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 headline above is absolutely ludicrous. That should be obvious. But what if Donald Trump were a Democrat and we were writing this column for Breitbart or Fox Nation?
On Wednesday, a suicide bombing attack in Syria killed four American troops – the same number that died in a 2012 attack on a US consular compound in Benghazi, Libya. And unlike Benghazi, which 197 investigations – both serious ones and those conducted by Congressional Republicans – concluded was not the result of any decision made at the highest levels of government, some officials are tying this attack to Trump’s seemingly spontaneous decision to withdraw US troops from Syria without consulting anyone other than his doughy “gut.”
You don’t have to be a hawk to understand that this wasn’t a smart way to go. Brett McGurk, Trump’s former point-man for defeating ISIS who resigned as a result of the decision, wrote this week that “the president’s decision to leave Syria was made without deliberation, consultation with allies or Congress, assessment of risk, or appreciation of facts.”
Two days after Pompeo’s call, Trump tweeted, “We have defeated ISIS in Syria.” But that was not true, and we have continued to conduct airstrikes against the Islamic State. Days later, he claimed that Saudi Arabia had “now agreed to spend the necessary money needed to help rebuild Syria.” But that wasn’t true, either, as the Saudis later confirmed. Trump also suggested that U.S. military forces could leave Syria within 30 days, which was logistically impossible.
This was the second time on Trump’s watch that four American troops – that same number – were killed in a poorly planned military operation in some far-flung country. In the fall of 2017, four Special Forces Operators were also among those killed in a deadly ambush in Niger. Most Americans didn’t even know we had troops in Niger at the time.
A Pentagon inquiry into the botched operation concluded, as The New York Times reported last year, that “the 11-member team had not undergone crucial training as a unit before it deployed to Niger because of ‘personnel turnover’ and had not rehearsed its mission before leaving its base.” The inquiry also found that the soldiers wounded in the attack “were not evacuated for more than four hours, far longer than the Pentagon had acknowledged.”
Like Benghazi, the Niger incident wasn’t linked to decisions made in the White House. Syria is a different matter. And yet, there are no conspiracy theories suggesting that Donald Trump ordered a rescue party to stand down. A regime that lies all the time isn’t being accused of lying to the fallen troops’ grieving family members. None of this is being turned into a partisan attack. (Let’s not forget that Benghazi was politicized during the 2012 presidential campaign in a desperate attempt by Mitt Romney to turn the polls around, and Romney’s decision to exploit it as a line of attack was widely condemned at the time.)
We’re not suggesting that Democrats should go around accusing Trump of murdering those soldiers like the right accused Hillary Clinton of killing Chris Stevens in Benghazi. We’re just noting that there’s a significant asymmetry between the parties as a result of the interplay between the traditional media and what Matt Yglesias called “the Hack Gap.”
And with that, let’s move on to this week’s roundup.
We begin with a few items about the Dumbest Shutdown in US History® that you may have missed this week.
At Politico, Jennifer Scholtes explained how “the longest government shutdown in U.S. history will scar the federal bureaucracy and U.S. economy long after the doors are unlocked and workers return.” The damage that’s being done right now goes well beyond those furloughed federal workers, and is not going to be easily repaired.
According to The New York Times, “the federal courts are running out of money as the partial government shutdown continues with no end in sight, raising concerns that the legal system will be significantly hobbled if the standoff is not resolved soon.”
McKay Coppins reported for The Atlantic that “a grim but growing consensus has begun to emerge on Capitol Hill: There may be no way out of this mess until something disastrous happens.” Basically, they’re waiting for a commercial plane to crash because some air traffic controller was distracted thinking about how to pay his or her mortgage.
And while there was a raft of very lazy coverage of federal prison inmates eating steaks while their guards are working but not receiving paychecks, the reality is that inmates are suffering terribly as a result of the shutdown. Eli Hager has more on that for The Marshall Project. Bloomberg’s Amanda Albright and Danielle Moran report that local jails that house federal inmates are also experiencing lots of problems.
Speaking of Syria, The Guardian reported that “a 16-year-old Syrian refugee who was disfigured in a bomb attack on her home has been refused a visa to get medical treatment in the US because of Donald Trump’s travel ban.”
And WaPo’s Eli Rosenberg detailed how a decorated Marine veteran who was born and raised in Michigan ended up detained by ICE and slated for deportation as an undocumented immigrant.
We are being governed by the worst people in the world.
And speaking of being governed by the worst people in the world…
A new report says that Trump urged his team to violate the law and redirect Puerto Rico’s disaster assistance money to Texas and Florida instead. https://t.co/tyx7DpVkl8
— Vox (@voxdotcom) January 18, 2019
We just want to make sure you caught that a federal audit revealed that the Trump regime has “separated thousands more migrant kids at the border than it previously acknowledged, and the separations began months before the policy was announced.” Politico has more on that.
Sen Jeff Merkeley (D-OR) charged this week that Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen lied to Congress when she said there was no official regime policy to separate families at the border. He’s asked the FBI to investigate. More at Oregon Public Broadcasting.
Jonathan O’Connell and David Fahrenthold had quite an emoluments story for the WaPo this week. Just a day after T-Mobile announced a mega-merger with Sprint that would require federal approval, a whole gaggle of T-Mobile execs booked rooms at Trump’s DC hotel.
That’s become basically par for the course in Trump’s Washington, but the timing nonetheless raised eyebrows. But of course the “president” has so far enjoyed impunity for this stuff.
The General Services Administration’s Inspector General says President Trump’s lease for his DC hotel “raised issues under the Constitution’s Emoluments Clauses that might cause a breach of the lease; however, GSA decided not to address those issues.” pic.twitter.com/PfzVeLd3Tf
— Brad Heath (@bradheath) January 16, 2019
There was actually quite a bit of good news this week.
A federal judge struck down several measures that Wisconsin Republicans passed in the lame duck that have been described as a “power grab.” And this:
Breaking news: A federal judge blocked the cuts to early voting Wisconsin Republicans passed in a controversial lame duck session late last year. pic.twitter.com/YanVn59jy1
— Sam Levine (@srl) January 17, 2019
Mark Joseph Stern reported for Slate that “the Supreme Court handed a victory to American workers, ruling unanimously that independent contractors who work in transportation may not be forced into mandatory arbitration. (Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who joined the bench after argument, did not participate.) The decision is a remarkable win for labor rights from a court that typically favors corporate interests over working people. And it will allow hundreds of thousands of contractors to vindicate their rights in court, collectively, rather than in costly and unjust arbitration.”
And big news on the Census story that we’ve been following here, as a federal judge held that a question about citizenship will be struck from survey. At Think Progress, Ian Millhiser wrote that this is yet another case in which the regime’s incompetence appears to have gotten in the way of its racism.
Judge Furman’s opinion presents Ross and his team as grossly incompetent. They seemed oblivious to their legal obligations, often appeared unaware of what their own advisers were telling them, and even appear to have outright lied about why they included the citizenship question.