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.
Donald Trump is on a retaliatory tear, running negative ads against Utah Senator Mitt Romney for voting to convict in the Senate impeachment trial and purging those regime officials who testified about his abuses of power during the House’s investigation. Trump is certainly on an authoritarian kick that’s more brazen than usual. And as Greg Sargent wrote at The WaPo this week, it’s likely to get worse as we “witness a slow accumulation and acceleration of insidiously incremental abuses of power that, taken together, continue to erode the rule of law.”
“While Stained in History, Trump Will Emerge From Trial Triumphant and Unshackled,” read a headline from The New York Times this week. The Washington Post echoed the sentiment with, “‘Unshackled and unleashed’: Trump, post-acquittal.”
While Trump’s abuses of power have accelerated, these headlines imply that he had been shackled previously. But is that true? A quick internet search reveals that Trump has supposedly been “unshackled” over and over again during the past four years.
In October, 2016, a month before his Electoral College victory, Gothamist reported that “Donald Trump has freed himself from the shackles of the Republican Party.” A 2017 headline from Reuters read, “Trump unshackled: President defends Charlottesville response at raucous rally.” In early 2018, The Guardian ran one reading, “Why fire Tillerson now? Unshackled Trump making more unilateral decisions.” Later that year, Axios reported that an “unshackled Trump worries allies.” And last year Politico ran a piece headlined, “an unshackled Trump finally gets the presidency he always wanted.” How many shackles can one man shed?
It is so nice that the shackles have been taken off me and I can now fight for America the way I want to.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 11, 2016
As Heather “Digby” Parton noted on this week’s podcast, Trump’s fascistic tendencies are clearly getting worse. But let’s not pretend that he was ever constrained by Congressional Republicans or by his advisors or by longstanding norms or the laws that he swore to enforce. That would be revisionist history.
Speaking of Trump punishing his enemies, “DHS said this week that it will no longer allow New York state residents to sign up for popular programs intended to speed up international travel because of a state law that blocks immigration authorities from accessing motor vehicle records,” according to NPR. State officials and the NYCLU are suing.
Grifters gonna grift, according to WaPo: “Trump’s company charges the Secret Service for the rooms agents use while protecting him at his luxury properties — billing U.S. taxpayers at rates as high as $650 per night.”
According to The Chicago Sun-Times, “Trump’s appeal for a refund of at least $1 million on his Chicago skyscraper is now the subject of two state of Illinois investigations that center on whether a Republican state official pressured his staff to cut the president a break.”
Senate Democrats are calling for an independent audit to determine whether the regime is inappropriately classifying information that would incriminate or prove embarrassing to the Trump regime. Classifying non-sensitive information for political purposes is against the law.
In somewhat related news…
!! @USNatArchives, the self-proclaimed nation’s record keeper, has “agreed that officials from Immigration and Customs Enforcement could delete or destroy documents detailing the sexual abuse and death of undocumented immigrants.” | @mattspast @nytopinion https://t.co/jracQiEHfb
— Mark Elliott (@markmobility) February 5, 2020
The WSJ reports that “Russian personnel are engaging in potentially dangerous standoffs with U.S. troops on highways in northeastern Syria in violation of agreements between Washington and Moscow to stay out of one another’s way in the war-ravaged country.”
At the risk of running afoul of Godwin’s Law, this was quite literally one of Adolph Hitler’s hobby-horses…
A draft of an executive order called “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again” would establish a classical style, inspired by Greek and Roman architecture, as the default for federal buildings in Washington and many throughout the country, discouraging modern design.
The order, spearheaded by the National Civic Art Society, a nonprofit group that believes contemporary architecture has “created a built environment that is degraded and dehumanizing,” would rewrite the current rules that govern the design of office buildings, headquarters, and courthouses, or any federal building project contracted through the General Services Administration that costs over $50 million.
“For too long architectural elites and bureaucrats have derided the idea of beauty, blatantly ignored public opinions on style, and have quietly spent taxpayer money constructing ugly, expensive, and inefficient buildings,” Marion Smith, the group’s chairman, wrote in a text message. [NYT]
In addition to being wildly corrupt and brimming with hate, these people are also kind of weird.
