National News Roundup: Week 35 (September 17–23)
It’s cold season Chez Roundup, and only my live-in editor escaped the plague. (You may note, by process of elimination, that this means your favorite news compiler did not.) I mention this because I feel a great temptation to conclude that this past week was a terrible fever dream — it’s been a strange, dark week. Sadly, no matter how much I nap, the news doesn’t seem to improve.
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 tech guru — 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:
As we’ve come to expect, there were some developments in The Russia Collusion Investigation this week:
- Walls Closing In on Manafort.* There was a lot of news about everybody’s favorite sketchy campaign manager this week. To begin with, Mueller apparently warned him to expect an indictment when they raided his home in July. But the more pieces of the puzzle fall into place, the more this just makes perfect sense — we also learned this week that the investigation of Manafort stretches back eleven years; that Manafort has been monitored by the FBI since summer 2016; and that the FBI discovered Manafort offered to give a Russian oligarch private briefings on the Trump campaign during that same window of time. So, basically, the surprising thing is that no indictment has been issued yet — though some analysts think Mueller is setting a tone, and that is probably true, I also think Mueller is just being extremely thorough and does plan to indict Manafort soon.
- Facebook Now Cooperating with Congress.* It took them months, but they got there eventually: Facebook is now cooperating with congressional investigations into the ads they sold to Russian troll farms. (Facebook had already shared some information with Mueller, though this development was fairly recent as well.) Incredibly, Facebook had been claiming that it violated user privacy to share what ads had been stuck on their feeds without their consent — because we all know that Facebook is extremely good at figuring out what we want to see on our walls. (Though it is absolutely true that the company treats users like data mines, but that’s kind of besides the point on multiple levels here.) At any rate, it’s good that they are cooperating now.
- Anti-Leaking Classes.* News broke this week that EPA staff have been ordered to attend anti-leaking classes as a condition of their employment, per a general Trump administration policy that everybody in federal government will eventually be required to attend. I can’t help but wonder if anybody is going to make Trump’s attorneys go. (Or Trump.)
We also saw some significant movement on the Threat to Free Speech front in the past week:
- Trump Hates Sports. Over the weekend, Trump had a lot to say about national sports, none of it good or necessary. On Friday, he complained that safety practices hurt football, and then attacked NFL players for kneeling during the national anthem, saying that NFL owners should fire any “son of a bitch” who engages in the increasingly common nonviolent protest. Then he rescinded an invitation to Steven Curry to visit the White House post-title, apparently in response to an offhand comment from Curry saying he didn’t want to go. And, of course, then Trump followed up by doubling down on the idea that the NFL should fire people who kneel in protest during the anthem (apparently unaware that Colin Kaepernick, the player who began the practice, did in fact go unsigned this year). These messages come on the tail end of the White House saying an ESPN anchor should be fired because she called Trump a white supremacist, and they represent a serious attempt to silence dissent on privately-owned platforms. The NFL, which likely understands this, did not tolerate Trump’s actions; the league union and league commissioner both issued statements in support of their players, and players at this past Sunday’s games locked arms and knelt or otherwise protested in stadiums across America and in London during the national anthem (though all players at the London game stood for “God Save the Queen”). Trump’s tirade also resulted in the best Lebron James tweet of all time, a direct response to Trump that ended with “Going to White House was a great honor until you showed up!”
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Refugee Revisionist History. I suppose I should be used to this by now, but the White House straight-up rejected a report from the Department of Health and Human Services this week. The flaw in the report, as it turns out, was not in its methodology or data; it was reporting that refugees brought in $63 billion more revenue than they cost. In other words, our government actively rejected a report because it said a thing they didn’t like, after they asked for the report because they hoped it would say the other thing. Also, the White House apparently thinks Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price runs a Department “politically motivated” to say nice things about refugees. Yes, we’re talking about the same Tom “I cosponsored a bill to refuse refugee resettlement” Price. I seriously got nothin’.
- United Nations Against Trump.* Trump spoke before the United Nations last week, and it was exactly as bizarre, misleading and horrible as you’re probably imagining. (It later came out that Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka helped write the speech before they left, because of course they did.) Both conservatives and liberals were horrified by a lot of things Trump said, but among the most concerning were his statements on North Korea, which included a threat to “totally destroy” the country. Kim Jong Un, predictably, responded with more threats, and experts are concerned that he might also follow those words with missiles. The President of Venezuela, who was also criticized by Trump in his bonkers speech, had some rejoinders as well; he referred to Trump afterwards as “the new Hitler.” I gotta say, I don’t agree with Nicolas Maduro on pretty much anything, but I might make an exception for that comment.
