August 12, 2017
So that was a weird and viscerally frightening week. If you’re reading this, we are still alive, despite President Trump’s best efforts to get us killed by taunting North Korea with the threat of nuclear war. Two impulsive manchildren with nukes posturing for each other. What could go wrong?
In perfectly Trumpian fashion, it took him a few days to finally get around to calling the governor of Guam (do we even think he knew that Guam was a United States territory prior to this?) about North Korea’s threat to attack that country. What did they chat about? Trump told Governor Eddie Baza Calvo that Calvo is becoming very famous and that North Korea’s sabre-rattling would be great for Guam’s tourism industry. Also for good measure, Trump threatened Venezuela with military action too. Have we reached peak Trump? Probably not, to be honest.
Trump also spent the week retweeting various Fox shows showering unwarranted praise of him again and again, because his ego is pathetically bottomless. In some even more pathetic moves, he bragged about his support “surging” to 45% (ignoring the fact that his approval rating is the lowest ever) and retweeted one of those completely unscientific Twitter polls that said he was a better president than Obama.
While we were all busy ratcheting ourselves back into Cold War-levels of the fear of nuclear holocaust, a lot of other abominable things were going on, so let’s get to it.
Trump has got to be pretty happy that his grifting is bearing fruit. In the past few months, his Washington D.C. hotel has made almost $2 million in profit, thanks to ratcheting up the nightly rate to over $600, but knowing that foreign dignitaries will still stay there in the hopes that it pleases Trump. Not a bad deal for a place that was actually projected to lose $2.1 million in the first quarter.
The Department of Health and Human Services is entirely cutting key teen pregnancy prevention programs across the country, telling them that their grants that should have run through 2020 now get cut off in 2018. There’s no explanation as to why this is happening, but a good guess is that not enough of them taught (completely ineffective) abstinence-only education. Sure, teen births have hit a historic low, so you should definitely cut funding to the groups that make that possible.
In the environmental arena, it seems like everything gets dramatically worse nearly every week. Over at the USDA, employees have been told they can’t use the term “climate change” and need to replace it with the phrase “weather extremes.” EPA head Scott Pruitt is dismantling that organization entirely in secret. He’s demanded major changes to water quality regulations be conducted without keeping a record of what has been changed and memory-holed nearly 2,000 EPA webpages that talk about things like climate change. Weirdest of all, he’s marching around the EPA offices accompanied by armed guards and refusing to make phone calls from his own office. Totally normal behavior for a cabinet secretary.
Because everything is happening in secret these days, someone had to leak a draft version of a major climate change report to the New York Times. Scientists at 13 agencies said that we are already feeling these effects of climate change and it is the fault of humans. Why’d they leak it? Because they’re afraid the Trump administration will bury it.
The administration is also working hard to tank another Obama-era rule that would have allowed nursing home residents and their families to sue when residents suffer from abuse, sexual assault, or neglect. Instead, people can be forced into arbitration contacts, which are much more favorable to the nursing homes. Is there any industry this administration won't favor over people? Probably not.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is busy completely dismantling that department. It isn't entirely clear whether this is by design or incompetence. Maybe both? He’s busy micromanaging, hiring consulting companies and developing reorganization plans, but he hasn’t gotten around to actually nominating and hiring key diplomatic personnel. Oh, and he’s proposed a 31% cut to the department’s budget, which makes total sense right now because there’s really nothing happening internationally to worry about.
Blackwater founder Erik Prince, Betsy DeVos’s brother and all-around nightmare of a person, is suggesting we solve the Afghanistan quagmire by outsourcing it to private contractors. His model for this genius idea is functionally a bad Chuck Norris movie crossed with the terrible colonization moves of the British empire in India. Trump advisers are going to eat this up.
Trump’s FCC, which was always going to be business-friendly as all get out, gave a major assist to Sinclair Broadcasting, the country’s largest TV broadcaster. They already owned 170 stations and, thanks to some complicated regulation shenanigans by the FCC, they were just allowed to buy 42 more, even though they had reached the cap of how much nationwide coverage they could have. Why the special friendliness to Sinclair? Probably because they cut a deal with Jared Kushner during the election to trade access for friendly coverage of Trump and because they can force local broadcasters to run pro-Trump segments.
This week, former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort had his residence searched as part of the Russia probe. Trump’s reaction? To whine that it was “pretty rough stuff” to surprise Manafort and his sleeping family with the search. Yes, Mr. “please rough people up more during arrests” is suddenly calling for police restraint.
Finally, actual factual Nazis marched in Charlottesville Virginia last night, complete with torches (albeit tiki torches like you find at Home Depot) in case you're wondering if things could get worse.
The way things have been going, they’ll probably get even worse next week, so check back then.