How Democrats’ progressive-moderate split imperils Biden’s climate legacy

US President Joe Biden, accompanied by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) arrives at the US Capitol to meet with members of the House Democratic caucus. (AFP/File Photo)
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US President Joe Biden, accompanied by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) arrives at the US Capitol to meet with members of the House Democratic caucus. (AFP/File Photo)
A man crosses a street in downtown Portland, Oregon where air quality due to smoke from wildfires was measured to be amongst the worst in the world, September 14, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)
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A man crosses a street in downtown Portland, Oregon where air quality due to smoke from wildfires was measured to be amongst the worst in the world, September 14, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)
Discarded personal protective equipment (PPE) sits in a pile of trash in a trash pit at Recology on April 2, 2021 in San Francisco. (AFP/File Photo)
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Discarded personal protective equipment (PPE) sits in a pile of trash in a trash pit at Recology on April 2, 2021 in San Francisco. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 26 October 2021

How Democrats’ progressive-moderate split imperils Biden’s climate legacy

How Democrats’ progressive-moderate split imperils Biden’s climate legacy
  • Administration’s agenda in danger because of infighting within ruling Democratic party
  • If Biden arrives empty-handed in Glasgow, there will be little hope for a breakthrough at COP26

DUBAI: Just days before he heads to the UN Climate Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, US President Joe Biden’s climate agenda is in danger because of infighting between progressives and moderates within his own Democratic Party in Congress.

The fight is over his domestic agenda presented in two bills: A social spending bill, referred to as Building Back Better; and a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill which cleared the US Senate earlier this year. Both are considered legacy-leaving actions by the president, but one of them contains the most significant climate action ever taken by a US leader.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sounded optimistic over a deal between Democrats over the weekend, when the president met with Congressional leaders over his agenda, but nothing is in the bag yet. Pelosi said that Democrats are very close to a deal on the two bills. “I think we’re pretty much there now,” she told CNN on Sunday.

The original social spending bill of Biden, which includes the climate provisions section, began as a $3.5 trillion package, but the bill that is being negotiated now is much lower because of fierce opposition from moderate Democrats.

Two senators hold the key to reaching a deal over the bills and to a strong US position at COP26. The US can either lead with very ambitious position — or temper the high expectations of the summit if the two Democrats succeed in scaling down the president’s agenda in the spending bills.

The US is believed to have “contributed more to global warming than any other nation,” as The New York Times said, and if the US arrives at COP26 with a modest domestic plan to cut emissions it will make it harder to convince other polluters to cut their own emissions.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse told The Guardian newspaper that the US “will look ridiculous if they show up with nothing.”

This is also a make-it-or-break-it moment for the president and the Democrats, for they might never have another opportunity to pass their agenda, including their climate policy.

They now control both houses of Congress, and although it is a razor-thin majority in the Senate, they might not have this opportunity again if they do not win big in the 2022 Congressional elections.




(L-R): US Senators Mark Warner (D-VA), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Mitt Romney (R-UT), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Susan Collins (R-ME) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) take a break from a meeting on infrastructure for going to a vote at the US Capitol. (AFP/File Photo) 

The Senate is equally split now, giving each senator veto power over the budget and any policy decision, with the situation effectively making every senator “a president,” as Biden has put it.

Biden’s domestic agenda, including climate, is dependent on an agreement being reached within his own party this week, not only to preserve his legacy but also to guarantee Democrats a chance to keep power for another term in the next elections.

The majority of the Democrats agree with Pelosi that the bill that Congress is discussing is transformational and historic, and they liken it to the New Deal, the programs enacted by Roosevelt after the Great Depression. However, they have not been able to convince the two senators to toe the party line and end their opposition to the bills.

Joe Manchin III and Kyrsten Sinema are not only opposing Biden’s bills, but also threatening his domestic policy plan. They have been so dogged in their opposition as to prompt a prominent Democratic senator like Bernie Sanders to claim that it is “simply not fair, not right that one or two senators say: My way or the highway.”

Although they are both holding off on any breakthrough on reaching a deal, the objectives of Manchin and Sinema are not identical.

Manchin, from a coal-dependent state, West Virginia, has expressed concern over rising inflation because of the size of the package and its cost, but in practical terms, it is politics that is mainly on his mind.

His state and constituents depend on coal for economic survival; entire towns might cease to exist if West Virginia’s coal mines are shut down. The state also depends on coal-fired plants for 91 percent of its electricity production.

