Washington's swamp gets boggier
US president Donald Trump promised to drain the Washington swamp. Instead, it has been showered with fresh cash.
Donald Trump on the campaign trail famously promised to "drain the swamp". The swamp critters seem, however, to be as healthy as ever, as his officials scramble to take advantage of job perks while they still have one. Scott Pruitt, for example, Trump's director of the Environmental Protection Agency, has raised eyebrows for his spending on plane travel, including $36,068 for a military jet so that he and his aides could make a connecting flight. When he deigns to use commercial planes, Pruitt "goes strictly first class, lest he be seated next to an irate passenger", says the Los Angeles Times. Apparently, "rolling back environmental protections has its price in rude behaviour from the little people who favour clean air and water, but can't afford an upgrade when they fly".
It's easy to see where Pruitt got the idea that "it was acceptable to travel on the public dime with the champagne set", as several other officials have been caught doing likewise. Former health secretary Tom Price, for example, "racked up a $1m tab using private and military planes". Price eventually resigned, but Steven Mnuchin is still Treasury secretary, despite using a government aircraft on a trip to Kentucky that "gave him an exceptional view of the solar eclipse at a cost of $26,900". His wife then had the nerve to tell a member of the public who criticised the trip that she was "out of touch".
However, for sheer chutzpah it is hard to beat the housing and urban development secretary, Ben Carson, who spent $31,000 on a new dining-room set for his office "just as the White House circulated its plans to slash his department's programmes for the homeless, elderly and poor", says Glenn Thrush in The New York Times. Carson claimed he was not aware of the cost, but emails show "a lengthy back and forth between Carson's wife and his closest aides over the details". At the same time, Carson tried to commission a $25,000 oil portrait of himself, though this was blocked.
Arrogant, entitled, dismissive
Such behaviour "reflects a wilful disregard for basic norms of public service and an exaggerated sense of entitlement", says The Washington Post, and is "an affront to government as a public trust". Even many Republicans are disgusted. Such behaviour, and the attempts to justify it, are "arrogant, entitled, and dismissive", says Jim Geraghty in National Review. Still, these administration officials can with some justification claim that they are only taking their lead from the man at the top. Indeed, Trump "acts as if he was anointed a king, one who has no compunction about robbing the people he is supposed to serve", says Rene Graham in The Boston Globe. Last year Trump's many trips to Mar-a-Lago, his Florida resort, cost $6.6m in airfares alone. As Robert Schlesinger notes in US News & World Report, Bill Clinton promised to appoint a cabinet that "looks more like America"; Donald Trump, by contrast, has put together one that looks and acts depressingly like Donald Trump.
Tabloid money stick it to the man with cash
The producers of the Netflix series The Crown have admitted they paid Claire Foy (who stars as the Queen) less than Matt Smith, as the Duke of Edinburgh, because he was more well known than Foy, having played Dr Who, says Camilla Tominey in the Sunday Express. "While I can understand their reasoning for the first season, what possible excuse could they have for paying her less for season two when she was a household name in the UK and America for her performance?" The admission follows actress Susan Sarandon's revelation that Paul Newman, her co-star in the 1998 film Twilight, once gave up some of his salary so that they could be paid equally. "What a gent." "And what a shame so little has changed in 30 years."
I imagine we are all supposed to be feeling shaken by the latest revelations about Prince Charles in the new book by "giant-slaying specialist" Tom Bower, says Rachel Johnson in The Mail on Sunday. There's the story about how Chas sent a pantechnicon of his bedroom furniture to the northeast where he had been invited along with rolls of Premium Comfort loo paper. Then there's his supposed utterances that "nobody knows what utter hell it is to be Prince of Wales" and the 43 pieces of luggage he sent to Mount Athos in Greece. You won't read a word though about the 870,000 disadvantaged young people he has helped through the Prince's Trust, or the £170m he raised last year for charity.
"Money, literally, thrown away. Crazeee," says Jennifer Selway in the Daily Express. One in 12 copper coins is apparently put in the bin, while six in ten are only used in a single transaction before being squirrelled away. This is why the chancellor has launched a review into scrapping the coins. But the coins look safe at least for now. And a good thing it is too. Cashmay be seen as the fuddy-duddy currency, but it is actually the "revolutionary and anarchic option" of payment. Use a card and "everyone knows what you're up to: HMRC, Google, Amazon, the Russkies, fraudsters". "Pay with cash and you're invisible, you slip under the radar." Cash is one of the last ways of sticking it to the man.