National News Roundup: Year 3, Week 14 (April 21–27)

This week, hoooo boy — I can’t tell if the entire Trump administration did a bunch of mushrooms or somebody snuck some in my cereal and I’m the one that’s high. I’ll do my best to break it down, but this week was pretty much one long, bad trip through Wonderland. And we didn’t even get to meet a dormouse.

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 booster shot! — 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 Corner

Somehow, the Russia Investigation and its related aftermath just remain the gift that keeps on giving. Here’s what I have for you this week:

There was only one major story regarding Disregard of Governing Norms, but it’s a new level of egregious. Here’s what happened:

Your “Normal” Weird:

The Bad:

The Good:

So that’s what I have for this week, and some of last as well. For making it through, you deserve this squid checkup poetry and an eventual better government. I’ll be back next week with more (and hopefully less confusing) news, and I hope you will be back as well — but in the meantime, feel free to ping the National News Roundup ask box, which is there for your constructive comments. Send me questions! Send me feedback! Send me more hours in the day!

National News Roundup: Year 2, Week 16 (May 6–12)

Honestly, the theme of this week was “Taking This Horrorshow on the Road.” Between updates on the Russia investigation, increasingly draconian policies at the borders, withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, and the release of North Korean prisoners, it definitely feels like the most noteworthy things to happen this past week occurred outside the country. But there’s still a huge amount of horrible happening domestically, and it’s a good idea to keep on top of that as well.

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 confirmation hearing! — 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:

It was another fairly quiet week regarding Casual Disregard of Governing Norms, but there was one major exception to this general rule:

There was a fair amount happening this week on the Russia Investigation front too, as several different interrelated issues moved forward. Here’s a summary of the main things to know:

Your “Normal” Weird:

The Bad:

The Good:

And that’s the news this week! I’m afraid next week looks like it’s gearing up to be an awful news week, if today is any indication, and I’m sure we’ll be crying in our comfort foods by this time next week. But I’ll be back, and I’m hoping so will you, and if you need anything before then, feel free to ping the National News Roundup ask box. Send me questions! Send me feedback! Send me hope for tomorrow!

From Stunned Shock to Starting Point (or: This is Not The Story I Thought I’d Be Writing Today)

Yesterday, in the scramble to put out a weekly draft that included information on Trump’s statements, I drafted this paragraph:

“After several days of equivocating, Trump took questions on the Charlottesville rallies at a press conference about infrastructure policy. He issued very strongly-worded impromptu statements that were much more supportive of white nationalism than condemning, and it’s extremely important that we watch how the country responds to them. Among the most important things to track were his false equivalence of Robert E. Lee with George Washington; his false characterizations of “the alt-left that came charging at the alt-right” and “[a mob with torches chanting ‘Blood and soil’] protesting very quietly” on Friday; and his assertions that the white supremacist group on Saturday was unfairly characterized (despite the murder that occurred at the gathering). These statements made his affiliations sufficiently clear that David Duke, former KKK leader, thanked him for his “honesty and courage” in speaking. We need to take that seriously, because it illustrates just how much his words are further emboldening white radical groups. These behaviors are not normal or acceptable, and it’s important to contact our reps to make sure they know that.”

At the time that I wrote this, it was an accurate (if incomplete) summary of the day’s events. Today, I had planned to draft information about how and why, exactly, his rhetoric was wrong. But somewhat miraculously, I don’t need to; the nation appears to already know it. In the last twenty-four hours, we’ve started to see real consequences for Trump as more and more people moved to distance themselves from his rhetoric and his stance in general. Here are the highlights and recommended reading:

Detailed, firsthand narratives documenting Saturday’s events.

Many, many people put out credible firsthand accounts (both self-published and professionally-published) of what actually happened in Charlottesville. Though I was not personally present on the scene, by happenstance my household and I are close to several people who either live in Charlottesville or headed into the city to protect it ahead of the Unite the Right rally. As a result, many of these accounts — of activists, of street medics, of residents — were written by people I personally know, and whose narrative I definitely trust. A few of these folks are people I’ve known a decade or longer. This outpouring of stories illustrates the extent to which locals were terrified of the fascist presence pouring into their city, and exactly how and why people needed help from others to withstand intimidation and attacks. The accounts also illustrate why so many people refer to the gathering itself, as well as the vehicular manslaughter, as “domestic terrorism.”

More information on the so-called “alt-left.”

