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Letters from an American's top posts of the month

By hacker news affinity
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Letters from an American 18 HN points 14 May 23
On the day before Mother’s Day, I usually post about the origins of the holiday in the 1870s, when Boston reformer Julia Ward Howe decided she would create a “Mothers’ Day” to bring women together to end war. Tonight, though, I have just come from the wedding of our fabulous producer for the Now & Then podcast, where almost the whole team gathered to celebrate, and am thinking about family and how often it has nothing to do with blood and everything to do with chance and affinity.
Letters from an American 16 HN points 29 May 23
Tomorrow is Memorial Day, the day Americans have honored since 1868, when we mourn those military personnel who have died in the service of the country—that is, for the rest of us. For me, one of those people is Beau Bryant. When we were growing up, we hung out at one particular house where a friend’s mom provided unlimited peanut butter and fluff sandwiches, Uno games, iced tea and lemonade, sympathetic ears, and stories. She talked about Beau, her older brother, in the same way we talked about all our people, and her stories made him part of our world even though he had been killed in World War II 19 years before we were born.
Letters from an American 13 HN points 07 May 23
For years now, after one massacre or another, I have written some version of the same article, explaining that the nation’s current gun free-for-all is not traditional but, rather, is a symptom of the takeover of our nation by a radical extremist minority. The idea that massacres are “the price of freedom,” as right-wing personality Bill O’Reilly said in 2017 after the Mandalay Bay massacre in Las Vegas, in which a gunman killed 60 people and wounded 411 others, is new, and it is about politics, not our history.
Letters from an American 12 HN points 30 May 23
Beginning in 1943, the War Department published a series of pamphlets for U.S. Army personnel in the European theater of World War II. Titled Army Talks, the series was designed “to help [the personnel] become better-informed men and women and therefore better soldiers.”
Letters from an American 12 HN points 15 May 23
Lots going on today, but I have been on the road and my battery is down to a tiny sliver of red. Headed for bed to recharge and will be back at it with a will tomorrow. The good news is that Buddy has far more time to play with his camera when I’m away. Here is his newest sunrise, taken sometime this week in the wee hours while I was typing in New York City. His office definitely beats mine.
Letters from an American 9 HN points 08 May 23
Spring has arrived here in all its glory, and it feels like a celebration is in order. Taking the night off. Will be back at it tomorrow. [Photo, “Garland,” by Peter Ralston.]
Letters from an American 9 HN points 05 May 23
Today began with another story about yet more ties between Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas and Republican billionaire Harlan Crow. Joshua Kaplan, Justin Elliott, and Alex Mierjeski of ProPublica reported that Crow paid the private school tuition for Thomas’s grandnephew, to the tune of more than $6,000 a month, ultimately adding up to an amount that may have been more than $150,000. Thomas did not report the payments.
Letters from an American 8 HN points 01 May 23
Thanks to Heather Timmons, White House editor for Reuters, whom I met a lifetime ago in summer 2016 as we tried to figure out what on earth was going on in the Republican Party, I got to hear President Biden’s speech at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in person last night. Speaking in the giant hall in the Washington Hilton where the event was held, the president was relaxed and funny, poking fun at himself, entrepreneur Elon Musk, former Fox News Channel host Tucker Carlson, and House speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). Finally, he embraced the Dark Brandon meme that suggests he has a laser-eyed alter-ego who ingeniously defeats his opponents.
Letters from an American 8 HN points 03 May 23
The end of the semester is always rough and I’ve had too many long nights, so tonight I am going to offer just one explanation about the debt clause in the Fourteenth Amendment: The debt ceiling crisis continues to dominate the news, with some speculation now that White House officials are wondering whether the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution might require the government to continue to pay its bills whether Congress actually raises the debt ceiling or not.
Letters from an American 8 HN points 20 May 23
Yesterday the far-right House Freedom Caucus called for an end to any discussions of raising the debt ceiling until the Senate passes its bill calling for extreme budget cuts. Today, former president Trump announced on his social media channel that “REPUBLICANS SHOULD NOT MAKE A DEAL ON THE DEBT CEILING UNLESS THEY GET EVERYTHING THEY WANT (Including the ‘kitchen sink’).” THAT’S THE WAY THE DEMOCRATS HAVE ALWAYS DEALT WITH US. DO NOT FOLD!!!”
