National News Roundup: Week 29 (August 6-12)

Good Lord, this news cycle was like being whacked repeatedly with a bag full of oranges. Or possibly doorknobs. You know what, let’s go with doorknobs, on account of I want to still like oranges after I’m done writing this. And speaking of oranges, this is definitely a comfort food week, y’all; we’re deep in Bad News Cycle country. Get your tasty item at the ready.

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 — still a lawyer, not a wartime strategist — 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:

Most of the Russian Collusion Investigation seemed to involve Manafort this past week. That's really interesting, for a lot of different reasons, and we'll have to see where it leads us.

  • The raid is at Manafort's Home. (And Bank Records. And Relatives.) Federal investigators staged a pre-dawn raid on Paul Manafort's home on July 26th, and more recently spoke with his son-in-law and subpoenaed his bank records. It's harder to get a search warrant than a summons, and it requires a judge to agree that there is a likely cause for a crime to be committed. Manafort has already provided documents to congressional committees investigating Russia's interference in the election, so the search warrant is an unusually aggressive step. Ordinarily I would have something to say about this kind of aggression when a suspect is already apparently cooperating with the investigation, but in this case, I’m just hoping Manafort wasn’t shredding documents in the study while they were searching the kitchen.

Your "Normal" Weird:

  • Trump vs The GOP. Trump has spent a considerable amount of his vacation so far slagging on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and gosh, it couldn’t be happening to a nicer Yertle the Turtle. It looks like McConnell might actually have started it, which would maybe be relevant if this were a third-grade recess brawl, but fellow Republicans clearly don’t want to hear it; they’re increasingly sharing just whose side they are taking in the whole thing. At the apparent root of all of this is the fact that Trump wants to get rid of the filibuster, which is a move that doesn’t appear to have Republican support (so far). In an ideal world, that will stay the case.
  • Premium Pile-Up. A study this week suggests that Trump’s horrible will-he-or-won’t-he regarding the payment of healthcare subsidies has caused double-digit premium increases in individual health insurance. On the one hand, insurers are struggling with an increasingly uncertain situation, and it’s sort of understandable that this is impacting the market. On the other hand, right now it’s still a legal requirement, per the still-existing ACA, that he has to pay the damn subsidies. So it would be nice if we could accept business as usual until something actually changes in some way. At any rate, I’m sure Trump will use this premium hike as evidence that the ACA is broken, even though he’s the one who’s breaking it at the moment. THANKS, TRUMP.

The Bad :

  • Murder and White Supremacy in Charlottesville. Probably the biggest and most important headline to know this week was that white supremacists gathering in Charlottesville, VA murdered someone and injured thirty-five more people in a sustained and highly organized act of violence that ultimately lasted two days; while monitoring the violence, two police officers also died in a helicopter crash of unknown cause. Conflict actually began on Friday night, when white supremacists armed with (tiki) torches cornered students under a statue on campus and trapped several counterprotesters who had gathered at a local Black church. On Saturday morning, hours before a “Unite the Right” rally was scheduled to begin at noon, protesters and counterprotesters clashed in what Charlottesville police chief Al Thomas later referred to as “premeditated violence that our community experienced,” prompting the governor to declare a state of emergency and city officials to order the supremacists’ dispersal as an unlawful assembly. But what began as an assault and battery with fists, water bottles, and pepper spray escalated dramatically soon after the crowd dispersed, when a protester photographed earlier among the white supremacy crowd (and sporting a Vanguard America shield, suggesting official affiliation) drove a car into a crowd of peaceful protesters as they were leaving. The driver was ultimately identified as a twenty-year-old white man from Ohio, who is now in custody and charged with second-degree murder (among other things). The Associated Press has put together a decent timeline outlining Saturday’s events.
  • Let’s Have Elections Where Ohioans Can’t Vote.* Under the Obama administration, it was illegal for Ohio to remove tens of thousands of inactive voters from the voting rolls. Surprisingly absolutely nobody, the Jefferson Beauregard Sessions Department of Justice (for White People) has reversed course on this position, insisting that the state’s actions are legal under federal law. So now this question is going to the Supreme Court. Ohio’s procedure checks in with voters and requires them to confirm their voter registration by mail after two years of voting inactivity; voters who neither respond nor cast a vote over the next four years are removed from voter registration. This has obvious implications in an era fraught with voter suppression, particularly if the policy is not well-publicized; if you can’t show up and you don’t know you need to mail in confirmation, how are you supposed to stay on the voter rolls? But even without the threat of widespread suppression, given the sharp dip in voting during non-presidential election years — only 36% of registered US voters cast ballots in 2014 — this does not bode well for the voting future of Ohio.
  • Better Yet, Let's Not Have Elections. Better Yet, Let’s Not Have Elections. In response to Republican assertions about voter fraud, the Washington Post ran a survey to investigate the question: If Donald Trump said that the 2020 election should be suspended in order to make sure that only eligible American citizens can vote, would you support his proposal? Among Republican-affiliated respondents, a whopping fifty-two percent thought this was a good idea — and the number went up to fifty-six percent if Republicans in Congress said they would back this play. Fortunately, this was a hypothetical situation that has not been floated publicly in the GOP. Unfortunately, if the Washington Post thought of it, Trump will probably think of it too. Especially because there’s a survey now giving him the idea. Way to spill the free election beans, Washington Post.
  • Ratcheting Tensions with North Korea.* The last couple of days of interaction with North Korea have been increasingly tense, as North Korea threatens America and nearby countries like South Korea and Japan in response to new sanctions from the United Nations Security Council. Adding depth to the threat, American analysts concluded on Tuesday that North Korea has successfully produced a nuclear warhead capable of fitting inside missiles. Trump responded to the threats with threats of his own, saying that the United States would respond to a missile strike “with fire and fury like the world has never seen.” North Korea responded within a few hours by threatening to send “an enveloping fire” around Guam. Then Trump said some asinine stuff about “military solutions” being “locked and loaded,” which appeared to simply refer to standard (and preplanned) American cooperation with South Korea. It’s important to note that experts still doubt that North Korea has mastered all of the technologies needed to deliver a nuclear payload on an intercontinental ballistic missile. The July test resulted in an ICBM that might reach California, and it stands to reason that if a reliable strike were within reach, Kim Jong-un would have included that in his threat to Guam. But more importantly, South Korean news sources are noting that “North Korea is likely to continue its bellicose threats as Seoul and Washington will conduct their annual joint military drills starting in late August.” Though this is a delicate time, to be sure, and South Korea and Japan are considering improving their military capabilities, experts do not appear to believe war is imminent. But Trump’s bluster doesn’t help anything. When Congress returns, they will potentially be considering a bill that would limit Trump’s ability to unilaterally use nukes, so now is a great time to call your representatives.

