Thursday, November 9, 2023

Last Call For The House GOP Circus Of The Damned, Con't

New Speaker, same old incompetence as America rushes towards a GOP caused shutdown, completely unable to pass their massive spending cuts because gosh, they're unpopular.

House Republicans closed out the week by canceling votes on two party-line funding bills in the span of 48 hours, a setback for new Speaker Mike Johnson and a sign of persisting dysfunction in the chamber ahead of a key funding deadline.

They pulled a transportation-housing bill late Tuesday as some coastal Republicans opposed cuts to Amtrak. And they yanked a financial services and general government measure on Thursday morning that included divisive anti-abortion language.

It's a step backward for Johnson, R-La., who had hoped to show progress on appropriations bills championed by his party's conservative wing in order to secure their votes to pass a short-term bill that would keep the government open beyond the Nov. 17 deadline.

And it shows how ungovernable the House continues to be after right-wing Republicans ousted Speaker Kevin McCarthy over complaints about his handling of government funding.

"I don't think the Lord Jesus himself could manage this group," said Rep. Troy Nehls, R-Texas. He added that he would pray for the new speaker as the House adjourned for a long weekend.

"We’re still dealing with the same divisions we always have had," said another House Republican. "We’re ungovernable."

On Capitol Hill, questions abound about how the new speaker will handle his first big test in a divided government, where he must balance the demands of ultraconservatives with a Democratic-led Senate and president.

"I think there's a honeymoon period here. I'm not sure how long it lasts, maybe 30 days," said Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky. "But with what's going on on the floor today, I think that indicates the honeymoon might be shorter than we thought."

This week, Johnson held multiple meetings with groups of rank-and-file Republicans about a path forward on a short-term funding bill, known as a continuing resolution or CR. But lawmakers didn’t get a good read on Johnson's yet-to-be-unveiled strategy: Some thought he might go with a “clean” CR without controversial policy add-ons that would fund the government into January, while others believed the speaker would back a two-step CR proposed by members of the far-right Freedom Caucus.

"He wants a simple plan that will pass the Senate," said moderate Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., who met with Johnson on Wednesday along with roughly 20 other lawmakers. "We should do the hard fights on appropriations and the border, and all that stuff. We shouldn't have the hard fight on the CR — let's keep the government open and make it bipartisan."

Republicans said Johnson will need to make a call on a CR strategy by Friday to abide by the 72-hour rule, which gives lawmakers sufficient time to read the legislation before voting on it early next week. Members departed Washington on Thursday afternoon and will return on Monday.

"We've got to get the Senate something, and you'll see us get the Senate something," said conservative Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C., who met with Johnson and is pushing for the two-step process that's been termed a "laddered CR."

But of course there's no reason to believe that the House GOP can pass anything without Democratic votes, and that puts us right back where we were when McCarthy got tossed. 

Mike Johnson might not survive the month as Speaker.

Israeli Getting Serious Out There, Con't

 Some truly good news out of Gaza today: Israel has agreed to daily humanitaria pauses in its attack to allow more Palestinians to escape Northern Gaza.

In a crucial breakthrough for the global effort to provide humanitarian aid to Gaza, Israel has agreed to daily, four-hour pauses in fighting across northern Gaza, the White House said Thursday.

U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the Israelis had committed to announcing each four-hour window at least three hours in advance starting Thursday. Israel also was opening a second corridor for civilians to flee the areas being pounded by Israel's military campaign aimed at wiping out Hamas after the brutal Oct. 7 attack on border communities, with a coastal road joining the territory’s main north-south highway, he said.

Pauses in the fighting have been taking place intermittently for days while tens of thousands of civilians flee northern Gaza for the south. The U.S. and several other nations have been urging Israel to provide more time for safe passage and for the safe flow of humanitarian aid into war-battered Gaza.

Kirby also said the pauses could help the effort to win freedom for at least some of the approximately 240 hostages, including several Americans, held by Hamas and other militants since the war began. President Joe Biden told reporters he asked the Israelis for a “pause longer than three days” in talks about freeing the hostages.

