Opinion | What Biden Can Do About Climate Change – By David Leonhardt – The New York Times

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Mr. Leonhardt is a senior writer at The Times.

Credit…Marly Gallardo

“During the months that Joe Biden and President Trump were campaigning against each other, vast sections of the American West caught on fire. More than five million acres burned, and the air in California, Oregon and Washington was sometimes more harmful to breathe than in the pollution-clogged cities of India.

In the Atlantic Ocean this year, there have been more big storms recorded than in any previous year — 29 thus far, so many that the group that names storms exhausted the English alphabet and had to switch to Greek. Nine of those storms became much more intense in the span of a single day, an event that was rare before the planet was as warm as it now is.

Worldwide, the month of September was the hottest ever measured, and 2020 may end up being the hottest year. The Arctic is warming even faster than the rest of the planet, and glaciers are losing more ice each year than can be found in all of the European Alps. Sea levels now seem to be rising at an accelerating pace. In Siberia, melting ice appears to be releasing gases that cause gigantic explosions, leaving craters that are up 100 feet deep.

Climate change is a fantastically complex phenomenon. It does not proceed at a steady pace, and scientists are often unsure precisely what its effects are and which weather patterns are random. But the sum total of the evidence is clear — and terrifying. The earth is continuing to warm, breaking new records as it does, and the destructive effects of climate change are picking up speed. Future damage will almost certainly be worse, maybe much worse.

Yet there is also a major way in which 2020 has the potential to be a turning point in the other direction. A president who has called climate change a hoax — whose administration has tried to discredit government scientists and has overhauled federal policy to allow more pollution — has lost re-election. He has lost to a candidate who made climate policy a bigger part of his campaign than any previous winning president.

The last two Democratic presidents, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, put a higher priority on expanding health insurance than fighting climate change. Mr. Biden, by contrast, has said he will accomplish his unavoidable short-term priorities — controlling the coronavirus and restarting the economy — in significant part by fighting climate change.

He has proposed spending $2 trillion on clean energy over the next four years to put people back to work, a sum that’s almost 20 times larger than the clean-energy spending in Mr. Obama’s 2009 economic-recovery package. Embedding clean-energy measures into other policy areas is likely to be a theme of the Biden presidency. His advisers have told me that during almost every policy discussion, they ask themselves how to incorporate climate.

The issue is simply more salient today than it was in 2008, as Gina McCarthy, who ran the Environmental Protection Agency under Mr. Obama and has advised Mr. Biden, points out. “The difference between then and now is that the issue of climate change is so much more relevant and personal now,” said Ms. McCarthy, who runs the Natural Resources Defense Council. “There is a real opportunity here that I think Biden is capturing.”

What he can accomplish, of course, will depend on Congress — and specifically on whether Democrats manage to win both Senate runoffs in Georgia in January. That won’t be easy. If Democrats don’t win both, Republicans will keep Senate control, and one of the world’s few major political parties that rejects climate science will be able to block large parts of Mr. Biden’s agenda.

But even in that scenario, he is likely to shift federal policy in a profound way. His advisers have spent months thinking about how to reduce carbon emissions through regulation rather than legislation. And Mr. Biden may also be able to win over a few Republican senators — which is all he would need — for an economic recovery bill that included billions of dollars of clean-energy spending.

The fact that Mr. Biden seems inclined to make the climate a top priority does not stem from a longtime personal obsession. He is not Al Gore. But he has spent his career trying to understand where the center of the Democratic Party is moving and then moving with it. And both the Democratic Party and the country have moved on climate.

For many young progressives and political activists, who will have to live most of their lives on a planet suffering from climate-related damage, climate is the defining issue. “There’s so much pressure from the outside, from young activists — it’s very impactful,” said Kathy Castor, a Democrat from the Tampa area who heads the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. Consider that Bernie Sanders made Medicare for All his signature issue; Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has made the Green New Deal hers.

If anything, the attention on racial injustice since George Floyd’s killing in May has put more momentum behind climate policy. When Ms. Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts released the Green New Deal — a statement of principles, rather than a detailed piece of legislation — last year, some moderate Democrats and climate experts criticized its breadth. It called not only for stopping global warming but also for addressing economic inequality and racism.

Now, though, that broad approach means that climate policy feels like a crucial part of another progressive priority: combating racial inequities, by reducing the disproportionate health damage that pollution causes in Black and Latino neighborhoods. Rhiana Gunn-Wright, who helped write the Green New Deal and now runs the climate program at the Roosevelt Institute, said that she used to spend a lot of time answering questions about how climate change and racial justice were connected. “I don’t get asked those questions anymore,” she added.

