During the first day of his visit to the United States on Wednesday, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez came face to face with the harsh reality of some of the biggest investment funds in the world’s biggest economy: they are not happy about a new housing law in Spain because it could limit rent rises, and they are also wary of labor reforms being prepared by the Spanish government after a deal was reached by Sánchez’s Socialist Party (PSOE) and its coalition partner, the leftist Unidas Podemos.
According to several sources present at the meeting, Sánchez had to make efforts to convince a number of fund managers and bank executives – from Blackstone, Providence Equity Partners, JP Morgan, Soros Fund Management, Bank of America and Morgan Stanley, all of whom had been brought together by AmCham, the US chamber of commerce in Spain – that these reforms would not affect their investments.
The prime minister explained to the business leaders that the labor reform – negotiated with Brussels as well as Unidas Podemos – would see Spain move toward a German model of labor relations, where there is social harmony but also flexibility so that employers can adapt to their circumstances via furlough schemes known in Spain as ERTEs, without having to fire workers.
Sánchez also explained that Spain is a country with few strikes, with social harmony and constant negotiations between businesses and labor unions. The new housing law was questioned by some who have interests in the Spanish real estate market, because they are concerned about limits on rent rises and the reduction of sanctions for illegal occupation of properties. But Sánchez insisted that this would be legislation similar to that in other European countries and that there was also no cause for concern.
According to the same sources present at the meeting, the encounter was a success and the prime minister managed to calm these concerns. The PSOE and Unidas Podemos are currently engaged in complex negotiations over the housing law. Yolanda Díaz, who is from the latter party and is one of Spain’s deputy prime ministers as well as the labor minister, has accused the PSOE – in particular Economy Minister Nadia Calviño – of being too sensitive to pressure from these major international investment funds, which bought up thousands of housing units from troubled banks during the financial crisis and are now important players in the Spanish real estate market.
Sánchez was subject to these pressures at his meeting on Wednesday, but according to the same sources, he also managed to draw their attention to the major Spanish recovery project that is backed by the €140 billion coming from the European Union coronavirus recovery fund.
The prime minister explained that the idea is for this huge amount of public money to be accompanied by another €500 billion in private investment to launch innovation, technological transformation and green energy projects. The government has a lot of money to invest, more than ever before, but it needs private partners to carry out these projects and multiply the effect of the public investment. That is the idea of the fund approved in the EU, and the main reason for Sánchez’s trip to the US.
Sources present at the meeting stated that Sánchez has got there before other European leaders thanks to this trip, and that this could help given that these business leaders have not had any face-to-face contact with presidents or prime ministers for months now due to the pandemic. All of them expressed their gratitude to Sánchez for making the visit.
The Spanish prime minister has now seen the two sides of the coin: in Spain, his coalition partners Unidas Podemos are pressuring him to be more bold with the housing law and the new types of labor contract in a bid to reduce temporary hirings, while in the financial heart of the US they are pushing him in the other direction.
While the aim of Sánchez’s visit was primarily to discuss the economy, he also took advantage of the visit to make media appearances. The US, like Spain, is seeing a new spike in coronavirus cases and the prime minister used an interview to tout the fact that his country does not have an anti-vaccination movement, and that this will help Spaniards to overcome the health crisis. Speaking on the Morning Joe show on MSNBC, the prime minister made clear that his country is not experiencing the same problem as the US, where millions of people are refusing to get vaccinated against Covid-19.
“Fortunately, we are not having any kind of rejection movement against the vaccination,” he said in English during the interview. The situation in Spain is in stark contrast to that of the US, and even other European countries that have seen the anti-vaccination movement gain strength – in France, for example, President Emmanuel Macron has said that those who refuse to get vaccinated will not be able to go to restaurants.
