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He-who-must-not-be-named has damaged America in many ways– this will have to be repaired at great cost

2020-08-02

A few of the government agencies that have been subverted by the present administration: ICE, CBP, DOJ, CFPB, USPS, HSA, DOE (Education). There are many less prominent agencies whose career employees have been intimidated by the White House. Every agency which has had a political appointee installed is certain to have been co-opted and subverted. In most cases, people were specifically appointed because they opposed the very reason the agency existed in the first place. For example:

Environmental Protection Agency

The first head appointed in February 2017 was Scott Pruitt, who had spent his career litigating against environmental regulations and was the Attorney General of Oklahoma at the time. At the same time, the president proposed a 30% cut in the agency’s budget. Mr. Pruitt resigned in July 2018 under multiple ethics investigations.

First, though, he hired a disgraced former banker to run the Superfund program. As Wikipedia put it,

Pruitt hired former Oklahoma banker Albert Kelly to head the  Superfund  program, which is responsible for cleaning up the nation’s most contaminated land.[27][28][29] Kelly completely lacked any experience with environmental issues, and had just received a lifetime ban from working in banking, his career until then, due to “unfitness to serve”.[27]

The second head, starting in July 2018, was Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, who claimed that the EPA was “brainwashing our kids.”

Francesca Grifo, the top scientific integrity official, was refused permission to testify before the House in July 2019. The hearing was to be about the importance of allowing scientists employed by the government to speak freely about their work and proposed legislation to ensure just that.

The current administration has attempted to roll back environmental regulations and has succeeded in a large number of cases– 64 so far and 34 more coming, according to Wikipedia. Vehicle emissions standards have been reduced, resulting in increased emissions.

Federal land has been opened up to drilling and mining. There has been the list of derogations is long and pitiful. The Clean Water Rule was repealed in 2019. Too many rollbacks to count have already been accomplished.

The end result is an estimated increase in deaths of 8,000 a year and an increase in respiratory problems for a million people. The list is in Wikipedia and covers National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Department of Energy, the Department of the Interior, Council on Environmental Quality, and the Department of Agriculture.

Department of Education

Since the very beginning of the present administration, Betsy DeVos has headed the DOE. This woman had no training in the field of education, nor any practical experience as an educator or administrator. What she did have was: ambitions to impose her point of view on others, evangelical Christianity, deep pockets used to support Republican candidates for office, and a devotion to charter schools or religiously based home schooling at the expense of public schools.

As head of DOE, Ms. DeVos has seriously damaged the drive to control for-profit schools. These scam schools have sucked money from desperate students that left them with worthless training and no job prospects. She has prevented people from getting relief when they owe money on loans that they used for tuition to these schools– money they can’t repay because they didn’t get the better jobs they were promised by the schools.

Ms. DeVos has done many other things to damage the institutions of learning, both public and private, in this country. Unfortunately, this is beyond the scope of this blog post. We need to describe all the ways this administration has damaged our country without getting bogged down in details.

Department of Justice

The first appointee to head the DOJ was Jeff Sessions. He was put in place because he was the first Senator to publicly support the president’s campaign. The arrangement fell apart when Mr. Sessions decided to follow the law and recuse himself from the Russia investigation. Mr. Sessions did tremendous damage even though he had lost the president’s favor already. The most obvious example was his decision to end all “pattern and practice” investigations of local police departments and to stop enforcing the agreements that had already been made as a result of previous investigations.

The second appointee was William Barr. He has destroyed what reputation the DOJ had left by trying to end the prosecution of the admitted liar and Turkish/Russian asset General Michael Flynn just when he was about to be sentenced. He also interfered in the prosecution of Roger Stone, the political trickster who has a tattoo of Richard Nixon on his back. Mr. Stone received a lighter sentence; at the last minute, the president commuted his sentence before he could report to prison.

Mr. Barr tried to take away the First Amendment rights of Michael Cohen. Mr. Cohen had been released from prison to home confinement, but in a bizarre twist, he was almost forced to sign a paper relinquishing his rights to publish or to be interviewed– a restriction never before imposed on a probationer. A judge had him released, calling the restriction “retaliatory.”