So the Biden administration was able to negotiate a daily pause window and a second escape route. I'll take it, frankly. This will save lives.

We'll see how many. 

Strike Up The Band, Con't

 Looks like after almost four months, SAG-AFTRA union negotiators have reached a tentative deal with the studios for a new contract.

After a grueling 118 days on strike, SAG-AFTRA has officially reached a tentative agreement on a new three-year contract with studios, a move that is heralding the end of the 2023 actors strike.

The SAG-AFTRA TV/Theatrical Committee approved the agreement in a unanimous vote on Wednesday, SAG-AFTRA announced. The strike will end at 12:01 a.m. Thursday. On Friday, the deal will go to the union’s national board for approval.

The performers union announced the provisional agreement Wednesday, after about two weeks of renewed negotiations. The development came not long before a deadline of 5 p.m. that the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers had set for the union to give their answer on whether they had a deal.

The union is so far providing some details of the agreement, more of which will likely emerge in the next few days prior to the union’s ratification vote. In a message to members on Wednesday night, the union said the pact is valued at over $1 billion and includes pay increases higher than what other unions received this year, a “streaming participation bonus” and regulations on AI. The tentative deal also includes higher caps on health and pension funds, compensation bumps for background performers and “critical contract provisions protecting diverse communities.” If the deal is ratified, the contract could soon go into effect, and if not, members would essentially send their labor negotiators back to the bargaining table with the AMPTP.

In a statement on Wednesday night, the AMPTP said, “Today’s tentative agreement represents a new paradigm. It gives SAG-AFTRA the biggest contract-on-contract gains in the history of the union, including the largest increase in minimum wages in the last forty years; a brand new residual for streaming programs; extensive consent and compensation protections in the use of artificial intelligence; and sizable contract increases on items across the board. The AMPTP is pleased to have reached a tentative agreement and looks forward to the industry resuming the work of telling great stories.”

When negotiations restarted on Oct. 2 for the first time since SAG-AFTRA called its work stoppage in July, hopes were high in the industry that Hollywood’s largest union could come to terms with major companies quickly. Just like they had in the final days of the writers’ negotiations, Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos, Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav, Disney CEO Bob Iger, and NBCUniversal Studio Group chairman and chief content officer Donna Langley attended the talks at the union’s national headquarters in Los Angeles. But the studio ended up walking out on Oct. 11 over SAG-AFTRA’s proposal to charge a fee per every streaming subscriber on major platforms in a move that the union’s chief negotiator called “mystifying” (Sarandos called the ask “a bridge too far“).

The sides reconvened Oct. 24 after a nearly two-week break. This time, the studios came in with a more generous offer to increase actors’ wage floors and a slightly modified version of a success-based streaming bonus they had previously offered the WGA. The two sides exchanged proposals for much of the week in a tense situation that had the industry on edge. Even as a deal came into sight, progress was slow, especially when it came to putting the contract’s inaugural guardrails on artificial intelligence: The union considers the rapidly advancing technology an absolutely existential issue for members and sought to close any potential loopholes that could lead to future issues. On Saturday the studios presented what the union characterized as the companies’ “last, best and final,” overarching offer (still, the two sides kept swapping offers after).

When the union’s previous contract expired in mid-July and SAG-AFTRA went out on strike, many outstanding issues were left on the table. Setting terms for the use of AI was a major sticking point between union and studio negotiators, as was a proposal to provide casts with additional streaming compensation. Union negotiators sought to institute an unusually large minimum rate increase in the first year of the contract, a host of ground rules for self-taped virtual auditions and major increases to health and pension contributions “caps” that have not been changed since the 1980s. Meanwhile, as the entertainment business continues to experience a period of contraction, major companies looked to preserve some measure of flexibility and cost control.

Looks like another major union scored another big win in the Biden era.  Hopefully we'll get back to production on your favorite shows and movies, and it'll be far more equitable for the people making them.


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