In 1930, the Chicago Crime Commission branded gangster Al Capone, aka “Scarface,” the city’s first “Public Enemy No. 1,” popularizing a phrase that’s inspired countless songs, movies and more.
Forty-four years later, President Gerald Ford applied the label in an unlikely way — to inflation. “Our public enemy No. 1 will, unless whipped, destroy our country, our homes, our liberties, our property, and finally our national pride, as surely as any well-armed wartime enemy,” Ford told a joint session of Congress.
On Tuesday, a day before the release of yet another month of grim inflation numbers, President Joe Biden stepped up to the plate and called inflation “my top domestic priority.” He didn’t go so far as to call it an enemy, but the intention was the same. He was ratcheting up his rhetoric after price increases hit 40-year highs and polls showed Americans increasingly worried about inflation.
But as Ford and other presidents discovered, there isn’t a lot they can do to bend the inflation curve in a better direction. The Federal Reserve Bank has the tools — and is beginning to use them — but the plan to steadily increase interest rates inevitably risks bringing on a recession. Markets have taken the hint, dropping precipitously in recent weeks, wiping out trillions in value.
Biden blamed the sharp uptick in inflation on Covid-19 and Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine, but it began months before the Russians invaded their neighbor on Feb. 24. Economist Jeffrey D. Sachs took a broader view of the reasons prices are zooming higher. One is an expansion of the money supply. Sachs noted that “The Federal Reserve issued more dollars between December 2019 and December 2022 ($3 trillion) than in the preceding 23 years.”
“The second factor is the massive disruption of Covid-19, and the failure of the government and public to get the virus under control,” Sachs wrote. “Yes, vaccines have reduced deaths markedly, but the rush to eliminate all other kinds of public health controls and to declare the pandemic over, despite the continued arrival of new variants, has meant an ongoing high rate of disease transmission and continuing disruption of supply chains.” Add in the Ukraine war, the impact of Western sanctions on Russia, and continuing US-China tension on the economy and you have a recipe for a giant economic headache.
“We are at risk of entering a period of worldwide stagflation — meaning high inflation combined with low or negative growth,” Sachs warned.
Biden “should have said this months ago,” wrote The Washington Post’s editorial board in response to the “top domestic priority” phrase. “The White House has been suffering from magical thinking on inflation, and, sadly, that continues.”
“For much of last year, the Biden administration wrongly told the American public that rising prices would be short-lived. When it became clear that inflation would not come down on its own, the White House began a blame game. One of its favorite talking points is to pin inflation on greedy corporations for hiking prices too much. That just doesn’t add up. Corporations did not become far more greedy in the past few months. What’s really going on is basic economics…”
Some members of Congress are feeling the pinch. As Nicole Hemmer wrote, “At a private meeting of the House Democratic Caucus last week, California Rep. Katie Porter … recounted a recent stop at the grocery store when she tossed a package of bacon into her cart before realizing its price had ballooned to nearly $10 a pound. It was a budget-busting price. She put it back.”
As if inflation was not enough to unsettle Americans, a serious shortage of baby formula put parents on edge.
“Stores have, for months, not been able to keep shelves stocked with enough supply, while manufacturers have reported their production is at full capacity,” wrote Syra Madad. “For so many families, this shortage is a crisis threatening the health of their babies.”
When the Supreme Court issues the final version of its ruling on a Mississippi law challenging Roe v. Wade, it won’t be long before someone uses the “compare documents” features in Microsoft Word or Google Docs to see exactly how it differs, if at all, from the 98-page draft opinion, written by Justice Samuel Alito, that was leaked to Politico.
If they make any changes, the five justices who supported the draft opinion will be in the unusual position of publicly modifying their initial views on a highly charged issue.
Will the ruling completely strike down the precedent that has governed abortion law in the US since 1973 — or will it leave part of Roe standing? Will it open the door to legal attacks on more recent Court decisions, including the one that legalized same-sex marriage? Will it continue to cite authorities who viewed women as less than fully equal human beings?
