Heather Cox Richardson

May 15, 2024 (Wednesday)

All three of the nation’s major stock indexes hit record highs today after the latest data showed inflation cooling. Standard and Poor’s 500, more commonly known as the S&P 500, measures the stock performance of 500 of the largest companies listed on U.S. stock exchanges. Today it was up 61 points, or 1.2%. The Nasdaq Composite is weighted toward companies in the information technology sector. Today it was up 231 points, or 1.4%. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, often just called the Dow, measures 30 prominent companies listed on U.S. stock exchanges. Today it was up 350 points, or 0.9%. The Dow has risen now for eight straight days, ending the day at 39,908, approaching 40,000.

Driving the hike in the stock market, most likely, is the information released today by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Labor Department saying that inflation eased in April. Investors are guessing this makes it more likely that the Federal Reserve will cut interest rates this year.

People note—correctly—that the stock market does not reflect the larger economy. This makes a report released yesterday from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, or CBO, an important addition to the news from the stock market. It concludes that the goods and services an American household consumed in 2019 were cheaper in 2023 than they were four years before, because incomes grew faster than prices over that four-year period. That finding was true for all levels of the economy.

That is, “for all income groups…the portion of household income required to purchase the same bundle of goods and services declined.” Those in the bottom 20% found that the share of their income required to purchase the same bundle dropped by 2%. For those in the top 20%, the share of their income required to purchase as they did in 2019 dropped by 6.3%.

These statistics come on top of unemployment below 4% for a record 27 months, and more than 15 million jobs created since Biden took office, including 789,000 in manufacturing. According to Politifact, three quarters of those jobs represented a return to the conditions before the coronavirus pandemic, but the rest are new. Politifact noted that it is so rare for manufacturing jobs to bounce back at all, that the only economic recovery since World War II that beats the current one was in 1949, making the recovery under the Biden-Harris administration the strongest in 72 years.

And yet, a recent Philadelphia Inquirer/New York Times/Siena College poll found that 78% of Pennsylvania voters thought the economy was “fair” or “poor.” Fifty-four percent of them said they trust Trump to handle the economy better than Biden, compared with just 42% who prefer Biden.

The divorce between reality and people’s beliefs illuminates just how important media portrayals of events are.

In the landslide election of 1892, when voters elected Democrat Grover Cleveland to the White House for the third time (he won the popular vote in 1888 but lost in the electoral college) and put Democrats in charge of the House of Representatives and the Senate, Republicans insisted that the economy would collapse. The previous administration, that of Republican Benjamin Harrison, had openly and proudly worked for businessmen, and Republicans maintained that losing that administration would be a calamity. Democrats, the Republicans insisted, were really socialists and anarchists who wanted to destroy America.

As Republican newspapers predicted an impending collapse, fearful investors pulled out of the market. Although economic indicators were actually better in 1892 than they had been for years, as soon as Cleveland was elected, the nation seemed to be in terrible trouble. Money began to flow out of the stock market, and the outgoing Harrison administration refused to reassure investors. By February 1893 the stock market was paralyzed.

In mid-February, financier J. P. Morgan rushed to Washington to urge Harrison to do something, but the calm of the administration men remained undisturbed. Secretary of the Treasury Charles Foster commented publicly that the Republicans were responsible for the economy only until March 4, the day Cleveland would take office. His job was to “avert a catastrophe up to that date.”

He didn’t quite manage it. On Friday, February 17, the stock market began to collapse. By February 23 the slaughter was universal. Investors begged Harrison to relieve the crisis, but with only eight days left in his term, Harrison and his men maintained that nothing important was happening. The secretary of the Treasury spent his last few days in office sitting for his portrait. The New York Times noted that “[i]f the National Treasury Department had been retained especially to manufacture apprehension and create disturbance it could not have done more effective work.”

Secretary Foster had one more parting shot. When he handed the Treasury Department off to his Democratic successor, he told the newspapers that “the Treasury was down to bedrock.”

When Cleveland took office on March 4, 1893, a financial panic was in full swing. As he tried to negotiate that crisis, Republicans sagely told voters the crash was the result of the Democrats’ policies. When Democrats turned to an income tax so they could lower the tariffs that were hurting consumers, Republicans insisted they were socialists. When unemployed workers and struggling farmers marched on Washington to ask for jobs or launched railroad strikes, Republicans insisted that Democrats stood with the mob, while Republicans were the party of law and order.

