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What's Happening in Georgia?

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WHAT'S HAPPENING IN GEORGIA? For Republicans, the numbers look ominous. Record-setting totals of Georgians have voted early this week in the Dec. 6 runoff election between Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker. The turnout appears to include slightly more likely...

Dems praise Biden's primary plan — but there's unfinished business to solve

Politico -

Democrats still face several logistical hurdles in their bid to reorder the party’s presidential nominating calendar, even as President Joe Biden’s recommendations for the process met with praise from Democratic National Committee members meeting Friday in Washington.

The DNC is poised to dramatically reshape its primary calendar after dissatisfaction with the traditional first state, Iowa, boiled over in 2020. Members of the party’s Rules and Bylaws Committee, charged with recommending a new calendar, voiced near-unanimous support on Friday for Biden’s proposal, which would see South Carolina host the first 2024 presidential primary. It would then be followed by New Hampshire and Nevada a week later, then Georgia, and lastly Michigan to close out February 2024. Iowa would be out of the early lineup altogether.

Yet while many DNC members said they want to follow through on the president’s recommendation, the actual mechanics of putting another primary in front of New Hampshire’s and bumping Georgia’s forward into the early-state window could prove complicated.

In both South Carolina and Georgia, the DNC must work with Republican-controlled state legislatures and governors to change the dates of their primaries. The Republican National Committee, which has an open presidential nominating contest in 2024, voted this year to affirm its current early-state lineup of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. By January, Nevada will also have a Republican governor, another factor which could trip up any changes to its state law.

Meanwhile, New Hampshire state law gives election officials the power to make sure its presidential primary is the first in the nation — and the DNC’s traditional method of punishment for breaking ranks and withholding delegates would hold less weight in a state whose political stature has never stemmed from the small number of convention delegates it gets. Democratic elected officials from New Hampshire reacted furiously to the plan on Thursday, pledging to continue holding the nation’s first Democratic presidential primary.

Nonetheless, DNC rules committee co-chair Minyon Moore called Biden’s plan it “a window worth fighting for.”

Friday’s meeting brings to a close months of public and private lobbying of Democratic leaders from states interested in the prestige and clout that comes with an early presidential primary.

It effectively ended the hopes of Iowa maintaining its first-place seat, after its 2020 caucus debacle piled on top of intense scrutiny for its predominantly white population. Biden’s support for Michigan also closed off early-state hopes for Minnesota, another Midwestern state. Democratic Farmers-Labor Party Chair Ken Martin essentially conceded his effort Thursday night, according to several sources who attended the private meeting.

The DNC reopened its presidential nominating process earlier this year, after it came under increasing pressure inside and outside the party to diversify the slate of early states and to prioritize competing in general election battleground states. And in Biden’s recommendations, he also called on the committee to review the early nominating process every four years, a signal from the White House that it does not want states to have a lock on the coveted positions.

The DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee is expected to move forward with a new recommendation soon, after which it will go before the full DNC for a vote in early 2023.

A handful of DNC members, particularly those representing states that participated in the current early window, did voice polite pushback, belying the fury that Biden’s plan prompted Thursday night from a range of early state elected officials.

Artie Blanco, who represents Nevada, requested a “slight adjustment” to the plan, suggesting that South Carolina move its date to Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024, a weekend election day that South Carolina has honored in the past, thereby allowing Nevada to jump ahead of New Hampshire and hold its contest on Feb. 6.

New Hampshire, meanwhile, only lightly echoed the comments of its elected officials, including Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, who expressed anger and disappointment at Biden’s proposal.

Joanne Dowdell, who represents New Hampshire on the committee, emphasized that her state does “have a law, and we will not be breaking our law,” hinting that New Hampshire may ignore the DNC’s new mandates and hold its own unsanctioned primary.

“That is really the position of New Hampshire — we will not be breaking our law,” Dowdell said. “And that’s my comment.”

Suggestions that states might still opt to hold their own unsanctioned primaries was also met with some pushback. Mo Elleithee, another DNC member, said that “the way we empowered the DNC to enforce the decisions we are going to make today” will have “more teeth” than past punishments for out-of-order states.

Iowa is not going quietly, either. Scott Brennan, a longtime Democratic operative from Iowa, said he could not support the president’s proposal, arguing that by eliminating a rural, Midwestern state, Democrats were “creating a self-fulfilling prophecy of electoral failure” in that part of the country.

He also said that the DNC rules committee may “vote on this calendar, but we will leave here with nothing settled,” alluding to the logistical challenges that still lie between concept and reality for this plan.

