👋 Away Message: Hi there! Matt is currently out on parental leave. He'll return August 30th-ish. More details can be found here. In the meantime, Joe (the voice of the newscast/podcast) will be publishing an abridged version of WTF Just Happened Today? every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. You can expect 5-7 news items covering a slightly wider range of political news in about two sentences each. We'll return to our regularly scheduled WTFJHT programming when Matt returns in late August.
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1/ 2.1 million more Americans filed for first-time unemployment benefits last week. Nearly 41 million people have filed for unemployment benefits since the coronavirus pandemic started in mid-March — the equivalent of one out of every four American workers. The pandemic has resulted in a national unemployment rate exceeding 14% – the highest rate since the Great Depression. This is the eighth week in a row, however, that new jobless claims have continued to fall from their peak of around 6.9 million. (New York Times / CNBC / Washington Post)
2/ The Trump administration will not release updated economic projections this summer, which are expected to show the country in a severe economic downturn as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. White House officials are supposed to release a federal budget proposal every February, and they usually follow that up with a “mid-session review” in either July or August that includes updated projections on economic trends such as unemployment, inflation, and economic growth. No other administration has failed to provide economic forecasts in its mid-session review since at least the 1970s. “It gets them off the hook for having to say what the economic outlook looks like,” said a former director of the Congressional Budget Office. (Washington Post)
The U.S. economy shrank at an annual rate of 5% in the first quarter – the biggest quarterly decline in more than a decade. (Politico)
Around 110 publicly traded companies each received $4 million or more in emergency aid from the Paycheck Protection Program. Of those subject to taxes, 12 of the companies used offshore accounts to cut their tax bills. These 12 companies also received more than $104 million in loans from U.S. taxpayers, and seven of them paid no U.S. tax at all for the past year. (Reuters)
3/ Trump signed an executive order seeking to limit the legal protections that shield social media companies from liability for the content users post on their platforms. The order seeks to make it easier for federal regulators to argue that companies like Facebook, Google, YouTube, and Twitter are suppressing free speech when they suspend users or delete posts, among other examples. “Big Tech is doing everything in their very considerable power to CENSOR in advance of the 2020 Election,” Trump tweeted late Wednesday after Twitter applied a fact-checking notice to his tweets about voter fraud. Trump, an attempt to portray the order as an attempt to stamp out political bias on social media platforms, announced on Twitter that “This will be a Big Day for social media and FAIRNESS!” The order directs the Commerce Department to petition the Federal Communications Commission to set up a rule-making proceeding to clarify the scope of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. The executive order is expected to draw immediate court challenges. (Washington Post / Axios / Wall Street Journal / New York Times / Bloomberg / CNN / The Verge / CNBC / ABC News / Politico /Yahoo News)
Twitter continued fact-checking posts even as Trump threatened to limit protections for social media companies. Twitter added fact-checking labels to messages from a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, who had claimed that the coronavirus outbreak may have begun in the United States and been brought to China by the U.S. military. Twitter also added notices on hundreds of tweets alerting viewers that an image was “manipulated media.” (New York Times)
[ANALYSIS] Trump’s “big action” against social media companies rests on limited legal powers. His administration cannot rewrite the law that protects tech companies from many lawsuits. But a noisy fight with Silicon Valley could rally his base. (Politico)
[EARLIER] A draft of Trump’s executive order targeting social media companies was leaked to the press. The draft specifically targets Facebook, Twitter, and Google, as well as a section of U.S. law that says tech platforms can’t be held legally responsible for what their users post and gives them broad powers to police content on their sites. The draft order asks the FCC to reexamine whether altering or removing user content causes the platforms to forgo those protections afforded to them under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Trump is expected to formally sign the order today after Twitter recently labeled two of his tweets about mail-in voting as “potentially misleading.” (New York Times / CNN / Business Insider / The Independent / Washington Post / Reuters)
4/ Trump singled out a Twitter employee in a tweet complaining that Twitter’s decision to fact check his tweets about mail balloting could “taint” the U.S. election. Trump, in a tweet, shared the Twitter handle of the company’s “Head of Site Integrity,” Yoel Roth, who co-wrote a May 11 blog post explaining how the platform would handled misleading information moving forward. “So ridiculous to see Twitter trying to make the case that Mail-In Ballots are not subject to FRAUD,” Trump tweeted. “How stupid, there are examples, & cases, all over the place. Our election process will become badly tainted & a laughingstock all over the World.” Trump then directed his 80 million Twitter followers to “tell that to your hater.” Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey responded, tweeting “there is someone ultimately accountable for our actions as a company, and that’s me. Please leave our employees out of this.” (Bloomberg / CNBC)
The Trump administration will extend the federal deployment of more than 40,000 National Guard troops aiding coronavirus relief efforts, reversing plans to terminate the deployment one day before thousands of Guard members would have qualified for key retirement and education benefits. (Politico)
Trump’s signed coronavirus post card cost the U.S. Postal Service $28 million. The cards cost $4.6 million to print and $28 million overall. (USA Today)
Pence’s chief of staff owns between $506,043 and $1.64 million worth of individual stocks in companies related to the Trump administration’s pandemic response. Marc Short declared at least some of his stock holdings as potential conflicts of interest after he joined Pence’s office last year. He did not, however, divest those holdings. (NPR)
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham urged senior federal judges to step aside so that Republicans can fill the vacancies now. “This is an historic opportunity,” Graham said. “We’ve put over 200 federal judges on the bench. . . . If you can get four more years, I mean, it would change the judiciary for several generations. So if you’re a circuit judge in your mid-60s, late 60s, you can take senior status, now would be a good time to do that, if you want to make sure the judiciary is right of center.” (Washington Post)
The National Security Agency warned that a Russian hacking operation is engaged in an ongoing campaign. The NSA said the hacking activity was tied directly to the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency. The security alert describes how the GRU is targeting a vulnerability in unpatched Unix-based operating systems. It does not specify who it has seen targeted. (Reuters / NBC News)
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