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.
Even as the Trump regime pushes the limits of the law to punish refugees from Central America, threatens to shut down parts of the Southern border and pursues Stephen Miller’s explicit strategy for reducing legal immigration, they’ve consistently fought to increase the number of H2B visas issued to “foreign workers to take temporary jobs in housekeeping, landscaping and other fields,” according to The New York Times. That is, the very foreign workers Trump hires for seasonal jobs at his tacky resorts. Before he became the president*, he had just employed undocumented workers but that became awkward when he won the White House and the Trump family business has been quietly firing them ever since.
“For years, President Donald Trump has insisted it’s impossible to find Americans to fill seasonal jobs at his hotels, resorts, and wineries, leaving him no choice but to hire foreign guest workers instead,” Buzzfeed News reported this week. That’s what every employer says. But when Buzzfeed dug into government records, they found that “at least 58 US workers applied for the temporary jobs as cooks, servers, and housekeepers at Mar-a-Lago and other Trump resorts,” and “only one of them appears to have been hired.”
It’s a consistent pattern for Trump. During the 2016 campaign, Time Magazine took a deep dive into Trump’s long history of seeking out and hiring undocumented workers, both to save a buck on wages and because they'd be less likely to complain if he cut corners on safety. This goes back to at least 1980. According to the report:
For 36 years, Trump has denied knowingly using undocumented workers to demolish the building that would be replaced with Trump Tower in 1980. After Senator Marco Rubio raised the issue of undocumented Polish workers during a Republican primary debate this year, Trump described himself as removed from the problem. "I hire a contractor. The contractor then hires the subcontractor," he said. "They have people. I don't know. I don't remember, that was so many years ago, 35 years ago."
But thousands of pages of documents from the case, including reams of testimony and sworn depositions reviewed by TIME, tell a different story…. [the] documents contain testimony that Trump sought out the Polish workers when he saw them on another job, instigated the creation of the company that paid them and negotiated the hours they would work. The papers contain testimony that Trump repeatedly toured the site where the men were working, directly addressed them about pay problems and even promised to pay them himself, which he eventually did.
When the men grew tired of “putting in 12-hour shifts with inadequate safety equipment at subpar wages that their contractor paid sporadically, if at all,” they did complain about their treatment, and “Trump threatened, through his own lawyer, to call the Immigration and Naturalization Service and have the workers deported.”
There are any number of points one could make about all of this, but what stands out for us is that there is no way that Donald Trump could sustain the level of unshakeable support that he's enjoyed among conservatives, and especially among conservative white Evangelicals, if not for media siloing—our tendency to seek out information from sources that reinforce out worldviews—and the decades-long conservative campaign to sow distrust in serious journalism.
If you watch Fox News, you probably think Donald Trump is a successful self-made entrepreneur. They didn’t make much of the blockbuster NYT report detailing how, “by age 3, Mr. Trump was earning $200,000 a year in today’s dollars” from his father’s tax fraud scheme, was “a millionaire by age 8” and started “receiving the equivalent of $1 million a year from his father” soon after graduating college.” If you watch Evangelical Christian broadcast media, you probably know that he’s a sinner who’s guilty of marital infidelity—they like these kinds of ostensible redemption stories—but you may not know that he was once “very pro-choice.” Similarly, it’s a safe bet that many law and order conservatives know little about his long history associating with mob figures.
Partisanship is, of course, a powerful motivator, and conservatives are happy with Trump's judicial picks and get a kick out of him trolling Democrats on Twitter. But that only goes so far, and the simplest explanation for why the same people who rail about the perfidy of “coastal elites” have devoted themselves to the sleaziest real estate developer in New York is that they live in a parallel universe, insulated from these realities.
In a democratic republic, it’s really unhealthy to have not only our own opinions but also our own facts.
And with that, let’s get to this week’s roundup.
