Originally Published: 1/7/2017
ACA: Republicans met with vp-elect Mike Pence to launch their dismantling of the Affordable Care Act, “even as they acknowledged that they may need several months to develop a replacement along conservative lines.” (Washington Post) CNN reported that members who attended the meeting said it felt like a pep rally, but there were not many policy details divulged. Watch what Stephen Colbert had to say about it. (You Tube) It seems that Republicans are entirely out of touch with the people on this issue. According to a new poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation, only 1 in 5 people (20%) supports repealing the Act before a replacement has been worked out. And Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R, WI) said that defunding Planned Parenthood will be included as part of a bill to repeal Obamacare. (The Hill)
The Wall: Trump promised that Mexico would pay for the wall, but now he’s asking us to pay for it. He’s asked Congress to fund it by April. But, he says, Mexico will reimburse us. (CNN) Yeah. Right. Even John Oliver doesn’t believe it. (You Tube)
Ambassadors: Trump’s transition team issued a “blanket edict requiring politically appointed ambassadors to leave their overseas posts by Inauguration Day.” This breaks with “decades of precedent by declining to provide even the briefest of grace periods.” The mandate was issued “without exceptions” and “threatens to leave the United States without Senate-confirmed envoys for months in critical nations like Germany, Canada, and Britain.” (NY Times)
Other Issues: According to a new poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation, Democrats are more in touch with the American people than are Republicans. For Democrats and Independents, Economy and Jobs are the top priority. For Republicans, its Immigration. Economy and Jobs comes in second for Republicans, followed by Health Care. For Democrats and Independents, Health Care is second, followed by Immigration. Also, Republicans have Foreign Policy as their 4th priority, followed by Education. But Democrats and Independents have Education as their 4th priority, followed by Foreign Policy.
Jeff Sessions: The Senate Judiciary Committee will be holding the confirmation hearings for Sessions as Attorney General. Despite requests by Dianne Feinstein (D, CA) to not hold hearings until after January 20th, committee chair Chuck Grassley (R, IA) is going ahead with them next week. The reason for Feinstein’s request is that Sessions “submitted remarkably incomplete answers to the Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire.” Grassley is also limiting hearings to just 2 days and Democrats are only allowed 4 witnesses. John Ashcroft, also a senator when nominated as attorney general, had 4 days of hearings and 19 outside witnesses. And Sessions has refused to recuse himself from voting for his own nomination. Both Senators Hillary Clinton (D, NY) and John Kerry (D, MA) recused themselves from voting on their nominations as Secretary of State. (The Nation) 1,330 law professors from 178 different law schools in 49 states sent Grassley a letter to oppose Session’s nomination. They wrote: “All of us believe it is unacceptable for someone with Senator Sessions’ record to lead the Department of Justice. . . As law faculty who work every day to better understand the law and teach it to our students, we are convinced that Jeff Sessions will not fairy enforce our nation’s laws and promote justice and equality in the United States. We urge you to reject his nomination.”
Arizona Legislative Advocacy Program, which publishes the weekly Legislative Alert, is compiling a 50-week strategy to resist what is happening in our country. While the strategy is geared toward Arizona, the suggestions are easily applied to any state. The recommendation for this week is to call your senators and representative about the following: to express your opinion about the gutting of the ACA, to protest Trump’s conflicts of interest and refusal to release his tax returns, to support investigative hearings into the Russian cyberattack on our election, and to oppose Senate confirmation of Jeff session as Attorney General.
