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December time crunch – variants, deadlines and wild cards

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Let’s look ahead to the end of the year in Washington.  There are enormous issues, tests, and challenges across the board.  There is no certainty of the outcomes

Bruce WOLPE ON TICKER NEWS

The variants

The eruption of Omicron is a rude shock to a world struggling to recover from the pandemic.  For President Biden, while the quantum of this new health threat itself is not yet clear, the political danger is clearly visible. 

More people have died from Covid in the United States this year than in 2020.  Americans are still dying at a rate of around 1000 per day. 

The vaccination crusade has stalled at about 70 per cent of the population fully vaxxed.  Even before Omicron, the difference between the US at 70 per cent and the most populous states in Australia at 90 per cent+ is the very visible difference in overall public health. 

BIDEN CALLING FOR CALM

America’s vaccine deficit has been fuelled by the rancid politics spawned in the Trump days.  Biden’s appeal on taking office was that he would bring Covid under control.  It is under control for the vaccinated but not for those naked to the virus.  

Biden’s message of reassurance to the American people that the US can face this new threat, and manage it successfully without lockdowns, is designed to counter the uncertainty, fear, and choppiness across an economy infected with inflation and clots in the supply chains. 

The new variant – and all the uncertainties it presents – poses further tests for any rebound in Biden’s approval in the short term 

And that means that for the moment he has less political capital in shaping public opinion to get his legislative agenda done this year.

The deadlines

Funding for the Federal government runs out on December 3.  Unless Congress approves money for government operations (“supply” in the Australian context) the government will shut down next Saturday. 

While President Trump and Senate Republicans in the Obama presidency saw some virtue in playing the government shutdown card, there are no winners from such an exercise.  

The logical outcome is to punt and extend government funding until next March. This is what should happen, will likely happen- but simple logic is in short supply in Washington these days.

The debt limit of the United States expires any time after December 15.  This is the ceiling authorised by law for the United States to pay its debts – to its citizens and to creditors worldwide. 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks to the press after a lunch meeting with Senate Democrats at the Capitol on November 16.

The United States has never defaulted on its debt, but there have been many moments when this issue has been taken to the brink. Debt limit fights have in recent years been the played with the hardest of hardball tactics. 

Republicans have made clear there will not be any votes from their side on the debt limit; Biden and the Democrats have to own it all.  Tensions on this issue between the Republican and Democratic leaders in the Senate this year have run extremely high. 

It may be that the only alternative to passing the debt limit is to include it in the Biden mega-package on social programs and climate, now pending in the Senate.

The Biden package offers universal prekindergarten, generous subsidies for childcare, expanded financial aid for college, hundreds of billions of dollars in housing support, home and community care for older Americans, a new hearing benefit for Medicare and price controls for prescription drugs.

On climate there is more than half a trillion dollars to migrate the U.S. economy away from fossil fuels

In the words of one of President Nixon’s aides, this is “the whole enchilada” – Biden’s defining social and climate legacy.

But the only way this legislation passes the Senate is if every Democrat – all 50 – vote for it.  And those votes are not yet assured.  At least two Democrats – Manchin of West Virginia and Sinema of Arizona – are yet to pledge they will vote for this bill. 

If Democrats remain divided, the legislation will fail with immense damage to both their president, their party and themselves.

Wild Cards

Israel’s war in Gaza suddenly exploded in May. Biden’s expert management of the Gaza crisis may be tested again.  There are other ticking foreign policy bombs. 

There are heavy indications that Russia’s Putin wants to move on Ukraine, possibly occupying the country and overthrowing its president.  And in Iran, the European powers and the United States are at a make-or-break point as to whether negotiations to halt Iran’s nuclear program will continue or end.  

By Christmas, either issue could lead to a real fear that there will be military confrontation for the United States – perhaps imminently with Russia, perhaps in 2022 with Iran.