But aside from some discontent from current early states, the committee broadly backed Biden’s plan. American Federation of Teachers union president Randi Weingarten cast South Carolina’s first place slot as “a message about representation,” while Elaine Kamarck, who wrote a book about the primary process, noted that after South Carolina, “the other four states, every single one, is a swing state.”

“This is a good template for the future,” she said.

DNC Chair Jaime Harrison, who attended the meeting, also called the proposed early window a reflection “of the diversity of our party” and “a more equitable and accessible nomination process that puts our candidates in the best position to win.” Harrison is the former chair of the South Carolina Democratic Party.

But David McDonald, another longtime DNC member, did raise light concerns that the committee’s introduction of large states, including Michigan and Georgia, could “effectively [create] a bias toward certain kinds of candidates,” particularly those who enter a presidential primaries with significant financial resources, which would allow them to compete more effectively in expensive media markets.

Biden signs law bringing rail strike saga to an end

Politico -

President Joe Biden on Friday signed legislation to bring to a close any threat of a rail strike by enshrining into statute a contract between labor unions and the freight rail industry.

That closes out months of chaotic negotiations that brought the nation to the brink of a rail shutdown that could have decimated the economy. But in so doing, Democrats have angered one of their key political constituencies and rankled members of their own party for not including paid sick leave for more than 100,000 workers that had threatened to strike.

Biden said he was compelled to act because a work stoppage "without a doubt would have been an economic catastrophe at a very bad time in the calendar."

Biden’s signature ensures that critical goods like drinking water, agriculture and energy shipments can stay on freight rail lines and keep the supply chain intact. Absent a deal, those goods were at risk of having to be diverted in the days leading up to a Dec. 9 date on which a strike could have commenced.

“Our nation's rail system is literally the backbone of our supply chain," he said during the signing ceremony. "So much of what we rely on is delivered on a rail. From clean water to food and gas ... without freight rail many of the U.S. industries would literally shut down."

The high-profile standoff centered on rail workers’ desire for additional paid sick leave and unions’ inability to get rail operators to budge on the issue.

Railroads argued that the contracts already offer generous paid time off and other provisions available if workers fall ill, but rail employees countered that those policies require advance notice that isn't feasible in common situations like having to take a sick child to the doctor unexpectedly.

The president acknowledged those concerns and maintained that he supports continuing to work to ensure employees have those benefits.

“We still have more work to do in my view in terms of ultimately getting paid sick leave, not just for rail workers but for every worker in America," Biden said. "I supported paid sick leave for a long time, and I'm going to continue that fight until we succeed."

Biden’s measured tone following several days of frenzied activity in Congress stands in stark contrast to the victory lap the White House took in mid-September when his administration brokered a deal to avert the threat of an earlier work stoppage. At the time, the administration even went so far as to taunt the opinion page of The Wall Street Journal from Biden’s presidential Twitter account after it published an editorial questioning how he handled the rail negotiations.

But after four of the 12 labor unions — representing more than half of the workforce — at the bargaining table rejected their proposed contracts, the Biden administration raced to reach a resolution as the specter of a pre-holiday strike loomed.

Biden’s decision Monday evening to throw the issue to Congress kicked off a whirlwind three days that scrambled partisan fault lines on Capitol Hill.

He even deployed two Cabinet members — Labor Secretary Marty Walsh and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg — on Thursday to sell Senate Democrats on voting to prevent a work stoppage and impose the rail deal minus the sick leave workers wanted.

The House pushed through a pair of votes, one granting seven days of paid sick leave and the other on the underlying contract. The two-step maneuver was initiated by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in response to consternation from her Democratic Caucus about forcing a contract on workers that they had already rejected.

However there was not enough support in the Senate for the sick leave component to clear a 60-vote requirement and the base bill passed without it. (A Republican effort to extend the no-strike period also failed.)

Biden credited legislators for acting quickly, while acknowledging that it was "tough vote for members of both parties."

"But it was the right thing to do at the moment to save jobs, to protect millions of families from harm and disruption and to keep supply chains stable through the holidays," the president said.

'We want him here': Maxine Waters urges Bankman-Fried to testify

Politico -

House Financial Services Chair Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) on Friday said she has invited FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried to testify at the panel's Dec. 13 hearing on the cryptocurrency exchange's collapse.

"We want him here," Waters told POLITICO. "If he's talking and giving interviews, we'd like for him to be just as candid with us."

Bankman-Fried has not yet responded to the invitation, Waters said. She is open to letting him appear via video, like he did at this week's New York Times DealBook Summit.

