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.
Last week, when Trump was in France for the G7 meeting, he told reporters that Chinese officials had reached out to him to ask that trade negotiations be re-opened and that it would happen soon. “They have been hurt very badly but they understand this is the right thing to do and I have great respect for it,” he said. “This is a very positive development for the world. I think we are going to have a deal.”
Shortly after, Chinese officials said they had no idea what the president* was talking about and there had been no high-level calls. It seemed to be just another lie from a guy who would tell you it’s sunny outside during a hurricane.
But it wasn’t just a typical lie. CNN reported this week that Trump’s “aides privately conceded the phone calls Trump described didn’t happen the way he said they did. Instead, two officials said Trump was eager to project optimism that might boost markets.” That’s a big no-no.
According to the Securities and Exchange Commission, market manipulation is “intentional conduct designed to deceive investors by controlling or artificially affecting the market,” and this includes “intentional conduct designed to deceive investors.” It is a crime.
Investopedia notes that while “manipulation is illegal in most cases,” it “can be difficult for regulators and other authorities to detect.” But in this case, they just went ahead and told CNN.
Which reminds us of this meme…
ARE YOU THE GUY I TELL ABOUT THE CRIMES pic.twitter.com/F0S9CCB7dK
— Max Burns (@themaxburns) May 3, 2018
That may have simply been a result of incompetence. But it could also be that their boss has increasingly come to believe that he is above the law and it’s rubbed off on his staff.
Trump didn’t just dangle a pardon to officials to get his wall built faster.
He also pressured an agency to give a wall contract to a donor to one of his top GOP allies in Congress.
Behind the populist nationalism, there’s always corruption.
— Greg Sargent (@ThePlumLineGS) August 28, 2019
Trump has good reason for believing he’s untouchable. During his first two years in office, he enjoyed impunity-by-congressional-majority. Then Democrats took over in January, Robert Mueller detailed ten instances of obstruction that met the Department of Justice’s criteria for charging someone with the crime and made clear that he would have brought charges against anyone other than Trump but DOJ rules prohibited it. He also made it clear that it is Congress’s constitutional duty to uphold the law against a lawless president, and yet so far nothing much has happened. (Check out Dahlia Lithwick’s rundown of the impeachable offenses Trump committed this week alone.)
Impunity always breeds more lawlessness so it should come as no surprise that Trump has become more brazen over the course of his presidency*.
And with that happy thought, let’s move on to this week’s roundup.
“Trump has portrayed America’s cities as wastelands, ravaged by crime and homelessness, infested by rats,” write Jess Drucker and Eric Lipton for The NYT. “But the Trump administration’s signature plan to lift them — a multibillion-dollar tax break that is supposed to help low-income areas — has fueled a wave of developments financed by and built for the wealthiest Americans.”
You can guess what comes next.
“Among the early beneficiaries of the tax incentive are… Mr. Trump’s family members and advisers.”
The Federal Election Commission effectively shut its doors this week because it no longer has enough commissioners to reach a quorum and hear cases. The power to appoint new commissioners is essentially in Mitch McConnell’s hands—Trump nominated someone, but Mitch has slow-walked his confirmation—and by leaving three positions unfilled, Mitch won a big victory in his long war against the election watchdog.
This is relevant to this report from CNN:
A company that President Donald Trump’s campaign manager, Brad Parscale, says he owns has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the President’s flagship political action committee, which is barred from coordinating with the campaign.
Federal Election Commission records indicate that Red State Data and Digital has received $910,000 from America First Action, the super PAC formed in 2017 to support the Trump-Pence agenda and fellow Republican candidates.
This is a pretty clear-cut campaign finance violation, but there are no cops on that beat at present.
If you go way back to 2017, you may recall that billionaire Carl Icahn was briefly an advisor to Trump. He had no obvious portfolio, and it turned out that his sole purpose was to get the EPA to give him is ailing refineries waivers for biofuel requirements. He was granted the waivers, the press started paying attention to the story and he quit. Mission accomplished.
Fast forward to today. Via The Des Moines Register:
Gripped with anger, some Iowa ethanol leaders say President Donald Trump should no longer count on their support in next year’s election, given his administration’s action to cut demand for the U.S. renewable fuel.
“If people connected to agriculture decide to vote for the president, they’re just voting to cut off their own economic prosperity,” said Nick Bowdish, CEO of Elite Ethanol in Atlantic.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency let 31 oil refineries off the hook from a requirement to blend 1.4 billion gallons of ethanol and biodiesel into their fuel.
