National News Roundup: Week 41 (October 29 — November 4)

Ernest Blaikley [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Well, okay, this week wasn’t the worst we’ve ever seen — but it’s been a deeply surreal (and intermittently horrifying) week nonetheless. Between two deadly attacks in New York and Texas, the ill-advised DNC infighting, and the GOP Tax Cut Opus, we’re sort of cruising along on the Why Is This Reality Highway. But that’s better than stewing in Darkest Timeline juices literally all week, so I guess 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 tax person! — 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:

And of course, we also saw several Threats to Human Rights this week:

  • Divergery Lottery. Despite barely being able to pronounce the program, Trump had a lot to say about the Diversity Visa lottery program this week after a terrorist attack in New York City. In a tweet that literally CCed Fox and Friends, Trump announced that he “wanted merit-based” immigration instead of “democrat lottery systems.” This reflects a, shall we say, imperfect understanding of how the diversity visa system actually works; the program underpinnings were created in the 1960s in response to older quota systems and the system does have rigorous vetting already built into the process. Also, and most importantly, Trump can’t scrap the current diversity lottery program because it was created by Congress twenty-seven years ago (which, by the way, was during a Republican majority and a Republican presidency, not that it matters). Presidents don’t have constitutional authority to scrap laws created by legislatures, however much they might pretend otherwise.
  • Disturbing “Justice” Statements. Trump also had a lot to say about people’s criminal defense rights, by which I mean he thinks nobody has any. He wanted the suspect of Tuesday’s terrorist attack, a lawful permanent resident of the United States who committed crimes on United States soil, sent to Guantanamo Bay because — and I quote — “we … have to come up with punishment that’s far quicker and far greater than the punishment these animals are getting right now” (emphasis mine). I sincerely hope everyone reading this is already aware, but any time a formal statement from public officials involves calling human being ‘animals’ it is not a great sign for civil rights. After he walked that one back, Trump moved onto saying that the suspect in custody should be put to death, which is troubling on multiple fronts because the suspect hasn’t had a trial yet (and, ironically, Trump’s statements might make it harder for prosecutors to do their jobs). All these statements are, of course, on top of the various other fascist things Trump has said in this week and past weeks, which include everything from trying to block the Russia investigation to demanding criminal investigation of political opponents. It’s… not a great look for any administration, let alone one with a 59% disapproval rating.
  • ‘Give Me a Lawyer Dog’. Trump’s blatant disregard for our justice system is made even more concerning by a slip opinion concurrence from the Louisiana Supreme Court this week; the concurrence was on a decision to not to hear the case, so this was presumably this judge’s way of getting his $0.02 in even though the court wasn’t going to write anything with legal value. The concurrence stated that a defendant saying “Give me a lawyer, dog” did not count as invoking his sixth amendment right to an attorney because — and I quote — “defendant’s ambiguous and equivocal reference to a ‘lawyer dog’ does not constitute an invocation of counsel.” Though in this particular instance there were repugnant charges involved, I seriously cannot stress enough how little that should matter when we’re discussing someone’s constitutional right to ask for an attorney while answering police questions. And claiming that he might have been asking for a canine who has passed the bar is just insulting to the rest of us; it’s like the judge isn’t even trying to hide that he’s giving the questioning officers blatant cover. Do you want a police state, Louisiana? Because this is how we get police states.

Your “Normal” Weird:

  • DNC vs HRC. Okay, y’all. We have multiple major elections this upcoming Tuesday, including two gubernatorial races, and the Virginia race in particular is reported to be particularly close and nasty. So hopefully the DNC is mobilizing to support the Democratic candidates who are running in these important interim elections, right? LOLNOPE, they’re too busy erroneously crucifying Hillary Clinton because she formed some fundraising committees with the DNC and may have therefore gotten strategic advantage in 2016! Because that super matters over a year later, and our fascist administration definitely won’t latch onto that to call for the arrest of people you later announce are law-abiding citizens after all. Thanks, Donna Brazile! Maybe you should let Tom Perez take things from here.
  • Rick Perry’s Strange View of Lightbulbs.* Rick Perry made the baffling claim this week that fossil fuels help with sexual assault because of the “light that shines. . . [of] righteousness” on the act. Though he was specifically talking about power in Africa, and there is some evidence to suggest that bringing power to developing countries can lower instances of assault, that still doesn’t explain why fossil fuels would be better or more tenable than other forms of electricity. As my researcher put it: “I guess if conservatives think that fossil fuels shine with the light of righteousness, that explains a lot about why they prefer it over greener energy.”
  • Mercy, Mercer.* News broke this week that business tycoon and Trump patron Robert Mercer is stepping down from his hedge fund and selling his share in Breitbart News. Though this likely at least in part due to increasing investor discomfort with supporting an actual white supremacist, it may also have something to do with the $6,800,000,000 the company owes the IRS in taxes (and that’s not a typo; yes, that number really does say six point eight billion). At any rate, it will be interesting to see what other shoes drop from Renaissance from here.

The Bad:

The Good:

  • MA Bans Bump Stocks. My home state of Massachusetts made the news this week by passing the nation’s first law banning use, sale, and ownership of bump stocks, which were used in the Las Vegas shootings to turn semi-automatic weapons into makeshift automatic firearms. Though I’ll be the first to acknowledge that Massachusetts gun laws create some unique prosecutorial issues and are far from perfect, I also feel strongly that no one should have the capacity to build their own automatic weapons, so I’m pretty okay with this development.
  • Feeding Puerto Rico. Chef José Andrés, who leads a food security activist group called World Central Kitchen, has been undertaking extensive efforts to make sure Puerto Ricans have food. At the time that I write this, Mr. Andrés’s kitchen network has served over 2.3 million meals and sandwiches to the residents of Puerto Rico in a four-week period — which would be a very impressive number even without the power issues present there. The organization relies heavily on food trucks for door-to-door distribution, bringing food to remote locations on an island with damaged infrastructure. Efforts are now winding down, but presence will remain on the island in more remote locations for the foreseeable future.
  • Rogue Twitter Folk Hero. A random and recently-let-go Twitter employee won hearts this week by deleting Trump’s account on their way out the door, though it took Twitter quite some time to admit that — they initially chalked the issue up to “human error.” Predictably, Trump’s followers were incensed and the rest of Twitter had a field day. If I ever have occasion to meet this employee, I’m totally going to buy them a thank-you coffee.

And that’s what I have this week. We could go on either direction from here, and I personally am going to keep fingers crossed for a better news week next week. But in the event that it’s terrible, I’ll still be here, snarking all about it!