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The Morning Dispatch: Biden Heads to Europe
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The Morning Dispatch: Biden Heads to Europe

Plus: Facebook changes its name to Meta.

Happy Friday! Poor Kim Jong-un: The North Korean dictator works hard to lose 45 pounds and everyone just assumes he has to be using a body double.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • The White House released an updated $1.85 trillion framework of President Biden’s social safety net and environmental bill on Thursday, with the the president making a morning trip to the Capitol and reportedly telling Democratic lawmakers the fate of his presidency and the party’s congressional majorities “will be determined by what happens in the next week.” The House once again delayed a scheduled vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill, however, as progressives threatened to block it without further assurances that the larger bill will also pass.

  • The Bureau of Economic Analysis reported Thursday that U.S. real gross domestic product grew at a 2 percent annual rate in the third quarter, down from 6.7 percent in Q2. Economists attributed the slowdown to the summer Delta variant surge and supply-chain bottlenecks. 

  • Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen confirmed the presence of U.S. military personnel on the island for training purposes in an interview with CNN this week, adding that she believes the United States would come to Taiwan’s defense if China attempted to invade. “I do have faith given the long-term relationship that we have with the U.S. and also the support of the people of the U.S. as well as the Congress,” she said. “[The] threat from China is increasing every day.”

  • The summer Delta surge continues to recede, with new COVID-19 cases falling 16 percent over the past two weeks. Virus-induced hospitalizations have plunged 18 percent over the same timeframe, and deaths attributed to SARS-CoV-2 are down 13 percent.

  • The Justice Department announced yesterday it had reached 14 settlements totaling about $88 million with family members of those killed or injured in the 2015 mass shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The family members had sued the government in 2016, alleging the FBI was negligent in failing to prohibit the sale of a gun to the self-proclaimed white supremacist who wanted to start a “race war” by killing black churchgoers.

  • Former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was charged on Thursday with forcibly touching a female aide in New York’s executive mansion last December, according to a misdemeanor criminal complaint filed by Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple. 

  • Initial jobless claims decreased by 10,000 week-over-week to a pandemic-low 281,000 last week, the Labor Department reported on Thursday.

Biden Heads to Scotland for U.N. Climate Conference

(Photograph by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images.)

As Americans gear up for Halloween, President Joe Biden is preparing for the 26th iteration of the Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, an annual gathering aimed at curbing global emissions of greenhouse gases. From October 31 to November 12, leaders from around the world will convene in Glasgow, Scotland, to discuss strategies to head off what some—including U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres—have deemed an impending climate crisis. 

In an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report published back in August, 200 climate scientists confirmed a few things that drew international alarm: Climate change is real, it’s “unequivocally” the product of human behavior, and it’s accelerating at an unsustainable pace. The findings—which will doubtless be a topic of conversation at the conference—also detailed plans to curb emissions and remove existing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

But the conference—colloquially known as COP26—comes at an awkward time for President Biden, who had originally planned to utilize the meeting as a global showcase for his Build Back Better agenda. Throughout the week, lawmakers treated Thursday—when the president was set to fly to Europe—as an unofficial deadline to get something done, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reportedly told Democratic lawmakers yesterday not to “embarrass” Biden by voting against the bipartisan infrastructure package while he was in transit. She was forced to delay a scheduled vote on the legislation because a handful of progressives were adamant they would do just that.

Biden’s “human infrastructure” package has shrunk considerably over the past few months after being confronted by Sen. Joe Manchin, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, and cold, hard Senate math. An expansion of Medicare benefits, 12 weeks of guaranteed paid family leave, free community college—all have ended up on the Capitol’s cutting room floor in recent days. But the bulk of the president’s original climate priorities made it into the pared back, $1.85 trillion framework released by the administration yesterday.

If passed as-is—still a big if!—the sweeping domestic policy bill would allocate $320 billion over 10 years to expand tax credits incentivizing the use of renewable energy and electric vehicles, $105 billion for investments to address “extreme weather” and “legacy pollution,” $110 billion in “targeted incentives” to “spur new domestic supply chains and technologies,” and $20 billion for the government to purchase “next-gen” energy technologies.

The climate change bucket received the most funding of any in the revised framework, but a handful of environmental activists spent much of last week engaged in a hunger strike outside of the White House. 

“The president admires the activism, the energy, of young people who are out there advocating for what they believe in and the changes that that he agrees should be made to how society functions,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters in a briefing Wednesday. “What we would say is  … we are confident we are going to move ahead to have the biggest investment in addressing the climate crisis in history by the United States.”

“What we’re talking about here is creating targeted manufacturing credits that will help grow domestic supply chains for solar offshore and offshore and onshore wind, expanding access to rooftop solar and home electrification, expanding grants and loans to rural co-ops to boost clean energy and energy efficiency, expanding grants and loans in the agricultural sector,” Psaki continued. 

