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Biden’s legislative agenda hangs by a thread

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Bidens legislative agenda hangs by a thread

The culmination of the Star Wars saga – at least until the muddled storytelling of the sequel trilogy – is the jubilant image of the Rebels gathering on Endor and celebrating their toppling of the Empire. John Williams’ score reverberates through the galaxy as humans and Wookies alike embrace on the rooftops of Coruscant and the steppes of Kashyyyk to mark a change in their political fortunes. The parallels between our comparatively mundane existence and the distant swashbuckling galaxy of bounty hunters and lightsabers are admittedly few and far in between. However on 8th November, as chyrons flashed with President Joe Biden’s electoral victory across CNN and MSNBC and millions gathered on the sidewalks of cities across the United States, George Lucas’ concluding storyboard for Return of the Jedi had sprung to life. After four long years, in the duel of fates, the dark side had finally been vanquished. Or so we thought.

The days following Election Day were fraught with nail-biting anxiety and anticipation for millions of Americans glued to their television sets. The ongoing pandemic impeded in-person voting and scores of Americans – over 100 million – opted for the convenience of mail-in ballots to cast their votes. John King and Steve Kornacki explained every electoral permutation of states swapping between red and blue as votes trickled in and the political calculus changed within hours. Over the next several days, Wisconsin flipped from red to blue, followed by Michigan, and finally, as voting machines sorted the ballots from Philadelphia and Allegheny County in Pennsylvania, the mathematical exercise finally had an answer: Joe Biden had won the 2020 Presidential Election. 

Biden during his campaign coined the election as a battle for the “Soul of America.” For four years, Donald Trump’s administration subverted political norms for personal gain and expediency. Mired not only by Robert Mueller’s Special Counsel Investigation, but an impeachment, a myriad of unscrupulous behavior by his cronies, and a bungling of domestic policy in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Yet despite the abundant impropriety, Former President Donald Trump received the second highest popular vote tally in American history. Buoyed not only by the increasing political divide between rural-urban voters but also the disproportionate parity given to “red” states in the Electoral College. Biden comparatively had all but been ruled out as a candidate until his resurgence after the South Carolina primary. With Bernie Sanders failing to ratchet up support after his breakout 2016 election campaign, much of the Democratic party consolidated behind Biden. The career partisan with a mixed legislative record promised to “build back better.” Over 150 days later, Biden’s legislative promises largely hang in the balance of an inert Senate shackled by an antiquated parliamentary procedure. 

In particular, this week’s blockage of Biden’s For the People Act (H.R.1) – coined as the most ambitious voting rights legislation in a generation – is the latest measure of obstruction by Senate Republicans. Fresh from an attempted putsch by QAnon and Trump loyalists on 6th January and enactment of state voter suppression laws across the country, the bill promised to expand voting rights, change campaign finance laws, and limit partisan gerrymandering. Yet its failure in the split Senate portends further doom and gloom for Biden’s rather quixotic agenda. 

Biden started off with a bang. A litany of executive orders in his first week intended to undo Trump era directives and his landmark achievement thus far, the American Rescue Plan. The bill injected the recovering economy with nearly $2 million dollars in stimulus, including expanded unemployment benefits, direct payments to individuals, expanded the child tax credit, and earmarked grants for small businesses struggling to stay afloat amidst a recession. However, by using the parliamentary procedure of budget reconciliation, Biden overrode the filibuster rules and the 50-50 senator split in the Senate to pass his bill with a simple majority; Kamala Harris providing the tie-breaking vote in her capacity as president of the Senate. Donald Trump and Senate Republicans used the same reconciliation process to shoehorn the now infamous tax cuts of 2017. Biden however, forsaking austerity for increased deficit spending, has proposed over $4 trillion of additional funding under his Build Back Better Plan. Significant appropriations intended to bolster climate policy, child care, infrastructure, and job creation. Such exorbitant spending is anathema to conservative ideology and top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell has deemed Biden’s budget as “radical” and the “wrong prescription for America.” The same obstinacy that hampered the Obama administration now threatens to derail Biden’s legislative mandate. 

