Folks, the news is never what I’d call great, but after several weeks of increasingly dispiriting nonsense, this may be the worst week we’ve had so far this year. I’ve restructured this week’s roundup under the Really Bad protocol, so you get your dessert good news first and we’re closing with things you can do to help. Try to hold on to the knowledge that it won’t stay this bad — we will come through the other side. I’m here if anyone needs anything.
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 coal emission! — but all offroad adventures are marked with an asterisk. Okay, I think that’s about it for the disclaimers. Onward to the news!
We saw a couple of Disregard of Governing Norms stories this week, and for the first time in a while they’re just all about Trump being horrifying. Here’s what happened:
Trump’s Anti-Press Escalation. Trump has never been what you’d call friendly to reporters, but I believe this week is the first time he threatened a reporter with jail time mid-interview — said reporter, from TIME magazine, apparently hit a nerve on the Russia investigation. Incredibly, you can see in the transcript that the reporter responded by asking, “I’m sorry, Mr. President. Were you threatening me with prison time?” And Trump’s response: “Well, I told you the following [instructions.] You can’t do that stuff.” Note, y’all, that this is not a ‘no,’ and in fact sounds rather like a ‘yes.’
Gag Rule Upheld in Appeals Court. The Ninth Circuit allowed enforcement of this administration’s Title X gag rule this week, which is pretty dispiriting news on several fronts at once. Just on its surface, the ruling’s not awesome because it set aside injunctions blocking enforcement, which means the administration to keep the rule in effect while the appeal is pending. But as the lower court injunctions suggest, the Ninth Circuit is a jurisdiction that’s not noted for its conservatism — the panel of three judges were all appointed by former Republican presidents. There’s another panel that will hear the case on the merits, and we’ll have to hope that the next luck of the draw is better.
Clean Power Setback.* The Trump administration is moving forward with its plan to roll back the Clean Power Plan, issuing a new rule on coal emissions ironically named the Affordable Clean Energy Rule even though the main goal is to save coal plants. The new rule relaxes emission rules considerably, giving states the option to punt on rolling back emissions entirely, so it’s not surprising that several clean-energy focused states already plan to sue.
Immigration Detention Conditions. I put together a list of suggestions for folks who want to help and have no professional or cultural ties to targeted populations. Tl; dr version: 1) Learn about major organizations’ efforts; 2) Talk to your government; 3) Donate time and money; 4) Disseminate information without contributing to panic. For attorneys and other folks with professional ties, there are already manyorganizingeffortsunderway, and I recommend checking them out. For impacted populations, manygroupshavesuggestions as well. We’ll get through this, and action can help.
So that’s what I have for this week, and it’s more than enough. For making it through, you deserve this ridiculous mashup and an eventual better government. I’ll be back next week with more (and hopefully better) 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 a clone army so I can Do All the Things!
You know, when I watched Captain Planet as a small person, I had a reasonable expectation that I would not grow up and become governed by cartoonishly inept and morally bankrupt Saturday Morning villains like Hoggish Greedly, Looten Plunder, and Zarm. And yet I read the news this week and think, well, here we are.
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 Planeteer! — 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:
This was another week with a metric ton of news on the Russia Collusion Investigation front this week, and most of it is absolutely wild in one way or another. Here’s a nuts-and-bolts summary:
Garbage Truck Collision. In this week’s truly weird (and sad) news, an Amtrak train carrying a bunch of GOP lawmakers collided with a garbage truck this week. It says something about my friends, the GOP, and the past year that nearly everyone I know had the same reaction to the breaking news: “Is the garbage truck okay?” And the sad news is that it wasn’t; though there were no major injuries on the train, the collision resulted in six injuries and one fatality among the crew on garbage truck’s side.
