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.
This week, Republican lawmakers visited privately with their Russian counterparts during the Fourth of July holiday. Some tweeted patriotic messages suggesting that they were celebrating like good patriots back home. The group had promised to have what diplomats call “frank discussions” with the Russians, but The Washington Post reports that “on Russian state television, presenters and guests mocked the U.S. congressional delegation for appearing to put a weak foot forward, noting how the message of tough talk they promised in Washington ‘changed a bit‘ by the time they got to Moscow.” One Russian military official said, “we need to look down at them and say: You came because you needed to, not because we did.”
While they were being humiliated in Moscow, Trump was back home trashing NATO and the #MeToo movement, and ratcheting up his cockamamie trade wars. Some of our most important trading partners continue to target Trump’s constituents. Trump is reportedly rambling about blowing up the World Trade Organization, which would likely cause “global stock markets to crater and economies to dive into recession.”
Mike Pompeo claimed great progress upon his return from talks with the North Koreans, only to have them trash him. This diplomatic push is turning out exactly how most sentient beings predicted: Trump got totally rolled.
Weeks after Trump claimed to have “largely solved” the North Korea nuclear dispute, North Korea makes clear no solution is yet at hand as it accuses US of making “gangster-like demand.” @GardinerHarris @choesanghun https://t.co/mmXKgwdciZ
— Peter Baker (@peterbakernyt) July 7, 2018
Let’s note that none of this madness we see day in and day out — the incompetence, the governance by graft and trolling — would be possible if not for over 40 years of conservative investments in a dedicated alternative information ecosystem. Convinced that all of society’s professional distributors of knowledge — the academy, the media and even science itself — were hostile to their worldview, deep-pocketed conservatives started investing in academic chairs, think-tanks and a slew of media outlets dedicated to combatting liberalism and politicizing their troops in a way that was rarely the case in the post World War II era.
As a result, the reality of Trumpism is lost on Trump supporters who get their information from the internet or from Fox or Sinclair broadcasts. For them, everything’s great. They’re tired of so much winning. Any bad news is fake news. And because the base continues to love Trump, Republicans on Capitol Hill continue to grant his crime family impunity-by-Congressional-majority.
Give the right credit for playing the long game. But there’s an irony here that shouldn’t be overlooked: Many of the early funders of the conservative movement — blue-blooded families like the Scaifes, Olins and Bradleys — were not themselves wild-eyed reactionaries, at least not by today’s standards. Their generation had a certain sense of civic duty — an American style of noblesse oblige. They may have been furious about what they saw as the dirty hippies destroying America, but in most cases they were in favor of pluralism. They certainly valued stability and US-led multilateralism. The post-war order that Trump seem intent on uprooting was very good for business. They wanted to combat an increasingly liberal culture, cut taxes and limit regulations, and they ended up creating a monster.
Speaking of crackpot trade wars, and hypocrisy, the WaPo reported that even “as the Trump administration initiates a possible trade war with China, the president’s businesses continue to benefit from partnerships involving the Chinese government, via state-backed companies and investors.”
Chinese government-backed firms are slated to work on parts of two large developments — in Dubai and Indonesia — that will include Trump-branded properties.
The Trumps are the landlord to one of China’s top state-owned banks, which has occupied the 20th floor of Trump Tower in Manhattan since 2008. The bank’s lease is worth close to $2 million annually, according to industry estimates and a bank filing.
And despite the Trump administration’s focus on American manufacturing, assembly-line workers in China still produce blouses, shoes and handbags for the clothing line created by Trump’s daughter Ivanka, a White House adviser.
Last month, we learned that Jared and Ivanka had pulled in at least $82 million in outside income last year as they were (supposedly) working for the American people. It’s all a big grift, and this week, NBC reported that even Melania is getting a piece of the action. “Since her husband took office Melania Trump has earned six figures from an unusual deal with a photo agency in which major media organizations have indirectly paid the Trump family despite a requirement that the photos be used only in positive coverage,” according to the report. “It’s not unheard of for celebrities to earn royalties from photos of themselves, but it’s very unusual for the wife of a currently serving elected official.” Licensing them exclusively for positive stories has a nice Kim Jong-Unian touch.