One incredibly helpful thing the Washington Post did today was publish information on antifa history in response to Trump’s statements about the “alt-left.” If you don’t have time to read, here’s a quick-and-dirty summary: “Antifa” is short for “antifascism,” and as the name suggests the groups arose to counteract national fascist activity. They first began to counter Musselini in Italy, Hitler in Germany, and Franco in Spain, and have popped up at various points of history (in America, first gaining real traction in the 1980s in response to the KKK). They are gaining spotlight now in 2017 for obvious reasons, but they are not a new phenomenon. Antifa, more-or-less by definition, advocates popular resistance to fascism rather than reliance on a (likely corrupted) police force or political system; because it shares roots with anarchism, it does sometimes (but not always) include destruction of property or defensive violence. Many of the firsthand accounts of Charlottesville give concrete examples of ways that the antifa and other activist movements engaged and worked together on Saturday. As the accounts suggest, antifa were not the only people working to counter white nationalism on that date, making it even less clear what “alt-left” meant as Trump used it — but specifically meaning ‘antifa’ is a common interpretation.

More instructions on the so-called “alt-right.”

Incredibly, the Associated Press instructed outlets today to limit use of the term ‘alt-right,’ noting, “it is meant as a euphemism to disguise racist aims.” This is a giant step forward that activists have been trying (in vain) to get formal news outlets to take for months. If you don’t distinguish yourself from white supremacists or white nationalists, the official instructions seem to say, then that is what we will call you.

Political consequences for Trump.

This is the really big question mark that was floating above my head as I wrote yesterday — would anyone in power care about what had happened? Would anybody do anything? In an era when politicians denouncing Trump’s actions and voting for his policies has become common, this was a very valid question, and I am relieved to discover its answer.

Evolution of Journalism.

Immediately after yesterday’s press conference, CNN was (correctly) calling “alt-left” a “made-up term.” The Washington Post today described yesterday’s press conference as “the nail in the coffin for ‘both-sides’ journalism,” a problem that has plagued the press since the election cycle (and widely regarded as part of how we got into this mess). These descriptions illustrate a shift in thinking among mainstream news outlets that has been slowly building for some time as the Trump administration continually demonizes ordinary, established publications. These headlines don’t come from a vacuum, but they do suggest we’ve reached a turning point.

The Bottom Line

All of these things begin to paint a picture of a country that is slowly waking up, recognizing the state we are in, and beginning to take affirmative steps that activists have longed to see taken for quite some time. As an advocate and activist, I really cannot overstate just how welcome this is.

We have a long climb ahead of us as a country, and I won’t sugarcoat that. But it seems that we have, at the moment, reached a vista.

National News Roundup: Week 8 (March 12–18)

We were due for a good news week in the cycle, and this was a pretty good week — as long as Trump’s budget gets kicked to the curb and we don’t go to war with North Korea. So, you know, your mileage may vary.

Standard disclaimers still 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. Disclaimers over, let’s look at the poisoned apple pie served up this past week.

The Weird

  • Standard Microwaves Cannot Be Used As Spy Cameras. This appears to be news to Kellyanne Conway, who asserted otherwise in an interview on Sunday (which she said to support Trump’s assertions that Obama monitored Trump Tower, because of course she did). She claimed afterward that her words were taken out of context (and, somewhat incredibly, that she’s “not in the job of having evidence,” though that’s another story), but looking at the context makes it clear that they weren’t.
  • Remember Trump’s Taxes? Apparently investigative reporter David Cay Johnston had a copy of Trump’s tax return from 2005, but in the 90 minutes before Rachel Maddow could present it on her show, the White House released the 2005 tax return. This has been generally treated as great ado about nothing, as Trump’s taxes for this year were squeaky clean, but it demonstrates just how easily Trump could release this information if he wanted to. Also, how salty various news outlets collectively can be about cable news. Oh, we all learned the phrase ‘over-the-transom,’ so that’s a fun silver lining.
  • The Call Came From Inside (Russia’s) House. The Justice Department has issued criminal cyber charges against two Russian intelligence agents relating to the heist of 500 million Yahoo user accounts in 2014. The indicted FSB officers — Dmitry Dukuchaev and Igor Sushchin — are part of the cyber investigative arm of the FSB, which is officially responsible for investigating computer intrusions in Russia.
  • No, Really, Our Muslim Ban Is Not Anti-Muslim! The Trump administration’s revised travel ban has been blocked on two fronts (more about this in The Good) and the Justice Department has filed an appeal in an effort to salvage the ban. Sadly, no one yelled “SEE YOU IN COURT!” on twitter this time.
  • Hey Angela, Check Your Microwave. Trump tried to involve German Chancellor Angela Merkel in conversation about his wiretapping accusations against the Obama administration, referring to reports that the NSA had tapped Merkel’s phone in 2010. Wisely, Merkel ignored him.
  • But He Tapped My Wires! Really, I think this New York Times article says it best: “No matter how many officials, even in [Trump’s] own party, dismiss his unsubstantiated claim that President Barack Obama secretly tapped his phones last year, the White House made clear on Thursday that it would stand by the assertion.” Good luck with that.

