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.
If you feel like a ragtag bunch of the most venal, ignorant and obnoxious people in America just scored three touch-downs on you, you’re not alone. “One has to go back almost half a century to find a month like the past one, so devastating to the left and its values,” wrote Todd Gitlin at The Washington Post. "Consider that immigrant children taken from their parents at the border are still penned up… Consider the Supreme Court’s ruling that guts public sector unions. Consider the court’s decisions to uphold gerrymandering and voting rights restrictions, to permit ‘crisis pregnancy centers’ to stand mute about the option of abortion, and to allow whole populations to be banned from our shores.”
Also consider that we’re now in a series of notably stupid trade wars with our closest allies. Canada announced $12.6 billion in retaliatory tariffs on US products this week. The President of the Electoral College has been haranguing Harley Davidson on Twitter for moving production overseas to get around the EU’s retaliatory tariffs. “General Motors warned Friday that if President Trump pushed ahead with another wave of tariffs, the move could backfire, leading to ‘less investment, fewer jobs and lower wages’ for its employees,” reported The New York Times. Reuters reports that BMW is warning that it might also cut its US workforce. Jobs president!
And it’s all going to get worse when Trump replaces Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy with a soulless, reactionary android grown in the Federalist Society’s basement. One of the candidates reportedly on Marshal Tweeto’s shortlist “has argued that presidents should not be distracted by civil lawsuits, criminal investigations or even questions from a prosecutor or defense attorney while in office,” according to The Washington Post.
Judge allegedly shortlisted for SCOTUS nom was part of a Christian sect where women are called "handmaids." Who wan… https://t.co/X4OXR2t7fW— Gary Legum (@Gary Legum)1530243557.0
It would be easy to feel demoralized. But do pay heed to some words of wisdom from Rep. John Lewis, the civil rights icon who’s faced down firehoses and police dogs and nevertheless kept at it for over 60 years. “Do not get lost in a sea of despair,” he wrote this week. “Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.” We don’t have the luxury of despair.
Let’s begin the roundup with a seemingly minor story of administrative negligence that's actually pretty troubling when you think about it.
Gabriel Sandoval reported for Propublica that a number of Trump staffers, including a former NRA lobbyist, left their financial disclosure forms blank, and ethics lawyers reviewed and signed off on the forms, certifying that they conform with federal law, which “requires nearly all executive branch employees to submit reports intended to reveal and resolve conflicts of interest that might arise from their personal finances.”
There are substantial problems with these kinds of omissions, but what struck us is just what a ‘fuck you’ to the American public this represents. It says so clearly that these people believe that the law doesn’t apply to them. And with their immunity-by-Congressional-majority, they haven't been wrong so far.
There were a couple of other troubling examples of authoritarianism this week. CBS was interviewing James Schwab, a former ICE spokesperson who quit because while he was comfortable spinning the media – shading the truth – he refused to repeat and egregious lie that Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and in the middle of the interview two real-life Men in Suits from the Department of Homeland Security barged in and interrogated him about whether he had leaked information about ICE operations.
Schwab said the timing of the visit made it clear that it was “absolutely” an intimidation technique. "Why, three months later, are we doing this?" Schwab said. "This is intimidation. And this is why people won't come out and speak against the government."
The 4,736th investigation into uber-grifter Scott Pruitt is looking into charges that the EPA chief “retaliated against a handful of employees who pushed back against his spending and management,” according to Politico.
These were career staffers, but Pruitt also seems happy to punish his own people if he feels like they crossed him…
Pruitt’s been locked in a heated competition to be the most corrupt and embarrassing Cabinet member with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.
This week, Bloomberg reported that his agency’s inspector general “will review… Zinke’s involvement in a land deal with a property development group backed by Halliburton Co. Chairman David J. Lesar.” Lesar met Zinke in his office to discuss a development deal that “would substantially increase the value of the land owned by Zinke” if it goes through. “Zinke’s official calendar for that day, which is routinely released to the public, withholds the meeting’s attendees and the subject matter,” according to the report.
Let’s not count out the possibility that Mick Mulvaney will ultimately take the prize for grifting.
“Mulvaney, head of the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, cut in half a fine that his Obama-era predecessor sought against a payday lender and dropped some of the agency’s earlier claims in the case,” according to Reuters.
The pay-day lender, Security Finance, donated to Mulvaney’s Congressional campaigns in the past.
Security Finance routinely charges triple-digit interest on short-term loans and sent collection agents to 1.3 million customers at home and at work, threatening and in some cases physically assaulting borrowers, according to the CFPB settlement.
Security Finance also delivered millions of faulty reports to credit bureaus, CFPB determined.
James Melville, the US ambassador to Estonia, became the latest among “many senior U.S. diplomats who have resigned — some quietly, some not — because of Trump’s policies,” according to Foreign Policy.
Blockquote: “A Foreign Service Officer’s DNA is programmed to support policy and we’re schooled right from the start, that if there ever comes a point where one can no longer do so, particularly if one is in a position of leadership, the honorable course is to resign. Having served under six presidents and 11 secretaries of state, I never really thought it would reach that point for me,” he wrote in the post, which was obtained by Foreign Policy.
“For the President to say the EU was ‘set up to take advantage of the United States, to attack our piggy bank,’ or that ‘NATO is as bad as NAFTA’ is not only factually wrong, but proves to me that it’s time to go,” he wrote, citing Trump’s reported comments in recent weeks that have unnerved U.S. allies.
Another reflection of the regime’s priorities…
A Trump "appointee to the State Department tore into standard UN documents that condemn racism as a threat to democracy,” reported CNN’s Michelle Kosinski. Andrew Veprek, “the deputy assistant secretary for refugees and migration, a foreign service officer promoted by the White House to an unusually senior position for his rank, disputed the idea that leaders have a ‘duty’ to condemn hate speech and incitement, and repeatedly rejected use of the words nationalism, populism, and xenophobia.” There are good people on both sides.
Robert Wilkie, Trump’s choice to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, is a neo-Confederate Jesse Helms acolyte who’s had “a career spent working shoulder to shoulder with polarizing figures in U.S. politics and often defending their most divisive views,” according to The Washington Post.
First they sabotage the Affordable Care Act, and then…
“The White House is proposing to reduce by nearly 40 percent the uniformed public health professionals who deploy during disasters and disease outbreaks, monitor drug safety and provide health care in some of the nation’s most remote and disadvantaged areas,” according to The Washington Post.
“For the first time in recent memory,” wrote Katherine Burgess for the Wichita Eagle, “an official from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services spoke at a conference of the nation’s largest anti-abortion organization.
“Our president is fearless when it comes to life and conscience,” said Roger Severino, who directs the Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights. “We’re just getting started.”
Burgess notes that “the department’s strategic plan also now includes language that says, ‘A core component of the HHS mission is the dedication to serve all Americans from conception to natural death.’”
Finally, we have a new policy going forward: Each week, because everything sucks so badly, we’re going to try to leave you with a positive story that may have flown under the radar.
A story like this one:
“A federal judge blocked Kentucky’s Medicaid work requirements on Friday, ruling that the Trump [regime] did not adequately consider before approving the state’s proposal whether work requirements would violate the program’s purpose of providing health care to the most vulnerable Americans,” reported Dylan Matthews at Vox.
Kentucky is one of 11 states that have either had such work requirements approved by the regime or that have similar schemes awaiting approval. “The ruling puts the future of Medicaid work requirements in doubt,” wrote Matthews. “The Trump administration has made them a priority.”