File this one under ‘only the best people.’ Newsweek reports that the “U.S. Air Force colonel slated to take command of the base that hosts Air Force One has been sentenced to five years in prison for receiving child pornography.”
According to Rolling Stone, “Trump’s long-time love affair with asbestos is making its way into federal policy” as “the Environmental Protection Agency is now allowing asbestos to be legally used in construction.”
NBC News reports that “more than 200 people the United States has sent back to El Salvador have been killed or seriously abused — including sexually assaulted and tortured — according to a new report by Human Rights Watch.”
This is being done in your name.
Relatedly, the regime is trying to deport thousands of Hmong and Lao over the objections of the Laotian government, potentially putting them in danger. Most were allies of US forces during the Vietnam War or their descendents. Minnesota Public Radio has more.
A couple of stories that we think should have been splashed across the headlines this week…
EcoWatch reports that Antarctica is experiencing “t-shirt weather” as “the continent just measured its hottest temperature on record at a balmy nearly 65 degrees Fahrenheit.”
And according to Bloomberg, “climate models are running red hot, and scientists don’t know why.”
There are dozens of climate models, and for decades they’ve agreed on what it would take to heat the planet by about 3° Celsius. It’s an outcome that would be disastrous—flooded cities, agricultural failures, deadly heat—but there’s been a grim steadiness in the consensus among these complicated climate simulations.
Then last year, unnoticed in plain view, some of the models started running very hot. The scientists who hone these systems used the same assumptions about greenhouse-gas emissions as before and came back with far worse outcomes. Some produced projections in excess of 5°C, a nightmare scenario.
We leave you with some good news this week, as “a federal judge in Tucson, Arizona, reversed the conviction of four humanitarian aid volunteers on religious freedom grounds Monday, ruling that the government had embraced a ‘gruesome logic’ that criminalizes ‘interfering with a border enforcement strategy of deterrence by death.’” According to The Intercept, the ruling “marked the latest rebuke of the Trump administration’s crackdown on humanitarian aid providers in southern Arizona, and the second time in matter of months that a religious freedom defense has prevailed in a federal case involving the provision of aid to migrants in the borderlands.”
Joe Biden has one key coronavirus question he wants answered: ‘Where are the tests, Mr. President?’
Despite the inability to hold campaign rallies, the 2020 presidential campaign is continuing in spite of the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis.
With the response to coronavirus being the top public policy discussion in America, all eyes are focused on President Donald Trump's actions.
Trump had promised the nation that he would set up COVID-19 drive-thru testing sites in the parking lots of big-box retailers but has so far failed to deliver.
Trump’s chilling re-election calculus is to focus on economy instead of lives says former administration official: Report
Two top Washington Post journalists are out with a stunning story Saturday morning, an inside look at President Donald Trump's "risky push to reopen the country amid the coronavirus crisis."
Robert Costa and Philip Rucker took a deep dive into this week's developments, writing that "in private discussions, the president has been driven much more by economic concerns, according to people involved in internal debates or briefed on them. Trump has long viewed the stock market as a barometer for his own reelection hopes, and he has been distraught at the meltdown in recent weeks. He has been inundated with calls from business leaders, wealthy supporters and conservative allies urging him to get Americans back to work and stave off further calamity, even if doing so carries health risks."
Swing state voters unhappy with Trump’s plan to relax COVID-19 health safety rules by Easter: report
President Donald Trump has repeatedly suggested that he would like the country to return to normal by Easter, with coronavirus-necessitated social distancing measures and lockdowns phased out by that point.
But according to Axios, a recent focus group in Minnesota revealed that swing voters aren't thrilled with this idea, and do not share the president's sense of urgency to end public health measures for the sake of the economy.
The group of voters, gathered from the town of Edina, "included seven voters who flipped from Barack Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016, and one who switched from Mitt Romney in 2012 to Hillary Clinton in 2016."