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.”
Supreme Court decision on Trump’s taxes handed Democratic lawmakers a powerful new weapon: law professor
According to a law professor writing for Politico, Donald Trump earned a small victory this past week when the Supreme Court did not allow Congress to have his tax returns that prosecutors in New York will receive, but it did set a precedent for more Congressional power over the president that can be used in further conflicts.
In her column for Politico, Kimberly Wehle of the University of Baltimore School of Law, wrote that "Congress emerged with more clarity about its oversight powers, and how to enforce them, than it had before the Supreme Court weighed in," in its 7/2 decision.
Election experts warn of November disaster
After a presidential primary season plagued by long lines, confusion over mail-in voting and malfunctioning equipment, election experts are increasingly concerned about the resiliency of American democracy in the face of a global pandemic.
With four months until the presidential election, the litany of unresolved issues could block some voters from casting ballots and lead many citizens to distrust the outcome of one of the most pivotal races of their lifetimes.
There is widespread concern among voting activists, experts and elections officials that it will take further federal investment in local election systems, massive voter education campaigns and election administrators’ ingenuity to prevent a disaster come November.
Republicans ‘sweating’ raising cash for Jacksonville convention as Charlotte committee withholds millions: report
According to a report from Politico, the Republican National Committee has been forced to bring in a high-powered fundraiser to round up the money they need to put on the nominating convention for Donald Trump in Jacksonville, and senior Republicans are "sweating" they may not reach the cash goal they need.
One problem they are unexpectedly facing is that convention organizers in jilted Charlotte, North Carolina -- which saw their convention yanked away by Donald Trump because he was unhappy about restrictions placed by the state due to the coronavirus pandemic -- are refusing to turn over an unspent $7 million in funds they raised.