National News Roundup: Week 5 (February 19–25)

Well, two weeks ago we had the good news week, and last week we had the weird news week… I’m afraid things have come full circle, and now we’ve arrived at the bad news week. I’ll do my best to keep it digestible, but this week’s news is… pretty bad (though it’s also important, so I recommend reading it carefully). You might want to get some cookies, baked goods, or adult beverages of your choice, Gentle Reader. The news and I will hold your spot until you get back.

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Okay, are you well-stocked and ready? Let’s get this show on the road. Standard standing reminders apply: I am no journalist, though I play one in your inbox or browser, so I’m only summarizing the news within my area of expertise. I may touch on news I think folks should know that is outside my area as a legal generalist, but if we undertake any offroad adventures I’ll do my best to signal that for you upfront by giving that headline an asterisk. Okay, warning label over. Onward to the news!

The Weird:

  • ‘Last Night in Sweden’…nothing happened. Trump confused the entire nation this past week by making up a reference to terrorist activity in Sweden, which Sweden wasted no time in soundly refuting. Then, just to ice the cake, Trump admitted he actually got the whole thing from Fox News. So, that happened. Or didn’t, more accurately. Also, and on a related note, the Washington Post published some data indicating that Trump has publicly uttered at least falsehood every single day since he assumed the Presidency.
  • Sessions 1, DeVos 0. In a surprising turn of events, Betsy DeVos originally refused to cooperate with Sessions, and then Trump, on their efforts to hurt transgender kids. She ultimately capitulated, when presented with the option of either giving in or resigning. But it was a very strange half a day of grudging respect for her, I don’t mind telling you.
  • Put Me In, Prez! One of the weirder policy decisions from this administration — and this is saying something — is that Trump hasn’t been using the Secretary of State very much to set foreign policy, a fact that is starting to receive media attention. Instead, Kushner, Bannon, and Priebus have been attending meetings, prompting folks to start talking about a “shadow cabinet” (and I can’t even imagine how weird those meetings must be for everyone involved.). But Tillerson did get sent to Mexico for talks this week, with a Kelly-shaped chaperone. I don’t know about you, but I would not watch that installment of the Weekend at Bernie’s franchise.
  • Trump vs the Press, Round 2304203402. The latest in Trump’s ongoing battle with the free press is diminished access to press conferences, with the White House handpicking a “gaggle” of reporters who were allowed to receive their (fake) news without any cameras present. The organizations allowed access included Breitbart (of course), Fox News, and the Wall Street Journal. Organizations explicitly denied access included the Huffington Post, the New York Times, Politico, and CNN. The Associated Press and Time magazine were granted access, but refused to proceed once they learned their colleagues were being screened out. The Washington Post, in a fit of prescience, didn’t even bother to show up.

The Bad:

