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Good morning. Trump was briefed on the Russian bounty program months ago. The coronavirus is hitting California hard. And the Supreme Court rules against both abortion restrictions and financial regulation.
For anyone trying to make sense of the Supreme Court run by Chief Justice John Roberts, yesterday’s two big decisions were helpful.
In the more prominent one, Roberts joined the court’s four liberal justices to strike down a restrictive Louisiana abortion law. It was the third major decision this month in which Roberts sided with the liberals, having already done so on L.G.B.T.Q. rights and immigration.
The cases have been reminders that the Roberts court is not reliably conservative on every issue, even though Republican presidents appointed five of the nine justices, including Roberts. Over the years, the court has also established a constitutional right to same-sex marriage (with Anthony Kennedy, now retired, as the swing vote); declined to outlaw affirmative action; upheld most parts of Obamacare; and more. These decisions have left many conservatives feeling betrayed.
Yet there is at least one big area in which the Roberts court has continued to lean strongly right: business regulation.
With rare exceptions, the justices have restricted the government’s ability to regulate corporate America. And there was another example yesterday, when the court gave Trump more authority to neutralize the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an Obama administration creation. The decision was 5 to 4, with the five Republican-appointed justices all on one side and the Democratic appointees on the other.
Similar decisions in the past have overturned campaign-finance law, blocked action on climate change, restricted labor-union activities, reduced workers’ ability to sue their employers and more. As The Times’s Adam Liptak has written, the Roberts court’s rulings have been “far friendlier to business than those of any court since at least World War II.”
These decisions have been part of a larger trend, too. Government policy over the past half-century has generally given more power to corporate executives and less power to their workers. That’s one reason incomes for the affluent have risen so much faster than they have for any other income group.
Whatever you think of the Roberts court, I’d encourage you not to treat it with one broad brush. On some major social issues, it has been moderate or even liberal. On economic issues, the story is very different. Yesterday’s two decisions captured the contrast.
More on the history: “For the past half-century, the court has been drawing up plans for a more economically unequal nation, and that is the America that is now being built,” the journalist Adam Cohen writes in his recent book, “Supreme Inequality.”
More from The Times: Adam Liptak writes about Roberts: “15 years into his tenure, he now wields a level of influence that has caused experts to hunt for historical comparisons.” And Sabrina Tavernise and Elizabeth Dias explain that the abortion ruling doesn’t necessarily mean Roberts will ultimately uphold Roe v. Wade.
FOUR MORE BIG STORIES
1. Trump was briefed on Russian bounties
The Times has reported that U.S. officials briefed President Trump in February about Russia’s payment of bounties to Taliban-linked militants to kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Trump and other administration officials have claimed otherwise in recent days.
The intelligence was included in Trump’s President’s Daily Brief document — a compilation of the latest secrets and best insights about foreign policy and national security. The information was also disseminated more broadly across the intelligence community in an article in the C.I.A.’s World Intelligence Review.
2. Trouble in California
Coronavirus rates are rising in every Western state, including deep-blue California, Oregon and Washington. The pattern shows that the spread of the virus isn’t a reflection only of the partisan divides over whether to wear masks and listen to Trump’s advice.
Much of the Western U.S. appears to have grown complacent about the virus, after having avoided bad outbreaks earlier this year. “Unlike people in the Northeast, many Californians did not have a sense of urgency or immediacy toward the virus because infection rates had been so low for months,” The Times reports, in a close look at the state.
In other virus developments:
3. China cracks down on Hong Kong
China passed a national security law today that will empower the government in Beijing to crack down on dissent from Hong Kong. Activists expect China to use the law to stifle pro-democracy protests like the ones that have filled Hong Kong’s streets over the last year.
Yesterday, in anticipation of the law, the U.S. placed new restrictions on exports of defense equipment and some high-tech products to Hong Kong.
A nuclear concern: The Trump administration is describing China’s small but growing nuclear arsenal as an imposing threat and hopes to bring Beijing into an arms treaty between the U.S. and Russia.
4. When work-from-home failed
Who needs offices? Employers like Facebook are becoming excited about the long-term prospect of remote working, mostly because of the money it saves. But decades of setbacks suggest a bumpy road ahead. In the past, IBM, Best Buy and other companies scrapped work-from-home experiments after finding that telecommuting diminished accountability and creativity.
