Almost 2.5 million Californians lost power in pre-emptive blackouts this week as thousands of firefighters scrambled to contain wildfires statewide. Officials feared a catastrophic flare-up after the National Weather Service issued an unprecedented “extreme red flag” warning—forecasting 30 hours of winds with gusts up to 80 mph accompanying dangerously dry air—yet those once-in-a-decade conditions failed to materialize. Still, 4,900 firefighters battled the Kincade Fire in Northern California, which destroyed 76,000 acres plus 189 structures and forced 200,000 residents to flee. Around Los Angeles, which hasn’t seen rain in four months, the Getty Fire burned 650 acres and forced famous residents such as LeBron James and Arnold Schwarzenegger to evacuate. The blackouts are meant to keep electrical equipment from igniting additional flames, though this year’s fires have been less severe than last year’s apocalyptic blazes.
Alabama vs. Roe
Alabama’s near-total abortion ban “defies” a woman’s constitutional rights, a federal judge ruled this week, paving the way for the Supreme Court to revisit Roe v. Wade. Laws severely restricting abortion access that were passed in nine states this year have now been blocked in court. Alabama’s went furthest, banning abortions even for pregnancies arising from rape or incest, and threatening doctors with up to 99 years in prison. “Enforcement of the ban,” said U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson, “would yield serious and irreparable harm, violating the right to privacy and preventing women from obtaining abortions.” The legislation was crafted specifically to force the Supreme Court to reconsider Roe, which affirms the right to an abortion until a fetus is viable outside the womb, usually after 24 weeks into a pregnancy.
Redrawing the map
North Carolina’s GOP-drawn congressional districts reflect “extreme partisan gerrymandering” and can’t be used in the 2020 elections, a state court ruled this week. That decision, seen as a boost to Democrats’ odds of keeping control of the House of Representatives, comes after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to throw out the state’s partisan maps. However, North Carolina’s panel of three judges found that districts drawn by the GOP-controlled legislature in 2016 undermined “the will of the people” and violated the state constitution. The judges threatened to delay primary elections if new districts were not drawn in time. Ten of North Carolina’s 13 Congress members are Republicans, despite the state’s roughly even political split. One of the map’s drafters boasted that he’d given the GOP near-certain control of 10 seats “because I do not believe it’s possible to draw a map with 11 Republicans.”
Pay for play
The NCAA moved this week toward letting college athletes sign endorsement deals, bowing on an issue long cast as an existential threat to amateur sports. The NCAA Board of Governors voted unanimously in a meeting at Emory University to let student athletes profit from their names, images, and likenesses “in a manner consistent with the collegiate model,” asking its three divisions to craft rules that would take effect in January 2021. The NCAA was given a push in September by a California law, the Fair Pay to Play Act, that required California schools to open the door to endorsements starting in 2023. At least 12 states, including Florida, signaled interest in following suit, and the NCAA said allowing endorsement deals in only some states was untenable. Still, the NCAA said its rules would not exactly follow the “California model,” and student-athlete advocates accused it of stalling on a final rule.
Federal law enforcement is going after Rudy Giuliani in full force, Politico.com reported last week. President Trump’s attorney is now being investigated by the Justice Department’s criminal division, adding to scrutiny from the FBI and from federal prosecutors in Manhattan. The focus appears to be Giuliani’s security consulting business, already embroiled in controversy as two of his foreign-born business associates head to trial on charges that could implicate Giuliani. He has stopped making prime-time TV appearances, although NBC News reported last week that Giuliani accidentally “butt-dialed” a reporter and left a three-minute voicemail, in which he discusses business dealings in Turkey and Bahrain and says, “The problem is we need some money,” pausing before adding, “a few hundred thousand.” As Giuliani’s alleged shadow diplomacy in Ukraine becomes central to the Trump impeachment inquiry, he has reportedly been sidelined from advising Trump on the matter.
Told you so
Sea Island, Ga.
President Trump wouldn’t be facing impeachment if his top aide weren’t a “yes man,” former Chief of Staff John Kelly said last week. As he prepared to leave the administration earlier this year, Kelly says, he warned Trump, “Don’t hire someone that will just nod and say, ‘That’s a great idea, Mr. President,’ because you will be impeached.” Kelly’s successor, Mick Mulvaney, is at the center of the Ukraine probe. Speaking at a conservative summit, Kelly also called Trump’s decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria a “catastrophically bad idea,” saying he has “second thoughts” about leaving his job now that Trump is “all over the place.” Trump denied Kelly ever warned him about his replacement, and White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said Kelly “was totally unequipped to handle the genius of our great president.” ■