Republicans promised voters that they would restore the health of the economy. The 1894 midterm elections reversed the landslide of 1892, giving Republicans 130 more seats in the House—a two-thirds majority—and a majority in the Senate. The economy had begun to recover before the election, and that uptick continued. The Democrats had plunged the country into a panic, the Chicago Tribune reported, but now “American manufacturers and merchants and business-men generally will draw a long breath of relief.”

How the media covers events matters.

Allison Fisher of Media Matters reported today that with the exception of MSNBC, national television news failed to cover the extraordinary story reported by Josh Dawsey and Maxine Joselow on May 9 in the Washington Post that Trump had told oil executives that if they gave $1 billion to his campaign, he would get rid of all the regulations the Biden administration has enacted to combat climate change.

In the 1920s, President Warren G. Harding’s secretary of the interior, Albert Fall, went to prison for a year for accepting a $385,000 bribe from oilman Edward L. Doheny in exchange for leases to drill for oil on naval reserve land in Elk Hills and Buena Vista, California, and Teapot Dome, Wyoming. Fall was the first former cabinet officer to go to prison, and the scandal was considered so outrageous that “Teapot Dome” has gone down in U.S. history as shorthand for a corrupt presidency.

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Billie Eilish Wtf GIF by Global Citizen

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For a LOT of people, “the ecomony” is all about prices they’re paying for things. And since groceries are way up from what they were when Tromp was prez, that must be Biden’s fault, “so of course I’m not gonna vote for Biden. Plus, Tromp gave me those big stimulus payments! All Biden has done that’s at all like that is forgive deadbeat college students’ loans, hmmph.”

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I get that the prices are higher. Prices always go up. Groceries are more expensive than they were in 1978, too. Prices don’t go down. Unless your economy is collapsing. Were these people born 5 years ago that they don’t know this?

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I blame all those flawed polls that make headlines.

From what we see, little has changed since 1892/1893. That same cycle of GOP economic messaging and deliberate manipulation of markets to reflect whatever narrative they want happens repeatedly at the state and local levels, too. It just underscores how bad most of the press has always been. It’s the GOP that also pushed descriptions of the “liberal” media and universities, when both have long been corporate as hell and tools they use to influence public opinion.

If any innovation threatens their control, they buy it. What they cannot buy, they exercise the power of government to regulate. It’s not a matter of the Democrats getting better at messaging, because GOP supporters control too many of the outlets for any message to be delivered.

They buried it, just like they underreport Biden administration accomplishments while putting every move 45 makes on the front page. We need more truly independent media outlets with more visibility to counter the enshittification of the mainstream media. It’s the only way to break this toxic cycle of misinformation and manipulation.

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“Henry Kissinger? Is Rupert Murdoch even in this thing?”

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Well, but see, he’ll do the tax cuts, and everyone knows that cutting taxes is the ONLY thing the gubmit should do with the economy (and deregulate!)… Look how well it’s work for the past 40 years!!! /s

I don’t think it’s just that, though. I think it’s also a belief that the economy is something that happens on it’s own, and that regulating it (or taking taxes from it) is damaging. Lots of Americans seem to buy into that ideology, frankly.

And what’s NOT being talked about in that story, is that there are fewer grocers in the economy today than there were in 1978, too. That’s certainly Bork’s influence with regards to his argument that monopolies can more effectively deliver (liver, liver, liver) to the public, and keep costs down. That’s wrong, but that’s another article of faith at this point…

well, for a while, it did, because of the New Deal and it’s reliance on Keynesianism to shape and regulate the economy. Not that it was perfect, by any means, but government intervention, investment, and regulation certainly helped, as did having unions weigh in on the economy as well. Reagan’s political economy was the first step in taking us back to the pre-New Deal instability… we’re getting the same wild patterns you saw back in the gilded age/progressive era… But you won’t hear that in the news, sadly. Because those are also deregulated and largely under corporate control/influence.

Episode 2 GIF by The Simpsons

Uh Huh Reaction GIF by Originals

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May 16, 2024 (Thursday)

Seventy years ago, on May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court decided Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. That landmark decision declared racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional.

