News Brief: Abortion Issue, Full Employment, 'Game Of Thrones' Abortion has become a hot topic heading into the 2020 presidential election. The U.S. is near full employment, but what does that mean? And, HBO's Game of Thrones has aired its final episode.
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News Brief: Abortion Issue, Full Employment, 'Game Of Thrones'

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News Brief: Abortion Issue, Full Employment, 'Game Of Thrones'

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News Brief: Abortion Issue, Full Employment, 'Game Of Thrones'

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The following states have something in common. Mississippi, Ohio, Georgia, Iowa, Alabama, Kentucky, Arkansas and Utah all have recently passed laws that, in various ways, restrict when a woman can have an abortion.

NOEL KING, HOST:

Meanwhile, lawmakers in Missouri and Louisiana have approved bills, but they haven't been signed into law yet. Each of them is more restrictive than the standard set by the Supreme Court in its Roe v. Wade decision, and that is not a coincidence. Republican-controlled legislators want the Supreme Court to reconsider Roe. This, of course, is all happening in the run-up to a presidential election.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND: Any Democrat who expects to win the presidency must answer definitively where they stand on this issue.

KING: That is New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand who, of course, is one of the Democratic presidential candidates. So how will Democrats answer?

INSKEEP: NPR political correspondent Scott Detrow is covering the presidential campaign. Scott, good morning.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What is the proposal from Gillibrand, who is the candidate we just heard?

DETROW: Yeah. She's one of several candidates who've been focusing on this in the last few weeks. And amidst this increased focus, you're hearing a couple relatively new policies from Gillibrand and other Democrats running for president. Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker and others are talking specifically about passing federal laws codifying protections from Roe v. Wade and other Supreme Court rulings. There's a real concern from them that increasingly conservative federal courts would overturn Roe v. Wade.

You're also hearing Gillibrand and Bernie Sanders, among other candidates, be much more explicit than we've heard before about the role that abortion would play in their federal court appointments. Both are saying I would not appoint a Supreme Court judge or a federal judge who would not uphold Roe v. Wade.

INSKEEP: Well, this is really interesting. And the idea of legislation is interesting since one historic criticism of Roe v. Wade is that the courts made this change, that it didn't go through the regular political process. And so now, effectively, some Democrats are saying, let's run it through the process. What else are Democrats saying?

DETROW: Well - and I think the fact that they're explicitly saying that this would be a litmus test is another way that Donald Trump has changed the way that people talk about how they would be president and how people would act as president because this has been, you know, an implicit thing before. I would likely do it, but, oh, no, I wouldn't have a direct conversation about it. Now you have Gillibrand and Sanders saying, no, this is a key thing and I would talk about it with my appointees.

But you've had candidates going to states like Georgia and Alabama talking about this, urging their supporters to give donations to groups like Planned Parenthood. The NPR Politics Podcast recently interviewed South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Here's what he said about this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

PETE BUTTIGIEG: What you have here is an agenda that is radical, that is out of step with what most Americans - even Americans in conservative states - believe is the right thing to do. It's disturbing. I think it amounts to an assault on freedom.

DETROW: So you have the Democrats using these new laws to frame the Republican Party as being out of step with what the majority of Americans want. And you've seen some Republicans be a little uncomfortable with these new laws. Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader, says the Alabama law, in specific, goes further than he believes. Over the weekend, President Trump implied that, as well, saying that he has an agenda that opposes abortion rights but that he still supports exemptions for cases of rape or incest or the health of a mother. The president tweeted, if we are foolish and do not stay united as one, all of our hard-fought gains for life can and will rapidly disappear. That's the president over the weekend.

INSKEEP: Scott, thanks so much.

DETROW: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR congressional correspondent Scott Detrow

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: OK. The United States is at - or near - full employment.

KING: Yeah, at least that's what economists call it. The idea of zero unemployment - literally everyone working - is very unlikely because people do change jobs. But the current rate of 3.6% is getting closer to that. It's the lowest level in nearly 50 years. So what do these numbers really mean for people looking for jobs, for people looking for raises?

INSKEEP: NPR chief economic correspondent Scott Horsley is here to tell us. Scott, good morning.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: How tight is the labor market when the unemployment rate is 3.6%?

HORSLEY: Well, it's pretty tight across the country with that rate. But Steve, it's really tight in some places. In Ames, Iowa, for example, it's only 1.5%.

INSKEEP: Wow.

HORSLEY: NPR's Jim Zarroli visited Ames to find out how employers are coping there. And he spoke to restaurant manager Elizabeth Kopecky, who says it's a real struggle.

ELIZABETH KOPECKY: We, last year, had a call from a restaurant down the street asking if we had any extra staff that they could share. That's how bad it's getting.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: And what did you tell them?

KOPECKY: We didn't have enough for ourselves.

HORSLEY: Wages are going up in Ames, but they are still having trouble attracting workers. Even though Iowa is a real nice place to live, Steve, there are just not many people moving there. We do find other parts of the country, though, where people are moving to take advantage of new opportunities.

INSKEEP: For example?

HORSLEY: Places like Atlanta, Tallahassee, Charlotte, N.C., have all seen an influx of workers, many of them coming from up north looking for better jobs, more affordable housing. For African-Americans, in particular, this is kind of a reversal of the Great Migration we saw in the 20th century.

INSKEEP: Yeah.

HORSLEY: NPR's Daniella Cheslow spent some time in North Carolina talking with African-American workers, both newcomers and longtime residents, like Nicole Muse-Dennis (ph). Muse-Dennis is a single mother of two who's working 65 hours a week. She says she's just barely getting by.

NICOLE MUSE-DENNIS: I'm what I call over-employed. I have two jobs, and I'm still trying to make it.

