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Maybe a sleazy real-estate-developer-turned-reality-TV-star isn’t qualified to manage a super power

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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.

Flashy international summits and armed conflicts make the headlines, but most foreign policy is conducted at the staff level and flies way under the public’s radar. Traditionally, it has been far less partisan than domestic politics, and career experts with deep knowledge of the issues and regions they manage have performed the lion’s share of work in this area under presidents of both parties.

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When Donald Trump won the Electoral College, it was widely assumed that there would be changes to America’s more high-profile, public-facing foreign relations, but the anonymous experts who handle the routine tasks of navigating a super-power on the world stage would continue to perform their duties largely unmolested.

Wow, was that assumption wrong.

Trump’s paranoia, obsessive need for loyalty and hyper-partisan approach to everything he sees has quietly ripped America’s foreign policy establishment apart. And that’s significantly diminished our influence and almost certainly contributed to a lot of chaos around the world. When you’re a super-power, not having a steady hand at the helm can result in significant impacts.

Consider a few stories from just this week.

“Kimberly Breier, the top U.S. diplomat for the Western Hemisphere, is stepping down, she confirmed Thursday, leaving a critical State Department position vacant at a time of high tension in the region,” according to NBC News. Breier had served under both Republican and Democratic presidents in the CIA and the State Department.

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Chuck Park, another career State Department official, explained in The Washington Post why it took him so long to resign despite being appalled by Trump’s mismanagement.

I’m ashamed of how long it took me to make this decision. My excuse might be disappointing, if familiar to many of my colleagues: I let career perks silence my conscience. I let free housing, the countdown to a pension and the prestige of representing a powerful nation overseas distract me from ideals that once seemed so clear to me. I can’t do that anymore.

The country’s second-highest intelligence official was humiliated last week when she showed up at the White House to brief the president* only to learn that he refused to be briefed by her. Susan Gordon was in line to become the interim Director of National Intelligence, but Trump wanted someone else in that position and according to CNN, “her boss — outgoing spy chief Dan Coats — interrupted a meeting she was holding on election security and asked his deputy to submit her letter of resignation.” Gordon had three decades of experienced and was widely respected on both sides of the aisle.

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Politico reports that “many in the State Department are increasingly exasperated that they have yet to see the results of an investigation into whether President Donald Trump’s political appointees mistreated career staffers…”

The probe is expected to cover a wide array of suspected mistreatment of Foreign Service and Civil Service officers by Trump political appointees…

 

Among the allegations: that a political appointee made loyalty lists of career staffers she considered supportive or unsupportive of Trump; that numerous career employees, including high-ranking ones, were given low-level duties processing Freedom of Information Act requests to punish them for work they did under former President Barack Obama; and that one career staffer’s assignment to a top policy post was cut short because of her Iranian ancestry and her work on the Iran nuclear deal.

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We’ve been covering these and similar stories for years. Trump has gutted these agencies, and those who remain, as Chuck Park wrote, aren’t waging a resistance against Trump, they have, For the most part, become complacent.

The Complacent State sighs when the president blocks travel by Muslim immigrants; shakes its head when he defends Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman; averts its gaze from images of children in detention camps. Then it complies with orders.

 

Every day, we refuse visas based on administration priorities. We recite administration talking points on border security, immigration and trade. We plan travel itineraries, book meetings and literally hold doors open for the appointees who push Trump’s toxic agenda around the world.

Trump’s mismanagement is resulting in some serious consequences. “A scathing new Pentagon report blames Trump for the return of ISIS in Syria and Iraq,” reported Business Insider. “Trump is harsh on China, except when it comes to democracy,” wrote Nahal Toosi for Politico this week. “The president regularly thrashes China over trade policy but has been mostly silent on the growing pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.”

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Aliana Johnson wrote that despite Trump’s (unearned) reputation as a great deal-maker, he’s only managed to sow chaos.

His trade war with China keeps escalating, with mounting costs to the U.S. economy. Diplomatic overtures to Iran and North Korea have so far failed to yield the president’s desired outcome. Jared Kushner’s Middle East peace plan, two years in the making, is nowhere to be seen…

 

Trump’s critics see these data points as alarming signs that the president is out of his depth on international affairs, if not complicit in the breakdown of global order.

Trump had a meltdown this week when French President Emmanuel Macron tried to broker talks between the regime and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. After pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal, the culmination of years of delicate diplomacy and multilateral pressure on Iran, Trump seems surprised that our allies aren’t backing him in his new saber-rattling.

Meanwhile, “North Korea has resumed short-range missile tests, conducting four launches over the past two weeks, while the Trump administration’s trade war with China escalated this week from a tariff fight to a broader dispute over currency, spooking financial markets.”

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It’s all going to shit, is what we’re trying to say.

And with that, let’s move on to this week’s roundup.

*****

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“During any other administration, it would be a front-page scandal. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt last month tapped William Perry Pendley, an anti-government zealot who has not been Senate-approved for any position, to lead the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which oversees one-tenth of the nation’s land,” wrote The Washington Post editorial board this week. “Mr. Pendley’s first turn in government, during the administration of President Ronald Reagan, was ignominious — and he has done nothing since to suggest he belongs in a position of public trust.”

