The past week bought some absolutely terrific reporting on issues of staggering importance — and much of it got lost in the midst of what turned out to be an absurdly busy news week, in the middle of August, a traditionally slow news time, no less.
Yes, Congress passed what looks like a consequential piece of legislation on climate change. Yep, FBI agents searched the resident of a former U.S. president. In a particularly chilling incident, the author Salman Rushdie was attacked during an public appearance. Serena Williams — who’s on everybody’s short list of the greatest athletes of all time — announced her retirement.
We’ll get back to all that — well, most of that — later in this edition. But I want to back up a few days and reflect on some of the outstanding reporting that got lost in a whirlwind of breaking news.
Like this piece, for example: Caitlyn Dickerson’s 30,000-word account in The Atlantic about how the Trump administration came up with its so-called “zero tolerance” immigration policy that separated parents from their children at the border. To this day, Dickerson reports, some families have yet to be reunited. When this story first broke earlier in the week, you might have made a note to yourself about how you should read the story. Here’s a reminder — brew another cup of coffee (actually, you might need a fresh pot) and get ready to have your blood boil.
Aside from the human tragedy it documents, Dickerson’s story raises an important point that she summarizes early on:
It is easy to pin culpability for family separations on the anti-immigration officials for which the Trump administration is known. But these separations were also endorsed and enabled by dozens of members of the government’s middle and upper management: Cabinet secretaries, commissioners, chiefs, and deputies who, for various reasons, didn’t voice concern even when they should have seen catastrophe looming; who trusted “the system” to stop the worst from happening; who reasoned that it would not be strategic to speak up in an administration where being labeled a RINO or a “squish”—nicknames for those deemed insufficiently conservative—could end their career; who assumed that someone else, in some other department, must be on top of the problem; who were so many layers of abstraction away from the reality of screaming children being pulled out of their parent’s arms that they could hide from the human consequences of what they were doing.
In another words, this is how policy got made in the first Trump administration — and how it’s likely to get made in a second Trump administration, but without even the limited guardrails that were in place during the first four years: Recall Jonathan Swan’s scoop for Axios about plans to stack the federal civil service with Trump loyalists. And Trump already is floating a proposal to gain “emergency powers” that would allow him to usurp “weak” governors and prosecutors.
Meanwhile, Jane Mayer of The New Yorker has a new story about how democracy continues to melt down in state capitals. She focuses on Ohio, where gerrymandering has ensured that Republicans hold legislative supermajorities — and GOP legislators inevitably are moving to the right to minimize the chance of a primary defeat. Of course, gerrymandering isn’t limited to Ohio.
Next Tuesday, Wyoming U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, who’s earned national recognition for her work on the Jan. 6 committee examining the insurrection at the U.S Capitol, almost certainly will lose her bid for re-election to Harriet Hegeman, who’s supported by Donald Trump. Cheney says he’s OK with that outcome, and it won’t change her focus on ridding American politics of Trump and his influence. Some observers suggest she might be eyeing a run for president, speculation that she isn’t trying to knock down. Jonathan Martin of The New York Times offered this recent profile of Cheney, which also answers the question of what her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, thinks of her daughter’s crusade.
Speaking of Trump, here’s Tim Alberta of The Atlantic arguing that the search this past week of the former president’s home will only widen the divisions in the United States. And David Brooks of The New York Times is worried that the FBI search actually could give Trump’s reelection efforts a big shot in the arm,
Moving on to other news, Jonathan Thompson of High Country News had a solid analysis of the Inflation Reduction Act, which you know better as the Schumer-Manchin climate bill that passed Congress on Friday. His conclusion: It’s not perfect, but it’s considerably better than the “climate suicide pact” that some of its bill’s critics say it is. The New York Times adds that the bill also should make for cleaner air in the United States, and that has a big public health benefit.
Regular readers of Your Weekend Reader know I’m fond of Robinson Meyer’s “Weekly Planet” newsletter for The Atlantic — in part, because Meyer occasionally sounds upbeat about the prospects of saving the planet. In a recent newsletter, he explained how the recently passed CHIPS and Science Act — which you believe was meant primarily to boost the nation’s beleaguered semiconductor industry — also invests billions of dollars in the fight against climate change.
