National News Roundup: Year 2, Week 37 (September 30 — October 6)
Well, it’s been about a day since the final Kavanaugh vote as I type this, and I think probably half the country spent some of Saturday, Sunday, or both in a shell-shocked malaise. And I won’t pretend this week was anything but a serious blow to our democracy, because I respect you all too much to candy-coat that. But there is still so much to do; as I type this, it’s about a month to the midterm election, and it’s realistic to think we can make real changes to the House — which would in turn mean impeachment proceedings. It might even still be possible to flip the Senate and take Yurtle the Turtle’s gavel away; a lot can happen in a month if we mobilize! In other words: we haven’t lost the whole enchilada yet, and a lot of us have registration deadlines coming up. So to keep us moving and on target, we’re switching to the Very Bad News Protocol here at Roundup HQ this week — The Bad is broken up into The Bad (Original Flavor) and The Very Bad (Extra Crispy-Making), and I’m also including a What We Can Do section because, no seriously, there is so much we can do once we’re able to peel ourselves off the floor. Also just like before, I moved The Good to the top because life’s too short and we all deserve to have our news dessert first. The closing also has fuzzy animal photos, which isn’t as good as a functional government but we’re working with what we’ve got this week.
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 calendar! — but all offroad adventures are marked with an asterisk. Okay, I think that’s about it for the disclaimers. Onward to the news!
- Time bought for TPS. A District Court in California temporarily blocked termination of temporary protective status for four countries (Sudan, El Salvador, Haiti, and Nicaragua) this week, only three weeks before Sudan’s legal status was due to end. The preliminary injunction means that the judge believes the underlying challenge to the programs’ end has merit, likely due to the pages and pages of evidence that the whole thing was racially motivated; the administration’s executive power reaches its limits when they try to do things that are blatantly unconstitutional. That said, it was also pretty edifying to watch the court eat the government’s argument re: the travel ban for breakfast; I think my favorite quote is “The justification for a kind of super deference [for the government] advocated by the government in this case is not warranted.” These programs help over 300,000 people legally living in America, all of whom could get rounded up for deportation as soon as the programs end, and it could take several weeks for the administration to get this overturned even if the Supreme Court is on fire. So the decision buys more time for a lot of people — it’s not surprise that when this case was brought up in an immigration coalition meeting I attended this week, the whole room burst into applause.
- Resilience in Charlottesville. A federal district court in Charlottesville has charged four white supremacists with inciting a riot and attacking counterprotesters last year after identifying them via footage of the incident. All four of the men are in custody in California and could face up to ten years in federal prison if convicted.
- Jason Van Dyke Convicted of Murder. This one is less ‘good’ and more ‘grimly satisfying,’ but a jury in Chicago convicted police officer Jason Van Dyke of second-degree murder and sixteen counts of aggravated battery this week, four years after Van Dyke fatally shot seventeen-year-old Laquan McDonald seventeen times. The murder conviction carries a sentence of four to twenty years in prison, and each aggravated battery charge is potentially another six to thirty years. A final sentence is due on October 31.
- HPV Vaccine Expansion. An HPV vaccination that has been available for years for minors and adults up to 26 will now be available to patients up to age 45 after a study showed its efficacy for the population. This is likely to further reduce incidences of cervix cancer in the population, as well as bringing down the price of the vaccine dramatically for people in that age range (since it can now be covered by insurance).
Constitutional Crisis Corners:
There’s definitely a lot to say about Casual Disregard of Governing Norms this week, but a lot of it will be covered below in the Extra Crispy-Making section. Here are the main other odds and ends to know:
- Kavanaugh Complaints. There were a lot of things about the Kavanaugh process that were very irregular, and as a result a lot of people started to think twice as the information kept coming in. Among the entities to ultimately withdraw support or express complaint in the few days leading up to the final vote: the American Bar Association; Harvard Law School; Yale Law School; over 2,400 law professors; the National Council of Churches; the Benedictine Sisters of Baltimore; America Magazine; three former Kavanaugh law clerks; retired Supreme Court justice John Paul Stevens; the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit; and even several of his own college and contemporary friends.
- Your Week in Trump Horrors. Despite mostly not being the focus of the news this week — that honor belongs to Brett Kavanaugh and his merry band of coprocephalics — Trump sure did a bunch of horrifying stuff. First there was his casual, open suggestion of blackmailing an unnamed U.S. Senator, because who doesn’t love it when the President of our country openly imitates a mob boss. Then he followed that up by mocking Dr. Ford at a rally in Mississippi and declaring her team “evil people.” And then he followed that up by threatening to hold people who stepped forward ‘liable,’ whatever that means, though he said it to Fox News so I’m not even sure it should count.