In addition to the activist energy, broader public opinion seems to be shifting, as climate change has gone from being a hypothetical future problem in many people’s minds to an everyday problem. In a Pew Research Center poll this year, 52 percent of Americans said that dealing with global climate change should be a top priority for the president and Congress. In 2009, only 30 percent did. In a New York Times/Siena College poll during the campaign, 66 percent of likely voters said they favored Biden’s $2 trillion climate plan, with only 26 percent opposed.

As Ms. Gunn-Wright said, “It’s getting harder and harder to act like climate change is a long-term issue that’s coming down the pike.”

Regardless of what happens in the Georgia elections, Mr. Biden’s approach to climate change will differ from Mr. Obama’s. Like most of the Biden agenda, this change reflects a larger shift in the party. In the case of climate, Democrats have become more hardheaded about the tricky politics of the issue. The change has been subtle, and no politician has ever announced it. But it has also been fundamental.

Democrats used to focus their efforts to pass a climate bill on the idea of raising the cost of carbon emissions, through either a tax or a system of permits, known as cap-and-trade. For all of the complicated details, the basic idea was simple: If dirty energy became more expensive, people would use less of it.

Many economists favor this approach, because it harnesses the power of market incentives to shift millions of people’s behavior. Mr. Obama also hoped that the market-oriented approach might win enough Republican votes to get it through the Senate. It did not.

Without bipartisan support, a price on carbon has a huge political weakness. Because higher costs are the central part of the plan, opponents are able to brand it as a tax increase for hard-working families. That criticism helped defeat the Obama plan in the Senate and has also led to the downfall (or weakening) of climate policies in other countries. If a carbon price can’t pass, its technocratic elegance and economic efficiency are irrelevant.

Having learned this lesson, many progressives changed their strategy. They have moved away from a carbon price and now focus on the two other major ways that a government can address climate change. The first is to subsidize clean energy so it becomes cheaper and, in turn, more widely used. The second is put in place rules — often called standards — that simply mandate less pollution, leaving utilities and other companies to work out the details of how they will emit less carbon.

These two approaches are the core of the Biden agenda. And the creation of standards will be the most important one if Democrats fail to win both Senate races in Georgia.

Crucially, a president already has the legal authority to enact standards in the sectors that emit the most carbon, like utilities and transportation. Mr. Biden will not need new legislation to do so. In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that the Clean Air Act applied to carbon emissions, allowing the Environmental Protection Agency to restrict them. Mr. Obama used this power, and Mr. Biden will probably be even more aggressive.

Standards can have a big effect. The Obama policies, combined with technological advances in solar and wind power, have helped reduce coal’s share of the power sector to 20 percent, from almost 50 percent in 2010. Thirty states have created their own energy standards, including California, New York, Arizona and Colorado, which has also helped. In some cases, the state-based policies are the result of a referendum.

That’s a sign that these standards tend to be more popular than energy taxes: Most Americans support pollution reductions. Opponents still portray them as tax increases, as they no doubt will during the Biden administration. “The oil industry is always going to be arguing that no matter what you do, it’s a price on carbon,” as Mr. Markey told me. But it’s easier for climate advocates to win that argument.

In some cases, Mr. Biden may use the threat of regulation to negotiate with industry. Automakers seem open to making a deal. When Mr. Trump tried to free them from Obama-era restrictions, some balked. Many auto executives understand that clean-energy cars are the future. They would rather get working on the transition, rather than having to maintain two different product lines — gas-guzzling vehicles in some places (like red states) and more fuel-efficient cars elsewhere (like California and Europe).

With a Republican Senate, the Biden climate agenda will consist of dozens of smaller pieces, rather than one sweeping piece of legislation. The Agriculture Department will create incentives for farms to emit less carbon, and the Energy Department will do the same for buildings. On Capitol Hill, the administration will try to add some clean-energy subsidies to legislation on virus relief and infrastructure.

Foreign policy will also be geared toward persuading other countries to emit less. China, in particular, has shown more willingness to listen to American requests on climate change than on other big subjects, like human rights and intellectual property.

Will this be enough to avoid the worst consequences? It is impossible to know. Our chances would certainly be better if Congress were able to pass major legislation.

“We have to use every tool in the toolbox on climate action, before it is too late,” Ms. Castor said. Ms. McCarthy added: “We are way past the time when we should be looking incrementally instead of very aggressively.”