On his way out the door, disgraced EPA Chief Scott Pruitt offered a final fuck you to the environment, according to Eric Lipton at The New York Times. “In the final hours of Scott Pruitt’s tenure as administrator, the Environmental Protection Agency moved on Friday to effectively grant a loophole that will allow a major increase in the manufacturing of a diesel freight truck that produces as much as 55 times the air pollution as trucks that have modern emissions controls,” he wrote.
A gift to Big Freight, right? Well, yes and no. In January, when Pruitt first proposed the rule change, the Environmental Defense Fund noted that “every segment of the freight industry — truck manufacturers, fleet owners, freight shippers and other stakeholders — has spoken out to oppose this rollback. These industry stakeholders recognize that Pruitt’s proposal would undo decades of progress in cleaning up pollution from heavy-duty freight trucks. Moreover, it would undermine their significant investments in pollution control innovation.”
We have to confess that we’ll miss Pruitt here at What Fresh Hell?, simply because his unique blend of sanctimony, entitlement and lawlessness embodied the Trump regime’s perfidy so perfectly.
Scott Pruitt repeatedly asked his 25-year-old staffers to put hotel reservations on their personal credit cards rather than his — then refused to pay them back.
— Alexander Kaufman (@AlexCKaufman) July 3, 2018
Speaking of the EPA, Politico reported this week that the Trump regime “is suppressing an Environmental Protection Agency report that warns that most Americans inhale enough formaldehyde vapor in the course of daily life to put them at risk of developing leukemia and other ailments.” #MAGA!
Pruitt’s acting successor, Andrew Wheeler, “also has a history with the chemical. He was staff director for the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in 2004, when his boss, then-Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), sought to delay an earlier iteration of the formaldehyde assessment.”
Meanwhile, Jeff Sessions “rescinded an extensive set of guidelines put in place under President Barack Obama that had called on colleges and universities to consider race as a way of promoting diversity,” according to Reuters.
Remember Brian Benczkowski? He represented Russia’s Alfa Bank and was a top staffer to then-Senator Sessions. Senate Republicans plan to vote next week to confirm him to head the DOJ Criminal Division.
— Senator Dick Durbin (@SenatorDurbin) July 5, 2018
The regime has assembled a “denaturalization taskforce” to revoke the citizenship of people who ostensibly gave false information during the application process. At Esquire, Jack Holmes reported that the last time such a taskforce was assembled was during the Red Scare. He also put the move in context, writing that “this administration cannot be trusted to restrict the task force’s operations to investigating people who allegedly lied during the naturalization process.”
Trump’s White House has displayed a generalized hostility to immigration best summed up in its proposal to cut legal immigration in half. At the border, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has sought to criminalize asylum-seekers—who are pursuing a human right under international law and treaties to which the United States is a signatory—by preventing them from presenting themselves at official checkpoints and restricting the criteria for seeking asylum.
And most precisely, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has a pattern of arresting people without warrants, denying them due process, and even accusing people of having gang affiliations without evidence in order to detain them.
Meanwhile, Aura Bogado, Ziva Branstetter and Vanessa Swales reported for Reveal that a defense contractor called MVM Inc. “quietly detained dozens of immigrant children inside a vacant Phoenix office building with dark windows, no kitchen and only a few toilets during three weeks of the Trump administration’s family separation effort.” According to the report, “the building is not licensed by Arizona to hold children, and… MVM Inc., has claimed publicly that it does not operate ‘shelters or any other type of housing’ for children.”
Finally, we will leave you with some positive news in these otherwise bleak times. You may recall that immediately after the 2016 election, the government freaked out civil liberties advocates by charging 234 people who protested Trump’s inauguration with serious felonies. Zoe Tillman reported for Buzzfeed that after several trials in which prosecutors failed to get a conviction, this week they dropped all charges against the remaining defendants.