Bills to Watch. There are a couple of different bills I suggest watching between now and Thursday, when the government may or may not shut down again. The first is a bipartisan immigration bill introduced by Senators McCain and Coons today, which — props to them — appears to be a mostly clean bill with no funding for a wall, increased interior ICE enforcement, or any other bonkers provisions (beyond increasing security at the border itself, which is not ideal but is unfortunately realistic). Naturally, the lack of utterly irrational and xenophobic provisions means that Trump is already badmouthing the bill, implying that the bipartisan group would need a veto-proof majority for this bill to go anywhere. The other important bill to track is the Mueller protection bill, which similarly appears likely to split Congressdown the middle as well. But given the utterly crackerjacks circus around Releasing the Memo, it’s not a safe bet that this is an issue actually dividing the country — in fact, polls show that the majority of Americans understand how important it is that Mueller have protection to do his job. So we’ll have to see who prevails on that, unfortunately, and hopefully all the news in the Russia Investigation column will make legislators more cautious.
Immigration Updates. There was a lot more immigration news this week, and the best I can say is that some of it is mixed rather than abjectly bad. There was another ICE sweep at places of business this week, which seems to be a new recurrent theme; 77 businesses in northern California were raided by ICE for their employment records. The companies were given three days to produce records. Meanwhile, ICE also announced an official courthouse policy, which can be approximately summarized as “damn right we’re going to arrest people at their criminal court dates, that’s like the easiest way to find immigrants we know.” (They did say, however, that they will generally not arrest family members or arrest in civil matters, at least according to their policy.) In slightly gentler news, the Department of Homeland Security decided to extend Syrian TPS for another eighteen months this week as well, but simultaneously announced that no new enrollment would be permitted despite (or perhaps because of) the desperate circumstances in Syria. As a result, the 6,900 people who were granted TPS and have remained in the United States since October 2016 — in other words, before Trump was allowed to touch anything — are protected as long as they don’t leave; the millions of displaced people seeking to enter the United States are out of luck.
Environmental Infractions “R” Us. We haven’t focused on environmental infractions in a while here at the roundup, and that is an oversight because I assure you, there are several — though today’s updates really just boil down to “Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke continues to be The Actual Worst Human Being.” Some of the highlights that prompted today’s Captain Planet comparison: a) misappropriating wildlife funds to pay for a helicopter tour; b) planning to drill in some off-shore locations and not others for the extremely technical reason that Well They Aren’t Florida; c) repealing fracking regulations designed to preserve health and safety on publicly owned lands; d) launching an expensive overhaul of his department that has been criticized as “more like a dismantling than a reorganization,” and e) retaliating against whistleblowers in his department (which is super illegal, in case anyone was curious). And speaking of things legal challenges to sketchy behavior, several state attorneys general are threatening to sue him over the arbitrary offshore drilling decisions; California is suing him over the fracking decision as well. I should probably start a running count, because I doubt those will be the last lawsuits of his tenure.
Chatty Orca. Scientists in France taught an orca whale to repeat human speech, getting her to say the words ‘hello,’ ‘Amy,’ and ‘one, two, three.’ I recognize that this isn’t actually national news in any sense of the term; I just figured that after the Zinke section, you might enjoy hearing news about biology that didn’t end in tears. Keep up the good work, Wikie!
And that’s all the news that I have for now; I think we all agree that it’s more than enough! I’m still holding out hope for a good news cycle, which we most emphatically did not experience this week. But either way, I’ll be back next week with more news, lovingly seasoned with snarky sardony.
I am seriously kind of in awe of just how much news has happened this week. In an ordinary democracy, the panopoly of natural disasters so close together would shut down most other things, beyond maybe some arguments about what bill initiative Congress should tie to the FEMA funds. But since we live in The Dystopia Nobody Bothered to Predict, instead apparently back-to-back hurricanes meant A Great Time To Take Away People’s Protections. Yaaaaaaay. (Also, there was a bunch of movement on the Russia investigation, but I can’t be mad about that, because Mueller might make the hurting stop.)
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 climate scientist — 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:
More news this week on that oldie-but-goodie, the Emoluments Clause. (Remember that thing? Cause Trump clearly doesn’t!)
