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Democrats Draw Up Plan B for Paid Leave
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House GOP Can’t Get Out of Its Own Way
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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  It's Debt-Ceiling Time... Again
      •  It's the Sixth Circuit
      •  SCOTUS Is Playing with Fire
      •  White House Set to Announce Diplomatic Boycott of 2022 Olympics
      •  Gosar Censure Vote Scheduled for Wednesday
      •  Speier to Retire
      •  Hooray for Hollywood: Readers' Favorite Films (Nos. 60-51)

It's Debt-Ceiling Time... Again

It used to be baseball, and some say it's now football, but doesn't the title of "America's Pastime" really belong to the debt-ceiling Olympics that happen so regularly these days? They have the thrill of victory, and the agony of listening to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) obfuscate on a daily basis. What more could you want? We already had the Summer debt-ceiling Olympics this year. And that round actually stretched into fall by a couple of weeks, until there was a resolution on October 12. Now it is time for the Winter debt-ceiling Olympics, as Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen said yesterday that the U.S. is in danger of defaulting around Dec. 15.

As with the last round, it is extremely unlikely that the Senate—which is where the bottleneck always is—will allow a default, as that would be disastrous. That is even more true this time than last time, as a default in the middle of the holiday season, and at a time when the economy is already doing poorly, would badly hurt the party that got the blame.

The question, of course, is which side will blink first (once everyone has done plenty of gymnastics). Given that there was nearly an internecine Republican civil war the last time, McConnell may stick with his demand that the Democrats use reconciliation to get this done. On the other hand, the Democrats have the trifecta. They can pass a clean debt-ceiling bill, then can talk to every reporter and news show in the land and say "The bill is just waiting for the Republicans to drop their filibuster. Why are they using parliamentary tricks to try to destroy the U.S. economy?"

Interestingly, in her remarks, Yellen gave a specific payment that will push the government into default, namely the transfer of $118 billion to the Highway Trust Fund on Dec. 15, which is required by the infrastructure bill signed by Joe Biden on Monday. Yellen is no fool, and is certainly not new to debt-ceiling Olympics. That little tidbit could allow Republicans to argue "See! It's the infrastructure bill that pushed us into default! We warned you about Democrats' free-spending ways!" This sort of political club is all McConnell wants, anyhow. At the same time, Democrats could respond: "Uh, that's not how this works. It wasn't an $118 billion outlay that somehow caused a $30 trillion national debt. And even if it did work that way, a lot of Republicans—including McConnell—voted for the bill."

Point is, maybe the Secretary is trying to give both sides some messaging they can cling to, so they can avoid another round of this nonsense. More likely, she wants them to know that Dec. 15 is almost certainly correct, because of that mega-payment that needs to be made. In any event, the Winter debt-ceiling Olympics will, appropriately enough, be shorter than the Summer debt-ceiling Olympics. Congress will return from the Thanksgiving Holiday on Nov. 29, and it takes a couple of weeks to go through the full reconciliation process. So, the Republicans will have about 4 days of posturing to secure that outcome, otherwise they will be left agreeing to a token reconciliation process, or else to not filibustering a clean debt-ceiling bill. (Z)

It's the Sixth Circuit

Yesterday, we noted that the various cases centered on the Biden administration's vaccine mandate for 100+ employee private businesses would be consolidated and assigned, by a lottery, to one judicial circuit. As it turns out, thanks to a last-minute filing, every single one of the 12 circuits had at least one mandate case, and so every single one was eligible to have its name picked out of the hat. The winner was the Sixth Circuit.

The Sixth Circuit is based in Cincinnati and, while considered right-leaning, is nowhere near as right-leaning as the Fifth Circuit these days. It was Fifth Circuit judge Kurt Engelhardt who was responsible for this weekend's political screed masquerading as a judicial opinion. Not counting judges who have assumed senior status, the Sixth Circuit includes six Trump appointees, five Bush the younger appointees, three Clinton appointees, and two Obama appointees. There is also one vacancy. One imagines that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) will fast-track that if Joe Biden can come up with a nominee pronto. Anyhow, the Sixth Circuit will issue the definitive Court of Appeals opinion, and then it will be up to the Supremes to decide if they want to weigh in. (Z)

SCOTUS Is Playing with Fire

In the next six months or so, the Supreme Court will rule in two cases centered on abortion rights; the "every citizen is now an abortion cop" Texas law and the restrictive Mississippi law. A new poll from The Washington Post/ABC News makes clear that if SCOTUS is not very careful in its handling of one of the third rails of American politics, it, and the Republican Party, could get zapped.

To wit, Americans support upholding abortion rights by more than a 2-to-1 margin, 60%-27%. They want to get rid of the Texas law by an even larger margin, 65%-29%. And, perhaps most significantly, 45% of Americans strongly oppose restrictions on abortion while 26% of Americans strongly support them. The former number is up eight points since WaPo/ABC asked this question 4 months ago, while the latter number is up just one point. In other words, the staunch anti-choice folks are a minority, and one of stable size. The staunch pro-choice folks are close to being a majority, are close to outnumbering their opponents 2-to-1, and their numbers are growing.

