Tag Archives: Trump cabinet

The Best Worst

Note: This is tomorrow’s blog. Accidentally posted early.

When I was growing up, there was a widespread assumption that you could judge people by the friends they chose. Did Johnny run around with a bad crowd? Was Susie attracted to “bad boys”? In political life, we had a similar shorthand: did the Mayor or Governor or President surround himself (back then, it was always a him) with quality people? Knowledgable, ethical people? If not, it was a bad sign.

Which brings me to Gail Collins’ recent contest. Collins asked her readers to vote for Trump’s worst cabinet member. As you might guess, the competition was fierce. She began with a warning:

No fair just yelling “Wilbur Ross!” Our secretary of commerce appeared to be trying to sweep the field last week when he expressed bafflement that federal workers were going to food banks during the government shutdown rather than taking out loans.

Collins described several other contenders: Kirstjen Nielsen generated false evidence to justify the president’s ugly immigration policies, oversees the execution of those policies, and consistently lies about them. She’s a strong contestant.

And she’s been pretty effective in carrying out her plans, which is important when you’re part of a crew where ineptitude often cancels out bad intentions.

For instance, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos would certainly like to privatize the nation’s public schools, but she barely seems organized enough to get dressed in the morning. Still, Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, believes DeVos should get Worst points for having “basically spent her time in that office working for everyone but the kids.”

If I were voting, DeVos would definitely be a finalist.

Although Collins listed Rick Perry, Mr. “Oops” has managed to look positively benign next to most of the other cabinet members.

Some cabinet-watchers are discovering, to their shock, that they miss Scott Pruitt, who won last year’s competitionas the anti-environment head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt was famous for his public relations disasters. Remember security agentswho were sent to pick up his dry cleaning and drove him from one place to the next in a search for a special moisturizer?

Now we’ve got E.P.A. Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler, a former coal industry lobbyist who’s way better at the job. Presuming you believe the job is screwing up the air and water.

Collins points out that a quarter of the cabinet are “acting”– she terms them “high-end governmental equivalent of temps.” It’s quite a list; it  includes the E.P.A., and the Departments of Defense, Justice and Interior.

People who care about land conservation were unnerved when the inept Ryan Zinke was replaced by Acting Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, a former oil industry lobbyist. Can you imagine Bernhardt and Wheeler plotting together?

I don’t know where those “people who care about land conservation”–or clean air and water–are, but it’s pretty obvious none of them are serving in this Administration.

Collins acknowledges the challenge in picking a Worst Cabinet Member–as she says, there is so much competition.

Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, ticked off Pompeo, DeVos, Nielsen, Steve Mnuchin (“Certainly the slimiest Treasury secretary ever”) and Housing Secretary Ben Carson.

Let’s face it. The most apparent qualification for a cabinet position in this administration is a belief that the agency you are heading is illegitimate.

Pruitt and Wheeler both prioritize fossil fuel interests over pesky concerns about clean air or water; DeVos (recommended by Mike Pence–need I say more?) has an animus toward public education–both she and Pence want schools to “bring children to Jesus”–and her background included pretty much destroying Michigan’s public schools. Maybe Ben Carson was a good surgeon, but he has often expressed bias against “handouts” like affordable housing, also known as the mission of his agency.

It’s really hard to choose a “worst” from this assortment of incompetents and crooks, otherwise known as Trump’s “best people.”

My favorite description of this pathetic assemblage was posted by a Facebook friend, who said “I’ve seen better cabinets at IKEA.”

Trump’s Confederacy Of Dunces

It’s something new–and depressing–every day.

Just last week, Trump fired both Andrew McCabe and Secretary of State Tillerson in the most humiliating manner possible; one of his close aides was escorted out of the White House without even being given time to gather his belongings (he was under investigation for “financial crimes” of an unspecified nature); and multiple rumors surfaced about the imminent replacement of National Security Advisor McMasters with crazy-as-a-loon chickenhawk John Bolton.

Now, we learn that an advisor to Ben Carson–he of the $31,000 dining room set and the repeated admonitions to America’s poor about “personal responsibility”–has quit among questions of fraud and the inflation of his biography.

He said he was a multimillionaire – an international property developer with a plan to fix America’s cities through radical privatization. He felt that Donald Trump’s administration was where he was meant to work.

“It was a natural fit,” Naved Jafry said in an interview. Citing connections across the military, business and academia, he said: “I bring, and draw on, experiences from different areas of knowledge, like a polymath.”

Jafry was contracted to work for Trump’s housing and urban development department (Hud). His government email signature said his title was senior adviser. Jafry said he used his role to advocate for “microcities”, where managers privately set their own laws and taxes away from central government control.

Among other things, Jafry had claimed control over a multimillion-dollar trust fund; a claim inconsistent with court records showing that he struggled to pay rent and bills.

Wasn’t a major part of Trump’s “attraction” that he was rich? Trump voters drew two (unwarranted) conclusions from that wealth– that rich people must be smart and that they would be less incentivized to (mis)use tax dollars for personal gratification. Those same claims were made about the cabinet of wealthy white guys he’s assembled.

Um…not so much….

It turns out that HUD had agreed to spend $165,000 on “lounge furniture” in addition to the $31,000 dining set that–it also turns out–had been personally selected by Carson and his wife for his office. The news followed an administration proposal to cut $6.8 billion, or 14%, of HUD’s annual budget.

Then there’s treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin, a former Wall Street executive purportedly worth as much as $35 million, who managed to run up bills in excess of $800,000 in his first six months in office for travel on military jets, (and whose wife made news by bragging about her pricey designer clothes on social media).

Scott Pruitt may not believe in science (or, apparently, the importance of clean air and water), but he evidently believes in using tax dollars to avoid those pesky citizen types who do. The environment secretary has said he has to travel first-class because of threats from members of the public who object to his climate-change-denying, regulation-slashing approach to government.

