U.S./China Clash Escalates on Several Fronts

Posted on 01/21/2021 8:25 AM

Biden administration announces USDA, other appointments


In Today’s Updates


Market Focus:
• No ‘uncivil war’ in Washington on inauguration day, equities rally, but jobless claims disappoint bulls
• Ahead of Biden’s term: Weaker economy, slower population growth
• BlackRock's entrance to the Bitcoin market
• USDA daily export sales announcements:
   — 136,000 MT soybeans to China 2020-2021 marketing year;
   — 163,290 MT soybeans to Mexico 2020-2021;
   — 138,000 MT HRW wheat to Nigeria 2021-2022;
   —  336,500 MT corn to unknown destinations 2020-2021
• Ag demand update
Several analysts pegging Brazil’s bean crop in 133 MMT area
• Michael Cordonnier calling for a 128 MMT Brazilian bean crop
• Export prices for Ukrainian wheat now above $300 per metric ton
• Kremlin spokesman indicates steps to tame food prices effective
• Kazakhstan considering tariff on exports of sunflower seeds
• Indonesia plans on importing cattle and meat amid domestic shortfalls

Policy Focus:
• Biden to propose immigration reform; votes likely lacking in Senate
• Biden requests federal agencies to extend a moratorium on eviction and foreclosure
• Biden administration rescinds Trump’s rescissions
• Biden will take more unilateral action today
• Up for review: EPA rule that shrinks pesticide spray exclusion zones


Biden Administration Personnel:

• Senate confirmed Avril Haines to be the director of national intelligence
• Senate panel sets Friday vote on Yellen’s nomination for Treasury
WSJ: Biden to name Michael Barr comptroller of the currency
• Biden to tap Glick to head FERC
• USDA personnel announcements
• USTR chief economic adviser


China Update:
• China sanctions several top/now former U.S. officials
• China watcher Bill Bishop sizes up latest U.S./China clash  
• Biden sends signal with Taiwan official at inauguration
• China reports an ASF outbreak


Energy & Climate Change:

• Biden signs executive order to rejoin Paris climate agreement
• Biden issues orders aimed at making the U.S. a leader in climate action
• Keystone XL pipeline rejection centered on climate

Food & Beverage Industry Update:
• Restaurants chains getting a sales bump from latest round of stimulus money
• Tyson Foods agrees to pay $221.5 million re: poultry buyers claiming price-fixing

Coronavirus Update:
• White House chief of staff: 100 million vaccinations metric to measure administration
• Amazon offers to help in vaccine
• Tensions rising between the EU and Pfizer and BioNTech over delays


Politics & Elections:
Washington Post gets peek at how Biden redecorated Oval Office
• In his final hours in office, Trump overturned his own executive order

Other Items of Note:
• Antifascist and racial-justice protesters in Portland, Ore., and in Seattle
• Members of the Proud Boys, a far-right group loyal to Trump, are calling him ‘weak’
• Trump pardons meat misbranders
• Biden may have a tech national security vulnerability: his Peloton exercise bike




Equities today: Global stock markets were mostly higher overnight. U.S. stock indexes are pointed toward firmer openings but wobbled after jobless claims data remained high, indicating the labor market was struggling to recover amid the coronavirus pandemic. Japan’s Nikkei 225 Index rose 0.8% and is trading near its highest level in 30 years. India’s benchmark stock gauge, the S&P BSE Sensex Index, hit a record high Wednesday. Indexes in China and South Korea rallied, with the Shanghai Composite up 1.1% and Korea’s Kospi gaining 1.5%.


     U.S. equities yesterday: The Dow ended up 257.86 points, 0.83%, at 31,188.38. The Nasdaq advanced 260.07 points, 1.97%, at 13,457.25. The S&P 500 rose 52.94 points, 1.39%, at 3,851.85.




On tap today:


     • European Central Bank releases a policy statement at 7:45 a.m. ET.
     • U.S. jobless claims are expected to fall to 925,000 in the week ending Jan. 16 from 965,000 a week earlier. Follow our coverage here. (8:30 a.m. ET) Update: About 900,000 Americans filed first-time claims for unemployment benefits for the week ended Jan. 16, as companies continued to lay off workers amid a surge in Covid-19 cases. The U.S. reported 4,200 deaths for Wednesday, the second-highest daily number ever.
     • U.S. housing starts for December are expected to increase to an annual pace of 1.56 million from 1.547 million a month earlier. (8:30 a.m. ET) Update: Housing starts jumped 5.8% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.669 million units last month, the Commerce Department said. Homebuilding increased 5.2% on a year-on-year basis. Starts totaled 1.380 million in 2020, up 7.0% from 2019.
     • Philadelphia Fed's manufacturing survey for January is expected to tick down to 10.5 from 11.1 a month earlier. (8:30 a.m. ET)
     • European Commission releases its flash consumer confidence indicator for January at 10 a.m. ET.
     • Japan's consumer-price index for December is out at 6:30 p.m. ET.


