We’ve come to the end of yet another week dominated by (1) the GOP’s Obamacare replacement plan and (2) the various investigations into what the heck is going on with Russia. The Gorsuch Supreme Court confirmation hearings gave us a small change of pace, but even that historic event seemed like minor news, mostly lost in coverage of the other two stories. So, what else happened this week?
1. Oddly enough, in a week when the Supreme Court was already on the menu because of the Neil Gorsuch hearings, the Court made separate news by handing down a big ruling on special education. And, incredibly, the ruling was unanimous.
The case, Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, was about a student with autism whose parents removed him from public school, where they said he was making almost no progress. They placed him into a private school, where his progress took off rapidly. The parents sued the public school district for reimbursement of his private school tuition. Federal law requires the school district to pay if the public school fails to provide “free appropriate public education.” (This requirement comes under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Remember, the law that our new Education Secretary Betsy DeVos seemed completely unfamiliar with at her confirmation hearing?).
So the question in this case was: what counts as “appropriate”? The lower court had ruled that the school district had met its duty by providing a “de minimis” (minimal) education. But in a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court overruled that decision, saying that IDEA requires more than that. Justice Roberts writes for the Court:
It requires an educational program reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances . . .
[H]is IEP need not aim for grade-level advancement. But his educational program must be appropriately ambitious in light of his circumstances, just as advancement from grade to grade is appropriately ambitious for most children in the regular classroom. The goals may differ, but every child should have the chance to meet challenging objectives.
2. In 2015, Princeton economists Anne Case & Angus Deaton made a big splash with a study showing that mortality rates had spiked among middle-aged (age 45-54) white Americans. They discovered that many of these early deaths are part an epidemic of “deaths of despair.” These are deaths caused by suicides, drug overdoses and alcohol related causes.
Case & Deaton have now followed up that study with a paper that attempts to explain this disturbing trend. Their research shows that the trend is driven by the decline of steady working-class jobs for people with a high school diploma or less. This lack of jobs often leads to other conditions that can cause “despair” such as being unmarried, being unable to purchase a home or being in poor health.
Deaton points out that while non-college whites overwhelmingly voted for Donald Trump, his policies are not likely to help fix this troubling trend in rising mortality. In fact, Deaton says Trump’s policies “seem almost perfectly designed to hurt the very people who voted for him.”
3. In light of the Case/Deaton findings, I thought this musing in the NY Times was especially interesting. Economist Neil Irwin wonders “What If Sociologists Had as Much Influence as Economists?”
For starters, while economists tend to view a job as a straightforward exchange of labor for money, a wide body of sociological research shows how tied up work is with a sense of purpose and identity . . .
It seems plausible that this helps explain why so many Americans who lost jobs in the 2008 recession have never returned to the labor force despite an improved job market.
4. But getting back to those economists . . . Considering the many huge (and often cruel) cuts in the budget Trump proposed last week, the Washington Post decided to do the math on just how much Trump’s frequent weekend trips out of town are costing the taxpayers (i.e. how many Councils on Homelessness could be funded with that money?).
Using Trump’s first couple month’s expenses as a guide, Philip Bump at WaPo tallied it up. And he was generous to Trump, taking the most conservative estimates possible at every step of his calculations. Still, he came up with a grand total of $526 million for a 4-year term.
You probably remember how much Republicans bellyached over Obama’s travel expenses. Obama’s travel expenses were $97 million for his entire 8 years in office. So, Obama’s costs averaged 11 to 12 million a year. Trump’s costs were $10 million in just the first month. Of course, don’t try to get devoted Trump fans to believe any of it.
5. On a related note, the Secret Service has asked for $60 million in additional funding next year to cover the costs of protecting Trump and his family. Nearly half of that is to cover the costs of protecting Trump Tower in New York City. And half would be spent on travel costs for “the president, vice president and other visiting heads of state.” I’m guessing that won’t be equally divided among them.
6. And you’ll be relieved to know that when Trump plays golf every weekend it’s nothing at all like Obama playing golf during his presidency. So you don’t need to worry about Trump being an outrageous hypocrite for all of his criticism of Obama’s golfing. This is because, as Sean Spicer so patiently explained, Trump uses the game of golf to advance U.S. interests.
NBC News reporter Brad Jaffy kindly gathered a bunch of Trump’s previous tweets about Obama’s golfing into one place, just to give you an idea of the volume:
7. In a previous roundup, I told you about a D.C. restaurant that’s suing Trump’s D.C. hotel for unfair competition. Well, like father, like daughter. Ivanka is now facing her own unfair competition lawsuit. A boutique in San Francisco filed the suit against her arguing that her brand’s sales have surged since the election because they’ve exploited “the power and prestige of the White House for personal gain.”
After the election, her company promoted in an email a $10,000 bracelet that she wore during a “60 Minutes” interview. In February, President Trump lashed out on Twitter at Nordstrom after the department store decided to stop carrying Ivanka Trump products because of declining sales, complaining that his daughter “has been treated so unfairly.” A few days later, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway used an appearance on “Fox & Friends” to urge consumers to purchase Ivanka Trump products.
8. And here’s an interesting tidbit from a new C-SPAN poll: 83% of those polled said the empty Supreme Court seat was a factor in their vote in the Presidential election. But only 43% could even name a single Justice on the Court. So much for the “Notorious RBG.”
9. Check out this fun profile of Senator Al Franken that explains why he’s the perfect senator for the Trump era.
[Franken is] finding it safe to be funny again.
Franken, now 65, barely made it to the Senate, taking his oath in July 2009 after a ballot recount that took eight months to resolve. So he spent his first term trying to prove he was not a joke — buttoning up his wit, buckling down on esoteric issues and sidestepping all but his home-state media.
A couple weeks ago, Saturday Night Live had a Weekend Update segment that featured a visit from “Al Franken” and “Jeff Sessions.” It was pretty surreal to see Franken’s career come full circle like that, with him being satired on the show where he made his name satiring famous people, politicians among them. The skit also happened to be quite funny, so take a look if you have a few minutes.
10. New York Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman, who’s already gone head to head with Trump a few times, has just hired a former prosecutor who specializes in corruption to focus on issues having to do with the Trump administration. This could get interesting. Schneiderman has this as his pinned tweet (i.e. the tweet you choose to “pin” to the top of your Twitter page so that it’s always the first one people see when they view you):
11. And lastly, some insight into why Trump just can’t let go of, well, anything. No slight, no grudge, no fight goes unsettled. What’s behind that??
As a presidential candidate, he wanted to look dour, and vetoed any campaign imagery that so much as hinted at weakness, aides said. Which is why every self-selected snapshot — down to the squinty-eyed scowl attached to his Twitter account — features a tough-guy sourpuss. “Like Churchill,” is what Mr. Trump would tell staffers when asked what look he was going for.