All of this – the course of the pandemic, the ability of the US government to function and pay its debts, the strength of the Biden presidency, and the state of peace in the world – is at stake this coming month.

Everyone still says this Christmas will be better than last Christmas.  Let’s hope so.

Bruce Wolpe is a Ticker News US political contributor. He’s a Senior Fellow at the US Studies Centre and has worked with Democrats in Congress during President Barack Obama's first term, and on the staff of Prime Minister Julia Gillard. He has also served as the former PM's chief of staff.

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“Woman. Life. Freedom,” Iran protests now on the world’s stadium

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Protests are engulfing Iran as a revolution against oppression spills onto the global stage, with the world unable to turn a blind eye

In Iran, protests are engulfing the country as thousands take to the streets in a revolution against oppression. 

Women are cutting their hair and burning their hijabs, demanding some form of change to the strict rules that impact their ultimate freedom.

“Woman. Life. Freedom”

DONNA MILES, WRITEr, & COLUMNIST

From the Iranian Revolution in 1979 to the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, the nation’s residents have witnessed their fair share of turmoil.

Many insist that religion, like Islam, is being used as a reason to violate basic human rights in Iran.

Women in the country and around the world, are now lifting the veil on Iran’s corruption.

“What is happening in Iran fills me with both fear and hope… Hope that there might be some meaningful change.”

Donna miles, writer, & Columnist

Pure desperation

For nearly forty years, women in Iran have faced a life of control and oppression. Subject to the strict Islamic Republic rules, bound by religion.

There have been protests in Iran before, but nothing like what we see today.

Women and men are filling the streets of the entire country, in a show of solidarity against the regime, putting their lives on the line.

Footage of Iranian women burning the hijabs and cutting their hair has encapsulated social media.

“People are risking their lives… The regime is very brutal. It significant that this time round that there is international focus and attention on Iran.

One thing is clear…The revolution is taking place, at least in people’s hearts and minds.”

Donna miles, writer, & Columnist

Spilling onto the global stage

The uprising against the regime in Iran and its treatment of women is openly and loudly spilling onto the global stage.

Its voice is so powerful it is even flooding into the sporting arena. In Qatar, Iranian soccer players refused to sing their national anthem before their World Cup game.

Credit: Al Jazeera

While the move from the sporting stars was seen by a global audience, a cloud of fear now looms over the safety and wellbeing of the players returning to their homeland.

“The players have been extremely brave. This is a significant issue for them. Enough to take a political stand to refuse to sing the national anthem.”

DONNA MILES, WRITEr, & COLUMNIST

As history shows us, sport has often been used as an avenue to express a political stance.

At the 1968 Mexico Olympics, U.S. athlete Tommie Smith raised his black-gloved fist, in defiance of racial segregation.

This is perhaps one of the most iconic moments, illustrating the blurred line between politics and sport.

Credit: The New York Times

UN finally calls out Iran

During the Iran protests, footage of authorities using brutal force against protestors sparked global attention and outrage.

Now, the United Nation has called out Iran’s actions.

At its 35th special session, the UN Human Rights Council launched a new investigation. It will independently investigate alleged human rights violations during the protests.

“It will be independently investigated.”

DONNA MILES, WRITEr, & COLUMNIST

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Is Musk flushing Twitter down the drain?

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Elon Musk

Elon Musk has made plenty of changes to Twitter, but will it make or break the social media platform?

When Elon Musk walked into Twitter with a sink you knew things were about to get interesting. 

It’s been a chaotic few weeks of change for the social media platform. Musk quickly showed thousands of employees the door.

Noticeably, he also upended the iconic ‘blue tick’ hierarchy. 

The new boss is adamant in making the platform a place of free speech, often using public Twitter polls to dictate his next move.

It’s not very often you have a billionaire and CEO of a tech giant communicate with people everyday via a tweet thread.

“As far as communicating with people, that is something we haven’t seen. You don’t see Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates out there communicating like this or any other billionaire.”

greg nibler, tech expert

While people have been quick to judge Musk’s changes, he remains one of the most successful businessmen in history.

