National News Roundup: Week 30 (August 13–19)

Okay, this week wasn’t as bad as last week — although with the week we had last week, that’s sort of like saying “This thunderstorm sure isn’t as bad as that recent hurricane.” There was still plenty of the surreal trauma we all know and hate to go around, though the week ended on a more positive note; where we go from here is anyone’s guess.

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. This week’s news contains some detailed analysis that’s outside my expertise — still a lawyer, and not a tech consultant — but all offroad adventures are marked with an asterisk. Okay, I think that’s about it for the disclaimers. Onward to the news!

Constitutional Crisis Corners:

Mostly things were pretty quiet on The Russia Collusion Investigation, as Trump successfully redirected our attention — more on that below — but we did see one headline.

Your “Normal” Weird:

  • Steve Bannon Mystery Motives. This was a deeply weird week for trying to figure out what on earth Steve Bannon is doing. First there was his impromptu interview with American Prospect reporter Robert Kuttner, which apparently was the result of an unsolicited call to the journalist, and included insults for Trump, the alt-right, and basically virtually all of his allies. Then he suggested that he forgot he could be quoted off-the-record, which I find vaguely insulting; if the owner of a multi-million dollar propaganda machine is going to make such blatantly improbable statements, he could at least pretend to be selling real estate. Then Bannon was let go on Friday — ostensibly for his interview, except that the process was missing the bread-and-circus embarrassment train that marked other high-profile firings like Yates, Priebus, Scaramucci, and Comey. Bannon immediately hightailed it to Breitbart post-firing, leading an editorial meeting by the end of the day. Trump tweeted his praises multiple times on Saturday, and Breitbart has published exactly zero articles eviscerating the President since Bannon’s White House exit — though they did publish an article on Sunday sympathetic to Trump’s policy on Afghanistan. So I’m thinking Bannon was not “let go” so much as “transferred for more efficient rampaging.”
  • Cost-Sharing Repayment Saga. The Congressional Budget Office released a report this week estimating how much it would cost if Trump made good on his threat and refused to ACA subsidies next year. Spoiler: It was a lot. More specifically, nonpayment would raise the deficit by $194 million over ten years, which basically everybody agrees is Not In the Good Column. Including Trump, apparently, because he announced he would fund the CSR payments for August the very next day (or, as Fortune Magazine put it, “Trump Won’t Intentionally Blow Up Obamacare Markets For At Least One More Month.”) Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders has announced he plans to introduce a single payer bill next month, and it will be interesting to see how that impacts the landscape.
  • ACLU and Free Speech. One surreal piece of the aftermath of Charlottesville has been the American Civil Liberty Union’s struggle to define where, exactly, it draws lines about hate speech and violent protest. After the Governor of Virginia accused the organization of causing the riots with their representation of the Unite the Right organizers, and three ACLU chapters in California went rogue in protest (citing incitement to violence’s lack of constitutional protection as their reasoning), the ACLU announced that they will no longer represent hate groups who demonstrate with firearms. As a lawyer, I’m really not sure what to make of all that. For context, as the California chapters note, speech that incites listeners to violence is not constitutionally protected speech under the First Amendment, but it’s not always clear what incitement to violence actually means; old case law draws the guideline of “clear and present danger” of violence in response to the speech, but of course that’s a question of perspective. The ACLU has a long history of representing hate groups due to its belief that hate speech is still protected speech, and it looks like it mostly still will; note that this policy does not rule out protesting with clubs and shields (which were the main weapons used in Charlottesville). So that’s disturbing — it’s like knowing the Tooth Fairy hangs with vampires on occasion because She Firmly Believes That Everybody’s Gotta Eat.

The Bad:

The Good:

The Make Way for Ducklings mama and ducklings statue in the Boston Public Garden. [Mama is wearing a bandana around her neck that says “No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA!” Several ducklings are sporting brightly-colored bandanas or other cloth also, and one duckling has a vuvuzela.] Photo taken by the most excellent Andy Hicks, who retains rights.

And that’s the week’s news! Inch by inch, up to the next summit we go. I’ll do my best to keep touching on all the key points each week no matter how bad and frenetic it gets, but the news is still moving really fast. Daily news summaries like WTFJHT are still an excellent resource until we meet again.

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