SCOTUS is not supposed to consider politics in their rulings, but of course they often do. So, the six conservatives will have to think long and hard about whether they want to issue a decision that could damage their credibility for years, and that could even provide the impetus for substantive changes to the Court. Meanwhile, Republicans could well be in a "be careful what you wish for, you just might get it" position. If the Supremes come down hard on abortion rights, then Democrats will run next year on a platform of "we're building roads, they're building a theocracy." That might just save the House for the blue team. And if they can do that, and maybe increase their majority in the Senate by a seat or two (enough to change the filibuster), it might even give them a mandate to pass legislation protecting abortion rights nationwide. So, the Republicans could end winning the battle, but losing the war. (Z)

White House Set to Announce Diplomatic Boycott of 2022 Olympics

Having addressed the metaphorical Olympics that are about to commence in Washington, let's now turn our attention to the real Olympics that are set to commence in China on Feb. 4 of next year. As you might have heard, the Chinese government is not the most upstanding regime in the world. In particular, the Xi administration is currently engaged in persecutions of the Uyghur people that many are, with good reason, calling a genocide.

The U.S. government does not want to send the message that such persecutions are OK, or are not a big deal. That would seem to argue against participation in next year's Olympics. However, a president who boycotts the Olympic Games can expect to be excoriated from all sides for using innocent athletes who have been working hard for this their whole lives as political pawns. If Joe Biden becomes fuzzy on this point, he can call Jimmy Carter for a reminder.

That leaves us, then, with the "middle of the road" option—a diplomatic boycott. American athletes will attend the games, but American dignitaries and government officials will not. That will certainly show the Chinese, and make them think twice about ethnic cleansing! OK, maybe not, but a full American boycott isn't going to change their minds, either, and Biden doesn't need yet another thing for people to beat him over the head with. So, he's making the best of a bad situation here.

Really, one kinda wonders what the point of the Olympics is anymore. Consider:

  • The Olympics was supposed to be for amateur athletes but, for years, it's been almost entirely professionals (boxing was the last holdout, but it too began welcoming the pros in 2016).

  • The Olympics was supposed to encourage unity and international cooperation, but instead has become a forum for all manner of political squabbles (and worse).

  • The honor of hosting the Games was supposed to be a reward for nations who were good citizens of the world. Now it often goes to the nation most willing to back up the Brink's truck, and willing to build a bunch of venues that will be deserted once the Games are over.

Truly, modern Olympic Games founder Pierre de Coubertin must be rolling in his grave. (Z)

Gosar Censure Vote Scheduled for Wednesday

Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) continues to dig in his heels on the anime video he posted to Twitter last week, in which an anime version of himself kills an anime version of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and attacks an anime version of Joe Biden, while also vaguely threatening a bunch of non-anime undocumented immigrants. The subject came up at yesterday's meeting of the House Republican conference, where the Representative defended himself by saying that he never seriously suggested that anyone should be killed, and he only tweeted the video because he was trying to connect with the kiddies, and anime is what they are into these days. Interesting; perhaps his next threat against AOC's life will come in the form of a hip-hop song or a custom ringtone or a Gosar-branded shoe developed in partnership with Nike. Gosar also said that he never apologized because he didn't do anything wrong, and if you thought he did apologize, then you are wrong. Also interesting; if he did nothing wrong, one wonders why he deleted the tweet.

On Monday, in advance of the meeting, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) called Gosar to discuss the video, and told him it was inappropriate. Perhaps there was also a sternly worded e-mail. However, the Minority Leader is uninterested in doing anything about the situation beyond that. So, House Democrats have put forward a measure to censure the Representative, to be voted on today. Presumably it will be a party-line vote, though it's possible that a few Republicans will cross the aisle. Undoubtedly, the Democrats will be on board, or else Pelosi wouldn't allow the vote to move forward.

The consequences here are that Gosar will be publicly embarrassed, as he has to stand on the floor of the House as the complaint against him is read, and also that he will be stripped of his committee assignments. The latter of those is not automatic, but it is customary in cases of censure, and it is specified in this particular resolution of censure. So, Gosar and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) will soon both have a lot of free time that they can spend together while the rest of their colleagues are in committee meetings. They can dine on bean soup in the cafeteria, or work on their racquetball skills, or maybe plan the next insurrection. You know, wholesome stuff.

McCarthy is not happy about the censure resolution, and complained that, in the past, the House has not punished members for things they've said, and that House Republicans are not running around trying to censure House Democrats. That is somewhat true, but it also raises a few points that the Minority Leader surely did not intend to raise, namely:

  • Members don't generally, and haven't generally, said things that crossed the lines that Gosar and Greene crossed.

  • Generally speaking, when a member does get out of line, it's up to their own caucus/conference leader to deal with it. The whole House is dealing with Gosar because McCarthy won't do it.

  • When a Democrat does cross a line these days, or at least approaches a line, Pelosi cracks down on them and compels an apology.

