Lazy Saturday Reads: The Endless ScreamPosted: March 10, 2018
Our formerly great country has sunk into ridiculousness. In a little over a year, Trump has turned us into a laughing stock around the world. I wonder if there is any way to come back from the disaster he has created. Somehow we have to keep hanging on, hoping that the midterm elections will deliver a blue wave and that Robert Mueller’s team of prosecutors and investigators will dig up enough evidence to bring Trump down through impeachment, indictment, or resignation.
I want to begin with a potential disaster of Trump’s making that hasn’t gotten enough attention. Remember Trump’s decision to shrink the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah by 85 percent? Well, in the parts of the previously public land that Trump is turning over to oil companies, there has been an important scientific discovery. The Washington Post on Feb. 22: Spectacular fossils found at Bears Ears — right where Trump removed protections.
One of the world’s richest troves of Triassic-period fossils has been discovered in an area of Bears Ears National Monument that just lost its protected status, scientists announced Thursday. President Trump signed a proclamation in December that shrank the national monument by 85 percent.
The discovery of intact remains of crocodile-like animals called phytosaurs came to light this week when researchers announced it at the Western Association of Vertebrate Paleontologists conference at Dixie State University in St. George, Utah. Based on an initial excavation, the 70-yard-long site, its depth yet unknown, “may be the densest area of Triassic period fossils in the nation, maybe the world,” Rob Gay, a contractor at the Museums of Western Colorado, said in a statement.
In an interview, Gay, who led a team of researchers on last year’s expedition, called it the “largest and most complete bone bed in the state of Utah, and one of, if not the largest, anywhere in the United States.” He called the discovery of three intact toothy, long-snouted fossils from the period extremely rare, adding that the “density of bone is as high or greater than all the other Triassic sites in the country.”
The fossil bed is part of the Chinle Formation, ancient river and flood plain deposits that run through the center of the original monument President Barack Obama designated in December 2016. But that sedimentary rock also contains uranium, which made it more commercially attractive than other parts of Bears Ears.
In December, The Washington Post reported that the firm Energy Fuels Resources lobbied Interior Department officials to shrink the boundaries of the monument, in part to allow the company greater access to areas where it held uranium mining rights. Trump’s Bears Ears proclamation, which took effect Feb. 2, cut more than 1 million acres from its original 1.35-million-acre expanse. A separate proclamation reduced another national monument in Utah, Grand Staircase-Escalante, by about 800,000 acres.
Please go read the rest. Something must be done to protect these important scientific finds.
This article in the Salt Lake City Tribune provides more background on this story: A search for an ancient crocodile in Utah’s Bears Ears leads to a major discovery of Triassic fossils. A brief excerpt from the end of the piece:
Conservationists have heavily promoted Gay’s discovery because it highlights what they say was the shortsightedness of President Donald Trump’s decision to shrink the Bears Ears monument, a move that is being challenged in court.
“While a discovery of this magnitude certainly is a welcome surprise, protecting such resources was the very purpose of Bears Ears National Monument,” said Scott Miller of the Wilderness Society, an environmental group.
“That President Trump acted to revoke protections for these lands is outrageous, and that he did so despite the Department of the Interior knowing of this amazing discovery is even more shocking,” Miller said. “I hope the courts will act quickly to restore protections for Bears Ears National Monument before any more fossils are looted from the area and lost to science.”
Whatever the outcome of the court case, however, the fossils will remain under the jurisdiction of the Paleontological Resources Protection Act, a 2009 law that carries criminal penalties for those who loot fossils from public lands.
More background on the court battle:
The Washington Post, Dec. 2017: Trump is being sued to stop him from shrinking Bears Ears national monument by 85 percent. Who will win?
Salt Lake City Tribune, Dec. 2017: Feds ask for Bears Ears lawsuits to be consolidated.
Salt Lake City Tribune, Feb. 2018: Tribes fight to keep Bears Ears lawsuit in D.C.
I plan to keep an eye on this story.
And now, back to current disasters. So many people are leaving the Trump administration that the White House staff has been reduced mostly to Trump family members and fanatical loyalists. More resignations and firings are apparently coming soon.
David Smith at The Guardian: ‘Hollowed out’ White House: Trump is on a dangerous path toward no advisers. In recent days, Trump has lost two important White House staff members–Hope Hicks and Gary Cohn– and it looks like more will be leaving soon.
There has never been such a rapid turnover of personnel in a US administration in modern times. If anything, the stampede to the exits appears to be accelerating, raising fears of a “brain drain” that will leave key jobs unfilled and make it ever harder to recruit new talent.
“One of the problems here is the White House is getting hollowed out and the number of people capable of doing things, of doing real things whether you agree or disagree ideologically, is getting smaller and smaller,” Chuck Schumer, the Democratic minority leader in the Senate, told reporters. “So the mess-ups we’ve seen this past week, I think we’re going to see over and over and over again.”