The former FTX CEO has signaled that he would be open to testifying before Congress. Bankman-Fried on Wednesday said at the DealBook conference that he "would not be surprised if I'm up there talking about what happened to our representatives."

Lawmakers' calls for Bankman-Fried to testify in front of Congress are beginning to hit a crescendo with the FTX founder staying in the public eye. In recent days, Bankman-Fried has gone on a media tour of sorts, giving interviews on "Good Morning America" and in publications such as New York magazine.

Waters and the House Financial Services Committee's top Republican, Rep. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, tweeted Friday that Bankman-Fried should testify at the hearing.

"We'd love to get Sam Bankman-Fried," Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) said in an interview. "I can't imagine that he would subject himself to the physical enforcement of American law. But we'd probably take him by video if we could get him."

Infowars host Alex Jones files for personal bankruptcy

Politico -

Infowars host Alex Jones filed for personal bankruptcy protection in Texas on Friday as he faces nearly $1.5 billion in court judgments over conspiracy theories he spread about the Sandy Hook school massacre.

Jones filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in bankruptcy court in Houston. His filing lists $1 billion to $10 billion in liabilities owed to 50 to 99 creditors and $1 million to $10 million in assets.

The bankruptcy filing comes as Jones faces court orders to pay nearly $1.5 billion in damages to relatives of victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting for calling the massacre a hoax.

An attorney representing Jones in the bankruptcy case did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

A Connecticut jury in October awarded the families $965 million in compensatory damages, and a judge later tacked on another $473 million in punitive damages. Earlier in the year, a Texas jury awarded the parents of a child killed in the shooting $49 million in damages.

In Connecticut, Jones also filed a notice Friday saying his bankruptcy filing halts all proceedings in that case. A judge was scheduled to hear arguments Friday morning in the Connecticut case on a motion by the Sandy Hook families to attach the assets of Jones and his company to secure money for the damages awards.

The families’ motion to secure Jones’ assets also asks the Connecticut judge to bar Jones from transferring or disposing any of his assets without permission of the court.

Jones has laughed at the awards on his Infowars show, saying he has less than $2 million to his name and won’t be able to pay such high amounts. The comments contradicted the testimony of a forensic economist at the Texas trial, who said Jones and his company Free Speech Systems have a combined net worth as high as $270 million. Free Speech Systems is also seeking bankruptcy protection.

In the Texas and Connecticut cases, some relatives of the 20 children and six adults killed in the 2012 school shooting testified that they were threatened and harassed for years by people who believed the lies told on Jones’ show. One parent testified that conspiracy theorists urinated on his 7-year-old son’s grave and threatened to dig up the coffin.

Erica Lafferty, the daughter of slain Sandy Hook principal Dawn Hochsprung, testified that people mailed rape threats to her house.

In documents filed in Free Speech Systems’ bankruptcy case in Texas, a budget for the company for Oct. 29 to Nov. 25 estimated product sales would total $2.5 million, while operating expenses would be about $740,000. Jones’ salary was listed at $20,000 every two weeks.

NY's Out-Migration Lost the GOP the Governor's Mansion

Real Clear Politics -

New York and Florida likely will be the difference for Republican control of the House of Representatives following the 2022 midterms. Strong performance on the top of the ticket by Florida's Ron DeSantis and New York's Lee Zeldin pushed a number of fence-sitting congressional races red.

Gavin Newsom's Next Act

Real Clear Politics -

Fresh off a big reelection victory, the California governor won't run for president, but a world of being a happy, trolling warrior awaits him.

U.S. Aid to Ukraine, Explained

FactCheck -

When asked whether Republicans would “make it more difficult” for Congress to approve Ukrainian aid, Rep. Mike Turner criticized the $40 billion package enacted in May, saying: “We don’t need to pass $40 billion large Democrat bills … to send $8 billion to Ukraine.” Much more than that, however, was allocated for military support.

The aid legislation, which passed with broad bipartisan approval, included about $19 billion for military support, though not all of that will be transferred to Ukraine. For instance, a chunk of it is allocated for replenishing U.S. stocks of weapons that have gone or will go to Ukraine to assist the country in its defense against Russia.

The rest of the $40 billion included humanitarian and economic aid, among other measures. We’ll break down how the funding was allocated.

Turner, who is the ranking GOP member of the House intelligence committee, made his remarks on ABC’s “This Week” on Nov. 27. He went on to say, “What we’re going to do — and it’s been very frustrating, obviously, even to the Ukrainians where they hear these large numbers in the United States as a result of the, you know, burgeoned Democrat bills and the little amount of aid that they receive. We’re going to make certain they get what they need.”