Letters from an American 8 HN points 22 May 23
The list of 500 banned Americans that Russian president Vladimir Putin released on Friday makes it clear that Putin is openly aligning himself with Trump and today’s MAGA Republicans. The people on the list are not necessarily involved with U.S. policy toward Russia; they are Americans who are standing in the way of the Trump movement’s takeover of our country.
Letters from an American 8 HN points 19 May 23
Citing “changing business conditions,” Disney leadership today canceled plans to build an office complex near Orlando, Florida. The construction was estimated to cost about $1 billion, and the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity projected it would bring to Florida more than 2,000 jobs with an average salary of $120,000. In his email to employees, Disney’s theme park and consumer products chair Josh D’Amaro made it clear that even more was on the line. He noted that Disney has planned more than $17 billion of construction in Florida, bringing about 13,000 jobs, over the next ten years but suggested that, too, was being reexamined. “I hope we’re able to,” he said.
Letters from an American 7 HN points 06 May 23
Today’s job numbers came in higher than expected, with the U.S. adding 253,000 nonfarm jobs in April. Unemployment fell yet again, to 3.4%, matching a rate not seen since 1969. Black unemployment is at an all-time low of 4.7%. For Hispanics it’s 4.4%, and for Asian Americans, 2.8%. The rate for adult women is 3.1%. Average hourly wages rose 0.5%.
Letters from an American 7 HN points 25 May 23
The Department of Homeland Security today issued a bulletin warning, “Lone offenders and small groups motivated by a range of ideological beliefs and personal grievances continue to pose a persistent and lethal threat to the Homeland.” Both domestic extremists and foreign terrorists are using online extremist messaging and calls for violence to motivate supporters to launch attacks. Individuals upset about the 2024 election and new laws or court decisions might attack “US critical infrastructure, faith-based institutions, individuals or events associated with the LGBTQIA+ community, schools, racial and ethnic minorities, and government facilities and personnel, including law enforcement.” The advisory is in force for six months.
Letters from an American 7 HN points 11 May 23
This morning, federal prosecutors charged Representative George Santos (R-NY) with seven counts of wire fraud, three counts of money laundering, two counts of making materially false statements to the House of Representatives, and one count of stealing public funds. The charges are tied to his campaign fundraising and unemployment fraud; prosecutors say he received about $25,000 in unemployment insurance benefits during 2020 and 2021, during the worst of the pandemic, when he was, in fact, making about $120,000 a year.
Letters from an American 7 HN points 02 May 23
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen wrote to House speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) today to warn him that the Treasury will be unable to pay the government’s bills by early June, possibly as early as June 1. She wrote: “I respectfully urge Congress to protect the full faith and credit of the United States by acting as soon as possible.”
Letters from an American 7 HN points 21 May 23
Grades are in and summer is on the way. I cannot wait. Taking the night off. Will be back at it tomorrow. [Photo by Buddy Poland.]
Letters from an American 7 HN points 27 May 23
While we wait to learn more about a possible budget deal under which Republicans would agree to raise the debt ceiling before June 5, the date Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen says will see the U.S. run out of funds, there is an interesting story coming out of Texas that might well shed light on the current dynamics in the Republican Party.
Letters from an American 7 HN points 12 May 23
At 11:59 p.m. tonight, the COVID-19 public health emergency ends by order of the Department of Health and Human Services. Today, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre noted that more than 270 million Americans have received at least one shot of COVID-19 vaccine and the U.S. has been the largest single donor of vaccines to the global community, sharing nearly 700 million doses with 117 countries.
Letters from an American 7 HN points 18 May 23
The debt ceiling crisis is already affecting our national security. Because President Biden has pulled out of his trip to Australia so he can come home to address the crisis, a planned meeting of the Quad will not go forward. The Quad, whose official name is the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, is a security group consisting of Australia, India, Japan and the United States that organized in 2007 as a response to China’s rising power.
