Saturday Night Live has “Weekend Update,” which satirically (and selectively) presents the news of the week in review so, using that as a model, the Blast, in a far less satiric manner, will take a look at several stories from this week that you may only have glanced at or may not be aware of at all.
Office of Government Ethics
You may have seen the story about Walter J. Shaub, Jr., the director of the independent Office of Government Ethics, resigning earlier this week, about six months before his term was due to expire. Mr. Shaub, it seems, could no longer attempt to head the Agency designed to ride herd on ethics, particularly in the Executive branch. According to the Washington Post: “the ethics chief said he felt that he had reached the limit of what he could achieve in this administration, within the current ethics framework. ‘It’s clear that there isn’t more I could accomplish,’ he said.” Mr. Shaub was particularly frustrated by the Trump administration dragging its heels on providing information about the President and many of his appointees so that a thorough ethics review could be accomplished.
In a speech at the Brookings Institute, Mr. Shaub discussed the President’s handling of his own businesses, noting:
Trump's plan for avoiding conflicts of interest "doesn't meet the standards that the best of his nominees are meeting and that every president in the past four decades has met."
Trump's plan involved moving his business interests into a trust run by his two oldest sons and a longtime business associate. Trump is the sole beneficiary of the trust. Since the 1970s, presidents have moved their assets into blind trusts run by third parties. (NPR, July 6, 2017)
Another factor in Shaub’s resignation was that his office was simply overwhelmed by investigative requests and it didn’t have any power to “compel responses” from the President or his appointees --- that authority rests with a Congressional Committee headed by Jason Chaffetz (R-Ut) and has been quiet on all these matters.
To put the work in perspective, Shaub’s office has 70 employees to respond to contacts about ethical questions involving an incoming administration.
The agency reports that during the six months between October 2008 and March 2009, as the Obama presidency was taking shape, it got 733 public contacts, such as calls, letters and emails. During the October 2016 to March 2017 period in the Trump era, it was swamped with 39,105 contacts — an increase of 5,235 percent. (NPR, July 6, 2017)
According to the July 6 NY Times “Mr. Shaub will leave the agency this month to take up his new position as a senior director for ethics at the Campaign Legal Center in Washington, a nonpartisan group that advocates campaign finance reform and litigates voting rights cases.” Good luck to him. As far as Trump’s ethics go, “if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck . . . .”
The President and “Fake News”
On MSNBC’s “The Last Word” on Thursday evening, Lawrence O’Donnell focused on a specific quote the President made in his press conference in Poland. Going after the “fake news” organizations he said, “CNN and others — and others; I mean NBC is equally as bad, despite the fact that I made them a fortune with 'The Apprentice,' but they forgot that. “ As O’Donnell noted, in Donald Trump’s world of transactional interaction, if you worked for NBC and made a profit for the network (did your job) they somehow now “owe you” and should not report the news truthfully. Trump honestly believes that NBC should be “loyal” to him and give him favorable coverage! It is a “small world” view from a man with a small mind.
I went to the movies twice this week, seeing Baby Driver and The House. Baby Driver is a “heist” movie that revolves around a getaway-car driving savant (Ansel Elgort --- extremely charming) who wears headphones and drives to the beat of various drummers. While there’s nothing here you haven’t already seen in other “heist” movies, this one is directed beautifully by Edgar Wright (“Hot Fuzz” & “Shaun of the Dead”) with a fabulous supporting cast featuring the always menacing Kevin Spacey, a truly scary Jamie Foxx, and a warm-then-cold blooded John Hamm. Rotten Tomatoes gave it 97% and I agree!
On the other end of the spectrum is The House, starring Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler with Jason Mantzoukas. Directed by Andrew Jay Cohen in what is, I believe, his feature film debut, I only need to say that Mr. Cohen was responsible for writing Neighbors and Neighbors 2 as well as Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates ---hideously sophomoric and nonsensical movies --- to give you a sense of how stupidly insulting The House is. Even a brief appearance by the brilliant Jeremy Renner can’t save this stink bomb. 18% on Rotten Tomatoes seems incredibly generous.
I cannot end a weekly review piece without bemoaning the fact that my beloved Yankees are still being managed by the Cro-Magnon Joe Girardi. It’s bad enough I have to watch this “insane” man (if you believe “insanity is doing the same thing again and again, expecting a different result”) continue to put Tyler Clippard into games, bat Chase Headley (no speed but batting .240) second in the order, and never make a creative or innovative move despite being given ample opportunity to do so. Compound that with having to listen to sub-moron commentary by Michael (“I’m the Luckiest Guy in New York”) Kay and Paul (“If I Only Had a Brain”) O’Neill and it’s torturous watching these games. Last night the geniuses in the TV booth commented on Milwaukee pitcher Oliver Drake having gone to the United States Naval Academy by referring to him as “Corporal Drake” and “Colonel Drake.” There is, of course, no recourse in listening to the radio, where Ma & Pa Pinstripe (thanks, Bob Raisman of the NY Daily News for that moniker for John Sterling & Suzyn Waldman) babble on for innings at a stretch, providing no information about the game. I will continue to be a Yankee fan but will definitely hit the “mute” button and hope that somehow, some day, General Manager Brian Cashman fires Joe Girardi.