Weaker economy, slower population growth. President Biden will lead a country with an aging population that is on shakier economic footing and is more politically polarized than at most points in recent years, the Wall Street Journal notes (link). Key metrics of financial and social well-being show the challenges Mr. Biden faces as he moves into the White House. The coronavirus pandemic halted the 11-year economic expansion and drove up unemployment just as the typical American household was starting to enjoy sustained income growth. Joblessness was at a half-century low before the pandemic forced businesses to close their doors. The U.S. economy shed 9.4 million jobs last year, the most in any year since records began in 1939, and nearly double the number from 2009.




Market perspectives:


     • Outside markets: The U.S. dollar index is lower following the recent rebound from a 2.5-year low scored earlier this month. The main rival to the greenback, the Euro currency, is also in a mild tailspin. The weaker dollar and weaker Euro, which usually trade divergently, suggest the “commodity” currencies such as the Australian and Canadian dollars are the better performers. Nymex crude oil futures prices are lower and trading around $53.00 a barrel, but still not far below the recent 10-month high. The yield on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note stands at 1.09%.

     • Crude oil futures have moved lower ahead of the US trading start on a surprise build in crude inventories reported late Wednesday by the American Petroleum Institute. The U.S. government data is delayed until Friday. U.S. crude is trading under $53.10 per barrel and Brent under $55.85 per barrel. Futures were mixed in Asian action as U.S. crude moved up 26 cents at $53.24 per barrel while Brent fell 19 cents at $55.89 per barrel.


     • BlackRock's entrance to the Bitcoin market. The world's largest asset manager is adding Bitcoin futures as an eligible investment to two of its funds — the Blackrock Funds V and Blackrock Global Allocation Fund. The decision marks the first time the money manager, which oversees $8.7 trillion, is offering clients exposure to cryptocurrency.


     • USDA daily export sales announcements:
        — 136,000 MT soybeans to China 2020-2021 marketing year;
        — 163,290 MT soybeans to Mexico 2020-2021;
        — 138,000 MT HRW wheat to Nigeria 2021-2022;
        — 336,500 MT corn to unknown destinations 2020-2021


     • Ag demand: Turkey’s state grain board extended its international tender to purchase 400,000 MT of milling wheat this week to include offers for white wheat, allowing wheat from more origins to be offered. Jordan’s state grains buyer purchased 120,000 MT of hard milling wheat to be sourced from optional origins. Algeria purchased around 390,000 MT of milling wheat from optional origins in an international tender. Tunisia’s state grains agency issued an international tender to buy around 92,000 MT of durum wheat, 92,000 MT of soft wheat and 75,000 MT of animal feed barley from optional origins. Japan purchased 51,553 MT of food-quality wheat from the U.S. as well as 21,100 MT from Canada in a regular tender.


Items in Pro Farmer's First Thing Today include (Link to subscribe to FTT):

     • Several analysts pegging Brazil’s bean crop in 133 MMT area
     • Michael Cordonnier calling for a 128 MMT Brazilian bean crop
     • Export prices for Ukrainian wheat now above $300 per metric ton
     • Kremlin spokesman indicates steps to tame food prices effective
     • Kazakhstan considering tariff on exports of sunflower seeds
     • Indonesia plans on importing cattle and meat amid domestic shortfalls




—  Biden to propose immigration reform; votes likely lacking in Senate. President Joe Biden plans to propose a major immigration reform bill that would offer a path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million undocumented people and provide $4 billion in aid to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.


     The estimated 1.25 million undocumented farmworkers in the U.S. would immediately gain legal status under the immigration reform bill unveiled by Biden on Wednesday. If passed, the bill would make the farmworkers eligible for green cards and, after three years, open a pathway for becoming U.S. citizens.


     While the measure is unlikely to pass the Senate without major concessions, the immigration reform proposal is one of Biden's signature policies and marks a reversal from former President Donald Trump's policies. To pass the legislation, Biden will have to persuade 60 senators, including at least 10 Republicans, to support the bill. Congress balked at similar reforms proposed by former President Barack Obama in 2013.


