May 18, 2020

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) gave the virtual commencement speech at his alma mater, Fremont High School, on Saturday, and the reviews were not kind.

Caylin Choquette, who shared the video on Twitter, called it "the worst graduation speech of all time."

"Is this satire?" asked Daily Beast columnist Matt Lewis. His colleague Noah Shachtman was on the same page: "Who is this actor SNL got to play Sasse? He looks JUST like him." Former New York Observer editor Elizabeth Spiers elaborated: "If you've ever been to an open mic standup comedy show where there's one guy who's so bad the whole room goes completely silent and starts scanning for exits because the vicarious embarrassment is too much — and you want to re-live that — here's Ben Sasse to oblige." "Yiiiiiiiiiiiiiikes," said historian Kevin Kruse.

The Omaha World-Herald described Sasse as "unshaven" and "wearing a loosened red tie and white shirt." He was certainly ... casual. "Can't say that I have ever watched a high school commencement address where someone suggests that they are overweight, repeatedly blames China for ruining their ceremony, and insults psychology majors and anyone named Jeremy," local state Sen. Adam Morfeld tweeted, but Sasse "pulls it off!" Sarah Longwell, who publishes The Bulwark, watched his remarks and wanted to know: "Who hurt Ben Sasse in high school?"

Is the speech really that bad? Comedy is, after all, subjective. Objectively, Fremont Public Schools disavowed Sasse's remarks Sunday evening, a school board member asked him for an apology, and the Nebraska Counseling Association slammed him in a public statement.

Despite the jabs at humor, it was a downer of a speech. Sasse jumped from Tiger King and toilet paper to "murder hornets" and black holes. "You're stuck at home for graduation, and that's really not even a Top 100 problem," he added.

Did Sasse have good news? Yes: These graduating high school students "have the potential to have grit and resilience and determination and to get through this," and "that's what's going to pull us through this thing: You're going to pull us through this thing." Yay? Watch the speech below. Peter Weber

12:27 p.m.

A multiracial family looking to get away for the weekend were allegedly stalked, and subsequently trapped, by locals who mistook them for being bussed-in members of antifa, Washington state's Peninsula Daily News reports.

The family of four — a husband, wife, their 16-year-old daughter, and the husband's mother — were visiting Forks, Washington, from Spokane, Washington, and had driven the seven-and-a-half-hour distance in a full-sized school bus they planned to use to camp off a logging road near Olympic National Park. The family stopped at Forks Outfitters to get supplies, and were confronted by "seven or eight carloads of people in the grocery store parking lot" who "repeatedly asked them if they were antifa protesters," according to a press release by Sgt. Ed Anderson. "The family told the people they weren't associated with any such group and were just camping."

When the family left the parking lot, they were trailed by "at least four vehicles," the Peninsula Daily News reports. The family said that "two of the vehicles had people in them carrying what appeared to be semi-automatic rifles."

The family reached their camp site, but the sound of gunshots and power saws down the road made them decide to leave. As they were trying to drive away, they found that someone had sawed down trees in order to trap them in the site so that they couldn't get out.

Local high schoolers helped clear the roadway for the family and the Clallam County Sheriff's Office is reportedly investigating the incident. Heavy reports that posts had been made in local Facebook groups referencing the event, including boasts of "protect your town!" and "u think they realized they [came] to the wrong place yet?" You can read more at Peninsula Daily News, and learn more about the spread of false rumors about antifa agitators here at The Week. Jeva Lange

11:41 a.m.

President Trump made an unprompted prediction of what George Floyd, the man killed last week in the hands of Minneapolis police, would think about the protests over his death.

After a call for "equal justice under the law," Trump vaguely said "we all saw what happened last week. We can't let that happen." "Hopefully George is looking down right now and saying this is a great thing that's happening for our country," Trump continued. "This is a great day for him, it's a great day for everybody."

Floyd's death in police custody has sparked international protests against police brutality, particularly against black people. Trump has promised and implemented military action to curb protests, even when most of them have remained peaceful. On Monday, law enforcement used crowd deterrents, including pepper spray and smoke bombs, to clear protesters off of Washington, D.C.'s streets so Trump could take a photo in front of a church. Kathryn Krawczyk

11:14 a.m.

After Friday's unexpectedly positive May jobs report, President Trump's campaign is mocking the "doomsday economists" whose predictions didn't pan out — despite that group including Trump's economic advisers.

The Trump campaign put out a statement on Friday celebrating the report from the Labor Department showing the unemployment rate declined to 13.3 percent and the economy added 2.5 million jobs, a shocking result when economists forecasted the unemployment rate would rise to almost 20 percent with more than eight million jobs lost.

"Doomsday economists had predicted a loss of 8.5 million jobs in May, but the economy roared back and added 2.5 million jobs instead, thanks to President Trump's leadership and the solid foundation his policies have laid," a statement from campaign manager Brad Parscale said.

Trump also called out the inaccurate predictions in a Rose Garden press conference celebrating the numbers, describing what he called the "greatest miscalculation in the history of business shows."

But Kevin Hassett, White House economic adviser, was forecasting a grim May jobs report too, having suggested that the unemployment rate would soar to 20 percent or more. In an interview with CNN less than two weeks ago, he said he expected the unemployment rate to be "quite a bit higher" in May than in April, possibly "north of 20 percent."

Additionally, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow warned last month after April's report that "the numbers for May are going to be also very difficult numbers," predicting that the economy starting to reopen wouldn't have an effect for "a while." Brendan Morrow

10:49 a.m.

