Well, okay, this week wasn’t the worst we’ve ever seen — but it’s been a deeply surreal (and intermittently horrifying) week nonetheless. Between two deadly attacks in New York and Texas, the ill-advised DNC infighting, and the GOP Tax Cut Opus, we’re sort of cruising along on the Why Is This Reality Highway. But that’s better than stewing in Darkest Timeline juices literally all week, so I guess I’ll take it.
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 — I’m a lawyer, not a tax person! — 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:
For a second week in a row, the Russia Collusion Investigation remains the biggest news of the week. We saw a lot of different interrelated developments:
- Mueller Indictments Monday (And Tuesday. And Wednesday. And Thursday…). It’s been about a week since Mueller Monday dropped, and we’re still chugging along on a lot of related matters. Manafort and Gates are both now under house arrest, with bail set at $10 and $5 million respectively, Republicans are again calling for Mueller’s resignation for “conflict of interest,” as far as I can tell pretty much because the dude knew Comey at all, though the majority of Americans think Mueller is doing a good job. Mueller has estimated he’ll need about three weeks for the trial itself, which is likely to happen in May. Meanwhile, Trump doesn’t remember nothin’ about the convicted campaign adviser, though other advisers say otherwise, and there are an ever-increasing cast of characters to track. There are rumors that a Flynn indictment may be coming soon, but at the moment those are only rumors.
- Social Media Testimony* Facebook, Google, and Twitter all testified before the House Intelligence Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee this week, and appeared to be jockeying for the title of “most irresponsible social media platform.” You can get good in-depth coverage from Recode, though the coverage might make you tear your hair out. Among the highlights of the grilling were admissions that: 1) Russia literally paid for some of the Facebook ads in rubles; 2) Twitter only searched its logs because Facebook announced it was compromised; and 3) Google doesn’t screen out Russia Today, which is literally the propaganda arm of the Kremlin, from running ads on YouTube because it “contains no violations to YouTube’s community guidelines.” Also, just to make America hate them more, none of the platforms’ CEOs showed up to the testimony.
- Clovis Withdraws.* In the wake of intensified scrutiny due to his campaign role as newly-convicted George Papadopoulos’s supervisor, USA top “scientist” nominee Sam Clovis withdrew his nomination this week. I’m vaguely curious what skeletons are lurking in that guy’s closet, but since the literal point of withdrawal is to make us less likely to find out, I guess I’ll have to stay curious. On the plus side, this leaves us all free to focus on that EPA nominee who said the air is too clean to be healthy for kids. So there’s that.
- Sessions Probably Caught in Perjury (Again).* It’s a sad state of affairs when we’re discussing the Attorney General’s second instance of lying to a tribunal, but here we are. Sessions said repeatedly under oath that he had no knowledge of anyone on the campaign meeting with Russian officials, but George Papadopoulos testified that he had let Sessions as well as Trump know — and Trump apparently tweeted photos of that meeting at the time that it happened, so we know all three individuals were present. And yet another foreign policy adviser, Carter Page, testified that he met with Russian officials as well. Unsurprisingly, Senate Democrats want to interview him again given this week’s bombshells.
And of course, we also saw several Threats to Human Rights this week:
- Divergery Lottery. Despite barely being able to pronounce the program, Trump had a lot to say about the Diversity Visa lottery program this week after a terrorist attack in New York City. In a tweet that literally CCed Fox and Friends, Trump announced that he “wanted merit-based” immigration instead of “democrat lottery systems.” This reflects a, shall we say, imperfect understanding of how the diversity visa system actually works; the program underpinnings were created in the 1960s in response to older quota systems and the system does have rigorous vetting already built into the process. Also, and most importantly, Trump can’t scrap the current diversity lottery program because it was created by Congress twenty-seven years ago (which, by the way, was during a Republican majority and a Republican presidency, not that it matters). Presidents don’t have constitutional authority to scrap laws created by legislatures, however much they might pretend otherwise.
