September 23, 2019

So far, 18 House Republicans have announced that they are resigning, retiring, or seeking another office, including longtime GOP stalwarts, some of the few GOP congresswoman, and the lone black Republican congressman. And that just scratches the surface, The Washington Post reports. "All told, 41 House Republicans have left national politics or announced they won't seek re-election in the nearly three years since [President] Trump took office," dwarfing the 25 Democrats who retired between 2009 and 2013, "and Republicans privately predict this is only the beginning."

"The problem for the GOP is bigger than retirements," the Post reports:

Since Trump's inauguration, a Washington Post analysis shows, nearly 40 percent of the 241 Republicans who were in office in January 2017 are gone or leaving because of election losses, retirements including former House speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.), and some, such as [Michigan Rep. Paul] Mitchell, who are simply quitting in disgust. The vast turnover is a reminder of just how much Trump has remade the GOP — and of the purge of those who dare to oppose him. [The Washington Post]

Most retiring or resigning GOP members of Congress cite their families, "but behind the scenes, Republicans say the trend highlights a greater pessimism about the direction of the party under Trump — and their ability to win back the House next year," the Post reports. Most are reluctant to criticize Trump on the record, but Mitchell isn't.

"We're here for a purpose — and it's not this petty, childish bulls--t," Mitchell, 62, told the Post in early September. He said his decision to retire started when Trump attacked four Democratic congresswomen on Twitter, then solidified when no fellow Republicans would relay his concerns to Trump. "Did any member of this conference expect that their job would start out every morning trying to go through the list of what's happening in tweets of the day?" he asked. Read more at The Washington Post. Peter Weber

5:08 p.m.

As the dreaded Elon Musk-hosted Saturday Night Live episode draws nigh, the show is out with its first teaser.

"Let's find out just how live Saturday Night Live really is," Musk says in the clip. "I'm a wild card, so there's no telling what I might do." (The Atlantic claims Musk's "eccentricity is good fodder for sketch comedy," which is clearly … debatable).

While some SNL members have made their disdain clear, Pete Davidson said no one discussed the controversy when they took Musk out to dinner pre-show, as is tradition. "I just don't understand why this is the dude everyone's so freaked out about," Davidson said. "I was like, 'What did he do? He's just like a really wealthy businessman that makes, like, nerd s---.' I don't know. He's really nice. I'm excited."

Read more at Entertainment Weekly. Jeva Lange

4:59 p.m.

Remember that time when everyone (and The Daily Mail) was so mad about Meghan Markle and Prince Harry trying to trademark "Sussex Royal," and in doing so, cruelly placing Queen Elizabeth "in an invidious position, given her long-held conviction of refusing to allow working members of the family to profit from their positions"?

Well, People reports that the British monarch has since started selling Sandringham-branded beer, brewed from plants grown on her Norfolk estate, as well as a Royal Collection Trust gin, which retails for $41 a bottle and will "help preserve the Queen's extensive art collection."

Writes Celebitchy, "HOW GAUCHE! How tacky! I assume all of the royal reporters are up in arms about how dreadful it is that the Queen is monetizing the Crown in such a disgusting and cheesy way."

Read more at Celebitchy and People. Jeva Lange

3:53 p.m.

As the IRS deals with a significant backlog, a new report suggests one factor is ... printers that don't work?

That's according to a report from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, which said the Internal Revenue Service is having difficulty processing tax returns in part thanks to issues with broken printers and copiers, Politico reported on Friday.

During on-site walkthroughs of IRS offices, a "major concern that surfaced" was "the lack of working printers and copiers," with management estimating that as of the end of March, 42 percent of printers for workers involved with processing returns weren't usable, the report said.

IRS employees said "the only reason they could not use many of these devices is because they are out of ink or because the waste cartridge container is full," per the report. Evidently, the IRS' contract for the printers ended in September 2020, and while the agency subsequently entered into a new contract, employees said the "new contractor may not have been coming into the sites to replace the old printers due to COVID-19 concerns."

The IRS back in March delayed this year's tax filing about a month, which would give taxpayers more time to figure out what they owe in light of Congress' COVID-19 relief bill. But another issue, as the The Washington Post reported, was that the agency has been grappling with a "mounting backlog" of tax returns that need to be processed. According to the new inspector general report, "more than 8.3 million individual tax returns and transactions remained to be processed" as of the end of 2020 — and while the agency has also had other problems including staffing issues, a lack of functioning printers and copiers has contributed "to the inability to reduce backlogs." Brendan Morrow

2:21 p.m.

If George Lucas is Seth Rogen's only hope of surviving the end of the world, he's in trouble.

Rogen during an appearance on Conan O'Brien's podcast described a bizarre conversation he had with George Lucas back in 2012, during which Rogen says the Star Wars creator started talking as if he legitimately believed the world was going to end that year.

"A question that still haunts me to this day — and again, I think I know the answer — is, was he joking?" Rogen said. "I really don't think ... it did not appear he was joking."

Rogen and his producing partner Evan Goldberg apparently jokingly went along with the end-of-the-world talk, asking Lucas if they could get a seat on his spaceship to escape the planet, only to have that request immediately shot down.

