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September 1, 2023 Heather Cox Richardson



New figures out today from the Labor Department show that employers added 187,000 jobs in August, up but at a slower rate than the red-hot job market has been adding since the pandemic. Unemployment ticked up to 3.8%, in part because of the 37,000 jobs lost when the trucking company Yellow declared bankruptcy. The economy appears to be steadying, with only 1.5 jobs for every person looking, down from the 2 openings in early 2022. 

As the hiring frenzies of the past two years calm down, economists expect job growth to continue in health care and education, which have made up 85% of the job growth in the past three months. After that, government investments in infrastructure under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act, renewable energy thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act, and semiconductor manufacturing thanks to the CHIPS and Science Act are likely to keep demand growing. 

The economic numbers for the Biden administration are remarkable and demonstrate the strength of the system under which the government operated from 1933 to 1981: the idea that investing in ordinary Americans builds the economy far more efficiently than so-called “supply-side economics.” That economic ideology, advanced by the Reagan Republicans, claimed that cutting regulations and concentrating wealth at the top of the economy would enable business leaders to invest in the economy efficiently, cutting costs and driving economic growth. 

But that vision has never produced as promised, while it has dramatically concentrated wealth and power since it went into effect in 1981. “Bidenomics” is a rejection of that theory and a return to the economic vision that built the country in the fifty years before it. Investing in infrastructure and programs that help ordinary Americans puts money and the power of innovation into their hands, driving the economy from the bottom up and the middle out, as Biden puts it. 

In a reflection of the plan to use the government to help those at the bottom of the economy, the administration yesterday canceled $72 million in student loans for 2,300 borrowers who were cheated by the for-profit Ashford College, which was purchased in 2020 by the University of Arizona. It says it will try to recoup the money from the University of Arizona, which denies any responsibility for the actions of Ashford or its parent company, the education technology services company Zovio. 

Meanwhile, Republicans continue to focus on ending abortion, and their determination is leading them to assert power over citizens of Republican-dominated states in a way that is commonly associated with authoritarian governments.   

Alabama attorney general Steve Marshall claimed in a court filing on Monday that Alabama, which has one of the strictest abortion bans in the country, can prosecute people who help women travel out of the state to obtain an abortion as part of a “criminal conspiracy.” 

Today, Caroline Kitchener reported in the Washington Post that at least 51 jurisdictions in Texas have passed ordinances to make it illegal to transport anyone on roads within city or county limits to get an abortion. Their hope is to target interstates and the roads around airports to block off routes out of Texas and keep pregnant women trapped in the antiabortion state. 

The laws also allow any private citizen to sue any person or organization they think is violating the ordinance, leading to expensive lawsuits against the friends and family members of the most economically vulnerable people in society. Antiabortion activists call aid to women seeking abortions “abortion trafficking,” which makes it sound like women are being forced to get an abortion, when in fact, the ordinances ensnare women who want to get an abortion and their friends, preventing them from leaving an antiabortion state. Even if such an ordinance is impossible to enforce, it legally endangers the people who would help someone trying to get an abortion, moving such reproductive care beyond the financial reach of many women, and makes people hesitant to help each other. 

Such barriers are precisely the same as those for people trying to leave authoritarian countries. Someone who is prohibited from leaving a jurisdiction is not a citizen but a subject. Free and full citizens of a democracy have the right to travel, both inside the country and out of it. That right is guaranteed to U.S. citizens by the Constitution. But authoritarian countries often restrict travel for their subjects outside their borders out of concern that exposure to freer countries will weaken the authority of the government at home. 

Crucially, authoritarian countries also urge people to turn on each other, reporting them to the state for punishment, often in exchange for a reward. Such a system breaks the ability of opponents to organize to resist the government because of the risk that their neighbors will sell them out. 

While such circumstances affect most authoritarian governments, it is impossible to miss the parallels between these ordinances and the various laws that circumscribed the lives of Black Americans before the Civil War here in the United States. In that era, free Black Americans had to carry identification papers, known as “free papers,” to prove they should be allowed to travel. White Americans had no such requirement.

