Trump-free Friday politics roundup


Comey speaks, Britain votes, Japan lets the Emperor take a break, and the Babadook wants you to know it’s Pride Month in this week’s politics roundup.

Comey hearings

The big politics news this week centered on former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony before Congress. We’ve already covered it here.

Honestly, this is kind of nice, considering other weeks have been rife with travel bans, weapons tests, and rocky elections. Yes, the testimony raised some serious concerns about the presidential administration’s connections to Russia, but it was still a man in a suit talking to other people in suits. I don’t know, let’s just take what little happiness we can.

After his public testimony, Comey then moved to a private hearing. There’s no official news regarding what went on behind closed doors, and we likely won’t know anything certain for a good long while.

However, Comey’s testimony did raise further questions about Jeff Sessions, the current Attorney General.

Sessions had previously failed to disclose meetings with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the 2016 presidential campaign, when Sessions was a U.S. Senator. Though he defended these meetings as routine, Sessions recused himself from the ongoing Russia investigation. During the closed hearing, it is rumored that Comey revealed another undisclosed meeting between Sessions and Russian officials.

Comey and his team at the FBI anticipated Sessions’ recusal. However, their reasons for believing as such are obscured at best.

When Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) asked why the FBI believed Sessions would step back from the investigation, Comey said that Sessions had a variety of reasons. “We also were aware of facts that I can’t discuss in an open setting that would make his continued engagement in a Russia-related investigation problematic”.

Britain votes in a snap election

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May made a serious gamble when she called for a snap election in April of this year. Though a general election was not due until May 2020, May’s decision received enough votes in the House of Commons to move forward.

However, the nature of gambling dictates that you will sometimes lose. As it turns out, May’s Conservative Party has been dealt a serious blow. She had intended to grow the Conservative majority in Parliament and demonstrate a mandate for the U.K.’s upcoming exit from the European Union.

However, recent terror attacks in Manchester and London brought up issues of national security, while others wanted to talk social programs. Oftentimes, it seemed as if Brexit was taking a backseat to other issues.

After Thursday’s election, the Conservatives now hold 319 seats in Parliament, seven seats short of a majority. Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party won 261 seats. Earlier predictions and May herself expected to ride to glory in a landslide election.

If the center-right Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland sides with the Conservatives, they will have 329 seats – just enough to govern. However, the DUP has not confirmed their participation and will likely exact some serious concessions from Conservatives if they do work together.

That said, everyone will have to get moving soon. Brexit talks are set to begin in a little over a week, and now it seems that no one really knows what will happen. Britain and the E.U. have agreed to a March 2019 deadline for negotiations.

Corbyn publicly urged May to resign, while others saw the surprising election results as a referendum on May’s leadership. However, she has promised to stay in her post. “At this time, more than anything else, this country needs a period of stability,” she said.

House passes bill to reverse financial regulations

During all the hullabaloo of the Comey testimony, politics was still underway in other avenues of Congress. On Thursday, members of the House of Representatives voted to approve the Financial Choice Act, a 589-page bill intended to repeal Dodd-Frank financial regulations.

Dodd-Frank was established in response to the 2008 financial crisis and imposes a series of regulations on Wall Street financial institutions. The Financial Choice Act will turn back Dodd-Frank largely by repealing the “Volcker Rule”, which keeps government-insured banks from making hazardous investments.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which regulates large banks and lenders, will also lose power. House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) says that the CFPB is undemocratic and even went so far as to call it a “rogue agency”.

Other supporters of the bill claimed that Dodd-Frank regulations went too far, presenting an undue burden on small community banks. Even former Representative Barney Frank (D-Mass.) agreed. “Anytime you pass a very complicated piece of legislation, you don’t get everything 100 percent right the first time,” he said. During his time in the House, Frank was chairman of the House Financial Services Committee.

Opponents of the change worry that lessened regulations will lead to another financial crisis. While small banks may experience less pressure and oversight, so do traditionally predatory institutions like payday loan businesses.

The bill now moves on to the Senate, where it faces staunch Democratic opposition.

Japanese emperor now allowed to abdicate

It must be strange to be a royal. You’re born into the position and effectively stuck there for the entirety of your life. Of course, it’s hard to feel total sympathy for someone who is given loads of money for having a particular family and showing up to various ribbon-cutting and charity events.

Still, it’s clear that there are some downsides to the position. Sometimes, for example, your country and your people won’t just let you retire.

Now, Emperor Akihito of Japan has finally been granted permission to abdicate his throne. This is a highly unusual exception, given that the last Emperor to resign, Kokaku, did so in 1817.

In the past, Japanese Emperors were considered to be descendants of Amaterasu, a major female deity in the Shinto religion. However, modern Emperors have not been considered divine since the reign of Hirohito, Akihito’s father.

Though the day-to-day government of Japan is a decidedly modern liberal democracy, its monarchy is both old (it is recognized as beginning in 660 BCE with Emperor Jimmu) and surprisingly complicated. Emperors are very rarely able to step down. Only direct male descendants can hold the throne, thanks to a 1947 Imperial Household Law. Any royal women who marry commoners must also leave their Imperial rank behind.

Akihito, who had previously asked for permission to step down because of his age and failing health, now has an out. Japan’s parliament has passed a special bill allowing him to leave the throne. It applies only to Akihito and can only be used within the next three years. The Emperor’s relatives, it seems, will just have to stay.

And, finally, your palate cleanser

The Babadook is gay.

Yes, the whole concept is kind of silly, but it is equally delightful and somehow perfect for Pride Month 2017. And, yes, there are plenty of memes and wonderful new words like “babadiscourse”. Still, it only serves to remind us that life is weird and absurd. So, yeah, sure, the Babadook is now a gay icon.

Though the first rumblings of this affair began on Tumblr, all the way back in ye olde days of October 2016, Pride has pushed this meme into the limelight.

Next: Comey hearings reveal concerns about Russia and Trump

Now that it’s making your way towards your parents’ Facebook feeds, it’s at the zenith of its meme life. I mean, the fact that it’s now being discussed here and on Vox as a cultural phenomenon is sign enough.

Still, we can take comfort in the near certainty that LGBTQ Babadook will never descend into the hell now occupied entirely by Minion memes.