Trump Junior and the Airing of Secrets.* Donald Trump Junior spoke to Senate Judiciary Committee staff in interview this week, and it would appear that many beans were spilled that day. Not so much in what he said — in fact, Chris Coons was of the opinion that so many lies were uttered that he pointedly sent out a memosummarizing penalties for perjury — but what his story accidentally reveals. His story, apparently, was that he met with Russian representation to get information on Hillary Clinton’s “fitness” to be President. But he said in his prepared statement that he planned to consult with counsel about anything he learned, which head Democrat Adam Schiff correctly pounced on as evidence that Junior knew the meeting was pretty dodgy. His repeated complaint that nothing “meaningful” came out of the meeting also was noteworthy to the investigators, because it served to highlight the campaign’s hope that the meeting would produce dirt on Clinton. The Senate interview went on about five hours, and Senator Feinstein has signaled that he’ll definitely be questioned again, and publicly, sometime soon — by subpoena if necessary.
Does Anybody Even Bother to Honor Recusal Anymore? So one of the Russia Investigation headlines this week is that Nunes is yelling at Sessions for failing to provide documents to the House committee relating to the Russia dossier. If you’re confused by this, because both Nunes and Sessions are supposed to be recused from this very investigation, I welcome you to the most esteemed club of People Who Expect Recusals to Mean Something.
Mueller’s Federal Aide(s). Mueller released a list of aides he wants to interview, and I’m pretty excited about it. Sean Spicer and Reince Priebus! Hope Hicks! White House Counsel Don McGahn! Maybe McGahn can tell us which part of the draft letter firing Comey he didn’t think was appropriate (since it wasn’t, you know, the firing part).
Mother Earth Has Given Up And Is Letting Us Touch The Hot Stove.* There has been so much terrifying natural disaster news this past week that I’m honestly kind of worried I forgot something. In addition to Hurricane Irma (which was awful, and I’ll discuss that separately below), we’re currently experiencing unexpectedly severe wildfireson thewest coast (caused in part by a heat wave so bad it killed six people even in considerably-wetter San Francisco); two moresignificant hurricanesin addition to Harvey and Irma; earthquakes in Mexico; and massive solar flares. And of course, that’s just what was in the news this week; we’re not even talking about Hurricane Harvey or Heatwave Lucifer in Europe. Most of us are SUPER SORRY, Mother Nature, and we promise to never touch the hot stove of global warming again. (Too bad we aren’t in charge of anything.)
And that’s what I got this week — more than enough, I’m sure you’re thinking! I’ll do my best to keep touching on all the key points each week, but the news is still moving really fast, and we’re also increasingly seeing announcements at odd times. Daily news summaries like WTFJHT remain an excellent resource until we meet again.
 I do have one friend who says that the Hunger Games series is a prediction of this dystopia, and I’m not ultimately sure he’s wrong. Although at least we aren’t being ordered to die for reality television. (Yet.)
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.
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 praisesmultiple 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.”
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.
Confederacy Statue Removal. Baltimore moved up its timetable to remove Confederate statues from the city last week, using emergency powers relating to the city’s security to remove all four statues in the middle of the night. This is both a valid decision in light of Charlottesville’s violence and a referendum on Trump’s statements; prior to the President’s escalation, this had been a very lengthy process. An expert on Confederate symbols was quoting as saying he expected a “rolling cascade” of similar actions from other cities. “[I]f you do it quickly the opposition can’t build up, and the confrontations that we’ve had, not only in Charlottesville but elsewhere, will not materialize,” the expert reasoned. He’s already been proven at least partially right; the University of Texas followed suit this morning, removing four statues during the night and citing the “horrific displays of hate” in Charlottesville as its reasoning.
Boston Strong. My home city of Boston hosted about a hundred far-right protesters this past week, which was a pretty bizarre experience. Though I can’t say any of us enjoyed shutting down our downtown, we did show up in droves, with estimates that the counterprotest reached about 40,000 attendees throughout the day. The sheer numbers allowed for a level of nonviolence that would not have been an option in Charlottesville, and in fact the counterprotest was so effective that the speakers opted to cut their rally short by about an hour. Although a few dozen people were arrested — which friends of mine enjoy pointing out is fewer than some Sox games — as the commissioner noted, “99.9 percent of the people here were for the right reason and that’s to fight bigotry and hate.” Also, many of the signsweretrulyamazing.
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.