The second and final presidential debate was supposed to have a section devoted to national security, and perhaps that's what a few unilluminating questions about North Korea and foreign election meddling were intended to be. Or perhaps, as I first assumed given the topical order, that section was cut for time. Either way, this bare minimum of attention to foreign policy is inexcusable for an examination of the two candidates running to be commander-in-chief in a country addicted to perpetual war.
Our Constitution assigns power to initiate military conflict to Congress, and Congress, as a matter of habit, does its best to abdicate that responsibility in favor of unaccountable executive war-making. The Constitution also gives the president authority to prosecute wars already underway. As it happens, we have several.
The war in Iraq was also not addressed. That failed regime change project has cost us about $2 trillion, created the power vacuum that led to the rise of the Islamic State, and has a civilian death toll estimated in the hundreds of thousands. Too boring for a debate, perhaps?
Yemen, where the United States is enabling the world's worst humanitarian crisis, was ignored. So too recent (and in some cases ongoing) U.S. military interventions in Syria, Libya, Somalia, and more than two dozen locations in North and Sub-Saharan Africa.
These are literally matters of war and peace, life and death. They are also matters in which one of these men soon will have considerable discretion to leave or stay the course of two decades of inhumane and counterproductive foreign policy. That discretion requires interrogation. It didn't get it tonight. Bonnie Kristian
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."
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
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
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."
"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
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.
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.
The latest U.S. jobs report has come in way under expectations.
The Labor Department said Friday the U.S. economy added 266,000 jobs in April, whereas economists had been expecting around 1 million jobs would be added, CNBC reports. The Labor Department had previously said that 916,000 jobs were added in March, though this number was revised down to 770,000 on Friday. The unemployment rate also increased slightly from six percent to 6.1 percent.
The report was so significantly below expectations that Politico reporter Megan Cassella wrote that when she saw the 266,000 number, "I thought this was a glitch on my computer." In fact, it was "the biggest miss, relative to expectations, in the history of the payrolls report," Axios reports.
Economist Justin Wolfers wrote that 266,000 jobs being added "would be fabulous in normal times, but is utterly disappointing" compared to the forecasts, adding, "This is a big miss that changes how we think about the recovery."
The miss comes as some businesses, The Washington Post writes, have told lawmakers they've been "having a hard time recruiting workers, particularly for low-wage, hourly jobs." Glassdoor senior economist Daniel Zhao said the result was surprising "given the increasing distribution of vaccines and continuing economic reopening," adding it will likely be "interpreted as being caused by labor shortages, raising the temperature on the political debate surrounding extended unemployment benefits." Brendan Morrow
Florida on Thursday joined Georgia in enacting a sweeping Republican election law that constricts voting rights in the state, and Texas, which already had some of the most stringent voting laws in the country, is on the cusp of joining them. Democrats were not able to stop the new voting laws in the country's biggest red states, but House Democrats passed their own countervailing national voting rights legislation, the "For the People Act" or HR1, in March, and Senate Democrats are working on their own version, S1.
When Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Wednesday that "100 percent of my focus is on stopping this new administration," these voting reform bills might have been what he had in mind. McConnell has publicly and privately conveyed his fervent opposition to the legislation. But "what's different, conservatives say, is his personal level of commitment behind-the-scenes to educate activists on just how damaging the legislation would be to the future electoral prospects of Republicans," McClatchy D.C. reports.
"So many times the conservative movement only works with McConnell when it's a Supreme Court nomination, or a Supreme Court fight," Jessica Anderson, executive director of Heritage Action, tells McClatchy. "And so we've been trying to change that with HR 1 and S1 and really make this fight similar and more akin to a Supreme Court fight, where it's like an all-hands-on-deck effort."
As the Senate prepares to mark up the legislation in the Rules & Administration Committee next week, "some progressives have warned that McConnell is taking the legislation more seriously than even Democrats are," McClatchy reports. "At the moment, McConnell looks to hold the advantage," with moderate Democrats "fretting about the sheer size of the bill" and Republicans confident Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) will side with them in the 50-50 Senate. Peter Weber