I’m headed down to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in a couple of weeks to see “King John,” which will be a big step forward in my efforts to see the entire canon. I’m happy that the play is being staged indoors, in OSF’s Angus Bowmer Theatre. The festival has been forced to cancel shows on its outdoor stage because of smoke from wildfires, which are increasing in frequency and severity in part because of climate change. The New York Times’ Michael Paulson has an extensive report on the risk that climate change poses to outdoor theaters, and the story starts in Ashland. (By the way, it turns out that I have two extra tickets to the Aug. 23 performance of “King John” at 8 p.m. If you’re interested, leave a comment or email me.)
This seems like a gratuitous plug for my church, the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Corvallis, but hear me out: Marc Yaconelli of Ashland is the director of the Hearth community storytelling project. Now, he’s on the road on what he and his wife, Jill, are calling the “Stories on the Road Tour,” and he’s just published a book, “Between the Listening and the Telling: How Stories Can Save Us.” At the risk of oversimplification, Yaconelli believes that storytelling is vital — both for listeners and the people telling their stories. Janet Eastman of The Oregonian/OregonLive has a story about Yaconelli and the tour — which includes a stop Sunday morning at First Congregational, where he’ll preach at 10:30 a.m. and lead a workshop on sacred stories.
There’s mixed news this week about local journalism: Gannett, the nation’s largest newspaper chain (and the owner of the Statesman Journal in Salem and the Register-Guard in Eugene) announced Friday a wave of layoffs at its newspapers. It’s not clear whether its Oregon papers suffered layoffs, but it seems unlikely they were spared after the company announced dismal second-quarter results earlier this month. Meanwhile, I learned this week that Lee Enterprises, the owner of the Gazette-Times and the Democrat-Herald in Albany, has reinvigorated and expanded a program for paid interns; many years ago, I helped run a similar program for Lee, and I was happy to hear that the company is back in the business of providing paid internships — vital first steps for promising young journalists. However, I also stumbled across this lengthy piece from The Assembly, a new North Carolina-based news site, about how Lee (and, to be fair, previous owners) have decimated the daily paper in Greensboro, that state’s third-largest city. It’s a story that’s playing out over and over across the nation. For a point of comparison, it would be as if draconian cuts were taking place at the newspaper that serves Oregon’s third-largest city, Salem — oh, wait.
University of Oregon President Michael Schill announced this week that he is leaving the university to take over the helm at Northwestern University, a nice career move for Schill that speaks well of the job he did for seven years in Eugene. But Bill Oram, the new sports columnist for The Oregonian/OregonLive, worries that the move comes at the worst possible time for the Pac-12 Conference, which is reeling from the pending departure of USC and UCLA to the Big Ten Conference. Schill was the chair of the Pac-12’s CEO board — and, as it turns out, he now will take a position on the Big Ten’s equivalent board. It could be a bad sign. I remain a little surprised about how the conference realignment story has quieted down so dramatically — and I want to believe that’s a signal that the Pac-12 is working out a viable path to survival. But, you know, maybe I’m just an optimist.
At the risk of making another shameless plug, feel free to check out my story for the Oregon Capital Chronicle about how cities and counties around the state are proceeding with the implementation of Measure 109, which legalized the use of the hallucinogen psilocybin in clinical settings starting in 2023. The measure allows cities and counties to either ban or impose a two-year moratorium on psilocybin services within their borders — but only if voters approve those in November’s election. Many jurisdictions are referring the question to their voters.
Finally this week, a quick note from the Weekend Reader health desk: If, like me, you occasionally feel as if your balance isn’t quite what it used to be, you can do something about it: Here’s a story from the Times about easy exercises (OK, relatively easy exercises) that can help you improve your balance.
That’s it for this weekend. I’m going to spend some time now standing on one leg — and I’ll see you next weekend, unless I crash and fall.