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 other sundry embarrassments coming out of the current White House.
The sheer madness that's defined the Trump era appears to have broken the space-time continuum. The week began with a heated debate about whether a comedian had crossed the line at the White House Correspondent’s dinner when she called White House spox Sarah Huckabee Sanders a liar (mainstream pundits pretended it was a comment about her appearance because they think she’s ugly as sin and were projecting), and that Sunday conversation took place like a decade ago.
Then, in the intervening years – was it Tuesday? – it was revealed that the President of the United States had had a couple of goons raid the offices of his fancy quack doctor, apparently as a punishment for going public with the fact that Trump uses drugs to keep his hair long and silky. Then the quack retaliated by telling CNN that Trump had dictated -- that is to say, falsified -- the medical report his campaign made public in 2016.
Trump falsified his medical report by dictating a letter describing his health to his doctor This, under normal ci… https://t.co/ZGMNphfLHM— Judd Legum (@Judd Legum)1525477909.0
Then Kanye West said slavery was a choice and Ross Douthat pondered the idea of redistributing sex to the “incels,” a group of radical misogynistic weirdos who occasionally go on murder sprees because they hate some imaginary girl named Stacy. Then, later – days or months or perhaps years later – former America mayor Rudy Giuliani went on Fox News and told Sean Hannity about all the potential crimes the regime had committed in order to pay off a porn star who Trump obviously never slept with because that’s fake news. Legal experts were flummoxed, but then we later learned that confessing had been the plan all along, or maybe not.
And all of that occurred before Friday. Time itself has been compressed in order to fit all this bedlam into five days.
So, it was truly a banner week for shiny objects. Let’s take a look at some developments that may not have gotten the attention they deserved as the whole country asked itself, "what the actual fuck?"
This week, we may have also finally reached Peak Scott Pruitt. We talk a lot about the EPA chief here, because Jesus Christ what a grifter that dude is. But there were a couple of new reports that shouldn’t get lost in the shuffle.
We know Pruitt likes to travel first-class, surrounded by bodyguards, on tax-payers’ dime. And this week, The Washington Post reported that, “after taking office last year, Pruitt drew up a list of at least a dozen countries he hoped to visit and urged aides to help him find official reasons to travel.” Then he “enlisted well-connected friends and political allies to help make the trips happen.” Pretty blatant.
Then there was this:
looks like Pruitt got reimbursed from both his campaign and from Oklahoma taxpayers for the same expenses. it app… https://t.co/9Y3FwuY58w— Brendan Fischer (@Brendan Fischer)1525465740.0
But wait – there’s more!
Reuters reported that Pruitt’s EPA “granted a financial hardship waiver to an oil refinery owned by billionaire Carl Icahn, a former adviser to President Donald Trump, exempting the Oklahoma facility from requirements under a federal biofuels law.” If you’ll recall, Icahn took a vaguely delineated job as a Trump advisor last year, and then quit when it became clear that he had taken the gig with one goal in mind: eliminating biofuel requirements that were hurting his refineries’ bottom lines.
In order to grasp just how brazen this week's move really is, keep in mind that Icahn is “currently under investigation by the U.S. Justice Department for his role in influencing biofuels policy while serving as Trump’s adviser.”
Now, this kind of corruption is nothing new for Pruitt. Hiroko Tabuchi and Steve Eder reported this week for The New York Times that while Pruitt “has attracted the attention of federal investigators because of his unusual association with lobbyists, including his rental of a condominium last year owned by the wife of a lobbyist with business before the E.P.A.,” back when he was an Oklahoma state Senator he went a step further and “bought a home in the state capital with a registered lobbyist who was pushing for changes to the state’s workers’ compensation rules — changes that Mr. Pruitt championed in the legislature.”
And the cherry on the top may be a story by Elaina Plott at The Atlantic. She reported that a Pruitt press aide named Michael Abboud was so desperate to take the heat off of his sleazy boss that he shopped a damaging story about Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke around to multiple news outlets. Hilariously, he wanted reporters to tell a story about how staffers at Interior were leaking damaging info about the EPA. It’s like projection, but through media cut-outs.
Meanwhile, two of Pruitt’s top henchmen – both of whom have made appearances here at What Fresh hell? In the past – decided to hit the doors before the indictments start rolling in, according to The New York Times.
