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.
In 1942, Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels commissioned a lavishly produced propaganda film about the sinking of The Titanic. The film, which came to be known as "The Nazi Titanic," featured a fictional German hero who was always two steps ahead of the hapless and self-indulgent British crew. Goebbels saw the movie as a vehicle for boosting German morale and demonstrating that Germany's film industry could go toe-to-toe with Hollywood's prominent Jewish movie moguls.
The production dressed up a real ship, the SS Cap Arcona (which would later end up as a prison ship that was sunk by Allied bombers causing far more fatalities than an iceberg did to the real Titanic), as the doomed vessel for the exterior shots. Elaborate sets were built for the interiors. German troops were taken off of the frontlines to play extras. At the time, The Nazi Titanic was the most expensive film that had ever been made.
It was also a disaster. In the middle of filming, Goebbels' hand-picked director, Herbert Selpin, badmouthed German marines for molesting female cast members. Goebbels was outraged at the disrespect and Selpin was arrested. It is believed that he then had Selpin be murdered in his cell and have his death ruled a suicide. A year later, the premier was delayed when the theater that housed the answer print was bombed by Allied warplanes.
By the time the film was released in late 1943, the German homeland was being bombed regularly, and Goebbels decided that the public might not be so inspired by a film ending with a mass-casualty event. Others in the Nazi high command were concerned that the German hero's insubordination toward The Titanic's incompetent British commanders undermined the Third Reich's ethos of blind obedience to authority. In the end, the film was banned in Germany, although it did enjoy a brief run in countries occupied by the Nazis, and was later released in the Soviet bloc as a "war trophy" before fading into obscurity.
I was reminded of this bit of history a couple of weeks ago when Michael Caputo, the bonkers conspiracy theorist Trump installed as a public affairs official at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), made news for warning that a Deep State cabal within the CDC might assassinate him and calling for an armed insurrection if Trump loses in November. (Caputo has since taken a leave of absence and claims that he has been diagnosed with cancer.) At the time, The Washington Post reported that "several White House officials said [Caputo's] behavior has been erratic and some of his ideas have been regarded as extreme. For example, he proposed the federal government spend millions of dollars on a professionally directed and produced documentary about the administration’s race to develop vaccines that he wanted to air at film festivals."
"The idea was rejected by White House communications aides," but this week it was reported that one of Caputo's somewhat less grandiose ideas is coming to fruition. According to Politico, HHS "is moving quickly on a highly unusual advertising campaign to 'defeat despair' about the coronavirus, a $300 million-plus effort that was shaped by a political appointee close to President Donald Trump and executed in part by close allies of the official, using taxpayer funds."
This being the Trump regime, there is of course some grifting going on behind the scenes. HHS pushed to use a "well-qualified" subcontractor on the project, a firm that just so happens to be run by "Caputo's longtime business partner, Den Tolmor... Tolmor was Caputo's client as recently as April 2020, compensating Caputo at least $5,000 per year to handle his public relations...Two HHS officials said that Caputo had spent weeks extolling Tolmor's work..."
Of course it would be wrong to compare Michael Caputo with Joseph Goebbels both because Goebbels was a serious guy and Trump isn't Hitler. What led me to make the connection is that Goebbels pulled much-needed resources from a war his country was losing to fund his showy, costly propaganda project. And this campaign, which will feature B-list celebs like Dennis Quaid telling Americans that all is well, will be financed "by pulling money out of health agencies like the Centers for Disease Control that are in the midst of fighting the pandemic"--a war we are losing--after HHS decided not to work "with lawmakers to set up a brand-new advertising effort with congressional oversight."
Anyway, if you pay federal taxes, then congrats on becoming a Trump campaign donor!
This is the fox guarding the henhouse...
"Donald Trump intends to nominate Allen Souza as the next inspector general for the intelligence community after firing the previous inspector general, Michael Atkinson, in April," reports CNN.
Trump had fumed about Atkinson for months after he informed Congress about the whistleblower complaint regarding Trump's dealings with Ukraine that ultimately led to his impeachment.
Souza was a lawyer for the House Intelligence Committee under Nunes in 2017 and 2018, while the committee was conducting its GOP-led Russia investigation that was engulfed in partisan fights. Republicans on the panel issued a report saying they had no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow.
Souza will be Trump's second intelligence IG since firing Atkinson in April.
Also from CNN, a story that should probably be getting far more attention...
Census Bureau officials warned in mid-July that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross' orders to end the 2020 census early risked producing a tally of "unacceptable quality" with "fatal flaws" that carries the stain of "politically-manipulated results."
A whistleblower says that Customs and Border Protection (CPB) "knew it was breaking the law when it began turning away asylum-seekers at the southern border." An attorney seeking to stop the policy told an NPR affiliate, “This isn’t a rogue agency at this point. They don’t care about checks put on them by congress or the courts, and they’ve been deployed politically by this administration to shut off all immigration to the United States, but specifically asylum in the United States.”
CPB is a sub-agency of the Department of Homeland Security, headed by Chad Wolf, the clownishly authoritarian (and illegally installed) Acting Secretary.
Per NBC, "the consulting firm where the wife of acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf is an executive has been awarded more than $6 million in contracts from the Department of Homeland Security since September 2018."
Coincidentally, we're sure, Wolf became the Chief of Staff to former DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen in 2018.
It's probably a good thing that after four years under Donald Trump, the United States has zero influence in the international community.
"Secretary of State Mike Pompeo brought his campaign to redefine and prioritize human rights to the United Nations on Wednesday, declaring that such protections around the world are in 'crisis,'” reports WaPo.
He quickly pivoted from the 1948 U.N. declaration that is the cornerstone of contemporary human rights principles to the views espoused by the Commission on Unalienable Rights, which he created last year. The panel has drawn criticism for giving primacy to freedom of religion and property rights, raising concerns that it could undercut protections for women, gay people and other minorities.
This one got some play and may not fit our standard for items that have flown under the radar, but it's so egregious that we'll just make sure that you catch it.
"A $1 billion fund Congress gave the Pentagon in March to build up the country’s supplies of medical equipment has instead been mostly funneled to defense contractors and used to make things such as jet engine parts, body armor and dress uniforms." [WaPo]
The Trump regime has been marked by corruption, contempt for the rule of law and disdain for the separation of powers. But it's also just really, really petty.
CNN reports that"The State Department revoked a prestigious award from a Finnish journalist because of social media posts critical of President Donald Trump, according to a report from the State Department Office of Inspector General. Although the watchdog found that the State Department had acted within its 'broad discretion' to rescind the award from Jessikka Aro, it also found that the department lied to Congress and the press to explain why it had done so."
And we'll leave you with a bit of positive news this week. According to the AP, "a federal judge ruled Friday that President Donald Trump’s leading steward of public lands has been serving unlawfully, blocking him from continuing in the position in the latest pushback against the administration’s practice of filling key positions without U.S. Senate approval."
Calling William Perry Pendley a "steward of public lands" is a bit like referring to Trump as a steward of democratic norms. As The Colorado Sun reported, "Pendley is a longtime industry attorney and property rights advocate from Wyoming. Prior to joining the Trump administration, he had called for the government to sell its public lands."