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.
Last week, as the US passed 140,000 deaths from Covid-19, Donald Trump's aides convinced their boss that it would be in his best interest to signal to the American public that he was taking the pandemic seriously. So he held a "Coronavirus Task Force briefing," solo--sans infectious disease experts--and read haltingly from a prepared statement. After lavishing praise on himself for the great job he'd done containing the outbreak, and lying repeatedly about how this country has managed the crisis compared with others, Trump acknowledged that things would likely get worse before they got better and urged people to wear a mask, "whether you like the mask or not."
Dana Bash: "This was remarkable from the president of the United States. -- This is an important thing to note and… https://t.co/FQzddHYeM4— Lis Power (@Lis Power)1584466706.0
You've seen a variation of this complaint many times since CNN's Van Jones first beclowned himself by declaring that Trump "became President of the United States" after offering some words of consolation to the widow of a fallen Navy Seal during an address to Congress a month after taking office. But the context here is so very different. Anyone who has been paying even casual attention to Trump's bungled response to the pandemic knows that his "messaging" has been all over the place from the beginning, and that the next time he's riffing off-script he's almost certainly going to revert to form.
It matters because epidemiologists stress that good, factually grounded communication from public officials is a key component of managing infectious disease outbreaks. It's vital that those officials are deemed credible and are consistent with their messaging so the public can trust that the disruptive measures necessary to contain a pandemic are necessary and useful. It's key that they buy into the scientific rationale for those measures. In a vacuum of reliable information and planning, the kind of crackpot conspiracy theories that we've seen flourish among anti-maskers, lockdown resistors and anti-vaxxers are almost inevitable.
By the time Trump took to that podium to say that wearing masks saves lives, fully two-thirds of the public had decided that they can't trust a word he says about the pandemic. He had already set the tone for the conservative movement by insisting Covid-19 was no worse than the seasonal flu, would go away on its own and claiming that anyone who said otherwise was part of a "hoax" to hurt his re-election. He had called to "liberate" states from shutdown orders that he himself had recommended. He had said that wearing a mask was unmanly and could be harmful. He had set the stage for Republican governors to block cities from shutting down bars and mandating that people wear masks, and for Republican attorneys general to sue their own Democratic governors over similar measures.
When the media heaped praise on Trump for fleeting moments in which he had emulated a normal president in the past, it was just some annoying punditry. It's the context here that makes this latest round such a maddening example of normalizing the aberrant. The deadly context is what elevated this one to media malpractice.
Arguably the most disturbing story this week was the rather blatant politicization of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Following "earlier criticism from President Trump that its guidelines for reopening [schools] were too 'tough,'" the NYT reported that the CDC reversed its earlier position and "issued a full-throated call to reopen schools in a statement that aligned with President Trump’s pressure on communities."
Dear @CDCDirector: You testified under oath that @CDCgov would be “data driven” and “science based.” You lied. This… https://t.co/52D7rTfGNh— Ted Lieu (@Ted Lieu)1595577474.0
Or perhaps this is the most troubling story of the week, via The Guardian...
The Trump administration has been consulting the former government lawyer who wrote the legal justification for waterboarding on how the president might try to rule by decree.
John Yoo told the Guardian he has been talking to White House officials about his view that a recent supreme court ruling on immigration would allow Trump to issue executive orders on whether to apply existing federal laws.
Yoo's cockamamie theory is that in upholding Obama's DACA program, the Court sanctioned a president to pick and choose which laws he or she enforced. The most obvious problem with this argument, among several, is that the Court's upheld DACA on narrow procedural grounds and never ruled one way or the other on the substance of the policy. But as The Guardian noted, "Trump declared he would try to use that interpretation to try to force through decrees on healthcare, immigration and 'various other plans' over the coming month."
This spring, Eric Levitz wrote for NYMag that "Adrian Vermeule would like to transform the United States into an authoritarian, Catholic theocracy."
Guess who just got appointed to an influential position in the federal government by Donald trump?
This appointment is appalling. Vermeule is a proudly bigoted theocrat who pushes poisonous fascism cloaked in the p… https://t.co/wyV1y632YP— Mark Joseph Stern (@Mark Joseph Stern)1595614455.0
Last week, we noted that the Trump regime had tapped a bonkers conspiracy theorist, Anthony Tata, for a top role at the Pentagon. Now CNN reports that they're eyeing this guy to serve under Tata if he's confirmed.
