Discover more from Letters from an American
October 23, 2023
The word of the day is “conversations.”
The White House and the Commerce Department announced the designation of 31 communities across 32 states and Puerto Rico in the first phase of the Regional Innovation and Technology Hub Program (Tech Hubs Program). The CHIPS and Science Act, signed into law in August 2022, authorized the creation of these hubs, where private industry, state and local governments, colleges and universities, labor unions, Tribal communities, and nonprofit organizations work together to innovate, create jobs, and protect our supply chains.
The administration explained that because economic growth and opportunity has been “clustered in a few cities on the coasts,” the tech hubs selected were spread across the country. Nearly three quarters of them are in small cities or rural areas, and more than three quarters of them directly support historically underserved communities. The government will invest $500 million of public money in these hubs to attract private investment, hoping to create high-paying jobs and support innovation across the country.
The hubs focus on autonomous systems for manufacturing and transportation, drugs and medical devices, healthcare, clean energy, semiconductors, and so on. They “will boost U.S. manufacturing, create more good-paying jobs and bolster U.S. global competitiveness,” said Deputy Secretary of Commerce Don Graves.
The administration is trying to sell the idea of investing in America rather than turning the economy over to the operation of markets. The latter has been the nation’s focus since 1981, but that ideology has not nurtured the economy so much as concentrated wealth among a few individuals. The White House has called instead for government investment in new industries, and it noted today that such investment has prompted record private investments in clean power and job growth in clean energy.
Private companies have announced investments of about $133 billion in clean energy production, which has in turn helped to spur the strong job growth and robust economic growth. Employers have added about 260,000 jobs a month this year, on average.
Today the ongoing United Auto Workers strike spread to a key Stellantis plant, where 6,800 workers walked off their jobs making Ram pickup trucks, Stellantis’s top-selling vehicle in the U.S. The strike will cost the company an estimated $110 million a week. There are now more than 40,000 UAW workers on strike. Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis have offered what union leader Shawn Fain says are record contracts but still not in line with the company’s record profits.
The UAW has reached a tentative deal with General Dynamics, covering about 1,100 workers who make military vehicles at defense contracting facilities. Union members still have to approve the agreement.
Conversations continue in foreign affairs as well.
Today is the fortieth anniversary of the 1983 bombing of the Marine Corps barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, that killed 241 U.S. military personnel in the single deadliest day for the U.S. Marine Corps since the Battle of Iwo Jima in World War II. Minutes after the first bombing on that day, a second suicide bomber killed 58 French paratroopers. Six Lebanese civilians also died. Today, Secretary of State Antony Blinken recalled that tragedy and blamed it on Hezbollah militants, a charge Hezbollah denies.
“As we reflect on this day, and in light of the ongoing challenges in Lebanon and the region, we remain committed to building a brighter future for Lebanon, the Lebanese people, and the broader Middle East,” Blinken said.
Attacks from Hezbollah on Israel and Israeli retaliation have been increasing since the October 7 attack by Hamas on Israel, and the U.S. Embassy in Beirut has told American citizens who want to leave that they should go now. The Biden administration has warned Israel not to launch a preemptive strike against Hezbollah as the tensions on the border rise. The U.S. is also sending more air defense systems to the Middle East and is moving the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower carrier strike group to the Middle East to discourage attacks.
President Biden, Secretary Blinken and their teams have been talking constantly with those involved in the Middle East and elsewhere, trying to build coalitions to stave off an expansion of the conflict between Israel and Hamas, backed by Iran.
On Sunday, after Biden spoke with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Pope Francis, Biden spoke with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada, President Emmanuel Macron of France, Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni of Italy, and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of the United Kingdom. The latter group issued a joint statement reiterating their support for Israel’s right to defend itself against terrorism and also called for all parties to keep within the bounds of international humanitarian law, including the protection of civilians.
Today, Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan submitted to the Turkish parliament a bill approving Sweden’s bid to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a step he has been delaying to pressure Sweden into clamping down on members of the Kurdistan Workers Party in Sweden, a party that aims to create an autonomous Kurdish region that would include parts of Turkey.
While taking pains to emphasize that it is not making decisions for Israel, the U.S. has been stressing to Israeli leaders its discomfort with what seems to be a lack of a plan for a careful ground invasion of Gaza or for what would come after the ground operation. State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller today declined to detail private conversations but offered: “[I]n all of our conversations we continue to talk to them about the importance of having meaningful goals, meaningful objectives, and a plan to achieve those objectives.”
Miller used the word “conversation” twenty times in his press conference.
Tomorrow, Secretary Blinken will travel to New York City for a United Nations Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East. He will also meet with his counterparts and with officials of the United Nations.
As Israeli airstrikes pound Gaza and Hamas rockets fire back, relief trucks continue to trickle across the Egyptian border into Gaza. Fourteen crossed on Sunday; another small group today. Fuel, which is necessary to take the salt out of water as well as for medical care and transportation, is still embargoed out of Israeli concerns Hamas will take it for military purposes. Also today, Hamas released two more hostages, elderly Israeli women this time, for a total of four so far.
Conversations of a different sort are going on among the Republican members of the House of Representatives, but they are unwilling to talk to their Democratic colleagues, who have repeatedly offered to work with those Republicans who reject MAGA extremism.
Republicans remain unable to agree on a candidate for speaker. So far, they have shut down the House for three weeks, eating up 20 of the 45 days the continuing resolution bought for them to come up with measures to fund the government.