HORSLEY: The unemployment rate among African-Americans is low by historical standards. But at 6.7%, it's still nearly twice the national average.

INSKEEP: Also, we just heard someone say there, Scott, she's working two jobs and still just trying to make it would suggest the jobs are not paying quite so well compared to her expenses. How is it that employers are managing not to massively raise wages and still finding people to hire?

HORSLEY: One thing that is happening is that people who had been out of the job market, either by choice or otherwise, are being lured back in by the near-full-employment magnet. And employers are getting more creative about tapping into that hidden workforce. As a result, groups that had been on the margins in the past are also finding more opportunities, people with disabilities, for example, or a prison record. Things that might have been disqualifying in the past are not anymore, says Christopher Dickerson (ph).

CHRISTOPHER DICKERSON: I don't care what your background is. I don't care where you came from. I don't care what color you are. I don't care as long as you come to work every single day and give me everything that you can give me.

HORSLEY: Over the last couple of years, Steve, about 7 in 10 new people finding job were coming off the sidelines, not from the ranks of the unemployed.

INSKEEP: But statistically, does this really mean higher wages for the people who already have jobs?

HORSLEY: For a lot of very long economic expansions - expansion, wages did not move very much, they've just barely kept pace with inflation. But that is finally starting to change. You know, we're seeing wages pick up and accelerate, and that's especially true for people at the bottom of the income ladder, which is encouraging. There's no question workers have more negotiating power now. One thing we're looking at is collective bargaining and the demise of two-tier wage scales that some unions grudgingly went along with during the Great Recession.

INSKEEP: Scott, thanks so much - appreciate it.

HORSLEY: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: NPR's Scott Horsley.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: OK. Who won the Game of Thrones?

KING: We finally know.

(SOUNDBITE OF RAMIN DJAWADI'S "'GAME OF THRONES' THEME")

KING: The show wrapped last night after eight seasons. And fans had a strong reaction to the finale, which is not unexpected given the show's rabid fan base.

INSKEEP: To tell us more about this moment is NPR TV critic Eric Deggans. Eric, good morning.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: Now, before we start, we have to warn - we tried to keep you safe all season, but we can't anymore.

DEGGANS: (Laughter).

HORSLEY: ...You're going to be hearing some spoilers. I believe Noel is going to be sticking her fingers in her ears.

DEGGANS: (Laughter).

KING: That's correct.

INSKEEP: OK. So she's...

DEGGANS: I hear her saying, la, la, la, la.

(LAUGHTER)

DEGGANS: I hear it.

INSKEEP: I can't hear you. But for those of us who are listening, what about the ending?

DEGGANS: OK. So once again, just like winter was coming on "Game Of Thrones," spoilers are coming here. I guess what I would say is that TV's most epic series failed to deliver on an epic ending. For the record, Bran Stark, a young man who lost the use of his legs when he was pushed out of a window in the first season, became the king. He won the Game of Thrones. But big moments, like the death of heroine-turned-despot Daenerys Targaryen, they happened quickly, and they kind of seemed anticlimactic.

Now, let's remember last week's episode, where Daenerys used her dragon to burn down the town of King's Landing even after it surrendered. And then, on Sunday's episode, her lover and supporter Jon Snow had this argument with her adviser Tyrion Lannister. And their back-and-forth kind of sounded like two fans arguing over whether that scene when the dragon attacks the town...

INSKEEP: (Laughter).

DEGGANS: ...Actually made any sense. So let's check it out. Tyrion is played by Peter Dinklage, and he starts the argument.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, “GAME OF THRONES”)

PETER DINKLAGE: (As Tyrion Lannister) The moment the gates fell, the battle was over.

KIT HARINGTON: (Jon Snow) She saw her friend beheaded. She saw her dragon shot out of the sky.

DINKLAGE: (As Tyrion Lannister) And she burned down a city for it. Would you have done it?

DEGGANS: Now, Jon knows he wouldn't have done it. So he decides that Dany is a dangerous tyrant who must be killed, which he does.

INSKEEP: Well, maybe this really was an argument over the earlier episode...

DEGGANS: (Laughter).

INSKEEP: ...That accidentally got in the way that coffee cup accidentally got into one of the scenes.

DEGGANS: There you go. There you go.

INSKEEP: Who knows?

DEGGANS: Exactly.

INSKEEP: Now, I'm hearing you say what has been a common complaint about this season, that there's just too much plot crowded into too few episodes.

DEGGANS: Yeah. I think part of the problem is that the last two seasons have had fewer episodes than the typical 10 that they used to have. In 2017, they aired seven episodes. And then these final six came almost two years after that. So maybe it feels kind of rushed because the setup episodes aired so long ago, and then we get the climax of the story now.

I also think people expected to see the story of this heroine rising to free the oppressed. And instead, they saw this story of a rebel becoming a brutal dictator and getting killed, and that might have thrown fans off a little bit.

INSKEEP: Has this series, in some fundamental way, changed TV?

DEGGANS: I think it has. It's brought movie - epic-level filmmaking to television, and it proved that you could create a huge hit with it. Of course it's affected the culture. And people who haven't even watched the show - like you, Steve - know who these characters are. And it came along at a time when geek culture was taking over pop culture and rode that trend to massive success.

And so we've seen now, you know, shows about zombies and superheroes. And now sword and sorcery characters are among the most popular shows and movies out there. And "Game Of Thrones," I think, is the ultimate example of that in television. We'll see if any other series follow their lead.

INSKEEP: Yeah. You can be a show nerd now and just get deeply, deeply involved in extraordinarily complex plots.

DEGGANS: Of course.

INSKEEP: Eric, thanks so much.

DEGGANS: Always a pleasure.

INSKEEP: That's NPR critic Eric Deggans.

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