— Biden requested federal agencies to extend a moratorium on eviction and foreclosure for millions of Americans. a standard move by incoming presidents, with exceptions for national security, health, financial or other urgent matters. USDA announced it was providing additional flexibility for rural residents under the department’s Single Family Housing Direct and Guaranteed Loan Programs


— Biden administration rescinds Trump’s rescissions. Robert Fairweather, President Biden’s appointee as acting director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, sent the heads of federal agencies a memo Wednesday telling them that the $27.4 billion in funds former President Trump withheld on Jan. 14 may now be spent. The rescissions reduced the international food assistance programs, including Food for Peace and the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program. The two USDA account impacted by the reversal: $1.5 billion in funding for P.L. 480 (Food for Peace, transferred through Treasury) and $230 million for the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program (through USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service).


— Biden will take more unilateral action today, using his executive authority to ramp up the manufacturing of coronavirus test kits, vaccines and supplies. His team said it had identified 12 “immediate supply shortfalls” critical to the pandemic response, including N95 surgical masks and isolation gowns. Jen Psaki, the new White House press secretary, said Biden “absolutely remains committed” to invoking the Defense Production Act to bolster these supplies. Those include N95 masks, lab equipment, isolation gowns, gloves, swabs, syringes, raw materials used in vaccines and other items needed to quickly get shots in arms. A million a day... Biden has already set a goal of getting 100 million Americans vaccinated within the first 100 days of his administration.


     The full strategy is centered around seven goals: 1) Restoring trust with the American people; 2) Mounting a safe and effective vaccination campaign; 3) Expanding masking, testing, data and treatments; 4) Expanding emergency relief and exercising the Defense Production Act; 5) Safely reopening schools, businesses and travel while protecting workers; 6) Protecting those most at risk and advancing equity; 7) Restoring U.S. leadership globally and building better preparedness for future threats.


     Other executive actions: Increasing federal reimbursement to states and tribes from 75% to 100% of the cost for National Guard personnel and emergency supplies. Another executive order will create a Pandemic Testing Board, which will aim to increase testing capacity, expand the public health workforce, support Covid-19 screening in schools and collect data on re-openings, while a further action will direct studies to identify Covid-19 treatments, especially antivirals like Gilead's remdesivir. Biden also plans to require masks on public transportation and negative Covid-19 tests for anyone entering the country from overseas.


— EPA rule that shrinks pesticide spray exclusion zones, potentially exposing farm workers to greater amounts of chemical drift, will be up for review by the incoming Joe Biden administration, according to a statement. Promulgated by the outgoing Trump administration, the pesticide drift rule is one of dozens of agency actions that will be reviewed under a coming Executive Order titled, “Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis.”




— Senate confirmed Avril Haines to be the director of national intelligence. She was Biden’s first cabinet nominee to receive a vote.


— Senate panel sets Friday vote on Yellen’s nomination for Treasury. The Senate Finance Committee announced it will hold a open executive session on Friday (Jan. 22) to “consider favorably reporting” the nomination of Janet Yellen to be Treasury Secretary. Yellen’s Tuesday confirmation hearing was not very contentious, and she is expected to win panel approval and be cleared by the full Senate relatively quickly.


— President Biden is reportedly set to name Michael Barr, a former Treasury Department official, as the comptroller of the currency, according to the Wall Street Journal.


— Biden to tap Glick to head FERC. Democratic Commissioner Richard Glick said on social media that he has been tapped to lead the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

“I'm honored President Joe Biden has selected me to be @FERC Chairman, thank you Mr. @POTUS,” Glick tweeted. “This is an important moment to make significant progress on the transition to a clean energy future. I look forward to working with my colleagues to tackle the many challenges ahead!” Republicans will still hold a three-to-two majority on FERC until mid-year when Biden will be able to name another commissioner to the regulatory body.

The elevation of Glick was widely expected ahead of start of the Biden administration and will not immediately affect decisions made by FERC. However, the chair of the regulator controls the agenda for the agency.


