Back Better, and stuff.
Joe Biden followed his scheduled remarks on the COVID-19 response with a brief press conference today, taking the opportunity to make the case that nine months in just might be a little early for pundits to be declaring his presidency over, and he's still looking forward to getting his agenda through Congress, and would you all just settle down and let the process go forward, OK?
Here, it is a White House video!
Biden started out with the FDA's and CDC's new approval of booster shots for some people who've had two doses of the Pfizer vaccine. The third shot is recommended six months after the second dose for
- people over 65
- residents in long-term care
- people aged 50-64 with underlying medical conditions
Two other groups may want to get a booster: those aged 18 to 49 who have underlying medical conditions, based on their own particular risks, and people aged 18 to 64 who work in a job where they might be exposed often to COVID, like people working in healthcare, prisons, or schools. Biden said he looked forward to getting his third shot, even though "It's hard to acknowledge I'm over 65," which was nice and corny.
He also took the opportunity to call on the 25 percent of eligible people who haven't yet been vaccinated to go get the shot already, and noted that since hospitals in many areas are full of unvaccinated people, leading to people with serious medical needs dying because there were no ICU beds, then deciding not to get vaccinated isn't only affecting the person refusing the vaccine. He also noted some success stories: United Airlines, seven weeks after requiring employees be vaccinated, "now has 97 percent of their employees vaccinated," and just a month after the Pentagon ordered all military personnel to be vaccinated, a full 92 percent of active-duty service members have been vaccinated.
Then Biden took a few questions, saying first that the Border Patrol's treatment of Haitian migrants at the Texas-Mexico border was "horrible to see" and "outrageous," and saying once an investigation is finished, there should be consequences for those responsible. (He wasn't asked and didn't say anything about the deportations of many Haitian asylum-seekers, which led his own appointee as special envoy to Haiti, Ambassador Daniel Foote, to resign in protest yesterday.)
Asked whether his campaign message of bringing "competence and unity" back to the White House was in danger of evaporating in a cloud of Afghanistan, COVID, and a possible government shutdown, Biden rejected the premise, and noted that he had said it would probably take a year to accomplish his top goals, and also, not to make excuses or anything, did you see the state of this place when he got here? "So, you know, part of it is dealing with the panoply of things that were landed on my plate. I'm not complaining; it's just a reality. It's a reality, number one."
As for recent polling, he noted he's not worried because virtually every part of his economic plan is "overwhelmingly popular," and because Congress is moving forward on his Build Back Better reconciliation bill. He noted that its childcare and senior care provisions would be of particular help to women who've wanted to bet back to the workforce, and emphasized that worries about the national debt are overblown because tax increases on corporations and the wealthy, plus economic growth from the help going to the middle and working classes, will pay for everything in the plan.
On Afghanistan, Biden said that concerns about the US military withdrawal were legitimate, but also that America couldn't keep "spending $300 million a day for 20 years. There was no easy way to end that." He noted he'd be discussing Afghanistan later in the day when he hosted a meeting with the prime ministers of India, Australia, and Japan, and that the US is "still getting people out" as well.
Biden acknowledged that the resurgence of the pandemic, due to the Delta variant and about a quarter of American adults not yet getting vaccinated, had definitely slowed things down from the rate of progress he'd have hoped for, as have all the recent climate-related extreme weather events (which also highlight the need for the plan's climate measures). He said he was confident that both parts of his agenda, the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the Build Back Better reconciliation package, will definitely pass.
In response to a question about moderate Democrats' unwillingness to give him a top-line figure of how much they'd be willing to spend on Build Back Better, Biden again reframed the premise, saying he hoped that instead of pulling a number out of the air, they'd decide what parts of the plan they want to pass instead, and write the bill accordingly:
What do you think we should be doing? Is it appropriate, in your view, to cut taxes for working-class people by providing for daycare, providing for early education, three and four years old? Is it appropriate to do something about free community college? [...] I'm telling them, "What — what are your priorities?"
And several of them, when they go through their priorities, it adds up to a number higher than they said they were for.
Biden also repeated his calls for strong action on climate, pointing out he'd managed to surprise some critics by getting the three biggest American auto manufacturers to agree that all their vehicles will have to be electric, and noting that China is investing billions of dollars in clean energy tech.
The presser must have been a bit of a letdown for anyone expecting Biden to be down in the dumps. He was looking pretty optimistic, all in all — not defensive, just not willing to accept any premature obituaries for his presidency.
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