The reason we say that McCarthy's statement is "somewhat true" is that he's conveniently forgotten that members of his conference most certainly have tried to censure their Democratic colleagues, most recently Rep. Ilhan Omar (DFL-MN) back in July.

Censuring Gosar isn't going to make things any friendlier in the House, and is likely to intensify the rate and severity of his shenanigans. But clipping his wings is probably best for the good of the membership, and of the country. One hopes that the folks in AZ-04 will decide that they've seen enough, and will vote him out, as eventually happened with former representative Steve King. Gosar would be replaced by another Republican, since his district is R+22, but maybe it would be a Republican who knows how to be civil. (Z)

Speier to Retire

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) has been in politics for 40 years, and has been in the House for more than a decade. She's decided that she's had enough, though, and so on Tuesday she announced that she would not run for reelection. At 71 years of age, she said she still wants to leave time for another chapter in her life. She also hinted that she's tired of how nasty politics has become, which is really saying something for a person who survived the Jonestown Massacre.

That makes 15 Democratic retirements this cycle versus 10 Republicans. That is not nearly as imbalanced as, say, 2020, when 36 Republicans retired as compared to 12 Democrats. Still, it does suggest that many Democrats fear a stretch of time in the minority may be imminent, and they're not enthusiastic about being a part of it. Certainly, Speier was not concerned about losing her reelection bid, or even having to campaign, since her district is D+28 and would have returned her to Congress for the rest of her life if that is what she wanted. This particular retirement might also be a tad bit more significant than the others, as Speier is a close ally of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (in fact, the two Democrats' districts border each other). Perhaps this is an early clue as to the Speaker's plans for 2022. (Z)

Hooray for Hollywood: Readers' Favorite Films (Nos. 60-51)

After two days of honorable mentions—again, basically chosen on our whims—we now begin the countdown. This portion was compiled on a purely mathematical basis, and no film that made the cut was mentioned by fewer than 15 readers. Before we begin, links to the previous entries:

And now, the first 10 films in the countdown. As with the honorable mentions, the initials and city in the parentheses are the reader who submitted that comment:

  1. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015; George Miller, dir.): One of the most fully realized cinematic visions. Offers one chance for the audience to catch its breath, but pedal to the metal the rest of the way. Passes the Bechdel test. (B.U. in St. Louis, MO)

  2. West Side Story (1961; Jerome Robbins, Robert Wise, dirs.): What Amadeus is for the 18th century, West Side Story is for the mid-20th. The music, the dancing, the social commentary. My only gripe is that all the actors are dubbed for singing. Even Rita Moreno, who can actually sing! (A.C. in Kingston, MA)

  3. Do The Right Thing (1989; Spike Lee, dir.): Tragedy, humor, great cinematography, and a Greek chorus in the middle of Bed-Stuy. (S.H. in Phnom Penh, Cambodia)

  4. Cool Hand Luke (1967; Stuart Rosenberg, dir.): Great performances by Paul Newman, George Kennedy and Strother Martin. It shows how the lowest members of American society are exploited by the system. All of Luke's great talents are wasted in meaningless competitions. When the system can't control him; they destroy him. (L.B. in San Marcos, CA)

  5. Brazil (1985; Terry Gilliam, dir.): The humor belies a dystopian but anachronistic future that is also becoming all-too-relevant as each year passes. (J.I. in San Francisco, CA)

  6. Apollo 13 (1995; Ron Howard, dir.): America (maybe) at its zenith, when technical competence, bravery, and some lucky breaks prevented a disaster. The sound of Hanks's voice crackling through the radio at the end never fails to elicit a tear. (S.H. in Phnom Penh, Cambodia)

  7. Ghostbusters (1984; Ivan Reitman, dir.): BEST. MOVIE. EVER. Let's show this prehistoric bi**h how we do things downtown! (K.W. in Dungarvan, Ireland)

  8. Black Panther (2018; Ryan Coogler, dir.): What an incredible accomplishment. It is as much a cultural phenomenon as it is simply a film, of course; what the idea of Wakanda means to people almost overshadows the movie itself. I had the incredible fortune to see this movie on opening weekend in Harlem, and there was just so much joy on the faces of my fellow movie-goers. Representation on its own may not solve any problems, but the lack of it can exacerbate existing social ills. (M.W. in Boston, MA)

  9. The Producers (1967; Mel Brooks, dir.): Incredibly bold for its time. Just 22 years after World War II, it does a Broadway song and dance about Hitler, with the dance in a swastika formation! Plus, one of the first movies to introduce gay characters, which TV networks censored at first. (J.G. in Chantilly, VA)

  10. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989; Steven Spielberg, dir.): It's not high art but it's fun. (G.B. in Mount Prospect, IL)

Don't forget that the basis for this list is enjoyability. The mailbag is open for lists of important/great movies, i.e. "movies that everyone should see." That one will be compiled next, after we're done with this one. And again, we realize that there will be some films, possibly many films, that appear on both lists.

Next up: Nos. 41-50. (V & Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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