National News Roundup: Year 2, Week 26 (July 15–21)

This week I have ten stories in Constitutional Crisis Corner, two stories in the Weird, and one story each in The Bad and The Good. This is where we live now, folks; it’s just All Constitutional Crisis All the Time. I tried changing the country’s channel, but it didn’t do anything, so much like my current back issues I guess we’re stuck with it for now.

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 Putin visit — 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:

There’s been so much wild news about Trump and Putin this week that I’m a creating a new section for it just to keep track of it all. Folks, I won’t candy-coat this; it’s looking like there are some serious issues of compromise at play. Here are the main things to know:

There was also still some Casual Disregard of Governing Norms this week, many of which appear related to Trump and Russia but are worth examining on their own. Here’s what happened:

The Russia Investigation is still overclocked and going strong, too — no quieter than it was last week, which is really saying something:

Your “Normal” Weird:

The Bad:

  • Iranian Aggression.* Not content to be fighting with China, North Korea, and half of Europe, Trump also picked a fight with Iran this week in apparent response to Iran trash-talking us on Sunday — but since even that appears to be in response to us withdrawing from the Iran Deal, I’m not sure we get to say they started it. At any rate, Trump took to Twitter to claim that the country would face “CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED” if Irani President Hassan Rouhani continued to threaten the United States. It’s unclear what he meant by that, and frankly, I’m not sure I want to find out, but I’ll keep an eye on this all the same.

The Good:

And that’s the news this week, and good job and my condolences for making it through the whole thing; your reward is Kate the Chemist teaching Steven Colbert how to Do Science and hopefully an eventual better government. I’ll be back next week, and I hope you will be too. In the meantime, feel free to ping the National News Roundup ask box. Send me questions! Send me feedback! Send me a better-functioning lower back!

National News Roundup: Truncated Holiday Special! (Part 1)

I promised myself I would still do the news over the break, because I want y’all to stay informed. But it’s the holidays, and we all want to take a little time to dream about a world that’s less of a trash fire than this one — and besides, loved ones have convinced me that Perhaps It is Good Activism to Take Some Time Off. So we’re doing a Holiday Special this week as a compromise: Brief bullets with the best, the worst, and the weirdest. I promise it’ll be better than Star Wars!*

Standard standing reminders still apply, though: 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 an ambassador! — but all offroad adventures are marked with an asterisk. Okay, I think that’s about it for the disclaimers. Onward to the Special!

The Weirdest:

The Worst:

The Best:

  • A Very Mnuchin Christmas (and Other Petty Slights). Here at Schadenfreude Central, you can enjoy the fact that a guy sent Steve Mnuchin a gift-wrapped box of horse manure for Christmas this year, along with a note observing that he was returning the favor for the tax reform bill. Meanwhile, the UK government is trying to talk Prince Harry out of inviting the Obamas to his wedding, for the simple reason that he’s most emphatically not inviting the Trumps and they don’t want to deal with an orange-hued Twitter tirade. But since Prince Harry bonded with the Obamas at the Invictis Games this past year and appears to be actually friends with them — and his wedding is not an official state event — I hope he gets his way on this. The Trumps, by the way, are definitely not getting an invite, and nobody is acting like that option is even on the table.
  • Some Actual Good News. The six J20 protesters charged with felonies for protesting on Inauguration Day were found not guilty this week, ending a four-week trial and a nearly year-long process. Incredibly, the prosecutor conceded in its trial arguments that there was no evidence that these six people committed any of the violent actions charged — two were street medics, and one was a photojournalist covering the protests — but argued that they participated in a protest where other people did, so they should be held accountable. (Quick editorial note from your resident attorney author: While it’s true in many jurisdictions that people who conspire to commit a felony can be charged for anything that happens during the commission of that felony — including murder if it goes horrible awry — it’s pretty disturbing both philosophically and legally to argue that a plan to protest is a conspiracy to commit a felony.) With all sincerity, these verdicts are an important bastion against the criminalization of ordinary protest, for the simple reason that there was no evidence any of defendants had done literally any rioting. If any of these convictions had stuck, they could be used to convict people simply pinned in the wrong spot when a protest goes south — an experience that happens to many, many peaceable protesters if someone in the crowd starts a riot.