It’s rather facile to suggest that the filibuster is the thermal exhaust port on the senatorial Death Star. However, in a split Senate, a practically untenable supermajority of 60 Senators is required by parliamentary rules to pass major legislation. Much of Biden’s signature legislation is unlikely to receive the endorsement of ten Senate Republicans. Additionally, the specter of Donald Trump as kingmaker looms large over the 50 Republicans in the Senate. Despite Trump’s second impeachment and election defeat, he has consolidated control over the GOP and its electorate. A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll shows over 53% of Republicans still view Donald Trump as the legitimate President of the United States. Liz Cheney’s sacking as House Republican Conference chair last month is widely seen as punishment for her impeachment vote during Trump’s second impeachment trial earlier this year. One Republican voting with the Democrats is tantamount to political suicide. Ten is fiction. The polarization of the country has only intensified political differences and the whispers of the “Big Lie” threaten to ignite the crucible of American society. 

Yet Biden remains unabated in his plea for comity and bipartisan legislation, much to the chagrin of the progressive wing of his party. Many of Biden’s pleas are ostensibly for political theater, intended to convey to the American public that he remains committed to his campaign promises of re-establishing norms of unity and civility. However, the precarious nature of Democratic senators and their diverse “Big Tent” of constituents also requires placating moderates. Namely, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. Both Manchin and Sinema have publicly stated their opposition to abolishing the filibuster through op-eds in the Washington Post. In doing so, they have effectively provided the death knell to much of Biden’s legislative hopes ahead of the 2022 midterm elections. The Democrats can hope to pass another bill through budget reconciliation this year, however under the Byrd Rule, any of Biden’s ambitious promises deemed extraneous to budgetary spending would be discarded in the final bill. Even so, a simple majority requires the approval of Manchin and Sinema, both of whom have balked at the mounting cost of Biden’s legislative proposals. 

Yet despite voicing opposition against the For the People Act for its partisan scope and promises, on Tuesday both Sinema and Manchin voted to begin debate on the ultimately blocked bill. This signals for some that both Senators may cave to public pressure and ultimately use the “nuclear option” to end the filibuster. The nuclear option allows for the Senate to override the existing filibuster by closing debate and advancing legislation with a simple majority. The nuclear option has been used by Senate Democrats in 2013 to eliminate the 60-vote rule for presidential nominations, and most recently by Senate Republicans to end the debate on Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the Supreme Court. Despite these precedents, Manchin continues to argue that ending the filibuster will “destroy our government” and Sinema states that the filibuster “compels moderation.” Other critics have cited that nuking the filibuster will ultimately give Republicans free reign to legislate when they eventually take power. However, proponents of filibuster reform argue that the party with majorities in all three branches of government — Republican or Democrat — deserves to use its legislative entitlement. Barack Obama – long a victim of McConnell’s obdurate Senate – has vehemently rebuked the filibuster as a “Jim Crow relic.” Others have offered alternative proposals such as gradually lowering the filibuster threshold to 55 votes or re-enacting a “talking filibuster” where Senators must hold the floor with speeches in order to delay legislation. While the debate to end all debate rages on, a failure to legislate ensures a failure to galvanize the electorate in the upcoming midterm elections. 2022 brings with it heavily gerrymandered districts and several Congressional Democratic seats up for grabs. Historically, majorities have failed to maintain their momentum going into the midterm elections. A split legislative branch and McConnell’s machinations after the 2010 midterms all but hamstrung the remainder of the Obama-Biden administration. If history repeats itself and Republicans seize control of the House or the Senate, the new FDR will all but be a legislative bystander for the remainder of his term. For too long the United States has fallen behind its allies and adversaries due to incrementalism, congressional gridlock, and a regressive parliamentary rule. If the filibuster remains and Democrats fail to go big as promised, it’s a question of when, not if, the Death Star floating above Mar-a-Lago is fully operational once again.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

Economics

World Food Programme suspends food assistance to 1.7 million in South Sudan

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Conflict combined with poor weather in South Sudan has led to 7.74 million people facing a hunger crisis.

