A watchdog group is attempting to get to the bottom of whether or not Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and his wife, Louise Linton, used a government plane for a trip centered around viewing the total solar eclipse earlier this week.
Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington (CREW) filed a Freedom of Information Act request to learn "the justification for Secretary Mnuchin's use of a government plane, rather than a commercial flight, for a trip that seems to have been planned around the solar eclipse and to enable the secretary to secure a viewpoint in the path of the eclipse's totality."
— Citizens for Ethics (@CREWcrew) August 23, 2017
Mnuchin and Linton officially traveled to Lexington, Kentucky, so Mnuchin could speak alongside Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and attend a luncheon. Mnuchin and Linton subsequently boarded the plane to Fort Knox "to tour the bullion reserve at the Army post and view the eclipse."
It is not the only controversy the couple has faced this week. Linton also posted a photo to Instagram of her disembarking the government plane in Kentucky and wrote an ill-advised reply to a commenter who called the getaway "deplorable." Jeva Lange
Former President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama have "entered into a multi-year agreement to produce films and series for Netflix," the streaming service announced Monday. The content will "potentially" include "scripted series, unscripted series, docu-series, documentaries, and features."
The Hollywood Reporter notes that the move is "unprecedented in media" and that "no previous former president has ever made such a deal," with post-White House productions typically limited to autobiographies.
In a statement, Obama said he and Michelle "hope to cultivate and curate the talented, inspiring, creative voices who are able to promote greater empathy and understanding between peoples, and help them share their stories with the entire world." Earlier this year, Obama appeared on David Letterman's Netflix talk show, My Next Guest Needs No Introduction. Jeva Lange
The White House has issued an informational statement echoing President Trump's controversial use of the word "animals" to describe members of the MS-13 gang. Trump's initial comments came under fire when he apparently used the dehumanizing word to describe some immigrants in sanctuary cities, although he later clarified he was using "animals" specifically to refer to violent gang members.
The press release issued Monday is titled "What you need to know about the violent animals of MS-13." The release uses eight different statements like, "In Maryland, MS-13's animals are accused of stabbing a man more than 100 times and then decapitating him, dismembering him, and ripping his heart out of his body," and "MS-13's animals reportedly saw murder as a way to boost their standing in the gang." The statement ends by vowing that "President Trump's entire administration is working tirelessly to bring these violent animals to justice."
MS-13 “animals” has gone from a presidential utterance to White House doctrine. This WH press release on “what you need to know about the violent animals of MS-13” calls them animals 8 times. pic.twitter.com/ZAfOlYjaDB
— Todd Zwillich (@toddzwillich) May 21, 2018
Writing for The Week, Paul Waldman recently argued that Trump "has used a particular strategy to justify his immigration policies: Focus on crimes committed by individual immigrants as a way of ginning up fear and hatred, creating animus toward all immigrants. And when necessary, use dehumanizing language — like calling them 'animals' — to make sure that your target audience feels no empathy or hesitation about supporting the cruelest policies to target them." Jeva Lange
Saudi activists who fought for the right to drive have been arrested for 'undermining the country's stability'
Women's rights activists in Saudi Arabia were arrested last week, reports The Washington Post, just weeks before the nation lifts a ban on women driving.
Several of the seven activists who were jailed were leaders in the campaign to allow women to obtain driver's licenses, which the Saudi government approved last year. Five women and two men were detained on charges of "suspicious contact with foreign parties" and "undermining the country's stability and social fabric," the Post reports.
One of the detainees, Loujain Hathloul, was arrested in 2014 after driving into Saudi Arabia to protest the driving ban. Hathloul, Eman al-Nafjan, and Aziza al-Yousef have also vocally opposed the nation's male guardianship system, which requires men to accompany women to access government services, reports BuzzFeed News.
