Happy Friday! And happy Kendrick Lamar Day to all who are celebrating!
Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories
Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö and Prime Minister Sanna Marin announced Thursday the country plans to apply for NATO membership “without delay,” arguing such a move would strengthen both Finland’s own security and the defense alliance as a whole. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the accession process will be “smooth and swift” once Finland formally applies, and Pentagon spokesman John Kirby praised the decision as “historic.” The Kremlin, meanwhile, threatened to retaliate with “military-technical” measures if Finland follows through on the move.
The Interior Department canceled plans this week to auction off oil and gas leases for two regions in the Gulf of Mexico and one off the coast of Alaska, citing legal challenges and “a lack of industry interest” in the drilling rights. Industry groups disputed that characterization, noting the decision likely means the Biden administration will not auction off any leases for offshore drilling until at least 2023.
In light of ongoing shortages, President Joe Biden announced Thursday he had instructed his administration to crack down on any “price gouging or unfair market practices” related to baby formula, cut some restrictions on baby formula imports, and allow states to loosen certain Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) requirements.
North Korea conducted another set of ballistic missile tests on Thursday, according to Japanese and South Korean military officials. The country—which is currently dealing with an unmitigated COVID-19 outbreak—launched three missiles off its east coast yesterday, each traveling about 225 miles before landing in the sea between Japan and the Korean Peninsula.
At least 11 people were confirmed dead on Thursday after a boat believed to be carrying migrants capsized near Puerto Rico. A U.S. Coast Guard spokesman said a Customs and Border Protection aircraft spotted the makeshift vessel Thursday morning, and that at least 31 survivors were rescued.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Wednesday the producer price index—a measure of what suppliers and wholesalers are charging their customers—increased 0.5 percent in April on a seasonally adjusted basis, down from March’s 1.6 percent month-over-month increase and February’s 1.1 percent. Annual PPI inflation came in at 11 percent, just shy of last month’s record-high 11.2 percent.
The Senate voted 80-19 on Thursday to confirm Jerome Powell for a second four-year term as chair of the Federal Reserve. The central bank’s board of governors is nearly full, as the chamber also voted 91-7 this week to confirm economist Philip Jefferson to the board.
The January 6 Select Committee announced Thursday it had issued subpoenas to five Republican House members—Reps. Jim Jordan, Mo Brooks, Scott Perry, Andy Biggs, and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy—citing their refusal to voluntarily testify before the committee about their “relevant knowledge of the events on or leading up to January 6th.” It’s unclear whether the lawmakers will comply with the subpoenas—there’s little precedent of an investigative committee using such tactics against fellow House members—or whether the Justice Department will pursue contempt charges if they don’t.
A New Leader in the Philippines …
In 1986, Philippine ruler Ferdinand Marcos Sr. fled to Hawaii with his wife and kids, 90 of his closest friends, and a few essentials: jeweled cufflinks, gold bricks, tiaras, and crates of cash. (His wife Imelda’s 3,000-pair shoe collection stayed behind.) A military-backed, pro-democracy uprising had ended a decades-long rule characterized by human rights abuses and corruption that earned the family as much as $10 billion.
Marcos Sr. died three years into his self-exile, but his family has spent years working its way back into power in the Philippines—his son Ferdinand “BongBong” Marcos Jr. served as a provincial governor and senator and in 2016 lost a bid for vice president. This week, Marcos Jr. was elected president of the Philippines by about a 15 million vote margin, as public polling predicted. He’ll take office June 30, and President Joe Biden called Wednesday to congratulate him on the win.
“To the world: Judge me not by my ancestors, but by my actions,” Marcos Jr. said in a statement delivered by his spokesman this week. He campaigned on national unity and—with the help of social media—portrayed his father’s rule as a golden age. Fact check group Tsek.ph found 92 percent of false posts it checked about Marcos Jr. were favorable toward him, while 96 percent of posts with misinformation about his primary competitor were negative toward her. The independent news outlet Rappler—founded by journalist Maria Ressa, whom Charlotte profiled last year—has suggested Marcos Jr. conducted a disinformation campaign on social media to launder his family’s reputation, beginning as early as 2014.
Critics worry he’ll shut down efforts to investigate his family’s crimes. Amnesty International estimates Marcos Sr.’s security forces imprisoned more than 70,000 people, torturing many of them. The Presidential Commission on Good Government has recovered less than $4 billion of the wealth the Marcos family and associates accrued. Imelda Marcos, 92, was found guilty of graft in 2018 but posted bail and has appealed the conviction. As president, Marcos Jr. could close the commission and scrap the case against his mother.
Outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte’s “war on drugs” killed more than 7,000 people, according to Human Rights Watch, and he promised after leaving office to “search for drug peddlers, shoot them, and kill them.” Filipinos elected Duterte’s daughter, Sara Duterte-Carpio, as Marcos Jr.’s vice president, and he says he’ll allow International Criminal Court officials investigating Duterte’s killings into the country—“but only as tourists.”
… and in Hong Kong
A hop, skip, and a two-hour plane ride from the Philippines, Hong Kong also chose a new leader this week.
Britain returned Hong Kong to China’s sovereignty in 1997 under the “one country, two systems” agreement, under which Hong Kong could keep its political freedoms and market economy for 50 years. But this agreement has come under pressure in recent years as Beijing exerts more control over the “special administrative region’s” governance. Many critics regard the city’s new leader as a further departure from Hong Kong’s promised freedoms.
Beijing loyalist and former Deputy Secretary for Security John Lee is best known for leading the brutal police crackdown on Hong Kong’s 2019 pro-democracy protests. He has also helped implement the city’s new National Security Law, which outlaws “secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces” and has led to the arrests of more than 150 people and squashed most pro-democracy political groups and independent news outlets. (The city’s foreign correspondents club recently suspended its human rights award for fear of violating the new laws.) The U.S. sanctioned Lee in 2020 for undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy and its citizens’ freedom of expression.
Lee’s election Sunday is the first since changes to Hong Kong’s election laws last year that Beijing implemented to ensure only “patriots” hold office. In his role as chief secretary last year, Lee led the vetting of members of the approximately 1,500-person committee that, this year, was responsible for electing him. The only candidate in Sunday’s election, he won 99 percent of the vote and will be sworn in on July 1 when his predecessor, Carrie Lam, steps down after a five-year term marked by crackdowns on pro-democracy protests and a tumultuous COVID-19 situation.
“[The election result] fully demonstrates the new vitality of the democratic practice in Hong Kong and the true democratic spirit,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Tuesday. After all, a full 1,416 of Hong Kong’s approximately 7.5 million residents voted for Lee.
Other countries pointed out the disconnect. In a joint statement on Sunday, the G7 nations expressed “grave concern” over “a continued assault on political pluralism and fundamental freedoms.” Days after the election, Hong Kong national security officers arrested four prominent pro-democracy activists—including 90-year-old Cardinal Joseph Zen—under the national security law. They’ve since been released on bail pending investigation.
“I look forward to all of us starting a new chapter together, building a Hong Kong that is caring, open and vibrant, and a Hong Kong that is full of opportunities and harmony,” Lee said in a victory speech. He’s pledged to improve Hong Kong’s governance and housing, as well as enact laws fighting treason, secession, sedition, and subversion.
“In Lee, Beijing gets its ‘designated enforcer,’” said Samuel Chu, founder of pro-democracy advocacy group The Campaign for Hong Kong. “Lee is a puppet elected through a sham process who will face no political opposition, no independent and free press, and no freedom of speech, assembly, or expression. Today, John Lee won and the people of Hong Kong lost.”
Capital Tensions High After Draft Supreme Court Opinion Leak
When Politico published a leaked draft opinion from Justice Samuel Alito showing the Supreme Court was poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, it wasn’t just Washington, D.C. that was turned upside down. A couple of quiet neighborhoods in Maryland and Virginia, were too.
Abortion-access activists have organized a handful of protests outside conservatives justices’ homes in recent days, hoping to use public pressure to influence the court’s final ruling. Harvest and Audrey observed some protests outside Alito’s home in Alexandria and Brett Kavanaugh’s in Chevy Chase, and they report what they saw in a piece for the site this morning.
The pro-abortion group Ruth Sent Us announced plans last week to send protesters to “homes of the six extremist justices, three in Virginia and three in Maryland.”
Before Monday’s march to Alito’s house, rally organizers laid down ground rules. “Breathe in, breathe out,” one organizer said through a megaphone. Number one: Don’t engage with the police. She then pointed to the organization’s police liaison, a lanky 20-something named Daniel wearing a reflective safety vest. And number two: Be wary of engaging with the press.
A speaker named Tom expressed indifference to any blowback that evening’s protest might incite from lawmakers. “These protests are making our leaders—both Republicans and Democrats—uncomfortable, so they should continue,” he said. “If they think they can take away our rights and not face the consequences of our rights, they’re wrong.”
Once the speeches concluded, a few protesters lit a row of candles they had placed in the street in front of Alito’s house. Attendees then retraced their steps and marched back to Walgreens. The sky had grown dark and chants filled the air: “Abort the court!” “F—k the court and the legislature, we are not your incubators!”