— USDA personnel announcements:

  • Kevin Shea is serving as acting Agriculture secretary while Tom Vilsack awaits Senate confirmation. Shea has been the administrator of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service since 2013.
  • Robert Bonnie, an advocate for creating an ag carbon bank at USDA and who led the USDA transition for Biden, was named deputy chief of staff for policy and senior adviser for climate. Bonnie served as an executive in residence at the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University. Previously, he served as director of the Farm and Forests Carbon Solutions Initiative at the Bipartisan Policy Center, where he worked to develop new initiatives to combat the climate crisis through agricultural innovation. During the Obama administration, he served as undersecretary for natural resources and environment and as a senior adviser to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack for climate and the environment. He worked at the Environmental Defense Fund for 14 years.
  • Katharine Ferguson is USDA’s new chief of staff. She held senior posts in the Obama administration. Most recently, Ferguson served as associate director of the Aspen Institute Community Strategies Group. Before joining the Aspen Institute, Ferguson served in the Obama administration as chief of staff for the White House Domestic Policy Council and as chief of staff for rural development at USDA. Ferguson also worked on the Senate Agriculture Committee and as staff to several U.S. senators.
  • Gregory Parham is the interim deputy assistant secretary for administration. Parham, a veterinarian, served as assistant secretary for administration from 2013-2016. Previously, he served as administrator of Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and deputy administrator in the Marketing and Regulatory Programs divisions, business services.
  • Matt Herrick is the communications director for USDA. Herrick was communications director for Vilsack in the Obama administration and for U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Rajiv Shah. Most recently, Herrick has been senior vice president for executive and strategic communications for the International Dairy Foods Association. Before that, he was communications director for the Rockefeller Foundation and a senior vice president of Story Partners. He has also been a communications official for Oxfam America. Earlier in his career, Herrick served as speechwriter and spokesperson for USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service.
  • Justo Robles will be the White House liaison. Robles was the campaign’s deputy coalitions director in Georgia. Prior to joining USDA, Robles served as Georgia deputy coalitions director for Biden for President. Previously, he was deputy director and chief of staff for Energy Independence Now, a national nonprofit advocating for clean energy. In the Obama administration, Robles served as advance lead in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, among other positions in the Department of Defense.
  • Sara Bleich was named senior adviser to Vilsack for Covid-19. Previously, Bleich served as a professor of public health policy at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Her research centers on food insecurity, as well as racial injustice within the social safety net. From 2015-2016, she served as a White House fellow in the Obama administration, where she worked in USDA as a senior policy adviser for food, nutrition and consumer services.
  • Kumar Chandran was named senior adviser to Vilsack on nutrition. Most recently, Chandran was policy director for FoodCorps and led the Washington, D.C., office. Prior to that, he served as chief of staff to Undersecretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services Kevin Concannon in the Obama administration. Prior to his tenure at USDA, Chandran served at the national nonprofit Share Our Strength.


— U.S. Trade Representative’s Office:

  • Nora Todd, chief economic adviser to Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) is now chief of staff at USTR.



China sanctions several top/now former U.S. officials. The Trump administration’s action to declare that the Chinese treatment of the Uyghur Muslim minority in Xinjiang amounted to genocide prompted a harsh rebuke from China, with the country sanctioning 28 U.S. officials (not all detailed) and accused former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo of “lying and cheating.” Pompeo’s expected successor under the Biden administration, Anthony Blinken, told lawmakers at his confirmation hearing Tuesday that he agreed with Pompeo’s assessment. The officials will be banned from entering mainland China, Hong Kong or Macao, and companies and institutions associated with the U.S. officials would be restricted from doing business with China, the country’s Foreign Ministry said. (The U.S. officials include Mike Pompeo, Peter Navarro, Robert C. O'Brien, David R. Stilwell, Matthew Pottinger, Alex M. Azar II, Keith J. Krach, and Kelly D. K. Craft of the Trump administration as well as John R. Bolton and Stephen Bannon.)


     Meanwhile, Twitter locked the account of China’s U.S. embassy over a tweet that defended their policy relative to Uyghurs in Xinjiang.


— China watcher Bill Bishop sizes up latest U.S./China clash: “Releasing this while President Biden was giving his inaugural address will be viewed as intentionally disrespectful and will not be helpful to any idea of even a slight ‘reset’ in U.S./China relations; the U.S. to my knowledge has not included immediate family members in the sanctions of PRC officials, so this is an escalation. The PRC did include ‘immediate family members’ in the announcement Monday that China would ‘impose reciprocal sanctions on U.S. individuals acting viciously over Hong Kong-related issues,’ though it did not mention names. The announcement names 10 people but says the sanctions apply to 28 people. When will we learn the identity of the other 18? The last sentence of the announcement looks to be the most meaningful — “They and companies and institutions associated with them are also restricted from doing business with China.