The Bad

The Good

  • Congressional Budget Office Condemns the Trump-Ryan Healthcare Plan. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the Republican healthcare plan would add 24 million uninsured people by 2026. The White House maintains that the CBO’s assessment is wrong, but the unfavorable analysis has alarmed people and it barely squeaked through the Budget Committee (with three conservatives voting against it). So it continues to be an uphill road for everyone’s least favorite healthcare bill.
  • No Darkest Dutch Timeline. Unlike us, the Netherlands had the sense to avoid electing its dangerously fascist frontline candidates this past week, though some conservative candidates did win seats. So no darkest timeline over there, but maybe a vaguely dim one. Still, were I Dutch, I would consider it a win to avoid my own national Brexit or Trumpaganza.
  • Honolulu Judge Blocks Revised Travel Ban. The new Trump travel ban is just the old Trump travel ban with fancy shoes, so it presents more-or-less the same Constitutional violations. Hawaii sued accordingly, and a judge issued a restraining order to stay the travel ban nationwide. You can read the full ruling online, and particularly enjoy the part where the judge spanks this administration repeatedly with the Establishment Clause starting at page 30.
  • Republicans vs. Trump’s Budget. Nobody likes the discretionary spending budget the Trump administration drafted, and I pretty much mean nobody. In addition to uniform Democrat opposition, Congressional hawks want more spending at the Pentagon, while other conservatives hate the rural support programs getting cut. And nobody wants to pay for the freaking wall. Even Trump’s closest allies say this isn’t going to fly. Trump, meanwhile, called the budget “sensible and rational,” showing that he doesn’t know what either of those words mean and cannot work with his own party (but we knew that already). Obviously we need to keep tracking, but it’s ultimately appearing very unlikely that this will pass in its current form.
  • McDonald’s Hates Trump’s Tiny Hands. Well, probably it’s actually hackers who hate Trump’s tiny hands, given the aggressively neutral tweets usually put out by the account. But for twenty-five glorious minutes, this distinctly anti-Trump tweet was proudly pinned at the top of the McDonald’s twitter feed. Which probably annoyed the heck out of him, considering his long love affair with fast food.
  • About That Wiretapping… According to the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee, there’s no evidence that the US government ever had Trump Tower under surveillance. (Comey also repeated this today in his hearing, so it will be interesting to see what the administration does with that.)
  • Maryland Judge Also Blocks Revised Travel Ban. Per a judge in Maryland, when you go on record as saying your travel ban is anti-Muslim, it’s very hard to sound believable when you say your travel ban isn’t anti-Muslim. (The judge in Hawai’i noted this also.) The ruling supports the Honolulu decision, ultimately making it harder to enforce the travel ban without a SCOTUS decision. That said, as noted above, the first decision is being appealed, so we’ll see what ultimately happens with this round of Trump vs the Judiciary.

And one last bit of news I saw fit to print: I’m going to be out of town next weekend at a memorial service, so I won’t have a standard news summary for you. But I will send you some key headlines, and then we can get back to normal (for some definition of normal!) the following week. Take care until then, and don’t burn down the Internet in my absence, please!

National News Roundup: Week 5 (February 19–25)

Well, two weeks ago we had the good news week, and last week we had the weird news week… I’m afraid things have come full circle, and now we’ve arrived at the bad news week. I’ll do my best to keep it digestible, but this week’s news is… pretty bad (though it’s also important, so I recommend reading it carefully). You might want to get some cookies, baked goods, or adult beverages of your choice, Gentle Reader. The news and I will hold your spot until you get back.








Okay, are you well-stocked and ready? Let’s get this show on the road. 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. Okay, warning label over. Onward to the news!