But maybe this time really is different, because of the combination of a major health crisis and better technologies like Zoom. Some retailers, expecting that work from home is here to stay, are revamping their offerings to concentrate on a new kind of workplace clothing: the Zoom Shirt.
Here’s what else is happening
The South Pole is one of the most rapidly warming places on the planet, with temperatures rising three times faster than the global average since the 1990s.
More online platforms are taking action against Trump and his associates: Reddit yesterday banned a major pro-Trump forum, “The_Donald,” and the streaming site Twitch suspended the president’s account for “hateful conduct.”
Expect political news today, including a Democratic Senate primary in Colorado and the results of the close Democratic Senate primary in Kentucky, between Amy McGrath and Charles Booker.
Joseph James DeAngelo, whose California crime spree in the 1970s and ’80s earned him the nickname the Golden State Killer, pleaded guilty yesterday to 13 counts of first-degree murder.
Lives Lived: As the wife of an ambassador and White House chief of protocol, the Dow Chemical heiress Ruth Buchanan entertained world leaders and dazzled American society at her opulent mansions in Washington and Newport, R.I. She has died at 101.
IDEA OF THE DAY: A low-impact inquiry
Robert Mueller’s two-year Russia investigation uncovered a lot of incriminating material. It found eager attempts by Trump campaign officials to collaborate with Vladimir Putin’s government, as well as multiple efforts by Trump to interfere in investigations of himself and his allies.
Yet Mueller’s work had virtually no impact. It changed few Americans’ minds. Mueller’s report wasn’t even powerful enough to spur much action by House Democrats. They instead impeached Trump over a later phone call with the president of Ukraine.
In the new issue of The New Yorker, Jeffrey Toobin has reconstructed the Mueller investigation in an effort to explain why it was ineffectual. Toobin’s conclusion: Trump’s lawyers and Attorney General William Barr consistently outmaneuvered Mueller and his team. The Trump side played political hardball, while Mueller was slow, afraid of confrontation and ultimately naïve, Toobin argues.
“Mueller had an abundance of legitimate targets to investigate, and his failures emerged from an excess of caution, not of zeal,” Toobin writes. “Mueller forfeited the opportunity to speak clearly and directly about Trump’s crimes, and Barr filled the silence with his high-volume exoneration.”
PLAY, WATCH, EAT, READ
A twist on coleslaw
Take coleslaw to the next level. This version combines bean sprouts, cabbage and chickpeas with a toasted sesame-seed vinaigrette for a bright, earthy side dish. It’s ideal served alongside roasted salmon and rice.
Revisit the books of James Baldwin
In recent years, there has been no shortage of ways to experience James Baldwin’s work: There are Barry Jenkins’s film adaptation of “If Beale Street Could Talk” and the documentary “I Am Not Your Negro,” for starters. Now, a new book on Baldwin by Eddie S. Glaude Jr., “Begin Again,” blends biography, criticism and memoir to make sense of America today.
“Even if you don’t agree with Glaude’s interpretations, you’ll find yourself productively arguing with them,” writes Jennifer Szalai, The Times’s nonfiction book critic, in a review. “He parses, he pronounces, he cajoles. He spurs you to revisit Baldwin’s work yourself.”
A legend’s final work, revealed
Until his final days, Milton Glaser, the 91-year-old graphic designer behind the iconic “I ♥ NY” logo, was still thinking about how his work could help his city.
He had been working on a new design inspired by the pandemic: a graphical treatment of the word “Together” that he hoped to distribute to public school students across the city and, eventually, the country. In one of his last interviews before his death last week, Glaser discussed the project and how he wanted it to evoke “the idea that we have something in common.”
Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Bird with light blue eggs (five letters).
Thanks for spending part of your morning with The Times. See you tomorrow. — David
P.S. David Gelles of The Times will speak today with Lonnie Bunch of the Smithsonian Institution, about how museums can survive in the modern age. The event starts at 2:30 p.m. Eastern.
Correction: Yesterday’s newsletter said the New England Patriots were penalized for videotaping another team’s practice; it was actually another team’s sideline, during a game.