Brown v. Board was a turning point in American history.

It established that the U.S. government would, once and for all, use the Fourteenth Amendment to protect American citizens from discriminatory legislation written by state legislatures.

Added to the Constitution in 1868, in the wake of the Civil War, as southern state legislatures were writing laws that made Black Americans subservient to white Americans, the Fourteenth Amendment asserted that the federal government could, and must, stop such discrimination. It established that “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” It gave Congress the power to enforce the amendment.

In the late nineteenth century, the Supreme Court nodded to racial segregation in the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision, getting around the Fourteenth Amendment by asserting that separate accommodations were fine, so long as they were “equal.” But in 1954 a unanimous court under Chief Justice Earl Warren, who had previously been the Republican governor of California, ruled that racial segregation established by state law in public schools denied to Black children the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.

“Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal,” it wrote.

Just two weeks before it decided Brown v. Board, the Supreme Court had decided Hernandez v. Texas, which established that not only Black Americans, but also Mexican Americans and all other nationality groups, were entitled to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment.

Over the following decades, the Supreme Court used the Fourteenth Amendment to strike down state laws against interracial marriage and gay marriage, and to establish equal rights for women, including the right to abortion. It also ruled the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, constitutional.

That new legal framework, embodied in Brown v. Board, both established the equal rights that were central to the modern era and sparked a backlash against them.

The federal requirement that states desegregate their public schools spurred southern state legislatures to pass laws and resolutions to block or postpone desegregation. In 1956, ninety-nine congressmen, led by South Carolina Democrat Strom Thurmond, wrote the “Declaration of Constitutional Principles,” quickly dubbed the Southern Manifesto, denouncing desegregation as unconstitutional.

Lawmakers also found ways to transfer tax dollars to private schools, which were not covered by the Supreme Court’s decision. Attendance at so-called segregation academies exploded. By 1958, more than 250,000 students had migrated to segregation academies, a number that jumped to a million by 1965.

Those opposed to racial equality made common cause with those businessmen determined to get rid of federal regulation of business. In 1955, William F. Buckley Jr., the son of an oilman, started National Review, a periodical that promised to stand against an active government that protected labor and regulated business. Buckley said he would tell the “violated businessman’s side of the story.”

In National Review, Buckley gave Virginia newspaper editor James Kilpatrick a platform to assure readers that desegregation challenged American values. Black Americans had no right to the equality declared unanimously by the Supreme Court, Kilpatrick wrote. Rather, the white community had an established right “to peace and tranquillity [sic]; the right to freedom from tumult and lawlessness.” Desegregation would lead to bloody violence, he promised, implying that Black Americans would rage and riot, although, in fact, it was the white community that was attacking Black Americans.

In 1964, Arizona senator Barry Goldwater brought these two themes to his presidential campaign. He stood firm on the idea that the federal government had no business either regulating business or protecting equality. In The Conscience of a Conservative, published under his name in 1960, Goldwater asserted that the federal government had no power over schools at all and certainly could not order them to desegregate.

Goldwater accepted the Republican presidential nomination in July 1964, less than a month after three civil rights workers registering Black Americans to vote had disappeared in Mississippi. Goldwater told his cheering supporters: “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice, and…moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” Strom Thurmond publicly announced that he would vote for Goldwater.

Goldwater lost in a landslide, but his loss fed the backlash against federal protection of equality, especially after Congress passed the 1965 Voting Rights Act to expand Black and Brown voting, moving many of those voters into the Democrats’ camp. In 1968, Republican Richard Nixon courted Thurmond and white southerners with a promise to slow down desegregation and a defense of state’s rights. The so-called Southern Strategy moved the former Dixiecrats to the Republican Party.

Religious traditionalists, particularly those among the Southern Baptist Convention, also opposed the federal government’s support for equality, although they got less press in the early years of that expansion. In their view, the Bible laid out hierarchical social arrangements, especially patriarchy. Government defense of women’s equality was a direct assault on their worldview.

When he ran for the presidency in 1980, former California governor Ronald Reagan courted those religious traditionalists, and in 1985 his people made them a key part of the Republican coalition. Americans for Tax Reform brought together big business, evangelicals, and social conservatives under the leadership of Grover Norquist, who had been an economist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “Traditional Republican business groups can provide the resources,” Norquist explained, “but these groups can provide the votes.”

