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.
“Trump has instructed his White House to identify and force out officials across his administration who are not seen as sufficiently loyal,” reported The Washington Post this week. It’s one element in “a post-impeachment escalation that administration officials say reflects a new phase of a campaign of retribution and restructuring ahead of the November election.” It’s unclear what criteria they are using to define loyalty to this president*, but it’s important to understand a few things about this story.
First, while Trump enjoys discretion over his political appointees, The Post reports that “it is unclear whether civil servants will be targeted as well.” The story quotes him lamenting that he can’t do whatever he wants because he “inherited a place with [people from] many different administrations, and they worked there for years and were civil service and with unions and all of it.” Targeting career civil servants for political retribution is a crime, and multiple courts have held that it violates both the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the US Constitution.
Second, this is part of a “full-scale effort to create an administration more fully in sync with Trump’s id and agenda,” which is intensely and unrelentlessly partisan. It is a crime to instruct even political appointees within the government (with a handful of exceptions) to advance a partisan agenda (which is why people typically resign their positions within an administration to work on an incumbent’s re-election campaign).
‘A travesty and a disgrace’: Trump quietly issues memo that could abolish union rights for 750,000 federal workershttps://t.co/SmKPPu97BW
— Raw Story (@RawStory) February 22, 2020
All of this represented a very hard lurch toward authoritarianism but got somewhat lost in the shuffle as Trump reacted to an intelligence briefing warning lawmakers that Russia is running some sort of influence campaign this year by firing his acting intelligence head, Joseph Maguire, and replacing him with Richard Grenell, the belligerent wingnut who’s roiled Europe serving as Trump’s ambassador to Germany.
Grenell, according to The New York Times, “wasted no time this week starting to shape his team of advisers, ousting his office’s No. 2 official — a longtime intelligence officer — and bringing in an expert on Trump conspiracy theories to help lead the agency.” That guy is Kashyep Patel, a former aide to Devin Nunes who “is best known as the lead author of a politically charged memo two years ago that accused F.B.I. and Justice Department leaders of abusing their surveillance powers to spy on a former Trump campaign adviser.” Patel has “a mandate to ‘clean house,’” according to CBS.
It’s not just Joseph Maguire. More major changes are coming to the ODNI. Several sources tell The Daily Beast that the DNI’s Principal Executive Andrew Hallman is departing, as is the ODNI’s General Counsel Jason Klitenic. Klitenic’s last day is March 2.https://t.co/LhU1vrwhen
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) February 21, 2020
This follows several weeks of roiling controversy resulting from Attorney General Bill Barr’s efforts to redirect the Department of Justice to defend Trump’s personal and political interests in court, gather “dirt” on his enemies and go easy on his associates. A DOJ memo obtained by NBC news this week mandated that “all Ukraine-related investigations being consolidated in such a way that even investigations already in progress, like those the SDNY is reportedly conducting of Rudy Giuliani now have to be processed through Main Justice.”
Meanwhile, the Pentagon also issued a troubling memo this week. According to the WaPo, “acting defense secretary Patrick Shanahan has mandated new restrictions on the way the Pentagon shares information with Congress about military operations around the world, a move that is straining ties with key Republican and Democratic lawmakers.
The memo comes as lawmakers from both parties complain that the Trump administration has withheld information that prevents them from executing their constitutionally mandated oversight role. Some lawmakers are also concerned about whether Shanahan has allowed the military to be drawn too deeply into President Trump’s immigration agenda.
For a while, America’s mature legal and political institutions bent but did not break. Observers may have become numb to this stuff, but it feels like the federal government, which does not turn easily, is now succumbing to Trump’s corruption.
“The acting Homeland Security secretary, Chad Wolf, is exercising authority under a 2005 law that gives him sweeping powers to waive laws for building border barriers,” reported the AP. “The Department of Homeland Security said waiving procurement regulations will allow 177 miles (283 kilometers) of wall to be built more quickly in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. The 10 waived laws include a requirement for open competition and giving losing bidders a chance to protest decisions.” Might as well send out a formal invitation to fraud and abuse.
(Notice how all of these guys are “acting” secretaries, as Trump has blatantly thumbed his nose at a complicit Senate by cutting them out of the confirmation process.)
How much taxpayer money has been spent at Trump’s properties?
We don’t know, because the government is REFUSING to disclose the total amount. https://t.co/4sXplX1E8N
— CAP Action (@CAPAction) February 21, 2020
One difference between the Trump regime and typical Republican administrations is that the latter have traditionally given industries everything on their wish lists and as we’ve seen time and again, the venal buffoons currently running things are constantly giving companies more “regulatory relief” than they want.
