Member Briefing May 23, 2023
Biden, McCarthy Hold ‘Productive’ Meeting but No Debt-Ceiling Deal Yet
President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy gathered Monday evening for one-on-one negotiations and offered strikingly optimistic takes on where things stand even as plenty of issues remain unresolved. “We still have some disagreements but I think we may be able to get where we have to go,” said Biden before the meeting began.
After the meeting wrapped up a little over an hour later, McCarthy told reporters it had been a "productive discussion" that he said was better than any other meeting so far even as the two sides remain short of a deal. McCarthy announced that staff meetings would continue to try and work out the remaining issues in the days ahead, with McCarthy saying he expects to talk with Biden every day "until we get this done." He also offered this note of caution: "There's nothing agreed to, everything's being talked about.”
War in Ukraine Headlines
- Ukraine and Russia: The Latest News – The Guardian
- ‘Big Step’: U.S. Joins Major Effort to Train Ukrainian Pilots on F-16s, Other Jets - Politico
- Satellite Images Reveal Russian Defences Before Major Assault - BBC
- Why Bakhmut? It’s a Question Older Than the Ukraine War - NYT
- Ukraine Gains Ground Outside of Bakhmut as Russia Consolidates Control in City - WSJ
- Ukraine Aims to Encircle Bakhmut as Russia Says it Captures City - Reuters
- Russia Says Ukrainian Commandos Stage Cross-Border Incursion - WSJ
- Fears After Ukraine Nuclear Plant Left Without Power after Russian Shelling – The Independent
- Ukrainian Nuclear Plant is "Extremely Vulnerable," U.N. Official Warns - CBS
- American Imprisoned in Russia Calls CNN to Push for His Release - Politico
- Interactive Map: Assessed Control of Terrain in Ukraine - Institute for the Study of War
- Map – Tracking Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine – Live Universal Awareness Map
China Offers Tough Reply to Biden’s Suggestion of Thaw With U.S.
Beijing responded to the Group of Seven leaders’ firm language toward China by pouring cold water Monday on President Biden’s suggestion that a thaw in U.S.-China relations was imminent. At a news conference to close the G-7 meeting, Biden blamed the suspected Chinese surveillance balloon that the U.S. shot down in February for damaging communications between the two countries.
Chinese and American officials have held some talks in recent weeks, including a meeting this month in Beijing during which Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang scolded U.S. Ambassador Nicholas Burns over American support for Taiwan. The business environment for overseas companies in China has turned increasingly fraught in recent months, with investigations into due-diligence and consulting firms that have included police raids. China has also expanded its anti-espionage law to aid in such probes.
Beijing Rebukes Japan, Britain Over 'Anti-China' G7 Summit
State-backed Chinese mouthpiece Global Times called the G7 an "anti-China workshop" on Monday, a day after Beijing summoned Japan's envoy and berated Britain in a fiery response to statements issued at the group's summit in Hiroshima. Group of Seven (G7) declarations issued on Saturday singled out China on issues including Taiwan, nuclear arms, economic coercion and human rights abuses, underscoring the wide-ranging tensions between Beijing and the group of rich countries which includes the United States.
Separately, China's embassy in Britain urged London to stop slandering China, after British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said Beijing represents the world's greatest challenge to security and prosperity. Russia, a close ally of China that was also called out in the G7 statement over its war in Ukraine, said the summit was an "incubator" for anti-Russian and anti-Chinese hysteria.
COVID News - What Pfizer and Moderna Say is Next for Their Covid Vaccines
The two pharmaceutical companies, whose Covid vaccines have become household names, are ushering in a new era for their shots that will elevate the role they play in protecting public health, but also simplify what people need to do to coexist with the virus. That involves developing new versions of the vaccines that aim to provide broader and longer-lasting immunity against the virus, and combination jabs that protect against Covid and other respiratory diseases in a single dose, among other efforts.