Groups like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have denounced the arrests, calling the activists victims of a "chilling smear campaign" by government officials. The Saudi government has pledged to reform many of its laws regarding its social structure and women's rights, but activists and advocacy groups say the reality of the kingdom's advancements is far from what officials have claimed. Summer Meza
Hillary Clinton spoke at Yale's Class Day on Sunday, referencing the university's tradition of wearing silly (typically DIY) hats for the occasion by bringing a Ushanka hat along for a predictable joke about President Trump. "A Russian hat," she said, waving but not actually wearing it. "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em."
Clinton also revisited her loss to Trump in a more serious tone. "I'm not over it," she said. "I still think about the 2016 election. I still regret the mistakes I made. I still think, though, that understanding what happened in such a weird and wild election in American history will help us defend our democracy in the future."
Watch the hat moment below. Bonnie Kristian
— NBC News (@NBCNews) May 21, 2018
In a survey of 87 cybersecurity experts published Monday, The Washington Post found they overwhelmingly believe state election systems are vulnerable to hacking in the 2018 midterms.
"We are going to need more money and more guidance on how to effectively defend against the sophisticated adversaries we are facing to get our risk down to acceptable levels," Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), co-chair of the Congressional Cybersecurity Caucus and one of the experts polled, told the Post. "I hope Congress continues to work to address this vital national security issue," Langevin added. He argues the $380 million allotted for election cybersecurity in March is not enough.
On a more positive note, the experts who spoke with the Post generally agreed systems are more secure than they were in the last election, and there is "no evidence that Russian hackers actually changed any votes in 2016," though they did access some voter data. Bonnie Kristian
Supreme Court rules that employers can prevent employees from banding together in class-action lawsuits
The Supreme Court voted 5-4 along ideological lines on Monday to rule that federal arbitration law allows employers to prevent their employees from banding together in class-action lawsuits and require them to go through individual arbitrators for disputes. The ruling, with Justice Neil Gorsuch writing the majority, is a "big win for businesses" and "a major blow to workers," New York's Cristian Farias tweeted.
While supporters of arbitration argue it is cheaper, "critics say companies are trying to strip individuals of important rights, including the ability to band together on claims that as a practical matter are too small to press individually," Bloomberg writes, adding that "about 25 million employees have signed arbitration accords that bar group claims."
Liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the 30-page dissent, which is five pages longer than the majority decision, SCOTUSblog reports. She called the ruling "egregiously wrong" and said the Federal Arbitration Act "demands no such suppression for the right of workers to take concerted action for their 'mutual aid or protection.'"
Gorsuch said that the "policy may be debatable but the law is clear: Congress has instructed that arbitration agreements like those before us must be enforced as written." Read more about the decision on Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis at SCOTUSblog. Jeva Lange
Facebook now requires political advertisers to prove they're Americans by submitting their Social Security numbers
Facebook announced a crackdown on political advertising in early April, a move intended to assuage fears about political misinformation and election meddling. Among the changes, which will be fully implemented Tuesday, Facebook will display who pays for political ads. The social network will also institute a complex process to verify purchasers of U.S. political advertising are Americans (or permanent residents) living in America.
CNN's Donie O'Sullivan decided to experience that process for himself, sharing the results on Twitter. The steps include: giving Facebook your address so the company can physically mail you a verification code, uploading images of your driver's license or passport, and submitting your Social Security number.
Under new Facebook rules, if you want to buy a political or an issue ad (more on what's an issue later) in the US on Facebook you have to prove you are a permanent resident or a citizen here. I went through the process to see how it works. pic.twitter.com/jcBc9CJK0f
— Donie O'Sullivan (@donie) May 20, 2018
Basically, buying a political Facebook ad now requires the same level of personal information as opening a bank account.
And the scope of application for this process is broad. Facebook says it applies to "national issues of public importance" including civil rights, government reform, the exceedingly vague "values," and much more. A number of prominent media organizations, including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and The Washington Post, have sent a letter to Facebook complaining that news content will be inappropriately lumped in with advocacy. Bonnie Kristian