He lead the charge on flying to space with his SpaceX empire and was ahead of the game in the electric vehicle market.

Perhaps, the changes to the platform are a smart move for the company to succeed, despite the abruptness of them.

Proof is in the pudding because the numbers show Twitter has added 1.6 million daily users this week alone, which is an all-time high.

“It is a reality show on Twitter and people want to see it…
Is that going to turn into profitability, I don’t know.”

Greg nibler, tech expert

Plus World Cup traffic hit almost 20,000 tweets per second today, breaking another record. 

It’s likely Twitter may be more successful in private hands. Financially though, the company has declined, causing widespread concern about its economic stability.

Musk wants to vastly increase the revenue the company makes through subscriptions, but a question mark looms over its ability to triumph.

“The way in which Twitter has lost so much money in value so quickly must also be a concern to people who have lent money to Musk… Wondering has it been a good investment for them.”

KEITH SUTER, international affairs commentator

Suspended accounts debate

Previously, Twitter had banned the accounts of many users, particularly those prone to far-right rhetorics.

Former President Donald Trump’s account had been suspended for nearly a year, alongside conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and controversial Andrew Tate.

Musk asked his followers in a poll if Twitter should “offer a general amnesty to suspended accounts? As Musk says, they haven’t broken the law?”

It all follows a turbulent economic time for the social media giant as it finds its place in the ever changing cyber sphere. 

Whether or not Twitter goes down the drain, remains to be seen. 

But love him or hate him, Musk has created an entertaining platform, with millions flocking to get a taste of what is the Twitter saga.

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Does Donald Trump need Twitter to win in 2024?

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Donald Trump is making a political comeback in 2024, but can he gain relevance without Twitter?

Donald Trump is making his political comeback, and Twitter boss Elon Musk has welcomed the former President back to the platform with open arms.

It was only a matter of weeks after taking over that Musk decided to lift Trump’s nearly year-long suspension.

Many expected Trump to jump at the offer and begin flooding our Twitter feeds again.

However, the former President may not want to return to Twitter, but why?

U.S. Commentator Susan Tehrani believes Trump’s decision to withhold his return to Twitter comes back to money.

“It might have to do with millions of dollars… [If he returns to Twitter] He may stand to lose a lot of money…

If Trump’s company goes public and only for him to go back on Twitter, start Tweeting and devalue Truth Social… He’s going to give his followers a reason to abandon Truth Social.”

Susan Tehrani, u.s. commentator

Twitter was Trump’s favourite app when he was President. He used the platform to drum up support and create buzz. Love him or hate him, Trump undeniably had people right around the world speaking about his latest thought.

In today’s society, people consume news via social media, in particular via Twitter.

With Trump absent from Twitter, it raises question about how he will maintain relevance in social media sphere in the lead up to his 2024 return.

Trump heads his own social media platform ‘Truth Social’, but it has just four million users, opposed to Twitter’s more than 200 million.

“With El on Musk at the helm it encourages a health debate…Then it going to be a place where Donald Trump can once again bypass even the mainstream media…And communicate directly with a wide audience.

Donald Trump would stand winning if he came back on Twitter.”

Susan Tehrani, u.s. commentator

Does Twitter need Trump, more than Trump needs Twitter?

With Musk at the reigns of Twitter, the social media giant is shifting its direction. Musk has made it clear he doesn’t believe in the previous ‘blue tick’ hierarchy, quickly scrapping the process.

He has been vocal about his desire for free speech on the platform. However, many are concerned that the changes may have a negative impact.

Although, change isn’t always a bad thing and perhaps Twitter needed a makeover, to keep up with today’s evolving society and array of opinions.

While Twitter is still popular, Musk’s move to reinstate Donald Trump’s account might have been strategic.

Trump is a bold politician, and regardless of his Twitter status, many are wondering what his next move will be.

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