A Global Crisis at Ports; A New Threat to Tech; The Next Congressional Brawl

PORTS ARE GRIDLOCKED: We strongly recommend the article in yesterday’s New York Times — it’s definitely worth reading — which contends that global trade is gridlocked. “Around the planet, the pandemic has disrupted trade to an extraordinary degree, driving up the cost of shipping goods and adding a fresh challenge to the global recovery,” the Times declared.

A SURGE IN DEMAND FROM AMERICA for a wide range of goods has caught the shipping industry by surprise; supplies of containers are virtually exhausted. Even when ships arrive at ports, it takes days and days to unload them; worker shortages are a major problem in ports such as Long Beach.

INDUSTRY EXPERTS SAY it may take months for shipping to return to normal. In the meantime, prices of a wide range of goods — from grain to computer games — are likely to rise. Inflation seems to be a pervasive theme, with food costs rising after the Texas weather disaster and oil prices climbing, especially as military tensions rise in the Mideast this morning.
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A NEW THREAT FOR THE TECH SECTOR: Perhaps overlooked this past weekend was the Biden Administration’s appointment of a fierce critic of the tech industry — and a proponent of tough antitrust policies — as an adviser to the White House National Economic Council. Tim Wu will become special assistant to the president “for technology and competition policy.”

WU, A FAVORITE OF PROGRESSIVES, currently is a law professor at Columbia University. He has advocated breaking up Facebook and supports the ongoing government case against other huge firms such as Alphabet’s Google because, he says, they stifle innovation. Sen. Amy Klobuchar has introduced legislation to toughen antitrust laws, although passage is unlikely any time soon.

THE REAL ACTION will be at the Federal Trade Commission and the antitrust division of the Justice Department; Biden has not yet picked the heads of those agencies. Our take is that a breakup of big tech isn’t imminent — but new proposed mergers and acquisitions will face a fierce push-back from Wu and his allies in Washington.
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THE NEXT CONGRESSIONAL FIGHT: Enactment of the enormous Covid aid bill is virtually certain, probably tomorrow, but the brawl over this measure may look like child’s play compared to the next fight in Congress.

TO SAY BOTH PARTIES are dug in on voting reform is an understatement. Democrats want to liberalize the ability to vote, part of a sweeping bill that aims, they say, to end voter suppression. Republicans say say recent reforms have led to election abuses that have eroded voter faith in elections. The only chance Democrats have of passing their 800-page bill is to kill filibuster rules — and a fierce battle looms on that.

IT’S IMPOSSIBLE TO QUICKLY SUMMARIZE the election reform bill and its reforms (redistricting, lobbying, mail-in ballots, etc.) but both parties realize that this has the potential to solidify Democrats’ support in elections for decades to come. It’s worth following this issue, because its implications are so huge.

OUR BEST GUESS is that voting reform faces an uphill battle, because there aren’t enough votes to end a certain Senate filibuster against it, which would require 60 votes. It would take 50 Senate votes (all of the Democrats) to kill the filibuster rule — and feisty Joe Manchin, the West Virginia moderate, won’t go along (although he hinted yesterday that he could consider some creative compromises).

AT SOME POINT THE ENORMOUS GULF between the two parties over voting rights will give way to the other major bill — passage of a huge infrastructure/tax measure later this year, which will require only 50 Senate votes via the reconciliation process. Reconciliation can be used one more time this year and you can be sure the Democrats won’t pass up the option to use it again.

THERE ARE NO SIGNS OF MEANINGFUL COMPROMISE: Some Republicans are fond of Joe Biden, and vice versa, but there’s absolutely no agreement on specific issues. Biden won’t have much time to celebrate his victory on the Covid bill; he faces a growing political crisis as immigrants stream through porous southern borders, without much of a plan to stem the flow.

Related: The Early Outlook for 2022 House and Senate Races

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