National News Roundup: Year 2, Week 1 (January 21–27)

By gabriellah money (becca’s boots), via Wikimedia Commons

I described the news this week to someone as “chaotic petty” earlier today, which seems as good a descriptor as any — it’s shades of dirty surreality nearly all the way down, my friends. Still, that’s better than last week, so I suppose 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 Medusa, unless you ask Courtland Sykes! — 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 was a metric ton of news on the Russia Collusion Investigation front this week, and some of it was pretty wild. Most of it can be boiled down to updates on the Mueller investigation, one way or another:

In addition to all of those gems, this week there was also some rare movement in both directions on the Emoluments Clause issue:

Your “Normal” Weird:

The Bad:

The Good:

  • Net Neutrality Executive Orders.* Governors of Montana and New York both signed executive orders this week enforcing net neutrality in their states. Because the FCC’s decision preempts direct regulation of ISPs, both of the executive orders require state agencies to only do business with ISPs that offer neutral services. I’m genuinely really curious to see what happens to these orders legally, and I’m also excited to see states taking proactive steps to try to preserve an important process. So, thanks Montana and New York! We forgive you for Greg Gianforte and Donald Trump. For now.
  • Cleveland Indians Come Clean. The Cleveland Indians announced today that they are retiring their beloved racist caricature of a mascot from team uniforms, opting for a new depiction beginning in 2019. While it would be cool for them to stop calling themselves ‘the Cleveland Indians’ while they are at it, or possibly just fully retire the merchandise instead of continuing to sell it, I’ll take baby steps where I find them.
  • Nassar Nightmares End. Speaking of sports, this past week also concluded a notorious sentencing hearing of Larry Nassar, the doctor convicted of sexually assaulting ten adolescent athletes who presented to him for medical care from 1995 through 2018. The sentencing hearing drew more and more accounts of abuse into the open, ultimately culminating in over 150 people disclosing sexual abuse in the guise of medical care (including multiple Olympic gymnasts). He was sentenced to 40 to 175 years of incarceration for the underlying ten sexual assault on a minor convictions; this is in addition to a 60 year sentence for child pornography already handed down and a separate sentencing hearing for Michigan charges that begins on January 31. There is also a separate lawsuit pending, with over 140 plaintiffs, alleging institutional complicity on the part of Nassar’s affiliates USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University. All told, it’s truly staggering that this pattern continued for twenty years as uninterrupted as it did, and the closing of that chapter of sports practice can only be a good thing.

And that’s all the news that I have for now. If we’re following old patterns, next week will be a good news cycle. And I think we can all use some good news, so I’m gonna go ahead and hope for it. But either way, catch you next time!

National News Roundup: Week 42 (November 5–11)

FORTEPAN / Saly Noémi, via Wikimedia Commons

This week has been weird, y’all. Like, “conservatives are smashing their Keurig machines to stick it to liberals” weird. (Joke’s on them; environmentalists hate those things!) I got nothin’.

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 diplomat! — 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:

Your “Normal” Weird:

The Bad:

The Good:

  • ACA Numbers Don’t Lie. Despite some intentional sabotage by the Trump administration, ACA enrollment reached historic highs this season on its first day of enrollment, more than doubling the previous year’s numbers. In addition to suggesting that healthcare is on people’s minds, these numbers are another piece of evidence that the ACA has become much more popular with the average American in the past year. On a related note, in this past Tuesday’s election Maine voted to expand Medicaid under the ACA by referendum, finally getting around their governor’s perpetual veto. (Their governor, Paul LePage, is already dragging his feet on implementation.)
  • Bob Is My Constituent. We saw some truly amazing victories on Election Day this past week, and I can’t oversell how excited I am about them all! Most obvious were the heaps of Democratic victories, including in both Virginia and New Jersey’s gubernatorial elections. But even more historic was the veritable tide we saw of successful female candidates, successful candidates of color, and successful openly trans candidates in particular. Also, I have particular delight in the story of Danica Roem, who is the first openly transgender state lawmaker, and who defeated Bob Marshall, an extremely outspoken and well-entrenched opponent of trans rights. When she was asked on election night whether she was glad to have defeated his agenda, Ms. Roem apparently replied: “I don’t attack my constituents. Bob is my constituent now.”

And that’s what I have this week — it managed to be weird, terrible, and kind of awesome in turns throughout the week. I could get used to having positive news, though I’m not holding my breath for too long of a streak. Either way, I’ll catch y’all next week!

