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.
We’ve grappled with any number of bullshit distractions during Trump’s loooong first year in office, but the “Nunes memo” really takes the cake. The very idea that the FBI, of all institutions, is overrun by lefty partisans who would fabricate a national security investigation into a presidential campaign is transparently ridiculous – it’s like claiming that Democrats face brutal discrimination in Hollywood — but we nevertheless spent much of the week eagerly debating this talking-point’s merits and anticipating the memo’s release.
When it dropped on Friday, we all had a good laugh at the degree to which the memo undercut the Republican Scandal Machine’s narrative that the dossier on Trump prepared by former British spook Christopher Steele sparked the probe into Trump’s people running around to all these secret meetings with Russian operatives. The memo confirms previous reporting by The New York Times that it was George Papadopoulos blathering on about how the campaign was trying to get dirt on Clinton from the Russians to an Australian ambassador that launched the investigation. And then we found out that Nunes hadn’t even read the FISA applications on which he based his silly memo, which makes sense because reading the “intelligence” that supported his conspiracy theory would have required a colonoscopy.
Again, most of us had a good laugh at all of this, but in a parallel universe, it wa really quite damning.
— FoxNewsInsider (@FoxNewsInsider) February 3, 2018
— FoxNewsInsider (@FoxNewsInsider) February 3, 2018
— FoxNewsInsider (@FoxNewsInsider) February 3, 2018
Their entire Twitter feed looks like that. And of course, that was the whole point: giving the rubes something to hang their hats on — some flimsy reason to believe that the FBI and DOJ are conducting a “witch hunt” against an entirely innocent
sleazy real estate developer turned game show host president.
And what really made the whole exercise so pathetic is that Republicans somehow managed to convince a depressingly large number of neutral observers that it would have been somehow problematic for the FBI to pursue an investigation on the basis of the Steele Dossier. The reality is that the FBI launches investigations all the time based on information gleaned from drug dealers and arms traffickers and various fraudsters. Steel is none of those things – he’s a highly respected intelligence pro with a strong track record on Russia. The question of who paid him to dig into Trump’s past is entirely irrelevant, and it would be entirely irrelevant even if it had in fact been the thing that began #Russiagate.
Anyway, the Nunes Memo may be comical, but it’s no joke. And it’s not a “nothing burger.” He wasted a bunch of public employees’ time and taxpayer dollars, dominated the news for a couple of weeks — undermining public confidence in the rule of law along way – and may well have undermined national security in the process.
And while this circus may have been a welcome distraction from a bunch of pundits gushing about how Trump managed to read a speech on Capitol Hill without offending anyone too badly, it also sucked up a ton of media attention that might otherwise have been focused on a bunch of fresh outrages from the Tangerine Trujillo and his minions this week.
Speaking of the rule of law, Republicans in Pennsylvania are not happy with a state supreme court ruling that their wildly gerrymandered district map violates the state constitution and must be redrawn.
What to do? “In an audacious move by a political leader who could potentially be held in contempt of court,” writes Ian Millhiser at Think Progress, “Pennsylvania Senate President pro tempore Joseph Scarnati (R) informed the state supreme court on Wednesday that he will openly defy one of the court’s recent orders in a gerrymandering case.”
That’s one approach, we guess. But it’s not the only one…
Breaking News: In a filing at PA Supreme Court, PA Republicans called for the disqualification of Justice David Wecht in partisan gerrymandering case, saying he has made previous public statements indicating his opposition to gerrymandering
— Sam Levine (@srl) February 2, 2018
Are they just trolling us? This is a question that we aren’t accustomed to asking of the White House under normal presidents, but we have to pose the question when we see things like Trump re-nominating Kathleen Hartnett White to direct the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality after she bombed in her first confirmation hearing last year.
Jay Michaelson reports for The Daily Beast that Hartnett, “a longtime fossil-fuel advocate” who has argued that “fossil fuels ended slavery” and that the more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere the better, enraged senators from both parties when “it was revealed that many of her written answers to the committee were apparently cut and pasted, word for word, from the answers submitted by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and his assistant Bill Wehrum.” Only the best… you know.
Speaking of the EPA, Politico’s Andrew Restuccia reports that some goombah named Steve Kopec, a “home improvement contractor married to one of Donald and Melania Trump’s former household staffers,” has been tapped for a high-level job at the agency. Restuccia writes that this is “the latest example of someone with a personal connection to the Trump family” but no experience in government or any relevant occupation finding work in the administration.