The Good :

  • Opiates Declared A National Emergency. In response to urging from the Governors of Arizona, Florida, Maryland, and Virginia, the CDC, the FDA, Congress, physician groups, the insurance industry, and just about everyone else paying attention, the White House eventually declared a national emergency over the opiate epidemic this week. This action could have a whole range of possible results, and some of them (such as more draconian drug laws or crackdowns on prescribers) definitely don’t go in the ‘good’ column. But at minimum, it’s likely it will make the anti-overdose drug known as naloxone more available and inexpensive, and create groundwork for legislators to authorize additional funding for the issue; if he follows the precedents set by the six states that have already declared an emergency, he could potentially do a lot of good. We’ll just have to keep an eye out and see what develops from here, and for the moment I’m cautiously optimistic.
  • NYC Dismisses 644,000 Warrants for Minor Charges. In a coordinated effort to address a black cloud lingering over NYC police (as well as the people being haunted by old warrants), New York City prosecutors dismissed over half a million warrants this week for very minor offenses like drinking in public or riding a bike on a sidewalk. The move is particularly beneficial to immigrant populations who had old warrants for these very minor offenses — though it’s by no means full insulation from ICE activity, a clean criminal record can dramatically reduce liability to exposure. Even for people with no immigration exposure, as NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio noted, old warrants from decades ago “can derail lives, disrupt families and lead to job loss” without real contribution to public safety. This is only a necessary first step to address decades of stop and frisk abuses, but it’s a welcome one.
  • Charlottesville Responses. Though the President and White House’s astoundingly lackluster (and delayed) response to this tragedy has been jaw-dropping, it’s equally striking just how many varied voices immediately condemned the attack. At least three major GOP figures have referred to Saturday’s events as “domestic terrorism,” a completely new characterization of white perpetrators of crime as far as I know; the DOJ also has declared an investigation (though I’ll believe that one when I see it). Even the tiki company that made the torches has scrambled to distance themselves from Saturday’s events, and Kenneth Frazier, Merck CEO, resigned from Trump’s manufacturing council over the events of the weekend and Trump’s non-response. But more importantly, a number of people are doing things in response. Several different medical funds organized for the 35 people injured and the deceased have been wildly successful as I write this, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars in only one day. I’ve also seen multiple articles outlining concrete steps people can take to help, and a huge number of organizations have been organizing vigils, rallies, and other events to show solidarity in addition to concrete steps of support. America is listening, and America is responding.

And that's the week's news! We're all a bit shell-shocked and the hits are coming in fast, but I'll do my best to keep touching on all the key points every week no matter how bad and frenetic it gets. In the meantime, daily news summaries like WTFJHT are an excellent resource until we meet again. (Today in Resistance is a pause while Storm enjoys a much-earned vacation, although its summary of news sources is still worth reading.)