National News Roundup: Year 4, Week 20 (May 31 — June 6)
Somehow, this week managed to be even worse than the last one, which is seriously saying something. I think one Twitter user put it pretty well: “I’m at the global pandemic. I’m at the civil unrest. I’m at the combination global pandemic/civil unrest.” (And I can’t even get a personal pan pizza, because this timeline is the worst.)
Standard standing reminders apply: I am no journalist, though I play one in your inbox or browser, so I’m mostly summarizing the news within my area of expertise. NNR summaries often contain some detailed analysis that’s outside my expertise–I’m a lawyer, not a curfew–but all offroad adventures are marked with an asterisk. And, of course, for the things that are within my lane, I’m offering context that shouldn’t be considered legal advice. Okay, I think that’s about it for the disclaimers. Onward to the news!
Constitutional Crisis Corner:
Though our focus is mostly elsewhere right now, we did see a lot of Disregard of Governing Norms–and these things are definitely related, because this administration is still using unrest to consolidate power. Here are the main things to know:
- Regulation Free-For-All. We’ve officially reached the point where Trump is doing every garbage regulation change his id desires and claiming it’s necessary for COVID reasons, so this was a hell of a week for proclamations. First up was an order expediting permitting of construction projects, which obviated a lot of environmental review typically done under the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act and National Environmental Policy Act. Then that was followed by a relaxation of the way the Clean Air Act is implemented, and then that was followed by changes making it harder to dispute credit reports. Then he followed that by allowing commercial fishing at a marine sanctuary. All told, it’s a scary amount of regulatory smash-and-grab to squeeze into three business days.
- “Misclassification Error.” News outlets were reporting midweek that the economy was improving, with unemployment rates dropping and stocks increasing. And that is probably true, though we’re by no means out of the woods. But it’s hard to really say, because the numbers reflected from the Bureau of Labor Statistics were apparently flat-out wrong, mislabeling 2.5 million people who returned from furlough as finding new employment. Eventually the Bureau of Labor Statistics addressed this as a “misclassification error,” and experts seem to think this was incompetence rather than falsehood. Honestly, either way, it’s a pretty egregious discrepancy–2.5 million people is slightly less than the total number of jobs reported lost in May.
- Militarization Tango. As you may recall, Trump indicated he would use military force on Monday in a seeming invocation of the Insurrection Act, and then immediately had military police use tear gas to disperse a completely peaceful protest to illustrate the point. As it happens, many military people did not approve of this, including but not limited to his current Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper. Esper spoke out against the practice, and apparently also talked Trump down from putting 10,000 military troops on the streets of D.C., though he ultimately caved to pressure and declined to dismiss the hundreds that were deployed. Another previous Secretary of Defense, Jim Mattis, spoke out against Trump’s protest militarization in general, rightfully saying, “We must reject and hold accountable those in office who would make a mockery of our Constitution.” Mattis was backed by 89 former military officials in an op-ed in the Washington Post, and also backed by previous head of White House staff and former general John Kelly. Eventually Trump backpedaled and ordered the troops to withdraw “now that everything is under control.”
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Other Election Oddities (Again). With civil unrest comes strange election news, surprising no one. Joe Biden apparently acquitted himself well in public appearances after the weekend’s riots. Meanwhile, after weeks of Trump threatening to pull the RNC from Charlotte because they wanted literally any safety precautions, the GOP finally did pull the plug and now it’s anybody’s guess where it’s being held. On Tuesday, several states and D.C. held freighted and confused primaries while protests raged, with some curfews starting before polling places closed. (On the plus side, said primaries did result in the first Black woman elected mayor of Ferguson and no more Steve King in Congress.) A judge in Tennessee ruled that voters must have the option to vote by mail during the pandemic, due to the risk presented by COVID. And Trump was also in the news for trying to register in Florida despite living in D.C., which is against Florida’s voting rules.
- State of the COVID-19.* COVID may be moving to backburner news, but it’s still very much worth tracking. Florida gained 1,300 more cases in one day on Friday, bringing its total over 60,000. Texas experienced a surge as well, with Dallas county reporting record highs. In fact, experts report that 23 states have seen an increase in the rolling seven-day average over the last week, and this seems particularly true in rural areas at the time that I type this. Numbers are also increasing internationally, particularly in South America, But nonetheless most states are opening back up, including New York as of today. Meanwhile, Lancet is in the news for retracting the study that raised safety concerns about hydroxychloroquine, apparently due to inability to audit the data. (The WHO has unpaused its study as a result.)
- Documenting Police Brutality. Needless to say, one of the biggest stories of the week is the civil unrest which continued for another week. There are many, many things to track here, so I’m beginning with stories that involve police forces directly. On the one hand, there were several stories this week about police facing consequences for bad behavior, particularly when it was documented with cameras: 1) Six Atlanta officers face assault charges for dragging two college kids out of their car and stunning them during a protest; 2) All four cops involved in George Floyd’s death are now charged with murder; 3) The ACLU is suing the Minnesota police for their portion of over 149 documented police attacks on members of the press; 4) A Philadelphia officer faces assault charges after beating a Temple student with a baton without provocation; and 5) two officers in Buffalo were suspended for shoving an elderly man on camera. But for each of these stories, there are seemingly even more new stories about violent police culture without consequences: 6) Officers who shot and killed Breanna Taylor in her own home still have not been charged, although there is now an FBI investigation pending; 7) 57 officers in Buffalo resigned in protest because the videoed assault mentioned above resulted in suspension; 8) Evidence of another asphyxiation-related homicide of a man in custody arose in Tacoma, Washington, with no charges filed; 9) Officers in Chicago assaulted their own police board president, again without any charges filed (though he did file an official complaint); 10) Officers in Asheville destroyed medical equipment and otherwise trashed a medic tent during a protest; and 11) Police in Vallejo fatally shot an unarmed man outside a Walgreens. An attorney in North Carolina has documented over 300 violent incidents on camera since protests began two weeks ago, which is as disturbing as it is unsustainable.
- Societal Response. Needless to say, all of the above has prompted a lot of response all over the country–some of which was quite positive, honestly, though it doesn’t make up for the overall strain of the past two weeks. A memorial was held for George Floyd, which resulted in thousands of people gathering in cities all over the country, and protests continued all over the world as well. The New York Times had a giant fight about publishing a fascist op-ed from Tom Cotton about the Insurrection Act, which ultimately culminated in the op-ed editor resigning after admitting he hadn’t even read the piece. The NFL Commissioner admitted they were wrong to side against players who knelt during the anthem, apparently prompted by an appeal from the players released by video. A judge in Georgia has advanced the murder trial for three men charged with Ahmaud Arbery’s death. Twitter found itself discussing the Third Amendment for probably the first time ever after the mayor of D.C. tried to remove troops stationed in hotels there. And Kpop fans made the news for spamming police apps and hashtags to make it harder for police to identify protesters.
- Recent Regulatory Resilience. Many officials are discussing ways to defund, dissolve, or regulate police forces better in the wake of the last two weeks. Most notably, the Minneapolis city council announced its intent to disband the police department and replace it with citizen patrols, a decision which came only a few days after they agreed to ban chokeholds and neck restraints. Seattle is considering defunding its force as well. Meanwhile, Democrats introduced sweeping police reform legislation in both the Senate and the House.
So that’s what I have for this week, and if things stay this bad we’re getting good news first next week. For making it through, you deserve goat kids visiting otters and Lucasfilm supporting John Boyega and an eventual better government. I’ll be back next week with more (and hopefully more tolerable) 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 uninterrupted sleep!