     Bishop adds: “This should be seen as a warning shot to the new team, the message being that if you do not behave ‘appropriately’ towards China your future earnings potential will take a hit. It is also a message to officials in other countries about the potential personal costs of upsetting the PRC government. From the Chinese perspective it must look quite clever. From the foreign perspective it may add more weight to arguments for more decoupling. Note who does not appear to be included — Kushner, Mnuchin, Lighthizer and Ross.”


     Regarding overall U.S./China relations, Bishop says: “Xi and his officials see time and trends on their side, and they are saying it even more openly now with more regular utterances of ideas like "the East is rising and the West is declining 升西降". It is almost like they believe the historical outcome is already determined. While the tone towards the PRC from the Biden Administration may soften a bit, I am skeptical the PRC tone towards the U.S. will."


— Biden sends signal with Taiwan official at inauguration. The Biden administration’s formal invitation to Taiwan’s representative in the U.S., Hsiao Bi-khim, to the inauguration of Joe Biden was a sign that U.S./-Taiwan relations are “rock solid,” according to White House National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne. "President Biden will stand with friends and allies to advance our shared prosperity, security, and values in the Asia-Pacific region —and that includes Taiwan,” Horne said. Taiwan's foreign ministry said it was the first time an inauguration committee had formally invited their representative in Washington to an inauguration and emphasized shared values between the two. "These shared values are democracy, freedom and human rights," said ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou. This will keep the issue of Taiwan a point of contention between the U.S. and China as the country regards Taiwan as a part of China.


China reports an ASF outbreak. China’s ag ministry today reported an outbreak of African swine fever in the southern province of Guangdong. The outbreak occurred at a farm with 1,015 pigs, and the ministry indicated illegal transportation of pigs was to blame. We’ve heard reports the country is still dealing with the virus that wiped out around half of China’s hog herd beginning in 2018, but official reports on the outbreak have largely ceased. There is still no vaccine for ASF available for widespread use.

     Comments: While private industry analysts had already figured ASF was still showing up in China, they now wonder why China has gone public. One China watcher says: “Perhaps it is to condition their people for an increasing in meat and other farm imports.”


U.S./China Phase 1 tracker: China’s purchases of U.S. goods. Link




— Biden signs executive order to rejoin Paris climate agreement. President Joe Biden as expected on Wednesday signed an executive order to bring the U.S. back into the Paris climate accord, reversing the decision to withdraw by his predecessor Donald Trump. Under the terms of the international agreement, Biden's action on his first day in office starts a 30-day countdown for the accord to formally take effect again in the United States.


— President Biden issued orders aimed at making the U.S. a leader in climate action and restoring the environmental protections rolled back in the Trump era. Biden's directives ordered agencies to reimplement auto emissions standards that the Obama administration had modeled on California's requirements. His orders also rescinded the permit for the Keystone XL Pipeline, the long-disputed portion of the pipeline system (details next item).


— Keystone XL pipeline rejection centered on climate. President Joe Biden signed an executive order revoking the permit granted in March 2019 by President Donald Trump for the Keystone XL pipeline, a move which cited the 2015 review undertaken by the Obama administration which also resulted in the permit being revoked. That analysis, according to the executive order, said the pipeline would “not serve the US national interest.” The order indicated the U.S> needed to focus on developing a clean energy economy that “will in turn create good jobs.” That analysis concluded that approving the permit would “undermine U.S. climate leadership by undercutting the credibility and influence” of the U.S. on climate change. The order also notes that a sustainable path on climate needs to be pursued as it will “protect Americans and the domestic economy from harmful climate impacts, and to create well-paying union jobs as part of the climate solution.” If the permit was left in place, the order concluded it would “not be consistent” with the Biden administration’s “economic and climate imperatives.”


     Ahead of the action, Keystone XL pipeline operator TC Energy, expressed disappointment in the move, saying it will “directly lead to the layoff of thousands of union workers and negatively impact ground-breaking industry commitments to use new renewable energy as well as historic equity partnerships with Indigenous communities.” While the company said it would review the decision, it has suspended activity on the project.


     The energy sector has been bracing for the expected shift to a focus on combatting climate change by the Biden administration and their first actions have cemented that as a clear priority. Now the attention will be on efforts to build a clean energy economy and job creation which are also focal points for the new administration in a bid to move the U.S. economy forward despite the Covid pandemic.


