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 stories that dominated the headlines this week were Trump getting totally out-played by Kim Jong Un just as virtually every sentient being had predicted — and then, because the bar can never be set low enough, getting credit for not actually signing onto a deal that gave the young dictator, say, Seoul just so he could claim a win. And of course there was his former consigliere Michael Cohen testifying before the House that Trump’s “a racist,” a “conman” and a “cheat.”
Rep. Jamie Raskin: “Obviously this is a man who is unburdening himself & he’s called the president a racist, a con man & a cheat. But we also want him to, you know, tell us some things that we don’t know.”
— The Hill (@thehill) February 27, 2019
Ken Gude from the Center for American Progress counted 14 federal crimes – all felonies – in which Cohen directly implicated “president” Trump. Which is all the more impressive when you consider that he had been asked by investigators to not discuss several issues that are the subjects of ongoing investigations.
With one or two exceptions, Cohen didn’t make new news. For the most part, he testified about things we already knew from court filings, and in some cases from media reports. But there was something different about hearing him say that stuff in his own words than reading about it in the paper.
That was also the case with another theme that came out during the hearing: What a sad, insecure, pathetically small-minded little man Donald Trump really is.
One could argue that there was a political calculous to enlisting Cohen to hire a guy to fix a couple of online polls so Trump would come out as one of the most influential people in America. It’s possible that Drudge’s online polls have some impact on Republican party activists, or maybe even primary voters. It’s possible that his grades from Fordham were so bad that releasing them publicly could have hurt his chances. And perhaps there was even some business values to inflating the value of his family’s assets in order to game Forbes’ list of the richest people in the world.
— Ben Adler (@badler) February 28, 2019
But there’s no reason, other than a narcissist’s psychic vulnerability, for Trump to use straw-buyers to purchase a portrait of himself at a charity auction at an inflated price just so a handful of people might think it brought in more than other portraits had. That’s just pitiable.
Here’s Trump’s tweet from 2013 about the portrait Michael Cohen will testify about today. https://t.co/D8RJiKwqSb
— David Fahrenthold (@Fahrenthold) February 27, 2019
And the fact that he thought nothing of using $60,000 from his family’s “charitable organization,” and then keeping the tacky painting himself, just typifies the mindset that will probably lead at least his inner circle to significant legal trouble even if he doesn’t end up behind bars himself.
While narcissists project an image of hyper-self-confidence, they are deeply and profoundly self-conscious and racked with insecurities. Somewhere deep down in his subconscious, Donald Trump knows that he’s in further over his head than at any other time in the privileged life he inherited from his crooked father, and that must torture him. Perhaps it’s a little silver lining.
And with that, let’s see what fresh Hells this week brought us.
Institutional culture tends to flow down from the top. This is relevant to the story of Adnan Asif Parveen, a Pakistani man who’d been raised in Spain and has lived in the US, legally, with his American wife for the past five years.
Roque Planas reported for HuffPo that while it’s not clear why, exactly, he came to be detained by the Customs and Border Protection agency. His work permit card had expired a month before he was detained by CBP agents, but it was just the card, and his legal status had been extended for six months. They are continuing the deportation process for reasons that also aren’t clear.
But here’s a telling detail in this story. According to Planas, “for the six days he spent in Border Patrol’s custody last month, he said the only food he received was a pork sandwich every eight hours. He explained that as a Muslim, he had to refuse. When the guards offered nothing else, he picked off the meat and ate just the bread.”
In somewhat related news, Scott Bixby reported for The Daily Beast that “the number of undocumented women who have lost their pregnancies while in government detention nearly doubled in the first two years of President Donald Trump’s administration.”
This came to light after a young Honduran woman delivered a stillborn baby in a Texas immigration jail. And while the Trump regime has stacked the government with people who believe that abortion is literally murder, that standard appears to be flexible…
ICE & CBP say “a 24-year-old Honduran woman went into premature labor and delivered a stillborn baby at the Port Isabel Detention Center.” The statement also notes “a stillbirth is not considered an in-custody death.” https://t.co/FfmxyAHZI7
— Catherine Thompson (@KT_thomps) February 25, 2019
We knew this was coming, but still…
Ugh, the Senate just confirmed coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler, an efficient version of Pruitt, to run the EPA. This is really bad news for our environment. We need this regime out of power ASAP!
— Amy Siskind (@Amy_Siskind) February 28, 2019
More on his background as a coal lobbyist here, via The NYT.
Trump’s blown up any number of supposed conservative principles. Government spending and federal deficits have skyrocketed on his watch, and his views of trade are anathema to most conservatives.
And according to Politico, his 2020 campaign is “backing a controversial plan to give the government a role in managing America’s next-generation 5G wireless networks — bucking the free market consensus view of his own administration and sparking wireless industry fears of nationalization.”
That might not be a bad thing, but the scheme is “being pushed by a politically connected wireless company backed by venture capitalist Peter Thiel that could stand to benefit.”
Rivada, which counts Trump ally Thiel among its investors, is lobbying for the administration to take wireless spectrum from the Defense Department and use a third-party operator — ideally Rivada — to make those airwaves available to users who need it on a rolling wholesale basis, much like in the electricity market.
File this one under MAGA fans are the easiest marks…
“While wealthy people buying airplanes is nothing new, the Republican-led tax overhaul provided a new incentive,” wrote Bloomberg’s Lynnley Browning. “A provision in the new tax law caps deductions of so-called ‘excess business losses,’ meaning that some investors can face sizable tax bills on personal income that they previously would have offset. So some tax experts have found a way around the excess business loss cap, which was projected to raise $150 billion over 10 years — by advising their clients to buy private planes.”
Trump’s belligerence toward Venezuela was disturbing enough before we read Jonathan Swan’s report in Axios that his stance on the conflict is shaped by his “instincts, personal relationships, aggressive advisers, and political opportunism.”
The short version is that Trump’s weak and doesn’t know much, and that allows people to just manipulate him into any position they favor. In this case, Marco Rubio seems to be a driving force.
It’s going to be a long two years, in part because the GOP has nothing that isn’t quite unpopular to run on.
This story needs more attention: House Republicans (reportedly) plan to frame Democrats as “soft on anti-Semitism” — unless Nancy Pelosi’s caucus votes to effectively prolong American participation in war crimes against a vulnerable ethnic group. https://t.co/hOm1fCrUll pic.twitter.com/MlsUrbUmty
— Eric Levitz (@EricLevitz) February 26, 2019
We’ll leave you with some positive stories this week.
Ellen Nakashima reported for The WaPo that “the U.S. military blocked Internet access to an infamous Russian entity seeking to sow discord among Americans during the 2018 midterms, several U.S. officials said, a warning that the Kremlin’s operations against the United States are not cost-free.”
And at Think Progress, Ian Millhiser looked at how Democrats are trying to tackle a somewhat obscure but highly consequential civil rights issue, namely the use of arbitration agreements to block workers and consumers from the courts.