Sánchez went on to explain that the problem right now in Spain is that the non-vaccinated population – in particular young people – are getting infected with the coronavirus. The presenter asked him whether there was an issue with the distribution of the vaccines, given that in the US practically everyone who wants the inoculation has now received it. Sánchez explained that Spain is progressing with its campaign at a good speed and is already moving on to younger age groups, and the target of 70% of the population is due to be met by the end of August.
Sánchez went on to insist during the interview that this is a public health issue and that it should not become a political debate. “The major mistake that us politicians could do is to ideologize [sic] this pandemic fight that we are facing. This is not a question of progressives or conservatives, this is a public health matter, a public health question. And it’s very important to tell our people, our citizens that we need to be prudent, that we need to be safe, because the vaccine is safe and it protects us against the virus.”
The prime minister was asked indirectly why he was not going to Washington to meet with Joe Biden on this trip, but he avoided answering. He did, however, make many references to the new US president and said that it was very good news that he had arrived after Donald Trump, given that the former president had abandoned the Paris Agreement on climate change and also viewed the EU “as a kind of enemy,” something that Biden does not do, Sánchez explained.
The Spanish government, for its part, explained that this was not the appropriate moment to seek a meeting at the White House, and as such the focus was on this economic tour without making a visit to Washington.
English version by Simon Hunter.
Build Back Better: Friendly fire aimed at Joe Biden | USA
In early October, a group of activists kayaked to the houseboat belonging to US Senator Joe Manchin in Washington to protest his opposition to the Democratic Party’s €3.5-trillion Reconciliation bill, which is a star policy of the Joe Biden administration. This came just days after Senator Kyrsten Sinema was ambushed by protesters during her trip back to Washington.
But neither Manchin nor Sinema are part of the Republican Party’s offense against the bill: they are two moderates in the Democratic Party who are forcing the president to reconsider the reforms. In the meantime, Biden is facing both pressure and disillusionment as his popularity in the polls plummets.
The Democratic Party’s ambitious spending plan, called Build Back Better, involves the largest extension of social-welfare coverage in the United States since the 1970s when Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson was in power. The bill includes a tax credit for children and other dependent family members, extends aid to the elderly and disadvantaged people, and in its current form, funds a raft of sweeping measures aimed at fighting climate change and promoting renewable energy. But it is the environmental side of the plan that Biden is now considering changing due to the complete opposition from Senator Manchin, whose state – the conservative West Virginia – relies heavily on coal mining for employment. The plan is estimated to cost $3.5 trillion (around €3 trillion), but it is likely that it will be cut back to less than $2.5 million.
This is because, unlike former president Lyndon B. Johnson, Biden only has a narrow majority in Congress. In 1965, when Johnson signed the Medicare bill – which established a health-insurance program for the elderly – the Democratic Party had an overwhelming majority in Congress and held control of two-thirds of the Senate. But even then it was difficult to convince the moderate sector to approve the bill. Fifty years later, in 2011, when former president Barack Obama put forward his healthcare reforms, he also had a stronger position than Biden in both legislative chambers: 57 democrats and two independents in the Senate.
Senator Manchin’s opposition to the social-welfare plan is based on fears over rising inflation in the US, an increase of public debt and – something more abstract – concern that it will turn the country “into an entitlement society,” as he stated at the beginning of October. The statement came after he published an opinion poll in The Wall Street Journal called “Why I Won’t Support Spending Another $3.5 Trillion.” In the article, he argues: “Establishing an artificial $3.5 trillion spending number and then reverse-engineering the partisan social priorities that should be funded isn’t how you make good policy.”
Since becoming a senator after the 2020 election, Kyrsten Sinema has defended a bipartisan approach to legislating – a position she has also taken with the Biden administration’s infrastructure bill, which is still awaiting ratification. “The American people are asking for us to take action. What they don’t want to see is us sit on our hands, waiting until we get every single thing that we want,” she said in a radio interview with NPR in August. “That all-or-nothing approach usually leaves you with nothing,” added Sinema, who is the first Democratic senator in the state of Arizona in 30 years.