He also spent as much as $43,000 on a soundproof “privacy booth” inside his office to prevent eavesdropping on his phone calls and $9,000 for biometric locks and to have his office swept for listening devices. Earlier this month it was reported that he used $6,500 in public money to hire a private media firm with strong Republican ties to help produce a report promoting his accomplishments.

The Secretary of Veterans Affairs, David Shulkin, was the subject of a blistering report detailing ethical violations in a trip to Denmark and Britain that mixed business with pleasure, including a trip to Wimbledon and a cruise down the Thames.

When Interior secretary Ryan Zinke wanted to go horseback riding with Mike Pence, he took a government-funded helicopter – one of three such journeys in 2017 that cost a total of $53,000 of public money. In addition, Zinke, who favors oil, gas, coal and uranium mining on public lands out west, has been rebuked by the department watchdog for failing to keep proper records of his travel expenses and to disclose who paid for his wife to accompany him on work trips.

Health and human services secretary Tom Price was forced to resign last September after it was revealed that he used at least $400,000 and probably more than $1m in taxpayer funds on private and military flights for himself and his staff.

This Administration has clearly demonstrated that wealth doesn’t guarantee competence. As these examples show, neither does it promote ethical behavior.

But it sure seems to translate into a sense of entitlement.

 

What Bible Are They Studying?

In the wake of Trump’s response to the Charlottesville riots–and especially as we look to see and judge the reactions of White House staff and Congressional Republicans–a news item published a couple of weeks ago in The Hill takes on a particularly ironic flavor.

Many of President Trump’s Cabinet members gather at a weekly session to study the Bible, the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) reported Monday.

Ralph Drollinger, the founder of Capitol Ministries, says he leads a weekly Bible study with Cabinet members such as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

“It’s the best Bible study that I’ve ever taught in my life. They are so teachable. They’re so noble. They’re so learned,” Drollinger told CBN.

Vice President Pence, who is a sponsor of the faith sessions, reportedly joins the group when his schedule allows.

The snark just writes itself–especially when you consider that although Trump’s embrace of the “good people” carrying torches and chanting anti-black and anti-Jewish slogans prompted CEO’s to resign en masse from his two business advisory councils– it has yet to prompt even one departure from his Evangelical Advisory Board.

I am not a Christian (and I don’t play one on TV), so I don’t pretend to be conversant with the varying theologies that distinguish Christian denominations. But I have deeply religious Christian friends, and they assure me that Christ did not preach a doctrine of racial and religious hatred.

Evidently, the Evangelical Advisory Board and the leader of the cabinet’s Bible Study are more tolerant of intolerance than my Christian friends.

According to media reports, Pastor Ralph Drollinger, the 7-foot-1 former UCLA basketball star who leads these sessions, has his own take on a number of biblical admonitions. He once lectured a group of Sacramento lawmakers that female politicians with young children have no business serving in the Legislature. He called those who do so sinners. (Interestingly, he subsequently defended fathers whose careers take them out of the home for extended periods, although he did say they should be “extra sensitive” to such absences–whatever the hell that means.)

This is a “discipleship” that supports snatching health insurance from millions of Americans; that believes God wants them to deprive poor women access to the lifesaving pap smears and breast exams provided by Planned Parenthood; that wants to give wealthy taxpayers “relief” while viciously slashing already inadequate safety-net programs for the poor. It’s a “discipleship” that ignores biblical admonitions about stewardship of the environment. A “discipleship” that apparently has no problem supporting a President who equates good people and Nazis. I could go on. And on.

Isn’t there something in the bible about knowing people “by their works”?

Let me just modify that famous Gandhi quote: I like my friends’ Christ. I do not like these self-proclaimed “Christians.” They are so unlike my friends’ Christ.

 

 

What Do THEY Know??

The Trump Administration’s war on expertise continues to expand.

Jeff Sessions (memorably identified by a Facebook friend as one of those Confederate monuments that should be removed) ignores 40+ years of criminal justice research and intensifies the drug war.  Betsy DeVos gives a feminine finger to the mountains of data rebutting her insistence that vouchers improve educational outcomes. Scott Pruitt spits on the 98% of climate scientists who agree that climate change is (a) real; (b) accelerating and (c) caused by human activity, especially fossil fuel use.

There is a reason that terms like “Know Nothings,” “Keystone Kops,” and “Gang that Can’t Shoot Straight” are being retrieved from past usage and applied to this sorry band of incompetents and theocrats.

When it comes to economic policy, Trump’s alternate reality isn’t limited to his belief that he invented the term “priming the pump.” As a column from the Washington Post recently reported,

President Trump’s administration says his tax cut will pay for itself. It turns out it’s really hard to find an economist who agrees.

The University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business regularly polls economists on controversial questions. In a survey the school published last week on Trump’s tax plans, only two out of the 37 economists that responded said that the cuts would stimulate the economy enough to cancel out the effect on total tax revenue.

Those two economists now both say they made a mistake, and that they misunderstood the question.

So there is not a single economist in the Chicago poll who agrees with the President that his proposed tax cuts would pay for themselves.

Not that the opinion of 39 out of 39 experts has a chance in hell of influencing a Commander-in-Chief whose residence in a very bizarre alternate universe becomes more apparent every day.

In Trump World–a world shared to varying degrees by the members of his spectacularly ignorant and incompetent cabinet–Trump knows more than those elitists who actually studied their subject matter. Sissies read books and conduct empirical research; superior beings (i.e. rich guys) surround themselves with lackeys and listen to their guts.

What did Stephen Colbert call it? Oh yes–Truthiness.

To use a term dear to the heart of our linguistically-challenged President, SAD.