Rex Tillerson: In preparation for his appointment as Secretary of State, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson is retiring, taking his $180 million retirement package. “Tillerson will surrender, if confirmed, all unpaid stock that was part of his pay package, more than 2 million shares. In exchange, the company will make a cash payment equal to the value of those shares to a trust to be overseen by a third party, according to a regulatory filing Wednesday with the Securities and Exchange Commission.” Tillerson will be giving up about $7 million. All for a salary of about $186,000 a year? (Guardian)
Dan Coats: Trump has nominated former Senator Dan Coats (R, IN) as Director of National Intelligence (DNI). Coats, “who is seen as a traditional Republican,” served in the Senate for 16 years in 2 separate stretches. He also served as ambassador to Germany during Dubya’s presidency. (Washington Post) Why is he nominating a mainstream Republican? Probably because he won’t use the intelligence anyway. (Crooks and Liars) I wonder how long Coats will last as Trump said he has plans to revamp the office. (Wall Street Journal) In fact, former CIA director James Woolsey, a member of Trump’s transition team, has resigned “because of growing tensions over Trump’s vision for intelligence agencies.” (Washington Post)
Robert Lighthizer: Trump has nominated Lighthizer as the U.S. Trade Representative. Public Citizen noted that “his views put him at odds with most of Trump’s other high-level appointees who represent the very perspective on trade that Lighthizer has long critiqued.” He’s against free trade.
Jay Clayton: Trump is nominating Jay Clayton, a Wall Street lawyer, as head of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). (Washington Post) Great. A Wall Streeter to oversee Wall Street. Talk about the fox watching the hen house.
Finland: It has become the first European country “to pay its unemployed citizens a basic monthly income” in a pilot project “aimed at reducing poverty and joblessness, while also cutting national spending and bureaucracy.” 2,000 people will receive 560 € (about $595) monthly for 2 years, “without having to report whether they are seeking employment or how they are spending the money.” (Independent)
France: It passed the “right to disconnect” bill, which grants employees in the country the legal right to ignore work emails outside of typical working hours. “Overuse of digital devices has been blamed for everything from burnout to sleeplessness as well as relationship problems, with many employees uncertain of when they can switch off.” Companies will now be required to negotiate with employees to agree on their right to “switch off” and “ways they can reduce the intrusion of work into their private lives.” (Guardian) I believe Germany has a similar law, but I couldn’t find anything concrete for you to read. Sorry.
Israel: Senators Ted Cruz (R, TX), Dean Heller (R, NV), and Marco Rubio (R, FL) have introduced legislation to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s official capital “and move the U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv. . . Similar moves by Republican majorities over the past 2 decades have come to nought, but this time they have a sympathetic president-elect in Trump.” Congress passed a law ordering the embassy moved in 1995, but “every president since then has exercised a 6-month waiver to prevent it taking place, usually citing ‘national security concerns.’” (Guardian)
California: Former Attorney General Eric Holder, now a partner at the law firm of Covington & Burling, has been hired by California as an adviser and outside counsel to help “resist any attempts to roll back the progress California has made” regarding climate change, health care, civil rights, and immigration issues. (NBC News)
Texas: U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor granted a temporary injunction “that stops federal health officials from enforcing rules that are intended to ban discrimination by doctors and hospitals against transgender persons.” He wrote that the rules “likely violate” the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and “places substantial pressure on plaintiffs to perform and cover transition and abortion procedures.” (Guardian)
Navy Ships: The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that the Defense Department’s 2017 Navy shipbuilding plan, which covers years 2017 to 2046, 30 years, will cost annually an average of $21 billion. $21 billion times 30 years equals a total of about $630 billion.
The Counted: We finished 2016 with a total of 1,091 people killed by law enforcement, down from 1,146 in 2015. (Guardian)
Russian Hacking: The report by the U.S. intelligence agencies has been released and they concluded that Russia carried out a comprehensive cyber campaign to upend the presidential election, an operation that was ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin and “aspired to help” elect Donald Trump by discrediting Hillary Clinton. The report calls the interference “unprecedented in scale” and says it represented “a significant escalation in directness, level of activity, and scope of effort” beyond previous election-related espionage. (Director of National Intelligence) Watch Keith Olbermann’s tirade on the Russian hacking. NBC broke the news early Friday morning citing “a senior U.S. intelligence official with direct knowledge.” This po’d Mr. Trump. He tweeted: “I am asking the chairs of the House and Senate committees to investigate top secret intelligence shared with NBC prior to me seeing it.” I guess he forgot that he’s refused intelligence briefings. He’s also forgotten that he’s not POTUS yet and no one has to talk to him about anything. And he’s forgotten that the media has a duty to report the news. Maybe he wants to shut down the media.
