Last week was like the sun finally emerging from behind clouds — blissfully good news gently warmed us and heralded spring. Then this week happened, and we were back to the frozen fascism tundra. I guess you win some, you lose some.
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. Onward to the news!
- ‘Religious’ Discrimination Fake Out. The Trump Administration did a real number on a lot of people this past week regarding LGBTQ rights — and though the ultimate result was a tale told by an idiot, there was a lot of sound and fury in the lead-up. Early in the week, the administration signaled that they planned to sign a notorious ‘Religious Liberty’ Executive Order on Thursday. This particular executive order was first leaked in February, and in its original form it allowed some pretty nasty discrimination in the name of ‘religious freedom,’ so people understandably were very concerned by this. But then he about-faced, and the version Trump ultimately signed on Thursday looked very little like that leaked draft — in fact, it changed so little existing law that the ACLU doesn’t plan to sue over it — but it comes at the same time that Section 1557 of the ACA, which prevented medical discrimination based on gender identity, is being quietly rolled back. Overall, the executive order still reflects a general tenor of hostility and discrimination; it also highlights a tactic commonly used by this administration to terrorize marginalized populations, which is to threaten really frightening changes by executive order just to keep people off-balance and uncertain.
- History with Grunkle Donny. Though this week was a bit light on boneheaded-on-first-glance, fascist-on-second-glance gems from the leader of the free world, Trump did have one real winner this week: He claimed Andrew Jackson “was unhappy about what was happening” during the Civil War. For those of you playing the home game, Jackson died in 1845, which was sixteen years before the Civil War began. Also, Jackson was a documented slave-owner and trader from the Carolinas, so if he had been around to have an opinion on the Civil War, it’s unlikely he would have agreed with the Union. I guess you don’t actually have to want to back America in conflicts to lead it these days.
- James Comey Makes Us Mildly Nauseous. James Comey testified this past week before the Intelligence Committee, famously noting that it ‘made him feel mildly nauseous’ to consider that he may have impacted the 2016 election. And, to be fair, that’s how we feel when we hear him talk about it. The whole thing was about as fruitful as you might expect; Sally Yates gave much more interesting testimony today on the topic, and it will be interesting to see where we go from here.
- AHCA Attack. The biggest story of the week is that despite all good sense to the contrary, the American Health Care Act managed to squeak through the House with a mere four vote margin on Thursday. The bill changes a lot of things about the Affordable Care Act, and the change we’re all yelling about most is that it revives ‘pre-existing conditions.’ It’s a rough bill that will drive up health costs and put them disproportionately on aging, disabled, and indigent populations, so it’s not surprising that both the medical community and the Senate appear to barely want to touch it with a ten-foot pole. Also, the Senate has already indicated that it won’t do anything until the CBO has reviewed the bill and estimated costs, so who only knows what will happen when they pick it back up in a couple of weeks.
- Laughing Will Get You A Year. Activist Desiree Fairooz was criminally convicted this week for laughing during Jeff Sessions’s confirmation hearing; the official charges brought were disorderly conduct and “parading or demonstrating on Capitol grounds.” Also, in case you were curious, the thing that made her laugh was the claim that Jeff Sessions’s record of “treating all Americans equally under the law is clear and well-documented,” so her response is still politer than the one I would have been tempted to give. Fairooz may face up to a year in jail, but the exact sentence will be determined at a hearing in June. The whole thing is so overtly Orwellian that there is a Snopes article about it, and it signals a pretty blatant erosion of first amendment rights of expression.
- Black Lives Do Matter. This was an incredibly rough week for police fatalities in the black community, between the decision not to charge the officer who shot Alton Sterling and the news of the fatal shooting of Jordan Edwards. News of the latter hits particularly hard because Edwards was a fifteen-year-old boy who was simply leaving a party by car with his brothers when shot. Unlike the Sterling case, however, the officer who shot Edwards has been charged with murder, which is presumably cold comfort for his family.
- Flint Wins This Week’s Cartoon Villain Award. Apparently Flint, Michigan’s habit of poisoning the drinkable water supply isn’t going to stop the city for billing for its residents for it, which is a sentence I can’t believe I’m even typing. The latest news out of the area is that Flint government put 8,000 people on notice for tax liens for unpaid water bills. If the residents don’t pay a collective $5.8 million in unpaid bills — which, again, they didn’t pay for because the water was so full of lead it was poisonous — the city will begin the process of foreclosing on their homes. There’s so much wrong with that I’m gonna run out of colorful expletives if I start to unpack it, so we’ll move on, but suffice to say that nothing about this is good governing.
- Autocratic State of the Nation. Amy Siskind’s weekly authoritarianism watch is a miserable, scary slog this week, which is exactly why you should read it — she covers a lot of things very thoroughly that we all need to know.
- Election Rejection Conjecture. The Cook Political Report estimates that as many as 20 House districts have changed likely voting patterns in 2018 as a result of voter displeasure with the AHCA vote. Several other analysts have similar predictions, citing the number of the representatives who voted in favor of the AHCA in districts carried by Hillary Clinton, as well as ordinary voting patterns in midterm elections. Some strategists are going even further, believing that such an unpopular healthcare bill may shape elections generally for the next few years. Which is as it should be, because that bill was fetid garbage with no budget report attached, no commentary period, and some House members are saying they didn’t even read it. People who voted for the thing seriously do not deserve to keep their seats.
- Bipartisan Budget. Congress negotiated a budgetary plan on Sunday, which successfully passed in both the House and the Senate during the week. The plan looks… well, normal for a Congressional budget plan, which is news all by itself with this administration. There’s no funding for the wall, domestic spending increased, Planned Parenthood funding remains, the EPA’s funding goes down only 1%, and military spending fell far short of Trump’s proposal. Technically Trump could refuse to sign, but it’s not expected at this juncture.
And one last bit of news that defies categorization: Tomorrow marks the (probable) launch of a new project I think is really exciting! It’s designed to help people stay informed, energized, and engaged in civic action, and is being spearheaded by Pat Rothfuss. I’m helping Storm DiCostanzo write the news piece of the puzzle, and there will be a section with suggested actions as well. I think we’re going to put together something great! You can sign up for the newsletter if so inclined at the link.
(Also, this project will have a different focus than the roundup — it’s intended to translate energy into action, and will have more of an overt activism focus than the roundup — so fear not; I am still doing the roundup as well!)