     Canada reacted with disappointment to the move, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau saying in a statement, "While we welcome the President's commitment to fight climate change, we are disappointed but acknowledge the President's decision to fulfill his election campaign promise on Keystone XL.” Alberta Premier Jason Kenney told a news conference he was “deeply disappointed” in the action and labeled it a “gut punch for the Canadian and Alberta economies.”




— Restaurants chains say they are getting a sales bump from the latest round of stimulus money going to households but spending patterns from the first batch of checks earlier in the pandemic suggest the lift can fade quickly, the Wall Street Journal reports (link). The roughly $900 billion coronavirus aid package signed into law last month provided a second round of stimulus payments — $600 per adult and $600 a child. Church’s Chicken, Checkers Drive-In, Noodles & Co. and TGI Fridays are among the companies crediting higher sales to the stimulus. The first round of stimulus checks, back in April, helped boost major chains’ sales by 3% to 12%, according to research firm Revenue Management Solutions. But weekly sales figures from several casual-dining chains showed the improvement faded quickly.


     Restaurant sales


— Tyson Foods said it has agreed to pay $221.5 million to settle with poultry buyers claiming price-fixing. Link to WSJ for details.




 Summary: Global cases of Covid-19 are at 96,913,096 with 2,076,091 deaths, according to data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. case count is at 24,438,721 with 406,147 deaths.


       Link to Covid Case Tracker
       Link to Our World in Data


— White House chief of staff Klain says 100 million vaccinations will be the metric to measure the administration. The target of 100 million vaccinations against Covid-19 in the first 100 days of the Biden administration will be the metric that will measure success of the effort, White House chief of staff Ron Klain said Wednesday. “Ultimately the goal is to wipe out the virus. How long or short that takes depends in some ways on the course of the virus and obviously the course to which people follow our leadership,” Klain said. “But I think we should be measured by the actions the administration takes to try to change the way in which this country is handling this crisis.”


     Some note the effort could be challenged by vaccine availability as even invoking the Defense Production Act to bolster vaccine production and putting $20 billion toward a national effort will take time to develop.


— Amazon offers to help in vaccine effort. On President Biden’s first day in office, the head of Amazon’s consumer business, Dave Clark, sent a letter to the White House with an offer to help achieve the goal of vaccinating 100 million people in the administration’s first 100 days. By way of assistance, the retailer offered to vaccinate a large share of its workers. The e-commerce giant has made similar offers to state governments, including Tennessee and Washington. In Washington, Amazon was not among the companies Gov. Jay Inslee announced as partners in its vaccination plan this week.


— Tensions are rising between the EU and Pfizer and BioNTech over delays around the pharmaceutical companies’ Covid-19 vaccine. Pfizer said it is reducing deliveries by 8% for a few weeks while it scales up production at its plant in Belgium. Some countries, including Germany and Italy, claim that deliveries are already falling short of what was promised, with Italy threatening legal action.




Washington Post got a peek at how Biden has redecorated the Oval Office, from bringing back Bill Clinton’s drapes to installing a big portrait of Franklin Roosevelt, a president who steered the nation through multiple crises, and behind the Resolute Desk is a bust of Cesar Chavez. The office also includes busts of Rosa Parks and Eleanor Roosevelt and a sculpture depicting a horse and rider by Allan Houser of the Chiricahua Apache tribe that once belonged to the late Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii) — the first Japanese American elected to both houses of Congress. Busts of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy flank a fireplace in the office. Link to WaPo article.


     Others have noted that Biden has removed military flags from the Oval Office that President Donald Trump displayed behind the desk.


     Oval Office

—  In his final hours in office, Trump overturned his own executive order banning former White House employees from lobbying the government, part of his initial election promise to “drain the swamp” (Biden is expected to strengthen White House ethics standards). Before departing for Florida, Trump wished the incoming administration luck and pledged to return “in some form.”



— Antifascist and racial-justice protesters in Portland, Ore., and in Seattle smashed windows, marched through the streets and burned an American flag, saying that the Biden administration “won’t save us.”


— Members of the Proud Boys, a far-right group loyal to Trump, are calling him “weak,” as more of them face charges over storming the Capitol. Details via NYT article.


— Trump pardons meat misbranders. Hours before leaving office, President Trump pardoned Martin, Deborah, and Gregory Jorgensen of South Dakota, who were convicted of mixing inferior trimmed meat into their Dakota Lean beef and selling it as heart-healthy and free of antibiotics and hormones during the 1980s. Link to details via the Sioux Falls Argus Leader.


— President Biden may have a tech national security vulnerability: his Peloton exercise bike. More from the New York Times.



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