- Actual Information About Trump’s Taxes.* The New York Times published a very extensive story on Donald Trump’s taxes this week, outlining hundreds of millions in tax fraud from Trump’s childhood through the 1990s. Though the statute of limitations has run out on criminal charges, New York tax officials still could enforce civil penalties, and apparently plan to do so if the report is corroborated by investigation. Bizarrely, with everything else going on, Trump’s Monopoly Money Tax Evasion Adventures have barely caught our attention — but we might be hearing more about this if an investigation goes forward.
The Russia Investigation was a bit quieter than the other splashy headlines this week, but there was still some movement. Here are the main things to know:
- Blaming China Redux.* This time, it’s Mike Pence echoing Trump’s prior, no-evidence-needed claims that China was messing with our elections, and let me tell you, the sequel makes no more sense. Pence built on last week’s accusations to say that China has a “malign influence and interference,” noting that “China wants a different American President.” So do the rest of us, Pence; Bejing isn’t special.
- Actual Russia Developments.* There were a few drips and drabs of Russia investigation movement this week while our eyes were mostly watching other things; federal officials seized New York assets of Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, for one. The U.S. Justice Department also charged seven Russian intelligence officers with various hacking-related offenses against organizations that were trying to show Russian wrongdoing. Three of the seven intelligence officers were already previously charged by Mueller.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Are Gender Reveal Parties Always This Weird?* This week marked the sentencing for a CBP agent whose gender reveal explosion sparked a 47,000 acre fire in April 2017 (and that’s easily the most Trump-era sentence I’m going to write all week). The agent will ultimately owe $220,000 in restitution, despite the fire ultimately costing $8.2M in damages. Incredibly, one of the outlets to report on this wants you to know that the dude couldn’t be reached to confirm what the baby’s gender was — you’re right, Beaumont Enterprise, that’s definitely the burning question here.
- Test of the Presidential Annoyance System.* This week marked the first national test of the IPAWS, which sadly is an International Public Alert and Warning Safety system and not a new electronic device for your pets. A bunch of the country got a Presidential Alert on the subject, although apparently not all of us did (which I can personally confirm, because apparently I’m among those marked to leave to die). But since the whole point of the test was to work out the kinks, we’re assured that this is being addressed.
- EPA Episodes.* Another week, another set of horrifying reports, announcements, and proposals from History’s Worst Environmental Protection Agency. In addition to advancing the mercury proposal from last week, we’ve got a proposal on deck for weakening regs on radiation exposure, which relies on outlier arguments that a little bit of radiation is good for you (yes, really). And in follow up to last week’s Climate Change, Amirite? report, actual scientists doing their actual job at the United Nations are reporting very serious conditions such as food shortages, wildfires, and massive coral reef extinction as soon as 2040 — much sooner than we expected, because we initially believed a lot of these changes would occur at 3.6 degrees of warming, not at the newly-understood 2.7. There’s a silver lining, though, which is that these conditions are still avoidable if major changes are made in the next few years. So we can throw this on the giant pile of Reasons to Impeach Half the Administration and Put Grownups Back in Charge.
- Farm bill Uncertainty. Just like the VAWA problem I mentioned last week, the Federal Farm Bill expired at the end of the month because lawmakers couldn’t find consensus. Unlike VAWA, it didn’t make it into the stopgap measure passed at the last minute to keep the governmental lights on. The two biggest programs in the bill, SNAP benefits and crop insurance, have other authorizations and will keep going. But it would be best if we got this ironed out quickly, because dozens of smaller programs are hanging out in limbo until it’s fixed.
- LGBT Discrimination for, IDK, Funsies I Guess? For no apparent reason whatsoever, the Trump administration announced this week that it’s no longer issuing visas to same-sex partners of diplomats and United Nations employees unless they’re legally married, despite the fact that same-sex marriage is only recognized by 12% of the countries in the United Nations (and in many places, it’s still criminalized). The administration is also requiring partners of current diplomats to either get married here or leave, which has got to be the worst form of shotgun wedding I’ve ever heard. Incredibly, their stated reason for suddenly deciding this policy was necessary was “to ensure and promote equal treatment” — because legalizing same-sex marriage in 2015 apparently means they absolutely have to kick a bunch of queer people out in 2018, or, y’know, it’s not fair to the unmarried straight people. And if I write any more about how mind-numbingly asinine this entire thing is, I’m gonna give myself an aneurysm, so we’re just gonna move on now.
The Very Bad — Please Read It Anyway!
