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.
Here’s a thought that should keep you awake at night: What if there's a president in our future with all of Donald Trump’s fecklessness, corruption and authoritarian instincts, but with the discipline typical of a serious and accomplished leader?
Trump has proven again and again that he’s every lawyer’s worst nightmare as a client and his own worst enemy as the president of Twitter. We saw the most recent example of that this week when he claimed that 3,000 Americans hadn’t in fact died in Puerto Rico as a result of Hurricane Maria, and, even more ludicrously, that the independent study which tallied that number represented some kind of Democratic plot to make him look bad. This nonsense came just a week after the GAO issued a report which found, among other things, that the federal response to the disaster had been woefully insufficient. Officials lacked necessary equipment, contractors fell down on the job and over half of FEMA’s personnel were working “in a capacity in which they did not hold the title of ‘Qualified.’”
The report didn’t get much media attention until Trump made his wacky claim, and then pretty much every outlet ran a story about it. Meanwhile, Puerto Rico’s disaster was once again a central part of the national conversation. It was the Streisand Effect in action.
This is a consistent pattern with Trump. Nobody's done more to keep Russian interference in the 2016 election in the headlines than the "president." Vanity Fair reported this week that former Trump henchman Michael Cohen appears to be cooperating with the Mueller probe in part because he “listened as Trump railed against anyone who makes a plea deal” on Fox News, and Cohen “bristled at the feeling that he has taken the fall for a man who has refused to take any responsibility or face any consequence himself.” Remember that there would be no Mueller investigation in the first place if Trump hadn’t fired FBI director James Comey and then told NBC’s Lester Holt that he did so to derail the Russia investigation.
There is such a thing as bad publicity, as Trump makes clear almost every day. But that’s not the only way that he’s hobbled his regime. His childish and erratic behavior has fueled a shit-ton of damaging leaks from disaffected staffers, as well as that anonymous New York Times op-ed detailing how they've pulled off a soft coup in order to protect the country, or more likely to safeguard their future job prospects. That story is reportedly driving Trump completely batty, or battier than usual.
The Trump regime’s teetering on the precipice because of Donald Trump. One could plausibly argue that nobody has done more for the anti-Trump #resistance than the Orange Shitgibbon himself.
Consider how different things might be if he were articulate, displayed some rudimentary knowledge of how the world works, didn’t make headlines with outlandish lies every day and had a modicum of self-control. Vox’s Zach Beauchamp wrote this week about how Hungary, under Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, has become de facto one-party state, morphing from democracy to a “soft” authoritarianism justified by the government’s relentless attacks on Muslims and immigrants. Read it because it certainly could happen here.
The one area where the regime has displayed a ruthless competence is in its immigration policies. You may have heard that they shifted $10 million from FEMA to ICE, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg, according to CNN. Tal Kopan reported that “the Trump administration this summer quietly redirected $200 million from all over the Department of Homeland Security to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, despite repeated congressional warnings of ICE's ‘lack of fiscal discipline’ and ‘unsustainable’ spending.”
Malign Elf Attorney General Jeff Sessions set off a firestorm this week when he “warned incoming immigration judges that lawyers representing immigrants are trying to get around the law like ‘water seeping through an earthen dam,’” and then “cautioned the judges against allowing sympathy for the people appearing before them.” Hamed Aleaziz has more on that at Buzzfeed News.
Meanwhile, the New York Times reported that “the overall number of detained migrant children has exploded to the highest ever recorded — a significant counternarrative to the Trump administration’s efforts to reduce the number of undocumented families coming to the United States.” There’s been a lot of attention on family separations but when you include kids who are locked up with their families, the total is almost 13,000.
According to The Washington Post, the regime is tripling the size of a “a tent camp for migrant children in the desert outside El Paso” in order to accommodate all the kids the xenophobic fuckers running our government are detaining.
Scott Pruitt, former EPA chief and eternal poster-boy for kleptocracy, is looking to cash in once again. According to The New York Times, Pruitt “is in discussions to work as a consultant to the Kentucky coal mining tycoon Joseph W. Craft III,” a “major Republican donor [who] enjoyed a close relationship with the E.P.A. during Mr. Pruitt’s tenure.”
Pruitt’s legacy lives on at the agency he headed until his overt corruption made him a liability.
According to The Financial Times, “plans to roll back regulations on leaks of methane from US oil and gas installations have been published by the Trump administration in its latest move to dismantle climate policies put in place by former president Barack Obama.” The EPA “admitted the changes would lead to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions, which it estimated would be the equivalent over the next seven years of putting an extra 260,000 cars on the road.”
And E&E News reported that “the Trump administration's plan to soften methane standards for the oil and gas industry is the first step in a larger effort to dismantle greenhouse gas rules for the booming sector.”
A bigger blow to the methane program is expected later this fall. EPA is still tussling with a separate rulemaking about whether to cease regulating the potent greenhouse gas directly. Legal questions loom over that question, and industry is divided over ending the program.
Taken together, the proposed changes yesterday and the anticipated one coming later this year could defang EPA authority over a greenhouse gas that's 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide on a 20-year time scale.
Speaking of corruption…
The state of our campaign finance system is such that a president can legally appear at a $100,000 per person event… https://t.co/2JWop3SK3u— Shane Goldmacher (@Shane Goldmacher)1536775778.0
Marshal Tweeto’s pick to be U.S. ambassador to Romania, Adrian Zuckerman, “could face scrutiny over claims that he sexually harassed a legal secretary while he was a partner at a large firm,” reported New York Law Journal. Only the best people.
“For the first time, the U.S. government wants demonstrators to pay to use our parks, sidewalks and streets to engage in free speech in the nation’s capital,” wrote The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund’s Mara Verheyden-Hilliard and Carl Messineo in the WaPo this week. “This should be called what it is: a protest tax. This is a bold effort by the Trump administration to burden and restrict access to public spaces for First Amendment activities in Washington. If enacted, it would fundamentally alter participatory democracy in the United States.”
David Dayen reported for The Intercept that “an unnamed foreign country communicated with planners of the now-scrapped Veterans Day military parade, according to documents obtained from a Freedom of Information Act request.” Has to be North Korea, right?
Finally, we leave you with this good news: A series of recent polls suggests that the Senate is very much in play this November. It was long viewed as nearly impossible for the Dems to take the upper chamber, but handicapper Stuart Rothenberg wrote this week for Rollcall that “Democratic prospects have improved noticeably, giving the party a difficult but discernible route for control.”