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June 11, 2019

The U.S. Treasury hasn't had many policy disagreements lately. That's not necessarily a good thing.

It's no secret that President Trump's top officials at the Treasury Department are largely white, male, and wealthy. That lack of diversity recently sprouted to the surface as delays stymie a proposal to put Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill. But as current and former officials tell Politico, that's just a public manifestation of a much deeper problem.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin regularly conducts meetings with about 20 senior officials, of whom just three are woman and one is a person of color. The Treasury's hiring of minorities also "fell to its lowest pace in five years" in 2018, Politico notes via department statistics. This homogeneity has manifested into "fewer policy disagreements" than in the past, one former official tells Politico. But that's just because, as a current official puts it, the department's overwhelming privilege just feels "disconnected from reality." Another former official was more blunt: When people lacking in diverse "gender, race, ethnicity and financial perspective" make policy, it's "f---ing frightening," they told Politico.

A delay in what was supposed to be the 2020 introduction of a Tubman $20 bill sparked mentions of the department's lack of diversity and even accusations of racism. But "more than a dozen current and former Trump administration and Treasury officials ticked off examples that openly highlighted the lack of diversity" far beyond the Tubman example, Politico says.

A Treasury spokesperson defended the current administration's hiring practices, saying the Treasury's entire workforce is 44 percent women under Trump and was 48 percent women under former President Barack Obama. Read more at Politico. Kathryn Krawczyk

January 24, 2019

Two Senate bills to end the longest government shutdown in history failed Thursday, as expected. The competing bills needed 60 votes to pass — an impossible task with senators largely voting along party lines.

President Trump's plan to reopen the government with $5.7 billion in border wall funding was on the table first, offering up some protections for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients but limiting asylum protections. It was resoundingly voted down, with 50 votes for and 47 votes against. All Democrats voted against it save for Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), a centrist who indicated earlier in the day he'd side with Trump. Two Republicans, Sens. Tom Cotton (Ark.) and Mike Lee (Utah), voted "no" to join the Democrats.

The Democratic bill, which provides just two weeks of government funding, also failed in the GOP-controlled Senate, with 52 voting for and 44 against. Six Republicans sided with Democrats, but it needed 13 GOP votes to pass. It was aimed at re-opening the government for just enough time to allow further border talks, and included no funding for the border wall. The Democratic-controlled House had already passed a nearly identical bill, but Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) added some disaster aid to this version.

Both bills, had they passed, would've headed to the House for another vote before arriving at the president's desk. Kathryn Krawczyk

December 5, 2018

Carbon dioxide emissions just keep getting worse.

Scientists projected that global emissions will reach another record high by the end of 2018, proving a flat period between 2014 and 2016 didn't indicate a stable future. Emissions spiked 1.6 percent in 2017 and are projected to rise 2.7 percent in 2018, squashing hopes that greenhouse gas-fighting policies in some countries were doing enough to curb worldwide carbon production, The Washington Post reports.

In 2018, a projected 37.1 billion tons of industrial emissions were released into the atmosphere, the Post reports via the Global Carbon Project. The U.S. was responsible for about 6 billion of those tons, making it the second largest single-country producer behind China's 10 billion. America's miserable total increased by 2.5 percent this year, and India's previously tiny total went up by a shocking 6.3 percent. In fact, the only major carbon producer to decrease its emissions was the E.U.

These findings dredge up warnings from the United Nations and thousands of researchers who've said there's no chance the planet can be saved from climate change's devastating effects if emissions aren't halved by 2030. But even warnings from President Trump's own administration haven't convinced him to take action against human-made climate change — or even to acknowledge it exists. Read more of the report's troubling findings at The Washington Post. Kathryn Krawczyk

January 26, 2018

President Trump's speech Friday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, had at least one fan: Nigel Farage.

The controversial leader of the U.K. Independence Party pushed heavily for the "Brexit" vote in 2016, spurring Britain's pending withdrawal from the European Union. He tweeted his approval of Trump's appearance — as well as a not-so-subtle criticism of British Prime Minister Theresa May, who opposed the Brexit movement — shortly after Trump wrapped up his speech.

During the 2016 election, Farage was effusive in his praise of Trump and even spoke at one of his campaign rallies. Shortly after his election, Trump suggested Farage become the U.K.'s ambassador to the United States, though the idea never came to fruition. Kelly O'Meara Morales

January 19, 2018

Forget surreptitious jaunts to Manhattan's Trump Tower — if you want to meet Donald Trump Jr., consider investing in Indian real estate.

The Guardian reported Friday that the first 100 buyers of luxury apartments in a new Trump building in Gurgaon, India, will be flown to the U.S. to hang out with President Trump's eldest son. The Guardian reports that the project's developers, Tribeca Developers and M3M, are not being subtle about their offer either, having adopted the phrase: "Buy a flat, meet Trump Jr."