Trump, who spent a decade as host of The Apprentice, has enjoyed pulling back the curtain to allow White House meetings to be televised. But he also appears to be copying the reality TV format of eliminating a member of his administration or cabinet on a weekly basis, leaving the audience in suspense: who’s next?
Multiple reports have suggested that it could be HR McMaster, the national security adviser whose style is said to grate with Trump, or Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state who has been repeatedly marginalised.
In addition, John Kelly, the chief of staff once seen as a stabilising force, has been under pressure over his handling of allegations of domestic abuse against his close aide Rob Porter. And Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, looks especially vulnerable after his security clearance was downgraded and the Russian collusion investigation closes in.
Click on the link to read the rest.
The Boston Globe: AP reports Trump wants to rely less on White House staff.
His staff hollowing out and his agenda languishing, President Donald Trump is increasingly flying solo.
Always improvisational, the president exercised his penchant for going it alone in a big way this week: first, by ordering sweeping tariffs opposed by foreign allies and by many in his own party, then hours later delivering the stunning news that he’ll meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
The president has long considered himself his own best consultant, saying during the presidential campaign: “I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain and I’ve said a lot of things.”
Trump has told confidants recently that he wants to be less reliant on his staff, believing they often give bad advice, and that he plans to follow his own instincts, which he credits with his stunning election, according to two people who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about private conversations.
Trump’s latest unilateral moves come at a moment of vulnerability for the president. Top staffers are heading for the exits, the Russia investigation continues to loom and Trump is facing growing questions about a lawsuit filed by a porn actress who claims her affair with the president was hushed up.
Is Trump deliberately imitating the brutal dictators he admires by centering decision-making in himself and his family? It sure seems that way, and it’s frightening. Links to check out on Trump’s latest snap decision–a meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un:
The White House on Friday appeared to set tougher conditions for a meeting between President Donald Trump and the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, saying that the North must take “concrete steps” toward denuclearizing.
The White House also seemed to back away from the two-month timeframe laid out by South Korean officials on Thursday evening during a highly unusual press announcement in the White House driveway.
“Look, they’ve got to follow through on the promises they made,” press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said during a briefing Friday—raising the possibility that a meeting may never happen – even though the White House had touted it as a major achievement less than 24 hours earlier….
The North Korea announcement’s sudden roll-out, followed by confusion and then tons of caveats, also followed a pattern of policymaking in the Trump White House, in which pronouncements often come before detailed plans are concrete.
At issue Friday was the nature of what the North Koreans had promised. Sanders called “denuclearization” a precondition for any direct meeting between Trump and Kim. But experts called the prospect of North Korea dismantling its nuclear program before the start of talks totally unimaginable.
Yuki Tatsumi at HuffPost: It Only Takes One Trump Tweet To Fall Into North Korea’s Trap.
If the Trump-Kim summit happens, it would mark a real breakthrough in the increasingly dangerous situation that has threatened Northeast Asia for the last 25 years. But for now, for many reasons, it is too soon to be optimistic.
The offer Kim made to South Korean presidential envoy Chung Yi-Eung is almost too good to be true. The North Korean dictator committed to suspending nuclear and missile tests, and also reportedly showed understanding that “the routine joint military exercises between the Republic of Korea and the United States must continue.” Above all, Kim expressed his commitment to denuclearization.
The Trump White House has been quick to take credit for Kim’s softened stance, arguing it is the result of the administration’s steadfast efforts to exert maximum pressure on North Korea. It is certainly possible the White House is correct. It is possible that, faced with an American president who does not hesitate to talk about the “annihilation” of North Korea, Kim decided to cement his legacy as the leader who demonstrated his capacity to make his nation a nuclear state, but who agreed to denuclearize and led the country to peace with its old enemy ― and scored a meeting with a sitting U.S. president to boot.
On the other hand, Kim’s gesture could be an extremely cunning trap for the Trump administration, and if Trump falls into it, he could drive a lasting wedge between the U.S. and its allies in the region.
Japan for example. Business Insider: One of America’s closest allies could be the biggest loser if talks between Trump and Kim Jong-Un go south.
While President Donald Trump’s acceptance of an invitation to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un shocked the world on Thursday, no other nation could have been more alarmed than Japan.
The Japanese government received no warning of Trump’s decision, according to The New York Times. Trump is believed to have immediately accepted the invitation after South Korean officials briefed him at the White House. They, too, who were reportedly bewildered by his quick response.
After accepting the offer, Trump called Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and reassured him that the US would continue to exert maximum pressure on North Korea — a talking point that White House officials touted heavily on Friday in the hours after South Korean leaders announced the Kim Jong-Un invite in front of the White House.
Officials say that during Trump’s call with Abe the Japanese prime minister requested a meeting with the US president. Abe told reporters afterward that the US and Japan would be “together 100%” and that he would meet Trump in April.
Read more at the link.
At least we’ve finally reached the weekend and maybe we’ll have some time to recover from another week of news overload. What stories are you following?