Both senators raised record sums of money in the third quarter of the year, thanks to large contributions from the oil and gas, pharmaceutical and financial services sectors, according to filings recorded and published by the Financial Times. Manchin raised $1.6 million (€1.38 million), up from $1.5 million ( €1.29 million) in the second quarter and just $175,000 (€150,000) in the first. Meanwhile, Sinema received €1.1 million (€950,000) in donations in the third quarter, a figure narrowly outstripping the second and far from the $375,000 (€322,000) in the first. This is despite the fact that neither of the politicians face reelection until 2024.
Two Senators cannot be allowed to defeat what 48 senators and 210 House members want
Senator for Vermont, Bernie Sanders
In the meantime, the progressive wing of the Democratic Party is starting to lose patience and is also pressuring the White House. “Two senators cannot be allowed to defeat what 48 senators and 210 House members want,” Bernie Sanders, senator for Vermont, wrote in a message on Twitter. “Poll after poll shows overwhelming support for the $3.5 trillion Build Back Better legislation,” he added in a separate tweet. In a similar vein, Pramila Jayapal, the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said: “Four percent of Democrats are opposing passing the president’s agenda.”
Democrat veteran Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives, has begun to try to solve the conflict and is preparing lawmakers to accept cuts to the reconciliation bill. “I’m very disappointed that we’re not going with the original $3.5 trillion,” she admitted on October 12. “But whatever we do, we will make decisions that will continue to be transformative.”
The greater debate with respect to the spending plan is over the size of public spending and to what extent the state should intervene in the economy. Biden came to the White House with the message that a monumental crisis required a strong and broad government. The Biden administration has been able to pass new legislation on voting rights at a time when Republican-led states are pushing for restrictions, which in practice, hinder access to minority groups and the disadvantaged. But there are more projects in limbo. The reason is that it is not enough to have a simple majority in the Senate; the Democratic Party needs 60 votes in the 100-seat chamber, but only has 50, plus the casting vote of Deputy President Kamala Harris.
Meanwhile, Biden’s popularity has taken a nosedive. He entered the White House on January 20 with a 57% approval rating, according to respected pollster Gallup. But in August, after six months in power, the figure had fallen below 50%, and in September, the last month for which there is available data, it was down to 43%. This is higher than the approval rating of former US president Donald Trump, which came in at 37% after the same period of time, but is nine points lower than the same figure for Obama. The fall is largely due to the drop in support among independent voters: before the election, 61% of them approved of Biden, compared to 37% now.
Economic uncertainty, an uptick of the coronavirus pandemic over summer and stalled reforms are among the reasons Biden’s popularity is waning. Other factors include the administration’s migration policy, which has maintained some of the most restrictive elements of the Trump era, and the upheaval following the US army’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. With the anniversary of the November 2020 election fast approaching, Biden is hoping that he will be able to pass his star legislation, despite the internal opposition.
Too hot to handle: can our bodies withstand global heating?
Extreme heat can kill or cause long-term health problems – but for many unendurable temperatures are the new normal
The impact of extreme heat on the human body is not unlike what happens when a car overheats. Failure starts in one or two systems, and eventually it takes over the whole engine until the car stops.
That’s according to Mike McGeehin, environmental health epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “When the body can no longer cool itself it immediately impacts the circulatory system. The heart, the kidneys, and the body become more and more heated and eventually our cognitive abilities begin to desert us – and that’s when people begin fainting, eventually going into a coma and dying.”
Polish TV sabotages Tusk press briefing
Polish opposition leader Donald Tusk clashed with Polish propaganda outlet TVP in Warsaw Tuesday. A TVP reporter asked him why Tusk’s party wanted Poland to leave the EU. “This is beyond imagination … I won’t answer such absurdities,” Tusk, whose Civic Platform party is pro-EU, said, before a prickly exchange ensued. TVP also muted MEPs who said Poland should face EU rule-of-law sanctions in its coverage of a Strasbourg debate.
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