Enslaved Americans could not travel at all, of course, unless they accompanied their enslavers; they were confined to the states in which they were enslaved. When some escaped north to freedom, that restriction was enforced with the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act. Part of the Compromise of 1850, which was a series of laws cobbled together in an attempt to reduce the tensions between the North and the South over human enslavement, the Fugitive Slave Act required federal officials—including those in free states—to return to the South anyone a white enslaver claimed was his property. Black Americans could not testify in their own defense, and anyone helping a “runaway” could be imprisoned for six months and fined $1,000, about three years’ income. Those turning in Black refugees were paid a fee and the costs of their effort. 

When citizens of free states spoke out against the Fugitive Slave Act for making them enforce laws they opposed, southern enslavers insisted they were “radicals” because they refused to enforce a law, and insisted that American democracy supported enslavement. Ten years later, extremists in the South put that argument into their political platform, saying that “the enactments of State Legislatures to defeat the faithful execution of the Fugitive Slave Law are hostile in character, subversive of the Constitution, and revolutionary in their effect.” 

No longer willing to say they would accept free states in the West if voters there wanted freedom, enslavers demanded that Congress pass a new federal law to protect enslavement in the western territories. No longer defending states’ rights except when it protected them from federal intervention into the institution of slavery, they demanded the right to use the power of the federal government to control the majority of Americans who opposed enslavement.

Although the Supreme Court justified last year’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision by saying abortion should be a state decision, antiabortion activists are echoing enslavers in their attempt to get federal legislation to enforce their will. More than half of all abortions in the U.S. are medication abortions, and a Trump-appointed antiabortion judge in Texas, U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, is currently trying to get rid of such abortions by suspending the approval of mifepristone, given by the Food and Drug Administration more than 20 years ago. Republican presidential candidates former vice president Mike Pence and South Carolina senator Tim Scott both say they support a federal ban on abortion. 

Today’s attempted restriction of those who are supposed to be equal citizens from leaving extremist states raises a whole factory of red flags.

Last year, after the Supreme Court handed down the Dobbs decision ending the recognition of the constitutional right to an abortion, I suggested to a group of people that it was only a question of time until we saw laws designed to make it impossible for women to travel across state lines. They told me there was no way such a thing could happen in the United States.

And yet, here we are.




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TGIF: WWIII May Come Tomorrow, But. . . Nellie Bowles




Google employees protesting at the office. They were later fired. (Via X)

Welcome back. World War III watch over here continues. The Axis of Resistance seemed ready to kick off a major war, but then our Ayatollah stood down. The Houthi Youth at Columbia University camped out in solidarity, but the rebellion was short. Then, at press time, Israel struck back against Iran, so World War Watch resumed. You know what helps my stress? A good book. This one, by your faithful soldier, is out May 14.

→ Trump’s Gettysburg Address: Before Trump hit the campaign trail, I’d forgotten a little what he sounds like. In the amber of my mind, he was just “MAGA” and “Shithole countries” on a loop. Now, thanks to a campaign speech Saturday in Schnecksville, PA, we are back in the game with the craziest American orator who’s ever been in the game. The topic was Gettysburg. And our former president gave an impromptu slam poetry interpretation that left me snapping. 

Gettysburg, what an unbelievable battle that was. I mean, it was so much and so interesting and so vicious and horrible and so beautiful in so many different ways. It represented such a big portion of the success of this country. Gettysburg, wow. I go to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to look and to watch. And the statement of Robert E. Lee—who’s no longer in favor—did you ever notice that? He’s no longer in favor. “Never fight uphill, me boys, never fight uphill.” They were fighting uphill. He said, “Wow, that was a big mistake.” He lost his great general. They were fighting, “Never fight uphill, me boys,” but it was too late.

Vicious and horrible and beautiful. And the sun that blazes over the October sky. Who will watch the watcher? Who will sing the song of the lonely? Check out my self-published novel in the back, Trump says. 

→ Biden continues paying off successful young voters: Sorry, I mean “forgiving student debt.” Biden this week paid off another $7.4 billion in student loans, making his total student loan cancellation something like $153 billion. And by cancellation, I mean tax dollars were used to make the ledger go to zero. How much exactly? From Penn Wharton’s analysis: “We estimate that President Biden’s recently announced ‘New Plans’ to provide relief to student borrowers will cost $84 billion, in addition to the $475 billion that we previously estimated for President Biden’s SAVE plan.” But that goes to really needy people, right? Well, actually, at least 750,000 of those households are “making over $312,000 in average household income.” Meanwhile, to anyone who questions this allocation of resources, the White House answer is to shame them from official White House accounts by listing how much in pandemic loans were forgiven for House Republicans who own individual small business, which is weird because the reason businesses needed pandemic relief was because the White House banned them from operating. It’s a trap! And the only answer is to pay off every Media Studies PhD student’s loan. Colleges, for their part, are now charging up to $100,000 a year. Yes, literally. And since that’s ultimately going to be paid for by the taxpayers, why work to make it less expensive? Why cut corners when you need to remodel the cafeteria?