His White House social media director, Dan Scavino, started working for him years ago as a caddy, and his first security director, Keith Schiller, traveled with him from the Trump Organization to the White House. In June, Trump appointed Lynne Patton, a party planner who arranged events at Trump golf courses as well as Eric Trump’s 2014 wedding, to head the New York office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
And from the This Is Not Normal files comes this fresh hell: According to Politico, “The Trump administration’s top public health official bought shares in a tobacco company one month into her leadership of the agency charged with reducing tobacco use — the leading cause of preventable disease and death and an issue she had long championed.”
Buying shares of tobacco companies raises even more flags than Fitzgerald’s trading in drug and food companies because it stands in such stark contrast to the CDC’s mission to persuade smokers to quit and keep children from becoming addicted. Critics say her trading behavior broke with ethical norms for public health officials and was, at best, sloppy. At worst, they say, it was legally problematic if she didn’t recuse herself from government activities that could have affected her investments.
Trump’s appointees may be totally unqualified, but they seem to have a Rain Man-like gift for enacting truly awful public policies. They’re wingnut idiot savants.
And because they were so productive this week, let’s use some bullets…
- New York Times: “The Justice Department has effectively shuttered an Obama-era office dedicated to making legal aid accessible to all citizens, according to two people familiar with the situation.”
- Citylab: “The Trump administration may introduce minimum work requirements for some recipients of housing aid, while raising rents for others…”
- CNN: “The former chief of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the decision to cut 80% of its epidemic prevention activities overseas could pose a grave danger to the United States because it “would significantly increase the chance an epidemic will spread without our knowledge and endanger lives in our country and around the world.”
- Washington Post: “The Trump administration has stripped enforcement powers from a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau unit responsible for pursuing discrimination cases…The move to sharply restrict the responsibilities of the Office of Fair Lending and Equal Opportunity comes about two months after President Trump installed his budget chief, Mick Mulvaney, at the head of the bureau. The office previously used its powers to force payouts in several prominent cases, including settlements from lenders it alleged had systematically charged minorities higher interest rates than they had for whites.”
- Bloomberg Law:“Labor Department leadership scrubbed an unfavorable internal analysis from a new tip pooling proposal, shielding the public from estimates that showed employees could lose out on billions of dollars in gratuities.”
- Vox: “The Environmental Protection Agency just took a dramatic step toward deregulating some major sources of toxic air pollution, which could have huge implications for public health.”
At least they’re doing what they can to keep up morale at these agencies…
EPA has put these posters up at agency buildings. Celebrating regulatory rollbacks pic.twitter.com/vwGHy54oq9
— Eric Lipton (@EricLiptonNYT) January 25, 2018
Meanwhile, the endless war in Afghanistan – you remember that, right? – is going swimmingly. Last week, we mentioned that we’re “surging” with under-trained, hastily assembled units. But no worries — we’re winning so bigly that according to a (pay-walled) report in the Wall Street Journal, “the U.S. Department of Defense has classified a sweeping range of data used to measure its progress in Afghanistan, a government watchdog said, sealing much of the information from public view. Key indicators that are now being kept secret include figures on the size of the Afghan army and police force and the number of civilian airstrike casualties…. That data now will be made available only to senior U.S. officials in a classified index of the report.”
According to a study by the BBC, “despite waging nearly 17 consecutive years of war and spending up to $1 trillion, the U.S.-led attempt to defeat the Taliban has left the insurgents openly active in up to 70 percent of Afghanistan…. The report also found that a rival ultraconservative Sunni Muslim organization, the Islamic State militant group (ISIS), controlled more territory than ever, further complicating the beleaguered effort to stabilize the country,” reported Newsweek.
On a positive note, it’s entirely possible that our adversaries in Afghanistan are getting tired of winning so much.
Finally, if the media prioritized its coverage according to the seriousness of the issues at hand, the top story this week may well have been a Pentagon report finding that “nearly 50% of U.S. military installations across the globe face increased risk of a slew of climate change-related threats including extreme temperature, flooding and drought,” according to Time.
But don’t worry about all that boring science stuff – Trump will no doubt entertain and excite us by tweeting something really crazy in the next few hours. Stay tuned!