That aggressive approach depends on Democrats winning both Georgia races, which would give them 50 Senate seats and allow Vice President Kamala Harris to break ties. In that case, Democrats could pass much of Mr. Biden’s proposed clean-energy spending. This money would increase spending on research and development, as well as give consumers and businesses incentives to make immediate changes. Many more families would probably buy an electric car, for example, if the government subsidized the purchase and also paid to build many more charging stations.

A Democratic Senate could also try to protect Mr. Biden’s regulatory authority from court challenges, especially given the newly conservative makeup of the Supreme Court. Some climate advocates even hope the Senate would be willing to revisit targeted carbon taxes, perhaps only for the power sector.

The biggest reason to believe that Mr. Biden’s presidency may mark a new era in climate policy is also the biggest reason for pessimism about the future. The effects of climate change seem to be accelerating. The coming years will bring more fires, more unbreathable air, more extreme storms and more flooding, as well as damage that we cannot yet predict. At some point, voters may demand aggressive action and punish politicians who put a higher priority on the profits of the energy industry than on the condition of the planet.

We’re not there yet. But Mr. Biden seems to grasp that his success in fighting climate change will go a long way toward defining his success as president.”

18 Revelations From a Trove of Trump Tax Records – By David Leonhardt – The New York Times

“The New York Times has obtained tax-return data for President Trump and his companies that covers more than two decades. Mr. Trump has long refused to release this information, making him the first president in decades to hide basic details about his finances. His refusal has made his tax returns among the most sought-after documents in recent memory.

Among the key findings of The Times’s investigation:

  • Mr. Trump paid no federal income taxes in 11 of 18 years that The Times examined. In 2017, after he became president, his tax bill was only $750.

  • He has reduced his tax bill with questionable measures, including a $72.9 million tax refund that is the subject of an audit by the Internal Revenue Service.

  • Many of his signature businesses, including his golf courses, report losing large amounts of money — losses that have helped him to lower his taxes.

  • The financial pressure on him is increasing as hundreds of millions of dollars in loans he personally guaranteed are soon coming due.

  • Even while declaring losses, he has managed to enjoy a lavish lifestyle by taking tax deductions on what most people would consider personal expenses, including residences, aircraft and $70,000 in hairstyling for television.

  • Ivanka Trump, while working as an employee of the Trump Organization, appears to have received “consulting fees” that also helped reduce the family’s tax bill.

  • As president, he has received more money from foreign sources and U.S. interest groups than previously known. The records do not reveal any previously unreported connections to Russia.

It is important to remember that the returns are not an unvarnished look at Mr. Trump’s business activity. They are instead his own portrayal of his companies, compiled for the I.R.S. But they do offer the most detailed picture yet available.

Below is a deeper look at the takeaways. The main article based on the investigation contains much more information, as does a timeline of the president’s finances. Dean Baquet, the executive editor, has written a note explaining why The Times is publishing these findings.”

(then there is more)

The Unique U.S. Failure to Control the Virus – By David Leonhardt – The New York Times

“Nearly every country has struggled to contain the coronavirus and made mistakes along the way.

China committed the first major failure, silencing doctors who tried to raise alarms about the virus and allowing it to escape from Wuhan. Much of Europe went next, failing to avoid enormous outbreaks. Today, many countries — Japan, Canada, France, Australia and more — are coping with new increases in cases after reopening parts of society.

Yet even with all of these problems, one country stands alone, as the only affluent nation to have suffered a severe, sustained outbreak for more than four months: the United States.”

Opinion | The U.S. Is Lagging Behind Many Rich Countries. These Charts Show Why. – By David Leonhardt and Yaryna Serkez – The New York Times

“The United States is different. In nearly every other high-income country, people have both become richer over the last three decades and been able to enjoy substantially longer lifespans.

But not in the United States. Even as average incomes have risen, much of the economic gains have gone to the affluent — and life expectancy has risen only three years since 1990. There is no other developed country that has suffered such a stark slowdown in lifespans.

Life expectancy and G.D.P. per capita 1990-2018″

Opinion | The Coronavirus Mask Fiasco – By David Leonhardt – The New York Times

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Opinion Columnist

Credit…Gabriela Bhaskar for The New York Times

“The message about face masks coming from American health officials has never been especially clear.

When the coronavirus began spreading, officials seemed to be promoting two contradictory ideas: First, masks would not help keep people safe; and second, masks were so important that they should be reserved for doctors and nurses. It reminded me of the line credited to Yogi Berra about a New York restaurant: “Nobody goes there anymore — it’s too crowded.”

