Trump-free Friday politics roundup


Good news, bad news, and some really confusing news, all in this week’s politics roundup.

Travel ban overturned yet again

Ah, remember those halcyon days of Monday? When the week stretched out before and was, depending on your constitution, either a beautiful blank slate or a smoldering trench full of untold horrors? I mean, this week hasn’t been the worst ever. However, it does seem as if the amount and scope of political drama that occurs every seven days is enough to make your forget everything that happened just five days ago.

But it’s not always bad news. Take the infamous travel ban, which, while it doesn’t specifically target religious groups, does exclude travel from numerous Muslim-majority countries. There are actually two different versions knocking around in the court system right now: a decidedly sloppy first draft, and a revised second edition that has still met considerable resistance.

On Monday, this second version was unanimously struck down by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, based in San Francisco. The Ninth Circuit said that the presidential administration overstepped its authority when it issued the travel ban. In its legal opinion, the court stated that “National security is not a ‘talismanic incantation’ that, once invoked, can support any and all exercise of executive power”.

The first case is still set to make its way to the Supreme Court. However, the situation could get even more complicated, as its 90-day entry ban could technically have expired on Wednesday. However, the administration has argued that all of the legal challenges have effectively put the ban on pause.

Sessions testifies before Congress

Attorney General Jeff Sessions testified before Congress on Tuesday and said next to nothing. Yes, there were words exiting his mouth, but the content of his speech proved to be unsubstantial. In fact, he continually refused to answer questions about conversations with the President, though no one involved had officially invoked “executive privilege”.

Executive privilege, on its own, is not necessarily a bad thing. It is meant to ensure that presidential conversations can remain as candid and straightforward as possible, by way of also being confidential. When you’re dealing with international and internal conflicts, such discretion can be vital.

That said, it’s also clearly rife for abuse. In 1974’s United States v. Nixon, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that President Nixon deliver subpoenaed documents and audio tapes to the District Court. It’s considered a landmark ruling that set significant limits on executive privilege. Since then, it’s forged a complicated history in relation to the White House.

Sessions, however, wanted to protect the actions of some mysterious future President who might want to invoke the privilege anyway. “I’m protecting the president’s constitutional right by not giving it away before he has a chance to view it and weigh it,” he said.

Everyone is under investigation now. Just… everyone.

We already know about Russia, the 2016 election, and the near-undeniable evidence that someone, somewhere in Russia interfered in the latest election season. We already know that James Comey was likely fired because of his insistence on pursuing Russia-related investigations, former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn was fired because of his undisclosed contacts, and current Attorney General Jeff Sessions may have had anywhere from three to, I don’t know, a million undisclosed meetings with various Russian officials.

Besides allegations that the president is under investigation by special counsel Robert S. Mueller, Vice President Mike Pence has now lawyered up. Of course, it could be that Pence is making a canny political move by hiring criminal defense lawyer Richard Cullen. Leaving himself open to investigation without legal counsel could be a stupid move, even if he is entirely innocent of collusion with Russia.

However, given the numerous contacts the administration has already had with Russia and the general sneakiness with which these contacts have been made, we can’t be sure anymore. I mean, we can’t be sure of anything – have you been in contact with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak? Who knows? At any rate, I’ll be more than happy to retire the phrase “witch hunt” from political discourse forever.

And, finally, your palate cleanser

How’s your reading list been faring lately? Sometimes, it seems like we each have negative amounts of time. Sitting down and reading a book can therefore feel like a remote and unattainable luxury. But it doesn’t have to be! I’ve been finding a lot of beauty and necessary questioning through books lately, either fiction or nonfiction. It’s worth carving out even half an hour of your time here and there.

If you’re a fan of dark, thoughtful fiction, then scour your library for works by Sofia Samatar. She’s one of those authors where, reading her work, I feel both awed and upset for not discovering her writing sooner.

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Some of it is dark and much of it can be deliciously confusing, but her writing is so moving that you’ll think about it for days. Plus, she draws upon science fiction and fantasy without stumbling into boring cliches. Samatar also writes work that focuses on her Somali and Mennonite heritage.

A few of her short stories are online. Check out “A Girl Who Comes Out of a Chamber at Regular Intervals” and “Selkie Stories are for Losers”. My personal favorite is the introspective sci-fi novella Fallow, excerpted at Electric Lit and included in Tender, her short story collection.