Many of Pfizer’s and Moderna’s plans for their vaccines may not reach the public for a few more years, and the success of those efforts isn’t guaranteed. Both Pfizer and Moderna, for example, are both banking on a new slate of combination vaccines, expected to provide robust protection against Covid and certain respiratory diseases in a single dose. The public health benefit of combination vaccines will be “tremendous globally” since Covid, RSV and the flu can be deadly.
Post-Accident Workforce Drug Positivity for Marijuana Reached 25-Year High in 2022
In 2022, post-accident marijuana positivity of urine drug tests in the general U.S. workforce was 7.3%, an increase of 9% compared to 6.7% in 2021. The new peak follows a steady increase in post-accident marijuana positivity every year from 2012 to 2022. In that 10-year time frame, post-accident marijuana positivity increased 204.2%. From 2002 to 2009, post-accident marijuana workforce positivity declined.
These increases in post-accident marijuana positivity correspond with the legalization of marijuana in certain states. "Intoxicating cannabis products, including marijuana, can have a major impact on safety at work and have been proven to slow reaction time, impact memory and impair skills essential to driving. State legalization of the drug creates new challenges for employers," said Katie Mueller, a senior program manager at the National Safety Council focusing on cannabis safety, in a statement.
US Single-Family Building Permits at 7-Month High; Housing Slump Persists
Permits for future U.S. single-family homebuilding jumped to a seven-month high in April, giving the struggling housing market a boost, but tightening credit conditions could make it difficult for builders to get finance for new projects.
The third straight monthly increase in single-family building permits, which was reported by the Commerce Department on Wednesday, reinforced the recent improvement in homebuilding sentiment. Still, major obstacles remain for the housing market, with the report also showing the pace of single-family home completions falling to a 15-month low, likely because of shortages of transformers and other building materials recently cited by builders.
IRS Raises HSA Limit for 2024 With Record Increase
The Internal Revenue Service is raising the annual contribution limit for Health Savings Accounts by more than 7%, marking a record increase. The HSA adjustments for individuals jumped 7.8% for 2024 compared to the previous year and increased 7.1% for family contributions, representing a $300 and $550 limit increase, respectively. “The IRS has made inflation adjustments to the HSA since 2004. The adjustments for 2024 for individual and family contribution limits mark its most significant increase by both percentage and amount—ever,” emphasizes Jason Bornhorst, co-founder and CEO of First Dollar, a healthcare benefits technology company.
The second-highest limit increase occurred last year when the IRS raised the individual limit by 5.48% and the family limit by 6.16%, Bornhorst says. This article takes a look at the 2024 limit changes, according to WEX and HRE research.
What to Believe - Fraudulent Jobless Claims in Massachusetts Lead to Bigger Questions About Data
Fraudulent jobless claims in Massachusetts have cast a shadow on the nature of economic data gathering and reporting, though there had been no shortage of skepticism beforehand - in terms of statistics published by the federal government. Things have grown increasingly political in recent years, while a drop-off in business participation and declining consumer respondents threaten to dampen the effectiveness of sample sizes. It's a pretty big deal as many decisions are based on the numbers, like policy choices at the Federal Reserve to C-suite strategies that form the foundation of the U.S. economy.
It's not only that many economic reports have to be sourced from survey and industry sources, but numerous figures are calculated based on past assumptions or derivatives of data. Agencies seek to adjust for imbalances by applying different weights to respondents or including third-party information, which some say makes thing better reflect the general population and others say erode trust in institutions.
Retailers Near Restocking as Inventory Paring Winds Down
Big retailers are signaling they are nearly done paring back their excess inventories and are preparing to fill their shelves with new merchandise this fall, potentially brightening prospects for freight carriers looking for revived restocking to drive a shipping rebound. Target’s inventories at the end of the last quarter were 16% lower than the same period a year ago and Walmart cut inventories in its U.S. store operations by 9% over the past year, slashing hundreds of millions of dollars of goods from their balance sheets and suggesting space is opening up in their jammed supply chains.
