What Did I Miss? 6/2

So this week Trump was back from his grand world bluster tour, and we were all back to normal – or whatever passes for normal these days. Melting earth 2 And that means the focus was mostly back on the Russia story, especially questions about Jared Kushner’s role in the unfolding mystery.  Some additional excitement was generated mid-week by the “will-he or won’t-he” drama over Trump’s decision about the Paris Climate Accord. (If you look back at some of my old posts, you’ll see that this drama has actually been quietly dragging on for more than a month).

This spectacle was capped by a long, drawn-out ceremonial announcement in the Rose Garden in which Trump informed the world of his catastrophic decision to withdraw from the agreement.  Those two stories dominated the news coverage this week, but what else happened that you might have missed?

1. There’s so much to say about this disastrous decision on the Paris Climate Agreement, but since these news round-ups are meant to be about the stories you may not have heard about this week, I’m going to refrain.  However, I did just want to share this one item for those who didn’t see it, because it’s too good to miss.  The Weather Channel  dedicated it’s entire homepage (weather.com) on Thursday to Trump’s decision. Take notice of each of the featured stories . . .

2. The Trump administration has asked the Supreme Court to review the 4th Circuit decision upholding a nationwide injunction on Trump’s travel ban.  Only four Justices must agree to hear the case in order for the case to be accepted by the Court.  In the meantime, the Trump administration has asked the Court to put a stay on that injunction, as well as the injunction issued by a judge in Hawaii, which is currently being reviewed by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.  If the Supreme Court were to grant both of those stays, then the travel ban could go into effect right away.  It would take the votes of five Justices to issue the stays.

3. A draft rule overturning the Obama administration’s birth control mandate has leaked from the Trump administration.  Under the Obama administration, the Affordable Care Act required most employers to provide health insurance that covers several different forms of birth control.  Exemptions were made for houses of worship and religiously affiliated non-profits.  And as the result of a 2014 Supreme Court decision in a lawsuit brought against the government by Hobby Lobby, an accommodation was also made for closely-held (i.e. private) companies with a religious objection.

But some religious groups still objected even to the arrangement made under that accommodation, and other employers who were not exempt or subject to the accommodation continued to object to the mandate to provide birth control.

So the new rule from the Trump administration would provide a very wide exemption from the birth control mandate.  It would allow an employer, university, or insurance company to opt out of providing birth control based on either a religious or a moral objection.  So in essence, this would allow any entity to opt out of the mandate simply because they choose to.

“It’s just a very, very, very broad exception for everybody,” Tim Jost, a health law professor at Washington and Lee University, told Vox. “If you don’t want to provide it, you don’t have to provide it.”

According to the New York Times, the draft was written mainly by political appointees in the Trump administration.  It is currently being reviewed by career appointees in the Department of Health and Human Services, who hope to “tone down language that questions the value of contraception.”  For example:

The Obama administration and the National Academy of Sciences cited studies showing that as the use of contraceptives has gone up, the rate of unintended pregnancies has come down. But the Trump administration says “these studies are insufficient to demonstrate a causal link.”

Instead, the rule emphasized another issue: “as contraception became available and its use increased, teen sexual activity outside of marriage likewise increased.”

Because the Trump administration is claiming urgency here, they’re able to publish this rule as an “interim final rule,” which means that the new rule would take effect immediately, as soon as the administration publishes it in the Federal Register:

Federal law generally requires agencies to issue new rules as proposals, with an opportunity for public comment, but the new rule is labeled an interim final rule, meaning it could take effect immediately on publication in the Federal Register.

4. But why is the Trump administration able to just go ahead and change this? Isn’t the birth control mandate part of the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare)?? In an impressive feat of foresight, Vox actually wrote an article explaining this all the way back on November 10, just 2 days after Trump was elected.

As the Vox article explains, the birth control mandate is actually not technically part of the Affordable Care Act:

If you read through the text of the Affordable Care Act, you won’t find any mention of “contraceptives” or “birth control.” That’s because the law doesn’t actually include a mandate to cover contraceptives.

Instead, it says that health insurance must cover preventive health benefits for women — and then punts to a division of Health and Human Services to decide what counts.

It wasn’t always clear that birth control would make the cut . . .

So, the requirement to cover birth control is not built into the law but is simply a regulation put in place by Health and Human Services (HHS).  That means the regulation can be changed or undone by HHS as well.  And right now, that would be the HHS that is overseen by the Trump administration and run by conservative republican Tom Price. (If you’re interested in the significance of rules vs laws, see this post)

5. The Trump administration is planning to dissolve the civil rights programs of numerous agencies throughout the government:

[T]he Trump administration is reducing the role of the federal government in fighting discrimination and protecting minorities by cutting budgets, dissolving programs and appointing officials unsympathetic to previous practices . . .

Administration officials made clear in the initial weeks of Trump’s presidency that they would break with the civil rights policies of his predecessor. Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered a review of agreements to reform police departments, signaling his skepticism of efforts to curb civil rights abuses by law enforcement officers. His Justice Department, meantime, stopped challenging a controversial Texas voter identification law and joined with the Education Department in withdrawing federal guidance allowing transgender students to use school bathrooms corresponding to their gender identity.