Mr. Cohen is writing a book about the president’s use of racist and anti-Semitic language in private (among other evil deeds perpetrated by the con-man-in-chief.) This was after Mr. Cohen turned on the president; before the turn, Mr. Barr tried to interfere with Mr. Cohen’s case in the other direction, and according to The New York Times,

Mr. Barr instructed Justice Department officials in Washington to draft a memo outlining legal arguments that could have raised questions about Mr. Cohen’s conviction and undercut similar prosecutions in the future…

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/25/nyregion/geoffrey-berman-william-barr-michael-cohen.html

Mr. Barr also had the US Attorney General for Manhattan Geoffrey Berman removed, while Mr. Berman was investigating the president (“Individual 1”) and his current lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. Mr. Barr tried to have a manifestly unqualified lawyer installed in Mr. Berman’s place. This man, Jay Clayton, had asked the president for the job while the two were playing golf.

Early on in his tenure, Mr. Barr interfered with other cases in an effort to crack down on the State of California for its tougher auto emissions standards. He also pushed an antitrust investigation of figures in the marijuana industry. As The New York Times had it in another article about Mr. Barr’s politicization of a supposedly non-partisan government department,

John W. Elias, a senior career official in the antitrust division, charged that his supervisors improperly used their powers to investigate the marijuana industry and a deal between California and four major automakers at the behest of Mr. Barr. He likened their efforts to burdensome harassment meant to punish companies for decisions the attorney general and the president opposed.

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/24/us/politics/justice-department-politicization.html

Immigration and Customs Enforcement

The ways in which ICE has been politicized, undermined, and deformed under the current administration are so numerous that they would take another blog post and more time than I currently have available.

I will leave it at this: the current president has tried to put a stop to all immigration, especially from countries that are populated by non-whites and non-Christians. He has attempted to stop all refugees from even being processed and locked up asylum-seekers indefinitely, some of them in literal cages.

Some people who worked for ICE were already bigoted and violent, and he encouraged their worst tendencies. He called up the active military to the border with Mexico; since they are prohibited by law from participating in direct anti-refugee action, they were relegated to building border fences.

He claimed that refugees coming from Mexico were “rapists” (among other things.) He has tried to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), and in part succeeded despite being told not to by the Supreme Court. He said of the children in DACA, “some are very tough, hardened criminals” (even though one requirement to enter DACA is not to have any criminal record.)

His prejudices were most clearly revealed when he offered to accept more immigrants from Norway (which sent just over 500 of its residents to the US in 2016.) This contrasts to his description of Haiti and several African nations as “shithole countries.”

Central Intelligence Agency

The president installed Mike Pompeo as director of the CIA immediately after his inauguration, replacing John Brennan. Mr. Pompeo was a member of the House from Kansas and a “Tea Party” Republican. Mr. Pompeo has supported the president without quibble, even repeating lies that have been elsewhere debunked.

Mr. Brennan, however, called the president’s behavior “treasonous” after he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and publicly accepted his denial that the Russians had intervened in the 2016 election to support the current president.

Articles in The Hill and in the Washington Post on July 29 state that Mr. Brennan has been writing a memoir and that it is due out this October. The president “accused him [Mr. Brennan] of being a key figure in the “deep state” conspiracy to undermine his campaign and discredit his election.” Mr. Brennan was prevented from accessing his CIA files for the memoir because of his “erratic behavior and the President’s belief that access to classified information should be solely for the benefit of the government and the American people.” This according to White House spokesman Judd Deere.

Former CIA Director John Brennan will release a memoir titled “Undaunted: My Fight Against American’s Enemies, at Home and Abroad” in October, Macmillan Publishers announced Tuesday. 