"He was like, 'No,'" Rogen said. "Which, again, it makes me think he wasn't joking, because if you were joking, you would just say yes to at least placate us by granting our wish to go on the spaceship. But no, he said no!"

Rogen added that even all these years later, he's still "confounded and plagued by that story." The actor actually previously described this encounter closer to when it happened, and a Lucasfilm representative at the time clarified that Lucas was "not serious" about thinking the world was going to end — a statement presumably issued while Lucas tinkered with his spaceship in the background just in case. Brendan Morrow

1:03 p.m.

Four former Minneapolis police officers, including Derek Chauvin, have been indicted on civil rights charges over the death of George Floyd.

The Justice Department said Friday a grand jury indictment charged Chauvin, who was convicted on murder charges after kneeling on Floyd's neck for over nine minutes during an arrest, with depriving Floyd of his constitutional right "to be free from the use of unreasonable force by a police officer."

Former Minneapolis officers Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng, and Thomas Lane were also charged for their roles in Floyd's death. Prosecutors said Thao and Kueng were charged with having "willfully failed to intervene to stop Chauvin's use of unreasonable force," and the indictment said all four defendants "willfully failed to aid" Floyd despite seeing him in need of medical attention, thereby depriving him of "his constitutional right not to be deprived of liberty without due process of law."

Separately, Chauvin was also indicted on civil rights charges stemming from a 2017 incident, in which prosecutors said he held a Minneapolis teenager "by the throat and struck the teenager multiple times in the head with a flashlight."

These new charges, The New York Times noted, are separate both from state charges Thao, Kueng, and Lane previously faced, as well as separate from a civil investigation the Department of Justice has opened into the Minneapolis Police Department. Attorney General Merrick Garland last month said this probe would examine whether the department "engages in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional or unlawful policing." Brendan Morrow

11:37 a.m.

Chinese officials promise a rocket that's falling toward Earth probably won't cause any harm.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Friday officials are "closely observing" the Long March 5B rocket booster that's expected to re-enter the Earth's atmosphere this weekend, The Washington Post reports. Part of the Chinese rocket is "tumbling out of control in orbit" following a launch, The New York Times writes, but researchers are still not completely sure where the debris will land.

"This is standard international practice," Wang said Friday, per the Post. "The probability of causing harm to aviation activities and the ground is extremely low."

Wang also said that most of the rocket's components will burn up during re-entry. The U.S. Air Force Space Track Project on Friday projected debris will crash in a desert outside of Mary, Turkmenistan — but researchers also warned that "the projected site could be wildly off-base," the Post writes. "Its exact entry point into the Earth's atmosphere cannot be pinpointed until within hours of its re-entry which is expected around May 8," U.S. Space Command says.

NPR reports that scientists agree it's "unlikely" the booster "will actually hit someone," while adding that this still "doesn't mean there's no risk for humans." The Times may have put it best by writing, "You are almost certainly not going to be hit by a 10-story, 23-ton piece of a rocket hurtling back to Earth. That said, the chances are not zero."

Previously, debris from a Long March 5B rocket landed in Africa in 2020, leading NASA to criticize China.

"It was seemingly a successful launch, until we started getting information about a re-entry of a rocket body, a re-entry that was really dangerous," then-NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said. "It flew over population centers and it re-entered Earth's atmosphere. It could have been extremely dangerous. We're really fortunate in the sense that it doesn't appear to have hurt anybody." Brendan Morrow

Opinion
10:20 a.m.

The April jobs report is out, and the results were a deep disappointment. Just 266,000 jobs were created last month, far below expectations of at least a million, and the unemployment rate edged up to 6.1 percent. March's report was also revised downward, from 916,000 to 770,000.

This was a strange result for many reasons. America is still about 8.2 million jobs in the hole relative to February 2020, and the stimulus from the American Rescue Plan should be boosting jobs and output far more than this. Many analysts and businesses have argued that the boost to unemployment benefits (which expires in September) is motivating workers to stay home, but restaurant owners have been the loudest complainers about this, and their sector of leisure and hospitality saw the biggest gains at 331,000 new jobs (counterbalanced by losses elsewhere). Nor did the report show the broad-based wage gains that would indicate a labor shortage.

Ultimately, the central factor here must be that the pandemic is not remotely over yet. Despite many cities returning to something like normal, the U.S. is still seeing about 45,000 new cases of COVID-19 every day, and about 700 deaths — and that is because only about a third of the population is fully vaccinated so far. Even many vaccinated people are understandably hesitant about going back to normal, given the carnage of the last year, while many parents are still caring for kids at home for fear of infection or lack of access to day care.

Meanwhile, the pandemic created all manner of shortages and snarls in global supply chains — which were already in a poor state thanks to weak demand after the Great Recession. Jobs in auto manufacturing, for instance, were down 27,000, thanks to an ongoing shortage of computer chips. Those problems are simply going to take time to be sorted out.

It would therefore be highly premature to base any sweeping policy conclusions on this report. It will take months for real trends to show up, and indeed this report might be revised later. As Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank President Neel Kashkari argues, it is wise to keep pushing for economic recovery until we have better data on what is really happening.

Ryan Cooper

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