Sunday, November 13, 2022

Last Call For Shutdown Countdown: The Shutdownening

Control of the House remains up for grabs tonight, and may do so for days. Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is making it clear that the first order of business in the lame duck session is disarming the debt ceiling bomb that Republicans will try to use next year in order to detonate the US economy.

Congressional Democratic leaders on Sunday vowed to tackle the nation's debt ceiling in coming weeks, saying their party's election victories offer them leverage even as Republicans have promised a potentially explosive fight.

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said they would act while President Joe Biden's fellow Democrats control both chambers.

"Our best shot, I think, is ... to do it now," Pelosi told ABC News' "This Week" program. "Winning the Senate gave us a lot of leverage for how we go forward... in the lame duck," she said.

Schumer said that Senate Democratic leaders would meet this week to discuss the legislative path forward, though he declined to offer any specifics.

"The debt ceiling of course, is something that we have to deal with. And it's something that we will look at over the next few weeks," he said.

Democrats clinched control of the Senate late on Saturday. It is still not clear which party will control the House.

Biden's Treasury Secretary, Janet Yellen, has urged lawmakers to act before the new Congress is seated in January, with the nation's $31.4 trillion line of credit expected to be exhausted sometime in the first quarter of 2023.

The debt ceiling must be approved each time it needs to be raised in order to ensure that the United States avoids a default, which would have catastrophic effects.

The mechanism is meant to control the nation's rising debt, although it has been ineffective in recent decades.

Republicans have said the debt ceiling would be an "important tool" to rein in federal spending if they take control of the House.

Pelosi warned Republicans would use the debt fight to take aim at two popular health and income insurance programs for older Americans, Medicare and Social Security.

Pelosi and Chuck Schumer need to ditch the debt ceiling completely.  It's been done before, and it's frankly a 105-year-old relic. Move on.

Orange Meltdown, Con't

As Donald Trump is expected to announce his 2024 presidential candidacy this week in order to try to protect himself from both indictments and rivals, other potential GOP candidates are thinking that the time to strike is now in order to knock Tang the Conqueror off his golden toilet.

Five days after a disappointing midterm election result and two days before former president Donald Trump is expected to announce a 2024 presidential bid, Republicans are grappling with an almost existential quandary: Who can lead the party to a post-Trump future?

In private conversations among donors, operatives and other 2024 presidential hopefuls, a growing number of Republicans are trying to seize what they believe may be their best opportunity to sideline Trump and usher in a new generation of party leaders.

Many blame Tuesday’s midterm results — Republicans made smaller-than-expected gains in the House and failed to gain control of the Senate — on the former president, who during the primaries elevated extremist candidates who fared poorly in the general election. The discouraging election outcomes, combined with Trump’s 2020 loss to Biden, have increased both public and private talk of considering a post-Trump world.

Many of the party’s top donors are actively trying to back other candidates and are tired of Trump, according to Republican officials and operatives in touch with them, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to disclose private conversations.

Many donors and operatives are already raving over Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who has fashioned himself as a Trump-lite Republican and cruised to a nearly 20-point victory over Democrat Charlie Crist on Tuesday night, flipping Miami-Dade County — a heavily Hispanic, densely populated county that has not been won by a Republican gubernatorial candidate in two decades.

Other potential Republican candidates — from former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to former vice president Mike Pence to Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin — are also quietly taking stock of what their own presidential bids might look like.

“The issue set was clearly in our favor — on inflation, on the border, on crime — and yet we failed to meet expectations,” said Marc Short, Pence’s former chief of staff. “The question is: Are there different candidates out there where the issue set still works, but with a different style that is also more in our favor?”

A Trump spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

Uncertainty also looms over the Republicans eager to move beyond Trump. After all, Trump’s poor showing Tuesday and the calls for him to recede have echoes of previous moments when Trump seemed politically doomed, only to resuscitate himself: The early days of his first presidential bid, when he dismissed the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a Vietnam prisoner of war, as “not a real war hero.” The final days of his 2016 campaign, when an “Access Hollywood” tape emerged showing Trump crudely boasting about groping women. In the aftermath of the deadly Jan. 6, 2021, attack, when Trump, having lost the presidency, encouraged his supporters to march on the U.S. Capitol.
The issue is that any of the non-Trump Republicans would be worse in every way than actual Trump himself. Without Trump's crippling ego, emotional instability, and his litany of personal grudges weighing his rivals down, they would be able to focus almost exclusively on rewriting America into an avowed white supremacist theocracy instead of weekly stories on nuking hurricanes or buying Greenland.