Mark Zaid, an attorney who has represented government whistleblowers and former intelligence agency employees who have gone on to write memoirs, told the Post that the blocking of the records was “unprecedented, as far as I know. This is demonstrative, once again, of a vindictive, political president whose actions have nothing to do with actual national security decisions…”

https://thehill.com/homenews/news/509524-brennan-memoir-slated-for-october-release-says-trump-blocked-him-from-accessing

The president claimed that he was revoking Mr. Brennan’s security clearance, but apparently it is still intact. This is an example of the president’s erratic behavior and sometimes empty threats.

Mr. Pompeo moved from the CIA to the State Department in April 2018 and was replaced by Gina Haspel. Unlike Pompeo, who had been a Congressman, Gina Haspel had been a CIA officer since 1985. We will get back to Mr. Pompeo later.

Ms. Haspel was involved in torture and ran a CIA “black site” where prisoners were tortured. She also had a hand in the destruction of videotapes that documented torture. In order to get the support of some senators, she wrote a letter saying that, in hindsight, the CIA’s detention and interrogation (torture) program was mistaken. (Wikipedia: “Gina Haspel”)

Senator John McCain, a Republican who was on the president’s wrong side, tried to block her confirmation but by then he was in the hospital with brain cancer. He had been tortured while a prisoner in North Vietnam and due to that, had bilateral frozen shoulders (he couldn’t lift his hands above shoulder level.) (Wikipedia: “Gina Haspel” and “John McCain”)

The president publicly denigrated the CIA on numerous occasions, but not in the last two years. Apparently, he is satisfied with the agency as it is run now. Ms. Haspel has quietly added a number of women to the agency, so that could be considered a positive for feminism (however, see Dr. Deborah Birx…)

State Department

The first head of the Department of State was Rex Tillerson, a former high-level oil executive (CEO of ExxonMobil, starting as a civil engineer for Exxon in 1975) who had spent years in Russia working for an oil company (he had been made president of a Russian subsidiary of ExxonMobil called Exxon Neftegas Limited in 1998.) He had been a Boy Scout and an Eagle Scout.

Mr. Tillerson had no professional diplomatic experience, but had a reputation as one who can deal with bureaucracies like his large oil company. He is worth at least $300 million, and contributed heavily to Republican campaigns (although not that of the current president.) He divested completely from his oil holdings when he became Secretary of State in early 2017 and received the full approval of  Walter Shaub, the director of the United States Office of Government Ethics,

Mr. Tillerson was confirmed in his position by a very close party-line vote of 56-43 in the Senate, an unusual occurrence given that no previous nominee for Secretary of State had been opposed by more than fourteen Senators. During his confirmation hearings, he was grilled about his contacts in Russia and his company’s funding of climate change denial. His answers to questions about both topics were unsatisfactory.

As a Secretary, he gained a reputation for being nearly invisible. He apparently did not have the confidence of his diplomats. More than half of them resigned; applications to join State dropped by half as well. He also deliberately hollowed out parts of the department, such as the division that tracked war crimes, and pushed for more staff cuts. He backed the president’s proposal to cut State’s budget by 30%.

Mr. Tillerson was unable to influence US policy; he was shut out by the president’s closest advisors, Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon. Mr. Tillerson tried to tell the president a few things, but was rebuffed and word leaked after one meeting that after he left, he had described the president as “a fucking moron.”

There is so much more, but we have to move on. To sum things up, Mr. Tillerson was assessed by some experts as the worst Secretary of State ever. For more, read this article in Vox from March 13, 2018: “Rex Tillerson has been fired. Experts say he did damage that could last ‘a generation.’ “

Mr. Pompeo took over from Mr. Tillerson in April 2018. By then, State was a shell of its former self. Matters just went downhill from there– and then, the president called the President of Ukraine and asked him for a “favor.”

This article in The Atlantic from March 12, 2020 by William J. Burns, who retired from the Foreign Service in 2014 after 33 years as a diplomat, is a good place to start. It’s titled, “The Damage at the State Department Is Worse Than You Can Imagine. But it’s also more reparable.”