Speaking of immigration, this week a federal court ruled that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) attempted to deport a critic of the agency in retaliation for his activism. Ravi Ragbir’s “public expression of his criticism, and its prominence, played a significant role in the recent attempts to remove him,” the ruling says. “The government’s retaliation was egregious.” According to The Intercept, the decision “constitutes a direct challenge to broad executive power over immigration issues. In the case, the administration contends that people facing deportation are not entitled to make constitutional claims. The 2nd Circuit’s rebuke of that position now sets up a potential Supreme Court showdown over whether Congress or the executive can prevent the courts from hearing such claims.”
This is heavy and important news. Border Patrol literally working hand in glove with members of AZ Patriots, who ha… https://t.co/ZsNZFZMKBX— It's Going Down (@It's Going Down) 1555981222.0
We shouldn't let politics obscure how moronic Trump’s wall is on a policy level. That’s the take-away from The Texas Observer’s interview with Joseph Jarvis, who “oversaw the fabrication and installation of a short stretch of border wall near Brownsville in 2011, along with a number of electronic access gates.”
Jarvis steers clear of politics when he talks about the wall. For him, the barrier was just like any other construction project: a way to make money. He’s not for or against it on moral grounds — he just thinks the damn thing doesn’t work.
“The wall is a joke,” Jarvis, who now lives in Mission, said bluntly when I first called him in January. “It does nothing to preclude ingress of narcotics and people.”
It’s no secret that the wall is far from impregnable. In 2012, a pair of sandal-clad anti-wall activists scaled the Arizona border wall in 9 seconds, without ladders or climbing equipment, and posted a video of their feat on YouTube…. But Jarvis puts an unusually fine point on the wall’s limits: He climbed the barrier in his 60s.
A study released this week estimated that consumers picked up the tab for “between 125 percent and 225 percent of the costs” of Trump’s tariffs on washing machines. But that’s not all. According to The New York Times, the cost of dryers also increased because “manufacturers of laundry equipment used the tariffs as an opportunity to raise prices on things that were not, in fact, affected by the tariffs.” God bless capitalism.
Overall, “the authors calculate that the tariffs brought in $82 million to the United States Treasury, while raising consumer prices by $1.5 billion.” They concluded that it did create 1,800 jobs, a rounding error in our workforce, but they “came at a steep cost: about $817,000 per job.”
Maybe trade wars aren’t good and easy to win after all.
“More than half of the world’s new oil and gas pipelines are located in North America, with a boom in US oil and gas drilling set to deliver a major blow to efforts to slow climate change,” according to a new study that The Guardian covered this week.
ProPublica reported this week that “the government of Saudi Arabia has repeatedly helped Saudi citizens evade prosecutors and the police in the United States and flee back to their homeland after being accused of serious crimes here.” According to the report, “Saudi diplomats, intelligence officers and other operatives have assisted in the illegal flight of Saudi fugitives, most of them university students, after they were charged with crimes including rape and manslaughter. The Saudis have bailed the suspects out of jail, hired lawyers to defend them, arranged their travel home and covered their forfeited bonds.”
In other NO YOU’RE THE PUPPET news, FBI Director Christopher Wray “warned anew on Friday about Russia’s continued meddling in American elections, calling it a ‘significant counterintelligence threat,’” according to The NYT. But the report goes on to say that even as our intelligence agencies ramp up their efforts to counter the threat, “Trump views any discussion of future Russian interference as effectively questioning the legitimacy of his 2016 victory, prompting senior officials to head off discussions with him.”
Donald Trump withdrew from another arms control this week during a speech to the NRA. “Beset by internal turmoil, financial troubles and a public backlash following mass shootings, the NRA, which has 5.5 million members, welcomed the chance to rally around Trump,” according to The Guardian.
This week’s good news is that, “after considering the issue for more than two years, the Kansas Supreme Court on Friday declared the Kansas State Constitution recognizes the right to an abortion independent of federal law.” According to Rewire News, the ruling is likely to overturn a ban on one of the most common types of abortion procedures.