- Travel Ban v 3.0. On Sunday, the White House issued a proclamation about a new travel ban, presumably because the temporary ban was about to expire. And the results are both confusing and horrible. There are now seven countries that are banned indefinitely from long-term immigration and many forms of short-term visiting of the United States, starting on October 18. (Venezuela’s government officials are barred as well, though it looks like many forms of travel remain in place for the country generally.) Penn State Law School put out a good summary of what the ban actually entails, though even they appear a bit uncertain of some of the finer points (such as what it means that refugees both are and aren’t banned under the wording of the proclamation). Just to make things even more confusing, oral arguments before the Supreme Court were canceled in light of this development, though the case is still pending before the Supreme Court and the parties are preparing new briefs. So stay tuned for more bizarre and probably illegal updates as they occur.
- Natural Disaster Devastation (Again). In the past week, Hurricane Maria has left Puerto Rico entirely without power and has badly damaged many other Caribbean islands as well. The storm also claimed at least twenty-five lives, and the governor of Puerto Rico has warned that the infrastructure damage may takes months to repair. Meanwhile, Mexico suffered two more major earthquakes this past week, killing over 300 more people and burying countless others under rubble (including 19 school children). Scientists say that multiple earthquakes can occur sequentially in a location, because the shifting of tectonic places can cause more shifting, and Mexico City is particularly vulnerable because it rests on a lake bed. With Mexico’s resources already strained by the first of the earthquakes, civilian volunteers took to the streets to assist people. Relief efforts are still ongoing, and several outlets have donation suggestion lists for both Mexico and the Caribbean.
- Uncle Donny’s Firearms Emporium.* Trump is in the process of moving international gun sale oversight from the Department of State, which historically has governed said sales, to the Department of Commerce. The main effect of this in practical terms is that it will make it easier to sell firearms overseas. Though gun sales had been down in the recent past, it’s unclear why raising them was a particular goal of Trump’s. But I’m gonna go out on a limb here and guess the answer is not “world peace.”
- ACA Repeal Vote Process. The Graham-Cassidy bill has been gaining momentum, which is concerning because some experts are saying the bill dismantles the ACA more fully than earlier versions — in part because it takes funding from states that expanded their Medicaid and gives it to states that didn’t. Unsurprisingly, the bill is not popular with health professionals, but Congress is expected to vote on the bill on Wednesday nonetheless. They don’t have much room for error on this, because their window to vote at all expires on Saturday. The good news is, they might not have the votes — more on that below.
- Maverick Maine and McCain (Maybe). John McCain announced this week that he won’t vote for the Graham-Cassidy bill, which is a bit confusing because when the bill first came on people’s radars he was one of the first to say he would. But his announcement was followed by Susan Collins announcing the same thing once she had reviewed the CBO report. So assuming McCain is accurately reporting, his decision puts the bill in serious jeopardy (as well as pissing off the President, which is always a nice bonus). If as few as three Republican senators vote ‘no’ on the initiative, it definitely won’t become law, and there are a lot of potential third ‘nos’ in the current landscape. (Though new versions of the bill court Lisa Murkowski, she hasn’t yet issued a final statement either way, and Rand Paul has been vocal in his opposition as well.) This is far from a done deal, and we need to keep calling our Senators! But the Graham-Cassidy bill may very well go the same route as the July bills.
- Paris Accord Gains a Participant. (Just not us.) President Ortega announced that Nicaragua will join the Paris Accord this past week, leaving only two final holdouts from the world agreement — Syria and us. In statements on the topic, Ortega cited recent climate change natural disasters as his reasoning, saying, ““We have to be in solidarity with this large number of countries that are the first victims, who are already the victims and are the ones who will continue to suffer the impact of these disasters.” Nicaragua’s support makes the accord stronger, and might serve as an impetus for private entities in the United States to continue efforts to support the accord.
This week’s news changed so much that I had to draft it three times since yesterday — if anything, the news cycle is getting faster, which I frankly did not think was possible. Daily news summaries like WTFJHT remain a very good idea for the foreseeable future. Until next week, good night and good luck!