→ Oh, RFK’s running mate: For a flash I was thinking, Am I an RFK voter? I’m a mom who worries about plastics, and no, I don’t like how our national conversation is getting so divisive these days. And those steely blue eyes. It just felt right. But this week, my love affair hit a snag. Here’s RFK’s new vice-presidential pick, Nicole Shanahan, arguing that the Covid vaccine is not just bad, that it’s not just something she personally doesn’t want and should have the freedom to choose not to take, but that it should be banned. Over to Nicole: “Here is the devastating reality: it is not a safe vaccine, and must be recalled immediately. Many people are suffering who took it.” I guess this is really the agenda: RFK Jr. might be just asking questions, but if Nicole is chief executive, it sounds like she’s going to be executing. And that looks like legally required sound baths and astrology readings. The government understands that you want to take antibiotics, but you haven’t even tried rubbing yourself in honey yet. 

→ Wow, Kari Lake comes out as really pro-choice: Kari Lake, the Republican running for Senate in Arizona, has released a video about how she disagrees with Arizona’s total abortion ban, a ban she previously supported. I’m all for mind-changing. I actually want our politicians to put their finger to the wind every once in a while. Here’s Lake: “We as American people don’t agree on everything all of the time. But if you look at where the population is on this—a full ban on abortion is not where the people are.” 

She says, “I chose life, but I’m not every woman.” She pivots to Europe, which has all those annoyingly sensible abortion laws, and which is my exact same move: “I had the opportunity to visit Hungary, and it completely changed my view of how we should deal with this complicated, difficult issue.”

Is this Kari Lake sounding normal? In case you need to be reminded of the old Kari, here she is shaking hands with a statue. 

→ Oh no, “get out the vote” helps. . . Trump? Now that young people are for Trump and old people are for Biden, there’s another switcheroo: those who vote less or have never voted are more likely to be Trumpers. Call off the Rock the Vote campaigners! Return the blue t-shirts! The new message for Democrats to win needs to be: do not register new voters. Keep on keeping on. Stay home, save lives.

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April 18, 2024 Heather Cox Richardson




I will not spend the rest of 2024 focusing on Trump and the chaos in the Republican Party, but today it has been impossible to look away.

In Trump’s election interference trial in Manhattan, Judge Juan Merchan this morning dismissed one of the selected jurors after she expressed concern for her anonymity and thus for her safety. All of the reporters in the courtroom have shared so much information about the jurors that they seemed at risk of being identified, but Fox News Channel host Jesse Watters not only ran a video segment about a juror, he suggested she was “concerning.” Trump shared the video on social media.

The juror told the judge that so much information about her had become public that her friends and family had begun to ask her if she was one of the jurors. Legal analyst Joyce White Vance noted jurors’ fear for their safety was a concern normally seen only “in a case involving violent organized crime.”

Nonetheless, by the end of the day, twelve people had been chosen to serve as jurors. Tomorrow the process will continue in order to find six alternate jurors. 

It is a courtesy for the two sides at a trial to share with each other the names of their next witnesses so the other team can prepare for them. Today the prosecution declined to provide the names of their first three witnesses to the defense lawyers out of concern that Trump would broadcast them on social media. “Mr. Trump has been tweeting about the witnesses. We’re not telling them who the witnesses are,” prosecutor Joshua Steinglass said. 

Merchan said he “can’t blame them.” Trump’s defense attorney Todd Blanche offered to “commit to the court and the [prosecution] that President Trump will not [post] about any witness” on social media. “I don’t think you can make that representation,” Merchan said, in a recognition that Trump cannot be trusted, even by his own lawyers.

An article in the New York Times today confirmed that the trial will give Trump plenty of publicity, but not the kind that he prefers. Lawyer Norman L. Eisen walked through questions about what a prison sentence for Trump could look like.