The Weird:

  • ‘Last Night in Sweden’…nothing happened. Trump confused the entire nation this past week by making up a reference to terrorist activity in Sweden, which Sweden wasted no time in soundly refuting. Then, just to ice the cake, Trump admitted he actually got the whole thing from Fox News. So, that happened. Or didn’t, more accurately. Also, and on a related note, the Washington Post published some data indicating that Trump has publicly uttered at least falsehood every single day since he assumed the Presidency.
  • Sessions 1, DeVos 0. In a surprising turn of events, Betsy DeVos originally refused to cooperate with Sessions, and then Trump, on their efforts to hurt transgender kids. She ultimately capitulated, when presented with the option of either giving in or resigning. But it was a very strange half a day of grudging respect for her, I don’t mind telling you.
  • Put Me In, Prez! One of the weirder policy decisions from this administration — and this is saying something — is that Trump hasn’t been using the Secretary of State very much to set foreign policy, a fact that is starting to receive media attention. Instead, Kushner, Bannon, and Priebus have been attending meetings, prompting folks to start talking about a “shadow cabinet” (and I can’t even imagine how weird those meetings must be for everyone involved.). But Tillerson did get sent to Mexico for talks this week, with a Kelly-shaped chaperone. I don’t know about you, but I would not watch that installment of the Weekend at Bernie’s franchise.
  • Trump vs the Press, Round 2304203402. The latest in Trump’s ongoing battle with the free press is diminished access to press conferences, with the White House handpicking a “gaggle” of reporters who were allowed to receive their (fake) news without any cameras present. The organizations allowed access included Breitbart (of course), Fox News, and the Wall Street Journal. Organizations explicitly denied access included the Huffington Post, the New York Times, Politico, and CNN. The Associated Press and Time magazine were granted access, but refused to proceed once they learned their colleagues were being screened out. The Washington Post, in a fit of prescience, didn’t even bother to show up.

The Bad:

  • Sessions Trumps Trans Students. As eluded to above, the White House withdrew guidance issued by the Obama administration this week, apparently at Sessions urging, that standardized inclusion of trans kids in public restrooms at schools. The administration leaves the question up to the states — because civil rights are a great thing to put up to a majority vote — and several states and cities have already issued statements that they will continue inclusive practices. That said, presumably several states are also quietly dismantling protections as I write this, and trans communities around the nation can expect to see fallout from the change.
  • The House Continues to Issue Bonkers Bills. The latest gem to have added text is a provision terminating the Department of Education. Presumably nobody consulted Betsy DeVos about this one, either.
  • Pence Handmaiden’s Tale Bingo Continues. Most of the recent efforts have been state legislation rather than federal, but the last week or two has not been great on this front. Between a Utah representative saying that equal pay was bad for families, an Oklahoma legislator calling pregnant women ‘hosts,’ and leaked provisions to defund Planned Parenthood while appealing the Affordable Care Act, it has not been a great week for feminist issues.
  • Delete Uber (again). Uber is yet again in hot water for appalling business practices, this time involving sexual harassment and hostile work environment. Apparently it’s not a very pleasant place to work if you are female and conventionally attractive. Who could have seen that revelation coming.
  • Pruitt’s Completely Surprising Friendship with Fossil Fuel. On a similar level of shocking revelation, some information about our new EPA head’s inappropriately chummy relationship to the fossil fuel industry as AG of Oklahoma came out this week. There’s not much to be done about it now, as far as I can tell, but it’s not exactly heartening.
  • Executive Order Memoranda Abound. The Department of Homeland Security put out clarifying memoranda on the two immigration orders still being enforced. The memoranda say more-or-less what we expected, but it still wasn’t fun to read. Also, some of the provisions in there about raids and enforcement in “sensitive areas” such as hospitals are… evidently not being followed, shall we say?
  • Jewish Boiling Point. Ten more JCCs received bomb threats this past week, and a major Jewish cemetery in St Louis saw desecration of nearly 200 graves. The ADL received a bomb threat this week, too. Trump eventually made a statement, which the Anne Frank Center immediately decried as a ‘pathetic asterisk of condescension,’ among other things. The Trump administration responded in true-to-form classy fashion. I responded also, though with considerably less blaming other people.
  • Two dead from racist shooting in Kansas. I don’t have it in me to come up with a snarky headline for this one — two men of Indian descent in Kansas were fatally shot by a racist perpetrator who thought they were Middle Eastern, and apparently yelled “Get out of my country!” while shooting them. About the best thing I can say about the entire affair is that two more people who were shot are recovering, and one of them was a random twenty-four-year-old who was not being targeted but attempted to physically subdue the shooter.
  • Federal Private Prisons Again Open for Business. AG Sessions rescinded an order from the Obama administration phasing out private federal prisons. I have to admit, I’m kind of vaguely impressed by how quickly and efficiently Sessions uses his position to stomp on civil and human rights. I guess he has a lot of prior practice.
  • Standing Rock No Longer Standing. The Standing Rock camp was razed to the ground this week, after the Trump administration gave the official all-clear to proceed forward. It culminated in 46 people being arrested, and several people reported tipis being cut open with knives and participants being threatened with rifles.
  • Autocratic State of the Nation. As always, here is the link to Amy Siskind’s weekly authoritarianism watch review. Some, but not all, of her work is reproduced here, and I recommend checking out her list.
  • CPAC Horror Show. Some truly horrifying things were said at the Conservative Political Action Conference this week. For one thing, Trump called his immigration enforcement machine ‘a military operation,’ leaving a scrambling Kelly to contradict him in talks with Mexico (and making me even more certain that the National Guard headline from last week was an intentional fake-out). But the real headliner was that Bannon straight-up acknowledged that this administration wants to gut the administrative bodies of the executive branch, noting that “[T]hese Cabinet nominees . . . were selected for a reason, and that is deconstruction.” In other words, you know how everybody kept saying that the three requirements for a Cabinet nomination were that you had to be rich, you had to be conservative, and you had to hate the administration you were being nominated to lead? Bannon just directly told us that theory was true. (Also, he kept calling the media ‘the opposition party,’ but that hardly seems noteworthy by this point.) Oh, but Richard Spencer got ejected for being subversive on the same day, proving that irony is not in fact dead.