- Disturbing “Justice” Statements. Trump also had a lot to say about people’s criminal defense rights, by which I mean he thinks nobody has any. He wanted the suspect of Tuesday’s terrorist attack, a lawful permanent resident of the United States who committed crimes on United States soil, sent to Guantanamo Bay because — and I quote — “we … have to come up with punishment that’s far quicker and far greater than the punishment these animals are getting right now” (emphasis mine). I sincerely hope everyone reading this is already aware, but any time a formal statement from public officials involves calling human being ‘animals’ it is not a great sign for civil rights. After he walked that one back, Trump moved onto saying that the suspect in custody should be put to death, which is troubling on multiple fronts because the suspect hasn’t had a trial yet (and, ironically, Trump’s statements might make it harder for prosecutors to do their jobs). All these statements are, of course, on top of the various other fascist things Trump has said in this week and past weeks, which include everything from trying to block the Russia investigation to demanding criminal investigation of political opponents. It’s… not a great look for any administration, let alone one with a 59% disapproval rating.
- ‘Give Me a Lawyer Dog’. Trump’s blatant disregard for our justice system is made even more concerning by a slip opinion concurrence from the Louisiana Supreme Court this week; the concurrence was on a decision to not to hear the case, so this was presumably this judge’s way of getting his $0.02 in even though the court wasn’t going to write anything with legal value. The concurrence stated that a defendant saying “Give me a lawyer, dog” did not count as invoking his sixth amendment right to an attorney because — and I quote — “defendant’s ambiguous and equivocal reference to a ‘lawyer dog’ does not constitute an invocation of counsel.” Though in this particular instance there were repugnant charges involved, I seriously cannot stress enough how little that should matter when we’re discussing someone’s constitutional right to ask for an attorney while answering police questions. And claiming that he might have been asking for a canine who has passed the bar is just insulting to the rest of us; it’s like the judge isn’t even trying to hide that he’s giving the questioning officers blatant cover. Do you want a police state, Louisiana? Because this is how we get police states.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- DNC vs HRC. Okay, y’all. We have multiple major elections this upcoming Tuesday, including two gubernatorial races, and the Virginia race in particular is reported to be particularly close and nasty. So hopefully the DNC is mobilizing to support the Democratic candidates who are running in these important interim elections, right? LOLNOPE, they’re too busy erroneously crucifying Hillary Clinton because she formed some fundraising committees with the DNC and may have therefore gotten strategic advantage in 2016! Because that super matters over a year later, and our fascist administration definitely won’t latch onto that to call for the arrest of people you later announce are law-abiding citizens after all. Thanks, Donna Brazile! Maybe you should let Tom Perez take things from here.
- Rick Perry’s Strange View of Lightbulbs.* Rick Perry made the baffling claim this week that fossil fuels help with sexual assault because of the “light that shines. . . [of] righteousness” on the act. Though he was specifically talking about power in Africa, and there is some evidence to suggest that bringing power to developing countries can lower instances of assault, that still doesn’t explain why fossil fuels would be better or more tenable than other forms of electricity. As my researcher put it: “I guess if conservatives think that fossil fuels shine with the light of righteousness, that explains a lot about why they prefer it over greener energy.”
- Mercy, Mercer.* News broke this week that business tycoon and Trump patron Robert Mercer is stepping down from his hedge fund and selling his share in Breitbart News. Though this likely at least in part due to increasing investor discomfort with supporting an actual white supremacist, it may also have something to do with the $6,800,000,000 the company owes the IRS in taxes (and that’s not a typo; yes, that number really does say six point eight billion). At any rate, it will be interesting to see what other shoes drop from Renaissance from here.