Few pro-abortion activists who have protested in front of justices’ homes this week have shared their full names with reporters, possibly to avoid running afoul of local picketing laws in Virginia, where Justices Barrett and Alito live, and disturbance of the peace laws in Maryland, where Kavanaugh lives.
The flurry of protests outside Supreme Court justices’ homes elicited condemnation from Republicans.
“They’re terrorizing those families—I don’t like it,” Republican Sen. Joni Ernst, vice chair of the Senate Republican conference, told The Dispatch in a brief interview on Wednesday. “I appreciate the First Amendment, but the fact that we’ve had some that are so slow to condemn it is really a sad state of affairs.”
Republican lawmakers like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell are also questioning the legality of this week’s protests, citing a 1950 federal statute outlawing demonstrations “in or near a building or residence occupied or used by such judge, juror, witness, or court officer,” when the intent is to “influence any judge.” Violators can face fines or up to a year in prison.
“It’s illegal to try to influence a judge in a federal matter,” GOP Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida said in an interview Wednesday. He believes the Justice Department should get involved. “I think something bad is going to happen. It’s creating a very dangerous precedent.”
Federal enforcement of the law falls under the purview of the Biden administration. On Wednesday, Republican Govs. Glenn Youngkin of Virginia and Larry Hogan of Maryland asked Attorney General Merrick Garland to enforce the code, calling the current efforts to protest justices’ homes in residential neighborhoods “markedly different” than protesting in front of the Supreme Court.
Democrats have largely condoned the protests so long as they remain peaceful. “I don’t know of any place in the country that isn’t subject to peaceful protests taking place,” Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey said in an interview Wednesday. “So from my perspective, I’ve had it at my office, I’ve had it at my home.”
“So I know that there’s an outrage right now, I guess, about protests that have been peaceful to date—and we certainly continue to encourage that—outside of judges’ homes,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said earlier this week. “And that’s the President’s position. But the silence is pretty deafening about all of the other intimidation that we’ve seen to a number of people.”
Worth Your Time
In Christianity Today, Jon Ward explains how becoming a political journalist strengthened his faith. “When kids ask me if it’s hard to be a Christian and a journalist, I know they have a certain picture in their heads. They visualize me going to work surrounded by debauched atheists who did lots of drugs and had lots of drunken sex and read atheist propaganda,” he writes. “But after working in journalism for 20 years, my Christian faith is deeper and stronger because of this job. … I have been discipled for two decades in how to discern what is true and false, and—probably more importantly—how to discern when there are no easy answers or solutions. I have been trained in pursuing truth without regard to whom it offends. I have also been given a sense of humility about what we can know for sure and how often we need to acknowledge that our point of view is limited and incomplete. This is sometimes called ‘epistemological modesty,’ and it is a quality that we badly need more of in our discourse.”
For more on how the above black hole picture was taken—and its significance—check out Marina Koren’s latest for The Atlantic. “The image comes from observations made by a network of radio telescopes spanning four continents, as part of a project called the Event Horizon Telescope. This is only the second time that astronomers in this effort have captured one of these objects in such detail,” she writes. “ The first image, of the supermassive black hole at the center of the nearby galaxy Messier 87, or M87 for short, was released in 2019 with great fanfare. … That image marked a tremendous achievement in the field of science. But this one, of Sagittarius A*, feels a little different, more special. Astronomers believe that supermassive black holes are at the center of most big galaxies, which means that the universe is full of these objects. But this one is the closest to us. This one is ours.”
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Toeing the Company Line
In this week’s edition of The Current, Klon details the roundabout way some American investors are unwittingly helping the Chinese Communist Party. “Sequoia [Capital] is an amazing story of American innovation and capitalism, with successful investments in Apple, Cisco, Google, LinkedIn, WhatsApp, PayPal, Reddit, Instagram, and Tumblr,” he writes, pointing to just one example of many. “But—and this is a very big ‘but’—some of its investments are also in companies that are helping the Chinese military to develop and to field technologies that will directly threaten U.S. personnel and interests.”
Which party will benefit more in November from the likely overturning of Roe v. Wade? Whichever one better reins in its extremes, Chris argues in Thursday’s Stirewaltisms (🔒). “Democrats are going bonkers, with the White House encouraging protesters to harass Supreme Court justices at home and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer forcing a doomed-to-fail vote on a bill that wouldn’t just codify the Roe decision but go much further,” he writes. “In Louisiana, the state GOP is wrestling with a bill that would charge mothers who obtain abortions with murder, contradicting a longtime effort on the pro-life side to move away from punishing women and focusing on providers.”
Let Us Know
Is there ever a reason to protest at someone’s home?