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March 20, 2017
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Most members of President Trump's Cabinet do not have senior leadership teams or top deputies in place amid historically slow nominating and hiring of White House appointees, "but they do have an influential coterie of senior aides installed by the White House who are charged — above all — with monitoring the secretaries' loyalty," The Washington Post reported Sunday, citing "eight officials in and outside the administration." The Post called the arrangement "unusual," and some of those political liaisons, called White House senior advisers, have apparently overstayed their welcome.

At the Environmental Protection Agency, for example, Don Benton — a former Washington state senator who ran Trump's campaign in the state — offered his unsolicited opinion on policy matters so frequently that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has reportedly disinvited him from meetings, in a situation one official described to The Post as out of an episode of Veep. Pentagon officials privately call Brett Byers, charged with keeping an eye on Defense Secretary James Mattis, "the commissar," The Post reports, helpfully explaining that the nickname is "a reference to Soviet-era Communist Party officials who were assigned to military units to ensure their commanders remained loyal."

Most of these political overseers, placed near the Cabinet secretary's office in every department, have little expertise in the subject matter handled at their assigned agencies — Frank Wuco at Homeland Security, for example, plays a fictional jihadist on YouTube to illustrate his blogged contention that Islam is the root of the terrorist threat — and some observers expect their influence to wane once the departments get staffed up. Also, some Cabinet secretaries have been more welcoming of their White House liaisons.

Trump allies argue that the arrangement is necessary for a new president from a different party — though none of Trump's three predecessors employed a similar system. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who still advises Trump, describes the political monitors as part of Trump's pledge to root out corruption in Washington — in this case, the "swamp" would be career bureaucrats and not, say, lobbyists. "If you drain the swamp, you better have someone who watches over the alligators," he said. "These people are actively trying to undermine the new government." You can read more, including what some experts see as the likely outcome of this system, at The Washington Post. Peter Weber

1:02 p.m. ET
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A Public Policy Polling survey released Wednesday revealed that 45 percent of President Trump's supporters believe that white people encounter "the most discrimination in America." Meanwhile, 17 percent of Trump voters said that Native Americans face the most discrimination, 16 percent said that African Americans do, and 5 percent said that Latinos do.

The poll also found that a majority of Trump voters — 54 percent — believe that Christians face the most discrimination of any religious groups in the U.S. Twenty-two percent said that Muslims do, while 12 percent said that Jews do.

Public Policy Polling suggested the fact that there's "a mindset among many Trump voters that it's whites and Christians getting trampled on in America that makes it unlikely they would abandon Trump over his 'both sides' rhetoric," referring to the president's tack of blaming "both sides" for the violence at the Aug. 12 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. In fact, Trump doubled down on his remarks at a Phoenix rally Tuesday night, accusing the "dishonest" media of downplaying the actions of anti-fascists.

The poll surveyed 887 registered voters from Aug. 18-21. Its margin of error is plus or minus 3.3 percentage points. Becca Stanek

12:57 p.m. ET

Taylor Swift announced her sixth studio album, Reputation, in a series of Instagram posts on Wednesday. The album will be out Nov. 10.

Swift also released the artwork for her new record:

A post shared by Taylor Swift (@taylorswift) on

The first single from the album will be released Thursday night, Swift added.

Reputation is the follow-up to Swift's 2014 album 1989, which sold nearly 1.3 million copies within its first week. Jeva Lange

12:10 p.m. ET

President Trump's science envoy resigned on Wednesday, leaving critics of the commander-in-chief a secret acrostic message to discover in his letter:

The first letter of each paragraph of Professor Daniel Kammen's letter spells "impeach," some readers noticed.

An energy professor at the University of California, Berkeley, Kammen cites Trump's decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement and his failure to clearly condemn white supremacists in Charlottesville as "a broader pattern that enables sexism and racism, and disregards the welfare of young Americans, the global community, and the planet."

While he was Trump's science envoy, Kammen "focused on building capacity for renewable energies," The Sacramento Bee writes, adding that "the science envoy program draws on scientists and engineers to leverage their expertise and networks to build connections and identify opportunities for international cooperation."