The White House is pushing the Department of Defense to hire a former National Security Council staffer who has repeatedly pushed fringe conspiracy theories on Twitter and in media appearances.
Rich Higgins, a former aide who says he was fired from the National Security Council in 2017 for sending a conspiratorial memo, is currently being considered to serve as chief of staff to retired Brig. Gen. Anthony Tata, the White House's nominee for the under secretary of defense for policy at the Pentagon.
U.S. Senator Mitt Romney will oppose the nomination of former Trump campaign adviser Judy Shelton to the Federal Reserve Board, becoming the first Republican to break ranks on U.S. President Donald Trump’s controversial pick for the influential economic policy post....
The nomination of Shelton, who in the past has supported a return to the gold standard and had advocated the Fed be more inline with Trump’s White House regarding monetary policy, was approved Tuesday by the Senate Banking Committee on a 13-12 party line vote.
Forbes reports that Trump has profited handsomely from the impunity conferred on him by Congressional Republicans, noting that Trump's business charge his "campaign for things like food, lodging and rent. The result is that $2.2 million of contributions from other people has turned into $2.2 million of revenue for Trump."
And that’s just counting the money flowing directly through the president’s campaign. His reelection apparatus also includes two joint fundraising committees, which work with the Republican Party to raise money for Trump. Since he took office, those entities—named Trump Victory and the Trump Make America Great Again Committee—have funneled another $2.3 million into the president’s private business, according to a review of Federal Election Commission records. Then there’s the Republican National Committee, which has spent an additional $2.4 million at Trump properties. Add it all up, and the president, working in concert with the party he leads, has helped push $6.9 million into his businesses since taking office.
Speaking of grifts, ProPublica reports that "Charlie Kirk’s nonprofit Turning Point USA has made misleading financial claims and gets its 'independent' audits from its co-founder Bill Montgomery’s former business associate. It has enriched several of its top leaders as it pushes Trump’s message."
With the hospitality business being devastated by the pandemic, ICE has figured out how to convert human suffering into a covert bailout of some prominent hotel chains. "The Trump administration is detaining immigrant children as young as 1 in hotels, sometimes for weeks, before deporting them to their home countries under policies that have effectively shut down the nation’s asylum system during the coronavirus pandemic," according to the AP.
Mother Jones reports what happened when seven ICE detainees in Pennsylvania sued the regime.
Over the next 24 hours, they were loaded into a van to cross through Pennsylvania, a plane to Texas and then Louisiana, and a bus to Alabama, according to a sworn declaration Brown submitted in federal court this month—all of which put them in close quarters with each other and with guards just as the number of COVID-19 cases nationwide was spiking. The seven men ended up an hour northeast of Birmingham at the Etowah County jail, which now has 20 active COVID-19 cases, according to ICE’s website. The Pennsylvania jail they left has none.
Eunice Cho, a senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing Brown in his suit, says ICE has long used transfers to the Deep South as a form of retaliation and to get people under the jurisdiction of conservative judges. What’s new is that those transfers now mean potentially exposing people... to the virus that led them to sue for their release in the first place. They also risk spreading COVID-19 between detention centers.
A couple of weeks ago, The New York Times reported that "unsafe conditions and scattershot testing helped turn ICE into a domestic and global spreader of the virus" as the agency moved people around the country without proper precautions and "pressure from the Trump administration led countries to take in sick deportees."
Finally, the FBI promised one of the sources for Christopher Steele's dossier that they would protect his identity, but Attorney General William Barr ordered enough information to be revealed to identify him, making him a target of the right, according to The New York Times.
The decision by Justice Department and F.B.I. leaders to divulge such a report was highly unusual and created the risk it would help identify a person who had confidentially provided information to agents, even if officials did not intend to provide such a road map. The move comes at a time when Mr. Barr, who is to testify before lawmakers on Tuesday, has repeatedly been accused of abusing his powers to help Mr. Trump politically.
Former law enforcement officials said the outing will make it harder for F.B.I. agents to gain the trust of people they need to cooperate in future and unrelated investigations.