Manchin wants the $3.5 trillion price tag of the president’s bill to be cut in half to $1.5 trillion.

He is not in favor of one aspect of Biden’s climate change agenda — the part that seeks to encourage transition to clean energy. He said that energy companies are” already making the transition” to greener technologies and thus do not need tax credits and incentives.

Sinema, by contrast, is rather vague on what she wants in the package and what she opposes. US news media has reported that she supports new programs to promote clean energy and penalize businesses, but also wants to tax the rich.




A beachgoer watches as cleanup workers search for contaminated sand and seaweed along the mostly empty Huntington Beach about one week after an oil spill from an offshore oil platform on October 9, 2021 in California. (AFP/File Photo)

Biden has spent hours meeting with congressional members of his party, especially Manchin and Sinema, in an attempt to convince them to back him before he travels to Europe for COP26 the end of the month.

Climate change is a high-priority issue for Biden and his administration. He made this clear when he signed an executive order for the US to rejoin the Paris Agreement the day he took office.

He considers climate change “everybody’s crisis,” and has called on the US to be serious about the “code red” danger of global warming. He has put his fight against climate change in the context of saving the planet, while his administration has framed it as a national security threat and an integral part of its foreign policy agenda.

This concern about climate change is shared by the US public — but along partisan lines.

Polls show that the climate provisions are very important to Democrat voters. One poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 83 percent of Democrats are very concerned about climate change. Such sentiments are not shared by the Republicans, of whom only 21 percent said that they are concerned.

When the president put his full weight behind his two bills, it amounted to a whole-of-government approach to the climate part of his agenda. Lobbying for climate action got a boost when the White House, Pentagon and the intelligence community put out two reports linking climate change and global security risks.

The Washington Post said: “Together, the reports show a deepening concern within the US security establishment that the shifts unleashed by climate change can reshape US strategic interests, offer new opportunities to rivals such as China, and increase instability in nuclear states such as North Korea and Pakistan.”

The Pentagon is reportedly incorporating “climate issues into its security strategy,” and is worried “that climate change could lead to state failure,” according to the newspaper.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said in a statement: “Climate change is altering the strategic landscape and shaping the security environment, posing complex threats to the US and nations around the world.”

Austin considers it important for the Department of Defense to understand the way that climate change affects missions and capabilities if the US wants to protect itself and deter war.

Another report, The Financial Stability Oversight, cited by Axios, referred to climate change as an “emerging threat” to US economic stability, adding that the administration is “factoring climate risk into planning at the Department of the Treasury.”




A man crosses a street in downtown Portland, Oregon where air quality due to smoke from wildfires was measured to be amongst the worst in the world, September 14, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)

The FSOC, headed by Janet Yellen, “views climate related financial risks as an emerging threat to the financial stability of the US.” All these efforts by the administration and its departments were seen by the media as “warning measures” before the UN conference.

The Democrats are negotiating over a smaller package now and Biden has reportedly told party members that a package of up to $1.9 trillion is now the goal of the negotiations.

Other reports put the number at $2 trillion. Although this is a much smaller package than the originally proposed $3.5 trillion, it is closer to what Manchin wants and has a better chance of being accepted.

Despite the reductions, Biden has said that the Democrats are keeping the climate provisions in the infrastructure bill regardless of the opposition from Manchin.

There are also reports that a key component of Biden’s climate agenda, the Clean Electricity Performance Program, has been dropped from the final version of the budget bill. The $150 billion program, which is designed to replace coal-and gas-fired power plants with wind, solar and nuclear energy, is opposed by Manchin.

If the reports are true, the setback to President Biden’s climate policy and ambitions for the Glasgow conference would be huge. The program could “account for 42 percent of emissions reduction targets when tax credits are included,” according to news reports.

 




Discarded personal protective equipment (PPE) sits in a pile of trash in a trash pit at Recology on April 2, 2021 in San Francisco. (AFP/File Photo)

John Kerry, the US special presidential envoy for climate, was quoted by the Associated Press news agency as saying that any “Glasgow setback would carry reputational risk matching that of former president Donald Trump pulling out of the Paris Agreement again.”

Biden met with Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer last Sunday in Delaware to try to reach a compromise. The negotiations are about what to cut and what to keep in the reconciliation bill, and how to pay for it. They are hoping to clinch a deal this coming Wednesday.