The Good:

  • Milo and POTUS (Together Basically Never Again). In a somewhat darkly amusing turn of events, Milo Yiannopoulos was uninvited from… basically everything this week, from CPAC to Breitbart to his book deal, because of some comments he made regarding pedophilia of young boys.
  • Refugees Welcome (by some of us). Activists managed to hang a three-foot-high ‘Refugees Welcome’ banner on the Statue of Liberty this week, which is kind of impressive in its own right. The act was illegal, and U.S. State Park police are ostensibly working on apprehending somebody. Also on the subject of illegal asylum, Trudeau announced this week that he won’t halt the practice of accepting asylees who illegally enter Canada.
  • We Obamacare. Okay, fine, I shamelessly stole that pun from a protest sign yesterday, but that doesn’t change the fact that national support for the Affordable Care Act is increasing, which we’re also seeing play out as increased obstruction to repeal in both the House and Senate. Also, Boehner went on the record as saying that he doesn’t think a full repeal of the ACA is going to happen. Perhaps this is why Marc Rubio was caught lying to get out of town hall meetings this week on the topic, as his colleagues find it a difficult topic to address with constituents.
  • One-week Travel Ban Reprieve. The new travel ban that Trump claimed would be out this week was not issued, although we did receive indication that it will target the same seven countries as the old one. It will probably happen this upcoming week, but in the short term I’ll just be happy for small miracles.
  • Maybe We Can Move There?* Scientists discovered seven planets they describe as ‘Earthlike’ circling a nearby star. The ‘seven wonders,’ as NASA called them, are thirty-nine light years away and orbiting an ultra-cool dwarf (which I presume is a technical term) called TRAPPIST-1. I don’t know about you, but I’d consider the trip.
  • The DNC’s First Ever Latino Leader. The Democratic National Committee elected former Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez as the new Chairperson yesterday, in a vote so close they had to do it twice. Perez immediately made Keith Ellison, his neck-and-neck rival, into the deputy chairperson. Ellison urged people to accept Perez as a leader, noting that we “don’t have the luxury to walk out of this room divided.” Though I would have loved to see Ellison as the Chairperson, I happen to agree with him, and I wrote a similar message to Jewish Americans earlier today.
  • The Washington Post is More Metal Than Several Metal Albums. The Washington Post recently changed its motto to “Democracy Dies in Darkness” (for real — I can personally verify that it now appears as a tagline when you sign in to read articles). Perhaps impressed by how awesome this is, Slate wrote an article comparing the motto to fifteen different metal albums. There are some good albums in there, and you’re also now done with this week’s news, so if you like metal I recommend you go check it out!