Letters from an American 7 HN points 10 May 23
President Biden spoke to reporters today after his meeting with House speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) about raising the debt ceiling. “I just finished, I thought, a productive meeting with the congressional leadership about the path forward to make sure America does not default—I emphasize does
Letters from an American 7 HN points 16 May 23
On Saturday, May 13th, President Joe Biden spoke to the graduating class at Howard University, a historically Black university in Washington, D.C. In his speech about “excellence, leadership, and truth and service,” Biden singled out white supremacy “as the most dangerous terrorist threat to our homeland.”
Letters from an American 7 HN points 09 May 23
The man authorities have identified as the shooter who murdered eight people and wounded at least seven others at a mall in Allen, Texas, on Saturday, Mauricio Garcia, appears to have been a white supremacist. He sported Nazi tattoos and wore a patch on his vest that said “RWDS,” which stands for “Right Wing Death Squad.” (Hispanic-Americans often identify as white, and as scholar of white power movements Kathleen Belew noted on Twitter, today’s militant right holds together largely because of their interest “in hurting vulnerable communities, antisemitism, anti-Islam, anti-trans, misogynist violence.”)
Letters from an American 7 HN points 31 May 23
“[O]ne of the things that I hear some of you guys saying is, ‘Why doesn’t Biden say what a good deal it is?’” President Joe Biden said to reporters yesterday afternoon before leaving the White House on the Marine One helicopter. “Why would Biden say what a good deal it is before the vote? You think that’s going to help me get it passed? No. That’s why you guys don’t bargain very well.”
Letters from an American 7 HN points 24 May 23
Both President Joe Biden and House speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) have stated publicly that the U.S. will not default. They are negotiating over the budget. For my part, I’ve started to wonder if the whole debt ceiling crisis isn’t about Republicans’ determination to cut taxes for the wealthy at all costs.
Letters from an American 7 HN points 26 May 23
U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta today sentenced the leader of the right-wing Oath Keepers organization, Elmer Stewart Rhodes III, to 18 years in prison, followed by 3 years of supervised release. In November a jury found Rhodes guilty of seditious conspiracy, obstruction of an official proceeding, and tampering with documents and proceedings, for his role in organizing people to go to Washington in January 2021 and try to stop the counting of the electoral votes that would make Joe Biden president.
Letters from an American 7 HN points 28 May 23
Today the Texas House voted to impeach Texas attorney general Ken Paxton on 20 counts of corruption and bribery, removing him from office temporarily while the Senate prepares to try him. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) sided with Paxton, saying “No attorney general has battled the abuses of the Biden admin more ferociously—and more effectively—than has Paxton.” Former president Trump also backed Paxton, calling the Republican speaker of the Texas House “barely a Republican at all,” and threatened to target any Republican who voted for impeachment.
Letters from an American 7 HN points 04 May 23
“No one should assume that the Fed can really protect the economy and the financial system and our reputation globally from the damage that [a U.S. default] might inflict,” Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said today. “We shouldn’t even be talking about a world in which the U.S. doesn’t pay its bills. It just shouldn’t be a thing,” he added.
Letters from an American 7 HN points 23 May 23
The debt ceiling crisis has deflected attention from actual work of the federal government, which continues. The meeting of the Group of Seven (G7) in Hiroshima, Japan, which began on May 19 and ended yesterday, emphasized the Biden administration’s focus on preventing the rise of dominant authoritarian powers by ruining Russia’s imperial ambitions and by creating regional partnerships to counter the rise of China. The G7 is a forum made up of democracies with advanced economies and includes Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The European Union is also a member.
Letters from an American 6 HN points 17 May 23
Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky has been on a tour of visits with European leaders. On May 13 he met with Pope Francis, who offered help finding the Ukrainian children kidnapped by the Russians and returning them to Ukraine, and with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni. The next day he met with German chancellor Olaf Scholz before flying to France to meet with President Emmanuel Macron. On Monday, Zelensky made a surprise visit to the United Kingdom, where he met with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
Letters from an American 6 HN points 13 May 23
For all the predictions about what would happen when the Title 42 emergency health authority that prohibited most immigration ended just before midnight yesterday, the reality turned out to be pretty…unremarkable. According to Rachel Treisman, Stephania Corpi, and Emily Olson of