Well folks, we managed a long stretch without an actual true Bad News Cycle, so I suppose we were about due — but that doesn’t make it suck less. Comfort food at the ready, y’all. This is a rough one.
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, but not the merger kind! — 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:
Not a lot happened on the Russia Collusion Investigation front this week, but there are a few rumors:
- Rumor Sampling. Multiple outlets are speculating that Jared Kushner’s newly-reduced responsibilities may suggest his star is waning, or he is worried about incoming investigations (or both). There are also rumors that Rosenstein may need to be recused, at the same time that rumors circulate that Trump’s lawyers think the investigation is nearly complete. And since Mueller charged both Gates and Manafort under a little-used and underpowered law, people are speculating about what else the investigator might have in store.
That said, the real news here at Constitutional Crisis Corner is movement on the Threat to Free Speech front:
- FCC and Net Neutrality Repeal. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai formally announced his plan to repeal net neutrality this week, which he’s selling as a return to freedom to the Internet. In reality, it potentially endangers all first amendment rights of citizens dissenting from the current government, and there is already an investigation into fraudulent implementation. On a surface level, the policy is merely unfair and disadvantaging to consumers, because it allows Internet provider companies to set rates of speed and price based on what sites the user is accessing and prioritize their own subsidiaries. But it’s also a dangerous plan on a political level, because it would make it much, much easier to control the flow of information and ability to use the Internet to politically organize. The commission votes on the proposal in mid-December, so now is an important time to call your reps.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Merger Management.* The Department of Justice filed to oppose a merger between ATT and Time Warner this week, which is commonly believed to be a retaliatory action motivated by the fact that Time Warner owns CNN. This is a really weird move, to say the least, and it will be very interesting to see what courts do with it.
- Trump Foundational Issues.* The Donald J. Trump foundation made the news this week because it’s attempting to wind down after admitting to self-dealing last year. There’s just tiny flaw in this plan: It’s not allowed to do that, because it’s under investigation. In fact, since Trump first announced an intention to wind down the nonprofit after investigation had been announced, it seems pretty likely that the investigation is why it was winding down in the first place. So that’s not sketchy at all.
- Trump TIME.* Trump tweeted that he turned down an offer of TIME’s Person of the Year for 2017, which was quickly discredited by TIME when they observed they don’t notify their choice until December 6. I honestly have no idea what motivates the most powerful man in America to lie about whether or not a magazine thinks he’s important, especially when he was already awarded the honor last year, so I’m not even gonna try to wrap my brain around it. It was weird, y’all.
- Competing Commission Heads. In a surreal move I’m honestly surprised hasn’t happened before, Trump named current White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney as the acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. This was, however, a few hours after the departing director of the CFPB promoted his chief of staff to deputy director and said she would be the acting director. Under the law that created the bureau, Dodd-Frank (which Trump has been trying to neuter for half a year now), the director chooses their own interim replacement. But the Department of Justice is arguing that another law generally authorizes the President to fill interim federal positions, so CFPB-led pick Leandra English is suing to stop them. Either way, the whole thing is surreal and disturbing. Welcome to 2017, where the laws are made up and the cases don’t matter.
- Haitian TPS News. In what I can only describe as an ambiguous move at best, the Department of Homeland Security announced this week that it will extend Haitian TPS for another year and a half, but then end it permanently in July 2019. This leaves about 57,000 Haitian nationals here in the United States scrambling to figure out a plan; since Haiti is still lacking a lot of infrastructure and having significant public health issues, many may not want to return immediately (if at all). The decision is particularly confusing because eighteen months is an unusually long time to wind down a TPS program — but it’s a common extension window. All in all, it’s a very mixed decision for relevant immigrant populations, and it adds tension to populations awaiting a TPS decision in the near future (such as people from Honduras and El Salvador).
- Tragedy in Egypt. Over three hundred people were killed, and another hundred were injured, when Muslim extremists bombed a mosque in Egypt this past week. Though militant attacks on mosques are rare in the region, the act of terrorism illustrates the increasingly-common practice of targeting of Sufi religious groups. Officials are describing it as the deadliest terrorist attack in Egypt’s modern history.
- CHIP’s Still Down. Congress still hasn’t extended CHIP, which expired on September 30 while everybody was fighting about the ACA. As a result, forty-two states are facing a difficult situation, and twelve states will run out as soon as next month. I honestly cannot overstate how appalling it is to still have no solution for the situation nearly two months after it first arose — it’s rooted in simple negligence, not controversy, and there are nine million children receiving health insurance through the program nationwide.
- Puerto Rico Power Struggles. A full two months after Hurricane Maria devastated the island, Puerto Rico still strives to have enough power and water for its residents. This is compounded by the fact that Whitefish Energy is ceasing work on Puerto Rico’s electrical grid, claiming that the island owes them money for services already rendered. For those of y’all playing the home game, why yes, that is indeed the same two-person company that was inexplicably awarded a contract through suspicious means a few months ago, and they are in fact failing to finish service during the worst electrical outage in U.S. history. I think we found a new definition of ‘chutzpah,’ y’all. On the plus side, at least this has rekindled the conversation about solar power as an option.
- State Department Woes. Things are apparently still a mess in the State Department, between Tillerson firing his security chief, his department redesign chief quitting three months into the jobs, and a dozen State Department officials accusing Tillerson of violating federal law that prohibits allies’ use of child soldiers. This is, of course, on top of the record numbers of State officials who have already left the department, so it’s not surprising that morale’s in the toilet over there.
- Racism Still in Sessions. While everybody was distracted by their turkey, Jeff Sessions has been hard at work this week. Among the fun new policies are ending federal prison contracts with 16 different halfway houses (because who needs rehabilitation when you’re just gonna lock ’em back up again, amirite?) and offering additional grant funding to jurisdictions that facilitate immigration enforcement. These are, of course, just the latest in a long string of horrid and reactionary policies, but in aggregate it’s all sufficiently terrible that I’m proud I didn’t defenestrate my computer. This time.
- DeVos’s Proposed Civil Wrongs. Betsy DeVos is considering several changes which would limit the scope of discrimination investigations in schools. The major highlights of the draft include directing investigators not to look at systemic issues, granting schools ultimate authority to dismiss cases, and removing the appeals process. So, you know, basically all the parts that would which make it a civil rights investigation at all. On the plus side, the draft won’t be finalized until next year, so there’s plenty of time to call and complain repeatedly.
- New Orleans Mayor. LaToya Cantrell was elected the first female mayor of New Orleans this week, an exciting milestone for a city over 300 years old. Cantrell will be a sitting city council member until May, and has been an activist in the area since Hurricane Katrina in 2005. This is a welcome form of progress in an otherwise difficult week.
- Recent Constitutional Wins. There have been a few different promising court cases in the last few days. In Baltimore, a federal court judge held that the ban on transgender military service members is unconstitutional — and took this holding further than the previous court decision by including coverage of sex reassignment surgery in the holding. There was also a recent court case finding that Trump’s executive order to block funding to ‘sanctuary cities’ was an unconstitutional overreach of authority. The language of the order is very strong, perhaps because it’s the latest in a long chain of similar court holdings on the topic.
And that’s what I have this week — sorry, no take-backs. Here’s hoping you stay your preferred level of engaged and enraged until we meet again next week!