U.S. consumers had boosted their purchases of goods during the Covid-19 pandemic. But a sharp pivot back toward services began last spring as those restrictions ended, leaving merchants’ warehouses overstuffed, and retailers pulled back on orders from overseas suppliers while they burned off excess inventory. Container imports into U.S. West Coast ports declined nearly 23% in the first quarter from a year earlier, according to Descartes Datamyne.
China Bans Major Chip Maker Micron from Key Infrastructure Projects
The country's cyberspace regulator announced on Sunday that America's biggest maker of memory chips poses "serious network security risks". It means the firm's products will be banned from key infrastructure projects in the world's second largest economy. It is China's first major move against a US chip maker, as tensions increase between Beijing and Washington. In a statement, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) said: "The review found that Micron's products have serious network security risks, which pose significant security risks to China's critical information infrastructure supply chain, affecting China's national security."
The announcement is the latest development in a deepening row between the US and China over the technology crucial to economies around the world. The long-running dispute has seen Washington impose a series of measures against Beijing's chip making industry and invest billions of dollars to boost America's semiconductor sector.
Nvidia Chips Away at Intel, AMD Turf in Supercomputers
Nvidia Corp on Monday said it has worked with the U.K.'s University of Bristol to build a new supercomputer using a new Nvidia chip that would compete with Intel Corp and Advanced Micro Devices Inc. Nvidia is the world's top maker of graphics processing units (GPUs), which are in high demand because they can be used to speed up artificial intelligence work. OpenAI's ChatGPT, for example, was created with thousands of Nvidia GPUs.
At a supercomputing conference in Germany on Monday, Nvidia said it has worked with British researchers and Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co to build a computer called Isambard 3, which is based entirely on its Grace CPU chips and has none of Nvidia's GPUs. The University of Bristol system will be used for climate science and drug discovery research, among other things.
Rolls-Royce Completes First Tests for UltraFan Demo
Rolls-Royce reported it completed initial tests of its UltraFan technology demonstrator at its testbed in Derby, England, the world’s largest indoor aero-engine testing facility. It’s the first test of a new aerospace engine architecture completed by Rolls-Royce in more than half a century, and the tests were conducted using 100% Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), it emphasized.
Rolls added the successful test confirms the ability of its suite of new engine technologies to improve the efficiency of current and future aircraft engines. The UltraFan is a large-dimension demonstrator engine that Rolls has been developing for nearly a decade, incorporating geared turbofan technology with a 140-inch fan diameter and comparatively small core to achieve fuel efficiency while delivering exceptionally high propulsion power for wide- or narrow-body aircraft.
Applied Materials to Invest $4B for New Facility in California
Semiconductor manufacturing company Applied Materials will invest up to $4 billion in new research and a new facility in California for chipmaking, the White House announced Monday.
Applied Materials will establish the Equipment and Process Innovation and Commercialization (EPIC) Center for development with the goal to design the next generation of tools for semiconductor manufacturing, including in collaboration with leading chipmakers who will ultimately use those tools in their factories, according to senior administration officials.
Green Projects Hit Iron Wall
The Iron Law, coined by Oxford Professor Bent Flyvbjerg, says that “megaprojects” — which cost billions of dollars, take years to complete, and are socially transformative — reliably come in over budget, over time, over and over. The New York state government, looking to replace oil- and gas-fired powerplants with hundreds of wind towers off Long Island, set out in 2019 to create an offshore wind supply chain from scratch, beginning with a massive state-funded turbine fabrication facility about 100 miles north of New York City on the Hudson River. The price of that Port of Albany facility has already doubled from $350 million to $700 million.
Big projects tend to exceed their cost projections for many reasons. One is the unanticipated, and sometimes unprecedented, complexity of these projects. Further uncertainties and costs arise from the challenge of navigating the red tape of the modern regulatory state. In addition, there is the risk of inflation for projects that take years, sometimes decades, to develop. Underlying all these is often a failure to spend enough time on careful planning that treats reality as a fundamental constraint.