The White House claims these investments will help the U.S. meet its commitments to the Paris Agreement, an international treaty that the Biden administration rejoined this year after Trump withdrew in 2017. Under this agreement, Biden has pledged to cut U.S. emissions to 50 to 52 percent of its 2005 levels over the next 10 years.

As we wrote to you earlier this month, Biden is trying to push his climate objectives through Congress at a time when Americans are paying the most they have for gas since 2014. Depleted stockpiles, supply-chain bottlenecks, and increased demand for gas as post-pandemic normalcy returns have all contributed to a surge in energy prices disproportionately affecting consumers.

Roughly 20,000 climate activists and heads of state will be attending the U.N. conference. But notably absent from the in-person meeting will be Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin, both of whom are likely to make virtual appearances.

“Although Xi will almost certainly speak via video, his personal absence signals that China is unlikely to unveil any major announcements about its environmental commitments beyond those that have already been made public,” said Craig Singleton, an adjunct fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ China Program. “Regardless of the summit’s ultimate success or failure, however, the environment will remain a key priority for Xi, namely because the Chinese people have demanded progress on the issue.”

As one of the handful of countries hit by record highs in the month of October at 102 degrees Fahrenheit and the world’s largest polluter, China has attempted to posture as responsive to its increasingly climate-conscious populace.

But China has also faced a near-unprecedented energy crunch in recent months, forcing Beijing to boost coal production after initially taking steps to reduce emissions in the hopes of meeting its green energy objectives. In documents filed with the U.N. yesterday, Chinese leaders affirmed plans to reach peak carbon emissions before 2030, but declined to unveil a more ambitious timeline as some climate activists had hoped. 

“China’s absence from COP26 also presents the Biden administration with an opportunity to reclaim the leadership mantle from the Chinese, who have portrayed themselves as leading on climate even though China is the world’s top carbon emitter,” Singleton added.

Putin, meanwhile, publicized his non-attendance amid diplomatic strain with the U.S. and other NATO allies earlier this month. Moscow has long sought to leverage its supply of natural gas as the European Union confronts sweeping energy shortages during its transition to carbon neutrality, but many experts suggest  Russia will also feel the impact of the climate crisis when demand for oil plateaus in the next decade.  

Republican lawmakers say that Biden’s trip to Scotland is an attempt to distract the American people from pressing domestic issues like skyrocketing gas prices and inflation. “My advice to President Biden would be to go to Glasgow, Montana, instead,” GOP Sen. Steve Daines of Montana told The Dispatch on Thursday. “He should show up in Glasgow and look at the price of gas, look at the price of groceries, and listen to people in terms of the issues that really matter to them.”

Daines also said it was a “mistake” for the Biden administration to rejoin the Paris Agreement this year. “We have led the world in reducing CO2 emissions because of innovation, not regulation,” he said. “We should be focusing on China. That’s where most CO2 is being emitted.”

GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham also sees this U.N. climate conference as a waste of time. “China’s not even coming,” Graham told The Dispatch on Thursday. “Terrorism is on the rise, the border’s broken, and all of [Biden’s] attention is [on] trying to look good at Glasgow.”

Hello, Meta

It’s been a heckuva few weeks for Facebook since we last wrote to you about the social media company and its struggles. Thousands of pages of additional internal documents were leaked to dozens of media outlets by a whistleblower. The company’s stock fell 5 percent earlier this week after a mediocre earnings report. And, as of yesterday, it’s no longer Facebook

“Facebook is changing its name to ‘Meta,’” Ryan writes in his latest piece, which breaks down the company’s whirlwind month-and-a-half. “The company’s annual Connect conference took place Thursday, shifting attention—at least momentarily—from a crisis spawned when a whistleblower released tens of thousands of damaging internal documents. ‘Meta’ announced many new product ideas coming in the next few years or decades, but did not address the fallout from the revelations.”

(Disclaimer: The Dispatch is a third-party partner in Facebook’s fact-checking operation.)

In a nearly 90-minute video presentation, founder Mark Zuckerberg said he wants to move Facebook beyond being just a social media site. 

He announced the company is building a “metaverse” that includes futuristic products like virtual reality headsets and augmented reality glasses. Zuckerberg called the metaverse an “embodied internet” that puts users “in” the experience, not just looking at it. The Meta team admitted that the products in the presentation will not come to fruition for a while. 

“Our hope is that within the next decade, the metaverse will reach a billion people, host hundreds of billions of dollars of digital commerce, and support jobs for millions of creators and developers,” Zuckerberg said. 

Scott Galloway, professor of marketing at NYU Stern and author of The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google, told The Dispatch the rebrand may actually be good for business if accompanied by structural change, but ultimately the goal of the announcement is clear: “Ninety percent of people will recognize this for what it is, and that is a cheap attempt to distance itself from the past and their behavior.”