The truth has become clearer in recent days. Masks probably do provide some protection. They’re particularly effective at keeping somebody who already has the virus from spreading it to others, and they may also make the mask’s wearer less likely to get sick. “Coronavirus appears to mostly spread when germ-containing droplets make it into a person’s mouth, nose, or eyes,” Vox’s German Lopez explains. “If you have a physical barrier in front of your mouth and nose, that’s simply less likely to happen.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now reviewing whether to encourage Americans to wear masks. That would be a reversal and come after weeks of discouraging mask use. Many journalists, including me, previously quoted the experts who urged ordinary people not to wear masks.

The whole situation has been a fiasco.

True, public health officials were in a difficult position. Masks are indeed more important for doctors, nurses and other front line health workers than for everyone else. Health care workers are at far greater risk of being exposed not only to the virus but also to dangerous levels of it. And if they do get sick, they could spread the virus further — and would be unavailable to treat others.

So what was the right solution? Zeynep Tufekci, a University of North Carolina professor, described it well in a Times Op-Ed more than two weeks ago. “The top-down conversation around masks has become a case study in how not to communicate with the public,” she wrote. Tufekci continued:

What should the authorities have said? The full painful truth. Despite warnings from experts for decades, especially after the near miss of SARS, we still weren’t prepared for this pandemic, and we did not ramp up domestic production when we could, and now there’s a mask shortage — and that’s disastrous because our front line health care workers deserve the best protection. Besides, if they fall ill, we will all be doomed. If anything, a call for people who hoarded masks to donate some of them to their local medical workers would probably work better than telling people that they don’t need them or that they won’t manage to make them work.

Imagine that: Unvarnished truth from high government officials about coronavirus.”

Opinion | The U.S. Is Not Winning the Coronavirus Fight – By David Leonhardt – The New York Times

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Opinion Columnist

“China and South Korea have flattened their curves. Italy, Spain, Germany and the Netherlands have begun to flatten their curves.

The United States still has not.

More than half of all confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States have been diagnosed in the past five days. Depending on what data source you use, yesterday was either the worst day for new cases or one of the worst. And more than 3,000 Americans with the virus have died, meaning the death toll has now exceeded that of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

As you can see in the chart above, the other three countries with the world’s largest number of confirmed cases — Italy, China and Spain — were all making significant progress at a similar point in their outbreaks. But the response in the United States has been slow and uneven.”

David Lindsay: “Leonhardt graduated from Horace Mann School in Riverdale, New York, in 1990, and then continued his studies at Yale University, graduating in 1994 with a Bachelor of Science degree in applied mathematics.[13] At Yale, Leonhardt served as editor-in-chief of the Yale Daily News, ” Wikipedia

Opinion | When Will Coronavirus Stop? – By David Leonhardt – The New York Times

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Opinion Columnist

Credit…Victor J. Blue/Getty Images

““The higher the peak, the longer it lasts,” Tom Frieden, a former head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told me yesterday.

Frieden’s point was that a local surge in coronavirus cases isn’t only a short-term emergency that can overwhelm the health care system and cause otherwise preventable deaths. A short-term surge also leads to more cases over the long term, by producing more people who transmit the virus to others.

For these reasons, the fact that the virus’s spread appears to be slowing in New York State, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo said yesterday, is very good news. It also seems to have slowed recently in California and Washington State.”

Opinion | No Stimulus Without Election Protection – By David Leonhardt- The New York Times

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Opinion Columnist

Credit…Daniel Acker/Reuters

“Congress will almost certainly pass a very large stimulus bill soon — as it should, because the economy is in crisis. But there is another looming crisis, in addition to the recession and the public health crisis, and it’s one that Congress should be taking as seriously as the economy.

Our usual methods for conducting elections may not work in November.

Yesterday’s postponed primary in Ohio, which is the subject of a legal fight, highlights the problems. Come November, people may still not be able to gather safely at polling places, and election workers — many of them elderly — may not be able to interact safely with hundreds of people. That’s terribly worrisome. As Seth Masket of the University of Denver has pointed out, elections are an essential institution in a democracy, much as grocery stores are.

Fortunately, House Democrats have the political leverage to fix the problem, even if President Trump and congressional Republicans don’t feel the same urgency. (Republicans, alas, have spent more time restricting voting rights in recent years than protecting them.)

Here’s what Democrats can do: Refuse to pass any big stimulus bill unless it includes provisions to ensure that the country can hold a presidential election this fall. That may sound like bare-knuckle politics, but preserving democracy calls for toughness.

