Cup of Joe – July 25, 2023

“Half of US states were experiencing record-low unemployment — or very close to it — in June, underscoring the strength of the nation’s labor market,” Bloomberg reports. “The unemployment rates in 25 states are currently at or within 0.1 percentage point of a record low, Bureau of Labor Statistics data showed Friday. New Hampshire and South Dakota had the lowest jobless rates last month, at 1.8%.”

“Rising hopes of a soft landing for the US economy likely hinge on the Federal Reserve’s willingness to tolerate inflation markedly higher than it would prefer,” Bloomberg reports.

“After taking a break from tightening credit last month, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell and his colleagues look locked in to raising interest rates by a quarter percentage point this week. The aim: To slow the economy enough to reduce inflation to its 2% target over time, without crashing the US into a recession — a proverbial soft landing.”

“The world’s major central banks meet in the coming week to set monetary policy amid continued signs that the worst inflation crisis in decades is easing,” Bloomberg reports.

“While the Federal Reserve and European Central Bank are each expected to raise interest rates by 25 basis points, the greater focus will be on signaling from policy makers on whether more hikes are likely — or if they plan an extended pause.”

Republican Gov. Kay Ivey suggested in a statement on Friday evening that Alabama’s new congressional map, which her fellow Republicans in the legislature passed earlier in the day, was intended to defy a federal court order that the state create two districts where Black voters could elect their preferred candidates.

“The Legislature knows our state, our people and our districts better than the federal courts or activist groups,” Ivey said after signing the map into law, “and I am pleased that they answered the call, remained focused and produced new districts ahead of the court deadline.” The comments echoed a racist trope of segregationists, who would falsely blame unrest on “outside agitators” much as Ivey singled out “activist groups”; plaintiffs are Black Alabamians and include members of the state legislature.

Likewise, Ivey’s implication that Republican lawmakers were free to disregard an unambiguous directive from a federal court—one affirmed by the Supreme Court—harkened back to Southern politicians’ pledges of “massive resistance” to court orders to desegregate. That stance, however, is only likely to engender hostility from the three-judge panel overseeing the lawsuit against Alabama’s map.

Plaintiffs had already said that they intend to challenge the new plan, and Ivey’s remarks will add fuel to their arguments that this latest map once again does not comply with the Voting Rights Act. As a result, the court may step in to draw its own map to be used starting in next year’s elections, which could see a Black Democrat replace a white Republican in the state’s House delegation.

Last year, after concluding the state’s prior map likely violated the VRA, the court instructed lawmakers to establish a second district where Black voters would be able to elect their candidates of choice. Mindful of the state’s long history of deeply polarized voting patterns—white voters heavily support Republicans while African Americans overwhelmingly back Democrats—the court explained that any replacement map would “need to include two districts in which Black voters either comprise a voting-age majority or something quite close to it.”

While the judges did not specify an exact proportion, Black residents of voting age make up just 39.9% of the GOP’s newly created 2nd District, which you can see on the right-hand side of the illustration below. (A larger version may be found here and an interactive version here.) With whites still constituting a 52% majority, Donald Trump would have carried the district by a 54-45 margin in 2020, according to Dave’s Redistricting App.

It would therefore be very difficult for the candidate preferred by Black voters to win, since that candidate would almost certainly be a Black Democrat. (The state’s lone district where Black voters already make up a majority, the Birmingham-based 7th, has continuously elected Black Democrats since it took on its current form in 1992—also thanks to litigation under the VRA—and is currently represented by one, Terri Sewell.)

Democrats have sharply objected to the map and similar earlier versions, criticizing Republicans for a rushed process that gave them no opportunity for input and arguing that the plan fails to adhere to the VRA. One Democratic leader even speculated that Republicans deliberately sought to pass a non-compliant plan because they actually prefer to see the panel impose its own map.

“This map suggests to me that whoever drew it just didn’t want to, you know, choose winners or losers, and they wanted the court to draw a map,” said Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, according to the Alabama Reflector. Such an outcome would, at least in theory, absolve GOP lawmakers from having to decide which of their party’s own members of Congress should walk the plank.

The map’s Republican sponsor also openly suggested that partisanship may have played a role. “I did hear from Speaker [Kevin] McCarthy,” state Sen. Steve Livingston told the Reflector’s Bryan Lyman. “It was quite simple. He said, ‘I’m interested in keeping my majority.’ That was basically his conversation.”