“After Alito’s draft opinion leaked to the press,” Matt Ford wrote in the New Republic, “more than a few observers noted that one of his most cited sources, Matthew Hale, might not be a reliable source on the law’s treatment of women. Hale … presided over multiple witchcraft trials where women were hanged; he also insisted that marital rape was not a crime. Most notoriously, he created the ‘Hale warning,’ which told centuries of English and American juries that rape allegations made by women should not be readily believed.”
On Wednesday, Senate Democrats failed to garner enough votes to pass a federal law to protect the right to abortions. Rep. Marie Newman, a Democrat from Illinois, called the vote “deeply disappointing.”
One of the reasons she cited came from her own life story. “I was just 19 years old and about midway through college when I found out I was pregnant,” Newman wrote. “There was absolutely no way I could afford to raise a child. I was already working two jobs, which hardly covered enough money to support myself.
“But it wasn’t just my finances that drove my decision to end my pregnancy. In my heart, I knew one thing to be true: As a teenager barely out of childhood myself, I simply was not ready to take on the monumental responsibility of becoming a parent.
“Looking back more than 30 years, I have no doubt that I made the right choice. I am grateful for that teenage version of myself who had the wisdom and the courage to make that difficult decision. And I’m even more grateful that I had the freedom to exercise that choice.”
Former Rep. Charlie Dent recalled being one of the last two House Republicans who supported abortion rights. “My voting record in many ways reflects the views of most Americans. Many people like me who self-identify as pro-choice feel abortion should be legal in most cases, but with responsible restrictions. Conversely, many self-identified pro-life Americans believe abortion should almost always be illegal, but with some exceptions, like rape, incest and life or health of the mother.”
“But parts of my voting record pleased pro-life advocates, too.
“For instance, I voted for the long-established Hyde Amendment wording contained in federal spending bills. This language prohibits federal funding for abortion except in cases of rape, incest and life or health of the mother.”
One of the icons of the anti-abortion movement, Mildred Fay Jefferson, helped persuade Ronald Reagan to change his position on abortion and successfully pushed the Republican Party to address the issue in its platform, according to Joshua Prager, whose book on Roe v. Wade, “The Family Roe,” was named a Pulitzer Prize finalist Monday.
“Reagan, who as governor of California had supported legal abortion, wrote to Jefferson after seeing her on a 1973 TV program: ‘You made it irrefutably clear that an abortion is the taking of human life,’” wrote Prager.
Jefferson was the first Black woman to graduate from Harvard Medical School, but her hope of becoming a practicing surgeon was dashed. “When, in 1951, Jefferson began her surgical residency at Boston City Hospital, her supervisor, a surgeon named A.J.A. Campbell, told her ‘she would run into problems … because she was a black female and this may be resented by some of the doctors and nurses,’” Prager wrote. Later, a chairman of surgery refused to refer patients to her.
Jefferson eventually married a White sailor, Shane Cunningham, at a time when interracial marriage was a felony in half of the 48 states.
“She had come to believe, as she now told Cunningham, and as he later told me,” Prager noted, “that to live was to be subject to discrimination, hypocrisy, ‘extreme unfairness.’ She thus resolved, she told Cunningham, to never conceive a child. Cunningham married her with a heavy heart. Jefferson, he told me, ‘would have been a wonderful mother’”
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President Biden last week ordered US flags to be flown at half staff in memory of the 1 million Americans who have died of Covid.
In the early days of the pandemic, infectious disease expert Michael Osterholm told CNN’s Peter Bergen that Covid would claim at least 800,000 lives in the US. Last week, Bergen spoke with Osterholm again. “We have to understand that we’re now living with this virus, and no one has the perfect plan to get us out of it,” Osterholm said.
“For the past two years, if I had a nickel for every time someone said to me, ‘Well, if we just did it like China or we did it like Taiwan, we would control this.’
“And look what’s happened to each of those countries. Over time, no one in the world had the perfect solution… We need to stay humble and say this virus is throwing 210-mile-an-hour curveballs at us, day after day. Who would have thought that Omicron, which wreaked havoc in December, January and early February, would rear its ugly head and come back at us with all these subvariants?”
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When first lady Jill Biden met with refugee mothers in Ukraine, Romania and Slovakia, she noticed something missing — “laughter, a common language among women.”