The pitch has apparently worked, as the director for India-based M3M revealed in a statement last week that 20 apartments in the building had been sold — worth roughly $15 million in total. The Trump Towers in Gurgaon — which is about 20 miles south of Delhi — is the fifth Trump-branded property in India, The Guardian notes.

The Indian website for the project boasts that Trump-branded buildings have "become the most prestigious address that the most deserving people can get." But that's exactly the problem, former White House ethics chief Norm Eisen said. "Making Donald Jr. available to those who can afford it in a foreign land based on purchasing a property is an ethics atrocity," Eisen told The Guardian.

For those who can afford it, the apartments at the Trump Towers in Gurgaon are reported to cost between $500,000 and $1 million. Read more at The Guardian. Kelly O'Meara Morales

January 10, 2018

President Trump's lawyers apparently expect their client will be interviewed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, but it seems the president has different plans.

During a press conference Wednesday, Fox News' John Roberts asked Trump if he would agree to be interviewed as part of Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. In a nearly two-minute response, the president took the opportunity to call the investigation "a Democrat hoax," attacked his former presidential rival Hillary Clinton, and denied allegations of collusion between his campaign and the Russian government.

He ended with a shrug, despite Roberts' pressing: "We'll see what happens."

Last June, Trump said he would "100 percent" testify to Mueller if asked to. But on Wednesday, he insisted that because "virtually everybody" agrees that there was "no collusion" between his campaign and the Russian government, "it seems unlikely that you'd even have an interview."

Trump's lawyers now reportedly want Mueller to accept some form of written questioning rather than a face-to-face interaction with the president, but a former federal prosecutor told Vox that such an arrangement is unlikely: "Prosecutors are interested in a subject's responses to detailed lines of questioning without the opportunity to have lawyers carefully craft their client's answer," he said. Kelly O'Meara Morales

January 8, 2018

It appears the BBB is no fan of BBB.

The New York Daily News reported Monday that Big Baller Brand, the apparel company helmed by vocal sports father LaVar Ball, has been panned a whopping 32 times in scathing complaints to the Better Business Bureau, a nonprofit organization that lets consumers review businesses. The reviews paint an ugly picture for Big Baller Brand: Consumers variously claim that their shipments have been bungled, that the company refuses to refund erroneous orders, and that the telephone number listed on the brand's website does not actually work.

It gets worse: Big Baller Brand has completely ignored 12 complaints sent to the Better Business Bureau, and five have yet to see resolution. One consumer claims in his complaint, posted to the Better Business Bureau's website, that he was derided as a "small baller" for complaining about shipping delays. For their efforts — or lack thereof — Big Baller Brand received an "F" grade from the Better Business Bureau.

Blair Looney, the CEO of the division of the Better Business Bureau that oversees Big Baller Brand, said in a statement that his organization has contacted Big Baller Brand twice in the last two months "asking for their cooperation in addressing the pattern of complaints that we are seeing." But the company has ignored such outreach, Looney said.

This is not the first time Big Baller Brand has come under scrutiny. Prominent figures in the basketball world — like former Los Angeles Lakers star Shaquille O'Neal — have criticized the $495 price tag on the company's first signature shoe, the ZO2s, named for Ball's eldest son and current Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball.

Read more no-holds-barred reviews of Big Baller Brand at the Better Business Bureau. Kelly O'Meara Morales

December 5, 2017

U.S. immigration agents are going after minor offenders rather than the hardened criminals President Trump repeatedly warned about, a report released Tuesday by the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement reveals. Illegal crossings into the United States have dropped and immigration arrests are up under the Trump administration, but the report suggests nearly three-quarters of those apprehensions have been for minor transgressions.

Of the 143,470 immigration arrests made in fiscal year 2017, less than 25 percent of the people arrested had been convicted of or charged with violent crimes. Although the ICE report notes that 92 percent of the people arrested between Jan. 20 and Sept. 30, 2017, did have some criminal convictions or charges against them, the top four criminal charges against those arrested were described as DUIs, "dangerous drugs," immigration-related violations, or traffic offenses.

In January, Trump signed an executive order to crack down on illegal immigration and declared that "many aliens who illegally enter the United States … present a significant threat to national security and public safety." Acting ICE Director Thomas Homan indicated at a press conference Tuesday that the agency would have more "collateral arrests" of people who were not initially targeted in ICE raids: "We're going to arrest them either way. Chances are when we go to their homes, or place of business, we're going to find other illegal aliens that weren't even on our radar to begin with."

Deportations are down 6 percent from 2016, however, and there is currently a backlog of more than 650,000 cases in immigration courts. Read the full report on ICE arrests and deportations here. Kelly O'Meara Morales

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