Member Briefings

Letter from the Third Sub-basement: Halloween Edition

So, here we are at the end of another week.  What does it mean?  Well, what does any of it mean, really?  Particularly when we’ve been flirting with oblivion for decades.  (And oblivion has been flirted with us for much longer.) Just read the following on the race to make the world’s biggest nuclear bomb (even if it might blow a hole in the atmosphere.)

The insanity of the nuclear arms race reveals the complete lack of perspective, morality and common sense from world leaders for more than three-quarters of a century.  When I was a kid, it hung over us just as Khrushchev intended (see the article cited above) like the sword of Damocles.  Hardly a day went by when we did consider the specter of nuclear war.  The weapons remain, deadlier than ever.  The only difference is we have put it out of our minds.

With a debate under way about how to modernize our nuclear arsenal, about the access to nuclear technology of emerging states (see Iran—about whose nuclear weapons program negotiations will commence again next month)—it’s time we started thinking about these issues again seriously.  The last president—insanely—wanted to make nukes more “usable.” He was not alone in this lunatic desire. Others in the defense sector just want to get rich off the modernization of weapons we must never ever use.

It is long past time we came to our senses.

Of course, you wouldn’t read much in the press about any of that this week.  Instead, the media was dominated by stories about “Dems in disarray”—even though the real story was that Republicans have opted out of governing altogether and that Dems were hammering out the differences within the party to try to agree on one of the largest and most substantive packages to invest in America and Americans in decades.

Yes, artificial deadlines were not reached. But years from now that will not be remembered.  What we will remember is that the first year of the Biden Administration has been one of the most productive of any administration in modern history—despite the president inheriting a dysfunctional government, a pandemic, a battered economy, a divided society—and oh yes, coup plotters in the opposition.

The output should the $1.75 trillion Build Back Better and the $1 trillion infrastructure package pass is going to be nearly $5 trillion in investment in America in one year, 5 million new jobs created, reversing the damage done by the previous president, near record approval ratings from nations around the globe, a record number of new judges appointed, the end of our longest war, a resetting of US foreign policy priorities to deal with the challenges of the century ahead, of China, of the climate crisis, etc. and much more.

Can the Dems sell it?  That was the subject of an article I did earlier this week for The Daily Beast.  You can read it here.

A key component of the Dems package is also a centerpiece of what Biden is discussing with world leaders at the G20 meeting this weekend.  That is a global 15 percent minimum corporate tax rate. This is a remarkable initiative. A US idea championed by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. It will ensure companies everywhere pay a minimum tax rate, end the race-to-the-bottom to attract those companies to countries and make tax systems everywhere fairer. Here too if the package passes.

The initiative has won support among the world’s leading economies and may well become a signature Biden Administration foreign policy success.  In fact, it may well become one of the most consequential international initiatives led by the US in decades.

And it’s not about a war.  Can’t help notice but Biden’s overseas trip is about strengthening relations with allies, promoting sound economic policies (like the 15% minimum tax) and then going to Glasgow for the COP26 climate discussions—with the US in a position to play a more leaderly role than ever.  Not only has Biden appointed the first ever presidential climate envoy (in John Kerry) but there is a whole-of-government reprioritization of climate as an urgent issue.  Solid proof of this: The BBB package contains $550 billion for combatting the climate crisis, the biggest such investment (by far) in US history.  They’re not just talking the talk.

Two more final points:

–Earlier this week Gen. Mark Milley said that China’s launch of a hypersonic weapon was akin to a Sputnik moment. He noted the differences but the comment triggered a lot of hyperventilating from Washington’s growing “another Cold War would be fun” crowd. Behind this group are of course, the defense establishment that sees China as the cash cow of tomorrow and hawks who—well, who obviously have some psychological damage from their childhoods or their anatomical endowments that they are trying to compensate for.  Suffice it to say, the only thing we have to fear about a new US-China Cold War is the cold war itself. This is not at all like the US-Soviet struggle. We are deeply economically intertwined with China. Zero sum games don’t work with them. And too much cold war talk could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. So…let’s cool it and focus on developing new models as the relationship deserves.  Secretary Blinken got this exactly right in his March 3 address on US foreign policy priorities.

–Facebook wants to rebrand itself as Meta. It’s easy to understand why. Facebook is a disaster for democracy, competitiveness policy and global society at large.  But why Meta?  Were SPECTRE, Cyberdyne Systems, Soylent Corporation and Evil Empire already taken?  I mean it sounds even more menacing than those movie baddies do.  On a more serious note: Expect anti-trust moves against big tech to be one of the signature themes of the Congress and the administration next year and beyond.

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