Swear to god, we are one very small step away from having this president* sell off the naming rights to Jefferson's nose on Mount Rushmore. Today's specials at the El Caudillo del Mar-a-Lago Yard Sale and Grift-o-Rama include this absolutely amazing piece of work from ProPublica, which details how much of the real power at the Veterans Administration has been handed over to the pinochle crew from the 19th Hole at Mar-a-Lago. Just when I think my gob can't be smacked any further, up steps the J.D. Martinez of maladministration to send it over the wall and onto the roof of the parking garage across the street.
Last February, shortly after Peter O’Rourke became chief of staff for the Department of Veterans Affairs, he received an email from Bruce Moskowitz with his input on a new mental health initiative for the VA. “Received,” O’Rourke replied. “I will begin a project plan and develop a timeline for action.” O’Rourke treated the email as an order, but Moskowitz is not his boss. In fact, he is not even a government official. Moskowitz is a Palm Beach doctor who helps wealthy people obtain high-service “concierge” medical care.
More to the point, he is one-third of an informal council that is exerting sweeping influence on the VA from Mar-a-Lago, President Donald Trump’s private club in Palm Beach, Florida. The troika is led by Ike Perlmutter, the reclusive chairman of Marvel Entertainment, who is a longtime acquaintance of President Trump’s. The third member is a lawyer named Marc Sherman. None of them has ever served in the U.S. military or government.
Our vets. We love our vets.
But hundreds of documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and interviews with former administration officials tell a different story - of a previously unknown triumvirate that hovered over public servants without any transparency, accountability or oversight. The Mar-a-Lago Crowd spoke with VA officials daily, the documents show, reviewing all manner of policy and personnel decisions. They prodded the VA to start new programs, and officials travelled to Mar-a-Lago at taxpayer expense to hear their views. “Everyone has to go down and kiss the ring,” a former administration official said.
If the bureaucracy resists the trio’s wishes, Perlmutter has a powerful ally: The President of the United States. Trump and Perlmutter regularly talk on the phone and dine together when the president visits Mar-a-Lago. “On any veterans issue, the first person the president calls is Ike,” another former official said. Former administration officials say that VA leaders who were at odds with the Mar-a-Lago crowd were pushed out or passed over. I
"We have a severe problem with our post-surgical care in several VA facilities."
"OK, let me run it by Wolverine's boss."
It is not possible for these people to be more dangerously ridiculous. No, wait. It is.
Perlmutter, 75, is painstakingly private - he reportedly wore a glasses-and-mustache disguise to the 2008 premiere of “Iron Man.” One of the few public photographs of him was snapped on Dec. 28, 2016, through a window at Mar-a-Lago. Trump glares warily at the camera. Behind him, Perlmutter smiles knowingly, wearing sunglasses at night.
No, really. It is.
Besides advocating for friends’ interests, some of the Mar-a-Lago Crowd’s interventions served their own purposes. Starting in February 2017, Perlmutter convened a series of conference calls with executives at Johnson & Johnson, leading to the development of a public awareness campaign about veteran suicide. They planned to promote the campaign by ringing the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange around the time of Veterans Day.
The event also turned into a promotional opportunity for Perlmutter’s company. Executives from Marvel and its parent company, Disney, joined Johnson & Johnson as sponsors of the Veterans Day event at the stock exchange. Shulkin rang the closing bell standing near a preening and flexing Captain America, with Spider-Man waving from the trading pit, and Marvel swag distributed to some of the attendees. “Generally the VA secretary or defense secretary don’t shill for companies,” the leader of a veterans advocacy group said.
This person obviously is unfamiliar with the governing methods of economic populism, which apparently include having people dressed as superheroes plugging your company on the floor at the NYSE. The rest of the story is a kind of epic about how David Shulkin got pushed out because the three pinochle pals were displeased that he actually was trying to run the department to which he had been appointed to lead. Combining amateurism with uncontrolled greed is a kind of comic genius with this administration.
And in case you need further proof, The Washington Post provides it.
A Russian asbestos company that operates a giant mine in the Ural Mountains is marketing its wares with President Trump’s image, according to photos it posted on social media, citing former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt as well as Trump’s outspoken support for the carcinogen...“Approved by Donald Trump, 45th President of the United States,” the seal read.
First question: Asbestos is back? Yes, it is, thanks to the efforts of this president* and his departed EPA director Scott (Sharper Image) Pruitt.
But Trump has long expressed skepticism about its potential health effects after it is applied. In his 1997 book, “The Art of the Comeback,” he wrote that he believed that anti-asbestos efforts were “led by the mob.” In 2012, he tweeted that the World Trade Center would not have burned down had asbestos, which is known for fire-resistant properties, not been removed from the towers. The asbestos company focused on this supportive stance in a post accompanying the pictures. “Donald is on our side!” the company posted in a caption for the photos, which also cited Pruitt.
Uralabest is notorious for its aggressive asbestos denialism, and is a particular favorite with the folks at the World Health Organization. From CorpWatch:
"It's just a PR campaign when they say that asbestos can kill," Uralasbest's Viktor Ivanov told AFP in 2007...The website for Uralasbest, the Ural Asbestos Mining & Ore Dressing Company, calls the company the world's "oldest and largest manufacturer and supplier of chrysotile." In 2005 the Russian firm produced about a quarter of the world's chrysotile asbestos and exported it to 35 countries (pdf).
Very little of the product ends up in the West. More than 60 countries have partially or completely banned asbestos, including the United States, Australia, Japan and South Korea. The EU nations and others have completely banned both brown amphibole and white chrysotile asbestos, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified all types as a human carcinogen. Although some studies have found that chrysotile's small fiber size makes it less virulent than brown amphibole, the WHO is unequivocal: "no threshold has been established for the carcinogenic risk of chrysotile."(pdf)
And does Uralabest have ties to Vladimir Putin? Da.
So here we have the president*, who is a longtime asbestos-denialist, or at least as far back as when he first needed to touch up Russians to stay afloat, loosening restrictions on a preposterously dangerous carcinogen, at which point a Russian company connected to Vladimir Putin that mines for asbestos puts the president*'s face on bags of its product. (Is the president* getting a cut on this? I hope not, because that would be illegal, you know?) It's a shame how hard it is to connect the dots here. It's all about money, and ain't a damn thing funny.
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