"You've heard about 'Draining the Swamp'," Donald Trump's Acting Chief of Staff and Office of Management and Budget Director told a bunch of GOPers at a fundraiser recently in South Carolina. "What you haven't heard is what we're actually doing." He's right. We try to do something about that on today's BradCast. Again. [Audio link to show is posted at end of summary.]
Lack of funding and a hiring freeze by the Trump Administration has resulted in a shortage of correctional officers at facilities like the federal lockup in Manhattan where accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein was found dead on Saturday morning. The billionaire financier and friend of Trump was supposed to have been monitored every 30 minutes by correctional officers after being removed, for some reason, from the prison's "suicide watch" list just 6 days after he reportedly tried to kill himself. But media reports say that Epstein was not monitored for hours before being found dead. Both of the officers tasked with the job were working overtime and one was merely a substitute, reportedly, not fully trained for it. Trump's Attorney General Bill Barr has temporarily suspended both of them and reassigned the warden at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, as he claims to be seeking accountability for the failure at the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) facility overseen by the Attorney General.
The lack of federal funding at BOP is not an accident, of course. It's just one small part of this Administration's ongoing efforts to, as Mulvaney admitted, "streamline government" by making it simply disappear any way they possibly can. As Trump's Director of the OMB, Mulvaney attempted to cut funding in half for several key scientific and economic departments at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. When Congress rejected those cuts, the Administration implemented Plan B, which is what Mulvaney was bragging about to the Republican donors in South Carolina. The USDA gave just over 30 days for career officials at two important and long-established USDA agencies, the Economic Research Service (ERS) and National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), to decide if they wished to uproot their lives and those of their family's to move to Kansas City (either Missouri or Kansas, USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue has not told anyone which state it will be) or be fired.
Matt Shuham at Talking Points Memo has been covering the ongoing crises at the two agencies in a series of stories, documenting how senior officials, with decades of institutional knowledge are being lost in the bargain, as more than half of those longtime federal workers have chosen against moving 1,000 miles across the country before the end of September.
"It's nearly impossible to fire a federal worker," Mulvaney complained while explaining the Administration's scheme for forcing longtime federal employees to either move to "the real part of the country" or quit. "They quit," Mulvaney boasted to the delight of the corporate GOP funders. "What a wonderful way to sort of streamline government and do what we haven't been able to do for a long time." One of Shuham's latest reports details the gut-wrenching decision of a 30-year veteran branch chief at the ERS, who says that staffers working on everything from researching genetically engineered seeds to soil conservation to climate change are almost all entirely gone from the agency now, along with hundreds of years of collective knowledge and institutional experience. Ironically enough, when Purdue issued the letter to employees notifying them of the move, he claimed it was being done, among other reasons, to "improve USDA's ability to attract and retain highly qualified staff."
The gutting of the USDA is a "test case", one economist at ERS said. "If they can carry this out, what’s to stop them from doing this on a larger scale to another agency?" The answer: Nothing. They are already doing something identical to the Bureau of Land Management at the Dept. of Interior. And there will be more to come if these moves aren't somehow blocked. Donald Trump is actively and purposely killing your government and both he and corporate industry interests couldn't be more delighted about it. This will only be stopped --- maybe --- if he is turned out of office no later than next year.
To that end, we catch up on a couple of (mostly) good news elections-related stories today as well. In Montana, a federal judge has overturned a new rule by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin that would have allowed "dark money" non-profit 501(c)4 groups to keep their donors a secret from the IRS. Such groups are already exempt from disclosing their funding sources publicly, but Mnuchin didn't want even the Government to know where their money used for elections is coming from either. A lawsuit by Montana Governor and 2020 Democratic Presidential hopeful Steve Bullock has successfully blocked that new rule --- for now. It would have made it almost impossible for the Government to determine if foreign sources were unlawfully funding elections work by such groups.
And down in Texas, the Texas Civil Rights Project and other plaintiffs are suing the state on behalf of voters to force election officials to notify voters when absentee vote-by-mail ballots are rejected by county election officials in time to correct any perceived signature mismatches. Such decisions are largely ad hoc from county to county --- elections officials are not hand-writing experts after all --- as there are no statewide standards for making the determination that the signature on the vote-by-mail ballot does not match that of the registered voter. Thousands of ballots in the Lone Star state have been tossed without the knowledge of voters who, under state law, do not need to be notified about signature mismatches that will keep their ballots from being counted, until 10 days after the election. With Texas potentially in play for Democrats next year, every vote may very well matter. So this lawsuit, like similar ones successfully filed in other states in recent years, is very important on several levels.
Finally, Desi Doyen joins us for our latest Green News Report, in which another new rule imposed by the Trump Administration's Dept. of Interior is set to gut federal protections for thousands of endangered species; his EPA has cleared the way for an enormous, controversial mine project in Alaska which threatens key, pristine salmon fisheries in the region; and with details on the one energy project that the Administration is suddenly interested in slow-walking for some reason...
(Snail mail support to "Brad Friedman, 7095 Hollywood Blvd., #594 Los Angeles, CA 90028" always welcome too!)