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The Morning Dispatch: Another Dreary Jobs Report
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The Morning Dispatch: Another Dreary Jobs Report

Plus: The ongoing surreptitious effort to get at-risk Afghans out from under Taliban control.

Happy Tuesday! We might as well hand out the Dispatch fantasy football trophy already; the best team clearly belongs to D̶e̶c̶l̶a̶n̶ S̶t̶e̶v̶e̶ Andrew. [Editor’s note: You can tell who hits send on TMD in the morning.] 

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • The Taliban completed its Afghanistan conquest over the weekend, overcoming the country’s National Resistance Front that had set up a base in the mountainous Panjshir province. Ahmad Massoud—one of the leaders of the resistance movement—vowed he would continue the fight against the Taliban, though his efforts at this point are likely doomed to failure. Taliban militants also cracked down on a protest in Kabul on Saturday, reportedly using tear gas, rifle butts, and metal clubs to beat women pushing for equal rights under the new regime.

  • The Telegraph reported on Sunday that Ethiopia’s already bloody civil war has grown even more horrific: Ethnic Amhara forces have been going “door-to-door” rounding up thousands of ethnic Tigrayan men, women, and children and throwing them “into makeshift ‘concentration camps,’ cutting off limbs and dumping mutilated bodies into mass graves as part of an orchestrated ethnic purge.”

  • Hurricane Ida’s death toll grew to more than 60 over the weekend, including at least 13 people in Louisiana, 27 people in New Jersey, and 17 in New York. About 430,000 customers in Louisiana remained without power as of Monday night, but New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said over the weekend that city residents who had evacuated ahead of the storm should begin returning home. President Joe Biden visited Louisiana on Friday, and approved disaster declarations in New Jersey and New York over the weekend.

  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday that U.S. employers added 235,000 jobs in August, significantly below the Dow Jones expectation of 720,000.

  • Apple announced on Friday it will delay the implementation of its new software aimed at limiting the spread of Child Sexual Abuse Material after receiving “feedback from customers, advocacy groups, researchers, and others.” Critics had argued the change—in which artificial intelligence would, in some instances, scan photos directly on a user’s phone—posed a threat to privacy rights.

  • A Texas judge granted a temporary restraining order on Friday preventing Texas Right to Life—and only Texas Right to Life—from suing Planned Parenthood under the provisions of Senate Bill 8, which went into effect last week. Attorney General Merrick Garland said Monday the Justice Department is “urgently explor[ing] all options to challenge” the law, and will use the FACE Act—which prohibits the use or threat of force that interferes with a person seeking reproductive health services—to “protect those seeking to obtain or provide” abortions.

  • President Biden signed an executive order on Friday directing the Department of Justice to declassify certain documents related to the FBI’s investigation into the September 11 attacks.

  • A former Marine broke into two homes in Lakeland, Florida on Sunday, shooting and killing four people—including a 3-month-old infant—and a dog, according to a criminal affidavit.

  • General Motors said last week it is temporarily shutting down eight North American manufacturing plants for one to two weeks due to “the continued parts shortages caused by semiconductor supply constraints.”

  • Michael K. Williams, the actor who played Omar Little in The Wire, was found dead in his apartment on Monday at the age of 54.

Job Creation Tails Off in August

The lackluster jobs report: A bad sign for the future or a dog-days-of-summer anomaly? (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.)

After several consecutive months of U.S. businesses steadily chipping away at the pandemic-created employment crater—962,000 jobs added in June, 1,053,000 in July—economists were expecting a slightly diminished version of the same in August. The Dow Jones consensus projection for the month settled in at 720,000.

But when the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released its monthly Employment Situation Summary on Friday morning, Wall Street and Washington were met with an enormous miss. Total nonfarm payrolls rose by just 235,000 last month, leading the unemployment rate to tick down 0.2 percentage points to 5.2 percent. Average hourly wages rose 0.6 percent to $30.73, the labor force participation rate stayed level at 61.7 percent, and total employment remains 5.3 million jobs below its February 2020, pre-pandemic level.

According to the BLS, professional and business services (+74,000 jobs), transportation and warehousing (+53,000), private education (+40,000), and manufacturing (+37,000) accounted for the bulk of the gains. Retail employment fell by 29,000, and the number of jobs in the leisure and hospitality sector held steady after averaging gains of 350,000 per month dating back to February 2021.

