Welcome to another edition of What Fresh Hell?, Raw Story’s roundup of news items that might have become controversies under another regime, but got buried – or were at least under-appreciated – due to the daily firehose of political pratfalls, unhinged tweet storms and threats of nuclear annihilation coming out of the current White House.
This week, the political press acted as if questions about Donald Trump’s sanity were new, or newly relevant, following his unhinged reaction to Michael Wolff’s new book, Fire and Fury, and the messy public divorce from Steve Bannon that it appears to have precipitated. That scandalette was then capped off with no small amount of shock at the realization that the man who launched his candidacy by ranting about Mexico sending us all their rapists and bad hombres thinks that non-white poorer countries are a bunch of shitholes, and isn’t ashamed to say so in polite company.
It’s hardly news that the people closest to Donald Trump think he’s a dangerous half wit, or that his views on immigration are roughly in-line with those of the median Breitbart commenter. So why did these “revelations” dominate the headlines? Was it because we’ve reached the one-year mark, and it’s no longer possible to believe that Trump might grow into the job? Were the last hold-outs forced to give up the fantasy that he may yet become "presidential," or be reined in by Ivanka or Chief of Staff John Kelly? Was it the final realization that the Donald Trump who sits around in bed surrounded by moldy McDonald’s wrappers tweeting misspelled insults at Hillary Clinton is the brightest, most thoughtful Donald Trump there is? Or was it the recognition that such a man holds the power to destroy the planet several times over?
Whatever the case may be, while we were all distracted by the circus in the White House, the Republic suffered another week of truly awful governance, and here’s some of the fresh Hell you may have missed.
Let’s begin by connecting a couple of dots. For years, Deutsche Bank was the only major bank that would finance Trump’s projects. It also settled a money-laundering case with federal regulators after admitting that it helped Russian oligarchs covertly move $10 billion out of their country between 2011 and 2014. Deutsche Bank also floated Jared Kushner’s real estate company a $285 million loan just one month before Election Day in 2016 that has become the subject of federal investigations.
Did the bank make a good bet on the infamously sleazy real estate developer and his clan? Well, this week, David Sirota reported for The International Business Times that “the Trump administration has waived part of the punishment for five megabanks whose affiliates were convicted and fined for manipulating global interest rates. One of the Trump administration waivers was granted to Deutsche Bank — which is owed at least $130 million by President Donald Trump and his business empire.”
And according to Bloomberg’s Greg Farrell, Trump’s new pick to serve as Manhattan’s interim U.S. attorney, and his new deputy, Robert Khuzami, are both former senior Deutsche Bank officials. Farrell reports that until recently, “Berman worked aggressively to defend the bank’s interests without running up excessive legal bills.” He will replace Preet Bharara, a hard-nosed prosecutor who Trump's personal lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, reportedly warned would "get" Donald Trump if he remained in office.
Speaking of draining the swamp, Lisa Friedman reported for The New York Times this week that “a confidential memo written by the head of the country’s largest coal mining company,” Robert E. Murray of Murray Energy, “a longtime Trump supporter who donated $300,000 to the president’s inauguration, …presented Mr. Trump with a wish list of environmental rollbacks just weeks after the inauguration.” And low and behold, “nearly a year later, the White House and federal agencies have completed or are on track to fulfill most of the 14 detailed requests.”
So the next time some hippie claims that Trump’s energy policy must have been written by a wingnut Coal Baron, just look at him or her and say, “yep, and his name is Robert Murray.”
This week, Buzzfeed followed up on previous reports that Donald Trump's company has sold an exceptionally large number of high-end (in other words, tacky but expensive) properties in all-cash transactions to anonymous shell companies.
Thomas Frank (not the What’s the Matter with Kansas? guy) reported that while such sales are perfectly legal, the Treasury Department’s Treasury’s “financial-crimes unit has, in recent years, launched investigations around the country into all-cash shell-company real-estate purchases amid concerns that some such sales may involve money laundering.” And Treasury’s former financial-crimes chief Jennifer Shasky Calvery told Congress that federal investigations “continue to reveal corrupt politicians, drug traffickers and other criminals using shell companies to purchase luxury real estate with cash.”
Setting aside the potential for bribery, there’s also a domestic Emoluments Clause that bars the president “from receiving money or gifts above and beyond his mandated salary from governments right here at home,” according to Slate’s Joshua Voorhees.
Meanwhile, on the other, less influential end of the political-economy, that Indiana Carrier Plant that Donald Trump used as a prop shortly after being elected issued another round of layoffs this week, sending another round of jobs to its facility in Monterrey, Mexico -- that shithole where all the rapists come from, and where workers can be hired for $3 per hour.