And that’s the Holiday Special, folks! We’ll do A Very News New Year next week, probably on the ordinary release date, and then we’ll be back to our regular routine by 1/9. Until then, keep on keepin’ on!

*The Christmas Special, that is. No promises about Last Jedi; I still haven’t even seen it.

National News Roundup: Week 15 (April 30-May 6)

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!

The Weird:

The Bad:

  • 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.

The Good:

  • 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!)

National News Roundup: Week 14 (April 23–29)

My friends, we have seen a very elusive creature this past week — the fabled good news cycle. In particular, we saw some significant strides on both the investigation into collusion and protecting vulnerable immigrant populations. Although we also saw a lot of deeply weird stuff. I guess that’s what happens when you drink unicorn frappuccinos for good luck.

Standard standing reminders apply: I am no journalist, though I play one in your inbox or browser, so I generally only summarize news in my area of expertise. This week does contain a few headlines outside my expertise, but all my off-road adventures will be marked with asterisks. Onto the news!

The Weird:

The Bad:

The Good:

  • Sanctuary Preserved (For Now). In what I would characterize as the biggest news of the week, a federal district court judge issued an injunction against the government regarding its threat to cut funding for sanctuary jurisdictions. Just like with the other two court cases, it’s a temporary injunction rather than a permanent ban, and just like in the other two, the court cited public statements made by officials in its rationale. That said, the judge did make perfectly clear that there are serious potential constitutional problems with the order. The decision is extra exciting because it marks the fourth piece of the immigration executive orders to go into limbo indefinitely, following the travel ban, funding for the wall, and the reports that would identify sanctuary jurisdictions in the first place.
  • I’d Like To Report a UFO. Fed up with VOICE’s role within the propaganda machine, activists have started calling the hotline number to report criminal aliens like Darth Maul and Invader Zim. The effort was apparently sufficiently successful to jam up the phone lines, which are no longer working properly. Though this is a particularly clever form of activism, it goes in the ‘good’ column because the VOICE program is exploitative and dangerous, and gumming up its wheels for any length of time should be celebrated.
  • No One Likes AHCA, Apparently Including Congress. Attempts to revive the AHCA this week failed miserably, in part because it’s still a fetid cesspool of a policy and in part because it became known that Congress was exempting itself from having to follow it. It remains to be seen whether they’ll try to revive this bill a third time. I doubt it will give the policy any charm.
  • Bizarrely Productive Voting Happened: Despite threats to the contrary, Congress managed to vote to avoid shutdown on Friday. Then they voted on a more long-term budgetary plan on Sunday, and it was deeply impressive just how much the King of Negotiation failed to successfully negotiate. 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. The whole thing was so unapologetically against Trump’s agenda that I’m honestly kind of wondering where they put the hidden catch. But for now, I’m going to turn off that part of my brain and celebrate how uncannily non-damaging this week has turned out to be! I encourage you to do the same, but save some of the ice cream in the freezer — I suspect we’re going to need it later.

National News Roundup Week 2 (January 29-February 4)

Hello again, friends! Buckle in, because this has been a weird, long, confusing, roller coaster of a week even by last week’s standards. We are living in Interesting Times, distinguished guests, and trying to guess where we go from here is like trying to read Keurig machine herbal tea leaves, so your guess is as good as mine.

Some preliminary reminders before we take off, because a vague disclaimer is nobody’s friend: 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