The Wall Street Journal has published a series of stories in recent weeks revealing that dissatisfied Facebook employees have become increasingly outspoken over the company’s handling of misinformation, potentially harmful effect on teenagers’ mental health, and negligence in the fight against human trafficking.

Frances Haugen, a computer engineer and former Facebook employee turned whistleblower, collected and released tens of thousands of internal documents as part of a sophisticated campaign—supported by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and a consulting firm run by former Obama spokesman Bill Burton—to keep pressure on Zuckerberg and the company.

The system Facebook uses to filter content is simply not working, Haugen told The Dispatch over email. She said Facebook catches only 3 to 5 percent of hate speech, less than .8 percent of content that incites violence, and 8 percent of graphic violence. “The problem with Facebook is not ‘bad’ ideas or ‘bad’ people,” she said. “It is a system that gives the most reach to extreme, polarizing, and divisive content.

Haugen and a team of lawyers filed official complaints with the Securities and Exchanges Commission against the social media giant. Her team alleged that what the company and its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, were telling the public did not match their own internal research on key issues like mental health in teens and misinformation on the platform.

Worth Your Time

  • In National Review’s November cover story, former National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster discusses the corrosion of the warrior ethos—a collection of values including loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage. “Unfamiliarity with the warrior ethos, the promotion of philosophies inimical to the sacred trust foundational to it, and leaders’ lack of commitment to achieve outcomes worthy of the risks, costs, and sacrifices in war are eroding America’s ability to fight and win,” he writes. “Veterans Day is an opportunity to reflect on the ethos that binds American warriors to one another and compels them to act courageously, endure hardships, take risks, and make sacrifices. As they end their service, many veterans miss that military family and find it challenging to reintegrate into their civilian communities. Understanding better the warrior ethos, why it is important, and what we could all do to preserve and strengthen it might restore pride in the republic that they fought to preserve and help build a better future for generations to come.”

  • With Senate Democrats’ proposed tax on billionaires’ unrealized capital gains now officially a no-go, lawmakers turned to new surtaxes on those making more than $10 million to finance their spending. Neil Irwin, senior economic correspondent for the New York Times, has a piece on the tension—between billionaires and those who Clifford Asness has labeled the “working rich”—present throughout negotiations. “The billionaire owners of N.F.L. teams did fine. The commissioner of the league, Roger Goodell, said to be paid $40 million a year, will owe a lot more in taxes, as will the 162 N.F.L. players who are set to be paid more than $10 million this year,” he notes. “The age-old tension between labor and capital might not have the same feel when the laborers in question are richer than most people could ever dream. But the last few days on Capitol Hill suggest that in a political battle between the working rich and the truly wealthy, it is the wealthy who have the political juice.”

  • In his latest Bloomberg column, Jonathan Ford argues that abandoning nuclear power would be Europe’s biggest climate mistake. “Despite all the stories about the accidents at Chernobyl and Fukushima, nuclear power is one of the safest ways to produce electricity, being responsible for just 0.07 deaths per terawatt-hour generated, while coal and oil are responsible for 24.6 and 18.4 deaths respectively,” he notes. “[But] reigniting investment will not be easy. Many in the industry believe that it will require a level of political engagement not seen since France’s 1970s Messmer plan (conceived after the 1973 oil shock), which created the 58-strong reactor fleet that largely survives today. There are signs that some acknowledge the challenge. Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson and France’s President Emmanuel Macron have both given speeches in the past month calling for a renewal of nuclear investment — the latter signaling a reversal of his predecessor’s plan to cut France’s nuclear output from 70% to 50% of its electricity.”

Presented Without Comment

Also Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • Steve Teles of the Niskanen Center joined Jonah on The Remnant yesterday for a conversation about dysfunctional political parties. Do we need a third party, or should moderates carve out their own factions within the existing two?

  • On Thursday’s episode of Advisory Opinions, Sarah and David explore parental rights in public schooling, discuss the mixture of church and politics, and talk about the Kyle Rittenhouse case and the law of self-defense.

  • On the site today, Patrick T. Brown of the Ethics and Public Policy Center breaks down the components of the Build Back Better framework that aim to support families, in particular the $400 billion in childcare subsidies. “If you’re heard of the Bennett hypothesis, which argues that federally backstopped student loans have helped drive college tuition higher, this approach will sound familiar,” he writes.

Let Us Know

What are you going as for Halloween this year? What’s the best costume you’ve ever pulled off? Was it better or worse than Mitt Romney’s Ted Lasso?

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Charlotte Lawson (@lawsonreports), Audrey Fahlberg (@AudreyFahlberg), Ryan Brown (@RyanP_Brown), Harvest Prude (@HarvestPrude), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).