Since taking office, the Trump administration has granted 85 refineries a pass from buying 4 billion gallons of renewable fuel, killing demand for 1.4 billion bushels of corn used to make it, Bowdish said.
The exemptions are driving 15 ethanol plants to close nationwide, including one in Iowa. Others are throttling back production, industry groups say.
Most of them will still vote for him to own the libs.
Speaking of farmers, they’re learning what Trump meant when he promised to run the country like he ran his businesses.
“Tens of thousands of farmers waited months for a payout from President Donald Trump’s multibillion-dollar agricultural bailout program — a delay that has cost the government more than a million dollars so far this year.” [NBC News]
Normally, one worries about regulatory agencies being captured by the industries they’re tasked with overseeing. But in Trump’s regime, the agencies themselves are more dedicated to unbridled ravage capitalism than is corporate America.
NEW: Three major oil and gas firms have asked @EPA to keep federal limits on methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Today, the agency will lift those restrictions, arguing that industry can do it on its own. W/ @brady_dennis https://t.co/6gkx5NUz6i
— Juliet Eilperin (@eilperin) August 29, 2019
This is at least the third time big business has told regulators, ‘whoa, dude, that’s going a bit too far.’
In somewhat related news…
Federal prosecutors wanted to charge Monsanto with a crime for spraying an illegal toxic nerve agent, but Trump appointees overruled. An excellent story by @adamzagorin & @schwellenbach https://t.co/0SGaoCMS5C
— Jesse Eisinger (@eisingerj) August 28, 2019
Toxic nerve agent. We’d say ‘let that sink in’ but you should probably wash it off and seek immediate medical treatment.
“The Trump administration is slow-walking $250 million in military assistance to Ukraine, annoying lawmakers and advocates who argue the funding is critical to keeping Russia at bay.” [Politico]
Trump is reportedly trying to find a way to kill the aid package altogether.
We know the president* has a penchant for McDonalds.
“The Trump administration is limiting scientific input to the 2020 dietary guidelines, raising concerns among nutrition advocates and independent experts about industry influence over healthy eating recommendations for all Americans,” according to The WaPo.
Topics the panel that writes the guidelines won’t explore include “the consumption of red and processed meat, as well as the dramatic proliferation of ultraprocessed foods, which account for a growing percentage of calories consumed by Americans. Nor will the committee explore appropriate sodium levels for different populations.”
Lots of fresh Hell in Trump’s war on migrants this week.
New: @ICEgov blindsided by order ending medical immigrant protection. Confusion sets in over which agency is in charge after termination of medical care program. via @CommonWealthMag https://t.co/j214SnE7s2 #mapoli https://t.co/N21L9HOjH2
— Sarah Betancourt (@sweetadelinevt) August 28, 2019
These people are just savages.
— BaburBalos (@BaburRealer) August 28, 2019
“The Trump administration wants to enable Customs and Border Protection officials to collect DNA samples from undocumented immigrants in its custody, according to a draft policy obtained by BuzzFeed News.”
Just Security reports that, “the Trump administration has reinterpreted a 2008 agreement with Vietnam in multiple ways to expand the categories of refugees it can deport, including permanent residents who have committed certain crimes and others who came to the United States as children after the Vietnam War and have lived in their adopted country most of their lives.”
The CBC reports that there appears to be a sort of de facto Muslim ban on our Northern border, with at least a dozen Canadian Muslims being denied entry in recent weeks for no obvious reason other than their faith.
Those denied entry include a prominent Guyana-born Toronto imam who serves as a chaplain with the Peel Regional Police and an Iraqi Turkmen community leader who has family members fighting ISIS in the Middle East.
We can leave you with a little bit of good news this week.
A judge in Alabama threw out a ridiculous nuisance lawsuit filed by a forced-childbirth advocate.
The plaintiff, Ryan Magers, sued one of Alabama’s three remaining abortion clinics because he didn’t agree with his girlfriend’s decision to terminate her pregnancy. He also sued the pharmaceutical company that made the drug used in the procedure. What makes the case so weird is that he filed the suit two years after his girlfriend’s abortion and yet a judge nevertheless granted the aborted fetus “personhood.” It’s Alabama.
And another judge overturned Mississippi’s ban on abortions after 8 weeks of pregnancy. The anti-choice movement is desperately trying to get one of these cases to the Supreme Court so they can overturn Roe. We’ll see if they decide to hear one of the appeals.