The Bad

The Good

  • (All) Boys Will Be Boys: In a rare bright spot of news this week, the Boy Scouts of America have announced they’ll be accepting transgender boys into their ranks for the first time in a century. As the article notes, this comes four years after accepting openly gay scouts and two years after accepting openly gay adult leaders. Progress!
  • Woah: The Merriam Webster Dictionary gave the ACLU a somewhat adorable spelling lesson this week, with some help from songwriter and genial pedant Jonathan Coulton.
  • Dressing Like a (Name-Taking) Woman: In response to leaked commentary about President Trump noting that he “likes the women who work for him to ‘dress like a woman,’” professional women all over the country responded by being awesome and photographing it. They captured sartorial choices from hospital scrubs to judicial robes to military fatigues to space suits to… basically everything that a woman might wear while kicking butt and taking names.
  • This Land is (Still) Your Land, This Land is (Still) My Land* A bill introduced by a Utah Congressman which would have authorized the sale of federal lands to private businesses got yanked this week, by the same congressman who originally introduced it. He explained this by noting, “I’m a proud gun owner, hunter and love our public lands . . . Groups I support and care about fear it sends the wrong message. I hear you and HR621 dies tomorrow.” …you know what, I’ll take it; at this point good news is good news.

And that’s it for this week — hopefully next week will be a little less interesting, though I’ll also accept “full of good news” as an option. Catch you all next Sunday, if not sooner!

Grunkle Donny’s Bargain Emporium: An Early Analysis of the “Reducing Regulation and Controlling…

“Step right up to Grunkle Donny’s Bargain Emporium! We give one unit of credit for every two credits sold! All regulations must go!

Oh, sorry folks, read the teleprompter wrong. I meant to say ‘Grunkle Donny’s Bargain System of Governance.’”

Welcome to the fourth installment of the ever-growing executive order series — though this one is outside my area of expertise, so we’re all sailing without sonar today. But my handy-dandy secondary sources and I are still here to help! Buckle in, friends, because this latest order takes us even further into Wonderland — and just like the Wonderland T stop, we fall asleep for five minutes and end up cranky that we landed here.

Can you just tell us what this thing says?

The majority of the provision can be summarized with one pullquote, taken from Section 1: “[I]t is important that for every one new regulation issued, at least two prior regulations be identified for elimination, and that the cost of planned regulations be prudently managed and controlled through a budgeting process.” Nope, not a joke. We’re literally applying the same technique we use to clean our closets to federal regulation of government agencies.

There is more to the executive order, of course, because it goes on for four more sections, but it’s mostly just fleshing out this central idea. Though I do enjoy the part where the order says that “the total incremental cost of all new regulations, including repealed regulations, to be finalized this year shall be no greater than zero.” I can only imagine this is because we’re spending every last cent on that thrice-cursed wall nobody wants. (The following year is slightly gentler, allowing the director of the Office of Management and Budget to issue a maximum total cost for each agency, though I suppose he could just set all of them at zero again.)

Of course, none of this goes into effect until the regulations freeze currently in place ends, which means the soonest we could be seeing any of this play out will be late March. Oh, also, the executive order specifically exempts the following government agencies, because of course it does:

(a) regulations issued with respect to a military, national security, or foreign affairs function of the United States;
(b) regulations related to agency organization, management, or personnel; or
(c) any other category of regulations exempted by the Director.

So just like everything else, if Grunkle Donny likes you, you’ll probably be fine.

Okay… why did he do this?

So that he can cut taxes, presumably, without creating a giant deficit. Also so that he could maintain the illusion of being tough on big government. Of course, as several news articles note, this whole thing is pretty toothless (their word, not mine) because it doesn’t cover independent agencies that were created by the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law, such as the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. So it’s… a symbolic middle finger, I guess? It manages to be rude and stressful without actually doing much of anything useful, at any rate.

But would this theoretically actually work to lower our deficit?

I guess technically it wouldn’t raise it? But this provision specifically exempts a lot of expensive government programs, such as the military and Our Fuhrer’s asinine wall and anything, y’know, required by law to stay in place. So it’s sort of like sticking a carbon-emitting band-aid on a gaping economic flesh wound. (All right, I can own it; that metaphor got away from me.) At the end of the day, this regulation appears to be much like our President himself: Full of sound and fury, and terrible at saving money.

And that’s about it for today, I fervently hope, though I’m sure we’ll have more executive orders to unpack soon. If you’re looking to catch up on all the other executive orders, may I recommend checking out this excellent list maintained by Politico? Or, of course, you can check out the three in-depth summaries I wrote last week. Or catch up on the news. So many options to ruin any chance of a good mood.

But this stuff is important, and onward we steadily march. Keep on keeping on until we meet again!