While these decisions have been roundly criticized by liberal activists, administration officials said that civil rights remain a priority for the Trump White House.

“The Trump administration has an unwavering commitment to the civil rights of all Americans,” White House spokeswoman Kelly Love said in an emailed statement.

6. The good news is that the Constitution is a little more dedicated to the cause of protecting our rights, as are the courts to enforcing them.  Well, at least for now – until Trump starts to reshape the federal judiciary.  So here’s this week’s good news on civil rights:

A three-judge panel for the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals unanimously upheld a lower court’s ruling that would allow a transgender high school student to use the bathroom that corresponds with his gender identity.  The federal court decision upholds the preliminary injunction put in place by the lower court to halt enforcement of the Wisconsin school district’s policy aimed at the student, Ash Whitaker.

The appeals court upheld the lower court’s rulings in favor of Whitaker on both statutory and constitutional grounds, finding that he is likely to succeed on his claim that he is protected from discrimination under the sex discrimination ban in Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 because he is transgender and that the school district’s policy violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

And the judge writing for the court noted that the school district did not provide any evidence that the injunction would harm the school or its students:

 “The harms identified by the School District are all speculative and based upon conjecture, whereas the harms to Ash are well‐documented and supported by the record.”

7. In the meantime, schools in Oklahoma are so underfunded, as a result of budget cuts that have come alongside years of tax cutting by the state’s Republican government, that they have now had to resort to four-day school weeks. Republicans, as proponents of states’ rights, are especially fond of the old saying that “states are the laboratories of democracy.” What do you think the chances are that they’ll learn something from this experiment?

A deepening budget crisis here has forced schools across the Sooner State to make painful decisions. Class sizes have ballooned, art and foreign-language programs have shrunk or disappeared, and with no money for new textbooks, children go without. Perhaps the most significant consequence: Students in scores of districts are now going to school just four days a week . . .

funding for classrooms has been shrinking for years in this deep-red state as lawmakers have cut taxes, slicing away hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue in what some Oklahomans consider a cautionary tale about the real-life consequences of the small-government approach favored by Republican majorities in Washington and statehouses nationwide.

8. There have been persistent rumors that Trump is about to institute a big “shake up” in his White House staff. But there’s one problem with that idea:  almost no one new wants to work for him.  So that would make it kind of tough to replace anyone that gets the boot:

The disclosures from investigations stemming from Russian meddling in last year’s election — coupled with the president’s habit of undercutting his staff — have driven away candidates for West Wing jobs that normally would be among the most coveted in American politics, according to people involved in the search.

Buzzfeed article focused specifically on the communications director job that recently opened up made the point even more vividly:

One operative whose spouse works in the Trump administration dissolved into laughter upon being asked if they would want the role.

“Sorry, I’m sorry,” the source said between stifled laughs. “Oh, you’re being serious? Oh my god, I’m crying of laughter. Why would anyone in their right mind want to be his communications director?”

9. And this behind-the-scenes look from the Washington Post might help explain why there aren’t too many people lining up to interview for any potential White House openings: Snubs and slights are part of the job in Trump’s White House.

You really have to read the whole article, with its many examples of how Trump treats the people who work for him – even people as high up as the VP.  But the best part is this statement Trump administration spokeswoman Hope Hicks gave to WaPo:

“President Trump has a magnetic personality and exudes positive energy, which is infectious to those around him,” Hope Hicks, a White House spokeswoman, said in a statement. “He has an unparalleled ability to communicate with people, whether he is speaking to a room of three or an arena of 30,000. He has built great relationships throughout his life and treats everyone with respect. He is brilliant with a great sense of humor . . . and an amazing ability to make people feel special and aspire to be more than even they thought possible.”

10. Here’s something both petty and highly entertaining: a detailed analysis of Trump’s overly aggressive handshake routine:

Trump’s approach to the handshake is a combination of brute force and strategic discomfort. He doesn’t so much shake the hand as he consumes the very arm of the person he’s embracing. The goal, it appears, is to establish a geographic zone and bring his counterpart into it.

Trump almost always initiates, with a semi-open palm thrust at his counterpart. Often, his eyes dart not to the person across from him but down at his hand itself ― an early hint at where the drama will be. When the gesture is joined, Trump clasps firmly and tugs violently inward. Sometimes, he motions up and down but frequently he will use a lumberjack approach (back and forth). Occasionally, he’ll twist his counterpart’s hand in odd directions or use his free hand to fortify the clasp. Rarely does he let go first.

Unexpected recipients often seem stunned . . .

11. And finally, a story that manages to be both sad and uplifting at the same time. This story, posted on Memorial Day, is about the owner of a cleaning company who – in his free time – cleans off the headstones of veterans and uncovers history:

Lumish, who has so far cleaned about 600 veterans’ headstones, says he restores them out of respect for those who died and to learn about how they lived . . .

As the 46-year-old walks through the cemetery, he can point to markers he’s already cleaned and he can tell you how each veteran died . . .

But Lumish also actually learns how these men and women lived.

On his “Good Cemeterian” Facebook page, he posts photos and stories of the deceased. He gets the information from genealogy websites and finds new articles, draft notices and death certificates at the library.

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