For more than three years, the Trump administration has prided itself on working with industry to unshackle companies from burdensome environmental regulations. But as the Environmental Protection Agency prepares to finalize the latest in a long line of rollbacks, the nation’s power sector has sent a different message:
Exelon, one of the nation’s largest utilities, told the EPA that its effort to change a rule that has cut emissions of mercury and other toxins is “an action that is entirely unnecessary, unreasonable, and universally opposed by the power generation sector.”
Kathy Robertson, a senior manager for environmental policy at the company, said the industry long ago complied with the rule.
“And it works,” she said. “The sector has gotten so much cleaner as a result of this rule.”
Things are really bad when lobbyists for polluting industries are begging you to not be so damn swampy.
While Trump rails against immigrants for the rubes in his base, Politico reports that his regime is advancing “a policy change the business community has long sought” that would “create new categories of temporary worker visas or lengthen the allotted stays for those workers.” Politico adds that the move “risks alienating some in his base” but that assumes that Fox News and the rest of the conservative media will mention it.
Reagan National University was supposed to be a place of higher learning, but it was unclear how it awarded degrees. By all appearances, at present, it has no students, no faculty and no classrooms.
An agency meant to serve as a gatekeeper for federal money gave the university approval to operate anyway.
That accrediting agency, financially troubled and losing members fast, exists mainly because it was saved by the Education Department in 2018.
The Obama administration stripped the agency of its authority because of its “history of approving questionable colleges, with devastating consequences,” and then Education Secretary Betsy DeVos fought in court to restore its powers.
Meanwhile, The Intercept reports that DeVos’s brother, Bond Villain Erik Prince, “is under federal investigation for his 2015 attempt to modify two American-made crop-dusting planes into attack aircraft — a violation of arms trafficking regulations.”
When Donald Trump announced that China would buy $40 billion worth of agricultural products from the US this year in the first phase of negotiating a new trade deal, reporters conveyed that as a factual statement despite the fact that Donald Trump had told over 16,000 “false and misleading statements” by that point in his presidency.
As you might have expected, that isn’t happening.
We leave you this week with a story from the BBC that we think should have been plastered all over the front pages.
Human life “as we know it” could be threatened by climate change, economists at JP Morgan have warned.
In a hard-hitting report to clients, the economists said that without action being taken there could be “catastrophic outcomes”.
The bank said the research came from a team that was “wholly independent from the company as a whole”.
While JP Morgan economists have warned about unpredictability in climate change before, the language used in the new report was very forceful.
“We cannot rule out catastrophic outcomes where human life as we know it is threatened,” JP Morgan economists David Mackie and Jessica Murray said.
Carbon emissions in the coming decades “will continue to affect the climate for centuries to come in a way that is likely to be irreversible,” they said, adding that climate change action should be motivated “by the likelihood of extreme events”.
Climate change could affect economic growth, shares, health, and how long people live, they said.
It could put stresses on water, cause famine, and cause people to be displaced or migrate. Climate change could also cause political stress, conflict, and it could hit biodiversity and species survival, the report warned.
The US isn’t in a second wave of coronavirus – the first wave never ended
After sustained declines in the number of COVID-19 cases over recent months, restrictions are starting to ease across the United States. Numbers of new cases are falling or stable at low numbers in some states, but they are surging in many others. Overall, the U.S. is experiencing a sharp increase in the number of new cases a day, and by late June, had surpassed the peak rate of spread in early April.
There’s a hidden economic trendline that is shattering the global trade system
Former U.S. Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers has recently conceded: “In general, economic thinking has privileged efficiency over resilience, and it has been insufficiently concerned with the big downsides of efficiency.” Policy across the globe is therefore moving in a more overtly nationalistic direction to rectify this shortcoming.
COVID-19 has accelerated a process that was well underway before it, spreading beyond U.S.-China-EU trade negotiations and into the world’s 50 largest economies. As much as many defenders of the old order lament this trend, it is as significant a shift as the dawn of the World Trade Organization (WTO) global trade era.
What happens when Trump stops believing he can win reelection?
If President Trump seems resigned to losing November’s election, he has good reason. The strategy he is pursuing—and it’s generous to call it a strategy—is premised on the idea that he is going to lose. His own advisers acknowledge that there are very few people who can be persuaded to vote for him, and his aim therefore is to do whatever he can to hold his strong supporters while reducing the overall level of turnout.