Richard Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California, Irvine, put it well in a message to me on Tuesday:

Election bills are notoriously hard to get through Congress. And we don’t know when Congress will be able to meet again. The only way a congressionally mandated expansion of [voting access] for November’s elections is going to pass is if it is folded into one of the existing coronavirus bills needed to keep this country going during the crisis.

On Twitter, Stephen Wolf of Daily Kos Election made a historical analogy:

Fighting coronavirus will take war-like mobilization of govt resources. But even during the Civil War & WWII, we still held elections. It’s essential that Congress mandate & provide funding for every state to adopt universal vote-by-mail so we don’t have a political crisis too.

Opinion | A Complete List of Trump’s Attempts to Play Down Coronavirus – By David Leonhardt – The New York Times

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Opinion Columnist

Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

“President Trump made his first public comments about the coronavirus on Jan. 22, in a television interview from Davos with CNBC’s Joe Kernen. The first American case had been announced the day before, and Kernen asked Trump, “Are there worries about a pandemic at this point?”

The president responded: “No. Not at all. And we have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.”

By this point, the seriousness of the virus was becoming clearer. It had spread from China to four other countries. China was starting to take drastic measures and was on the verge of closing off the city of Wuhan.

In the weeks that followed, Trump faced a series of choices. He could have taken aggressive measures to slow the spread of the virus. He could have insisted that the United States ramp up efforts to produce test kits. He could have emphasized the risks that the virus presented and urged Americans to take precautions if they had reason to believe they were sick. He could have used the powers of the presidency to reduce the number of people who would ultimately get sick.

He did none of those things.

I’ve reviewed all of his public statements and actions on coronavirus over the last two months, and they show a president who put almost no priority on public health. Trump’s priorities were different: Making the virus sound like a minor nuisance. Exaggerating his administration’s response. Blaming foreigners and, anachronistically, the Obama administration. Claiming incorrectly that the situation was improving. Trying to cheer up stock market investors. (It was fitting that his first public comments were from Davos and on CNBC.)

Now that the severity of the virus is undeniable, Trump is already trying to present an alternate history of the last two months. Below are the facts — a timeline of what the president was saying, alongside statements from public-health experts as well as data on the virus.”

David Lindsay:  I wish I had more Trump supporters as readers. They should study this op-ed.  Here are the two most popular comments:

ChristineMcM
Massachusetts

“The Trump administration could have begun to use a functioning test from the World Health Organization, but didn’t. It could have removed regulations that prevented private hospitals and labs from quickly developing their own tests, but didn’t.” Trump’s failure to ramp up testing is the prime reason this virus has gotten a huge leg up on this country. I knew everything that David lists here, but it’s horrifying to reread it all strung together, Trump gave himself away when he expressed dismay over having the cruise ship with infected passengers off California dock on American shores. “I don’t want my numbers to go up because of that ship,” he selfishly proclaimed to the shock of any sentient person who instantly realized: “I could have been on that ship.” Trump cared more about keeping cases low because of how it “looked” for him, rather than people’s health. How crass.

35 Replies1981 Recommended

  
Jim
Carmel NY

Repost of my comment to Dowd’s column, which I believe sums up our failure to address the CV problem immediately: “I am completely baffled as to why I still read comments praising Trump’s handling of the CV crisis, especially given the fact that, in approximately mid January, we had the same information on the virus as did South Korea. With the early information in hand, South Korea quickly mobilized to test as many people as possible, whereas our administration sat on their hands, denying there was a problem and calling the media coverage of the CV a “Democratic Hoax.” I am unaware of the extent of travel restrictions or public closings in place in South Korea, except for the supposed fact that the government, through their extensive testing, was able to micro-manage extensive quarantine measures to identified ” CV clusters,” whereas as here in the US we are taking a shotgun approach, because we have no idea of the extent of the spread of CV. Dr. Fauci, who is now the face of the federal government for the CV response has stressed the need for containment, but how do you contain an invisible disease without shutting down the entire US economy? Bottom line is we had the same opportunity to handle the crisis as did S. Korea, and we botched it.”

13 Replies1344 Recommended

 

Opinion | Why Have So Few Americans Been Tested for Coronavirus? – By David Leonhardt – The New York Times

By 

Opinion Columnist

Credit…Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

“The lack of coronavirus tests in the United States is a confusing problem. It’s not as if American scientists needed to invent a new test. Tests already exist — in small numbers in this country and in much larger numbers in South Korea and elsewhere.

So why haven’t American government agencies or companies been able to produce more test kits and why have only about 5,000 Americans been tested so far?

“Labs and states are worried,” Andy Slavitt, a former director of Medicare and Medicaid, wrote yesterday: They “expect next to no availability to continue for weeks.” “