- Violence in New York and Texas. This week saw two instances of mass murder in the United States, killing over 30 people total. On Tuesday afternoon, a man in a rented truck plowed into a crowded Manhattan bike path, killing eight people and injuring eleven more seemingly at random. ISIS eventually claimed credit for the attack, but ISIS would claim credit for an F line signal delay if they thought New Yorkers hated it enough, so who knows whether they were actually involved. (Trump nonetheless is threatening them like they were involved, and also initially threatened to send the suspect to Guantanamo Bay). Further compounding this tragedy, on Sunday morning, a suspect walked into a small Southern Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas and opened fire on praying congregants, killing twenty-seven people and injuring over twenty more. (The suspect was later found dead three or four miles away, and police are currently investigating whether the wounds were self-inflicted.) Though the New York attack is being attributed to terrorism, the Texas attack appears to be rooted in domestic violence, as the perpetrator’s wife’s family attended services there and had been previously threatened by the gunman several times.
- Tax Cuts and Jerks Act. The Tax Cut and Jobs Act was released for review in the House this week, and it… is a thing. A big and confusing thing, in fact, but major news outlets have charts and FAQs that have your back. In general, as the New York Times notes, most tax bills have fairly clear winners and losers, and you can probably guess who gets the short end of the stick on this bill (spoiler: It’s not rich people). That said, as forecast, the bill is not popular with Wall Street, in part because it’s not clear that it can be implemented as written. And though the plan does leave 401(k)s alone, it messes up real estate and the deficit instead — and Ryan hasn’t ruled out messing with the ACA as well. Meanwhile, fetuses would become eligible for tax plans. I seriously got nothin’.
- EPA Blocks Its Own Scientists (Again). The EPA is once again blocking its own scientists, this time by removing several scientists from its advisory boards. Pruitt is making the bizarre claim that this is because the sitting members who have received grants have a conflict of interest, seeming to imply that the scientists are personally enriched by research grants. (Even Bloomberg seems to know that this is not how that field works. I would ask whether the man has ever personally received a research grant, but I think we all know the answer to that.) Just for extra swamp, he is replacing them with members of the industries the board regulates instead. This is, of course, coming on the immediate heels of a U.S. report finding that humans have caused climate change, but I’m sure that’s entirely unrelated.
- CHIP On Our Shoulders. The House did pass a bill funding the Children’s Health Insurance Program this week, but it has a lot of issues and the Senate is having none of it. More specifically, the bill is yet another attack on the ACA; it creates funding for CHIP by shortening the grace period for ACA enrollees and dipping into an ACA public health fund. It seems likely that the Senate will come up with a different plan entirely, but this of course creates uncertainty again for the CHIP program — and in the meantime, nearly nine million kids may or may not run out of funding for their healthcare. So that’s not awesome, to say the least.
- MA Bans Bump Stocks. My home state of Massachusetts made the news this week by passing the nation’s first law banning use, sale, and ownership of bump stocks, which were used in the Las Vegas shootings to turn semi-automatic weapons into makeshift automatic firearms. Though I’ll be the first to acknowledge that Massachusetts gun laws create some unique prosecutorial issues and are far from perfect, I also feel strongly that no one should have the capacity to build their own automatic weapons, so I’m pretty okay with this development.
- Feeding Puerto Rico. Chef José Andrés, who leads a food security activist group called World Central Kitchen, has been undertaking extensive efforts to make sure Puerto Ricans have food. At the time that I write this, Mr. Andrés’s kitchen network has served over 2.3 million meals and sandwiches to the residents of Puerto Rico in a four-week period — which would be a very impressive number even without the power issues present there. The organization relies heavily on food trucks for door-to-door distribution, bringing food to remote locations on an island with damaged infrastructure. Efforts are now winding down, but presence will remain on the island in more remote locations for the foreseeable future.
- Rogue Twitter Folk Hero. A random and recently-let-go Twitter employee won hearts this week by deleting Trump’s account on their way out the door, though it took Twitter quite some time to admit that — they initially chalked the issue up to “human error.” Predictably, Trump’s followers were incensed and the rest of Twitter had a field day. If I ever have occasion to meet this employee, I’m totally going to buy them a thank-you coffee.
And that’s what I have this week. We could go on either direction from here, and I personally am going to keep fingers crossed for a better news week next week. But in the event that it’s terrible, I’ll still be here, snarking all about it!