In the following decades, Republican leaders used racist and traditionalist dislike of equal rights to turn out voters who would let them put their economic policies—cuts to taxes and deregulation of business—into place. But those opposed to equal rights found themselves out of step with a majority of voters and unable to get their policies enshrined into law as courts continued to uphold equal rights for racial and ethnic minorities, LGBTQ+ individuals, and women.

The backlash against the federal protection of equal rights based on the Fourteenth Amendment entered a new era with the election of Donald Trump. In contrast to his predecessors, Trump let the racist and sexist voter base of the party drive policy. White evangelicals, especially, found in Trump an answer to their frustration at being sidelined by the courts and a majority of American voters.

Despite his own lack of personal virtue, Trump was willing to smash through the laws and court decisions that had supported equality since the 1950s, offering to center the country on traditional religion and racial hierarchies in exchange for power. Under him, traditionalists saw the courts stacked with extremists who would prioritize their evangelical faith across society, including by ending the federal protection of abortion rights.

Their fight to return Trump to power is part of their fight to establish traditional religion, rather than the equality promised in the Fourteenth Amendment, as the nation’s fundamental law. As Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows wrote to Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, as they plotted to overturn the decision of voters in 2020 to reject Trump: “This is a fight of good versus evil. Evil always looks like the victor until the King of Kings triumphs. Do not grow weary in well doing. The fight continues. I have staked my career on it.”

Today, almost exactly seventy years to the day after Brown v. Board ushered in a new era of equality and democracy in the United States, MAGA Republican lawmakers Andy Biggs (R-AZ), Lauren Boebert (R-CO), Michael Cloud (R-TX), Eli Crane (R-AZ), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Bob Good (R-VA), Diana Harshbarger (R-TN), Anna Paulina Luna (R-FL), Ralph Norman (R-SC), and Andy Ogles (R-TN) traveled to Manhattan to stand with Trump at his criminal trial for falsifying business records to interfere in an election. The lawmakers made it clear that their determination to control the country has made them give up not only on the equality promised in the Declaration of Independence and defended by the Fourteenth Amendment, but also on democracy.

Echoing the promise of the right-wing Proud Boys to Trump before they stormed the U.S. Capitol to install Trump into office despite the will of the voters, Gaetz tweeted: “Standing back and standing by, Mr. President.”

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May 17, 2024 (Friday)

Yesterday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose above 40,000 but then dropped back below it; today it closed above 40,000 for the first time in history, ending the day at 40,003.59. This extraordinary performance means investors have confidence the Federal Reserve will get inflation under control without throwing the country into a recession. It is a triumphant vindication of the financial policies advanced by President Joe Biden and Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen.

In comparison to the breathless coverage of the stock market during Trump’s administration, this milestone is getting very little coverage. Under Trump, the stock market had the highest annualized gain of any Republican president since Calvin Coolidge in the 1920s, but at 11.8%, that annualized gain was lower than the annualized return under Democratic presidents Barack Obama (12.1%) and Bill Clinton (15.9%). Biden’s annualized return passed Trump’s in April 2024, as well.

The stock market’s performance is being ignored partly because Democrats tend to underplay the role of the stock market as an indication of economic health because they recognize it is not the only important way to think about the economy. But since he took office, Biden has also had to contend with the constant stream of outrageous news coming from the radical right.

Today is no exception. Indeed, today’s news is among the most shocking that we’ve had since Biden took office.

Yesterday evening, Jodi Kantor of the New York Times reported that in the days before Biden’s inauguration, an upside-down American flag flew in front of Supreme Court justice Samuel Alito’s home. A U.S. flag flown upside down is a universal symbol of distress. In the days after the January 6, 2021, insurrection, Trump loyalists flew the upside-down flag as a symbol of “the impending death of the nation and a call to arms,” according to American studies professor Matthew Guterl.

Leading scholar of the American right Kathleen Belew explained on social media that the upside-down flag was “not just signifying that the election was ‘stolen.’ The inverted flag means the country has been overthrown (to many, if not most, on the right). This is a profound act of symbolism and appalling at the home of a Supreme Court Justice.“

For Alito to fly it was an indication that he was part of the insurrection.

