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.
There’s rarely a moment of respite from the daily stress of life under the Trump regime. One might have thought that Normal America might have enjoyed a day of rest after delivering a midterm drubbing to Trumpism last week, but that would have been naïve, as Marshal Tweeto immediately launched another Constitutional crisis by firing Jeff Sessions and installing a grifty crackpot as the nation’s top law enforcement officer. Then this week, we were all once again sitting on the edge of our seats waiting for a widely anticipated slew of indictments that so far haven’t materialized from the Mueller investigation.
At least most of us will have an opportunity to kick back and celebrate our nation’s genocidal conquest over Native Americans with our families this week. That’s not the case for 14,000 migrant children still being held in cages and tent cities, a new record breaking the one “set just two months ago,” and “putting further strain on an already overburdened system,” according to The San Francisco Chronicle.
The army will no doubt provide turkey dinners to the 5,600 troops Trump deployed as campaign props along the Mexican border, where they’re now twiddling their thumbs, literally shoveling shit and, most importantly, laying out concertina wire to stop Trump's mythical immigrant invasion. According to The New York Times, they’re currently living on combat rations, even though “Whataburger, a fast-food utopia” is nearby. It is, sadly, “off limits under current Army rules.”
To give you a sense of how absurd that bit of political theater really is, consider that they’ve erected 22 miles of concertina fencing near McAllen, Texas, which lies around 1,300 miles to the east of Tijuana, where the beleaguered members of that refugee caravan are heading, per the NYT. In other words, they could have just set up some random stretches of concertina wire near their home bases and called it a day.
As with Trump’s ridiculous quest for a North Korean-style military parade in his honor, there’s a comical element to this. But the reality is that Colonel Bonespurs has consistently ignored his responsibility as Commander-in-Chief of the world’s largest military, and that’s having some serious and dangerous effects.
The New York Times reported this week that “shortly after becoming commander in chief, President Trump asked so few questions in a briefing at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., that top military commanders cut the number of prepared PowerPoint slides to three — they had initially planned 18.” Two years later, “top Defense Department officials say that Mr. Trump has not fully grasped the role of the troops he commands, nor the responsibility that he has to lead them and protect them from politics.”
This may not rank high on a progressive list of problems with this regime, but it should. Lara Seligman reported for Foreign Policy that the DoD’s civilian leadership are demoralized and “disheartened” by Trump’s moves and feel increasingly ignored by Pentagon planners. As a result, many are “heading for the door, leaving key positions unfilled in a Pentagon increasingly run by active-duty or retired military officers.”
An independent, congressionally mandated review of the National Defense Strategy released this week highlighted the “relative imbalance of civilian and military voices” on critical national security issues, and urged the department to reverse this “unhealthy” trend.
“Constructive approaches to any of the foregoing issues must be rooted in healthy civil-military relations. Yet civilian voices have been relatively muted on issues at the center of U.S. defense and national security policy, undermining the concept of civilian control,” the commissioners wrote.
These problems began with budget cuts during the Obama administration, but Seligman writes that “the exodus, particularly in the offices focused on regional policy, is bound up at least in part with Trump’s volatile foreign policy and treatment of allies.”
The Founders saw civilian control of the military as a vital bulwark against tyranny, and while we can laugh at some of Trump’s antics, this is no joke.
Donald Trump wants to cut off relief funds to Puerto Rico. Axios: “Around 3,000 people died in Puerto Rico because of Hurricane Maria, according to government estimates. Trump, without evidence, has claimed this is fake news designed to make him look bad.”
There was a lot of swampy news this week that didn’t get as much attention as it should have. Let’s review some of the ethical atrocities.
“An Environmental Protection Agency official appointed by the Trump administration was arrested on Thursday for multiple criminal ethics violations,” according to HuffPo.
Onis Trey Glenn was charged with “a scheme that took place when he worked as a lobbyist for the Drummond Company. At the time, Glenn helped the coal mining firm dodge a bill for an EPA-mandated cleanup of neighborhoods in Birmingham and Tarrant, Alabama, that were contaminated by emissions from smokestacks owned by a subsidiary.”