Roy Moore and the Southern Lawn Crayfish Problem

Photo by me, courtesy of the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium in New Orleans, LA

We live in a big country, and that means regions can have a lot of particularly disparate experiences. For example, did you know that places in the American South experience lawn crayfish? That’s what it sounds like, by the way; it’s an invertebrate related to the common crayfish that lives in your lawn. Many people from the North, myself included, look at that and say “Why is my seafood dinner hanging out next to my begonias?” But in the South, that’s just a thing.

I mention this because we’ve had a solid week now of the Washington Post reporting on the story that Roy Moore, the Republican special election candidate for the Alabama Senate seat vacated by Jeff Sessions, solicited sexual acts from multiple underage women when he was an ADA in his thirties. And much like the lawn crayfish, some prominent people in the South have accepted and defended Moore doing his squirmy, unsettling thing, while all of us in the metropolitan North demand to know what on earth is going on. It’s a predictable, regional mess that can have real life consequences for us all, so I’m writing a bit more about it today. Here are some examples and analyses of the past week’s horrorshow defenses, which have pretty much been The Worst Game of Handmaid’s Tale Bingo:

  1. “There’s nothing wrong with the story as reported.” The most prominent variant on this claim came from Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler, who compared Moore’s actions to Mary and Joseph in an interview with the Washington Examiner. It reflects one of the most important underpinnings of this entire thing: as locals have started saying, they already knew he was preying on teenagers. In the incredible political atmosphere of 2017, grass roots deconstructionist Republicans feel safe simply stating that molesting children is normal per the Bible. (Although in this case, I’m not sure I’d point to a famous instance of a virgin birth to prove my point about sexual misconduct.)
  2. “It was so long ago, and people shouldn’t be held accountable for mistakes made in their youth.” Never mind that he was in his thirties, and a licensed attorney at the time of all four allegations; that isn’t relevant. Jim Zeigler, the guy responsible for the Joseph and Mary quote, even included a messed up Romeo and Juliet argument that Moore simply habitually loved younger women in his youth, citing the fact that his current wife of 35 years is 14 years his junior. (As if marrying a young adult when you’re an established professional, whom you make your own legal secretary, creates an equitable relationship rather than an additional lever for control.)
  3. If this is true, it’s reprehensible.” This one is particularly insidious, and it’s one of the biggest reasons I think this story should not have been published. Republican officials know they can say this with abandon to thread the needle, because in Alabama, the statute of limitations on childhood sexual abuses is long gone. We are never going to have “more facts,” because there will never be a trial, which means everybody in the Tea Party faction of the GOP who doesn’t live in Alabama can get away with this scandal’s version of offering “thoughts and prayers.”
  4. “This was in some way the teenagers’ fault.” I was waiting for this one in particular to show its ugly head from the moment I read this story, for obvious reason. And sure enough, we have an Alabama state rep calling for the women who spoke to the Post to be prosecuted, saying that they enabled Moore by not reporting him if these stories were true. Keep in mind that Moore was an ADA when these allegations would have happened. Would you go tell the police that their colleague tried to illegally get sex out of you, or your daughter? Relatedly, I will be extremely surprised if these women aren’t doxxed and threatened with rape or death, which is Reason #2 this story should not have been published in this timeframe.
  5. “It’s too late for you to interfere; he’s already our candidate and you can’t make us remove him.” This one is the biggest crayfish in the yard, and it has the unfortunate credibility of being absolutely true. It’s too late for the RNC to remove him from the ballot and Alabama officials have no desire to remove Moore for something they already knew about and probably condone. In fact, we’re already seeing Alabama Republicans respond to pressure at this stage by mobilizing their local base. Even worse, when it’s known that Luther was the favored establishment candidate, and the establishment tries to intervene past when it’s effective, local politicians are accurately stating that there was an attempt to tamper with the elective process. The Tea Party base is not noted for favoring truth, but that doesn’t mean they don’t respond to it when it’s in their favor.

Basically, this was a gross miscalculation that assumed Alabama natives would have the same rules of conduct we can expect in Washington, DC — a faulty and potentially dangerous assumption. I get why the Post, and possibly the establishment GOP, thought they could ride the tide of sexual harassment allegations and voting referenda from Tuesday to damage Moore’s chances in a close special election. But those things didn’t happen in Alabama — the location that elected Jeff Sessions over and over. It’s not an area known for listening to women’s voices. I don’t know why they thought that living in Trump’s post-decency political realm would make that any better.