  • Sessions Trumps Trans Students. As eluded to above, the White House withdrew guidance issued by the Obama administration this week, apparently at Sessions urging, that standardized inclusion of trans kids in public restrooms at schools. The administration leaves the question up to the states — because civil rights are a great thing to put up to a majority vote — and several states and cities have already issued statements that they will continue inclusive practices. That said, presumably several states are also quietly dismantling protections as I write this, and trans communities around the nation can expect to see fallout from the change.
  • The House Continues to Issue Bonkers Bills. The latest gem to have added text is a provision terminating the Department of Education. Presumably nobody consulted Betsy DeVos about this one, either.
  • Pence Handmaiden’s Tale Bingo Continues. Most of the recent efforts have been state legislation rather than federal, but the last week or two has not been great on this front. Between a Utah representative saying that equal pay was bad for families, an Oklahoma legislator calling pregnant women ‘hosts,’ and leaked provisions to defund Planned Parenthood while appealing the Affordable Care Act, it has not been a great week for feminist issues.
  • Delete Uber (again). Uber is yet again in hot water for appalling business practices, this time involving sexual harassment and hostile work environment. Apparently it’s not a very pleasant place to work if you are female and conventionally attractive. Who could have seen that revelation coming.
  • Pruitt’s Completely Surprising Friendship with Fossil Fuel. On a similar level of shocking revelation, some information about our new EPA head’s inappropriately chummy relationship to the fossil fuel industry as AG of Oklahoma came out this week. There’s not much to be done about it now, as far as I can tell, but it’s not exactly heartening.
  • Executive Order Memoranda Abound. The Department of Homeland Security put out clarifying memoranda on the two immigration orders still being enforced. The memoranda say more-or-less what we expected, but it still wasn’t fun to read. Also, some of the provisions in there about raids and enforcement in “sensitive areas” such as hospitals are… evidently not being followed, shall we say?
  • Jewish Boiling Point. Ten more JCCs received bomb threats this past week, and a major Jewish cemetery in St Louis saw desecration of nearly 200 graves. The ADL received a bomb threat this week, too. Trump eventually made a statement, which the Anne Frank Center immediately decried as a ‘pathetic asterisk of condescension,’ among other things. The Trump administration responded in true-to-form classy fashion. I responded also, though with considerably less blaming other people.
  • Two dead from racist shooting in Kansas. I don’t have it in me to come up with a snarky headline for this one — two men of Indian descent in Kansas were fatally shot by a racist perpetrator who thought they were Middle Eastern, and apparently yelled “Get out of my country!” while shooting them. About the best thing I can say about the entire affair is that two more people who were shot are recovering, and one of them was a random twenty-four-year-old who was not being targeted but attempted to physically subdue the shooter.
  • Federal Private Prisons Again Open for Business. AG Sessions rescinded an order from the Obama administration phasing out private federal prisons. I have to admit, I’m kind of vaguely impressed by how quickly and efficiently Sessions uses his position to stomp on civil and human rights. I guess he has a lot of prior practice.
  • Standing Rock No Longer Standing. The Standing Rock camp was razed to the ground this week, after the Trump administration gave the official all-clear to proceed forward. It culminated in 46 people being arrested, and several people reported tipis being cut open with knives and participants being threatened with rifles.
  • Autocratic State of the Nation. As always, here is the link to Amy Siskind’s weekly authoritarianism watch review. Some, but not all, of her work is reproduced here, and I recommend checking out her list.
  • CPAC Horror Show. Some truly horrifying things were said at the Conservative Political Action Conference this week. For one thing, Trump called his immigration enforcement machine ‘a military operation,’ leaving a scrambling Kelly to contradict him in talks with Mexico (and making me even more certain that the National Guard headline from last week was an intentional fake-out). But the real headliner was that Bannon straight-up acknowledged that this administration wants to gut the administrative bodies of the executive branch, noting that “[T]hese Cabinet nominees . . . were selected for a reason, and that is deconstruction.” In other words, you know how everybody kept saying that the three requirements for a Cabinet nomination were that you had to be rich, you had to be conservative, and you had to hate the administration you were being nominated to lead? Bannon just directly told us that theory was true. (Also, he kept calling the media ‘the opposition party,’ but that hardly seems noteworthy by this point.) Oh, but Richard Spencer got ejected for being subversive on the same day, proving that irony is not in fact dead.

The Good:

  • Milo and POTUS (Together Basically Never Again). In a somewhat darkly amusing turn of events, Milo Yiannopoulos was uninvited from… basically everything this week, from CPAC to Breitbart to his book deal, because of some comments he made regarding pedophilia of young boys.
  • Refugees Welcome (by some of us). Activists managed to hang a three-foot-high ‘Refugees Welcome’ banner on the Statue of Liberty this week, which is kind of impressive in its own right. The act was illegal, and U.S. State Park police are ostensibly working on apprehending somebody. Also on the subject of illegal asylum, Trudeau announced this week that he won’t halt the practice of accepting asylees who illegally enter Canada.
  • We Obamacare. Okay, fine, I shamelessly stole that pun from a protest sign yesterday, but that doesn’t change the fact that national support for the Affordable Care Act is increasing, which we’re also seeing play out as increased obstruction to repeal in both the House and Senate. Also, Boehner went on the record as saying that he doesn’t think a full repeal of the ACA is going to happen. Perhaps this is why Marc Rubio was caught lying to get out of town hall meetings this week on the topic, as his colleagues find it a difficult topic to address with constituents.
  • One-week Travel Ban Reprieve. The new travel ban that Trump claimed would be out this week was not issued, although we did receive indication that it will target the same seven countries as the old one. It will probably happen this upcoming week, but in the short term I’ll just be happy for small miracles.
  • Maybe We Can Move There?* Scientists discovered seven planets they describe as ‘Earthlike’ circling a nearby star. The ‘seven wonders,’ as NASA called them, are thirty-nine light years away and orbiting an ultra-cool dwarf (which I presume is a technical term) called TRAPPIST-1. I don’t know about you, but I’d consider the trip.
  • The DNC’s First Ever Latino Leader. The Democratic National Committee elected former Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez as the new Chairperson yesterday, in a vote so close they had to do it twice. Perez immediately made Keith Ellison, his neck-and-neck rival, into the deputy chairperson. Ellison urged people to accept Perez as a leader, noting that we “don’t have the luxury to walk out of this room divided.” Though I would have loved to see Ellison as the Chairperson, I happen to agree with him, and I wrote a similar message to Jewish Americans earlier today.
  • The Washington Post is More Metal Than Several Metal Albums. The Washington Post recently changed its motto to “Democracy Dies in Darkness” (for real — I can personally verify that it now appears as a tagline when you sign in to read articles). Perhaps impressed by how awesome this is, Slate wrote an article comparing the motto to fifteen different metal albums. There are some good albums in there, and you’re also now done with this week’s news, so if you like metal I recommend you go check it out!

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