National News Roundup: Year 3, Week 17 (May 12–18)
The news seems stuck on a spin cycle for another week, which means a lot of us are waiting for something — anything — to improve, and in the meantime there’s a lot of disappointment. I’m here if anyone needs to talk, and so is my ice cream. (Although the ice cream won’t talk back. It’s rude that way.)
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 tariff! — 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 week was a bit quieter on the Russia Investigation front, but there was still a fair amount of movement. Here’s what I have for you:
- Ongoing Obvious Obstruction (Again).* The ongoing fight between the White House and Congress continued this week, with the Treasury rejecting a subpoena for Trump’s tax returns and the White House telling Don McGahn that he’s not allowed to testify before Congress. Meanwhile, a federal judge has told the administration to knock it off already, investigators are examining Trump’s odd relationship with Deutsche Bank, and even Republicans are starting to join the general muttering about impeachment proceedings. And given the beginning of this paragraph, I can’t say I blame them.
- Panhandle Hacks.* Following a closed-doors meeting with the FBI, Governor Ron DeSantis announced that Russian Intelligence used a spearfishing scheme to gain access to voting records for two counties in Florida in the 2016 election — a scenario that Former Governor Rick Scott openly derided when it was suggested at the time by his opponent. Scott maintains his faith in the election system, even as his colleagues in the House demand better disclosure from government agencies.
- Chelsea Manning Held in Contempt. Chelsea Manning was held in contempt of court this week for refusing to testify to a grand jury, and the penalties are unusually high — she’ll be held without bail until either she agrees to testify or the grand jury subpoena ends in a year and a half, and steep fines of $500 per day (and, eventually, $1,000 per day) will kick in after the thirty-day mark. It’s believed that the order is so extreme because they really want her to testify about Julian Assange. But given the contempt ruckus happening with Congress right now, selectively imposing incarceration and steep fines on the transgender veteran — and nobody else — is really seriously not a great look for federal prosecutors.
It’s becoming harder and harder to distinguish Disregard of Governing Norms from the Russia Investigation circus above, but we still do see a couple of power moves each week that stand on their own. Here’s what happened:
- Online Extremism Exclusion.* This week, the White House refused to endorse an international call, led by New Zealand in the wake of the Christchurch massacre, to fight online extremism. The White House claimed it was a violation of free speech to follow the terms of the Call, which included such draconian suggestions as — hang on, let me check my notes here — “respect[ing] . . . human rights” and “consider[ing] appropriate action to prevent the use of online services to disseminate terrorism.” (The introduction also stressed the need to act “without compromising human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression.” Although to be fair, the odds are good that Trump didn’t know that, because he didn’t read it.) Despite 45’s embarrassing display, the call did get the support of eighteen governments and five American tech firms — including Twitter, so that will be fun to watch.
- This Week’s Trump Trash.* I’m rapidly starting to feel like this is a weekly refrain, but Trump did a bunch of other messed up stuff this week as well. First there was the White House official solicitation for complaints about social media censorship, which just so happens to also ask about everything from your email address to your citizenship status to permission to use your screenshots, you know, Just in Case They Ever Need It. (This from the administration that refuses to try to stop online terrorism because something something free speech, yeesh.) Then Trump pardoned Conrad Black — a buddy of his who wrote a sycophantic biography of him last year — despite Black’s conviction for embezzling $60M from his own company. And presumably because he could, Trump went on to signal that he plans to pardon servicemen accused or convicted of war crimes like murdering civilians and desecrating corpses. He then capped off the week by complaining that nobody warned him about Michael Flynn, even though it’s a matter of public record that he was warned by Obama and his own Justice Department.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Star Ted vs. The Space Pirates. Folks, there are no witticisms I could come up with that are more surprisingly hilarious than this news summary itself, which is that Ted Cruz wants to protect us from Space Pirates. Though quick to reassure us that his xenophobia won’t be extraterrestrial anytime soon, the Internet Did What the Internet Does and held an impromptu roast of the $2 billion proposal. Cruz tried to play off the criticism, but seemed a bit put out that no one was taking him seriously. Sorry Ted, but just think about how smug you can act when the Zebesian Armada arrives on our doorstep and the ISS is crawling with metroids.