Despite the country facing food insecurity, the World Food Programme (WFP) has suspended food assistance to 1.7 million people in South Sudan. They require $426 million to be able to feed 6 million people in South Sudan throughout 2022. At the start of 2022, the WFP projected that it would be able to assist 6.2 million people in the country but has failed at achieving this target. This suspension of funding comes at one of the worst times for South Sudan, a newly independent country which not only has been facing internal conflicts for many years but also faced three years of flooding, a localised drought and like the rest of the world, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and soaring global food prices. Therefore, not only is food not available in the country, but it also comes at a much higher price making the country food insecure. This cut also comes at a time where South Sudan is facing lean season, which is the season between planting crops and harvesting them. During this season, food is already scarce.

The suspension of aid by the WFP is due to a funding shortage of $426 million. It is important to note that the primary source of WFP’s funding comes from governments around the world. This funding is entirely voluntary, meaning that the countries have the freedom to cut anytime they wish.

The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), a human rights group recently ruled that the world’s 10 most neglected crises are all in Africa with South Sudan being the 4th most neglected crisis. The Secretary General of the NRC, Jan Egeland said “The war in Ukraine has demonstrated the immense gap between what is possible when the international community rallies behind a crisis, and the daily reality for millions of people suffering in silence within these crises on the African continent that the world has chosen to ignore,”

The hunger crisis the people of South Sudan face is not new, rather food insecurity has been a challenge for years now. In 2017, South Sudan faced a famine and now another famine is predicted by the WFP this year if funding is not organised. Furthermore, South Sudan has recently been facing unrest which has only intensified the issue, leading to brutal violence upon civilians, including targeted attacks, gender-based violence, kidnappings and murders. This has led to nearly 2.3 million people fleeing to neighbouring countries whilst 1.87 million people remain internally displaced. Displacement continues to exacerbate the hunger crisis in South Sudan as many rely on food from their own land, something which is not possible during displacement. Internal conflict has thus meant that people have had to rely heavily on food assistance.

There have been many attempts for a peace agreement in the country, but so far, all these attempts have failed.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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Economics

Is Rwanda a dumping ground for the UK?

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The UK is planning to send its illegal immigrants to Rwanda. In return, the country is paying the Government £120 million in the form of an economic development program. This controversial decision was made to deter any future illegal immigrants from entering the country via dangerous routes.

The East African country suffered genocide and civil war in 1994 and has been trying to recover since. The effort made by the country, however, was halted due to the pandemic.

Only recently, authorities in Rwanda prosecuted opposition members, commentators, and journalists for voicing their opinion. Anyone who doesn’t agree with the government is thrown in jail and threatened, and people have even mysteriously disappeared.

Rwanda is also one of the smallest countries in the world and the rate of population growth is already more than the country can handle. With 10,000 square miles and a population density of more than 1,000 per square mile, starvation and malnutrition is prevalent because the country struggles to feed its growing population. Accusations abound that the government has burned farmers’ fields that could not produce an adequate amount of crops. The country is obsessed with modernising whilst ignoring its internal issues.

Poverty is a huge concern. Its true extent is unknown as the government has been accused of misinterpreting the actual data. Similarly, the education level of children is low with a high drop-out rate.

It’s plain to see that Rwanda is struggling with its own domestic problems, and now the UK is turning the country into a dumping ground for illegal immigrants which will surely set the economy back. The plan has been accused of being unethical and cruel.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, Siobhán Mullally talked about the dangers of increased human trafficking when large numbers of people are transferred from one country to another and how easy it is for traffickers to pick vulnerable victims in this situation when they have no control over where they are going. “People seeking international protection, fleeing conflict, and persecution, have the right to seek and enjoy asylum – a fundamental tenet of international human rights and refugee law,” she said. Even Prince Charles, heir to the British throne criticised the decision made by the government calling it “appalling”.