- Kavanaugh Chaos Pre-vote. I’m guessing folks know most of the broad strokes of how we got here on the Kavanaugh roller coaster, but in case it’s helpful to recap: The FBI investigation scope continued to be a point of active animosity, even as wild stories began to trickle in about Kavanaugh doing things like texting friends to coordinate before the Ramirez allegations went public and being questioned by police following a bar fight in 1985. Ultimately, the FBI only interviewed six people before wrapping up the investigation late Wednesday night, and skipped speaking with over forty known witnesses — including Ford and Kavanaugh. By process agreement, only one paper copy of the report was made available, to Senators only, in alternating one-hour shifts, after the cloture motion that happened on Wednesday night. As a general rule, opinions on the report and votes at the cloture stage fell along party lines, with the noteworthy exception that GOP senator Lisa Murkowski voted no on cloture, and West Virginia snake Joe Manchin voted yes (effectively canceling Murkowksi out). Then on Friday afternoon, the other GOP ‘moderate,’ Susan Collins, gave a truly odious 45-minute speech where she regurgitated GOP talking points until she’d fueled $3M in opponent donations. Then Manchin said “yeah me also” and everybody knew which way the wind was blowing.
- Kavanaugh’s Confirmation. As the above paragraph would suggest, Kavanaugh was indeed confirmed on Saturday afternoon by 50–48 vote, which is probably the worst sentence I’ve typed for this roundup in at least a year. His final tallies, as well as the protesters present during his confirmation vote and the giant list of people who withdrew support, reflect his unprecedented unpopularity as a Supreme Court nominee. But the Republican party, quite simply, doesn’t care how unpopular he is, because they’ve just set up the most conservative-leaning court in seventy-five years. And, more to the point, they’ve just unquestionably infected the last branch of federal government standing with the same diseased ignorance currently eating Congress and the White House. Despite Justice Kagan warning her colleagues to keep functioning, Chief Justice Roberts is already setting aside complaints about Kavanaugh’s judicial conduct and it’s hard to see how checks and balances will keep limping along.
What We Can Do
- Help Midterm Momentum. Right now the GOP holds all three branches of government, but there’s absolutely no guarantee that they’ll keep them, and the fastest way to restore some form of checks and balances in the short term is to wrest control away from the most egregious offenders in Congress in the upcoming November election. The House is completely up for grabs, and in fact polls are showing a slight edge for Democrats at the moment. The Senate is a more precarious situation, because the 2018 class includes a lot of vulnerable Democrats and not very many Republicans, but several odious GOP jackasses are up for reelection in surprisingly close races. (Sadly, Susan Collins isn’t among them, though I freely admit I gave to the activists fundraising against her anyway.) The Senate race really matters, and the straight numbers matter, because if we can flip just two seats in the Senate, Mitch McConnell stops being in charge. So if you have the spare cash, one particularly helpful and edifying thing you can do is give to vulnerable Dem senators — I particularly recommend Heidi Heitkamp, who did the right thing for the right reasons on the Kavanaugh vote and is struggling now because of it. I also recommend supporting Bob Casey, who is the incumbent for friends living in Pennsylvania, and Beto O’Rourke, the guy in Texas giving Ted Cruz a run for his money — but Celeste Pewter has a lot of information if you’re looking for a starting place. Indivisible.org also has centralized signing up for phone bank shifts and finding campaigning events if you can give some of your time, which is incredibly helpful as well.
- Prepare for Voting on November 6. We’re already hearing horror stories about people being purged from voter registries, and the election is less than a month away. You can check whether you are currently registered if you know you have been in the past, and if you know you’re registering for the first time you can register through vote.gov or Indivisible’s TurboVote. You can view your anticipated ballot at the site League of Women Voters has compiled, and for more voting information and support suggestions in general Celeste Pewter and Vote 411 have you covered. Several sites, including Massachusetts, also permit early voting, and that’s worth looking into as well.
- Supreme Court Next Steps. Unsurprisingly, discussions are already beginning about whether the Supreme Court will need adjustment in light of recent events. One common discussion point right now is impeaching Kavanaugh, which becomes a real possibility (although not necessarily an advisable one) if Democrats take the House in November. The other discussion point is changing the number of justices, commonly known as ‘court packing,’ which was unsuccessfully attempted by FDR in the 1930s. But people are also discussing court panels, which is how appellate courts currently work, and those might be a workable idea. It’s a valuable conversation to be having, and a valuable conversation to be able to follow, so it’s definitely worth reading up on as we make sense of what just happened.
So that’s what I have for this week, and I’m so sorry that it’s all I’ve got. For making it through all of that, you deserve this compilation of animal snapchats and an eventual better government. I’ll be back next week with more 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 selfies of your self-care regimens!
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National News Roundup News
After speaking with a friend and fellow voice actor, I’m excited to announce that we’re trying out accessibility recording here at the NNR! You can enjoy this week’s roundup in audio form at the link below, and I particularly recommend feedback on this development as we hash out the structure and feasibility of accessibility recording long-term.