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Speaking of land management, “the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reauthorized the use of ‘cyanide bombs’ to kill wild animals such as coyotes, foxes and wild dogs in an effort to protect livestock,” according to The Hill

“Cyanide traps can’t be used safely by anyone, anywhere,” Collette Adkins, the director of carnivore conservation at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement on Wednesday. “While the EPA added some restrictions, these deadly devices have caused too much harm to remain in use. We need a permanent nationwide ban to protect people, pets and imperiled wildlife from this poison.”

In a previous study, the group also noted that more than 99 percent of comments made during the public comment period on the EPA’s decision whether or not to reauthorize the use of the so-called cyanide bombs opposed the move.

*****

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Time reported this week that “leaked FBI documents indicate ‘black identity extremists’ and animal rights activists are among the agency’s top counterterrorism priorities under President Donald Trump.”

Meanwhile, “White House officials rebuffed efforts by their colleagues at the Department of Homeland Security for more than a year to make combating domestic terror threats, such as those from white supremacists, a greater priority,” reported CNN.

According to Yahoo News, “alleged white supremacists were responsible for all race-based domestic terrorism incidents in 2018, according to a government document distributed earlier this year to state, local and federal law enforcement.”

Of the 46 individuals involved with “32 domestic terrorist attacks, disrupted plots, threats of violence, and weapons stockpiling by individuals with a radical political or social agenda,” 25 were white supremacists.

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Just for the record, the Department of Justice is supposed to represent the American people, not the Grifter-in-Chief.

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According to Rollcall, “Senate Republicans are looking to pay for President Donald Trump’s border wall in part by putting about $5 billion less in the largest domestic spending bill, several people with knowledge of the process said.” The money would mostly come out of funding for health and education programs, because who needs that stuff if you’ve got a stupid cool wall?

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Nothing to see here.

For years, U.S. election officials and voting machine vendors have insisted that critical election systems are never connected to the internet and therefore can’t be hacked.

But a group of election security experts have found what they believe to be nearly three dozen backend election systems in 10 states connected to the internet over the last year, including some in critical swing states. These include systems in nine Wisconsin counties, in four Michigan counties, and in seven Florida counties—all states that are perennial battlegrounds in presidential elections.

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This is being done in your name…

The White House has told ICE officials to conduct dozens more workplace enforcement operations this year, a senior immigration official with knowledge of the conversations told CNN. The news comes on the same day that President Donald Trump said raids like those in Mississippi this week are a ‘very good deterrent’ for undocumented immigrants.

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One American employer’s facilities are definitely safe from these raids.

The Washington Post interviewed 43 of Trump’s own undocumented workers:

For nearly two decades, the Trump Organization has relied on a roving crew of Latin American employees to build fountains and waterfalls, sidewalks and rock walls at the company’s winery and its golf courses from New York to Florida…

For years, their ranks have included workers who entered the United States illegally, according to two former members of the crew. Another employee, still with the company, said that remains true today.

His cultists don’t care.

*****

A 41-year-old Iraqi man who had never stepped foot in Iraq and spent most of his life in the United States was deported to Baghdad, where he died because he couldn’t obtain the insulin he needed to keep him alive. He didn’t speak Arabic, according to his family. Chris Gelardi has more on that tragic story at The Intercept.

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And we’ll leave you with the story that should have been the biggest news week, via The New York Times.

The world’s land and water resources are being exploited at “unprecedented rates,” a new United Nations report warns, which combined with climate change is putting dire pressure on the ability of humanity to feed itself.

The report, prepared by more than 100 experts from 52 countries and released in summary form in Geneva on Thursday, found that the window to address the threat is closing rapidly. A half-billion people already live in places turning into desert, and soil is being lost between 10 and 100 times faster than it is forming, according to the report.


Report typos and corrections to: [email protected].
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Trump’s hearsay defense goes out the window as House Intel releases transcripts of two first-hand witnesses

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The House Intelligence Committee released two new transcripts on Saturday from first-hand witnesses who were on the line for President Donald Trup's call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

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The chairs of the Intelligence, Foreign Affairs, and Oversight committees released a joint statement on the testimony.

"The testimony released today shows that President Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Zelensky immediately set off alarm bells throughout the White House. Both witnesses provided the Committees with first-hand accounts after personally listening to the call in the White House Situation Room," the chairs said.

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‘Game over’ for Trump if Sondland confirms phone call revealed by David Holmes: ex-Watergate prosecutor

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Appearing on MSNBC on Saturday afternoon, two veterans of the Watergate hearings that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon said the slow trickle of information coming out about Donald Trump's Ukraine dealings could lead to a sold case for his impeachment.

According to former prosecutor Nick Akerman, a lot could be riding on the testimony of E.U. Ambassador Gordon Sondland who has been put in a precarious position after diplomat David Holmes said he overheard a conversation Sondland had with the president that would indicate the president was using foreign aid as a bribe for dirt on a political opponent.

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2020 Election

So is Tulsi Gabbard really a ‘Russian asset? How would we know for sure?

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Is it valid to accuse Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a Democrat from Hawaii and a current presidential candidate, of being a “Russian asset”?This article first appeared in Salon.It’s a strange question, and one that normally wouldn’t need to be answered. Gabbard has never polled above the low single digits and has no realistic chance of being the 2020 Democratic nominee. Surrounded by controversy and facing a primary challenge from a more conventional Democrat, she has already announced she won't run for re-election to Congress either.
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