His office told us he was talking about the direct, lethal aid going to Ukraine, and the $8 billion he cited was an example of how there is “confusion” over the funding. We asked what specifically the $8 billion referred to, but we didn’t get an answer to that.

He was “not objecting to other funding in the bill,” Turner’s office said, noting that the lawmaker had voted for it.

So did most Congress members in his party, but 57 Republicans voted no in the House and 11 Senate Republicans dissented. Their objections included that the bill was too large and that some of the money was better spent on domestic issues. The White House in November asked Congress to approve another $37.7 billion for Ukrainian aid this month, setting up a situation for potential friction over U.S. support for Ukraine.

In January, Republicans will control the House, and Kevin McCarthy, the House GOP leader, has said there won’t be a “blank check to Ukraine.”

On “This Week,” GOP Rep. Michael McCaul echoed that sentiment, saying that lawmakers had little time to review the $40 billion package and that “we are going to provide more oversight, transparency and accountability.”

What’s in the $40 Billion Aid Package?

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, Congress has approved a total of $66 billion in aid to support Ukraine. That includes the $40 billion supplemental appropriations legislation passed in May — the only standalone aid bill — and $13.6 billion passed as part of a much larger omnibus appropriations bill in March and $12.35 billion in a continuing resolution bill enacted in September to fund the government through Dec. 16.

As we said, that $40 billion package included $19 billion in military funding for Ukraine, though not all of that goes directly to the country. Mark F. Cancian, a retired Marine colonel and senior adviser at the Center for Strategic & International Studies, told us that figure is “a fair number” for the amount of military aid to Ukraine in the legislation.

It includes $6 billion for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, a Defense Department fund that pays for training, weapons and other military assistance; $9 billion to replenish U.S. weapons sent to Ukraine; and $4 billion for the Foreign Military Financing Program, a program of the State and Defense Departments that enables Ukraine (and other approved countries) to purchase new military equipment from the U.S.

We relied on Cancian’s breakdown as well as the House Committee on Appropriations’ summary and the full text of the legislation for these figures.

Another $3.9 billion was allocated for U.S. troops deployed to Europe as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. “These forces were sent to reassure eastern NATO allies that the United States stood with them in a crisis and to discourage any Russian adventurism against Eastern Europe,” Cancian wrote in a May commentary piece on CSIS’ website a few days after President Joe Biden signed the bill into law.

Other military or defense spending that doesn’t go to Ukraine but is arguably related to the conflict includes $500 million to U.S. allies. “Money in this package likely reimburses allies and partners for equipment that they have sent to Ukraine,” Cancian wrote, saying that under this “win-win-win” arrangement, Eastern European allies give Ukraine old equipment and then can buy newer equipment. “The U.S. defense industry can sell more products.”

The Defense Department also got $500 million to procure “critical munitions” to increase its stocks, the House committee summary says; $600 million “to mitigate industrial base constraints for faster missile production and expanded domestic capacity of strategic and critical minerals”; and $364 million for research and development “to respond to the situation in Ukraine and for related expenses,” the legislation said. Cancian told us that these items are “not necessarily bad ideas, but in my opinion they should’ve gone through the regular appropriations process,” since they’re “not immediate needs for Ukraine” and the spending won’t happen for a long time.

He wrote in his commentary that supplemental appropriations are for emergency situations, but they often “become ‘Christmas trees’ onto which advocates can hang initiatives that did not get funded through the regular cycle.” And some aspects of this aid legislation “have the air of ‘Christmas tree ornaments.’”

What we’ve described so far adds up to nearly $25 billion. The rest of the $40 billion package, or about $15 billion, is for humanitarian and economic aid.

That includes $8.8 billion for an Economic Support Fund for Ukraine’s government, to combat human trafficking and “to prevent and respond to global food insecurity,” the committee’s summary says. The White House says this funding also can go toward providing “food, energy, and health care services for the Ukrainian people,” countering Russian disinformation, and supporting “small- and medium- sized agrobusinesses” and natural gas purchases by Ukraine.

The humanitarian aid also includes $4.35 billion for the U.S. Agency for International Development for disaster assistance, which would be, in the words of the committee summary, “emergency food assistance to people around the world suffering from hunger as a result of the conflict in Ukraine”; $900 million for Ukrainian refugees in the U.S.; $350 million for Ukrainian refugee assistance for other countries; $650 million for the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and an international food security program; and hundreds of millions more for the State Department for embassy security, diplomatic support, nonproliferation programs and narcotics control/law enforcement programs for Ukraine.

The legislation included $5 million for inspectors general to provide oversight of the appropriations.

