There were several major stories filling the news this week. The scary & unpredictable path of Hurricane Irma took up much of the news space, threatening the country before we’ve even finished dealing with the recovery from Hurricane Harvey. The news was also filled with coverage of Trump’s cruel, confused, unpopular & and unwise decision to rescind Obama’s DACA program, which gave protections to a specific class of young undocumented immigrants. And then, we had the very surprising & seemingly sudden deal struck between Trump and Democratic congressional leaders to raise the debt limit, provide money for Harvey recovery and fund the government for the next three months.
The deal of course included Republican congressional leaders as well – necessarily, since they control both chambers of Congress. But Trump struck the deal against their wishes, and apparently, against their expectations. Ryan, McConnell and most of the rest of the party were not happy, and it showed. But Trump appears to be as happy as a kid eating two scoops of ice cream. The press coverage of the deal – he feels – has been great. And for Trump, that’s the ballgame. So it’s been a busy week for big news stories. But there was other news this week. So what else happened that you might have missed?
1. This first story probably would’ve gotten a good amount of attention had it come during a slower news week (do we have slow news weeks anymore??). USA Today put together some puzzle pieces to try to determine the membership of Trump’s various golf clubs. As we know, Trump has been spending a lot of time at three of these clubs since becoming President: Mar-a-Lago in Florida, Bedminster in New Jersey and Trump National Golf Club in Virginia. He even refers to Mar-a-Lago as the winter White House.
Yet the public is given no records of who the clubs’ members are, while these members – who pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in membership fees that directly profit the President – have unknowable amounts of access to him any time he’s on the grounds. The article isn’t long – I really recommend reading the whole thing.
USA TODAY found the names of 4,500 members by reviewing social media and a public website golfers use to track their handicaps, then researched and contacted hundreds to determine whether they had business with the government.
The review shows that, for the first time in U.S. history, wealthy people with interests before the government have a chance for close and confidential access to the president as a result of payments that enrich him personally. It is a view of the president available to few other Americans.
2. You’ve probably heard about the case of the Colorado baker, Jack Phillips, who refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, saying that it violated his religious beliefs. The couple filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission on the grounds that Phillips was violating Colorado’s public accommodations law, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. The commission ruled against Phillips, and that decision was upheld by a Colorado appeals court.
Phillips petitioned the Supreme Court to review the case, and at the end of its most recent term this past June, the Court agreed to take the case. which is now known as Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. Well, this week, the Trump DOJ filed a brief in the case. And I have a feeling you can guess which side they’re supporting!
That’s right, the Trump administration’s brief backs Phillips’ position, arguing that:
Forcing Phillips to create expression for and participate in a ceremony that violates his sincerely held religious beliefs invades his First Amendment rights.
3. After the tragic and disturbing events in Charlottesville, there were number of people on social media who seemed to have trouble choosing sides between the neo-Nazis and those who were there protesting against the neo-Nazis. So they decided instead to just blame the town for allowing the Nazis to march there in the first place. That seemed like an easy way to avoid having to make the very difficult moral choice between the two apparently equal sides – just blame the local government for not preventing the whole thing in the first place. But that cop out only works if you’re unfamiliar with the First Amendment of the Constitution, which prevents the government from infringing on freedom of speech or assembly.
Richard Spencer, one of the leaders of the modern white nationalist movement is familiar with these rights, however. The organizer of Spencer’s speaking tour just filed suit against Michigan State University after the school refused to rent him space on campus to speak. A number of other public universities have also refused space to white nationalist groups or speakers in the wake of the violence at Charlottesville. So we may see more lawsuits coming. Regardless, the result of the Michigan State lawsuit will be significant.
Talking Points Memo spoke to several legal experts who said that Spencer is likely to prevail in the lawsuit:
“There is no Richard Spencer exception” to the First Amendment, Will Creeley, senior vice president of legal and public advocacy at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, told TPM. Though there are exceptions for incitement and intimidation, Creeley noted, those have “narrow legal definitions.”
“The Supreme Court has said that speech can only be restricted for fear that it will incite violence if it’s intended to and likely to promote imminent lawless conduct,” Eugene Volokh, a First Amendment expert at the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law, explained in a recent interview.
4. A fact checker for the New Yorker, who says she’s been receiving news alerts from the EPA for years, noticed a distinct change in the tone of the alerts when the Obama administration switched over to the Trump administration and Scott Pruitt took over as head of the EPA. The EPA newsroom has basically turned into a personal PR machine for Scott Pruitt, who’s the star of Trump’s deregulatory agenda. I’m only posting a couple of her tweets here, but if you click on one, you can see her entire thread detailing the change:
5. The above is interesting in light of the fact that there has been a lot of speculation that Pruitt is setting himself up for a run for elected office, most likely U.S. Senator from Oklahoma. Oklahoma Governor has been mentioned as a possibility as well.
Scott Pruitt has logged thousands of miles this summer touting his plans to rewrite the Obama administration’s environmental regulations — and fueling speculation that he’s laying the groundwork for a future political campaign . . .
His strategy, Beltway operatives say, more resembles a candidate seeking political support than an EPA administrator pressing for regulatory changes . . .
The trips, which have taken Pruitt to 25 mostly Republican-led states, are ostensibly to highlight his efforts to loosen Obama-era water regulations. But he’s also spending time with GOP leaders and influential industries and packing in as many media hits as possible, laying out well-rehearsed talking points to bash former President Barack Obama’s EPA.
6. And the EPA’s internal watchdog has taken notice of the unusual amount of travel Pruitt has been doing back to his home state. The EPA’s Office of Inspector General has launched a probe into Pruitt’s “frequent” travel to Oklahoma, after it was notified by an environmental group that Pruitt spent nearly half of his first three months in office either in Oklahoma or en route there.
