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.
One of Trump's early scandalous moves was issuing and executive order directing the IRS to not enforce a law barring tax-exempt organizations from intervening in electoral politics, or at least not to enforce it against churches. At the time, it was mostly notable because directing an agency to use its discretion in enforcing the law was seen as the essence of tyranny when Obama did just that to protect undocumented immigrants who were brought to the US as children from deportation. But the religious right was disappointed that the order wasn't as expansive as they had hoped, and in the rush of other policy disasters and scandals, it was largely forgotten by the public.
I was reminded of this small outrage by a piece in Religion News Service about James E. “Trey” Trainor III, who Trump picked as a Chair of the Federal Election Commission, the agency tasked with overseeing federal elections.
The head of the Federal Election Commission chastised Catholic bishops during a pair of interviews this week, accusing church hierarchy of “hiding behind” their nonprofit status and declaring that this year’s U.S. election amounts to a “spiritual war” that threatens the country’s “Christian moral principles.”
FEC Chairman James E. “Trey” Trainor III made the remarks during an interview released on Wednesday (Sept. 16) by Church Militant, a controversial conservative Catholic media outlet, and in a separate phone interview with Religion News Service....
Trainor contended the separation of church and state is “a fallacy,” because “every person who comes to the public square has to have an informed conscience in one way or another, and it’s either informed by their religion, their tradition or something.”...
“What we see going on around the country is complete anarchy in places where the rule of law has been completely abrogated. So it is a spiritual war in that it is striking at the underlying foundations of our constitutional republic. It’s getting rid of the Christian moral principles that are the basis of the foundation of the country” he said.
That's who's overseeing election law in the most important contest of our lifetimes.
Speaking of your tax dollars at work, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is suing Kroger's, a supermarket chain, for firing two women who refused to wear their uniform because they insisted that a colorful heart embroidered on it was too similar to the pride flag.
Here's what that heart looks like, courtesy of Wonkette.
NPR reports: "David Legates, a University of Delaware professor of climatology who has spent much of his career questioning basic tenets of climate science, has been hired for a top position at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration."
"A payroll company owned by Rudy Giuliani, President Trump's personal attorney, took between $150,000 and $350,000 in taxpayer-backed emergency small business loans this spring. It's unclear what Giuliani did with the money," according to Salon. The company has no employees and the money did not save any jobs.
An important story from The New York Times...
The civilian death toll from Saudi Arabia’s disastrous air war over Yemen was steadily rising in 2016 when the State Department’s legal office in the Obama administration reached a startling conclusion: Top American officials could be charged with war crimes for approving bomb sales to the Saudis and their partners.
Four years later, more than a dozen current and former U.S. officials say the legal risks have only grown as President Trump has made selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other Middle East nations a cornerstone of his foreign policy.
Yet rather than taking steps to address the legal issues, State Department leaders have gone to great lengths to conceal them.
"President Trump has quietly nominated a slate of tough-on-crime former prosecutors to run a powerful agency that writes the sentencing rules for the entire federal prison system," according to The Marshall Project.
The U.S. Sentencing Commission is an independent panel of seven members who set guidelines for federal judges to follow when calculating defendants’ prison time, with an emphasis on making sure that sentences are fair and not overly punitive. The commission is required by law to be bipartisan and to represent a diversity of backgrounds.
But Trump has broken from that precedent by proposing to fill the agency’s five empty seats with appointees who are nearly all white male former law enforcement officials.
The Texas Tribune reports that the Trump regime "deported a crucial witness in an ongoing investigation into allegations of sexual assault and harassment at an El Paso immigrant detention center, the witness’ lawyers said. The 35-year-old woman has been held in the facility, which is overseen by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, for about a year and told lawyers about a 'pattern and practice' of abuse there, including that guards systematically assaulted her and other detainees in areas that were not visible to security cameras."
Meanwhile, "A federal judge in Maryland has ruled that Chad Wolf is likely unlawfully serving as acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and temporarily barred the Trump administration from enforcing new asylum restrictions on members of two immigration advocacy groups." [CNN]
In March, the Department of Health and Human Services sent postcards to every American with public health info about the pandemic. According to The Daily Beast, "most of the 330 million Americans who got the postcard probably disposed of it quickly. Six months later, however, the memory of it lingers in at least one place: the U.S. Postal Service. That’s because the agency has yet to be reimbursed by the Department of Health and Human Services for the cost of delivery."
Trump did say he'd run the government like his businesses.
And finally, this, via The Washington Post, probably should have been the biggest story of the week...
Two Antarctic glaciers that have long kept scientists awake at night are breaking free from the restraints that have hemmed them in, increasing the threat of large-scale sea-level rise.
Located along the coast of the Amundsen Sea in West Antarctica, the enormous Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers already contribute around 5 percent of global sea-level rise. The survival of Thwaites has been deemed so critical that the United States and Britain have launched a targeted multimillion-dollar research mission to the glacier. The loss of the glacier could trigger the broader collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet, which contains enough ice to eventually raise seas by about 10 feet.
Just to put that 10 feet of potential sea-level rise in perspective, between 1993 and 2014, sea-levels rose by 2.6 inches.