Trump’s popular image is taking a hit in other ways, as well. Zac Anderson and Erin Mansfield of USA Today reported that Trump is funneling money from his campaign fundraising directly into his businesses. According to a new report filed with the Federal Election Commission, in February and March the campaign wrote checks totaling $411,287 to Mar-a-Lago and in March a check for $62,337 to Trump National Doral Miami.

Experts say it is legal for candidates to pay their own businesses for services used by the campaign so long as they pay fair market value. At the same time, they note that since Trump appears to be desperate for money, “it looks bad.”

Astonishingly, Trump’s trial was not the biggest domestic story today. Republicans in Congress were in chaos as members of the extremist Freedom Caucus worked to derail the national security supplemental bills that House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) has introduced in place of the Senate bill, although they track that bill closely. 

The House Rules Committee spent the day debating the foreign aid package, which appropriates aid for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan separately. The Israel bill also contains $9.1 billion in humanitarian aid for Gaza and other countries. A fourth bill focuses on forcing the Chinese owners of TikTok to sell the company, as well as on imposing sanctions on Russia and Iran. 

At stake in the House Rules Committee was Johnson’s plan to allow the House to debate and vote on each measure separately, and then recombine them all into a single measure if they all pass. This would allow extremist Republicans to vote against aid to Ukraine, while still tying the pieces all together to send to the Senate. As Robert Jimison outlined in the New York Times, this complicated plan meant that the Rules Committee vote to allow such a maneuver was crucial to the bill’s passage.

The extremist House Republicans were adamantly opposed to the plan because of their staunch opposition to aid for Ukraine. They wrote in a memo on Wednesday: “This tactic allows Johnson to pass priorities favored by President Biden, the swamp and the Ukraine war machine with a supermajority of House members, leaving conservatives out to dry.”

Extremists Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Thomas Massie (R-KY) vowed to throw House speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) out of the speakership, but Democrats Tom Suozzi of New York and Jared Moskowitz of Florida have said they would vote to keep him in his seat, thereby defanging the attack on his leadership.

So the extremists instead tried to load the measures up with amendments prohibiting funds from being used for abortion, removing humanitarian aid for Gaza, opposing a two-state solution to the Hamas-Israel war, calling for a wall at the southern border of the U.S., defunding the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and so on.

Greene was especially active in opposition to aid to Ukraine. She tried to amend the bill to direct the president to withdraw the U.S. from NATO and demanded that any members of Congress voting for aid to Ukraine be conscripted into the Ukraine army as well as have their salaries taken to offset funding. She wanted to stop funding until Ukraine “turns over all information related to Hunter Biden and Burisma,” and to require Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to resign. More curiously, she suggested amending the Ukraine bill so that funding would require “restrictions on ethnic minorities’, including Hungarians in Transcarpathia, right to use their native languages in schools are lifted.” This language echoes a very specific piece of Russian propaganda.

Finally, Moskowitz proposed “that Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene…should be appointed as Vladimir Putin’s Special Envoy to the United States Congress.” 

Many congress members have left Washington, D.C., since Friday was to be the first day of a planned recess. This meant the partisan majority on the floor fluctuated. Olivia Beavers of Politico reported that that instability made Freedom Caucus members nervous enough to put together a Floor Action Response Team (FART—I am not making this up) to make sure other Republicans didn’t limit the power of the extremists when they were off the floor.

The name of their response team seems likely to be their way to signal their disrespect for the entire Congress. Their fellow Republicans are returning the heat. Today Mike Turner (R-OH) referred to the extremists as the Bully Caucus on MSNBC and said, “We need to get back to professionalism, we need to get back to governing, we need to get back to legislating.” Derrick Van Orden (R-WI) told Juliegrace Brufke of Axios:  “The vast majority of the Republican Party in the House of Representatives…are sick and tired of having people who…constantly blackmail the speaker of the House.”

Another Republican representative, Jake LaTurner of Kansas, announced today he will not run for reelection. He joins more than 20 other Republican representatives heading for the exits.

After all the drama, the House Rules Committee voted 6–3 tonight to advance the foreign aid package to the House floor. Three Republicans voted nay. While it is customary for the opposition party to vote against advancing bills out of the committee, the Democrats broke with tradition and voted in favor.





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April 17, 2024 Heather Cox Richardson





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