As protests against police brutality have spread across the nation in the wake of the killing of George Floyd last week, nowhere have tensions between demonstrators and the Trump administration been higher than on the president's own doorstep. On Friday, the city of Washington, D.C., made it abundantly clear which side it's on, writing "Black Lives Matter" in 35-foot-tall letters on a two-block stretch of city street just north of the White House:

Notably, the paint being used to write the message is the same as what is used "to draw traffic lanes," Aaron Mehta of Defense News reported. "This ain't washing away anytime soon."

The message comes a day ahead of "what's expected to be a large demonstration on Saturday," DCist reports, as well as "in the wake of days of political fights between Mayor Muriel Bowser and federal officials over a security perimeter centered at the White House." Additionally, on Friday, Bowser sent a letter to Trump asking him to remove "extraordinary federal law enforcement and military presence from our city," noting that "the protestors have been peaceful, and last night, the Metropolitan Police Department did not make a single arrest."

The local chapter of Black Lives Matter spoke out against the mural going up on the city streets, calling it a "performative distraction from real policy changes." The message is meant "to appease white liberals while ignoring our demands," the group added. "Black Lives Matter means defund the police." Jeva Lange

10:05 a.m.

Friday morning's stunning job report is already being celebrated by the White House as unemployment unexpectedly fell to 13.3 percent in May. But even as forecasters have scrambled to understand how their predictions were so far off, Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman stressed on Twitter that "whatever happened, these numbers should make you more, not less, pessimistic about the economic outlook."

Huh? As Krugman goes on to explain, the seemingly encouraging job report could actually "reinforce the White House inclination to do nothing and let emergency aid expire."

That's alarming to Krugman and other analysts because what May's job numbers do seem to prove is that the Payroll Protection Program, which encouraged small businesses to keep workers on payroll during the pandemic, was instrumental in helping bring back workers in May. "U.S. unemployment [is] at 13 percent [with] trillions in government aids," wrote The Washington Post's Jeffrey Stein. "What happens when huge infusion runs dry in July?"

But as of Thursday night, the Post was reporting that President Trump's recovery plan "largely amounts to optimism that as pandemic restrictions are loosened, the nation's economy will turn the lights back on by itself." As the Post goes on to explain, Trump is hesitant to offer states further aid, and opposes extending the soon-to-expire $600 unemployment bonus for laid-off workers.

White House economic adviser Stephen Moore seemed to confirm Krugman's fears. "There's no reason to have a major spending bill," he said in response to Friday's job numbers. "The sense of urgent crisis is very greatly dissipated by the report."

Not everyone shares the opinion that the job report lets the federal government off the hook. "The jobless rate, even if it declines, I believe is going to stay extremely high through the end of the year," former Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen told the Post. "It's absolutely essential to have another package that will extend unemployment benefits beyond the summer. That's going to be tremendously needed." Jeva Lange

9:57 a.m.

The economy is finally brushing up.

In a twist that shocked many of the nation's top economists, the U.S.'s May jobs report released Friday showed the country added 2.5 million jobs last month, lowering the unemployment rate from 14.7 percent to 13.3 percent. A large chunk of that gain stemmed from the health care industry, which regained 312,000 jobs between April and May. Around 244,000 of those jobs stemmed singularly from dentists' offices, making that industry responsible for a full tenth of May's jobs gains.

As freelance business reporter Matthew Zeitlin noted, pretty much all of the job gains last month came from temporarily laid off workers heading back to work. The number of unemployed people on temporary layoff decreased by 2.7 million to 15.3 million in March, but the number of permanent job losses rose by 295,000 to 2.3 million in May.

University of Michigan economist Justin Wolfers called the shrinking temporary job losses the "good news" of the May jobs report. And while there's still some "bad news" in permanent job loss, it seems clear that the overall unemployment "hole isn't getting any deeper." Kathryn Krawczyk

8:22 a.m.

Attorney General William Barr has declared a loose collective of anti-fascist activists to be domestic terrorists. Events haven't substantiated his claim.

Barr announced Sunday that FBI Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTF) were working with state and local partners to nab "violent radical agitators who have hijacked peaceful protest and are engaged in violations of federal law," singling out "antifa another other similar groups" as agents of "domestic terrorism." On Wednesday, prosecutors in Las Vegas said the JTTF had arrested "three alleged members of the 'Boogaloo' movement" — generally far-right anti-government extremists — on terrorism charges, alleging they planned to use Molotov cocktails and other explosives to trigger violence at George Floyd rallies.

Twitter said Monday it had suspended a fake antifa account, @ANTIFA_US, that on Sunday urged fellow "Comrades" to "move into the residential areas ... the white hoods ... and we take what's ours." The account was linked to the white nationalist group Identity Evropa, Twitter said. Donald Trump Jr. and conservative sites like Red State and Hot Air amplified the fake antifa tweet, and Fox News claimed Wednesday that armed antifa rioters were "coming to the suburbs," citing one anonymous "government intelligence source."

False rumors spread on Facebook and Nextdoor that buses filled with thousands of antifa agitators were coming to loot "white neighborhoods." Facebook said Tuesday it suspended fake accounts tied to the white nationalist Proud Boys and American Guard groups that had masqueraded as antifa organizers asking members to bring weapons to the protests.

Barr and President Trump have fanned the flames, blaming antifa "terrorists," without evidence, for the looting and vandalism at the fringes of peaceful protests. There may be more than just politics at play, Bryan Bender writes at Politico.

Trump has threatened to send active-duty soldiers to cities under the 1807 Insurrection Act. If governors oppose him sending in the Army to enforce state laws, Trump could deploy troops only to enforce federal laws, Claire Finkelstein, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania, tells Politico. "That might set up: 'We couldn't get these federally declared terrorists under control so we have to call out the military to quell the civil unrest on grounds of federal terrorism law,'" she said. "The more the attorney general can identify a federal interest in what is basically a state law matter — destruction of property, failure to abide by curfews — they potentially orchestrate a basis." Peter Weber

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