Of course Donald Trump made him the EPA administrator “in charge of eight states in the Southeast, including Alabama.”
“Deregulation ace” is one way of describing Neomi Rao, Trump’s pick to fill Brett Kavanaugh’s seat on the all-important DC Court of Appeals. That’s what Politico went with, and it sounds better than, say, “e. coli champ.”
In any event, Rao is a 45-year-old who has led Trump’s assault on public health and safety regulations and if confirmed, she will enjoy lifetime tenure on a court that decides a lot of regulatory cases.
Rao, who was a law professor at George Mason University before coming to the White House, is also a protégée of Justice Clarence Thomas. She has spoken at multiple events at the Federalist Society, the conservative legal scholarship group that has influenced Trump's judicial picks, including Kavanaugh and Justice Neil Gorsuch.
We don’t tend to criticize high-ranking government officials for travelling on the taxpayers’ dime. That’s usually a cheap shot. It costs a lot to arrange high-level trips, and the security that comes with them.
We will make an exception for Melania Trump’s mysterious $174,000 day-trip to Toronto. She didn’t spend the night, and yet she blew that sum on hotel bills. That doesn’t include the costs of travel or Secret Service or anything else.
Did we mention that she didn’t stay the night? More details at Quartz.
We will also call out the regime shelling out $100,000 for Trump spawn Don Junior’s business travel. WaPo reported that his “trip to India to sell his family’s luxury condominium projects cost U.S. taxpayers nearly $100,000… for hotel rooms, airfare, car rental and overtime for Secret Service agents.”
We should note that this project is scammy as Hell.
Meanwhile, billionaire Betsy DeVos is a delicate snowflake and it’s costing us a fortune. According to NBC, “Education Secretary Betsy DeVos began receiving around-the-clock security from the U.S. Marshals Service days after being confirmed, an armed detail provided to no other cabinet member that could cost U.S. taxpayers $19.8 million through September of 2019.” It appears that the unusual security entourage was approved “a few days after DeVos was heckled and blocked by a handful of protesters from entering the Jefferson Academy.”
And Donald Trump has nominated a fancy handbag designer and Mar-a-Lago member to be our ambassador to South Africa, a country with which we now have strained relations after our Crackpot-in-Chief embraced a white supremacist conspiracy theory about its government murdering white farmers en masse.
Lana Marks has no previous diplomatic experience. She is also, of course, a bit of a grifter, according to Buzzfeed, which noted that “Marks was evicted from her office in 2015 after failing to pay almost $26,000 in rent. She also has faced lawsuits in recent years for failing to pay $117,342 for ads in magazines and failing to pay contractors in Aspen, Colorado. She and her husband also got a tax lien for $360,641 in back taxes.” Only the best.
Perhaps the biggest story this week was that the conflagration that has left large swaths of California scorched and thousands of climate refugees homeless is probably a new normal. At Grist, Eric Holthaus looked at the conditions that have made recent fire seasons on the Golden State so catastrophic.
And Julie Turkewitz and Matt Richtel reported for The New York Times that “the wildfires that have laid waste to vast parts of California are presenting residents with a new danger: air so thick with smoke it ranks among the dirtiest in the world.”
Researchers warned that as large wildfires become more common — spurred by dryness linked to climate change — health risks will almost surely rise. “If this kind of air quality from wildfires doesn’t get people concerned,” said Dr. John Balmes, a pulmonologist at the University of California at San Francisco, “I don’t know what will.”
While humans have long been around fire, they generally inhale it in small doses over cooking or heat fires. Humans have not, however, evolved to handle prolonged inhalation of caustic air from something like the Paradise blaze, Dr. Balmes said.
Research into the long-term health effects of large wildfires is still new. But a growing body of science shows how inhalation of minuscule particles from wood fires can nestle in the folds of lung tissue and do harm to the human immune system.
We’ll leave you with some good news this week: As more late races from last week’s Blue Wave have been called, Republicans have been decimated in California, and according to The LA Times, some GOP strategists have come to the conclusion that they need to burn their party down and rebuild from scratch.
Also check out this Bloomberg report about the NRA getting its ass kicked in the midterms by gun violence reduction advocates.