Others have speculated that Republicans may simply be hoping to drag out the dispute, but the court has said it is “acutely aware that these proceedings are time-sensitive.” It previously set an accelerated timetable for resolving any complaints about the legislature’s new map, directing all briefs be filed by Aug. 7 and setting a hearing for Aug. 14, if necessary. The judges have also made preparations to tap outside experts to craft new lines, should they be needed.

Given the exigencies—the court noted that GOP Secretary of State Wes Allen said a new map should be in place by Oct. 1 in order to give officials sufficient time to prepare for the 2024 elections—it’s likely that the judges will act soon thereafter. It’s possible Republicans could appeal to the Supreme Court once more, but given the justices’ recent ruling upholding the lower court in almost every particular, they aren’t likely to meet with greater success there.

Republican state House Speaker Tim Moore has said he expects legislators to hold a special session beginning in late-September or early October to redraw the state’s congressional and legislative maps for next year’s elections. Earlier this year, the state Supreme Court’s new Republican majority overturned the court’s prior ruling that had deemed partisan gerrymandering to violate North Carolina’s constitution, clearing the way for Republicans to draw new gerrymanders.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Sunday that Ukraine has already retaken about 50 percent of the territory that Russia initially seized, stressing that Kyiv’s counteroffensive is still in its “relatively early days,” The Hill reports.

Two Ukraine-launched drones attacked Moscow early on Monday, but were intercepted and destroyed, Reuters reports.

“Israeli lawmakers pass the ‘reasonableness bill’ – a pivotal part of the Netanyahu government’s efforts to dramatically weaken the judiciary, after architects of the judicial coup threatened to topple the coalition if the bill is amended at the very last minute,” Haaretz reports.

New York Times: “The court is now barred from overruling the national government using the legal standard of ‘reasonableness,’ a concept that judges previously used to block ministerial appointments and contest planning decisions, among other government measures.”

“Elon Musk said he plans to make Twitter’s signature blue bird fly away,” the Wall Street Journal reports.  “In a series of tweets early Sunday, the billionaire owner of Twitter said the social media company would soon switch its longtime logo—the silhouette of a jovial blue bird—to an X.”

“President Joe Biden will establish a national monument honoring Emmett Till, the Black teenager from Chicago who was abducted, tortured and killed in 1955 after he was accused of whistling at a white woman in Mississippi, and his mother,” the AP reports.

“Biden will sign a proclamation on Tuesday to create the Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley National Monument across three sites in Illinois and Mississippi.”

“One of the defining skills of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s (R-CA) tenure is his ability to identify issues that divide moderate Democrats from their more progressive counterparts,” Axios reports.

“On issues ranging from crime, immigration, energy policy, Covid-19 mandates and, most recently, Israel, McCarthy has brought bills to the floor that win bipartisan support from Republicans and a sizable number of Democrats — while both marginalizing and raising the profile of polarizing progressives.”

“McCarthy rose to power in the GOP conference as a political operator, not a policy wonk. He’s more attuned to how Republicans can keep the House majority than crafting consequential legislation in a divided Congress. While many of these votes are symbolic, they’re designed to re-emerge in campaign advertisements against vulnerable Democrats in 2024.”

“Spain was thrust into political uncertainty on Sunday after national elections left no party with enough support to form a government, most likely resulting in weeks of horse trading or potentially a new vote later this year,” the New York Times reports.

“Returns showed most votes were divided between the center right and center left. But neither the governing Socialist Party of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez nor his conservative opponents won enough ballots to govern alone in the 350-seat Parliament.”

“While the conservatives came out ahead, the allies they might have partnered with to form a government in the hard-right Vox party saw their support crater, as Spaniards rejected extremist parties.”

New York Times: “In his first four months on the job, starting in November, Mr. Smith’s investigation incurred expenses of $9.2 million. That included $1.9 million to pay the U.S. Marshals Service to protect Mr. Smith, his family and other investigators who have faced threats after the former president and his allies singled them out on social media.”

“At this rate, the special counsel is on track to spend about $25 million a year.”

“Even the $25 million figure only begins to capture the full scale of the resources dedicated by federal, state and local officials to address Mr. Trump’s behavior before, during and after his presidency. While no comprehensive statistics are available, Justice Department officials have long said that the effort alone to prosecute the members of the pro-Trump mob who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, is the largest investigation in its history. That line of inquiry is only one of many criminal and civil efforts being brought to hold Mr. Trump and his allies to account.”