- Dems by the Dozens. As Montana Governor Steve Bullock and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio enter the race, there are now twenty-three confirmed Democratic hopefuls and two more potentially waiting in the wings. About half of the candidates are polling below 2 percent and every one has a different idea of how to gain an edge, worrying some members of a party that struggles to present a unified front against the GOP. Few of these strategies go outside efforts to be publicly available, visible, and brand aware (and Bullock in particular suggested that reporters plug his website). But Elizabeth Warren has embraced the apparently unlikely tactic of speaking and listening directly to one of the most disenfranchised voting blocs in America: Black women. Expect more news soon, because there sure are enough sources of it.
- Additional Extreme Heartbeat Bills. The trend of new heartbeat bills that I documented last week continued for another week, with Alabama’s bill signed into law on Wednesday by the state’s (female) Governor. Then Missouri passed its own bill later in the week (though that one at least doesn’t criminalize undergoing the procedure, only performing it, which makes the bill slightly less scary than other versions). This brings the total number of states with heartbeat bills up to seven, and that is way too high a number when we’re discussing laws that intentionally violate our Constitution — it shows that states don’t expect the Supreme Court to function properly as a check on their overreach. Improbably, several key conservative figures and even televangelist Pat Robertson appear to agree with me, saying that the Alabama bill and others like it go too far.
- Frightening Foreign Affairs.* Unfortunately, we also saw a continuation of scary foreign policy. The Trump administration recalled all non-essential personnel from our embassy in Iraq, which doesn’t exactly comfort people about our situation with Iran. Meanwhile, Trump seems confused that John “Are We Bombing Iran Yet” Bolton seems to want a war with Iran, and the rest of the world seems confused about what the heck is happening in the White House. Sadly, the news on China tariffs isn’t much better, because China retaliated and the situation is threatening to destabilize all kinds of things on our end as well as things on theirs. Trump did lift some tariffs on other countries though, so there’s that.
- Immigration Updates. There’s more immigration news this week, and as usual, it’s not great. The U.S. military is building six more tent cities at the border, though the tent cities will be managed by ICE. And Trump introduced his legislation proposing “merit-based immigration,” which is a pretty sanitized way of saying “we don’t like immigrants of color and we’re gonna make applicants take a civics exam about it.” (For those folks playing the home game, we do require a civics exam and English proficiency to become a citizen, but that’s after the applicant has lived in the United States for years. This proposed bill would require passing a civics exam just to get permission to travel here.) Thankfully, basically nobody appears to enjoy his warped view of immigration, so we’re not likely to see movement on this. And speaking of lack of movement, apparently the acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan and Resident Jewish Nazi Stephen Miller have been having “an immigration knife fight” in the White House as they duke it out for department dominance. Honestly, this has probably kept them preoccupied over the past few weeks, so I’m not complaining about that part. I am, however, complaining about this administration straight-up lying to a federal judge about the proposed wall, claiming that just because Congress refused to allocate funding for the wall, that didn’t really mean they refused to allocate funding. And it’s not like they put aside their differences to vote down his attempt to seize funding by emergency declaration, am I right? (You know what, this administration observes Opposite Day so often that I’m starting to feel like it’s not a holiday anymore.)
- San Francisco Software Safety. Making a stand on cybersecurity, San Francisco has banned the use of facial recognition software by police, drawing ire from police and tech organizations. This is a big deal, because cybersecurity is known to be less accurate when used against defendants of color, exacerbating existing problems with false conviction. So now other cities are considering similar bans, and a larger conversation concerning surveillance technology is picking up speed.
- Marriage Equality in Taiwan. Two years ago, the Taiwanese Courts struck down a law mandating that marriage was between a man and a woman only, drawing ire from conservative groups. But even with a public referendum indicating that a majority of voters oppose the legalization of same-sex marriage, on May 24th the parliament passed a bill legally recognizing same-sex unions. It’s a landmark decision for the continent that may open the door to more civil rights victories, so it’s very exciting!
So that’s what I have for this week, and boy howdy was that a lot of garbage news. For making it through, you deserve this this If Harry Potter Had Google slideshow and this concern doggo and her butterfly and also an eventual better government. I’ll be back next week with more (and hopefully less confusing) 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 more opportunities to nap!