The numbers are getting closer to what Manchin wants. But while progress has been made as the White House said, the deal is not a sure bet yet. Until that happens and Congress votes on the bills, the US position in COP26 will remain tenuous.

COP26 in Glasgow was supposed to be the “America is back” moment on climate. It is important for the world to have the US back, especially on climate action, but if Biden arrives empty-handed there will be little hope for a breakthrough.

The summit might not deliver on a global emergency that has the slogan “our house is on fire.” The international fire brigade will be coming to put out the fire without the fire extinguishers. No one at the Glasgow conference will take their fire-fighting efforts seriously.

This is why the Democrats have to get their act together and unite on this. It is their only chance to “save the planet” — something Biden says he wants to do.


Omicron v. delta: Battle of coronavirus mutants is critical

Omicron v. delta: Battle of coronavirus mutants is critical
Updated 07 December 2021

Omicron v. delta: Battle of coronavirus mutants is critical

Omicron v. delta: Battle of coronavirus mutants is critical

As the omicron coronavirus variant spreads in southern Africa and pops up in countries all around the world, scientists are anxiously watching a battle play out that could determine the future of the pandemic. Can the latest competitor to the world-dominating delta overthrow it?
Some scientists, poring over data from South Africa and the United Kingdom, suggest omicron could emerge the victor.
“It’s still early days, but increasingly, data is starting to trickle in, suggesting that omicron is likely to outcompete delta in many, if not all, places,” said Dr. Jacob Lemieux, who monitors variants for a research collaboration led by Harvard Medical School.
But others said Monday it’s too soon to know how likely it is that omicron will spread more efficiently than delta, or, if it does, how fast it might take over.
“Especially here in the US, where we’re seeing significant surges in delta, whether omicron’s going to replace it I think we’ll know in about two weeks,” said Matthew Binnicker, director of clinical virology at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
Many critical questions about omicron remain unanswered, including whether the virus causes milder or more severe illness and how much it might evade immunity from past COVID-19 illness or vaccines.
On the issue of spread, scientists point to what’s happening in South Africa, where omicron was first detected. omicron’s speed in infecting people and achieving near dominance in South Africa has health experts worried that the country is at the start of a new wave that may come to overwhelm hospitals.
The new variant rapidly moved South Africa from a period of low transmission, averaging less than 200 new cases per day in mid-November, to more than 16,000 per day over the weekend. omicron accounts for more than 90 percent of the new cases in Gauteng province, the epicenter of the new wave, according to experts. The new variant is rapidly spreading and achieving dominance in South Africa’s eight other provinces.
“The virus is spreading extraordinarily fast, very rapidly,” said Willem Hanekom, director of the Africa Health Research Institute. “If you look at the slopes of this wave that we’re in at the moment, it’s a much steeper slope than the first three waves that South Africa experienced. This indicates that it’s spreading fast and it may therefore be a very transmissible virus.”
But Hanekom, who is also co-chair the South African COVID-19 Variants Research Consortium, said South Africa had such low numbers of delta cases when omicron emerged, “I don’t think we can say” it out-competed delta.
Scientists say it’s unclear whether omicron will behave the same way in other countries as it has in South Africa. Lemieux said there are already some hints about how it may behave; in places like the United Kingdom, which does a lot of genomic sequencing, he said, “we’re seeing what appears to be a signal of exponential increase of omicron over delta.”
In the United States, as in the rest of the world, “there’s still a lot of uncertainty,” he said. “But when you put the early data together, you start to see a consistent picture emerge: that omicron is already here, and based on what we’ve observed in South Africa, it’s likely to become the dominant strain in the coming weeks and months and will likely cause a surge in case numbers.”
What that could mean for public health remains to be seen. Hanekom said early data from South Africa shows that reinfection rates are much higher with omicron than previous variants, suggesting the virus is escaping immunity somewhat. It also shows the virus seems to be infecting younger people, mostly those who are unvaccinated, and most cases in hospitals have been relatively mild.
But Binnicker said things could play out differently in other parts of the world or in different groups of patients. “It’ll be really interesting to see what happens when more infections potentially occur in older adults or those with underlying health conditions,” he said. “What’s the outcome in those patients?”
As the world waits for answers, scientists suggest people do all they can to protect themselves.
“We want to make sure that people have as much immunity from vaccination as possible. So if people are not vaccinated they should get vaccinated,” Lemieux said. “If people are eligible for boosters, they should get boosters, and then do all the other things that we know are effective for reducing transmission — masking and social distancing and avoiding large indoor gatherings, particularly without masks.”