There have also been accusations that the UK is not playing its part in its handling of its refugee problem. Chief Executive of Refugee Action, Tim Naor Hilton said that the government was “offshoring its responsibilities onto Europe’s former colonies instead of doing our fair share to help some of the most vulnerable people on the planet”.

Meanwhile, UK-based non-profits run by Congolese nationals in the Diaspora sent a letter to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in which they expressed their fear that the money sent by the UK government could be used to propagate the war in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo instead of improving Rwanda.

According to Phil Clark, Professor of International Politics at SOAS University of London, the government of Rwanda could use this deal as leverage. So whenever the government is accused of human rights violations they can threaten to pull out of the deal. Already once, the country has “threatened to pull its peacekeepers out of Darfur when foreign donors were threatening to pull foreign aid out of Rwanda.”

Whilst the focus is on Rwanda violating human rights, the country is known however, for looking after its refugees well enough. The problem is that the UK is using the country to shed itself of its own responsibility while Rwanda is not equipped to deal with a large number of refugees.

The irony of the situation cannot be lost to global observers as, “Only a couple of hundred years ago, the situation was reversed. Ships full of Africans were being forcefully deported from their homeland to Britain, Europe, and the Americas. Now, the descendants of slave traders are paying the descendants of their would-be slaves to take a burden off their hands.”

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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Israel

Israel’s Collapsing Government and Election Cycles

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PikiWiki Israel 7260 Knesset Room

The Knesset, Israel’s parliament, is set to dissolve next year, with Yair Lapid to become the caretaker Prime Minister. With a shared goal to oust the allegedly corrupt Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, eight political parties formed the most diverse coalition in Israeli history over a year ago.

With the Knesset set to dissolve, another round of elections will be held in the fall. These will be the fifth elections held in less than four years and has supporters of Netanyahu celebrating. Despite an ongoing corruption trial, Netanyahu could be back in power by the end of this year. 

According to Yohanan Plesner, a former member of the Knesset, Lapid could automatically become Prime Minister until a new government is formed, if the Knesset does indeed dissolve. However, if the election results are inconclusive, then Lapid would continue as Prime Minister until the next election.

 For Netanyahu to return to power, he would require at least 61 votes from current Knesset members. Many polls suggest Netanyahu’s Likud party will be the largest in the next Parliament, but they would not have enough allies to assemble a true parliamentary majority. This could lead to months of coalition negotiations.

If the Knesset dissolves, the new government elections will need to take place within three to five months. Since 1996, Israel has had elections, on average, every 2.6 years. Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute,  stated “This ongoing crisis will not come to an end until Israel’s leaders put their political differences aside and enact long over-due electoral and constitutional reforms, such as making any attempt to initiate early elections dependent on a two-thirds majority in parliament and amending the current law that demands new elections when a budget fails to pass.”

The coalition of eight political parties has had a tough time uniting on voting decisions. Ideological differences and pressure from Netanyahu’s right wing alliance has already caused two members of the coalition to defect, which removed the coalition’s majority in Parliament. Many left wing and Arab members rebelled on key votes, making it impossible for the coalition to govern. Then finally last week, the government was unable to find enough votes to extend a two-tier legal system in the West Bank. This two tier system has differentiated between Israeli settlers and native Palestinians since 1967. 

Some Palestinian lawmakers were also rejoicing at the government’s collapse. An opposition lawmaker in the minority government, Aida Touma-Sulieman, shared her views saying “This government implemented a radical far-right policy of expanding settlements, destroying houses, and carrying out ethnic cleansing in the occupied territories. It threw crumbs to the Arabs in exchange for conceding fundamental political principles.”