Prison Population: According to data collected by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, inmates held in federal and state prisons is at its lowest in almost 20 years, since 1998. “But since 2008 that rate has fallen every single year for 7 years.” We haven’t seen such a continued decline since the 1960s. In fact, Obama “will become the first president in at least 40 years to leave the office with a smaller federal prison system than he started with.” Much of the decline is due to reforms at all levels of government, but federal reforms have been blocked by the Congress. (Washington Post) Also, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts, in 2015 the states with the biggest drops in their incarceration rate also saw the biggest decreases in crime.
Global Engagement Center: This is a new body created in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act. It’s stated purpose is to counter propaganda and disinformation. The head is to be appointed by the president. The legislation was originally proposed by Senators Rob Portman (R, OH) and Chris Murphy (D, CT) separately and was later incorporated into the NDA. According to Portman, the law “will improve the ability” of the U.S. “to counter foreign propaganda and disinformation from our enemies.” It will be housed at the State Department.
Ethics: House Republicans, “meeting behind closed doors,” approved a proposal by House Judiciary Chair Robert Goodlatte (R, VA) to close down the independent Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) and put it under the oversight of the House Ethics Committee - which means under the control of the representatives themselves - “effectively curbing the watchdog’s latitude to pursue wrongdoing by lawmakers.” (Roll Call) OCE was created because the House Ethics Committee wouldn’t respond to blatant ethics violations - the backbreaking straw being the issue of Jack Abramoff. Why do you suppose they wanted to get rid of OCE? Maybe they’re afraid of what may come out from the Russian hacking. Trump tweeted a criticism, but not of the action. Of the timing. (Twitter) But the most impact was all the calls from “angry constituents.” (Twitter) The Republicans then “abruptly reversed course and pulled the proposal. (Washington Post) See. Those phone calls work.
Appropriations: The House, at the same closed-door meeting above, rejected a proposal by Rep. Devin Nunes (R, CA) that would have dissolved the Appropriations Committee “and put its discretionary spending authority in the hands of the authorizing committees.” (Roll Call)
Divest Dakota Access: The Dakota Access Water Protectors are taking a new direction. They’re protesting U.S. Bank’s funding of the pipeline. Last Sunday they dropped a banner from the rafters of the U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis as the Vikings played the Chicago Bears. Two of the Protectors - Karl Zimmerman and Sen Holiday - “rappelled from large steel girders during the second quarter of the game” and dropped the banner reading, “US Bank, DIVEST, #NoDAPL.” Watch the video showing them going up and dropping the banner. (Common Dreams)
Cheating Workers: The Labor Department took action against 2 companies that cheated its workers. It moved to prohibit any new federal contracts with Restaurant Associates, operators of the U.S. Senate cafeteria, for “underpaying workers by more than $1 million.” (DOL) Labor also settled with Hormel Foods, which supplies food to federal agencies, for Hormel to hire 37 women and pay $550,000 in back wages to 403 female job candidates to settle federal discrimination charges. (DOL)
Unemployment: The U.S. added 156,000 jobs in December, less than expected, making the unemployment rate “tick up” to 4.7% from last month’s 4.6%. “December marks the 755th straight month of job growth - the most extended streak the country has seen since 1939.” (Washington Post)
401(k)s: Herbert Whitehouse, one of the first to suggest 401(k)s as a way to supplement workers’ retirement in 1981, is now saying he was wrong. It’s not working the way he thought it was and it’s working to the benefit of employers, not employees. (Wall Street Journal)