Centers for Disease Control

Unlike other government departments, until recently, the CDC retained a lot of independence. Things started to get dicey when the CDC was tasked with developing a diagnostic test kit for the novel coronavirus.

The CDC could simply have copied the World Health Organization (WHO) test or used a German test which was available in January 2020, but they developed their own (which they were fully qualified to do.) Unfortunately, in scaling up the test to make kits for all the state and local labs that would need them, they introduced a contaminant. The tests that were shipped February 6 were unusable, and the defect was not corrected for three weeks. By the time the tests were available on a wide scale, the virus had already spread everywhere.

The scientific experts who were brought in to advise the president were all career public servants, but the ones that got his ear shared certain characteristics. First, they were known to be evangelical Christians. Second, they made no rash statements that might spook the stock market. Third, they never, ever criticized the president.

This became difficult when the president made statements that were false, misleading, or likely to prevent people from understanding what they were up against. Things like, “It’s going to disappear soon.”

This describes, not Dr. Anthony Fauci, but Dr. Deborah Birx, who was caught early in the pandemic parroting the president’s remarks about how the whole thing would soon blow over.

Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the US Agency for Global Media

What used to be the Broadcasting Board of Governors was changed to the US Agency for Global Media. This agency controls the media which broadcast to countries around the world that don’t have their own free media (at least that’s what they say.)

In reality, the agency is controlled by arch-conservatives. They broadcast propaganda to Cuba, Iran, China, the Middle East, and other countries. Their influence is not felt in the United States but their listeners in other countries variously regard them as aspirational to an “American Way of LIfe” or just ordinary propaganda.

The USAGM is an arm of government that exists independently of any public influence. Its activities are unknown to US audiences and there is little information about them.

The Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 requires the CPB to operate with a “strict adherence to objectivity and balance in all programs or series of programs of a controversial nature”. It also requires it to regularly review national programming for objectivity and balance, and to report on “its efforts to address concerns about objectivity and balance”.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corporation_for_Public_Broadcasting

The Voice of America was accused of parroting Chinese propaganda when it showed a piece for Chinese New Year that was too positive. It is part of the propaganda put out by sources who wish to eliminate it from the federal budget.

The president has repeatedly attempted to eliminate funding for public broadcasting from the federal budget. Currently about 15%, or about $450 million each year, of PBS’ budget is paid by the federal government; the rest comes from people’s subscriptions or donations.

US Postal Service

The new Postmaster General has instituted a “cost-saving” program that eliminates overtime, prevents any new hiring, and has already resulted in two-day delays in mail delivery. Mail carriers and other postal workers are anxious and demoralized.

The Postal Service has been under pressure for years. As a government agency, it operates under certain rules. But there are some unique rules that have been imposed by Congress over the years that make it difficult.

For example, USPS is supposed to support itself with user fees, that is postage. A postage stamp represents the payment of these fees. Congress has imposed limitations on how much USPS can charge for first class stamps, including limiting increases to inflation. At the same time, they have imposed rules on such things as the retirement fund, which is required to pay into itself at an unusually accelerated rate which causes an additional burden on the budget.

At the onset of the pandemic, USPS projected that it would run out of money sometime this year. Since it could not operate at a loss, it asked for a subsidy from Congress or the administration. The White House offered a loan under onerous terms– including a demand that the price of packages be quadrupled.

Fortunately for USPS, the volume of packages dramatically increased during the spring– so much so that the date they would run out of money was postponed by months into next year. The loan offer was declined.

Then the White House changed the way USPS was controlled and imposed a new Postmaster General. In July, the “cost-saving” measures were imposed and mail began to back up. Now a crisis is building within USPS.

This may affect the course of the presidential election because a large proportion of absentee ballots are sent by mail and if there are delays in delivering mail, ballots may not reach the ballot boxes in time to be counted. A huge proportion of voting may be done by mail this year.

This crisis was created by moves made to interfere with the functioning of the USPS, deliberate attempts to cut off what was previously a reliable method of communication.

— so far this post is over 3000 words, with no end in sight. It will be continued tomorrow, Heaven willing.

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