The Environmental Integrity Project and other groups questioned whether Pruitt is using EPA resources to further his personal or political goals.
The agency defended Pruitt’s travel, saying he works diligently and all of the travel that was billed to the government was for government work.
7. Remember Kris Kobach? He’s the head of Trump’s “Election Integrity Commission,” which is really the commission to soothe Trump’s ego over losing the popular vote. Kobach is also – conveniently – the country’s leading proponent of the voter fraud myth, which he uses to justify all sorts of voter suppression laws. I told you a bit more about him previously in the 6/9 “What Did I Miss?”.
It was revealed this week that Kobach is a paid columnist for Breitbart. You’re probably familiar with the website, which has been one of Trump’s most loyal boosters since very early on in the election. The site was run by Steve Bannon before he left to join Trump’s campaign and then his administration. Bannon was back at Breitbart within hours of being let go from Trump’s staff.
But I’m sure Kobach will be a completely fair and neutral arbiter of the vote fraud issue. He’s also currently the Secretary of State for the state of Kansas, and he’s running for Kansas Governor. So having this paid gig surely in no way conflicts with those duties . . .
8. Speaking of Breitbart, the site is taking sides in the Alabama Senate race, nd they’ve chosen to go whole hog for former Alabama chief justice Roy Moore. (I told you about that race and Roy Moore here and here). And they’ve chosen to go whole hog for former Alabama chief justice Roy Moore. Remember, Trump backed Moore’s opponent Luther Strange during the first round of the primary, though he’s stayed quiet about the race since it’s entered the run-off stage.
I usually stick to straight news pieces here, but I’m going to link this opinion piece from the Plum Line about what Breitbart (well, specifically Steve Bannon) is doing by getting behind Moore, who’s a hero of the religious right. I think it gets at something very important that’s happening in the base of the Republican party:
[Bannon’s] grand plan is to remake American conservatism, by shifting it away from its long-standing “three-legged stool” coalition of tax-cutters, defense hawks and the religious right. His strategy is to peel away Christian conservatives from that coalition, and to build a new coalition with anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, far-right nationalists, in order to make the Trump revolution permanent . . .
Indeed, the Breitbart-Moore alliance is the most vivid example to date of the anti-government, white-nationalist Breitbart forces teaming up with a candidate with shared views on issues such as immigration and the role of the federal government, but which are driven by outwardly theocratic aspirations . . .
9. This long read from Politico tells about a very disturbing movement in the United States called the “constitutional sheriff movement.” Joe Arpaio, who recently received a pardon from Trump, is a member of the movement. So is David Clarke, the extremely controversial former Milwaukee sheriff who was a huge Trump booster during the campaign, and who Trump tried to hire into his Homeland Security Department. (That hiring was supposedly thwarted by General Kelly. Clarke, who just resigned as Milwaukee sheriff last week, has taken a job leading a Trump Super PAC instead). And you may remember the name Cliven Bundy from his weeks-long armed standoff against federal agents in 2014 at his Nevada ranch. Bundy is also a (non-sheriff) adherent of this movement:
The strange idea that unites all members of this movement is that a sheriff is the highest law enforcement officer within a county’s borders—superior not only to local police, but also to officers and agents of the federal government. The actual influence of sheriff supremacy is hard to measure, but it has been growing in recent years . . .
The modern constitutional sheriff movement has revived the idea of sheriff supremacy envisioned by the Christian Patriots, tried to shed its anti-Semitic and racist origins, and now seeks to “take back America county by county, state by state.” Today, its ideology has gained traction with the militia movement, so-called sovereign citizens, separatists wary of centralized government—and increasingly, landowners, county commissioners, veterans and law enforcement figures . . .
As these unorthodox ideas have spread, politicians and lawmen have played boldly to anti-government sentiment, especially fears of federal officials intruding on property rights and gun rights.
By pardoning Arpaio for his criminal contempt conviction, and by holding Arpaio & Clarke up as his examples of model law enforcement officers, Trump – the highest elected official in the country, who has pledged to preserve and protect the Constitution – has given his tacit endorsement to this growing extremist, anti-government organization.
10. And finally, this very compelling piece from economics writer Neil Irwin of the NY Times looks at the changes in our economy over the last few decades to help explain our ever-increasing economic inequality. He contrasts the stories of two janitors at two different large companies of different eras: one in the 1980s (Eastman Kodak) and one today (Apple). It’s really a story about economic mobility – or the lack thereof in our current economy. Irwin zeroes in on a key change in corporate philosophy that’s had an enormous impact:
In the 35 years between their jobs as janitors, corporations across America have flocked to a new management theory: Focus on core competence and outsource the rest. The approach has made companies more nimble and more productive, and delivered huge profits for shareholders. It has also fueled inequality and helps explain why many working-class Americans are struggling even in an ostensibly healthy economy.
Gail Evans, the janitor at Eastman Kodak, was able to go to college with partial tuition reimbursement from the company while she worked as a janitor. She was then able to use her newly gained skills & education to move into the professional track at work, gradually move up the ladder, and eventually land new jobs at new companies, working her way into upper management and executive positions.
Marta Ramos provides janitorial services for Apple, but she doesn’t work directly for Apple. She is employed by another company that Apple contracts with. The opportunities for advancement or higher wages with her employer are extremely limited. As Irwin’s article indicates, this pattern is being repeated at company after company in industry after industry, throughout the U.S. as companies save a bundle on salary and benefits by outsourcing. So a much smaller share of corporate profits is being invested in employees, while a much larger share is going to top executives and shareholders. And we are seeing the results throughout our economy.