A story that hasn’t flown under the radar is HUD Secretary Ben Carson’s plan to triple the rent for millions of low-income residents of subsidized housing. This, says Carson, will give “poor people a way out of poverty.” No, we don’t understand that either because we’re not wingnuts.
Less than 10% of the people in public housing are able-bodied adults who don't work. But Ben Carson is proposing le… https://t.co/1FTUm6HMjR— Southern Poverty Law Center (@Southern Poverty Law Center)1525226410.0
But another report, by WaPo’s Juliet Eilperin, probably hasn’t gotten as much attention as it deserves. She reports that a “once obscure” office in HUD, the Office of Manufactured Housing, has been the target of “an unusually intense lobbying effort, seeking to scale back regulations that they say are hampering an industry that could provide a market-based solution to the affordable housing crisis.”
In the process, the groups are gaining influence with Trump administration officials trying to purge their ranks of holdovers from the previous administration and put their stamp on every part of government, no matter how obscure.
The growing clout of the industry came into sharp focus last summer, when a trade group demanded — and got — the ouster of an agency official who favored more regulation of the industry while serving in the Obama administration, and an underling who donated to the former president’s campaign.
Shortly after these lobbyists got government officials removed from their jobs – let that sink in for a moment – “the department kicked off a formal process to reconsider several new federal requirements [on the industry that] the office had advanced over the past two years.” Politicizing the bureaucracy is bad enough, but outsourcing the process to lobbyists for an industry you’re supposed to be regulating is really quite special. Way to drain that swamp.
“Since the fall, the US Department of Justice has been overhauling its manual for federal prosecutors,” reports Zoe Tillman for The Daily Beast. “In: Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ tough-on-crime policies. Out: A section titled ‘Need for Free Press and Public Trial.’ References to the department’s work on racial gerrymandering are gone.”
Of course they are.
Marshal Tweeto’s pick to serve on the Federal Elections Commission, Trey Trainor, “spent years fighting campaign finance disclosure,” according to Salon’s Amanda Marcotte. Because of course he did.
Trump continues to run foreign policy with his own interests in mind. This week, we learned that Ukraine hired a Republican lobbying firm and then stopped cooperating with Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election shortly before the regime approved a sale of missiles to the country.
You may recall how Trump reversed long-standing Middle East policy last year by calling Qatar, a key ally, a state sponsor of terror after Qatar’s adversaries in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates funneled tens of millions of dollars to Trump associate and GOP fundraiser Elliott Broidy. (Brody was the guy who may have paid off a former Playboy model whom he got pregnant, and who then got an abortion, but maybe it was Trump who knocked her up? Doesn’t matter – those Trump-lovin’ Evangelicals wouldn’t care either way.)
Anyway, it’s safe to assume that Qatar will no longer be a wretched shithole country that supports terror because “the government of Qatar bought a $6.5m apartment in one of Donald Trump’s New York towers soon after the dismissal of a lawsuit that tried to stop the president benefiting from such deals.” More details at The Guardian.
Here’s the story that probably should have been splashed across the front pages this week: “Temperatures reported to have cracked 50.2 degrees Celsius (122.3 degrees Fahrenheit) on Monday in Nawabshah, located about 127 miles northeast of Karachi,” reported Brian Kahn for Earther. “If confirmed, that could make the measurement not just the hottest ever recorded for April in Pakistan, but the hottest ever reliably recorded for April anywhere on Earth.”
But Nawabshah is hardly the only sweltering locale. A vast area from Eastern Europe to South Asia is under a massive heat dome that’s been building since last week. Heat domes occur when an area of high pressure camps over a region, causing dry air to sink. As it sinks, that air gets compressed and releases heat, leading to sizzling temperatures. Burt also noted that Poltavka, Russia, located on the Kazakhstan border, recorded the warmest April temperature for the Asian portion of Russia when it topped out at 34.8 degrees Celsius (94.6 degrees Celsius) on April 29.
The heat dome may also have helped trigger wild weather in the Middle East last week, locking in low pressure that unleashed towering haboobs, huge hail, and deadly flash flooding in the region.
The recent eye-popping temperatures in Pakistan fall in line with a growing body of research showing how climate change is making heat waves more common and intense nearly everywhere. This is particularly dire news for what’s already one of the hottest parts of the world. Research published last year, for instance, shows that climate change is adding to the death toll in India by making heat waves worse and “will lead to substantial increases in heat-related mortality” in the coming century.
And on that happy note, have a great week!