Members of the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities also resigned with a secret message in their letter earlier this month. Jeva Lange

11:53 a.m. ET

After the disastrous recall of its Galaxy Note 7 phone last year, Samsung on Wednesday unveiled the next phone in its Note line, the Galaxy Note 8. The successor to the discontinued and sometimes flammable phone features a sizable infinity screen measuring 6.3 inches diagonally; two 12-megapixel color cameras; fingerprint, facial, and iris scanning capabilities; an updated S Pen stylus that can now translate full sentences; and an impressive 64 gigabytes of built-in storage.


Samsung also made a point of independently verifying that the Note 8 battery meets safety standards, a key step to winning back consumer trust since the Note 7 battery was prone to overheating. On top of that, the company now completes an "eight-point battery safety check during its manufacturing process," Time reported.

The Galaxy Note 8 is available for presale on Aug. 25. It's slated to hit stores on Sept. 15, pitting it against Apple's upcoming 10th-anniversary iPhone. Becca Stanek

11:40 a.m. ET
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Snapchat plans to host original scripted content through Snapchat Shows before the year is over, Variety reports. The announcement from the company's head of content, Nick Bell, follows Snapchat's successful rollout of TV companion programs for shows like The Voice and The Bachelor.

"Mobile is the most complementary thing to TV that has been around," Bell said.

Snapchat's first attempt at original scripted content, though, was widely panned. Literally Can't Even aired on the app in 2015, Tech Crunch reports, "inspiring headlines including 'We Literally Can't Even with Snapchat's new original series' and 'Snapchat's First Original Series is Here and It's Awful."

Bell said Wednesday the company had been hesitant to break into scripted content — production is expensive — but that it is "an interesting next juncture" for the app and could create "fundamentally a new medium."

The new shows will be tailored to Snapchat's mobile platform, likely running approximately three to five minutes in length, Variety adds. Jeva Lange

11:30 a.m. ET

As the climate continues to warm, the permanently frozen ground underneath much of Alaska is starting to thaw. While the loss of permafrost would obviously have big consequences for the state's population, wildlife, and infrastructure, perhaps even more alarmingly, it would also have a huge impact on the already increasing global temperature, The New York Times reported Wednesday:

Starting just a few feet below the surface and extending tens or even hundreds of feet down, it contains vast amounts of carbon in organic matter — plants that took carbon dioxide from the atmosphere centuries ago, died and froze before they could decompose. Worldwide, permafrost is thought to contain about twice as much carbon as is currently in the atmosphere.

Once this ancient organic material thaws, microbes convert some of it to carbon dioxide and methane, which can flow into the atmosphere and cause even more warming. Scientists have estimated that the process of permafrost thawing could contribute as much as 1.7 degrees Fahrenheit to global warming over the next several centuries, independent of what society does to reduce emissions from burning fossil fuels and other activities. [The New York Times]

The complete thaw of the Arctic's "always-frozen ground" is estimated to be millennia away, but already the melting ground is believed to be contributing to rising carbon emissions in the region. One calculation estimates that right now, thawing permafrost worldwide emits about 1.5 billion tons of fossil fuel annually, which the Times noted is "slightly more than the United States emits from fossil-fuel burning."

“There's a massive amount of carbon that's in the ground, that's built up slowly over thousands and thousands of years," said Max Holmes, a senior scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center studying Alaska's permafrost melt. "It's been in a freezer, and that freezer is now turning into a refrigerator."

Read more on the alarming thaw at The New York Times. Becca Stanek

10:14 a.m. ET

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is either slowly transforming into a Proverbs Twitter bot or he has found a particularly clever way to subtweet the president of the United States.

As Newsweek recently observed, this Rubio tweet in June came "the day after Trump tweeted 'The Fake News Media has never been so wrong or so dirty. Purposely incorrect stories and phony sources to meet their agenda of hate. Sad!'"

Another Rubio subtweet spotted by Newsweek followed Trump's declaration that "Hillary Clinton colluded with the Democratic Party in order to beat Crazy Bernie Sanders. Is she allowed to so collude? Unfair to Bernie!"

There are plenty of other examples:

The latest Rubio subtweet follows Trump's off-script rally in Phoenix, Arizona, on Tuesday:

Subtle? Jeva Lange

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