Yeah, I want to see Trump fail, but as I've said time and time again, Trump is only the symptom of a diseased, cancerous GOP infected with racist, religious zealots who want to purge America of anyone who isn't willing to serve their horrible version of Jesus. Even with Trump facing charges, the party will eventually pick someone to be their ridiculously racist avatar, and the battle will be joined again.

Apparently, that battle begins now.

Sunday Long Read: A Date, With Destiny

This week's Sunday Long Read comes to us from Smithsonian Magazine, where Matti Friedman chronicles how ubiquitous and revered the sticky, sweet date is in cultures around the world.

It’s possible to divide the world in two: the part that venerates the humble-seeming fruit known as the date, and the part that does not. The part that does is home to hundreds of millions of people, from the Atlantic coast of Morocco across North Africa and Egypt to Mesopotamia and east to India. In this part of the world there aren’t really “dates,” because only a philistine would speak in such generalizations. There’s the plump sugar-bomb medjool, the chewy khalas beloved of Emirati connoisseurs, sweet and sticky Saudi sukkary, tart yellow barhi peeled and eaten fresh, the varieties picked early, called rutab, and served frozen with coffee at the upscale caf├ęs of Riyadh or Abu Dhabi. There’s ajwa from Medina, said to be the favorite of the Prophet, the dark Persian kimia, the translucent deglet noor, and many others with evocative names like halawi or Sagai VIP.

I grew up in the part of the world that doesn’t care (in my case, Canada), where supermarkets banish this queen of fruit to remote corners of the health-food aisle with the lowly prune and the most obscure nuts. But I’ve spent the last three decades living and writing in Israel, part of the world where the date reigns. Now when I visit North America and see these fruits languishing on their remote shelves, it feels like climbing into an Uber with that Washington, D.C. driver who was once finance minister of Afghanistan. You can almost hear them whispering: Don’t you know who I am?

In Israel, I was first drawn to eating dates mainly because they were around all the time, served plain or stuffed with walnuts to guests in living rooms. Then I began to see them less as a fruit than as a kind of cultural marker. There are so many forces pulling apart the people of the Middle East and North Africa. But the date and its magnificent tree are woven through thousands of years of common history, rising elegantly above the dividing lines. The date offers a different view of the region than the one we’re familiar with, and the best place to start its extraordinary story is at the top.

At ten feet up the trunk of a date palm and rising, you’re still thinking about the ground receding beneath your feet, but at 20 feet your gaze shifts upward toward the approaching explosion of green above your head. At 40 feet the hydraulic platform shakes to a halt, and Yuval Shabo and the other workers at this Israeli date orchard grasp the trunks and leap into the fronds. It’s spring, when date palms reproduce, and the workers use curved knives to harvest pollen from male flowers, place the pollen in squeeze bottles and then apply it to the white petal clusters atop the female trees. It’s a different world at this height—birds gliding at eye level, the Jordan Valley stretching north toward Syria and south toward Egypt, the green frond sea waving in all directions. The workers stop on occasion to sip water or roll a cigarette. Ground-bound humans and their concerns seem irrelevant. Up here all that matters is the little brown fruit.

I found the same attitude in an orchard 1,300 miles away, near the Persian Gulf in the United Arab Emirates, at the famed oasis of Al-Ain. Here, too, it was pollination season, but at this oasis the old methods are preserved, and the treetops aren’t reached by hydraulic cranes but by fearless workers climbing barefoot. Instead of modern drip irrigation, the trees are watered by an ancient system known in Arabic as aflaj, which pipes in water from springs miles away and distributes it through an ingenious network of open channels, flooding each farmer’s plot in turn. As I crossed the oasis a flash of white fabric far above my head alerted me to a young man named Maksood Baluchi, holding a curved dagger and a basket of male flowers. He shouted down greetings but didn’t have much time to talk. There were lots of trees to go.

The same overriding sense of the date’s importance struck me several times during the past few months, sitting in air-conditioned libraries, hunched over books, looking at the ancient art and literature of this part of the world. When I began my research, the date palm seemed to appear merely as a background detail in art, from pharaonic tombs and Assyrian palaces to a 2,500-year-old seal impression showing the Persian Emperor Darius shooting arrows at a lion. But after a while my perception changed. The date palms stopped looking like decorations and came to the fore. After all, the pharaohs are long gone and Darius no longer matters, but the date palm does, feeding multitudes, linking people with their ancestors, rising everywhere like millions of green fireworks frozen mid-blast. Maybe these trees are the stars in the story of this region, and we’re the extras?
It's a fascinating historical and cultural saga and worth your time, if only as a reminder that we have more in common than we do differences.
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