“There’s no question the Delta variant is why today’s jobs report isn’t stronger,” President Biden said in remarks on Friday that quickly turned into promotion of his economic agenda. “[But] today’s report shows that the steps we’ve taken, passing the Rescue Plan and vaccinating 175 million people, make our economy capable of growing and adding jobs even in the face of this continuing Delta surge.”

The congressional response, meanwhile, fell predictably along partisan lines. Republicans used the jobs report to make the case against an additional $3.5 trillion spending package financed in part by higher taxes; Democrats took the same data to argue exactly the opposite.

With the benefit of hindsight, there were some warning signs August’s number could disappoint. The Census Bureau reported a few weeks ago that retail and food service sales fell 1.1 percent in July, and, although initial unemployment claims fell to a pandemic low last Thursday, the pace of the decline had slowed in recent weeks.

“If you’re going to have a downside anomaly, August is a pretty good candidate,” John Fagan, co-founder of Markets Policy Partners and former director of the Treasury Department’s Markets Room, told The Dispatch. The Delta variant upended the pandemic’s downward trajectory, many kids were not yet back in school, and—although many Republican governors ended it in their own states a few months ago—the federal government’s $300-per-week unemployment insurance boost didn’t officially expire for about half the country until yesterday.

“And just psychology-wise,” Fagan added, “August isn’t the month where people really are like, ‘Time to go back to work!’ It’s the dog days of summer.”

Perhaps counterintuitively, the stock market barely moved on the miss: The S&P 500 dropped less than 0.1 percent on Friday, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.2 percent. If you read last Monday’s TMD, you may have already guessed why.

The August report makes Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell’s job “a lot easier,” Fagan said, noting that another booming jobs number would have assuredly led to more calls for tapering the central bank’s quantitative easing. “This kind of bails them out, and it takes the wind out of the sails of the hawks, who’ve been obviously very vociferous, and increasingly making the case that now is the time to [taper].”

But that doesn’t mean the Fed will hold off on reversing some of its easy-money policies indefinitely. “In the coming months, if it’s not an anomaly and we see a situation in which wages are rising and businesses are still having a really hard time filling positions, that puts the Fed in a pretty challenging spot in terms of policy,” Fagan said, projecting the announcement of the taper will “probably” come in December. “Potentially that puts the two [Fed mandates]—price stability and full employment—more in tension than they would be.”

American Civilians and Veterans Attempt a ‘Digital Dunkirk’ in Afghanistan

In the weeks to come, we will continue to learn more about the United States’ chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan. On the site today, Charlotte has a piece on the organizations that are working behind the scenes to evacuate as many allies from Kabul as possible.

“Thousands of volunteers, former government officials, journalists, and veterans have stepped up to patch holes in the U.S. evacuation plan,” she writes. “The collective efforts, dubbed ‘Digital Dunkirk’ in reference to the 1940 evacuation of Allied forces during World War II, include both established nonprofit organizations and private citizens who saw the writing on the wall as the Taliban closed in on Kabul.”

What do these efforts look like in practice?

In the weeks leading up to the fall of Kabul, teams working from afar and on the ground dispatched buses to bring Americans and Afghans to the airport, funded and organized charter flights, and secured seats on commercial airliners en route to Istanbul, Dubai, and elsewhere. When U.S. troops assumed control of the evacuation efforts, volunteers shifted gears to focus on getting as many individuals and families through the gates of Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA) as possible before the military withdrawal. 

Most of the Americans involved in the mission are driven by their personal connections to the Afghans alongside whom they worked for two decades, against Islamist fighters whose brutality they understand more intimately than other non-Afghans. 

The volunteers’ proximity to the crisis also positioned them to navigate evacuees through various obstacles en route to the airport. To get Afghans through Taliban checkpoints, groups called in favors from journalists with working relationships with the group. To get them through the gates of HKIA, contacts inside the U.S. military proved useful. To anticipate various security threats and get a clearer picture of the safest times and courses to travel, veterans and ex-officials pulled connections in what’s left of Afghanistan’s intelligence network. 

Many longtime Washingtonians have access to all three, allowing them to work as intermediaries to facilitate communication and aid in transit across Kabul. But evacuation efforts were halted after after an Islamic State suicide bombing in crowds surrounding the airport killed 13 U.S. servicemembers and at least 170 Afghan civilians fleeing the Taliban. U.S. forces reportedly welded shut the gates enclosing HKIA following the blasts, leaving those outside stranded.

Will these efforts press on even after the Biden administration’s August 31 deadline?