In September 2021, Trump loyalist lawyer Sidney Powell, who was part of the team trying to get the results of the 2020 presidential election overturned, told a right-wing talk show host that while rioters were attacking the Capitol, she and her team were trying to get an emergency injunction to prevent Congress from certifying Biden’s victory.

“We were filing a 12th Amendment constitutional challenge to the process that the Congress was about to use under the Electoral Act provisions that simply don’t jive [sic] with the 12th Amendment to the United States Constitution,” she said. "And Justice Alito was our circuit justice for that.”

The plan was thwarted, she said, when then-House speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) reconvened Congress and certified Biden’s win that night. "[S]he really had to speed up reconvening Congress to get the vote going before Justice Alito might have issued an injunction to stop it all, which is what should have happened,” Powell said.

Senate Judiciary Committee chair Dick Durbin (D-IL) said today that “Justice Alito should recuse himself immediately from cases related to the 2020 election and the January 6th insurrection, including the question of the former President’s immunity in U.S. v. Donald Trump, which the Supreme Court is currently considering. The Court is in an ethical crisis of its own making, and Justice Alito and the rest of the Court should be doing everything in their power to regain public trust.”

House minority leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) also called for Alito to recuse himself from cases involving the 2020 election and Trump.

The potential for Alito to destroy our country in order to restore Trump to the presidency has continued. Along with Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas, whose wife Ginni was in both sympathy and communication with the others trying to overturn the results of the election, as well as the three extremist justices Trump appointed, Alito has been part of a court that has delayed its decision about whether Trump can be tried on criminal charges for conspiring to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election for so long that Trump likely has won his gambit to avoid trial before the 2024 election.

When Trump claimed last October that he could not be prosecuted, U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, who is overseeing his trial, rejected the argument in December. Trump appealed, and Special Counsel Jack Smith asked the Supreme Court to decide the case immediately. The Supreme Court refused. Then, after a three-judge panel of a federal appeals court unanimously affirmed Chutkan’s ruling in a February 2024 decision that legal observers praised as “thorough and compelling,” Trump appealed to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court then accepted his appeal and scheduled oral arguments for late April, more than a month after the original trial date set by Judge Chutkan.

The result of all this delay, former federal prosecutor Ankush Khardori wrote in Politico last month, is “that a question whose answer was obvious back in December is unlikely to get that answer from the Supreme Court until its session ends in June.” “If the Court hadn’t intervened, we would already have a verdict in the January 6 case,” political strategist Michael Podhorzer wrote, “and we don’t know whether the Court would have decided to intervene without Thomas and Alito.”

When the story of Alito’s misuse of the flag broke, the justice explained himself to Fox News Sunday host Shannon Bream. He blamed his wife, Martha-Ann Alito, for flying the flag, saying she had hung it up in response to a “F*** Trump” sign that was “within 50 feet of where children await the school bus in Jan[uary] 21.” He said that the neighbors are “very political” and had had “words” with the Alitos that had upset Mrs. Alito.

While Justice Alito blamed his wife for the flag, he could hardly have missed seeing it above his house. Former Chicago Tribune editor Mark Jacob wrote: “When I was an editor at the Chicago Tribune, I would’ve been in trouble if I’d let my wife put a political bumper sticker on our car. But a Supreme Court justice’s home can fly a flag of insurrection and he’s still allowed to rule on whether the head insurrectionist has immunity.”

The deputy chief of staff for Representative Don Beyer (D-VA), who represents the town in which the Alitos live, noted that the local schools were all remote in January 2021 because of the pandemic. “No children were waiting for buses,” he noted. Legal analyst Elie Mystal added: “Sam Alito running to Fox News to explain how…he’s not politically motivated at all…is an under-appreciated part of this ongoing ethical disaster.”

It would be bad enough for a Supreme Court justice to announce a partisan preference. But, as David Kurtz wrote this morning at Talking Points Memo, Alito’s embrace of the insurrectionist flag “was a bold declaration of affinity for and alignment with the smoldering insurrection led by a president of the same party that had just been put down but which still loomed as a threat to civic order, the peaceful transfer of power (which at that point had still not yet happened), and the rule of law.”

The call is coming from inside the house.

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