Dutch court to rule on Palestinian’s case against Israeli defense minister

Dutch court to rule on Palestinian’s case against Israeli defense minister
Updated 07 December 2021

Dutch court to rule on Palestinian’s case against Israeli defense minister

Dutch court to rule on Palestinian’s case against Israeli defense minister
  • Universal jurisdiction allows countries to prosecute serious offences such as war crimes and torture no matter where they were committed

THE HAGUE: An appeals court in the Netherlands rules on Tuesday in a case alleging war crimes against Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who is blamed by a Dutch Palestinian for the loss of six relatives in an Israeli air strike on Gaza in 2014.
Ismail Ziada filed the civil case against Gantz and another former senior Israeli military official, seeking unspecified damages under Dutch universal jurisdiction rules. His case was thrown out by a lower Dutch court in January 2020.
Universal jurisdiction allows countries to prosecute serious offences such as war crimes and torture no matter where they were committed.
But the lower court ruled that the principles of universal jurisdiction could be applied for individual criminal responsibility, but not in civil cases.
Ziada appealed, arguing that universal jurisdiction should be applied in civil cases if the alleged conduct involved serious violations of international humanitarian law. He asked the appeals judges to reverse the decision, which effectively granted Gantz immunity from prosecution.
Gantz, a career soldier turned politician, was commander-in-chief of the Israeli armed forces during a war against Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip in 2014, when the incident took place.
About 2,200 Palestinians are estimated to have been killed, up to 1,500 of them civilians, in the conflict, according to U.N. figures. Ziada said he lost relatives when his family home in Gaza was bombed during a June 2014 Israeli air strike. On the Israeli side, 67 soldiers and five civilians were killed.
Gaza is controlled by the Palestinian Islamist Hamas movement, regarded by the West as a terrorist organization. Israel says Hamas puts civilians in harm's way by deploying fighters and weaponry inside densely populated areas of Gaza.
Human rights groups have accused both sides of war crimes in the 2014 conflict. The International Criminal Court (ICC) is currently investigating alleged war crimes committed on Palestinian territory since June 2014 by both Israeli defense forces and Palestinian armed groups.


WHO advises against blood plasma treatment for COVID-19 patients

This photo taken on February 18, 2020 shows a doctor (R) who has recovered from the COVID-19 coronavirus infection donating plasma in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province. (AFP)
This photo taken on February 18, 2020 shows a doctor (R) who has recovered from the COVID-19 coronavirus infection donating plasma in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province. (AFP)
Updated 07 December 2021

WHO advises against blood plasma treatment for COVID-19 patients

This photo taken on February 18, 2020 shows a doctor (R) who has recovered from the COVID-19 coronavirus infection donating plasma in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province. (AFP)
  • A US-based trial was halted in March after it was found that plasma was unlikely to help mild-to-moderate COVID-19 patients

GENEVA: The World Health Organization on Monday advised against using the blood plasma of patients who have recovered from COVID-19 to treat those who are ill, saying current evidence shows it neither improves survival nor reduces the need for ventilators.
The hypothesis for using plasma is that the antibodies it contains could neutralize the novel coronavirus, stopping it from replicating and halting tissue damage.
Several studies testing convalescent blood plasma have shown no apparent benefit for treating COVID-19 patients who are severely ill. A US-based trial was halted in March after it was found that plasma was unlikely to help mild-to-moderate COVID-19 patients.
The method is also costly and time-consuming to administer, the WHO said in a statement on Monday.
A panel of international experts made a strong recommendation against the use of convalescent plasma in patients with non-severe illness, the WHO said. They also advised against its use in patients with severe and critical illness, except in the context of a randomized controlled trial.
The recommendation, published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), is based on evidence from 16 trials involving 16,236 patients with non-severe, severe and critical COVID-19 infection.


Pakistani clock collector records passage of time

Pakistani clock collector records passage of time
Updated 07 December 2021

Pakistani clock collector records passage of time

Pakistani clock collector records passage of time
  • Gul Kakar’s collection of 18th, 19th-century timepieces range from small pocket watches to grandfather clocks

QUETTA: Bells, whistles, chimes, and gongs sound every minute. Hands tick, pendulums swing.