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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Daily Brief

The EU Approves Ukraine for Candidacy

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Munster Stadtweinhaus Beflaggung Ukraine und EU 2022 0219 scaled
  • The EU has finally approved the application of Ukraine to become a candidate country for admission to the 27- country organization. Ukraine will now join the official candidate list, which already includes Albania, the Republic of North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Turkey. 
  • The US is expected to provide an additional $450m in security assistance to Ukraine. Which includes four more High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems. 
  • The EU and Norway have agreed to cooperate and provide the EU’s 27 countries with gas from Western Europe’s biggest provider. The EU imports roughly ⅕ of its gas from Norway compared to the 40% it was receiving from Russia. Currently, Russia has been cutting gas supplies to countries refusing to pay for it in roubles. 
  • Melbourne is considering utilizing its largely vacant $200m Center for National Resilience building to house hundreds of refugees fleeing war-torn Ukraine and Afghanistan. The center will only be able to temporarily house about 500 refugees from Afghanistan and about 200 from Ukraine. 
  • Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov thanked US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin after receiving and welcoming the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) from the United States. 
  • Nike joined other leading Western brands by formally making a full exit from Russia, three months after suspending its operations. Telecoms equipment maker Cisco is also planning to wind down business in Russia and Belarus as well.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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Politics

Macron Loses Absolute Majority, What this Means for France

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President Emmanuel Macron and his centrist coalition lost absolute majority in France’s National Assembly legislative elections, only garnering 245 seats of the 577 in the lower house of parliament. Although the number of seats was more than other opposition parties, it’s over 100 less than what Macron and his party won in 2017 during his election. His affiliates and cabinet members which did not receive a seat in the election will be forced to resign. 

It has been over 20 years since a President in the country has not won the majority in the National Assembly. Now, the Assembly makes up a majority of left and right wing parties. The New Ecological and Social People’s Union party is ranked number two in terms of political power, and the National Rally party is ranked third. 

Prime Minister Elisabeth Bourne called the results “unprecedented” and stated the government would “work on building an action-oriented majority” by forming alliances within the National Party: “There is no alternative to that coalition to guarantee our country’s stability and enact the necessary reforms.” On the PM’s and Presidents to-do list include increasing the retirement age, pushing a pro-business outlook, and creating a more integrated European Union. 

What does the centrist loss mean for France? Much of President Macron’s plans are already opposed by rival parties, and the lack of majority in the National Assembly has the potential to make passing bills which align with Macron’s agenda much more difficult. Macron and the government will probably need to create alliances while also engaging in power sharing with other parties, although how the country plans to do so remains uncertain. 

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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Women's Issues

Florida Sued over Abortion Laws by a Synagogue

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Florida Synagogue

A lawsuit filed by a synagogue in Palm Beach County on Friday argues that the new abortion law violates the religious freedom of Jews. It was filed by Congregation L’Dor Va-Dor.

The abortion law in Florida that will take effect on July 1st will ban most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Previously, Florida allowed abortion for up to 24 weeks. The anti-abortion movement has been mostly led by Christian conservatives, but this lawsuit expresses that there is more than one religion in America.

Roe V. Wade case legalised abortion in 1973 in the United States. However, recently, a leaked draft opinion suggests that the court is trying to overturn Roe V. Wade, making abortion illegal in most cases. There are no exceptions in the cases of incest, rape, or human trafficking. But abortion will be allowed if the mother’s life is endangered or if two doctors determine that the foetus  has a foetal  abnormality.

According to the lawsuit, under Jewish law, abortion is “required if necessary to protect the health, mental or physical well-being of the woman”.

It also states, “The act prohibits Jewish women from practicing their faith free of government intrusion and this violates their privacy rights and religious freedom.”

A statement released by the Jewish community as a response to the abortion bans also condemns the decision as it goes against their religious views.

“Restricting access to reproductive health care impedes the freedom of religion granted by the First Amendment, including a Jewish person’s ability to make decisions in accordance with their religious beliefs,” states Rabbi Hara Person.

This is the second lawsuit against the recent abortion laws in Florida. The first lawsuit was filed by Planned Parenthood and other health centers for violating a person’s right to privacy, including “the right to abortion.”

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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