Amanda Becker writes for Reuters that, “under pressure from the newly-elected Trump, Carrier and its parent company United Technologies Corp, dropped its plan in late 2016 to close the plant and move 1,400 factory jobs to Mexico. In return, the company received $7 million in state tax breaks to stay in Indiana.” The company did honor its commitment to keep 1,100 jobs in Indiana, but as Renee Elliott, a Carrier worker “who supported Trump in the 2016 election and was among those being laid off on Thursday” told Becker: “he saved jobs, but he didn’t save mine, he didn’t save manufacturing jobs. He saved office personnel.”
Here’s a comforting thought: the president who brags about the size of the (nonexistent) nuclear button on his desk told a gathering of high-ranking national security leaders that “he wanted what amounted to a nearly tenfold increase in the U.S. nuclear arsenal.”
That’s one of the revelations from Ashley Feinberg’s story for The Huffington Post about the Trump regime’s Nuclear Posture Review, a draft of which breaks with precedent set by past administrations by calling for “new nukes, for no good reason.”
Feinberg notes that the report calls “for the development of new, so-called low-yield nuclear weapons — warheads with a lower explosive force"…
The logic of those pushing for the development of smaller nukes is that our current nuclear weapons are too big and too deadly to ever use; we are effectively self-deterred, and the world knows it. To make sure other countries believe that we’d actually use nuclear force, the thinking goes, we need more low-yield nukes.
But official language around nuclear weapons is slippery and euphemistic. “Low yield” suggests a softer sort of weaponry, diet nukes, until you realize that the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were technically “low-yield” weapons.
Trump’s NPR draft euphemizes the euphemism, referring to low-yield weapons as “supplements” that will “enhance deterrence.” The document claims that Russia is threatening to use these smaller nuclear weapons; the U.S. needs to match and deter the Russians in kind.
File this one under politicizing the bureaucracy: “The Interior Department has adopted a new screening process for the discretionary grants it makes to outside groups, instructing staff to ensure those awards ‘promote the priorities’ of the Trump administration,” according to WaPo’s Juliet Eilperin. She writes that the directive “represents the latest attempt by Trump political appointees to put their mark on government spending. Last summer, the Environmental Protection Agency instituted a system requiring that a political appointee in the public affairs office sign off on each grant before it is awarded.”
The next normal president is going to face a Helluva job rooting embedded Trumpism out from these federal agencies.
One silver lining to the Trump regime is that his lack of a filter has made it impossible for immigration hardliners to claim that they only care about undocumented immigration. “What part of illegal don’t you understand?” is now a mute argument.
The regime’s latest assault on legal immigrants was highlighted this week by Rewire’s Tina Vasquez, who reported that the Department of Homeland Security may revoke the citizenship of thousands of American citizens who were naturalized despite the fact that the US government couldn’t check their fingerprints against a database of people who had been ordered removed from the country because they hadn’t yet been digitized. Some have been Americans for decades, according to Vasquez.
It turns out that the bipartisan deal to stabilize Obamacare’s markets fell apart last month after “anti-abortion groups appealed directly to Vice President Mike Pence at the 11th hour,” according to a new report by Andrew Desiderio at The Daily Beast.
He writes that “a group of pro-life activists met with Pence to lobby the Trump administration against supporting a health-insurance market-stabilization bill on the grounds that it does not contain sufficient language on abortion restriction.” As it stands, the tax bill passed last month will result in 13 million Americans losing health insurance, according to the CBO.
Relatedly, it’s been 106 days since the Republican Congress let funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program expire. Newsweek reports that “some states will run out of money by February 1 if an agreement is not made, according to estimates from Georgetown University's Health Policy Institute based in Washington, D.C., but more conservative estimates from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) suggest several states risk burning through the federal funds by January 19.”
Meanwhile, John Feeley has had enough. The career diplomat and former Marine Corps helicopter pilot has resigned his position as US ambassador to Panama, “telling the State Department he no longer feels able to serve President Donald Trump,” according to The Telegraph.
His resignation letter says, in part, "as a junior foreign service officer, I signed an oath to serve faithfully the president and his administration in an apolitical fashion, even when I might not agree with certain policies. My instructors made clear that if I believed I could not do that, I would be honor bound to resign. That time has come.”
Finally, Darryl Fears reports for the WaPo that P. Daniel Smith, “a former National Park Service official who improperly helped Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder cut down more than 130 trees to improve a river view at his Potomac, Md., estate, has been chosen by the Trump regime “to be one of the agency’s highest-ranking leaders.”
According to Fears, “Smith pressured lower-level officials to approve a deal that disregarded federal environmental laws, harmed the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park and left the agency vulnerable to charges of favoritism.” Only the best people!