Welcome to the museum of Gul Kakar, a 44-year-old Balochistan Levies Force officer, who has collected thousands of ancient clocks from around the world.

Housed in his small museum in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta, the collection of 18th- and 19th-century timepieces includes exhibits ranging from small pocket watches to tall free-standing wooden case grandfather clocks accumulated over two decades.

“My passion toward antique clocks started when I found two old clocks in my house, which were in my father’s possession. After repairing them, I started my search for more antique clocks,” Kakar told Arab News.

“The majority of clocks in my museum have been acquired from people in the UK, Germany, Holland, France, and the US.

“I have a rare French-made Morbier grandfather clock, which was produced in 1850, and a pocket watch manufactured in 1820. When I learnt that a French family wanted to sell these rare clocks, I contacted a friend in France who purchased them for me and sent them six years ago.”

Kakar said he had not counted how many clocks he had but reckoned there were thousands in his two-room museum, located on the city’s Joint Road. There are no guided tours, but visitors are always welcome.

“I never thought that I would be able to build a museum. With the passage of time, my antiques including all forms of old clocks started arriving and turned my place into a clock museum,” he added.

HIGHLIGHT

Gathered from around world, Kakar has never counted, calculated value of his museum contents.

In a world increasingly oriented toward technology, Kakar said his museum had become a portal to another time. He also has a number of vintage radios and old gramophones in his collection.

“When I hear the sounds of these clocks or play songs on gramophones, it gives me immense comfort and pushes me into the historical lifestyle of the people back in the 18th and 19th centuries who had used these items. I am able to recognize the chimes of all clocks.”

The models he owns are unfamiliar to Pakistani clocksmiths, so Kakar has to carry out any repairs himself.

“I service them and wind them once a week, and I’m able to repair minor issues with my clocks,” he said.

And he has recently started looking into the history of some of his exhibits.

“I know the background of some of these clocks and I am in contact with some families in England and France and have asked them to share the histories of these clocks used by their great grandfathers during the 18th and 19th centuries. I am hopeful I will get more details in the coming months,” he added.

Kakar has not attempted to calculate how much his collection is worth. “I have never sold items from my collection to anyone. If I started counting the sum, I would not be able to carry on with my enthusiasm.”


Six countries including US urge Ethiopian government to cease illegal detentions

Six countries including US urge  Ethiopian government  to cease illegal detentions
Updated 07 December 2021

Six countries including US urge Ethiopian government to cease illegal detentions

Six countries including US urge  Ethiopian government  to cease illegal detentions

WASHINGTON: Six countries including the US expressed concern on Monday over reports of widespread arrests by Ethiopia of Tigrayan citizens based on ethnicity in connection with the country’s year-old conflict, urging the government to stop acts they said likely violate international law.

The US, Britain, Canada, Australia, Denmark and the Netherlands cited reports by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and the rights group Amnesty International on widespread arrests of ethnic Tigrayans, including Orthodox priests, older people and mothers with children.

The countries said they are “profoundly concerned” about the detentions of people without charges, adding that the government’s announcement of a state of emergency last month offered “no justification” for mass detentions.

“Individuals are being arrested and detained without charges or a court hearing and are reportedly being held in inhumane conditions. Many of these acts likely constitute violations of international law and must cease immediately,” the six countries said in a joint statement.

They urged Ethiopia’s government to allow unhindered access by international monitors.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s spokesperson Billene Seyoum and Ethiopian government spokesperson Legesse Tulu did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the statement.

The conflict between Ethiopian’s federal government and the leadership of Tigray has killed thousands of civilians, forced millions to flee their homes and made more than 9 million people dependent on food aid.

Ethiopia, Africa’s second-largest nation and a regional diplomatic heavyweight, was once an ally for Western security forces seeking to counter Islamist extremism. Relations have soured amid increasing allegations of human rights abuses committed during the conflict.

The joint statement reiterated grave concern over human rights abuses including sexual violence and ongoing reports of atrocities committed by all sides.

“It is clear that there is no military solution to this conflict, and we denounce any and all violence against civilians, past, present and future,” the statement said.

Both sides in Ethiopia accuse each other of committing atrocities and both have denied the allegations.

The six countries in the statement called on the parties to the conflict to negotiate a sustainable cease-fire, reiterating calls from the United States and others for Ethiopia’s government and Tigrayan forces to declare a cease-fire to allow humanitarian aid to enter Tigray.