Dems collapse on filibuster fight, call it a “win” – National & International News – TUE 26Jan2021

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Dems collapse on filibuster fight, call it a “win”. US firms use COVID to bust unions while raking in paycheck protection money. That and more below.


Dems collapse on filibuster fight, call it a “win”

Since the inauguration, the Senate has been at a standstill as party leadership attempted to work out a power-sharing agreement. GOP leader Mitch McConnell held the talks hostage over Democratic Chuck Schumer’s plan to end the filibuster.

Democrats have a slim majority in the Senate, with a 50-50 split between Democrats and Republicans, and Vice President Kamala Harris serving as a tie breaker. If the filibuster is not done away with, most legislation will require 60 votes to pass, making it possible for Republicans to hold up President Biden’s legislative agenda.

McConnell had previously waived filibuster rules to approve President Trump’s three Supreme Court appointees. But McConnell has never been shy about embracing legislative double standards. Preserving the filibuster now guarantees he holds onto some power as Minority Leader.

And it appears he will get his way again. Two Democratic Senators, Joe Manchin (WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (AZ), have stated they do not support ending the filibuster. With that assurance, McConnell has withdrawn his objection and ended the stalemate. Schumer’s camp is billing this as a “win”, and it certainly is… for McConnell.

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Firms use COVID to union bust while raking in paycheck protection money

Firms across the US, such as Amazon and Trader Joe’s, are using the pandemic as an excuse to undermine unions in their workplaces. High unemployment and a teetering economy have given employers the upper hand. Workers in numerous sectors have found themselves locked out of workplaces or replaced with non-union labor. All the while, employers are still taking $millions in paycheck protection money from the COVID stimulus packages intended to prevent mass layoffs.

The loss of wages and benefits has already pushed many workers to the edge. If firms succeed in doing away with collective bargaining rights under the cover of the pandemic, the consequences will reverberate through the labor market and US economy for years to come.

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Supply bottlenecks stirring “vaccine nationalism”

Earlier this month, Pfizer said it would be temporarily halting deliveries of vaccine doses to the EU due to manufacturing issues. Another major manufacturer, AstraZeneca, is also facing supply and delivery hiccups in the EU. The British-Swedish multinational now says it will not be able to honor its delivery agreements with EU countries for March.

The exact reason for these manufacturing bottlenecks remains unclear, and the lack of transparency has incensed EU leaders. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen pointed out that “Europe invested billions to help develop the world’s first COVID-19 vaccines. To create a truly global common good”. She and other EU leaders are now demanding the firm make good on its obligations.

To safeguard the European supply, Germany’s Health Minister is proposing that the EU block exports of the vaccines. This block would also affect the UK, which has recently exited the EU. The calls to block exports of the vaccine, which was developed with the help of UK’s Oxford University, has prompted warnings from British health officials against “vaccine nationalism”.

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Scottish leader vows new independence referendum

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is laying the groundwork for a new referendum to allow Scots to decide if they want to remain part of the UK. In 2014, Scots voted 55%-45% to remain in the UK. The referendum was billed at the time as a once-in-a-generation event. But the political equation changed dramatically when the UK voted to leave the EU in 2016. At the time of the Scottish referendum, no such possibility had even appeared on the horizon.

In the 2016 referendum, Scots voted overwhelmingly to remain part of the EU. Having been dragged out against its will, Scotland’s economy is now taking a major hit in the new UK-EU trade agreement. Polls show that a narrow majority of Scots now favor leaving the UK, and Sturgeon hopes to capitalize on that. By moving ahead with a vote, Sturgeon will be butting heads with British PM Boris Johnson, who has pledged to block any new Scottish referendum. A binding referendum requires the approval of the British government.

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