Politico: “If Republicans can pass either of those two bills before leaving Washington for their August recess, they will have scored the first wins of the season on spending. Such a moment would echo their springtime passage of a conservative-leaning debt limit bill that helped force President Joe Biden to the negotiating table.”

“But passage is far from certain for Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who will need the full support of deeply fractured members as he continues to snub bipartisan funding negotiations.”

“Looming just a few months away, on Sept. 30, is a potential government shutdown.”

“House Republicans increasingly find themselves on a collision course over efforts to expunge the impeachments of former President Trump, a battle that pits hard-line conservatives — who are pressing for a vote — against moderates already warning GOP leaders they’ll reject it,” The Hill reports.

“The promised opposition from centrist Republicans all but ensures the resolutions would fail if they hit the floor. And it puts Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) in a no-win situation.”

“Kevin is playing politics. It’s not even clear if he constitutionally can expunge those things. If he wants to put his members in difficult races on the spot, that’s a decision he has to make. But this is not responsible. This is not about the flag still being there. This is about being afraid… Trump is the puppeteer, and what does he do all the time but shine a light on the strings? These people look pathetic.”— Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), on CNN.

“Former President Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, the two GOP presidential frontrunners, have both promised a crackdown on colleges should they occupy the White House — a stark reflection of the right’s growing skepticism of higher education,” Axios reports.

“Between the lines: Some Republican complaints about colleges are related to broader concern about ‘wokeness’ and free speech. But others hint at deeper questions about the value of college, and how to ensure a degree comes with an appropriate economic return.”

The Upshot: “Elite colleges have long been filled with the children of the richest families: At Ivy League schools, one in six students has parents in the top 1 percent.”

“A large new study, released Monday, shows that it has not been because these children had more impressive grades on average or took harder classes. They tended to have higher SAT scores and finely honed résumés, and applied at a higher rate — but they were overrepresented even after accounting for those things.”

“The new data shows that among students with the same test scores, the colleges gave preference to the children of alumni and to recruited athletes, and gave children from private schools higher nonacademic ratings. The result is the clearest picture yet of how America’s elite colleges perpetuate the intergenerational transfer of wealth and opportunity.”

“The likelihood Donald Trump will be indicted over efforts to undo his loss in the 2020 election is deepening divisions within the GOP over the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot, forcing the issue back to the forefront in Congress and on the campaign trail,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

“The former president and many of his allies have played down the riot and boosted support for those who stormed the Capitol. A smaller wing of the party has strongly criticized Trump and the rioters. In between those Republican poles is a wavering middle, including many of Trump’s 2024 nomination rivals and Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.), who is facing calls for the House to vote on expunging Trump’s two impeachments.”

“Trump hasn’t just minimized his role in pushing false claims of election fraud or spurring the actions of the mob. Last month he appeared at a fundraiser for the rioters, and he has vowed to pardon many of them if he returns to office.”

Daily Beast: “As Fox News increasingly turns on Trump and the campaign eyes alternative media opportunities, one thing is clear: Trump is seeking out attention in new places. One arena where he has never triumphed is Rogan’s podcast, despite Rogan’s audience and Trump’s supporters sharing significant overlap.”

“Rogan averages 11 million listens for each of his episodes, and a Trump episode would almost certainly draw a much larger audience. Both men could benefit from the appearance. But Rogan has been clear that he has no interest in hosting the former president.”

Said Rogan: “I don’t want to help him. I’m not interested in helping him.”

“The American-led U.N. Command said Monday it has started a conversation with North Korea about a U.S. soldier who ran into the North last week across one of the world’s most heavily fortified borders,” the AP reports.

The Washington Post is on a pace to lose about $100 million in 2023, the New York Times reports.  “The Post has struggled to increase the number of its paying customers since the 2020 election, when its digital subscriptions peaked at three million. It now has around 2.5 million.”

“That’s pretty remarkable that you’re not concerned about it given the fact that they wanted to hang you on January 6.”— Dana Bash to Mike Pence on CNN, after he claimed he’s not worried about Donald Trump’s rhetoric.

“Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is planning to reshuffle his cabinet this week, likely replacing ministers deemed to have struggled in their posts or who are not planning on running again in the next election,” Reuters reports.

“The House Judiciary Committee is considering a vote this week to hold Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg in contempt,” Punchbowl News reports. “While this is a mostly symbolic step for the House GOP majority, it would be a huge escalation of Republicans’ war on Big Tech — if it happens.”

Delaware politics from a liberal, progressive and Democratic perspective. Keep Delaware Blue.

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