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.
We would praise the reporters who revealed the content of a whistle-blower’s complaint that the Trump regime has refused to turn over to Congress as the law requires. But it appears that the outlines of the story were already known in DC political circles. Two weeks before the whistleblower story broke, The Washington Post ran an editorial noting that Donald Trump was withholding $250 million in military aid to Ukraine, and that while “some suspect Mr. Trump is once again catering to Mr. Putin, who is dedicated to undermining Ukrainian democracy and independence,… the president has a second and more venal agenda: He is attempting to force [Ukrainian president Volodymyr] Zelensky to intervene in the 2020 U.S. presidential election by launching an investigation of the leading Democratic candidate, Joe Biden.” The authors added, “Mr. Trump is not just soliciting Ukraine’s help with his presidential campaign; he is using U.S. military aid the country desperately needs in an attempt to extort it.”
But we’re conflicted about crediting WaPo’s editorial board for breaking that news. They, like so many neutral outlets this week, described the goal of Trump’s extortion as forcing Ukraine to “launch an investigation” of Biden. That is flatly false, as there is no serious allegation of wrongdoing against the former Vice President. So Trump didn’t press Zelensky to investigate Biden–he used the power of his office to extort the newly elected Ukrainian leader to fabricate a controversy about a domestic political opponent.
Every headline suggesting that Trump (or Rudy Giuliani) simply pressed for an “investigation” adds credence to Trump’s defense.
This is not the first time the press has assisted Trump in his effort to smear Biden. In May, The New York Times helped mainstream Trump’s baseless allegation in a story titled, “Biden Faces Conflict of Interest Questions That Are Being Promoted by Trump and Allies.” Although the piece acknowledged that Biden’s effort to pressure the Ukrainian government to oust former prosecutor Viktor Shokin was based on the view of the entire US government that Shokin had consistently turned a blind eye to corruption within Ukraine’s elites, and that Shokin had “long [been] a target of criticism from other Western nations and international lenders,” it nonetheless insinuated that something was amiss because Biden’s son, Hunter, had been connected to a firm that Shokin may have been investigating.
The story was widely panned for being misleading. CNN noted that “it wasn’t until the 19th paragraph that The Times noted that there was no evidence to support the claim that Biden intentionally tried to aide his son by working to oust the prosecutor. Bloomberg also reported on May 16 that the Ukrainian prosecutor general said he had no evidence of misconduct against Biden.”
The piece was co-authored by Kenneth Vogel and Iuliia Mendel. One month later, Mendel took a job as Volodymyr Zelensky’s spokesperson. Vogel remains with The Times.
Here’s @kenvogel of the New York Times saying on MSNBC that he views Joe Biden son’s work in Ukraine as “a significant liability for Joe Biden.”
“There is a story here,” Vogel adds, saying “we’re going to continue to, sort of, pull that back.” (I’m sure Trump is very grateful!) pic.twitter.com/HSl90pk6Zn
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) September 20, 2019
It’s hard not to see echoes of how The New York Times—followed by CNN and The Washington Post—helped move the Uranium One nontroversy from the fever swamps of the right into the mainstream political dialogue in 2015. That contrived scandal, like this one, had absolutely no basis in fact. It had been pushed relentless by conservative outlets for months without getting much traction, until former Breitbart editor-at-large Peter Schweizer snookered The Times into laundering the allegations in a now-infamous piece titled, “Cash Flowed to Clinton Foundation Amid Russian Uranium Deal.” After that, every ostensibly neutral outlet ran with it, and although the story was easily and repeatedly debunked, it, along with EmailGhazi, became the basis for Trump’s claims that Hillary Clinton was hopelessly corrupt and should be locked up. (Peter Schweizer, having failed so far to get traction with a different Biden “scandal” having to do with China, is now pushing hard on the Biden-Ukraine story.)
On Twitter, some on the left who oppose Biden’s candidacy are hoping that this bullshit will take him down. But that seems shortsighted because the media’s willingness to regurgitate and ultimately lend credence to phony scandals contrived by Trump and his allies will be used against whoever gets the nomination.
A lot of journalists have learned a lot of things from 2016 but a lot of journalists have not pic.twitter.com/NgMa6VdZyM
— Ben Dreyfuss (@bendreyfuss) September 21, 2019
And with that, we’ll move on to this week’s roundup…
Two somewhat related stories.
First, “the number of complaints made to a confidential hotline designed to allow the reporting of waste, fraud and abuse in the intelligence community has skyrocketed since Donald Trump took office,” reports NBC. “According to the latest public report by the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community, the hotline received 563 contacts last year, up from 251 in 2016 and 369 in 2017.”
And regime lawyers argued this week that it is unconstitutional to investigate potential crimes committed by a sitting president. Not that you can’t prosecute them, you can’t even look into them. It’s a bizarre argument coming just months after law enforcement wrapped up a massive criminal investigation into Trump’s campaign, but that’s where we are. [via Salon]
Trump appointed a guy named Joe Balash to serve as assistant secretary for land and minerals management in the Interior Department. He pushed hard to get the regime to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge until August 30, when he left the agency to take a cushy job with a foreign oil company drilling in Alaska, according to The Washington Post.
We’ll soon learn what giant pig farm the guy pushing this rule change ends up working for.
Trump administration finalizes rule allowing fewer inspectors at pork plants https://t.co/wc4HxdVz4Z
— Jeffrey Levin (@jilevin) September 17, 2019
Recall that Trump violated the law to install a loyalist, Mick Mulvaney, to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau—a move signed off on by a Trump-appointed judge—and more recently replaced him with another lackey, Kathleen Kraninger.