Yes. In the military evacuation’s aftermath, the non-governmental groups have continued their operation by communicating with Afghans in hiding, bringing media attention to their plight, and brainstorming alternate routes out of the country. One nonprofit group, No One Left Behind, has been alerting the U.S. government to fatal flaws in its Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) application system since its conception in 2009.

“We’ve been advocating for process changes to the SIV program, which is currently a 14-step program, through three administrations, seven congresses, seven secretaries of defense, and five secretaries of state. This is not a new issue,” James Miervaldis, a U.S. Army veteran and current chairman of No One Left Behind, told The Dispatch. “It has always been an afterthought in congressional appropriations, and these allies were, again, an afterthought in the evacuation plan.”

Worth Your Time

  • Catholic archbishop of San Francisco Salvatore Cordileone argues in the Washington Post that it’s the Church’s duty to challenge Catholic politicians who are not pro-life, citing the precedent of former New Orleans Archbishop Joseph Rummel, who in 1962 excommunicated a handful of high-profile segregationists and racists. “Was that wrong? Was that weaponizing the Eucharist?” he asks. “No. Rummel recognized that prominent, high-profile public advocacy for racism was scandalous: It violated core Catholic teachings and basic principles of justice, and also led others to sin.” Politico’s Ruby Cramer expounded on this theme in an excellent magazine piece on the tensions inherent in Joe Biden’s public faith. “Biden was sworn into the Senate the same year that Roe v. Wade decision made abortion a constitutional right, deepening fissures inside his church over contraception, women’s rights, and premarital sex,” she writes of the president, who now opposes the Hyde Amendment. “The abortion case, he told the journalist Kitty Kelley in a 1974 profile, went ‘too far.’ At the start of the Reagan years, two years into his second term, he supported an amendment to allow states to overturn Roe.”

  • Approaching the twentieth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, Kimberly Rex penned a reflection on what it was like to lose someone that day—in her case, her father, Vincent. “Losing someone on 9/11 was like watching them disappear. They were there, and then they weren’t,” she writes. “On Sept. 10, 2001, I ate dinner beside my father in our Staten Island home. I was 19 and sat at his left, as usual. I watched him shake spoonfuls of grated cheese onto his soup. He was right next to me: flesh and bones, salt-and-pepper hair and a sharp nose. The next day, the plane hit. Fire raged and smoke billowed. Then the floor where he stood, the walls, the ceilings and the windows crumbled away into dust. And the people inside disappeared.”

  • For Bloomberg, Ramesh Ponnuru argues that political polarization is getting in the way of reining in qualified immunity for police officers, an idea which had—prior to last year—been growing in popularity in both parties. “Qualified immunity is not needed to give police officers leeway to make split-second, life-or-death decisions,” he writes. “The Fourth Amendment bars ‘unreasonable’ searches and seizures, and the courts interpret that word to give police officers latitude to exercise judgment. It’s only when officers are found to have acted unreasonably that qualified immunity makes a difference. It’s only then that it can shield them from civil liability for violating someone’s rights.”

Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • Sarah and David couldn’t fit all their analysis of Texas’ abortion law into one episode of Advisory Opinions, so they had a follow-up conversation—focusing more on the politics of the situation than the legal issues—on Friday’s Dispatch Podcast. Where does the pro-life movement stand today? What will 2022 bring?

  • Jonah begins Friday’s G-File by riffing on Karl Marx’s labor theory of value—noting that the “amount of time we work has been steadily declining” for centuries—before turning his attention to … attention. “When people are distracted by a zillion different things—many of them designed to prey on our lizard brains—the most reliable way to get them to look your way is to say crazy stuff,” he writes. “You want to make the people in your customer base angry at the people not in your customer base—and feel good about their anger.”

  • Over the past 30 years, David writes in Sunday’s French Press, there has been one “profoundly negative” development for the pro-life movement and another “extraordinarily positive” one. “The legal and political debate over abortion has become purely partisan at exactly the time when our nation’s profound polarization means that party affiliation is becoming central to millions of Americans’ personal identities,” he writes. But at the same time, “the abortion rate is now lower than it was when Roe was decided (and yes, the data takes chemical abortions into account). That means it’s now lower than it was when abortion was illegal or sharply limited in most states in the union. The abortion rate decreased during pro-life presidencies and pro-choice presidencies.”

Let Us Know

What’s your sense of the state of the economy today? Heading in the right direction? Stagnating? Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the next year? 

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Charlotte Lawson (@charlotteUVA), Ryan Brown (@RyanP_Brown), Harvest Prude (@HarvestPrude), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).