Finally, in addition to the funding, the legislation increases the president’s drawdown authority by $11 billion to provide defense equipment and services to Ukraine and allies in the region in the future. This allows the president to send equipment from existing U.S. inventories. Congress then needs to appropriate money separately to replenish the stocks.

Total Ukraine Aid

As we said, Congress has approved a total of $66 billion for aid to Ukraine this year. And it can be confusing to see that figure and yet see other announcements of much smaller totals for security assistance or equipment transfers.

For instance, the latest DOD press release, dated Nov. 23, on a drawdown of military equipment being sent to Ukraine said the U.S. “has committed more than $19.7 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since the beginning of the Biden Administration.” An Oct. 21 Congressional Research Service report said security assistance had totaled “about $17.6 billion” since the start of the war in Ukraine.

But as we’ve explained, the appropriations include funding for other military and humanitarian programs beyond military equipment or security assistance for Ukraine.

“Confusion sometimes arises because [of] the way the administration periodically announces aid packages,” Cancian wrote in a Nov. 18 post on the total amount of Ukraine aid. Those occasional DOD releases, however, “describe how the administration is using the money.”

Cancian wrote that altogether military aid has totaled $38.2 billion.

That includes $17 billion in short-term military aid, such as weapons and training; $10.4 billion in long-term military aid, which is “money that Ukraine can use to buy new weapons, mostly from the United States but also elsewhere,” Cancian said; $9.6 billion for U.S. military operations in the region; and $1.2 billion for general Defense Department support.

It can take a while to spend some of this money. “For the kinds of equipment being procured to support Ukraine, it takes about a year to get onto contract, then two more years before the first item is delivered and another year or more for the remaining items to be delivered,” Cancian wrote. “That means that money Congress appropriates in year one does not get fully spent until year five.”

The White House has called on Congress to pass another $37.7 billion in Ukraine aid before the Dec. 16 deadline to continue funding the government in fiscal 2023.

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The post U.S. Aid to Ukraine, Explained appeared first on FactCheck.org.

U.S. hiring stayed strong in November as employers add 263,000

Politico -

The nation’s employers kept hiring briskly in November despite high inflation and a slow-growing economy — a sign of resilience in the face of the Federal Reserve’s aggressive interest rate hikes.

The economy added 263,000 jobs, while the unemployment rate stayed 3.7%, still near a 53-year low, the Labor Department said Friday. November’s job growth dipped only slightly from October’s 284,000 gain.

Last month’s hiring amounted to a substantial increase. All year, as inflation has surged and the Fed has imposed ever-higher borrowing rates, America’s labor market has defied skeptics, adding hundreds of thousands of jobs, month after month.

As employers have continued hiring, wage gains have followed. In November, average hourly pay jumped 5.1% compared with a year ago, a robust increase that could complicate the Fed’s efforts to curb inflation. This week, Fed Chair Jerome Powell stressed in a speech that jobs and wages were growing too fast for the central bank to quickly slow inflation. The Fed has jacked up its benchmark rate, from near zero in March to nearly 4%, to try to wrestle inflation back toward its 2% annual target.

In the meantime, the steady hiring and rising paychecks have helped U.S. households drive the economy. In October, consumer spending rose at a healthy pace even after adjusting for inflation. Americans stepped up their purchases of cars, restaurant meals and other services.

After having contracted in the first six months of the year, the U.S. economy expanded at a brisk 2.9% annual rate last quarter. In addition to strength from consumer spending, a spike in exports helped boost growth.

Though steady hiring and rising wages have fueled their spending, Americans are also turning increasingly to credit cards to keep up with higher prices. Many are also digging into savings, a trend that cannot continue indefinitely.

Some signs of weakness have sparked concerns about a likely recession next year, in part because many fear that the Fed’s surging rate hikes will end up derailing the economy. Particularly in the technology, media and retail industries, a rising number of companies have made high-profile layoff announcements.

In addition to job cuts from tech behemoths like Amazon, Meta and Twitter, smaller companies — including DoorDash, the real estate firm Redfin and the retailers Best Buy and the Gap — have said they will lay off workers.

And in November, a measure of factory activity dropped to a level that suggested that the manufacturing sector is contracting for the first time since May 2020.

Kanye West and the End of 'Wink-Nudge' Antisemitism

Real Clear Politics -

On Thursday afternoon, rapper Kanye West appeared on conspiracy theorist Alex Jones's show to discuss the former's theories about the Jews. Jones is no stranger to peddling antisemitic tropes - in the interview, he expresses belief in a nefarious "Jewish mafia" - but West went further than even Jones likely imagined.


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