This week, NBC reported that Kraninger “notified senior lawmakers on Tuesday that the bureau had determined that the law that established the agency in the wake of the financial crisis gave her too much independence. That brings her position in line with the one adopted by the Department of Justice in March 2017.”
Meanwhile, “the Trump administration urged the U.S. Supreme Court to give the president more control over the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the agency that regulates mortgages and credit cards,” according to Bloomberg.
Grifters are often easy marks themselves because they think they know all the angles…
Rex Tillerson said today that while he served in Trump’s Cabinet, the Israeli government would sometimes share “misinformation” to persuade Trump.https://t.co/hSE8mw62dp
— Axios (@axios) September 19, 2019
And then there’s this, via Crew:
Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Regional Administrator Lynne Patton has been reprimanded for multiple violations of the Hatch Act… Patton violated the Hatch Act by using her official government Twitter account for partisan political activity and by prominently displaying a Trump campaign hat in her government office.
Prior to her controversial appointment to a government position, Patton served the Trump family for years, planning Eric Trump’s wedding and holding the role of Vice President of the Eric Trump Foundation, which has since rebranded under investigation. In her HUD role, she is responsible for public housing in New York and New Jersey, including Starrett City, the sale of which reportedly netted President Trump tens of millions of dollars.
Bari Weiss and the rest of the campus free speech police will have no problem with this blatant assault on academic freedom.
The Trump administration is threatening to cut funding for a Middle East studies program run by the University of North Carolina and Duke University, arguing that it’s misusing a federal grant to advance “ideological priorities” and unfairly promote “the positive aspects of Islam” but not Christianity or Judaism.
On his way out of The Golden State with a pocket full of cash, Trump, continuing his demagoguery of California–and liberal cities more generally–vowed “that his administration would issue a notice of environmental violation against the city of San Francisco because of what he described as its homelessness problem,” according to The New York Times.
San Francisco’s mayor, London Breed, called Mr. Trump’s comments “ridiculous”…
“In San Francisco,” Ms. Breed said, “we are focused on advancing solutions to meet the challenges on our streets, not throwing off ridiculous assertions as we board an airplane to leave the state.”
Why would you fire the guy in charge of figuring out what is legal for the department overseeing immigration to do oh wait I just figured it out https://t.co/vktrJNTqQA
— Cody Fenwick (@codytfenwick) September 18, 2019
Apparently, the Trump regime prioritizes climate change denialism over its trademark bigotry. According to NBC…
Research compiled one year ago by Customs and Border Protection pointed to an overwhelming factor driving record-setting migration to the U.S. from Guatemala: Crop shortages were leaving rural Guatemalans, especially in the country’s western highlands, in extreme poverty and starving…
But inside the Trump White House, that message was largely ignored in both policy decisions and messaging around what should be done to stem the flow of migrants. Last October, a month after the CBP report was finalized, President Donald Trump announced he was considering suspending foreign aid to Guatemala, which included money used to mitigate the affects (sic) of climate change on small farms.
Details are scarce, and haven’t fully been worked out, but the Trump regime reportedly signed an agreement to send Central American refugees to El Salvador, the country from which many of them fled. It has the fifth highest homicide rate in the world. [Associated Press]
And the Pentagon—not known as a bastion of liberalism–does not approve of some of the regime’s moves to curtail immigration.
“The Pentagon is fighting against proposals by White House officials to drastically cut the number of refugees allowed into the U.S., and has called for reserving visas for Iraqis who risked their lives working for U.S. troops,” reports NBC.
Also this week, “the Pentagon warned of dire outcomes unless Congress paid for urgently needed military construction projects nationwide — the same projects that have now been canceled to fund President Trump’s border wall,” according to the WaPo.
The good news this week is that four million people were estimated to have taken part in climate protests on every continent and the young people who organized these actions are fierce.
And the story that should have been on the front pages this week but wasn’t is that while the Amazon Rainforest continues to burn in Brazil, “Bolivian firefighters, army troops and volunteers have been working nonstop for the past two months amid some of the worst fires in the country’s recent history,” and “regional officials estimated nearly 6 million acres of forest and savanna have been torched since August.” [Via NPR]
Republicans’ laughable effort to attack Adam Schiff lands with a thud
Republicans' effort to castigate California Democrat Rep. Adam Schiff, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee spearheading the impeachment inquiry, met a quick and sudden defeat on Monday in a vote of 218-185.
Spurred on by President Donald Trump's attacks on the chairman, GOP House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy led an effort to censure Schiff on the House floor. On what grounds? It's almost too absurd to make up: lying.
The party of Donald Trump — who lied more times in the hours before the censure vote than Schiff even stands accused of — actually claimed that it's the California lawmaker who should be called out for dishonesty.
Minimum wage workers win big union victory in anti-union Texas
While Donald Trump’s Labor Department works to diminish employee rights, organized workers have scored an important victory deep in the heart of anti-union Texas.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner signed an executive order raising the minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2021 for 8,000 people at the city’s two airports. That’s a 65% increase for workers paid the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour. About 8,000 baggage handlers, caterers, wheelchair attendants and others benefit.
The Service Employees International Union organized the Houston workers. Workers in Denver earlier won $15 an hour by 2021. A new ordinance proposed in Minneapolis would require $15 an hour by 2022.
Freedom of thought is under attack — here’s how to save your mind
Freedom of thought stands at a critical crossroads. Technological and psychological advances could be used to promote free thought. They could shield our inner worlds, reduce our mental biases, and create new spaces for thought. Yet states and corporations are forging these advances into weapons that restrict what we think.
To lose freedom of thought would be to lose something uniquely human. We share our basic emotions with animals. But only we can step back and ask “do I want to be angry?”, “do I want to be that person?”, “couldn’t I be better?”.