Writing for CNN Opinion, Biden observed, “You cannot go into a war zone and come away unchanged. You don’t have to see the sorrow with your eyes because you can feel it with your heart.”
“The thing about grief is that it veils one’s face. It’s like a haze has descended. The tears of the mothers stay permanently on the edges of their eyes, as if they can barely contain their sadness. They grasp their children’s hands or touch their hair as if they can’t bear to lose the physical connection. They wear brave faces, but their emotion is portrayed in the slope of their shoulders, the nervousness in their bodies.”
Biden concluded, “Mr. Putin, please end this senseless and brutal war.”
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Former President Donald Trump’s influence was credited with helping secure the primary victory of one GOP congressman in West Virginia, but it failed to produce a win for his preferred candidate for Nebraska governor. And some of the biggest tests of Trump’s sway lie ahead: in Tuesday’s Pennsylvania primary and the Georgia primary on May 24.
But however Trump himself fares, Norman Eisen and Colby Galliher contend that the former president has bequeathed to America a toxic style of politics that could endure.
One of the seven features of “Trumpery” that they identified was “the outright ‘big lie’ assault on democracy. (Herschel) Walker, (Dr. Mehmet) Oz and dozens of other federal, state and local officials have enthusiastically embraced it; in many ways it appears to be the gateway to Trump’s endorsement.” Some candidates also exhibit “another hallmark of Trumpery: purveying dishonesty and disinformation,” according to Eisen and Galliher.
“The American people resoundingly rejected Trumpery at the ballot box in 2020… Trumpery is on the ballot again in 2022. Exposing that is an important part of clarifying the choice our nation faces.”
In Pennsylvania, Trump’s plan to make Dr. Oz the GOP senate nominee “is running into a problem,” wrote Julian Zelizer. “Kathy Barnette, a hard-right candidate who is one of seven contenders in the state’s Republican Senate primary, is polling right alongside Oz and former hedge fund manager Dave McCormick, despite a much smaller war chest.”
“Barnette, who has delved into the Trumpian political world view with relish, has made numerous anti-gay and anti-Muslim comments.” She is following a pattern — the Republican Party has given extremists a platform since the 1970s, Zelizer noted. “With each generation, a new brand of right-wing firebrand has emerged to define the moment, only to find themselves cast aside by up-and-comers who embrace an even more extreme form of smash-mouth partisanship and right-wing ideological worldview.”
Democrats have their own headaches. As Mary Katharine Ham wrote, a recent poll found that 60% of parents with children under 18 favor the GOP ahead of this fall’s midterm election.
“Much of blue America, which kept schools remote or hybrid for the 2020-2021 school year, conducted an unprecedented ‘social experiment’ on children, resorting to lengthy school closures for millions of children — a tactic not used during other national emergencies or previous pandemics.”
Ham observed, “The high academic and social costs of remote learning and closed schools are now indisputable, but there was also a political cost. Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin of Virginia capitalized on it by appealing to frustrated parents in 2021.”
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Kim Kardashian caused a stir at the May 2 Met Gala by donning the flesh-toned dress Marilyn Monroe wore for her famous “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” appearance at Madison Square Garden in 1962.
As Racquel Gates wrote, “The details of Kardashian’s efforts to transform her body into one that fit the dress — the 16-pound weight loss in under a month and the 14-hour bleaching process to approximate Monroe’s white blonde hair — suggests Kardashian’s desire to embody, rather than pay homage to, Monroe…”
While “Kardashian has made a career blurring the line of what’s real, Monroe excelled at masking it. Monroe’s public image was so flawlessly executed, performed and presented that decades later, we are still eagerly searching for the woman underneath it all.”
“Yet what Kardashian does offer — and what might actually be in service of Monroe’s legacy — is to make visible the labor of image creation, something that would have destroyed the mysterious allure of the Monroe persona in the star’s own time.”
Gates noted that “preservationists registered their horror at the handling and exposure of the historic garment at the gala.”
The backstory: “Ripley’s Believe it or Not!, which purchased the gown at a 2016 auction for nearly $5 million, loaned it to Kardashian for the occasion, though she only wore the actual dress for a few minutes on the carpet before changing into a replica.”