National News Roundup: Week 25 (July 9–15)

Well it’s not quite porcine pilots, but we appear to have a net-positive news week when I’m writing this on Sunday evening, which by this point is strange in its own way. At any rate, enjoy for now, and I’ll try not to jinx it! I can’t imagine positive news is long for this world.

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 news continues to contain multiple headlines each week outside my area as a legal generalist — still a lawyer, not a spy! — 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 news on Donald Trump Jr’s now-infamous Russia meeting continued to unspool, we gained new insight into The Russia Collusion Investigation, though it’s still hard to make heads or tails of much of it.

And just like last week, we have some miscellany I’m calling a Constitutional Crisis Grab Bag. They’re all symptoms of a larger, more serious threat, which I’ll talk more about below.

  • State Department Spending. This past week, we learned through a Freedom of Information Act request that the State Department paid $15,000 for board at a Trump hotel in Vancouver in February. The costs apparently were to cover secret service people’s stay in the hotel, which was necessary as a form of protection detail because several family members were visiting to attend its grand opening. Given that the travel appeared to have had absolutely nothing to do with political obligations, and the family still billed the State Department for staying at the hotel to provide security relating to business obligations, this may be the single biggest instance of personal enrichment to be officially reported since Trump took office.
  • Sessions Speech Revealed. This week, Sessions gave a speech to the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) — a conservative Christian law firm that was designated a “hate group” in 2016 by the Southern Poverty Law Center — and refused to release the text of his speech. Weirdly, The Federalist is here for us, and released a transcript of the entire thing. (Note: While the text of that speech certainly could be worse, it’s still full of dog whistles like “Western heritage,” “religious freedom,” and “enshrined in the Constitution,” and I recommend exercising caution if that sort of thing is triggering for you.) As several advocates have noted, the speech itself suggests an aggressive agenda of discrimination, which is certainly in keeping with the rest of what we’re seeing from him.

Your “Normal” Weird:

The Bad:

  • “Healthcare Fraud” DOJ Sweeps. You can probably tell what I think of this from the title, but I feel I owe readers some context: The opioid crisis is an issue extremely near to my heart, because I worked to connect people addicted to substances to treatment every day for several years. I absolutely do not dispute that we have a terrible epidemic in this country, and that people are exploited every day in service of selling a dangerous and highly addictive substance. I also cannot tell you how many times I verified that people with drug-related criminal charges had been originally prescribed medications for pain, and traced their addiction back to a reliance on those medications. But this administration’s official statements blend together real descriptions of an actual epidemic and bizarre rhetoric about “fraudsters” and “hard-earned tax dollars,” and more to the point, these charges are a way to keep down costs. For that reason alone, I would be suspicious of anything being billed as “the most sweeping enforcement to date” and “the biggest takedown of health-care fraud in U.S. history” with an allegation of $1.3 billion in damages. Though the administration insists that the 400 people charged are defrauding health care, some of the charges, such as “prescribing unnecessary opioids,” sound less like healthcare fraud and more like… doctors prescribing things that the administration says aren’t needed. If this administration really wanted to address the opioid epidemic in this country — and I wish they would — we wouldn’t be cutting the funding for opioid treatment built into the Affordable Care Act, and we wouldn’t be returning to mandatory minimums for possession of substances, a policy that has been shown over and over again to be ineffective, costly, and exacerbate substance use.

The Good:

And that’s all the news this week, like a slightly tarnished oasis in a desert of suck. Drink it in, folks! The news so rarely grants us any respite, we all need to enjoy it while we can.